Friday, August 28, 2009

A book review: Father John Waiss' "Born to Love"

Born to Love: A Review

I was very honored to be asked to read and review Father John Waiss’ new book, Born to Love. Fr. Waiss’ earlier book, Couples in Love, was written as a guide to young Catholics, parents, educators, and others interested in learning more about the Church’s teaching in regard to marriage, chastity, and relationships.

Born to Love tackles a trickier subject--homosexuality, the homosexual person, and Church teaching about this difficult and timely issue. Like Couples in Love, Born to Love is written in dialog format, as a series of conversations between a Catholic priest, known as “Father JP,” and characters including a heterosexual couple first introduced in Couples in Love, a man who is in a homosexual relationship, a woman who is in a lesbian relationship, and, eventually, the woman’s partner. Father JP and the various other “characters” discuss topics ranging from Church teaching about the dignity of the homosexual person to the Bible’s view of homosexuality, civil rights, identity, relationships, and the kind of conversion that doesn’t necessarily mean “re-orienting” a same-sex attracted person, but instead converting his heart to an understanding of God’s plan for human sexuality and an acceptance of our need to live according to this plan in our quest for happiness, both earthly and eternal.

There are many things to like about Father Waiss’ approach. He is not afraid to tackle such oft-raised objections to Church teaching as: the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexual activity, the Old Testament condemnations are no more meaningful than the similar condemnations against eating shrimp, viewing marriage as ordered toward procreation means that infertile or elderly people shouldn’t marry, and the like. Father Waiss does a good job of showing the weaknesses of these objections, and of turning the “conversations” back to a focus on healthy human relationships.

I found the seventh chapter, “Identity,” to be the most interesting. Father Waiss rightly points out that in the modern world we have a tendency to center our identities around fleeting, “performance-based” categories that don’t, ultimately, define who we are. The person who identifies as gay has placed his self-worth, in a manner of speaking, in his sexual experiences and attractions, even though these are only a small part of who we are as human beings; but Father Waiss further points out how this distorted view of identity affects all of us, whether we identify as career-people, writers, sports fans, fashionistas or the like. These things we do aren’t, according to Father Waiss, as important to our identities as our web of relationships: father, mother, children, parents, extended family, friends, community--the things which are more permanent and more meaningful than merely what we are currently able to do and good at doing. I found this highly intriguing, as I think it highlights a struggle many of us moms have: to identify ourselves as wives and mothers is a proper understanding of our key relationship role in regards to the people who are most important to us, but at the same time the world is constantly pulling us to define ourselves as “more” than that.

I did find some of the later chapters a little less engaging. The chapter immediately following the one above, which talked about parenting in regard to homosexual issues, seemed a little out of place, and some of the final chapters seemed a bit too “pat” in their treatment of the fictional characters while repeating a bit of the information that had already been covered. To be fair, this is the downside of the dialog format--it is very readable, and I’ve encountered other spiritual or practical Catholic books written that way for, I’m sure, that very reason; but unlike a novel or play the characters must be dealt with somewhat expeditiously when the topic of conversation is over, which can feel a little forced. Here and there, too, the dialog can strain the bounds of verisimilitude; Father JP’s answers can be a little too annotated for conversation, or other characters can jump in to the discussion in ways that would be unrealistic in actual fiction.

Still, such flaws are minor and will probably go unnoticed by the majority of Father Waiss’s audience. I see this book as being a good resource for several different types of people, including those, religious and lay, who work pastorally with Catholics who struggle with same-sex attraction, those who seek to educate young adults (though not too young, given the subject matter) about the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and homosexual activity, and, perhaps especially, those Catholic families devastated by the active homosexuality of one of their family members, who seek greater understanding as a way to foster communication with that family member. Some Catholics who are themselves struggling with same-sex attractions and seeking to remain in the Church may also find it helpful.

Given the great lack of availability of solid Catholic materials to be used in discussing issues surrounding homosexuality and homosexual activity and the Church’s view of these matters, Father Waiss’s book is sure to become a valued resource for many who are grappling with this often-explosive topic.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Glossing over the ugliness of abortion

If that last blog post wasn't stomach-turning enough for you, brace yourselves: Doug Kmiec has decided to weigh in on the death of Senator Kennedy. And I've decided to fisk some of it. (I'd fisk the whole thing, but my comments would get wearisomely repetitive, like the original article). My remarks are in red:

For too long in America, people of good will sharing the Catholic faith have been divided [into Catholics who believe everything in the Catechism, and Catholics who dissent from parts of it. That's the divide that matters; if we'd all quit being cafeteria Catholics on issues like abortion or torture and start being Catechism Catholics, things would improve]. We have been told, or we have convinced ourselves, that unless there is perfect agreement on every issue, there can be no friendship [Who's talking about friendship? I can be friendly toward pro-abort Catholic quislings. But I don't have to accept their quislingism, do I?]. This is mistaken.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote recently in Caritas in Veritate:

“Clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church's social doctrine, which apply categories to papal social teaching that are extraneous to it. It is not a case of two typologies of social doctrine, one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar, differing from one another: on the contrary, there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new.”

The pope was not saying the reform of the tax system or the economy was of the same order of importance as honoring the gift of life [Understatement alert!!!], but he was reminding us to be honest with ourselves and not overlook the consistency of church teaching calling us to love our neighbor in the most tangible and obvious way -- by meeting the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves [But not necessarily by enacting schemes of confiscatory taxation controlled by an increasingly powerful centralized government, you know. Charity isn't found on the IRS 1040].

Of course, one must never meet the needs of the infirm, the aged, or the poor by sacrificing the unborn [Well, except for maintaining the politically correct face when it comes to ESCR, something lots of Catholics are getting to be good at doing]. But when President Obama has committed, as he has, [Oh, really? Cite chapter and verse, please; Obama has consistently talked out of both sides of his Teleprompter on this one] to maintaining the Hyde Amendment prohibition of the use of taxpayer funds for abortion, is it really the spirit of Vatican II [Of course not! How dare Kmiec insult the Spirit of VII this way! As we know, the Spirit of VII is a Flexi-Spirit, able to bend to the prevailing cultural winds with remarkable agility!] to insist that the law also prohibit private individuals from opting to pay an extra premium for reproductive services [which they will then use to have their unborn children dismembered or burned alive or otherwise gruesomely murdered]?

No Catholic in good conscience could support our neighbor’s personal choice to purchase such reproductive coverage, [which they will then use to have their unborn children dismembered or burned alive or otherwise gruesomely murdered] and we offer the fullness of our faith [not to mention science, 3 and 4-D ultrasounds, and the testimony of millions of post-abortive traumatized women] to form individual conscience in order that this basic precept is understood.

But is it proper to insist that the law simply coerce the hearts and minds of others [Oh, wow, so we shouldn't have speed limits, either, or drug laws, or laws against drunk driving, or laws against rape or the murder of the privileged born, either! I mean, like, wow, how coercive of us to be so insensitive to the hearts and minds of speeders and druggies and drunks and rapists and those who murder the already-born!!]? Was it not once the calling of the church to convert, not coerce [Yeah, don't you just hate it when priests spend all their time lobbying instead of preaching and administering the sacraments? Oh, wait...]? Do we not commit injustice by continuing to place the health of millions of uninsured in jeopardy when we ask the law not just to protect the conscience of Catholic health care practitioners, but to impose by law our view of conscience on non-Catholic health care workers as well [by insisting that people not be facilitated in their twisted and evil desire to have their unborn children dismembered or burned alive or otherwise gruesomely murdered]? Yes, “here on earth, God’s work is our own,” as Ted Kennedy’s older brother JFK told us, but our Lord Jesus did his own preaching and healing, he did not expect Caesar to do it for him. [Um, dude, doesn't that bit about healing actually undermine your whole argument, such as it is? I mean, like, Jesus didn't wait around for Caesar to build hospitals and tax the middle class--He just healed people.]

I could go on, but like I said, this gets repetitive quickly. What I noticed the most were Kmiec's careful constructions to avoid mentioning exactly what we're talking about, when we point out the funding for abortion that may very well end up in the public plan. This isn't about government programs to train people how to smoke marijuana for medical reasons, which people of faith might legitimately agree with or disagree with; this is about using government money to fund, finance, and grow the abortion industry by paying for people to participate in the killings of their own children. Even if there's some kind of fake "wall" between government money collected for health care and private funds used to pay for abortion, we can be sure that such a wall will not long endure, and that any appearance that the government will pay for poor women--or any women--to kill their unborn infants will quickly be followed by the full reality of the practice.

