Monday, January 31, 2011

Just another migraine Monday

I have things to say today.

For instance, there's the somewhat scary silliness involving protests over the fact that a corporate fast-food franchise donated some lunch baskets to an organization which holds the radical and preposterous view that marriage ought to be one man and one woman (what next? The view that pregnancy ought to lead to childbirth?).

And then I've thought a lot more about the whole "intentional discipleship" thing, especially given this wise gentleman's thoughts on the matter, and have been working on a post to discuss all of that.

And I haven't forgotten that I promised to write about masculinity and Christianity back before Christmas, either.

But today I'm rather out of commission, having battled unsuccessfully with a migraine all afternoon. So I can't really write anything.

Instead, I'll share an updated version of Tim Hawkins' famous "Chick-fil-A" (tm) parody song, performed at a Chick-fil-A (tm) conference:



And here's something that will really frighten the secularists:



Serious blogging will resume tomorrow--the good Lord willing!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bookgirl!

As I touched on in my post below on cars, we now have a fourteen-year-old who is catching up every day to her just-turned-fifteen sister!

Bookgirl is adventurous, smart, good at school work, and a terrific reader (three of the gifts she requested on her birthday list are new books to read). She also loves to draw, especially manga-inspired works, and has a talent for it that amazes me, because I never graduated beyond stick-figures and am awed by anyone who can do better than that.

Because she loves to draw so much, she decided that rather than take over the blog post at this point (as I always let my birthday girls do), she'd rather share a recent picture with all of you. So, here it is:
Happy birthday, Bookgirl! I hope today is full of books, drawing, friendship and adventure: the four things you love most. We love you!

Open thread on cars

Yes, you read that right: cars. As in, automobiles, mini-vans, people-movers, wheeled transportation powered by internal combustion engines, whatever.

Here's the situation: after eight and counting years of loyal service, our family mini-van is starting to exhibit those charming squeaks and rattles that...cost us over $3000 to fix last year. It's a Toyota, so I expect it will be around a while longer (hey, it's only got 120,000 miles on it! It's practically a baby!)--but up to now, we've been a one-car family, so having something reliable is sort of necessary.

We theoretically have three options here:

1. Keep driving the mini-van and do nothing else. This is probably only an option for the next year or so.

2. Trade the mini-van for another biggish car. Though we are a five-person family, four of the five people are taller than my 5'2" height--and, as everyone knows, a so-called "five-passenger car" mostly means a four-passenger car with the possibility of squeezing a smallish extra person up against what is otherwise the arm-rest in the back seat, and belting him or her with a lap belt.

3. Keep the mini-van for our soon-to-be driving teens (one fifteen, one fourteen, and one who will be 13 this summer!) and buy a smallish second car that could squeeze all of us in it in the event that the mini-van dies or is in the shop.

Bearing in mind that we are a one-income family on a limited budget, which of these options would you choose? Why? Are there specific vans/cars you would recommend in the event you vote for "2" or "3"? Do you love your present car? Do you hate it? And so forth...

Looking for advice and recommendations here. All welcome!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A sacred gift

You'll have to forgive me a bit, today; I've been battling a stupid migraine all day, and am now pressed for time as I try to get things ready for Bookgirl's birthday tomorrow.

While I haven't had time to enter back into the comments regarding the Church's teaching against contraception in the comments below this post, I've been reading them. I still think that there is, for many people, a fundamental misunderstanding about contraception that comes from not fully understanding the Church's teachings regarding marriage and the family.

I'm not a moral theologian, and my understanding of these matters is simply that of a Catholic lay woman. And today probably isn't the best day for me to be delving into matters so deep--but I wanted just to get the conversation going, in the hopes that better-trained and more focused Catholics will chime in.

In the first place, one of the phrases the Church uses both about marriage generally and about the marital embrace specifically is that it involves the total gift of self to other. That, essentially, is what love is; and marital love has a physical dimension proper to it exclusively.

What is a total gift of self to other? It is saying, in the marriage covenant, that I no longer belong solely to myself, but also to someone else, and he belongs no longer solely to himself, but also to me. The marital embrace is both the sign and the consummation of this unity of self with other, and in its highest expression, in the children who result from the embrace, who are truly flesh and blood of both husband and wife equally; thus, the children are the living signs of their parents' permanent and committed love.

Now, it is the sad reality of our fallen world that children are born outside this union of permanent and committed love. This has all sorts of evils for the children, who may very well be deprived of their most essential birthright: the right to be loved, raised, and cared for by their own parents. Children, who are wholly innocent, are owed this, and they deserve it; adults who by their behavior deprive them of it act very badly indeed.

Given that, you would think that the Church would almost condone contraception outside marriage--but she does not, for excellent reasons. Primary among these reasons is that sex outside of marriage, contraceptive or not, is a lie. It cannot involve a total gift, when each person is holding back from the other their public and binding committment as well as their fertility; it is not yet promised to be permanent, even if by God's grace the couple sees their error, repents, and then enters into such a permanent union; and it is not committed by its very definition. Any children born into this pseudo-union are in a precarious situation, and though it may be hoped that their parents will do the right thing as regards their children there is no guarantee that they will, and plenty of statistical evidence suggesting that they will not.

But what about contraception within marriage? Why can that not be allowed?

Again, because contraception itself renders sex, even inside marriage, a lie. The husband "says" to his wife with the language of his body, I give myself totally to you--except for my ability to give you children, and I accept the gift of your total self--except for your ability to have children, and the wife "says" the same thing back to him, allowing for the change in pronouns. But there can be no total gift when a vital aspect of that gift is being denied; the marital embrace becomes not unifying, but isolating; the couple are not drawn closer together, but pushed farther apart.

Interestingly, statistics from the Natural Family Planning group show that married couples who use NFP have a less than 5% divorce rate (which is still too high, of course) compared to a national divorce rate of 50%. I'd like to see a study done in which those who use no family planning at all are included with those who use natural means, and those who use contraception are included with those who have been surgically sterilized--because I'd be willing to bet that the divorce rate of the former group would also be a fraction of the divorce rate of the latter.

Sex is a sacred gift, but it is not a gift which belongs to one person, to use with as many others over the course of his life as he sees fit. Rather, it is a gift that is only properly used when it is given to one other person exclusively within the context of a permanent, committed marriage. Any other use of it is gravely unjust to the person himself, to those with whom he "uses" this gift, and to any children born deprived of the loving relationship with their parents which they are owed by virtue of their humanity.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mark Shea on true and false courage (posted at C4C)

No time to blog this afternoon; instead, I'll share this piece cross-posted at the Coalition for Clarity blog, and invite my And Sometimes Tea readers to comment either here or there.

A terrific piece from Mark:

Similarly, many a radically selfish person has managed to convince himself he was a soul dedicated to the Good of Mankind or the Love of God even as he was about the business of doing some miserable piece of self-serving filth and telling himself throughout the whole affair that the gag reflex he felt was what truly courageous people must muscle down as they defy God and conscience for the Greater Good.

If that is so, then how do we make the distinction between a radically good and radically evil act? How do we tell that one is advocating radical evil and another is advocating radical Christian charity?

The answer is the cross. What marks out Jesus' radical act of courage is that He is brave in offering His own life, not some other innocent person. Conversely, if somebody is "courageously" willing to make some innocent person suffer or die, that's your first clue that they are not courageous for the things of God.

And so, for instance, Himmler is very brave with the lives of innocent people and singularly protective of his own. Likewise, Myers does not volunteer his own body to be reduced to a piece of meat for the sake of Science, much less for the sake of a baby. He demonstrates a congenital inability to distinguish brutality from courage and regards himself as brave for, among other things, being unmoved by the thought of stabbing a defenseless baby to death with scissors. The distinction between that act and interposing one's body between the baby and a fiend like himself is lost on a moral monster like Myers, as it is on Himmler. Like Jeffrey Dahmer, he is "unafraid" to reduce persons to meat. (And, oddly, nobody frets about his "incivility" or the effect he might have on some Jared Loughner in his class.)

In the same way, the Croatian guard is "brave" enough to slaughter innocents, but not enough to slaughter his nationalism on the cross of Christ.

Go read the whole thing here.

