Friday, August 30, 2013

'Cause that will be good for families

If you live in the Chicago area, this may be coming soon to a school near you:
CHICAGO (CBS) — Some people may think a five-year old is too young for sex education.

Administrators with Chicago Public schools do not.

New to the curriculum this year, mandatory sexual and health education for kindergarten classes.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker took at look at the lesson the little ones will be learning. [...]

CPS insists the curriculum will use language children understand and focus on topics like bullying, correct names for external body parts and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching.

“As you identify body parts, you talk about should you be touched here or not.,” said Stephanie Whyte, the CPS Chief Health Officer. “And if someone touches you, and it’s uncomfortable, you should tell a trusted adult.” [...]

Students will also take a look at the different family structures that exist in today’s society.

“Whether that means there’s two moms at home, everyone’s home life is different, and we introduce the fact that we all have a diverse background, “ said Whyte.

That’s a lesson some conservative organizations oppose.

The say CPS is giving in to liberal groups that seek “to normalize homosexuality.”

It’s the kind of lesson that makes some parents hesitant.

“If he has questions, I’m happy to answer them, but I’m not sure it belongs in a classroom setting,” said parent Brooke Lyon.

There's supposed to be an opt-out provision for parents to remove their kids from lessons to object to, but I would say that the opt-out provision won't last any longer than it did in Massachusetts, where it is now not possible to remove your child from any lesson where he'll be taught that two women are the same as a man and a woman, and two men are the same as a man and a woman, and that nobody really needs a father or a mother so long as there are at least two parenting partners in his life.  What will more likely happen is that pretty soon, kindergartners will be taught that anybody who opposes gay "marriage" is a bigot, sending five-year-olds home in tears to ask why mommy and daddy are bigots who think that it's best for kids to have a mommy and a daddy.  'Cause that will be good for families.  Sure.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food for the working poor

In more employment news from our robust and thriving economy, a Starbucks employee who is on food stamps after his hours were cut to no more than 30 a week is fired for eating an expired sandwich out of a trash can:
Coulson Loptmann, a 21-year-old part-time barista, said he grabbed a plastic-wrapped sausage sandwich out of the trash can in the midst of a seven-hour shift on Monday. According to Loptmann, the sandwich was one of a few being thrown out because of its impending expiration.

Loptmann’s store manager found about Loptmann’s actions and contacted Starbucks’ human resources department.

Eating expired sandwiches out of the trash violates Starbucks' policies, according to a company spokesperson who was quoted in the article.  But the rest of the story is in the final paragraph:
Loptmann, who is currently receiving food stamps, claims he had a great relationship with his employees and supervisors. He reportedly was hired in 2012 and has seen his shifts diminish to no more than 30 hours per week.
If I were managing a coffee shop and I saw a 21-year-old employee who I knew to be on food stamps taking and eating an expired sandwich out of the trash can in the store--in the middle of a seven-hour shift, no less--I would be thinking more like a Christian and a mom and a human being than as a manager.  Why are you doing this?  Are you hungry?  Do you need food? would be the kinds of questions I would be asking.  The last thing that would occur to me would be to call human resources to report the incident.  This, of course, is one reason why I would make a terrible coffee shop manager.

The bigger problem here is that our new definition of the working poor includes young men in their early 20s who can only find work for 30 hours a week or less and must apply for food stamps in an effort to have enough to eat--an effort that appears to be at least somewhat unsuccessful.  But when your employer, worried that you will be counted as a "full-time employee" for mandatory government health care purposes if you regularly work more than 29 hours a week, cuts your hours down to the starvation point, is it any wonder that our new working poor need both government health care in the form of Medicaid and food stamps in order to survive?

The Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, made more than 16 million dollars in compensation last year and has a net worth of 1.6 billion dollars.  Meanwhile, baristas like Coulson Loptmann make just under $10/hour, which at 30 hours a week is $300--and remember, that's for a week with the maximum number of hours, which is not going to be every week by any means.  And the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the Seattle area--Loptmann worked in a downtown Seattle area store--is just over $1000/month.