But Doug Kmiec couldn't be where he is today if he hadn't shown an eager willingness to gloss over the ugliness of abortion at every opportunity. One hopes that he is enjoying his earthly reward for such a service. He is clearly in need of serious prayers.

We can't have that...

Lots of people are writing about this one; I'll hat tip Mark Shea because I saw it on his blog first and because he's got some more super-cute pictures of his little granddaughter Lucy up so go look at them right now instead of wasting time on my drivel. I'll wait.

Okay, everybody back? Good.

So, in case you haven't already heard, a New Hampshire court has decided that the wall of separation between church and state doesn't mean that the state can't tell religion what's what:
LACONIA, N.H. — An Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney filed motions with a New Hampshire court Monday asking it to reconsider and stay its decision to order a 10-year-old home-schooled girl into a government-run school in Meredith.

Although the marital master making recommendations to the court agreed the child is “well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising, and intellectually at or superior to grade level” and that “it is clear that the home schooling...has more than kept up with the academic requirements of the...public school system,” he nonetheless proposed that the Christian girl be ordered into a government-run school after considering “the impact of [her religious] beliefs on her interaction with others.” The court approved the order. [...]

The parents of the child divorced in 1999. The mother has home-schooled their daughter since first grade with curriculum that meets all state review standards. In addition to home schooling, the girl attends supplemental public school classes and has also been involved in a variety of extra-curricular sports activities.

In the process of renegotiating the terms of a parenting plan for the girl, the guardian ad litem involved in the case concluded, according to the court order, that the girl “appeared to reflect her mother’s rigidity on questions of faith” and that the girl’s interests “would be best served by exposure to a public school setting” and “different points of view at a time when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief...in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs.”

Marital Master Michael Garner reasoned that the girl’s “vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view” and then recommended that the girl be ordered to enroll in a government school instead of being home-schooled. Judge Lucinda V. Sadler approved the recommendation and issued the order on July 14. [All emphasis added--E.M.]
What, exactly, does this evil and insidious ruling mean?

It means that this particular New Hampshire court has, in effect, decided that there is no such thing as religious truth. A girl of 10 is not allowed, apparently, in the State of New Hampshire to believe fervently that the religion she practices has anything of truth in it; no, she must be exposed to as many world religions as possible, whether Christian, Jewish, pagan, Muslim, wholly-fake science fiction moneymaking schemes, or even Irritable Atheist Syndrome. She must be able to believe that six impossible religions might be true, or that one true one is likely false.

Religious faith, the faith that accepts the teachings of a particular religion as true, is apparently legally defined as "rigidity." The idea that anyone in the days of old might actually have died to defend his religious faith is taken as a sad reflection on the ancient world's lack of diversity, multiculturalism, and proper diagnosis and treatment of attention-deficit disorders. I wouldn't be surprised if Marital Master Michael Gardner or Judge Lucinda V. Sadler thought that the death of the seven brothers in Maccabees was a courageous, but misguided, attempt to advance the animal rights of porcine citizens, too long oppressed in such high-fat evils as ham and bacon.

So this particular court in New Hampshire looks at home schooling, in the case of this girl, and sees that it is working, they look at her religious instruction, as measured in her faith and joy in that faith, and see that this, also, is working, and they decree that these things must not be allowed to work: this girl must be sent to the Childhood Removal Factory, and taught how to shove condoms on bananas and laugh at religion with cynical scorn, lest she fail to grow up to be as miserable, rebellious, depressed, helpless, and dependent on the government to provide her with everything from employment to toilet paper as all the other children in New Hampshire.

At that point, she will, of course, be as free as her peers to select some politically correct, pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion iteration of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which will affirm her in her okayness, encourage her to vote for Democrats, and otherwise be a model blue-state citizen; or she can choose not to bother, and be a "spiritual" person who sleeps in on Sunday mornings and worries about the rainforest. Either is fine, so long as she doesn't choose some "rigid" faith and attempt to pass it on to her children; we Can't Have That in modern America.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The inappropriateness of a eulogy at a Catholic Funeral Mass

CNN is reporting that President Obama will deliver a eulogy at Ted Kennedy's funeral. Problem: the funeral is supposed to be held at a Catholic Church, and eulogies are supposed to be forbidden at Catholic funerals. First, the news report:
Services for Sen. Edward Kennedy will be Saturday morning at a Boston church before his burial in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, his office announced Wednesday.

President Obama, who called Kennedy an "extraordinary leader," will deliver a eulogy at the funeral, according to several sources.

Before the funeral, Kennedy's body will lie in repose Thursday afternoon and Friday in the Smith Center at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, said the source, who once worked closely with Kennedy's office. A memorial service will be held Friday evening at the Smith Center, the source said.

The funeral will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston's Mission Hill section. The church is commonly known as the Mission Church. It is a short distance away from the Kennedy library.
Now, as to eulogies: according to this article, "The revised Order of Christian Funerals issued in 1989, however, allows for a "remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation" by a family member or friend." But the final commendation can take place either at the church itself following the Mass or at the graveside, according to some other sources I checked; further, several priests and even some bishops have expressed a strong preference that nothing even approaching a eulogy should be voiced in the church itself--the time for such remarks should be at the vigil service the night before the funeral, or at the graveside, but not at any time during the Funeral Mass. The homily is not to be a eulogy, and no lay person--no, not even the president of the United States--should offer remarks at any time other than just before the final commendation.

There are many reasons why Catholic funerals aren't supposed to have eulogies. One of the chief ones, to me, is that a eulogy leads to the false idea that the deceased is definitely and surely already in heaven. We don't know that he or she is--we can't know that about any human person. Our duty at the funeral is twofold: to pray earnestly for the repose of the soul of the one whose body we are about to commit to the earth, and to pray with equal fervor for our own eternal salvation, which we should ponder in hope, but never in presumption.

Of course, another reason we shouldn't have eulogies is that they are not fitting for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Just as it would be extremely unsuitable for a bride and groom to spend a few minutes after the homily telling the congregation why they love each other and what they hope to gain from their marriages, so is it unsuitable during the Funeral Mass to take the focus off of Christ, our Hope, and place it on the personality of the deceased. It's bad enough when the deceased was really the kind, good, just, patient, holy sort of man we are usually assured he was; it's infinitely worse if the deceased was ornery, cantankerous, selfish, rude, impatient, and scandalous in his behavior toward others, because then in addition to being unsuitable the eulogy becomes an occasion for grave hypocrisy.

So President Obama should not be giving anything even remotely approaching a eulogy at any time during Ted Kennedy's Funeral Mass. The fact that they are or were both liberal Democrats has nothing to do with my objection to this, which is not partisan--I would be cringing just as much if some Catholic Republican were to be eulogized by a fellow Catholic Republican. This should not happen, because it is not seemly behavior for Catholics, not because the people involved are pro-abort Democrats.

In fact, it is an insult to the Church for the Kennedys or anyone else to insist on having things added to a Funeral Mass which do not belong there. God is not impressed by people's family connections, after all. The rites of the Church are her own business, and nobody should interfere with them for any purpose whatsoever, whether that purpose is the out-of-control personality of a pastor who likes to be "creative" or the assumption on the part of a wealthy and well-connected group of people than since all their friends' faith traditions permit eulogies, they ought to be accommodated in their desire to have them, too.

Granted, a lot of less-wealthy, less influential Catholics have had eulogies, too, owing to the deplorable lack of liturgical conformity or obedience which has characterized our sacred rites in this country since the Second Vatican Council. But the tide has begun to turn, and some diocesan bishops have begun to remind people that eulogies really aren't appropriate for a Catholic Funeral Mass. There's the possibility, then, that people who were told "no eulogy" for a funeral for one of their relatives will see the President's eulogy for Ted Kennedy as proof that there are different rules for wealthy and influential people, which is not really the best lesson to be teaching people.

I wish that I could hope that Cardinal O'Malley of the Boston Archdiocese would step in here and remind everyone concerned that there is not to be a eulogy during the Mass, and that any words honoring Senator Kennedy must be spoken at either the vigil or at the graveside. Let's just say that I'll be pleasantly astonished if any such thing were actually to happen. It is more than likely, although I hate to be so cynical, that once again Catholics will be scandalized by the complete lack of adherence to church norms when we're dealing with the rich and famous.

Watch out for Teddycare

I don't have all that much to say about the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, aside from that of course I have offered a prayer for the repose of his soul. There is nothing to gain by speaking ill of the dead, and Kennedy is beyond earthly censure anyway. As we all hope for mercy in the next life, we can't do less than pray for this mercy to be extended to all who have died.

But I do have something to say about the shameless attempt by the Democrats in Congress to reshape the health care debate already:
Democrats are hoping that the memory of Sen. Ted Kennedy will revive the Democratic Party's flagging push for health care reform.