We've seen the "false courage" motif crop up in torture debates. The idea is that those who oppose torture are too cowardly to "man up" and do What Must Be Done to Defend Our Nation. The response to that is simple: a nation that can only be defended by having recourse to torture--or, indeed, any other intrinsic evil--is a nation no longer worthy of defending.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An important conversation

There's an important conversation going on over at Mark Shea's blog, about evangelization and discipleship. Sherry Weddell of the Siena Institute writes:

Here's the deal: roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend. So the next time you witness a baby's baptism, think, in 20 years, 2/3 of those babies will either be gone or non-practicing. Only 1 in 6 of those babies will be attending Mass regularly.
Catholics leave the Church and the name Catholic by age 23. The majority by age 18.

And the Pew Forum showed that attending CCD, involvement in youth ministry, and going to a Catholic high school make little or no difference between those who stay Catholic, those who become "nothing" and those who become Protestant. Our primary strategies aren't making any difference. [...]

This goes so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.

In our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a right of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we'll probably have to do it again when they are young adults.

I've written about this at enormous length over at Intentional Disciples (www.siena.org) and we cover all this in our seminar Making Disciples. We are still spending our time debating what happened nearly 50 years ago while our future walked right out the door and we didn't notice.

I've left some comments over there, and I encourage those of you who are so inclined to jump in to the discussion (though comments read sort of bottom-to-top and then replies to comments top-to-bottom, which is a bit awkward).

But, of course (you know me!) I have more to say than I could possibly say in a mere comment box. So here goes:

I understand Sherry's frustration at the constant rehashing of the Vatican II battles on the blogosphere, but I think it's premature to say that what happened fifty years ago no longer matters or shouldn't direct our focus. We could say those things if what happened fifty years ago were no longer impacting the present-day realities in the Church, but that is very far from being the case. Catechesis remains abysmal--and people can't accept and embrace a faith when they haven't been taught that faith. The Mass is still suffering from too much invention and unilateral liturgical activism and not enough "say the black, do the red." We can't afford to sweep all of that under the rug and act as though making disciples requires neither sound liturgy nor sound catechesis; we can't profess our love for and deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ to a seeker, and then admit that we don't really pay much attention to His teachings, or care what His Church wants in the way of worship--because there are plenty of other churches out there willing to say those things, quite frankly, who will say them much better than Catholics can, since they are not tied to the Church and can be as liturgically inventive and doctrinally heterodox as they like.

However, while I think we can't afford to drop the quest for sound catechesis and sound liturgy, we also have to pay attention to the common-sense experiences Sherry is reflecting. I believe that Rod Dreher once shared on his old blog an experience he had when he was first considering the Catholic Church and an enthusiastic Catholic gave him a book on...incorruptible saints. (Of course, his present Orthodox Christian tradition admires the incorruptibles, too, but that's beside the point.) The point is that greeting a seeker or new convert with a list of one's own personal catechetical and liturgical grievances is about like handing him a book loaded with photographs of the dead and incorruptible bodies of saints: it's not exactly an attempt to meet him where he is, is it?

So, on the one hand, we do still need to work for the abolition of smile-button theology of the "Jesus is nice; you be nice too!" variety, and for the ending of the happy-clappy Mass of Father's Personal Creativity--because in the long run we can't hope to rebuild the Church in America without paying attention to those two areas of concern. But on the other hand, we need to direct our energies in positive ways toward three things of great importance:
  1. Seeking, through prayer, sacrifice, education, etc., to strengthen our own relationships with Jesus: to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, so as to have a hope of spending eternity beside Him in Heaven.
  2. Striving, according to our own states in life, for the sanctification of those nearest to us: our families, our religious brothers and sisters, our parish communities, and so forth.
  3. Working, in whatever ways God opens to us, for a cultural renaissance which preaches the message of hope through virtue, of healing, of the joy of being a Christian, and of the peace that passes understanding.
Speaking as a lay woman, I'd like to emphasize a point I made over at Mark's: If we want to fix what is broken in the Church, we must begin by fixing what is broken in the family. The family, the very concept of a permanent and sacrificial union of love ordered toward the sanctification of its members, is under the worst possible attack at the present time. Divorce, adultery, fornication, contraception, homosexual sins, abortion, cohabitation as a replacement for marriage--the list of ills goes on and on; yet our culture accepts all of these evils as merely matters of personal choice, as if children can thrive in unstable homes being raised by a series of pseudo-parents without any of this taking any spiritual toll at all. These days, even among stable marriages, habits like pornography threaten the happiness and permanence of the marriage (despite the cultural message that there's nothing wrong with porn). It has never been easier to walk away from a spouse and children for no reason at all than it is today; and the reaction on the parts of too many young people is to decide that marriage itself is useless and worthless, and that a series of transient relationships resulting in a couple of children is no better or worse than any other arrangement.

How, in the midst of familial breakdown, do we preach the message of Christ's redemptive love? Can children who have never known their fathers understand the concept of a loving Father? Can a woman raising children alone accept the Church's view that her marriage is a valid one, even if her husband has abandoned her and "married" someone else? Can teens, surrounded by a message of sex as entertainment, ever see anything sacred in this gift which God has ordered toward marriage? Can children who are never told "no" by their parents or teachers ever learn that a religion which proclaims God's "Thou shalt nots" is telling them the truth--a truth they have thus far been denied?

I think that a new emphasis on what the Church understands by the term "family" is in order. Solid, strong families comprised of mothers, fathers, children, and even extended family members form the backbone of a strong parish family; strong parish families create a strong diocesan family; and strong dioceses are necessary for the family of the Catholic Church in America to be strong and healthy. This is not to say that individuals are not important, of course; but our focus on the individual is sometimes too isolating--no man is an island, and a man or woman alone at Mass should be caught up by the bigger parish family, not left alone, as far too often happens today.

And emphasizing the family means providing care, listening, and support to those whose families are threatened or have fallen apart--because no person is more vulnerable to the temptation to turn his or her back on Christ and the Church than the person who has been betrayed and abandoned by the people who were supposed to offer him or her unconditional love.

These are just a few ideas of mine; what do you think? How can the Catholic Church in America evangelize and make new disciples? How can we share the full truth taught by the Church and bear witness to Christ in such an unfaithful age?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Abortion is a man's best friend

As the March for Life concludes in D.C., I find a post topic suggested by this comment from reader "Melanie":
Well, I haven't spoken up before about this but both what you said (unintentionally?) AND what Obama said reveal a deep fallacy in the way we think about abortion. Babies are a woman's problem.

It takes two people to make a child, and until in this country, we hold men just as accountable for the children they father, as their " baby killing mothers", abortion will never end. What Obama said essentially " until our daughters are just as able to walk away from their babies as our sons..." really gets at the heart of the problem as I see it and no matter how much blame you want to put upon women for "Getting themselves into this mess in the first place", it still takes two to make a baby, and trust me, God won't forget that.
I realize that there are men who are deeply, significantly hurt by abortion, who mourn the loss of their unborn babies and suffer in ways too numerous to mention here; I wrote about that subject here. But the fact remains that as far as most men are concerned, abortion isn't a bug in the world of consequence-free sex: it's a feature. And an important one.

The laws in our states treat men like sperm donors when it comes to abortion--but like fathers when it comes to child support and responsibility for their offspring. The man has no rights and no responsibilities when it comes to the woman he has impregnated and their child, if--and it's a big if--she chooses to pay someone to kill that child. He's not even legally required to pay for the killing (though some guys will generously offer to finance the executions of their unborn sons and daughters, out of the goodness of their hearts, and their desire not to be saddled with...but I'm getting ahead of myself).

But if she chooses to keep the child--then, suddenly, the man is no longer a sperm donor in the eyes of the law, but a father. He is going to be responsible for child support for his offspring until the little tyke is eighteen. He may be expected to share custody. He's certainly going to be pressured to stick around, at least a little. It's a pretty heavy price to pay for a thoughtless round of casual sex, right?

At least, that's what we say when we're talking about the woman's right to kill her child, so as not to be stuck with parental responsibilities she hadn't intended on facing. But somehow, men are supposed to sit back, let the woman make her "choice," and be prepared either to walk away from their now-dead child, or to pay for the living child's first eighteen years of life.

How many men in this situation think that the mother of their child owes them an abortion?