Maybe the baristas at Starbucks could set up a small box for food donations next to their tip jars.  It could say "Food for the Working Poor."  At least that way some of them wouldn't have to go a full seven-hour shift without eating, or resort to sneaking discarded food out of the store trash can.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This isn't rocket science, people

Not long ago, I was involved in a discussion on another blog about how millennials aren't lazy or unmotivated; they're having trouble finding work, and the work they do find is often part-time at best.  In the conversation I mentioned Obamacare only to be shot down: the liberal commenters at that site insisted that Obamacare has nothing to do with the shrinking in full-time positions and their replacement by part-time jobs.
Not so fast, according to this piece at Forbes provocatively titled: It's Fact, Not Anecdote, That Obamacare Is Turning Us Into A Part-Time Nation:

The Obama administration continues to discount the huge impact its health overhaul law is having in turning America into a part-time nation, calling reports anecdotal and not based on complete data. [...]

Loren Goodridge, the owner of 21 Subway franchises, says he has no choice but to cut the hours of his employees to 29 a week to avoid the law’s penalties.

The negative effects of the law reach the education industry as well. St. Petersburg College, a public university in Florida, is reducing the hours of 250 faculty members because the college says it cannot afford to provide them with health insurance.

Joseph Hansen, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that originally supported the law, says the health law will have a “tremendous impact as workers have their hours reduced and their incomes reduced.”

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the ratio of part-time to full-time jobs has completely flipped this year from historical trends.  Last year, six full-time jobs were created for every one part time job.  This year, only one full-time job is being created for every four new part-time jobs.

The shift to part-time has accelerated over the past several months because of the “look back” provision in ObamaCare that sets the baseline this year for the number of full-time workers a company employs to determine their compliance with the employer pay-or-play mandate.

The administration may have been trying to stop the damage when it announced in July it would delay for a year the reporting requirements for the health law’s employer mandate – the requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide health coverage that is acceptable to the government or pay a fine of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee per year.
Read the whole thing, but it's pretty clear that what we're seeing in the increasing number of jobs offering no more than 29 hours a week is indeed directly linked to employers' fears about the costs associated with Obamacare, which remain shrouded in financial mystery.

This isn't rocket science, people.  When you tell employers that their costs per full-time employee are going to rise, but that the exact dollar amount of the increase isn't all that easy to figure out and we'll learn about what the law requires once we start implementing it, you are creating a situation which makes employers very, very reluctant to hire new full-time employees.  This is because unlike politicians, most businessmen actually have to stick to their budgets in order to earn more in profits than they spend on overhead.  Sure, the biggest multinational corporations, the ones that agitated for Obamacare, the ones that already hire more part-time employees than full-time ones, might have enough room in their budgets to cover the slight increase in costs for their full-time employees (or they'll just initiate a new round of layoffs at corporate headquarters to come out ahead, as they usually do in these situations).  But the smaller companies, big enough to fall under the healthcare mandate but small enough to operate a bit closer to the financial knife edge, just don't have that kind of luxury (or the political clout to get their company exempted from the ACA requirements).  And so we are transitioning into a nation where a lot of employable people will only be able to work part-time, even though they will still be required to use some of that dwindling paycheck to buy into the health care scheme.  What a country.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trading niceness for the truth

Back in the early years of our Catholic homeschooling endeavor, I used to participate in the occasional discussion at a Catholic educational forum for homeschoolers.  So long as we were talking about choices of curricula, the cute things kids said, and that sort of thing, it was fine.  But I noticed that every time a "hot button" topic would come up, there would be this big rush to shut things down.  The moderators would remind everybody that emotions ran strong on these topics and everybody should remember to be civil and respectful and that the board really wasn't the place for these sorts of issues or discussions, and that would be the end of things.

Now, if we were talking about the mommy blog version of hot button topics, things about parenting styles or whether TV harms your child's brain, I could understand this "rush to shut down" mode.  But these were the same kinds of hot button topics you might encounter in the world: abortion, gay marriage or other gay issues, politics, and so on.  And this was a Catholic forum run by Catholics.