You've heard of 'win one for the Gipper'? There is going to be an atmosphere of 'win one for Teddy,'" Ralph G. Neas, the CEO of the liberal National Coalition on Health Care, told ABC News.

Democrats are hoping that Kennedy's influence in death may be even stronger than it was when he was alive as they push for President Obama's top domestic priority. Democratic officials hope that invoking Kennedy's passion for the issue will counter slippage in support for health care reform.

I'll grant that Senator Kennedy, like most far-left leaning liberals, was in favor of government-run health care. The restraint proper given his recent death forbids me from speculating about his reasons for supporting such a system; but I suppose that it's fair to say that liberals generally believe in the power of the federal government and think that giving it greater and greater control over people's lives is the way to make sure that all Americans have access to health care via government-run insurance programs, socialized medicine, or other such systems.

Thus far, Americans haven't been too impressed with the health care plans being presented by Congress. Though all of the media attention has been on the vocal and unruly at town halls, there's no denying that the present iteration of health care reform has more critics than it has supporters, and that people in general seem to be confused about what the various plans offer--not surprising when their pages number in the thousands. So far, Americans have been keeping a watchful eye on this whole process, not willing to give up key freedoms in exchange for the promise of cheaper or easier health care.

But I think it's safe to say that the strongest proponents of today's health care reform plans are going to maximize on Ted Kennedy's popularity and point out his long-time advocacy for a government-run health care industry (or at least, for such public plans as the one presently being debated). Health care will be recast as "Kennedycare," or maybe even "Teddycare." And what sort of evil grinch could possibly oppose "Teddycare?" The name alone conjures up images of sympathetic plush toys being distributed by a benevolent Uncle Sam to sick kids who need someone else to pay their medical bills.

If Democrats successfully link Ted Kennedy to the Obamacare plans, public opinion on this thing may start to turn around. I don't think that would be a good thing, because I think the present plans are too flawed to be worth supporting, mainly from a life issues perspective, but also from a cost perspective among a few other issues. I do think that it is depressingly possible; politics, increasingly, involves battles lost and won through propaganda.

"Obamacare" has gotten a shaky reputation. "Teddycare" may capture the public's rather vapid imagination, and be rushed through before we have a chance to realize that it's the very same sort of plan, dressed up in a New England accent. Those of us who oppose the latest scheme to turn the health care industry over to the people who brought us the Post Office and the I.R.S. should be on the lookout for this attempt to manipulate the debate.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'Fessing up

I know I said a few days ago that I would be too busy to blog for a bit. I have been, and still am (as you can tell by how late this is being posted). But over the past few days I haven't just been busy--I've been away from home. It's never a good idea, I think, to announce such things beforehand; plans can change, and I'd rather not advertise an empty house and dates away on the Internet. Which is why nine times out of ten when I say I'm too busy to blog, that's all it is--just general business, or other obligations claiming my attention. But the tenth time I may be enjoying the magic of scheduling posts, while actually being elsewhere.

And that was the case this past weekend, when I was here, gathered with many of my extended family members to celebrate the final profession of my sister, Sister Joan Marie of the Merciful Redeemer.

What a beautiful Mass that was, the Mass of my sister's profession! The music was simply glorious, the prayers moving, the whole ceremony awe-inspiring. My sister's happiness was palpable, as was the joy of her whole community; and when some special words were directed at my parents, whose love and support have been instrumental in my sister's discernment and living out of her vocation, I got a little teary-eyed. What a priceless and irreplaceable gift in the life of a child is the unconditional love, admiration, affection and support of her parents! Those of us who would be honored if God chose one of our children to serve Him as a priest or religious should remember that as we raise our children.

The celebration afterward, and indeed the whole weekend, was an occasion for joy. I was glad that my girls, in particular, got to observe for themselves how beautiful a life of service as a religious sister can be, and how much happiness and fun are part of a sister's life--they especially enjoyed the music session with violin, guitar, and a funny ballad written by one of the sisters which told the (mostly true) story of the convent's struggle with an armadillo and its rampage over their lovely gardens. They also enjoyed speaking with one young sister who loved C.S. Lewis's books, and we had fun borrowing my brother's computer to show the sisters these great pictures of the construction of the Dawn Treader for the upcoming movie.

As always, the time went by amazingly fast, and before we knew it we were heading home--with just enough time to take a deep breath, hit a few grocery stores, and prepare for my in-laws to arrive this coming Saturday. They'll be spending a week with us, so I may be scarce around here going forward as well. But this time, I'll actually be here! :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

School Daze

Okay, I knew this was coming. I had it sort of slightly quasi-planned, even.

So why do I feel guilty about waiting to start school until after Labor Day?

We've started that late before, after all. There were plenty of years when summer would speed by at its lightning pace, and we'd watch it wind out its very end before hitting the books. Granted, the girls were a lot younger then, and one of our annual challenges was keeping busy until at least the end of April, not struggling to finish by July, but still...

I think it's because when I first realized that various family obligations would tie up our time right through the end of the first week of September, I thought that it would be possible to start early. Late July, early August, perhaps. The books would all be purchased and organized, the high school planning for Kitten's first year of high school would be complete and well-considered, and we could get a few weeks of the year out of the way before our planned visit with out-of-town relatives at the end of the summer. Nothing could be simpler, right?

Right.

I forgot about other obligations I had in June that kept me from ordering the books early. I forgot how many issues and decisions had yet to be made about high school, and how different this high school year would be from our previous homeschooling adventures. I forgot that planning for people to come and visit takes time and effort, too; I forgot how much time flies when you're having fun.

So midway through July I announced a change in plans--school would start September 8. And there was much rejoicing, but not from me; I felt like a slacker, compared to the year-rounders and summertime dabblers and all the happy homeschoolers out there who would have a whole month of school completed before we even began.

And that's when I realized that I was falling into one of the many homeschooling pits--the one where you compare yourself to other people in different situations, and come away feeling like a less-than-successful homeschooler.

Sure, sometimes looking around at what others are doing can be motivational, inspiring, encouraging. But other times we tend to forget that our own circumstances, needs, and family situations carve out a path for us that others might not be following. I'm sure I'm not the only homeschooling mom who is waiting until Sept. 8 to start this year's official schooling, but somehow the cute planners already going up on various people's blogs have made me feel some of that modified stationary panic I wrote about here--even though I know that waiting is the right thing to do for our family this year given our family's circumstances.

If I had rushed to plan, I probably would have missed many things that I needed to think about and order. If we had rushed to start, I'd probably be crabby and stressed about our relatives' visit "interrupting" our school momentum. If we had tried continuing our schooling during the summer, we would have missed out on other things that came along, other opportunities for the kind of learning that happens spontaneously and enriches the mind.

So it's time to take a deep breath, get ready for our company to come at the end of this week, and remember that when Bookgirl asks Grandpa about his work as a neuropsychologist (something she found very interesting last time Grandpa visited), she--and all of us--are learning a lot. Even if we aren't, as of yet, "doing school."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Just for Fun

I'm pressed for time today, so I thought it would be a good day to post a very short meme I've been thinking about starting. There's probably one like it out there somewhere, but it will probably take me less time to write my own than to go searching, so here it is:

My Novel Life

1. If my life were fiction it would be set in...

2. Right now I would be wearing...

3. The biggest crisis I would be facing would be...

4. My biggest joy would come from...

5. The most frustrating daily challenge would be...

6. Looking out my window, I would see...

7. The other characters in the story would be...

8. An essential element of a happy ending would be...


To give you an idea, here's how I would fill those in:

1. ...outer space, aboard a fast-moving ship.

2. ...one of those loose tunic/pants outfits space people wore in old space movies. Looks comfy!

3. ...an energy shortage. Naturally. :)

4. ...successfully navigating the ship beside my husband, who would be piloting.

5. ...making sure the ship's auto-cleaning functions were all operational. (I wish!)

6. ...the blackness of space, mostly.

7. ...my husband, my girls, and more family and friends!

8. ...a friendly planet with nice people, a decent way of life, and lots of cake. ;)

This isn't a "tag, now you should feel pressured either to do it or feel guilty for not doing it" sort of meme--please feel free to do it or ignore it! But I'd love to hear from those of you whose novel life would be set in the Old West, or in a courtroom or police drama, or in a fantasy world, or in 1850s London, or anywhere else where your imagination tends to roam!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Notes from the Choir, Vol. 4

Today's edition of the sporadic "Notes from the Choir" feature is going to be a bit different, in that I'm not focusing in on any specific music this time. Instead, I want to talk about a concept that has to do with sacred music in general, something I think is lacking from many of the more modern publications, yet something which wasn't always guaranteed to be a part of the older pieces, either.