I would be willing to bet that it's a rather large number. The whole point of "choice" was to make sex a fun evening's entertainment among any people instead of a sacred embrace between a man and a woman who, having first taken the step of making a public committment to each other, were fully prepared to raise any children who became the living symbols of their parents' love--indeed, the children were a feature of such a relationship, not an unpleasant side-effect to be avoided at all cost. "Choice" meant that women were just as free as men to pursue transient sexual relationships, from the one-night-stand or casual hookup to the so-called "committed relationship" which is defined as a relationship between two people who do not actually love each other enough to enter into a public civic and/or religious committment to each other, but instead make a private verbal committment which is worth exactly as much as verbal contracts usually are (e.g., not worth the paper they're not written on)--and everything in between. Because "choice" meant that women could become sexually permissive and promiscuous just like men, "choice" also meant that women who became pregnant during this sort of activity were going to exercice the "choice" that killed off the unwanted unborn child and got their men friends completely off the hook--so it's no wonder that some men, having discovered that this unspoken gentlemen's agreement is going to be violated by the woman he most recently enjoyed, and that he's going to be expected to pay for nearly two decades for a rather fleeting pleasure, discover their inner murderers and act accordingly.

By framing the whole abortion question around the woman, our society has left men--fathers--in a ridiculous position. If the mother of their child chooses to exercise her right to pay someone to kill that child for her, the father can move on with his life as the father of a dead baby, and never have to give the child another moment's thought--and if he doesn't want his baby to die, too bad! It's not his choice.

But if she chooses life--he's involved, financially and legally and morally, whether he wants to be or not. This gives men, especially the sort of men who find the life of casual sex preferable to the real commitment of marriage, a vested interest in abortion: in keeping it legal, in insisting that the women he is involved with are all in favor of it, and in pressuring any woman he impregnates to make the "choice" that doesn't require any effort, now or later, from him.

Some men have started questioning this double standard, and though the lawsuits mentioned in this story have failed to proceed, the question asked is a logical one for our present society with its disdain for morality and the traditional family: if the choice to have the baby or kill it is entirely the woman's, then shouldn't the responsibility for raising the child be entirely the woman's too? How can we treat men like negligible sperm donors one minute, and insist that they be fathers the next?

Those of us who do value morality and the traditional family look at things differently, but there's no denying that our culture values neither. So until or unless our culture decides to answer that question in such a way that does not give men a vested interest in abortion, abortion will remain a man's best friend--at least, for those men who disrespect women enough to view them as sterile sex objects instead of the future mothers of their children.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Evil words

President Obama on Roe V. Wade:

Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women's health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.

I am committed to protecting this constitutional right. I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.

And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

Source.

Think about this for a moment. We live in a nation where government will interfere in a hurry--as they should--if children are being abused, harmed, or neglected by their parents. But in this same nation if parents decide to kill those children before they are born, that is a "private family matter."

Kill your pre-born baby--the president and his blood-drenched cohorts from Planned Parenthood will celebrate your freedom. Harm your baby after birth--go directly to jail.

Oh, and that last paragraph, with the line "...I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams...."? You realize that the president is saying that unless our daughters have the right to pay someone to cut the arms, legs, and heads off of any unborn babies they may someday carry and then suction these tiny bloody body parts out of them in the most vile act of butchery imaginable they are not really equal to our sons? These evil words reveal one of the ugliest truths about the pro-abortion crowd: they think that a woman's ability to become pregnant and bear children is not an innate part of her human female nature, and a great blessing and gift to her and to the lucky father of her children; rather, they think that a woman's ability to become pregnant and bear children is an unfortunate mistake of nature which keeps her from being able to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company as easily as a man or as one of those women fortuitous enough to be born sterile, or clear-minded enough to seek surgical sterility as soon as they realize what an advantage childlessness will be to their careers.

We ought to remember the warning of Christ in the Gospel: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23: 29-31)

The days of the dry wood are coming. The hatred of Satan for humanity, and especially for innocent human beings still in their mothers' wombs, knows no bounds. The evil words we hear, the evil deeds of darkness dragged with all their filth out into the light, are merely the warning trumpets of what will lie ahead.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

For a dear nephew, on his birthday

There is a road that lies ahead
Its bends and curves are beckoning
Yet tarry here, a while, instead
Of much too swiftly following;

For you are in the greenly-gold
And glowing wood of "once upon,"
Where tales are lived, not merely told,
And crowns are worn, and swords are drawn--

The road will keep, though it invites
With promises of grown-up joys
It will, someday, replace delights
Which thrill the hearts of younger boys;

Yet pause one moment in the wood,
Before you take the greater way:
The old, you know, wish they had stood
In Lórien, just one more day.


Happy birthday, sweet Professor! :)

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I don't usually blog on Saturdays, but today I want to pop in and wish two special people a happy birthday--each with his or her own post, of course. :)

First, I'd like to say "Happy birthday!" to my dear mom. Mom's a pro-life hero, having given birth to and raised nine children all of whom are so small-o "orthodox" Catholic it will either make you smile or make you sick, depending on how you feel about all the small-o "orthodox" Catholicism you read on this blog. :) These days, with only the youngest of nine still in college, Mom's taking life easy--by pitching in and helping out with giant carloads of casseroles for these sweet ladies (one of my sisters is among them) and doing tons of yard work and home maintenance and, generally, running circles around all of her children in terms of sheer energy and daily accomplishments.

Those of you Catholic ladies out there--be warned! The price you pay as a pro-life Catholic mother of many (if God has so blessed you) is that you're probably never going to be content to sit and do nothing--not even when your kids are grown. Instead, you're going to reach out to the community around you and become a model of generous service to everyone you meet. :)

Happy birthday mom--with much love!

Friday, January 21, 2011

I choose life. Pro-"choice" people choose dead babies.

I'm late to this effort, but would encourage other pro-life bloggers who read my blog to go and sign up in Jill Stanek's comments section, if you'd like.

One of the strangest uses of the "choice" euphemism for the brutal slaughter of pre-born human beings came about during a state's "Choose Life" license plate debate. A pro-abortion group proposed a second plate be made available, with the phrase "Choose Choice" on it--not realizing that this ridiculous phrase betrays all too clearly that people who are "pro-choice" value the legalized killing of unborn human beings, but are too squeamish to say so. After all, though, what sort of plate could the pro-abortion group propose? "Choose Abortion?" "Choose Death?" Choose a Dead and Dismembered Baby?" (Yes, I know that last is too long, but it accurately describes the situation.)

As is scintillatingly obvious to anybody with intact brain cells, being "pro-choice" means that you believe that women have the right to choose to pay someone to kill their babies for them in utero, so they won't have to give birth and then further choose either to be mothers or to give their babies up for adoption. I guess "Choosy Moms Choose Dead Babies" isn't that great of a slogan either, but that's what "choice" means: the choice to kill what is alive, growing, and human--the flesh and blood of the person arranging for the prenatal hit.

Women these days have lots of choices. They can choose not to have sex if they're not prepared to have a child. They can choose to respect themselves enough not to participate in the "hookup" culture. They can choose to see sex as a sacred gift and a responsibility instead of an entertainment choice or a way to make sure the guy keeps calling. And if they make bad choices in these areas, they can choose to make an infertile couple's dream come true by generously continuing to be pregnant for nine short months (eight, really, by the time most women figure out that they are expecting) so that the other couple can finally have a child. They can even accept the role of single motherhood that their life choices have led them to--and can do a terrific job, with the support of society, churches, family and friends.

With all of those choices--good, happy choices--they can make, why do we insist that "choice" means "pay someone to kill your baby?"

Well, pro-choice readers? Why does "choice" have to mean over fifty million dead American babies?

As they should

Please do go and read Simcha Fisher's post today! Excerpt:

The NAACP hid a prominent statue of George Washington inside a wooden box during a MLK Day rally, offering the terminally lame excuse that the box would make a more suitable backdrop for the rally’s speakers. The NAACP denies any intention of disrespect, but their narrow view of history is no secret: anyone who owned slaves is a racist, and anyone who is a racist cannot be called a great man. This is what is taught in history class, and several generations have been nourished on these junk food ideas.

Students are taught that they must not squander their exquisite admiration on someone who owned slaves. They are taught, by implication, that it’s not enough for a man to give up his family and his safety for the noble cause of independence. It’s not enough to inspire and command. It’s not even enough to triumph in a way that directly benefits millions of people today.

He must also be . . . EVERYTHING MAN.

He must leap out of his time, and see with the eyes of every possible future type of enlightenment. Did he accomplish the massive victories that his generation desperately needed? Not good enough. We also require him to be the role model for solving any type of conflict that might ever turn up, or else he’s no good to us. Into the box you go, little George. You don’t impress us anymore. [Link in original--E.M.]