When I stopped actively participating in that forum, I chalked it up to my usual problems making friends with my fellow females.  But I think that was lazy of me, because I just can't think of rationality, tenacity, or straightforwardness in discussions as solely masculine traits, anymore than I would think of civility or respectfulness as feminine ones--ideally, regardless of one's sex, one ought to be capable of all of these qualities when one is an adult. 

And I get, believe me, that not everybody is called to the practice of apologetics.  There is nothing wrong with being the sort of person who dislikes confrontation, who is inclined to become emotional when challenged to defend his or her positions on issues, or whose interests and tastes simply do not lie in that direction.  Apologetics isn't like prayer, something every Christian should practice; it's a particular field, that only some will be drawn to.

However, I think the danger of the Jody Bottum position on gay marriage (that the Church should just shut up about it because we're not going to win and we're only going to make the Church look like a big old meanie) is that this type of thinking is so very seductive to the same kinds of Catholics who would prefer not to discuss hot button issues at all, and whose way of dealing with them is to pretend they don't exist.  Honesty compels me to admit that quite a number of these Catholics are my fellow Catholic women.

When on that board I mentioned above a situation arose where a mother was concerned about her preschool child's participation in a parish catechetical program because each day at the program a little boy prayed loudly in thanks to God that he had two moms and no dad, I was pretty well flabbergasted by the position, expressed by the majority, that the mom should just have a nice little talk with her own child, that after all these situations are going to come up, that the catechist's approval of this prayer (openly expressed, e.g., "Why, yes, you are lucky to have two moms!" etc.) was slightly troubling but not worth pulling one's child out of a really excellent preschool program--I felt that, like a certain Lewis Carroll character, I had stepped through a looking glass.  This was, remember, several years ago, four or five, perhaps, before the present onslaught of pressure to force the American public to approve openly, loudly, and daily of sodomy and all its relationships.  These were Catholic women.  The few who objected were reminded to be nice.  The rest were sure that the proper thing to do was to say that, well, God prefers for men and women to marry each other, but we should be nice (raising the inevitable question, I suppose, in a child's mind: Why isn't God as nice as we are?)...

It is one thing to say of one's own self: I have no taste, no turn, nor any particular talent to be a defender of the faith in the world, and thus I will look quietly to my own home while bracing myself to stand up for the truth when the errors of the world invade my quiet Shire, as invade it they will.  It is even acceptable to say, as some have said: I am weary of this fight, and have lost my ability to persevere in charity in it, and so I will step aside and let others take the standard from my aching hands.  But it is another thing altogether to say, and to teach one's children, that really it isn't quite nice to insist on the truth in the world, because we're only going to hurt people's feelings and make the Church look mean, so that people won't listen to us when we want to tell them about Jesus, or about Heaven, or about the immediate necessity of invading Syria, or whatever the case might be.

The truth about marriage is that it can only ever be between one man and one woman.  The world hates us for telling that truth.  It has hated us because we deny the validity of marriages after divorce (presuming the first marriage was valid, of course).  It has hated us for insisting on the truth that the unrelenting war on the female reproductive system otherwise known as artificial birth control is a grave moral evil that undermines marriages and destroys them.  It will hate us even more when we say that two men or two women are not married and that we refuse to teach our children that they are, or to remain silent in the presence of the lie.  The world will never play nice.  All we have to lose by trading niceness for the truth is our own souls.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Bottum line

Here's a roundup of some of the great pieces regarding that Jody Bottum call for heroic capitulation by the Church regarding gay marriage which were posted over the weekend:

Mark Shea says that Bottum is God's good servant, but the king's first

Matthew J. Franck at First Things speaks of exhaustion (and not just from reading that long-winded piece of calculated moral buffoonery)

Rod Dreher calls Bottum's flip-flop shocking

Pat Archbold calls Bottum a "Fool and Tool"

Deacon Kandra gives us "just the facts" as is his style, along with an excerpt from Bottum's NYT interview which is helpful for those of us who don't want to read the whole sickening thing.