There is much talk about the need for reverence at Mass. Some Catholics go so far as to say that the Novus Ordo Mass is incompatible with reverence, and thus is deficient. I would not say that, myself, because I have seen Novus Ordo Masses offered and assisted at with reverence and the proper attitude. If there has been a tendency to pull away from that proper spirit of reverence and towards a casual, "folksy" attitude, it has not been due, I truly believe, to any inherent incompatibility between the Novus Ordo Mass and reverence, but has rather been due to a lamentable spirit of liturgical experimentation which persists even this long after the Second Vatican Council.

Certainly, the music at Mass can either add to the atmosphere of reverence, or detract from it. Though our attention is often focused on the hymns, there is no doubt that the musical settings of the prayers of the Mass themselves often leave a great deal to be desired. And this is a point of great difficulty for many orthodox pastors who wish to inspire reverence at Mass; there simply aren't very many available Mass settings in English (I can't speak to the reality for other languages) which foster and inspire the spirit of reverence which should pervade the entire prayer of the Mass from the opening rites to the final blessing.

To put this problem in context, imagine that a musically-minded pastor has worked with his choir director to schedule the songs at Mass. The opening hymn is, perhaps, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Listen to it here; set your choice of instrument to "organ," if possible.

A few minutes later the choir begins the Gloria. The setting is that popular one, Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation (which we use at my parish most of the time). If you go to this page and scroll down, you can hear a snip of the "Gloria" as sung by a choir.

Can you hear the difference? Can you hear what is missing?

I have finally realized what I think it is, what key component of sacred music is missing in that which fails to promote reverence compared to that which does:

Solemnity.

The first selection, "Holy, Holy, Holy," is many things: beautiful, harmonious, stirring, majestic, well-formed and well-written. But it is also solemn; that is, it is serious, sober, grave, earnest, formal. No one hearing this tune for the first time, whether it was played on organ or piano or by an orchestra, sung by a single, well-trained singer or performed in four-part harmony by a good choir, would ever mistake it for a light-hearted frolic. It is not sad, nor is it gloomy; yet it is clearly not meant for anything but sacred use, in the sense of being "set apart" in the service of God.

The second selection, you will note, doesn't sound all that wonderful even as it is being sung by what is obviously a professional choir (even if they are also, sadly, using some sort of bells). The harmonies don't so much seem to reinforce any sense of solemnity or majesty so much as the seem to be calling attention to themselves, and the music's three-beats-in-a-measure tempo sounds a little like a waltz, and a little more like a "dance around a maypole;" it doesn't sound like Mass.

And it sounds even less like Mass when it is being sung by a group of enthusiastic but slightly off-key amateurs and accompanied by, perhaps, an electric guitar and some tambourines. It cannot produce or contribute to a spirit of reverence for the excellent reason that there is nothing of solemnity about it; it is not particularly serious, nor is it particularly sacred.

Unfortunately, this setting--the Mass of Creation--is often spoken of as one of the better vernacular Mass settings in English. There are many reasons for this; one I didn't realize myself is that some settings actually tamper with the words of the prayers, rearranging whole parts of the prayers in an attempt to make the music "work" better.

So with the best intentions in the world, a pastor or music director can schedule traditional hymn after traditional hymn, only to have the strangest juxtapositions between solemn hymns which aid reverence and light, whimsical Mass settings which tear down any notion of reverence and only serve to facilitate such Mass innovations as the "three-bench handshake lunge" at the Sign of Peace, followed by the "Let No Hand Be Unheld!" mandate at the Our Father.

We're not going to get better sacred music until we have better Mass settings. We need compositions that are solemn, that take the Mass seriously, that point away from Earth and toward Heaven, away from these temporary lives in the vale of tears and toward eternity. It is true that such settings exist in Latin, but unless we seriously believe--as I do not--that there will in our lifetimes be a greater and greater push toward suspending the vernacular and having Mass prayed and heard in Latin, we need for there to be better choices than what we have now, so much of which was composed and written at a time when the composer thought he was aiding in the singing of a new church into being. What we really need is to sing the solemnity back into being, so the Mass can return to its reverent and holy heritage; we can't do this accompanied by tambourines. Or handbells, for that matter.

Coolness!

"Bob the Ape" who posts over at Trousered Ape took a single phrase from one of my posts and turned it into this really amazing poem. Excerpt:
The tinny, ticklish, tinkling tones of strange religious xylophones
Come wafting faintly to my ears from mystic regions far away. [...]
Now go read the whole thing. :)

My writing has inspired imprecation, insult, and wrath before, but never poetry! This is awesome, Bob!

:)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blogging and the diet/exercise conundrum

Simon Owens, who runs the interesting blogging and media website Bloggasm, sent me a link to a piece he did which followed up that Time magazine story which claimed that exercise didn't help much when it came to weight loss:

Mike Howard is a health and fitness consultant and has been blogging over at the popular Diet Blog for about two years. Over the weekend he joined his colleagues in attempting to “debunk” the Time piece in a long blog post.

“In summary, the article essentially claims that exercise won’t help you lose weight, and may in fact be responsible for people GAINING weight,” Howard wrote. “Hmmm… The author, John Cloud (ooh the irony in that surname) goes on an anecdotally-based tirade, side-stepping contradictory evidence and common sense on route to his perplexing hypothesis.”

Like many of the other bloggers who reacted to the piece, he noted that there is general truth in what the article is saying — that exercise alone would not cause weight loss. He then went on to differentiate between the various forms of exercise that were lumped into one category in the piece, explaining the long-term health benefits that would result from each. [...]

The diet blogger explained that mainstream news often tries to offer provocative, black-and-white statements to grab reader eyeballs, rather than explaining the much more nuanced facts.

“It’s not a black or white issue,” he said. “The headline ‘Exercise does not help much when not combined with proper dietary compliance’ is not going to get many readers, so you have to be on the edge, you have to have a pull, or something like that, and that’s basically a trap that a lot of mainstream media falls into to grab our attention.” [All links in original--E.M.]

Do read the whole thing; I think it covers a lot of the complaints and questions people had about the original article.

To me, the takeaway here is that Time writer John Cloud's article leans too much toward the sensational, as articles about diet and exercise often do. There's nothing wrong with pointing out that exercise alone generally won't cause you to lose weight--but that's not really a provocative or eye-catching claim, in the realm of diet and exercise.

Or is it? Let's face it: the twin pillars of diet and exercise are often uneven in terms of what is being emphasized. I recall various fitness crazes of my youth: there was the "running will make everybody healthy!" craze, followed by the low fat diet phase, followed by the low carb diet phase (again, since it's been around a while), followed by the "strength training" phase and the health club phase, followed by...well, you get the idea.

The truth, as everybody knows, is that both diet and exercise are important for health, and that even for weight loss the proper balance between both must be found. You can't lose weight by going to the gym five times a week--and stopping for ice cream on the way home, as the Time article pointed out. But you also can't lose weight by cutting your calories drastically and then being a total couch potato. I think most people realize that the second is true--but perhaps some don't want to think that much about the first. Certainly in my own struggles to lose weight, it has been a lot easier for me to ignore bad eating habits while still exercising, as if the exercise canceled out the need to assess a sensible daily calorie amount and stick to it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Blog Design!

I can't thank Dawn Farias enough for creating this template for me! After seeing my struggles with the basic Blogger templates, she sent me an email with this proposed look. Needless to say, I loved it, and shortly thereafter I clicked over to my blog to see this amazingly beautiful design.

I love the colors, the header, the way the words "And Sometimes Tea" look as if they're made of the yarn of my favorite red cardigan sweater. I also love what she did with the Alexander Pope quote!

There's a link to Dawn's Design Shop over on the sidebar and down at the bottom of the blog. If you have any blogging design needs, you really should check out what she has to offer; she offers quite a few things for free and her custom design rates are reasonable, too.

Thank you again, Dawn, for this incredible new look!

Burquini chic?