Do read the whole thing, if you can.

It was definitely a shameful thing that so many of America's founders saw nothing wrong with owning slaves. But that shameful thing came from the whole of society, not just the great men of the period; from the New England merchants to the British investors to some of those in Africa who sold their fellow men into bondage, no one's hands were clean.

It is similar today to abortion. Our society, our economy, our whole way of life depends heavily on two things: sex being viewed solely and reductively as an entertainment choice, and children being viewed as totally disposable before birth. Those of us who speak and write and act against both of these practices do so as a distinct minority; even many pro-life leaders have not made the connection that the widespread availability of contraception increases, rather than decreases, the demand for abortion--because contraception creates the mindset that children are a regrettable side-effect of sexual activity instead of being an integral and intrinsic part of the purpose of that activity.

Some future people, horrified by the commodification, exploitation, and destruction of innocent human life in the womb might well find the idea that there were any real "heroes" in our time, aside from specifically pro-life ones, hard to swallow. That is only fair, isn't it? More balanced voices might try to explain that in our day the unborn human being was viewed as a parasite, an unwanted intruder upon a woman's sovereignty, an interloper whom the woman had the right to kill and destroy at will; that despite a growing body of scientific data showing the clear humanity of the little one at her embryonic and fetal state pregnancy was seen as so terrible a condition, and motherhood as so vile and worthless a state--akin to slavery!--that our present-day larger-than-life figures unquestioningly accepted this great injustice in regards to both the unborn, and to all the woman forever damaged by the act of participating in the killing of their own flesh and blood, their own children.

I doubt that future generations will understand this any better than we now understand the excuses and justifications given for so many hundreds of years for slavery. But I don't doubt that future generations will be horrified by abortion and our casual, banal acceptance of this great evil; the societies which champion abortion will eventually die out by their own choices, while the places in the world where children are still valued and cherished for their own sake will rise up to take our place. As they should.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Catholics aren't giving

The problem, as I see it, with getting too caught up on the question of tithing and the fixed if illogical notion that just about everybody should be perfectly capable of giving ten percent of his before-tax income to the Church every month is that it ends up distracting from the real issue: Catholics, especially in America, don't give nearly enough money to the Church.

And this is especially true if you focus on parish giving, as opposed to charitable contributions to Catholic orders, agencies, and organizations as a whole.

Of course, I should say at the outset that even if you decide that you can manage to tithe without depriving your children of what you justly owe them (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care etc.) it does not follow that "tithe" means "give the whole ten percent to the parish." There's nothing wrong with deciding to do so; but there's also nothing wrong with giving less to the parish in order to fund Catholic religious orders, Catholic pro-life ministries, and other Catholic charities who need our help. In other words, just because some people only give, say, 1% of their income to their parish doesn't mean they're not giving 9% elsewhere, and it's uncharitable to assume the worst.

Still, there's data out there which suggests that Catholics may not be doing a stellar job of supporting Catholic organizations, let alone their parishes. So, why is this? And what should be done?

Let's examine some possible reasons first:

1. The elephant in the living room. Yes, I'm talking about The Scandal. While some Catholics may have used the Scandal as an excuse to stop giving money, others really were hurt and embarrassed to discover that their dioceses were among those who moved predators, covered things up, and/or arranged for secret payouts to abuse victims. Imagine finding out that some of your parish's collection money was going to compensate the victims of a former pastor! The sense of betrayal that might create isn't going to disappear overnight; I've heard comments before from people who don't mind earmarking a donation for, say, a building project but who otherwise won't give to a parish out of frustration with how things were handled for so long.

2. No sense of belonging. It's not news that people will tend to give money to groups with whom they identify or to which they really belong. But I suspect that many Catholics in America, especially these days, see the parish as more of a necessary evil than a fellowship of like-minded believers whose company they enjoy. Some of this is exacerbated by the divisions among Catholics, such as the deep divide between so-called "Trads" and so-called "Neo-Caths;" these divisions make it hard for Catholics to see themselves as united in a bigger purpose, the call to holiness which includes within it the mandate to spread the Good News.

3. "No dogma, no dollars." That quote was popular when I was a teen (many, many years ago) but I think the sentiment is still out there. While it's easy to see this as a purely "Trad" notion, I think that there are lots of people who have never been to a Latin Mass yet who long for something more on Sunday than the institutionalized version of "Nephew Tommy's wisdom;" e.g., "Jesus is nice; you be nice too." Quite frankly, when one is fed a steady diet of "cheap grace," one gets into the habit of thinking that all grace, and indeed all religious blessings, are cheap and need little in the way of cash. This is especially true in churches where a fortune was once spent to install "Random Squares of Jell-O (tm)" stained glass windows and similar quality "art;" the parishioners get into the habit of thinking that the building and its accoutrements aren't worth much, and shouldn't need much money to keep going.

4. No idea what the parish actually costs. Related to number 3 above is this notion; it is the reverse of a complaint of mine, which is that parish priests seldom have any idea what family life costs or involves (leading them to assume that people can give more than they even earn, or that it's perfectly easy for a man working a full-time job to show up during the work week to help out with some parish initiative or other). On the side of the parishioners, though, there is similar ignorance. How much does the parish pay monthly for fixed bills, including a mortgage if there is one? How much does it pay for electricity and water and garbage collection? How much for any other regular expenses? How much, annually, for those stupid paper song books (and would the pastor buy better, permanent hymnals if the parish would come up with the one-time funds)? How much for the paid employees, including but not limited to the office staff/parish secretary, the DRE, the choir director and/or organist, etc.? How much for church cleaning and yard work if this isn't being done by parish volunteers?

I sometimes think that Catholics simply forget that our parishes have to pay for these things, and think of the money going into the collection basket as a sort of "extra" money from which our favorite reforms and improvements unaccountably fail to be funded.

5. Industrial age collection methods. Speaking of collection baskets--I realize that older Catholics are very used to them and would miss them if they disappeared; I also realize that there is a school of thought when it comes to fund-raising that suggests that nothing beats passing around a container, be it a basket, a hat, or any similar object, to get people to dig into their pockets. Still, even in my generation people are less and less accustomed to carrying cash or checks with them, and I know that the people younger than me have gotten so used to being able to pay for everything with either a debit or a credit card that they, too, don't often carry tons of cash (to say nothing of checks, which some people fear because of identity theft concerns). The parish solution? Ordinarily, to send out boxes and boxes and boxes of parish offering envelopes, which is supposed to remind people to plan their giving ahead of time, to place money or a check into the envelope sometime in the week before Sunday, and then to bring the already-filled envelope with them to Mass.

But people who don't even use cash or checks all that often are going to be inclined to remember to find and use envelopes every week because...why, exactly? And people who are rushing out the door on Sunday morning with a toddler and an infant in tow are going to recall that the envelope is in mom's purse, not mom's diaper bag which is all she grabs that morning--why, exactly?

If parishes really want to increase donations from younger Catholics, they might try a PayPal (tm) button on the parish web page, along with weekly or monthly email reminders via a free service like MailChimp. Oh, wait; the parish doesn't have a website--why, exactly?

I know there are more reasons for the lack of giving among Catholics; these are, however, a conversation starter, anyway.

Now--what should be done?

The five reasons I've listed are varied, and range from serious trust or fellowship issues down to matters of convenience in giving. I would tell pastors to set aside a few minutes, perhaps just after the homily or just before Mass actually begins, on a Sunday to pass out a survey to parishioners (in this way, the ones who actually come to Mass, not merely all registered parishioners, will be most represented). The survey questions might be something like this:

  • Do you give to the parish? Weekly, monthly, occasionally, or other?
  • Do you give the same amount each time, or varying amounts? (NB: don't ask how much.)
  • Do you use the parish envelopes: always/sometimes/never?
  • If you do not give to the parish, is the reason financial or other?
  • If other, please explain: (offer space, and assure respondents that all surveys are anonymous and confidential).
There could be more, perhaps about helping people to give or what improvements in the parish they'd like to contribute to, etc., but again, I think this would get the ball rolling and help a pastor of a parish to figure out whether the problem is more one of indifference, or lack of convenient ways to give, or disconnection, or a deeper disappointment that has been translated into a lack of charitable donations.

What do you think? If you don't give to your parish, why not? What would help you to start giving, or to give more than you presently do?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The champions of choice

From the files of the unbelievable and horrifying comes this story:

A doctor whose abortion clinic was described as a filthy, foul-smelling "house of horrors" that was overlooked by regulators for years was charged Wednesday with murder, accused of delivering seven babies alive and then using scissors to kill them.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell was also charged with murder in the death of a woman who suffered an overdose of painkillers while awaiting an abortion. [...]

Gosnell, 69, was arrested and charged with eight counts of murder in all. Nine of Gosnell's employees — including his wife, a cosmetologist who authorities say performed abortions — also were charged.

Prosecutors said Gosnell made millions of dollars over three decades performing thousands of dangerous abortions, many of them illegal late-term procedures. His clinic had no trained nurses or medical staff other than Gosnell, a family physician not certified in obstetrics or gynecology, prosecutors said.

At least two women died from the procedures, while scores more suffered perforated bowels, cervixes and uteruses, authorities said.

Under Pennsylvania law, abortions are illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or just under six months, and most doctors won't perform them after 20 weeks because of the risks, prosecutors said.

One of the side effects of "choice" are clinics like Gosnell's. Why? Because every time laws and regulations are proposed which would involve regular inspections and oversight of abortion clinics, these proposed laws are denounced, overturned, or outright ignored by the champions of "choice."

Don't believe me? From the article:
State regulators ignored complaints about Gosnell and the 46 lawsuits filed against him, and made just five annual inspections, most satisfactory, since the clinic opened in 1979, authorities said. The inspections stopped completely in 1993 because of what prosecutors said was the pro-abortion rights attitude that set in after Democratic Gov. Robert Casey, an abortion foe, left office. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
So pro-abortion authorities decided to take a hands-off approach as Gosnell murdered babies who had been born alive--as many as a hundred, according to the article, though intact records were only discovered for the seven for whose murders Gosnell is being charged. Gosnell's clinic was allegedly making between ten and fifteen thousand dollars a day--earning the abortionist millions over the thirty or so years his abortion clinic was in the business of butchering human babies--the born and the unborn.

The champions of "choice" don't really like to consider consequences like those Gosnell is charged with committing; in fact, predictably, some commenters are already saying that the real blame should be placed on the state of Pennsylvania, whose laws prohibit abortions after 24 weeks of gestation (when the baby is about this big). But the reality is that the champions of "choice" are behaving illogically when they express outrage about Gosnell's method of killing babies; how is it murder to kill a baby whose head has fully emerged from the birth canal by jabbing a pair of scissors into her spine, but not murder to jab the same pair of scissors into the same spinal cord when the baby's head has only emerged halfway from her mother's body?

President Obama seemed to understand this, when he voted against the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. As he put it at the time, "...and that essentially adding an additional doctor who then has to be called in an emergency situation to come in and make these assessments is really designed simply to burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform an abortion." Much easier to mandate only one doctor, who can then make sure that the woman gets what she paid for--a dead baby--instead of one who remains embarrassingly and inconveniently alive.

So, really, all of the outrage about Gosnell is about the filthy clinic, the allegation that he killed at least one woman through medical negligence, and the hair-splitting legal point that he waited ten seconds too long to go through the scissor-jabbing routine, instead of forcibly holding the babies heads inside the birth canals while he killed them in exactly the same way. If he'd done that, he wouldn't be guilty of anything but assisting "choice," and none of the champions of choice would have a problem with the babies'--oh, excuse me, fetuses'--deaths at all, right?

A quick Facebook reminder

Hi, all! I've received several friend requests on Facebook recently, and have accepted them if I know your name in real life. If you sent me a friend request and I haven't responded, though, just send me a quick FB message or email at the blog email address to let me know who you are! I had to stop accepting requests from people whose IRL names I didn't recognize, because a couple of times people showed up who had dozens of "mutual friends" but then turned out to be trying to scam everybody.

I don't use FB that much for posting, though I do check in occasionally to see what others are writing. So if you've sent me a friend request, just drop me a quick line to let me know that you are a blog reader and I'll gladly add you to my list.

Thanks!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Catholics and tithing

I read an interesting discussion of tithing and Catholics over at the Aggie Catholic blog. I began to leave a second comment over there, but thought that perhaps this topic deserves a blog post over here, instead.

Marcel writes:
But, don't be too quick to judge. Too many Catholics treat Jesus in the same manner. How? Many of us don't tithe, but rather give when it is convenient and easy.

Most Catholics are tippers, not tithers. Many don't sacrificially give to God, but tip Him when they feel like it.

Most Catholics only give when convenient. This isn't a loving gift to God. Imagine if someone else only gave to you when it was convenient and never sacrificed for you. This action doesn't show a real deep love for another, but a selfishness and a love of money. [...]

A good way to examine where we are in our journey with Christ is to check our next bank statement. Have I given what I should? How does this reflect my relationship with Christ?
I have a bit of a problem with the way this is put, especially the last paragraph quoted. We don't, after all, purchase our relationships with Christ. But there's more to my discomfort than this, and I think it's worth exploring a bit.

As I mentioned in the comment box, people often think of fulfilling the fifth precept of the Church in terms of tithing, and particularly of tithing money. The precept reads as follows (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2043):

The fifth precept ("You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church") means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.86

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.87

I'm not a scholar or theologian, but I notice three things here: first, that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, and second, that the faithful have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church; and third, that there is no mention of tithing at all. Of course, there are plenty of references to tithing in the Bible and in the writings of the Church over the ages; but I think it's worth pointing out that the giving of ten percent of one's income or goods (etc.) is not specifically required of the faithful.

Now, when I mentioned in the Aggie Catholic combox that providing service to the Church is a way beyond the writing of a check that people can give to the Lord, another commenter was rather dismissive of the idea. Note again that precept: what does "obliged to assist" mean if it does not mean "roll up one's sleeves and pitch in," so to speak? Is it better for a parish to pay money to a crew of cleaners, or to have dedicated volunteers who will clean the church buildings, restrooms, offices etc.? Is it better for a parish to pay professional musicians and singers to provide all of the music at Mass, or to have dedicated volunteers who will offer their skills and talents in this realm? Is it better for a parish to hire a crew of temporary workers to stuff envelopes for a special appeal--or to grab the choir after Mass one day and ask them to put in an extra hour's work? (Yes, that last one happened to us, and we were glad to help.)

The truth is that while Catholics are rather stingy about donating money to their parishes, we're even stingier with our time. "I'd love to help, but I'm just too busy," is a phrase parish staff will hear frequently whenever Father needs a little extra help with groundskeeping or church decorations or fundraising or parish council business or a school or religious ed. program or anything else you can imagine; and there are far too many Catholics who assume that their weekly offering checks absolve them from any responsibilities in this regard.

That said, it is certainly true that the second part of the fifth precept does obligate us to help provide for the material needs of the Church--and this includes donating money not only at the parish level, but to religious orders, charitable works of the Church, various Catholic organizations and initiatives, and the like. But whether this means a positive obligation to give ten percent of one's pay to the Church depends on how you look at the question.

Again, I'm not a scholar in this field, but it strikes me that in the Old Testament, the tithes came from a few specific sources: crops, cattle, and land, particularly. The obligation to pay a tithe apparently came from having had these things increase; that is, if your crops failed or only barely fed your family, or if your livestock did not reproduce, or if you did not gain land, then you had no increase from which to pay the tithe. In other words, the tithe was ten percent of the fruits of your labor as measured in real, tangible goods--though it was acceptable to pay an agreed-upon sum of money instead, especially if you lived a good distance from the Temple and couldn't easily transport what you owed.

Today, of course, few of us actually own anything which increases on its own; even our homes, which most of us are renting from banks anyway, have primarily lost value. The currency we exchange for goods and services is not based upon things of real value, either, and its value can be raised or lowered according to the prescriptions of economists; in addition, the real goods and services can, and do, fluctuate in price all the time. Grocery prices, for instance, have been rising for the past four or five years, and are predicted to go up again; fuel costs are also rising. In the meantime, salaries have been flat or falling for the past two or three years, and unemployment continues to hover near the 10% mark. If we considered ourselves in any way obliged to tithe based on an increase in our fruits of labor and/or profits, its hard to say how many of us would even be obligated to do so.