Should women in France be prohibited from swimming based on the design of their swimsuits? What if the problem is that the swimsuit covers too much?
PARIS — A Muslim woman garbed in a head-to-toe swimsuit — dubbed a "burquini" — may have opened a new chapter in France's tussle between religious practices and its stern secular code.
Officials insisted Wednesday they banned the woman's use of the Islam-friendly suit at a local pool because of France's pool hygiene standards — not out of hostility to overtly Muslim garb.
Under the policy, swimmers are not allowed in pools with baggy clothing, including surfer-style shorts. Only figure-hugging suits are permitted.
Nonetheless the woman, a 35-year-old convert to Islam identified only as Carole, complained of religious discrimination after trying to go swimming in a "burquini," a full-body swimsuit, in the town of Emerainville, southeast of Paris.
She was quoted as telling the daily Le Parisien newspaper that she had bought the burquini after deciding "it would allow me the pleasure of bathing without showing too much of myself, as Islam recommends."
"For me this is nothing but segregation," she said. [...]
The "burquini" covers the arms to the wrists and the legs to the ankle and has a hood to cover neck and hair.
An official in charge of swimming pools for the Emerainville region, Daniel Guillaume, said the refusal to allow the local woman to swim in her "burquini" had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with public health standards.
"These clothes are used in public, so they can contain molecules, viruses, et cetera, which will go in the water and could be transmitted to other bathers," Guillaume said in a telephone interview.
"We reminded this woman that one should not bathe all dressed, just as we would tell someone who is a nudist not to bathe all naked," he said.


Frankly, I think that the official's comments to the extent that the clothing contains germs is pretty silly. Human skin is pretty darned germy, and the bathing suits which cover almost nothing aren't doing much to keep germs from entering a pool or bathing area.

If the concern is that baggy clothing isn't as safe to swim in, that would be one thing; I have no idea if studies have ever been done, but it seems reasonable to suspect that looser, baggier clothes could become heavier with water than other ones, and that too much in the way of a baggy garment could impede one's ability to swim. But nobody's talking about safety here, are they?

The question of modesty when it comes to swimwear is a complicated one. Some women I know like the idea of these or these, while others find that a regularly-available skirted swimsuit or "shortini" style will do. But even the most modest of the suits at the links above don't offer the coverage of the Muslim "burquini," and will likely not impede anyone's ability to swim.

If the French officials were concerned about the ability of a woman to swim in baggy pants, I'd probably have some sympathy. Unfortunately, this seems like the usual clash between France's secular state and the growing Islamic population rather than a real concern about public safety. It's hard to argue with this woman quoted in the article:
Women "jump on the occasion so they can swim with their families. Otherwise, they end up staying on the beach and watching," said Leila Mouhoubia, who runs an online site from France that specializes in the sale of Islamic swimsuits. Sales, she said, are strong.
"I think it's forbidden (in France) because it presents an image of the Muslim woman (and) they have prejudices against Muslims," she said by telephone. "They want women to be undressed."
Considering that women are allowed to wear swimsuits which are revealing far beyond the point of modesty in France, it seems as though Ms. Mouhoubia has a point.

Priceless (Welcome, Lucy Shea!)


For more, read here. And here. And here. And here. And...well, heck, anything doting Grandpa Mark has posted in the last day or so. :)

As it turns out...

I couldn't handle all that green. :)

I'm still playing around with the blog's look, but I kind of like this orange/blue thing. Feel free to comment, or to ignore, etc.

Thanks for all the suggestions, by the way! :)

UPDATE: This is starting to feel like a craft project--and I'm no good at those. I've decided that "boring" is preferable to "ugly" for now. Maybe I'll play around with it some more later.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Caution: Slow Blogging Ahead

I know that some people get really annoyed when a blogger announces that he or she is taking a blogging break, or will be posting less frequently than usual, or is otherwise heading into a period of low visibility.

Not me, because I'm the sort of person who clicks on other people's blogs impatiently wondering why he or she didn't post today, or has only posted once or twice a day instead of at his or her usual rate. I know, I know--subscribe to the blogs' feeds. Sad thing is, I do--and then I click anyway, in case the feed is slow or isn't working properly.

So when someone says, "I'm going to be absent/less active/less available for a bit," I don't get annoyed or think he or she is being conceited to think anyone cares. I'm grateful for these little announcements, because they keep me from checking in multiple times a day on a suddenly-inactive blog in the expectation of finding out any minute that the blogger has been in some sort of accident and is now in traction and must type with his or her chin, or has converted to a strange religious sect that forbids blogging, the consumption of nonalcoholic beverages, and the spending of more than four hours of the day not camped out in front of the television accompanied by a bag of marshmallows, a decent brand of whiskey, and a xylophone.

Don't get me wrong--these announcements aren't absolutely necessary from everyone. Some bloggers whom I cherish frequently stop posting for days or even weeks, because they've always done things that way, and their "regular" posting generally amounts to less than two posts per week anyway. It would take a much longer silence from these bloggers before I'd worry about traction or strange religious xylophones.

But for those of us who post at least once a day, and who feel like pikers if we post less than two separate posts in a day, and who sometimes (last week) post five things in one day and then realize that nobody was expecting that and they probably skipped right over the three at the bottom, an announcement is a courtesy.

So: for the next two weeks, don't be surprised if I post only once daily, if that. There may be a day or so where I don't manage to post at all, but I know for certain that doing more than one blog post from tomorrow through about Labor Day is going to get increasingly complicated, and will, on most of those days, not be even remotely possible.

Once we get past Labor Day and are in the full swing of our new school year, I should get back on schedule and back up to speed fairly quickly. Your patience is, as always, most gratefully appreciated.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Return of the Return of...

Earlier this evening I fulfilled a long-time promise to my girls, and sat down to watch Return of the Jedi with them.

I grew up on Star Wars, in a manner of speaking. I was a young girl when the first movie came out, and it was the first PG movie I ever saw. I eagerly awaited the second movie--and then broke down and read the movie paperback before going to see it. The movie wasn't spoiled for me, though to this day I can remember some of the slight variations between the book's rendition of the movie's dialog, and the movie's actual dialog. The two movies between them sparked in me a lifelong enjoyment of campy sci-fi, which never really translated into some of the hardcore, more serious stuff. I still like to sit down and read or watch a relatively cliched but original enough to be fun piece in which space pirates or evil despotic governments or mysterious space royalty show up; I liked the original Battlestar Galactica series on television as a kid, and never bothered to watch the new dark somber serious heavy-on-the-6th-Commandment-violations iteration.

But Return of the Jedi couldn't fail to disappoint. I was just old enough to cringe at the acting and storytelling and carefully rigged explosions. The Luke/Leia brother/sister relationship had been correctly guessed at and revealed a dozen times over before the movie came out, making a shrugfest out of what were supposed to be some of the more shocking moments; the Jabba the Hut part at the beginning was, and remains, a grotesquerie without much artistic justification; and the actors had been around just long enough not to portray convincingly the characters they'd brought to life before--in fact, at more than one point in the film there's more "Indiana Jones" than "Han Solo" in Harrison Ford's phoning-it-in portrayal.

When my children were old enough to be interested in Star Wars we were careful. They saw the first two, and I let them see The Phantom Menace a little later, though we skipped (and still do) the silly "he has no father" business, arguably the one thing in that movie that is more stupid than Jar Jar Binks. But I held off on Return of the Jedi mainly out of sensitivity to their modesty, and the fact that Princess Leia's "slave girl" attire is skimpy enough to be a problem for parents who might otherwise share this movie with their kids--though as we discussed, the character bears no fault for presumably being dressed this way by the evil and lecherous Jabba the Hut, whose bloated surging reminds me of nothing so much as the federal debt. Still, while the character may not bear fault, someone decided it was necessary to dress--or undress--Carrie Fisher in this way, and so for a long time I just said "no" to the movie.

At this point, though, my girls' desire to see the "conclusion" of the Star Wars saga was pretty strong; they have no interest in watching the other two prequel films, and were happy with a quick synopsis, but they did want to see the resolution of the original trilogy. How did Han Solo escape that carbon-freezing chamber? How did Luke defeat the Emperor? What the heck is an Ewok? So I sat with them to watch the film, and we fast-forwarded through some of the skimpy-costume bits as I gave them terse summaries: "Jabba's threatening them. Now he's ordering Han and Luke to be taken away. Now..." and so on, with stops for them to watch bits that didn't have Leia in them, until she was properly clothed again.

Once we got through that bit, though, I thought that my much younger self's harsh assessment of the movie was a little too critical, in parts. True, it's a campy, cliched movie. But the campiness is mostly good-hearted, and the cliches are decent ones, about family, and friendship, and love, and the possibility of redemption, and the empty seduction of evil.

When it was over Kitten, our oldest girl, wanted to talk about it a bit with me. She had really picked up on the movie's treatment of good and evil, on the fact that it was possible for Darth Vader to choose good even after all those years of being a slave to evil. We talked about how you could think of "the Force" in a way as that striving for balance between our intellects and emotions when we are faced with difficult choices--that some emotions (anger, hatred, fear) really do lead us astray more often than they are helpful, and that avoiding impulsive emotional decision-making is probably a good thing. At the same time, though, it's possible (though it happens less often in our world today) to stifle and ignore the emotions even when our hearts are telling us something we need to stop and listen to; we used the example of a high school student torn between college near home and college far away. Is her desire to remain near family and friends mere feeling, or is it her heart trying to overrule her head, which dispassionately elevates the more rigorous or diverse study offered at the far-away school?

People have talked a lot about what George Lucas intended by these films; certainly he isn't a friend to the deeply religious. But something happens when you tell a story that happens to have truth in it: the true parts are still true, and still good. We can choose good, whether we've chosen evil for a whole lifetime or whether we were momentarily tempted by evil (as Luke is when he strikes at the Emperor, giving in to his anger for a brief second). We can trust the people we love, even if it takes them longer to take down a deflector shield generator--or to take out the trash--than we were counting on. We can recognize those times when negative emotions are doing not only our thinking, but our choosing, for us.

And we can stay the heck away from teddy bears with spears. I'm just saying. :)

Henry Gates is in good company

Remember how angry Professor Henry Gates, Jr., got about the fact that the police didn't recognize him and asked him for i.d. after a passer-by saw what looked like a forced entry into his home? Professor Gates should take heart that the incident probably really wasn't racism, after all:

The incident began at 5 p.m. when a resident said a man was wandering around a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood several blocks from the oceanfront looking at houses.

The police officer drove up to Dylan, who was wearing a blue jacket, and asked him his name. According to Woolley, the following exchange ensued:

"What is your name, sir?" the officer asked.

"Bob Dylan," Dylan said.

"OK, what are you doing here?" the officer asked.

"I'm on tour," the singer replied.

A second officer, also in his 20s, responded to assist the first officer. He, too, apparently was unfamiliar with Dylan, Woolley said.

The officers asked Dylan for identification. The singer of such classics as "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Blowin' in the Wind" said that he didn't have any ID with him, that he was just walking around looking at houses to pass some time before that night's show.

The officers asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, where the performers were staying. Once there, tour staff vouched for Dylan.

The officers thanked him for his cooperation.

"He couldn't have been any nicer to them," Woolley added.

I'm glad Mr. Dylan was nice to the police; otherwise he might have been arrested, too.

Meanwhile, shocked baby boomers all over America are coming to grips with a painful fact: their heroes and icons are already unrecognized, not by mere children, but by adults (albeit young ones) in positions of authority. Pretty soon the only "Woodstock" anyone will remember is the late Charles Schulz's funny little yellow bird--and that, only because of the longevity of Peanuts and the brilliant marketing of its characters.

Does this blog need a new look?

No time to blog this afternoon! I hope to be able to get back out here tonight, though, so you late-night readers or early morning people may see something new before Monday.

In the meantime, I've been contemplating a tweak to my blog's appearance. I'm getting a little bored with the current layout, and even though I'm not much into blog design I'd kind of like something a little different than what I have now.

According to the quiz below, my blog should be green:




Your Blog Should Be Green



Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff.

You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.

However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.



What do you think? Should I:

a) Leave the blog alone. I hate it when people I read change their blog look all of a sudden.

b) Play with the colors, but keep the basic template. It's easy to read and find everything.

c) Change the template. C'mon, some people out there have custom designs--can't you at least upgrade to a new Blogger template?

d) Move to a new blogging platform altogether. I hate the comments form here!

e) Who cares! Now get back to writing about religion and politics.

I'm eagerly awaiting your opinions! :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just Americans

(Freedom of Speech, by Norman Rockwell)

There's been a lot of talk about the town-hall meetings about health care, about the riled-up citizens attending them, their behavior, their manners, their origins. Are they well-funded professional agitators, right-wing radio zombies, people mad about job losses and other things who don't care what the issue really is so long as they get to yell at somebody from Washington? Are they dangerous, racist, threatening? Are they harmless, clueless, distracting?

Or are they just Americans?

This nation of ours was founded like no other. There was no divine right to be king here; there was no titled class whose poorest or least competent members would always count for more than the smartest, richest, cleverest or most industrious of the commoners. We don't even have a class of people we refer to as "commoners," an omission in our national vocabulary that was an unthinkable linguistic innovation to most of our ancestors in most of the lands where they were born. It was just taken for granted that some people are, by virtue of who they are, better than others--not by virtue of innate gifts or education or intelligence or hard work or other qualities, but simply because of their birth, their breeding.

In America we may have some elitism, and it's not altogether a bad thing; but it is an elitism largely based on achievement, on the ambitious pursuit of personal excellence, not on some list of ephemeral qualifications that includes, without needing even to be mentioned, one's family tree. Sure, we have our well-known families--but being a Kennedy, say, doesn't exempt you from being judged to be far too incompetent to be, for example, ambassador to the Holy See; the elitism of birth only gets you so far in America, and we don't suffer fools just because they have a pedigree as other nations sometimes do.

Because America considers the whole question of who one is a little differently, Americans have always been rather outspoken and blunt in our dealings with politicians. There is no bended knee and if-my-lord-will-attend kind of groveling here. The best-respected of our elected leaders are the ones who have proven themselves in the private sector; the least-respected, on either side of the aisle, are those who have never shown themselves to be anything other than useful windbags, ready to fill with hot air and point in any direction in which the drafts of government's latest legislative ventures are prepared to blow.

And the winds of "hope and change" are beginning to blow in what many Americans see as a very dangerous direction, particularly in this matter concerning health care reform. Instead of a modest bill designed to address some real and serious problems we have in America in regard to the access of ordinary citizens to health care, we have seen several thousand-page monstrosities filled with minutiae creating a vast web of bureaucratic structures to stand between Americans and their doctors. Instead of protecting the lives of Americans we see threats to the unborn, whose executions for the crime of existence will probably be covered under final legislation; we see threats to the elderly, who will "only" have to have "voluntary" conversations with their doctors every five years to discus end-of-life planning. More than that, though, we see a blueprint for a forcibly-opened Pandora's box, out of which will teem the insects "Unintended Consequences" which will be addressed not by a transparent, public bill, but by riders and codas attached to all sorts of other legislation. If government health care is a behemoth at its birth, it will be a Leviathan long before it has attained its maturity.

The problems with health care could be fixed with much smaller, much more focused legislative efforts--and it is sobering to realize that when the Republicans controlled Congress they did not seize the opportunity to do so, thus leading us toward this inevitable struggle. But many Americans have come to believe that the agents of the federal government--our elected representatives--don't want "smaller" or "focused" change. They want a crack at ever-expanding, ever-increasing power over our lives and our fortunes (and they'd probably go after our sacred honor, too, if there were any money or Congressional tenure in it). They may not want full-blown socialism, which tends to collapse under its own weight in a depressingly short time--but I think they'd like enough socialism to be guaranteed greater job security in our struggling economy, and to get away with more pocket-lining and influence-growing which is the Congressional enhancement to Social Security.

And the people, a lot of them, who show up to town hall meetings have caught on to that trifling reality. They've caught on, at long last, to the truth about Congress and the federal government--that it is out of control, that it increasingly tries to augment its own power and financial control over the lives of Americans, that the members of Congress increasingly work not for us, but for themselves.

Hence the angry cries of "You work for us!" at more than one town hall meeting. If there was anything needed to show Americans once and for all that members of Congress tend to think of themselves as government employees with good career tracks, good salaries (though they're always ready to vote for a pay hike) and good benefits, that they view elections as necessary evils and meetings with constituents as photo ops for the next campaign, it has been this health care road show. Congress is ready to vote for a health care plan that might quite likely mean the end of private insurance for many more of us than want or need a public plan--while exempting themselves from this plan, and making sure they get to keep cushy red-carpet benefits the likes of which few Americans get from their employers. But they work for us! They work for us; we are their employers, and it's high time a few of the incumbents get an unpleasant shock at what they like to think of as "contract renewal time," and what we call elections.

I think a lot of the yelling at town hall meetings is happening precisely because these elected public servants are waltzing in acting like they are there to be served, and are put out because real, not-necessarily-photogenic people showed up wanting real answers to real questions. Our Congressmen and women didn't get to plant "random" questioners like a cute little girl whose mom was a heavy Obama supporter to pitch them softballs--they had to face real people demanding answers to the many ways in which the health care reform bills under consideration threaten American liberty, potentially harm American innovation in health care, and treat American health care workers as if they are all greedy dishonest leeches who look at your tonsils or appendages with dollar signs in their eyes. And when they refused to answer these questions, the concerned Americans attending the town halls asked louder, and yelled, and showed their anger.

Because they're not sleek, sophisticated dealers in euphemism and sympathy, like the MSM. They're not glad-handing promoters like lobbyists or heads of special-interest groups. They're not discreet corporate sponsors with a Senator or two in their pockets. They are just Americans, and they want to be heard.