And that's even before we consider the question of taxes and how that relates to tithing: if you could give ten percent of your income, should you give ten percent of the total before taxes, or ten percent of what you actually take home? Though some consider this a hair-splitting, excuse-making question, the fact is that you don't have the money that is taken in taxes--so how can you give ten percent of something you don't actually have?

But the Church, in her wisdom, doesn't place the obligation of tithing on the faithful. She simply directs us to assist in the material needs of the Church and to provide for those needs, according to our ability. That ability will vary widely from person to person and family to family, but it is an obligation we should take seriously.

A wise and orthodox priest I know counseled his parishioners to consider contributing the equivalent of one hour's salary a week to the parish. I think this is a very just and reasonable way to reflect on what we are able to give, and to make a start if we haven't already. And it has the added benefit of not placing on the faithful a burden that the Church herself doesn't place.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Totally unsolicited plug for which I receive no compensation whatsoever but wrote anyway...

If you read Mark Shea's blog you've already seen this, but I want to share it here, too: Timothy Jones, blogger at Old World Swine and extraordinary artist, is making copies of some of his beautiful work available at Fine Art America. You can order canvas prints, framed or unframed art prints, or even affordable note cards of over a dozen of his paintings already, with more to come.

I've been a fan of Tim's work for some time now, and have wished that I could order an original from him; alas, single-income family living doesn't make the acquisition of art an affordable hobby. So I'm really excited about the chance to purchase copies of Tim's work--especially since he says my favorite painting, titled Wine and Jarlsberg, will be available eventually (and in the meantime, my second favorite, Orange Peeled, is already available).

Over at Mark's I left a comment about Wine and Jarlsberg's transcendent qualities. I'm not an art critic and have no artistic talent myself, but what I love about this painting is the way it seems to be working on different levels. At first glance, it's a simple, peaceful still life involving a glass of red wine and some cheese--not an unknown topic as still life paintings are concerned. But a second looks shows some interesting details: the artist's perspective is above and slightly angled, and the glass reveals unusual depths and shadows; its reflection captures a trick of the light that almost seems as though an hourglass is contained within the reflection of the ruby fluid. But as the light shines through the glass, it creates a brilliant point which severs the "hourglass" portion of the reflection from the reflection of the stem. I'm not sure what it all means, but it makes me think of the way that time doesn't seem to have its usual power when we are granted the freedom to enjoy, quietly, one of God's gifts--like a glass of red wine which almost seems to be symbolic of those rare moments of contemplation and appreciation.

In any case, I hope you'll visit the links above, especially this one!

Sauce for the goose

I have castigated gay couples before for using paid reproductive prostitutes to manufacture children for them. It should therefore surprise no one that I'm going to do the same thing when a straight couple also pays a reproductive prostitute to help manufacture a child for them:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban have added a second daughter to their family, born through a surrogate mother.

The couple announced Monday the arrival of Faith Margaret Kidman Urban, born on Dec. 28 at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.

Kidman and Urban released a statement saying they are "truly blessed" and thanked everyone for their support, "our gestational carrier" in particular.

"Gestational carrier," you should note, is just a nicer way of saying "reproductive prostitute." But it doesn't change the reality.

Eventually wealthy, first-world women will get into the habit of paying poorer, third-world women to be pregnant for them. After all, pregnancy causes stretch marks, ugly varicose veins, and--horrors!--weight gain. Don't think that rich amoral women won't hesitate to exploit the poor women who desperately need the money the wealthy will pay for them to be living incubators. Don't think that this isn't going to turn very ugly, very fast.

The evil of treating children like bought-and-paid-for commodities is still in its infancy, and I'll denounce it regardless of whether same-sex or opposite sex couples are engaging in it. It's a terrible injustice and a hideous abortion of morality.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Avoiding marketing schemes is its own reward

It's time once again for bloggers everywhere to participate in a clever marketing scheme known, a bit ungrammatically, as the "Blogger's Choice Awards."

What do I mean? Well, a blogger wrote this about them back in 2007:

I was just cruising the blog over at Pay-Per-Post and what did I see? I saw that the whole Blogger's Choice Awards is a Pay-Per-Post scam!

The thing to understand about Blogging "Awards" is that all of the benefit goes to the award giver and not the award getter. Why is this you ask?

Back Links

See, when you post the graphic and link on your site you are providing a back link to the site that "gives" you the award. This was very popular in the late 90's when everyone won an award for something. All you had to do was nominate yourself and you were practically guaranteed to win an award.

By getting all of these back links the site that gave out the awards would gain tons of search juice and importance on the web.

In other words, the company hosting the Blogger's Choice Awards, which used to be called PayPerPost and is now known as Izea, gets most of the benefits from the awards in terms of site usage and advertising. When people nominate blogs--and anybody can nominate any blog for any award--the blogger of the nominated blog gets all these handy "Nominee!" buttons to place on his or her blog or website. All of that translates into a lot of back linking for the award site itself.

The awards are essentially a glorified popularity contest, as most blog awards are; there's no actual data involved (e.g., sites aren't rated on quantifiable things like number of readers or quality of posts), and there's no real competition other than to see which blogger can strong-arm the most of his or her friends/readers/followers to go and vote. Worse, though, the site requires those who wish to vote for their favorite blogs to create an account, giving PayPerPost/Izea their names, email addresses, country, city, state and postal code and date of birth--and nowhere on this account creation page is it stated that this information is being kept private or not being sold to third parties, which is something I always look for before I give anybody that much private information.

And who is Izea/PayPerPost? They are a site which exists to facilitate agreements between bloggers and companies whereby the bloggers will be paid to review the company's product or service. Well, theoretically, anyway; there are lots of complaints like this one out there:

At this point I was a little more than peeved that what had started as a “consecutive posts” issue was turned into yet another unrelated issue. The clincher was the fact that my blog had been approved and I was paid for three posts regardless of the Disclosure Policy. Again, I contacted support and stated the fact that if my blog were to have a Disclosure Policy, this should have been addressed at the time of my blog’s approval. [...]

Consequently, the staff at PayPerPost declined both of my posts and cheated me of $60 for two opportunities I had completed due to their own lack of professionalism. Granted, the loss of $60 is not the issue, the issue is that PayPerPost was not responsible for their own mistakes and did not make amends and tried to continuously turn the situation around on me to avoid making a payment.
This is the company that hosts the Blogger's Choice Awards.

Now, I'm sure some bloggers might defend the company; after all, people can follow a link from the award site and check out any nominated blog; the blogs that end up on top of the categories get linked to as that year's "winners," meaning the potential of even more clicks; and everybody understands that it's not a serious award and thus all in good fun. Perhaps that's true. But I tend to shy away from link-baiting situations, let alone from companies who entice promising writers to shill for products instead of pursuing the dream of being paid to write legitimate published essays or articles for established web publications or even print media.

Of course, some bloggers are perfectly comfortable shilling for products, and do so on every page of their blogs not only in peripheral advertisements but in and among their posts as well; for these bloggers, the Blogger's Choice Awards are startlingly suitable.

Commenting issues

Just a quick note: I recently cleaned out my Blogger "spam" folder and discovered that some of my long-time, established commenters had comments held by the folder for no apparent reason. In addition, some perfectly legitimate comments by new or infrequent commenters got stuck, too.

I haven't any control over what gets put in the "spam" folder, and though I try to check it periodically there are times when I don't get to it as often as I should. So, if you've had a comment go missing--please feel free to email me at my contact info in the sidebar. If your comment is not lost in cyberspace but merely stuck in "spam," I'll free it up ASAP.

On a related note--though Blogger does a pretty good job of removing obvious spam, every now and then I'll see a comment that's just an excuse to stick a link to a third-party site. I always delete those as soon as I find them. I have no trouble with regular readers or commenters offering a link to something relevant to a discussion, but I do have a problem with people using something extremely tangential to direct readers to their own business websites.

Thanks!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The better part of valor

This is just one of those great stories from local media that begs to be shared:
Before Roger, a small Pomeranian with a feisty attitude, was adopted he twice had been returned to the Humane Society shelter because of his incessant barking.
That trait never bothered the dog's current owner, Nora Cavazos, who liked having the small but protective canine at her Arlington home during the day while she raised her then-2-year-old son, Diego. [...]
On the afternoon of that day in August, the first day of school for Cavazos' daughter Theresa, a car pulled up and a man got out whom Cavazos didn't recognize.
"He walked up to the front door and started knocking, knocking insistently," Cavazos said. "I was thinking 'This guy has the wrong place and he will go away shortly.' I had my phone but I was afraid to say anything. I had my son with me. He was 2 at the time."
The man finally stopped knocking and walked away. But a few seconds later, he returned with another man and kicked in the front door.
Suddenly, Cavazos found herself staring at an armed man inside her home.
"I yelled at him and said 'Hey what are you doing?' and he turned around and pointed the gun at me," Cavazos said. "The whole time Roger is barking and he won't stop. It seemed like an eternity. We're just staring at each other and then he runs out the front door and Roger starts chasing after him."
Roger is being inducted into the Texas Animal Hall of Fame by the Texas Veterinary Association for this heroic act. And when you see the picture of the dog who singlepawedly chased off an armed robber, I think you'll agree that Roger deserves this honor (picture link removed).

I think that we've all faced situations in our lives when we thought we were too small, too weak, or too alone to carry out God's will. Platitudes about prudence, about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, about discretion being the better part of valor may occur to us as we wrestle with that still, small voice inside telling us to go and do something for Him; it's not that prudence and discretion are unimportant, but that when we've reached the point where we really do believe God is leading is in some particular direction, we should not be afraid to go forward, even if the task seems daunting and success far off, or even unlikely.

Yet when it's something important--say, ridding ourselves of a bothersome sin or addressing a situation we might much rather ignore--we'd be better off to be like this little dog, and get on with the business of living our vocations fully (in Roger's case, this meant protecting his home and his people from the scary intruders, without pausing to consider whether he was really up to it). It's not a Hall of Fame we're aiming for, but Heaven; and there are times in all of our lives when obedience to God's plans for us, not discretion, is really the better part of valor.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Peace be with you, Cthulu

The Catholic blogosphere is discussing two topics of interest mainly to Catholics, although the secular media has picked up on one of them.

That one, this first one, is about the pope's alleged recent reminder to parents that we're supposed to give our children Christian names. Canon lawyer Ed Peters weighs in here to point out, helpfully, what this does and doesn't mean. Another blogger takes a lighthearted look here. And it turns out the pope may not have said any such thing, anyway. Still, this is a topic that gets people talking.

Now, I know there's a lot of debate as to what actually constitutes a "Christian" name. There are those who argue in favor of the formula: use one of the twelve Apostles' names for a boy, and a recognizable saint's name in combination with a form of "Mary" for a girl. Thus, the ideal Catholic family would have boys named Peter, James, John, Matthew, Bartholomew, Simon and Jude along with girls named Mary Therese, Mary Katherine, Mary Anne, and (just for variety) Maria Rose.

There's certainly nothing wrong with adhering to that formula, but I would suggest that this is definitely not the only way to find a Christian name for one's children. In addition to names from the Bible and from the over 10,000 saints both historical and canonized (see this list for hundreds of Irish saints names alone!) there are derivatives of these names, female forms of male saints' names (Philippa or Thomasina, etc.), the names of virtues or other Christian characteristics (Grace, Faith), names associated with saints (Avila, after St. Teresa of Avila), names linked to events in Christ's life (Anastasia, which means "resurrection,") Marian feasts or apparitions (Annunciacion or Pilar)--and on and on. So a Catholic who tells you her daughter's name is Stacey Lonan Smith should not be frowned at for choosing a trendy-sounding name: Stacey is a derivative of Anastasia, and Lonan is the name of at least eight Irish saints.

Now, what if Mrs. Smith wishes to name her baby son "Henderson," because it's a family name? What if the reason it is a family name is because Mr. Smith's great-great-grandmother, the former Miss Clara Henderson, was one of six children, five of whom were girls, and the sixth of whom became a priest? What if the former Miss Henderson, when she became Mrs. Smith and a mother, wanted to name her first-born son "Henderson" to carry on her father's name and in honor of her father and grandfather, two exemplary Christian gentlemen known for their charitable works and piety? What if, ever since Miss Clara's day, at least one male child among the Smiths' growing extended family is named "Henderson" to carry on this nice tradition? Does "Henderson" (which literally means "son of Henry" and is thus tied to all the St. Henrys out there) fit the bill as a Christian name, or not? (And does it help if little Henderson's middle name will be "James"?) Does the baby's name need to be "James Henderson Smith" so that he will go by "J. Henderson Smith" in future? (Or does that just guarantee that he'll end up in law school?)

Lots of possibilities.

In all seriousness, though, I think that most pastors would tell the Smith family that "Henderson James" is fine, especially since, being a boy, the child will probably go by "Jim" as soon as he's outgrown "Jimmy." The family is clearly not ignoring Christian principles in selecting a name. They are not choosing a name that has clearly anti-Christian connotations or is otherwise incompatible with the Christian dignity of their child; they are not naming him "Unprintable" or "Pandemic" or "Cthulu," or anything that really would negatively reflect on their desire to raise the child as a serious Christian.

The second topic that is being discussed originated at Father Z's website; it covers people's opinions of the Sign of Peace at Mass. The difference between the E.F. Mass and the O.F. Mass apparently including the belief that it is fine to criticize the latter but not the former, opinions were very much expressed by Father's seventy-plus commenters--but the UK Telegraph's Damien Thompson weighs in with a damning confession: he actually likes the little-old handshake:

Hardline traddies whose blood freezes as they hear the words “Let us offer…” face a dilemma: do they extend a hand while inwardly cringing, or do they risk appearing rude by refusing to take part? Indeed, is there a polite way of ducking out of the sign of peace?

I reckon the answer to that question is no. True, you won’t cause offence if you pretend to faint or fake a heart attack at the appropriate moment, but that definitely comes under the heading of stunts you can only pull once.

At this point I have to make a confession: most of the time I like the sign of peace, so long as the twinkly-eyed celebrant doesn’t turn it into an excuse for working the room, Bill Clinton-style. There are worse things than being forced to show cordiality to a stranger, and being on the receiving end of it can be unexpectedly cheering. Also, there’s nothing more infuriating than turning to your neighbour only to find that they’ve sunk to their knees in prayer – the most common traddie escape route. The last time it happened to me, I felt like taking my outstretched fingers and strangling the woman with her mantilla.

He's kidding. One hopes. But still, the point is taken: is it fair that a practice supposed to encourage Christian love and brotherhood quite frequently turns into a duck-and-cover exercise in neighbor-avoidance?

To be honest, I have two particular gripes with the Sign of Peace. The first is that it's poorly placed; I like the notion that's been floating around for a while that Rome may relocate it to the beginning of Mass, where it will replace the totally illegal "Rite of Greeting Your Neighbor and Making the Visitors Stand Up so We can Clap for Them" (because, apparently, bothering to go to Mass when one is traveling is so rare these days that it is worthy of applause). The second is more important: people who are sick need to realize that they should not shake anybody's hand, and anybody who grabs them anyway should be rebuffed so they don't innocently end up being the equivalent of Typhoid Mary in a small parish. For some reason, not only do entire families who have been coughing and sneezing all of Mass think they should shake hands, they especially love to sit near and shake hands with the choir; I was sick so many times one winter a couple of years ago that I started fretting over the Sign of Peace, and longing for a real church building with a real choir loft.

I know that bringing this up is asking for trouble; don't I know that people with allergies cough and sneeze a lot, too? And don't I know that people who are coming down with something might not cough at all, but can still spread germs? And aren't I being so mean to people who have dragged themselves out of their beds of suffering because their great longing for the Mass makes their hundred-and-two degree fever and copious congestion seem like a small hardship to sacrifice for the Lord? And after all that, am I really going to be so cruel as to refuse to shake their hands at the Sign of Peace?

Um, yes.

I can--and do--wish that our cultural exchange of peace involved a simple, charming bow of the head and smile to those in the immediate vicinity, instead of the present three-pew-radius minimum handshake striking capability. I can--and do--wish that the Sign of Peace were placed at or near the beginning of Mass, instead of just before Communion. But do I wish it would be removed altogether? Not really; I know myself well enough to know how easy it already is to adopt an "us vs. them" mentality when dealing with one's fellow Catholics, and how hard it is to model throughout the week the kind of Christian charity and brotherhood the Sign of Peace is supposed to remind us to practice.