And the Congresscritters facing them have never seen anything like them before.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Any Dallas readers out there?

Do you live in Dallas, anywhere near Children's Hospital? Could you offer a bed and shower to a mom and dad taking turns staying with a fragile newborn? Waltzing Matilda has the details and contact info:
UPDATE:
Anyone who lives near Children's Hospital in Dallas who can offer a bed and a shower to the parents as they try to switch shifts with Baby Cecilia would be most appreciated. Please email me at the address in my sidebar.
*******************************************************************************

We know of a family in need. Their tiny baby was born a few weeks ago, has already undergone surgery and is needing to stay in the hospital for a longer than expected time. If you can offer any kind of assistance, please send me an email for more details. Anyone who lives outside of the DFW area who would like to contribute in a monetary way, please email me as well.

Your prayers are most important for baby Cecilia! Thank you!

We can all pray for baby Cecilia and her family. But if you do live in Dallas and think you can help, please either go to Waltzing Matilda's blog and email her at her contact info, or send an email to me and I'll pass the info along to her.

Thanks, all!

Church and Legion

The scandal surrounding the late Father Maciel and the child--or children--he fathered continues to unfold; see the life-after-rc blog for this post and this one, which offer translations of (I believe) Mexican media accounts of the newest revelations. Among them: there are multiple children (at least three); the mother of one of them was a minor when she first met Maciel; and that the Legion cover-up of this situation goes back much farther than previously supposed.

It will probably take a while for the full extent of this story to be revealed. In the meantime, Rod Dreher comments here:
Who in the order knew that the hero-worshiped Padre had impregnated several women? Who signed off on this "hush money"? Who in the Vatican knew what Maciel had done? Did Pope John Paul II know -- and did he approve of the cover-up? (You will note that despite ample evidence that something was very wrong with Maciel and his scheme, the Vatican made no moves against him until Cardinal Ratzinger became pope).
For the record, I highly doubt that Pope John Paul II knew anything at all about Maciel's double life or the cover-ups it entailed; I disagree with Rod about this. That's not some kind of knee-jerk Catholic defense policy--it is based on my knowledge of the Legion, and of how good, how terribly good, they can be at presenting an "all is well" image to the Church and to the world, even while allowing dubious practices in terms of formation etc. to flourish in their seminaries.

We also need to remember that Pope John Paul II was advanced in years and precarious in health by the time any serious suspicions about the Legion began to surface in a way that wasn't being addressed by the Legion's own rather highly-developed damage control system. Remember, the Legion's default position for many years has been that anyone who criticizes, condemns, questions, or raises suspicions about the Legion is someone who is unworthy of the Legion's great mission and purpose, and has probably been influenced by evil to attack Maciel and the great, noble things he set out to create. Even today you will hear some Legion members utter such things: Maciel himself may be an "imperfect vessel," but the Legion and all its works are unquestionably good for the Church and the world, according to them. Attacking the Legion is attacking the Church, plain and simple, in this unwise formulation--but such a formulation would make it even harder for anyone outside the Legion to get anywhere with an investigation, especially when what is being investigated is never anything more than slippery and elusive rumors about "misconduct."

As someone pointed out over at Crunchy Cons, it would take something like an apostolic visitation to show accounting irregularities or other proofs of a cover-up of Maciel's sinful lifestyle and activities--and that's exactly what Pope Benedict XVI has ordered. The plain truth is that the pope, for all that he is the visible head of Christ's Church on earth, is not akin to the CEO of some "Catholic, Inc." business who spends most of his time as an executive reviewing the financial statements and other records of every diocese, religious order, or official Catholic-affiliated group or organization on the planet; if he did, he wouldn't have time to be a spiritual leader at all.

Is there some reform needed among the various Vatican bureaucracies whose job it actually is to keep an eye on some of these administrative realities? From everything I've heard, yes. But the Church is not a business, and the pope's job should never be assumed to be "Chief Financial Officer/Rumor Investigator/Tyrannical Head Despot with Limitless Authority over the Day to Day Workings of Every Single Diocese and Religious Order," which is what some of those still scarred by the Scandal seem to think it should be.

All of that said, the fact that more and more information is filtering out about Maciel's evil and duplicitous life is a chance for the Church to act through her official channels to do what must be done in the aftermath of so terrible a reality. The heavy questions about whether the Legion should be entirely suppressed or re-formulated with a new focus and purpose are only part of that reality; the victims of Maciel need to be compassionately and kindly helped, first and foremost. I do trust the Church to do what needs to be done, even if this takes significant time and careful effort. It is more important for the Church to act with charity and prudent responsibility than to seek to "manage" this situation with media-palatable soundbites and headlines without really getting to the bottom of this whole unsavory mess.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Potemkin Town Halls

I didn't invent the phrase "Potemkin town halls," but I really like it. It's being used in connection with Obama's town hall in New Hampshire earlier today--and particularly because the "randomly chosen" eleven-year-old girl who pitched him a softball question turns out to be the young daughter of a major Obama supporter (Hat tip: Michelle Malkin):

A girl from Malden asked President Obama a question at Tuesday's town hall meeting in New Hampshire about the signs outside "saying mean things" about his health care proposal.

Eleven-year-old Julia Hall asked: "How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can -- that help more of us?''

The question opened the door for the president to respond to what he called an "underlying fear'' among the public "that people somehow won't get the care they need.''

The girl later told the Globe that picking the president's brain was "incredible."

"It was like a once in a lifetime experience," she said.

Julia's mother was an early Obama supporter in Massachusetts during the presidential election, so she had previously met First Lady Michelle Obama, the Obama daughters Sasha and Malia, and Vice President Joe Biden. (Emphasis added--E.M.)

"This was my first time meeting Barack Obama, and he's a very nice man," Julia said. "I'm glad I voted for him."

She said Obama won a mock presidential election at the Cheverus School in 2008. And on Tuesday, he approached her after the town meeting.

It's already obvious that the selection process for the audience for Obama's town hall meeting makes it a bit of a stretch to call it a "town hall." Post-election campaign rally would be a better name for it. But even with a friendly audience (who chanted "Yes, we can!" at one point) and questions that were so slow and over the plate that an nonathletic woman like myself could have knocked them out of the park, Barack Obama managed to stumble, most of all with that gaffe about the post office which is here.

One wonders how he'd handle the kind of town hall meetings Democratic congressmen and women have been dealing with all summer long. One wonders if the Democratic congressmen are wondering that, too.

The blogging burnout syndrome

Don't know if you saw this, but Amy Welborn is leaving her Via Media blog, and Beliefnet, behind:
I'm not going to offer long explanations because there really are no long, complicated reasons. In brief: I have a different kind of writing to do, a real opportunity to do it, and it's the kind of writing that requires lots of thought and focus. I thought I could do both - because I have, in a way, in the past, but for whatever reason, I can't fit it all in my brain anymore. In order to do these other things, I need to have the spectre of "gotta blog something" and "wow, this is so bloggable" lifted from my consciousness. It just has to go!
First of all, best wishes to Amy wherever her next venture leads her; we'll all hope that we see her again soon. Her writing is always eminently worth reading and pondering, rich and deep, poetic, full.

Second, though, I've noticed that Amy occasionally mentions her introversion; I'm not the hundred-percent extrovert type, but usually wind up on the extrovert side of the middle, so to speak. I suppose that's the reason why I never feel as though blogging is a distraction, or that having too much to blog about is anywhere near as much of a problem as not having anything newsworthy or interesting swirling around.

But lots of those who do blog on a regular, professional scale talk about the burnout, so in all likelihood I haven't experienced enough of that kind of full-effort daily blogging to be able to comment about its draining effects.

How about you? If you blog, professionally or otherwise, have you ever reached a breaking point and wanted to quit? Have you ever, in fact, quit, only to come back later because you missed it? Do you feel energized by your time on the Internet writing blog posts, or is it draining and distracting to you?

The biggest story we're not reading

While we've all been busy debating health care, we may be missing a different--and bigger--problem, according to Bob Herbert:

Some 247,000 jobs were lost in July, a number that under ordinary circumstances would send a shudder through the country. It was the smallest monthly loss of jobs since last summer. And for that reason, it was seen as a hopeful sign. The official monthly unemployment rate ticked down from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.

But behind the official numbers is a scary story that illustrates the single biggest challenge facing the United States today. The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.

The country has lost a crippling 6.7 million jobs since the Great Recession began in December 2007. No one is predicting a recovery in the foreseeable future powerful enough to replace the millions of jobs that have vanished in this historic downturn.

Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute noted that the economy has fewer jobs now than it had in 2000, “even though the labor force has grown by around 12 million workers since then.” [...]

This should be the biggest story in the United States. When joblessness reaches these kinds of extremes, it doesn’t just damage individual families; it corrodes entire communities, fosters a sense of hopelessness and leads to disorder.

During a Republican Administration, I suspect, jobless numbers like these would be banner headlines. But instead, the media trumpeted the slight decrease in the numbers for July as a sign of hope, as Herbert says, instead of recognizing the catastrophe they represent.

Most of us know at least one person or family who has lost a job since this recession began, and who is either still unemployed or has accepted low-paying work outside of his or her skill area just to be able to pay the bills. At our parish we've begun to pray regularly at the Prayers of the Faithful for those who are losing or have lost their jobs, and for families devastated by such losses.

Yet the MSM seems unusually shy about discussing all these lost jobs and their impact. There seems to be, instead, a rush to paint a rosy picture of the economy, or to repeat solemnly the president's nonsensical notion that we'll improve the economy vastly when we fix health care. Unless people who've lost their manufacturing or information tech or similar jobs can suddenly become doctors or bureaucrats, though, it's hard to see how health care reform will help.

Is this, as Bob Herbert says at the end of the piece, "...the nation’s biggest problem and should be its No. 1 priority."? Or is the economy about to come roaring back, "fixed" by health care reform, stimulus plan spending, cash for clunkers--oh, wait, that one's been canceled--well, you get the idea?

Nun on the left in support of dodgy bill

I have to give credit to Jack Smith at The Catholic Key blog; Jack does a superb job of writing and reporting about issues of concern to Catholics not only in the diocese of Kansas City, but in all of America.

His recent post on the so-called "common ground" abortion bill is no exception (all links in the original post):
Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have had a hard time selling their "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act (HR 3312)" as a "common ground" approach to reducing abortion. That's because they haven't found any prominent pro-life leaders to join NARAL and Planned Parenthood in supporting the bill. They've had to resort to calling Ryan "pro-life", when in fact, he has the same National Right to Life score as Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) - ZERO.

In fact, Catholic leaders have condemned the bill. The USCCB Pro-Life Office called HR 3312, the "Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package of 2009." [...]

But if the purveyors of the Culture of Death need an official-sounding Catholic counter-witness to the bishops, someone is sure to step up to the plate. And the list includes a some names familiar to readers of this blog. From a CNS report at The Catholic Review of Baltimore (links are mine):
Among the groups or individuals with Catholic ties who expressed support for the legislation were the National Coalition of American Nuns; the national Catholic social justice lobbying group Network; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theology professor at Boston College who is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America; and Charles C. Camosy, an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York and coordinator of the university’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies Conversation Project. . .

. . .“This legislation gives me hope that we can finally begin to move beyond using pregnancy as a political wedge issue and to focus instead on providing women and families with the resources they need for healthy pregnancies and babies,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network. “It is time to work together to eliminate political posturing on this issue.”

That's the same Simone Campbell who a couple of weeks ago was urging Congress to pass a health bill NOW instead of getting bogged down by "insignificant details".

Tell me again why the Vatican is investigating American nuns? Must be that old ugly misogyny rearing its head again--that, or the Vatican wants to clamp down on the Holy Spirit's efforts to help sing a new church into being, or something.

Have to see it to believe it

You've probably already heard about this:



Okay, let's get this straight. We need a public health policy--but hey, don't worry, private insurers, because you'll still make plenty of money like UPS (tm) and FedEx (tm)--it's the government-run post office that has all the problems.

Oh, my. Sometimes the truth is a sword, and sometimes it's a blunt instrument. Either way, this is one truth President Obama really didn't want to present to the country. Government-run health care: like the post office, only worse!

Someone mark the public policy part of the plan with a "Return to Sender" stamp.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Health care unfocused ramblings

Late posting today; sorry about that. Mondays are just so...unpredictable.

But I wanted to talk a little bit more about health care reform. Forgive me if this is disjointed and disorganized; I just need to think out loud about a few things.

If we could turn back the clock to a time before health insurance, and could re-do that whole process, I think things would be better than they are; but that's not possible. For better or worse we have a disjointed and complex system that grew out of private risk-sharing agreements, government regulations, and eventually the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. We have to work with what is, unfortunately.

But that doesn't mean that the system we have now is perfect. We need to do better in many ways, and as a Catholic I'm particularly concerned about those who don't have access to employer-provided health insurance. Granted, this insurance isn't "free," as some mistakenly think it is (at least not for most of us--some union employees may not make employee contributions), but if you don't have adequate employment, chances are you also don't have adequate health insurance. And while Medicaid and Medicare may do a reasonably good job of covering many, there are many others for whom any serious health problem would mean choosing between care (and poverty) or illness (and lesser poverty, but still poverty).

Unfortunately, the plans being discussed now seem to be more about moving people away from private insurance and onto government insurance than they are about insuring the uninsured, or increasing the benefits for those who lack adequate health insurance. It's easy to see why so many think this has more to do with creating greater power for those in Washington than creating greater health care options for those whose economic situations restrict what sort of medical options they have when ill or in need of treatment or surgery. The likelihood is that more of us will end up in the second group, being told that we can't have treatment A or surgical procedure B unless we can pay for it out of our own pockets, as the government plan doesn't cover it, or some bureaucrat we'll never meet has decided we don't really need it, regardless of what our doctor thinks.

Further, we have to be realistic about what the plan will cost each of us. If those of us who have employer-provided private insurance find that our employers have decided to dump us on the public plan, for instance, it's unlikely that our salaries will rise--and yet the reason salaries are what they are is because "benefits" are also being offered. The company will pocket the difference, but we're the ones whose taxes will rise and rise to offset the increasingly gargantuan costs of insuring every American on a public plan (in a weak economy with an already huge deficit). On the other hand, small business owners who have private coverage may see a temporary advantage from getting the public plan instead, but their increased taxes might be the difference between staying in business or folding. Those who have no insurance at all will technically benefit from being on a public plan, but young, single people in generally good health (a lot of whom are uninsured) may see so much taken from their wages in the form of taxes to pay for health care that the plan will seem like an unfair trade.

Are there better options? Are there ways of fixing health care that would focus on helping the truly needy to obtain insurance and access to treatment instead of growing the size and power of the federal government? I think there are. One thing I think is worth exploring is the question of how much health care should cost, and how much it does cost in places that offer cash-only medical services. When I broke my toe and had it x-rayed, I payed $157 for the doctor visit and three x-rays at a cash-only medical office. I didn't absolutely have to see a doctor or get x-rays, but I'd never broken a bone before and wanted to be sure what to do about it; doctors can't do much for broken toes, so if I hadn't had the money I wouldn't really have missed out on any necessary care. But since I did go, I was pleased at the cost--$157 seems reasonable to me for three x-rays and a consultation with a doctor.

I know that for a person living near poverty that same amount would be out of reach. But what if communities supported such cash-only centers? What if a local government could offer tax breaks and other incentives in exchange for the doctor's agreement to see and treat a certain number of poor patients at discounted rates, or gratis? What if a doctor could spend a few years working "pro bono" like some lawyers do, in exchange for medical school tuition and some office and living expenses? What if we used tax dollars to finance the educations of a certain number of doctors in exchange for their agreement to spend some hours every week for a time working with the poor? What if we traded a few years' worth of malpractice insurance payments (a heavy burden for doctors) for their services in rural areas or as family practitioners in areas where doctors are sorely needed?

What if, in these cash-based practices, doctors could 'compete' directly with the insurance companies in a manner of speaking? If it got to the point where people could actually afford to go without regular health insurance and only needed to buy catastrophic coverage, I think the insurance companies might notice.

And reasonably priced cash-based medical clinics or practices would also help another group not helped by the government plan: illegal immigrants. We may believe, as I do, that a better job of controlling immigration needs to be done, but in the meantime it's not the attitude of Christians to deny those already here adequate medical care when they are in need.

One more thing cash-based clinics would do would be to shed the light on the actual costs involved in medical care. So many people seem to think that it shouldn't even cost 20 or 30 dollars to see a doctor, for instance; but most of us are aware that it costs ten times that much to spend any quality time with a lawyer. A lawyer and a doctor have similar education costs (though if the doctor is a specialist chances are his education was even more expensive). So why do we get mad if we have to pay a co-pay that costs less than ordering a couple of pizzas?

I found this article about cash-only doctors interesting; it started this whole chain of thought. I couldn't help but wonder, as I read it, what will become of such practices under the Obama plan; will they even be allowed to remain in operation? Or will it be necessary to distance people even further from any realistic notion of what medical care really costs?