Even if we have good Christian names.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The high cost of sexual freedom

Chuck Colson jokingly raises the question: if we can tax some undesirable behaviors that cost the public, such as smoking or junk food purchases, why can't we tax illicit sex? For example:

In a recent column, marriage expert Mike McManus explores the high cost of out-of-wedlock sex. For instance, over 7 million American couples live together. Four out of five of those couples will break up without ever tying the knot. But, McManus writes, if they’ve had a baby, many of those mothers and children will be eligible for Medicaid, housing and day-care subsidies, and food stamps.

Second, even when co-habiting couples DO marry, according to a Penn State study, they suffer a higher divorce rate than couples who don’t live together first. On average, each divorce involves one child. And like the never-married mother, the divorced mom is often eligible for many government benefits. According to the Heritage Foundation, McManus writes, “13 million single parents with children cost taxpayers $20,000 each, or $260 billion in the year 2004.” The total probably comes to $300 billion today, McManus says.

And that’s just the beginning.

A child born out of wedlock is seven times more likely to drop out of school, become a teen parent, and end up in prison. They are 33 times more likely to be seriously abused.

And we’ve all heard of the high rates of STDs affecting America’s teenagers—diseases that cost billions of dollars to treat.

So maybe we SHOULD consider a tax on non-marital sex—everything from one-night stands to living together arrangements. It’s costing us a lot of money. And such a tax might indeed pay off the national debt.

Underneath the somewhat tongue-in-cheek question lies a serious point: non-marital sexual activity, and especially non-marital parenthood, costs society a lot of money.

But any hint that the government ought to encourage marriage in the public sphere, by, for instance, teaching high school students about the statistics that show that children raised by their own parents in stable, lifelong marriages have the best outcomes of all children, or by toughening divorce laws to end so-called "no fault" divorces whenever children are present, gets dismissed out of hand as promoting "religion." Because only "religious" people actually care whether people having procreative sex are married or not.

Of course, marriage conveniently becomes a non-religious civil right when society insists on extending it to same-sex couples, to polygamists, or to the incestuous (all of which will happen once the same-sex couples get their way). After all, if marriage helps children, then shouldn't polygamists especially have access to it? They have a lot more kids than gay couples do--and they don't even have to pay someone to manufacture offspring for them.

So, insisting that Jim and Jane should quit shacking up and get married so their kids will do better is religious bigotry; but saying that Bill and Bob don't need marriage in order to help raise Bob's children on weekends when Bob's ex-wife Betty shares custody with Bob is also religious bigotry. Confused yet? Imagine how the kids feel.

The truth is that the little minds on the left are threatened by anything that promotes traditional sexual morality, with its emphasis on chastity, traditional marriage, and the promise of lifelong fidelity. It's why the Apple Corporation feels free to tell all the Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians and others that our beliefs are "harmful" to others, while most companies (and most people) ignore the harm done to children raised in a sexual free-for-all.

Because, quite frankly, the only freedom a lot of Americans still believe in is sexual freedom. But as Chuck Colson points out in his essay, that so-called "freedom" may be costing our society a lot more than we think it is.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The rush for ratings

It should be said to begin with that this weekend's shooting in Arizona that left six innocent people dead and many more wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was a terrible atrocity. The tragic loss of life is stunning, and the prayers of a nation are with the families who are grieving today.

The reckless and irresponsible reporting of this tragedy by the mainstream media is, however, an insult to those most directly impacted by this terrible crime. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, not only did many media outlets erroneously report that Congresswoman Giffords had died, but many such outlets also raced each other to place blame for the tragedy on right-wing political rhetoric, specifically on the Tea Party and on such right wing figures as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin.

My regular readers know that I'm not a fan of Rush Limbaugh or of Glenn Beck; as for Palin, while I've not written much about her since she left public office, my opinion is that people who want to lead should not aspire to become reality TV celebrities, as we have quite enough of that sort of narcissism in public office already. But I would have to agree with this UK analysis of the problem of blaming right-wing speech for a tragedy when there's no evidence that the tragedy was in any way precipitated by such speech:
But within 24 hours of the shooting, the media had taken a clear turn from the necessary, matter-of-fact reporting of the incident to further fear-mongering, partisan storylines and conspiracy theories. The actions of Jared Lee Loughner, apparently an extremely troubled young man, have been portrayed as the direct and inescapable result of a vitriolic political climate where hate-speech regularly incites violence on this scale.

The reality is that it is far too early to be making such inferences. Jared Loughner may have had political interests, but they were far from coherent, let alone consistent with Tea Party doctrine, as suggested by many in the mainstream media. His social media pages cited favourite documents as Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto – hardly political volumes consistent with a coherent ideology.

But that confusion is not stopping the media. One consistent cry has been that the shooting is the fault of Sarah Palin. MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann empitomised this sentiment, saying "If Sarah Palin … does not repudiate her own part … in amplifying the violence … she must be dismissed … Repudiated by members of her party." Olbermann went on to blame Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck for the violence, arguing that silence on their part was tantamount to support of the actions in Tucson. [...]

Certainly, nobody can deny the increased vitriol in American politics. Absolutely, movements like the Tea Party have contributed to that partisan rancor and figures like Palin have become lightening rods for controversy. But at a national time of crisis such as this, ascribing an explicit political motive to the actions of an individual who may be mentally ill is premature, if not downright irresponsible.

Calling this a politically motivated crime, one that certain politicians are charged with having inadvertently encouraged, is not only inaccurate, but also risks fanning the fire and inciting copycat violence by other, unstable individuals who may be looking for a pretext to commit unspeakable acts. For the truth is that, at this moment, we cannot call Loughner a political terrorist. Nor can we point the finger of blame at any specific party or movement.

Read the rest here.

Many conservative blogs and websites are reacting with outrage to the suggestion that conservative political speech is somehow responsible for this crime. Some bloggers have, as Gerry Nadal has done here, shown that left-wing speech is just as likely to be violent and given examples of that speech. Others have pointed to the gunman's reading list which includes the Communist Manifesto and to statements by acquaintances that the gunman was enamored of left-wing issues as proof that if any speech inspired Loughner, it was likely to be coming from voices on the left.

I think it's just far too soon to tell exactly what inspired Loughner; he will likely tell us himself at some point during his trial, either directly or indirectly--assuming he is capable of telling a coherent story, which is something we still don't know for certain. But in our culture of 24/7 news broadcasting, the talking heads who appeared on television while the last reverberations of the final gunshots were still echoing across the parking lot outside that grocery store, there had to be something more interesting to say than "We still don't know why the gunman acted." Outrageous speculation that the criminal might somehow have been inspired by the EIB network or by Sarah Palin or by some other right-wing figure was way, way out of bounds by any reasonable journalism standard, as the article from the UK Guardian points out; but it did fill a lot of otherwise dead air with the kind of titillating palaver that would keep viewers or listeners tuned in much longer than they might otherwise have paid attention.

The MSM didn't so much rush to judgment as they rushed for ratings. Blaming right-wing rhetoric for the tragedy not only satisfied the media's desire to make everything fit their unintelligent yet standard "left = good, right = bad" template; it further ensured that liberal viewers would remain glued to coverage waiting for that "smoking gun" of a Palin poster or some Tea Party paraphernalia to be found at the gunman's home, while conservative viewers would likewise stay fixed to their TV sets, waiting for the triumphant "egg on their faces" moment when the talking heads would have to admit that no evidence whatsoever linked the shooter to right-wing politics. The fact that the right-wing viewers will wait in vain, as the media's preferred message in these circumstances will be, "Okay, technically there's no proof that this Loughner was in any way influenced by the right, but it's only a matter of time before their hateful, violent, knuckle-dragging speech (so unlike our erudite and irenic way of communicating!) sets off some other nut, so we're not so much wrong as we are prescient..." in no way dulls the sport of hoping for an MSM apology, so plenty of conservative viewers will watch anyway.

But all of this calculated ratings-boosting activity is, as I said above, an insult to the memory of those who have died and to the very real grief their families are enduring right now. The national pastime of talking a tragedy to death is bad enough when a killer's motives are known all too well, but this exercise becomes indefensible when paid bloviators tell us solemnly that right-wing speech made Loughner pull the trigger for no reason other than that this is what they desperately want to believe, and sincerely hope is true--and because they know it will keep a lot of people hooked to their coverage of this unspeakable event. This kind of commercially-crafted outrage at a fallacious interpretation of an as-yet-unknown motive for an all-too-real horror is an offense against the truth, and should be rejected as such.