I was going to write a lengthy post myself detailing exactly what's long with Bottum's thinking here, but it's probably not even necessary at this point.  Instead, let me give you the same brief list (slightly edited) of 12 points that I shared with a friend right after I read the Bottum piece:

What Joseph Bottum is saying, in a nutshell: 
1. My gay friends are nice to me.  Except about that "Catholic" part.  Then they don't like me anymore.
2. Maggie Gallagher yelled at me one time.  I'm still miffed about that.
3. We've already lost the culture on sex.
4. Gay marriage will make gay people monogamous. (Really, he says he thinks so.)
5. Civil marriage because of divorce isn't real marriage anyway.
6. The children?  Eh, they'll be fine, even when we pretend right along with their two moms that they have two moms.
7. The late Chuck Colson refused to take my awesome advice about the Manhattan Declaration.
8. Catholics might get persecuted if we fight gay marriage.  We can't have that.
9. Did I mention all the prominent gay people I know?
10. Thomas Aquinas would agree with me.  Take my word for it.
11. The Church looks too mean when she opposes gay marriage.
12. Richard Rich is my hero!  (Okay, so he didn't actually say that, but it's pretty well implied.)

That's really all that is going on, in that long-winded essay of his, except for a 13th point, which is that it's somehow un-American for Catholics to oppose an evil redefining of marriage that will further erode the natural family, put Christians and other believers under the unrelenting attacks of a growing secularist tyranny that is lurching toward dictatorship, and hurt our gay brothers and sisters by selling them the lie that they just can't be complete human beings unless everybody uncritically praises and celebrates their sex lives--because none of that is important compared to our opportunities to engage in preemptive wars and so on.

The Bottum line, ultimately, is that we should just ignore all of that because blah blah blah elite cocktail parties are fun, and so are endless neocon wars to spread the fertilizer of democracy, so let's agree to shut up about evil when it impedes the cocktail party/war consensus.  The real bottom line for Catholics, though, is that hoary old chestnut: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

UPDATE: I have to add this link to Rod Dreher's continued analysis of the Bottum essay, where Rod calls Bottum's thinking "alchemy."  Which is a nice way of saying that Bottum is mainly guilty of magical thinking masquerading as serious thought--and which I completely agree with.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bookmarking for Monday

It's Friday, so I don't have time to do this justice, and most of you won't be seeing it until Monday anyway.  But I want to bookmark it for a discussion sometime next week.  It is, as someone said, jaw-dropping: Joseph Bottum comes out in favor of gay marriage, or at least in favor of the Church shutting up about it, because it makes the Church look mean and we might get persecuted.

If you think I'm kidding about that, you can read the whole miserable thing here.

You may hear from various places that this piece is some kind of thoughtful intellectual attempt to address SSM within the traditions of Catholic thought.  It's not.  It's a mishmash of personal opinion, whining, and shoddy rationalization with words like "Thomas Aquinas," "Natural Law," "enchantment," and "Pope Francis" thrown in to fool the credulous into thinking that this is some kind of serious piece.  And believe me, I'm being very restrained right now not to tell you what I really think.

I'm hoping that by the time Monday rolls around more gifted Catholic writers will have weighed in on this so we can discuss their thoughts too.  Till then, take it from me: the Church will not condone gay marriage.  If she is silenced about the evil of it, her silence will be bought at the point of the spear, and will last only until her valiant sons rise up to defend her.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Internet Catholic Masculinist

Simcha Fisher today made me aware of this article by scholar and moral theologian Pia de Solenni on that remark of Pope Francis' about needing a theology of women in the Church.  The article by de Solenni is thoughtful and interesting; I encourage people to read it for themselves.  But what I want to talk about today is something Simcha pointed out, which is that Pia de Solenni's article was followed by a number of comments from male Catholic readers who, having deigned to enter a combox below the words of--you know--a girl, proceeded in their great masculine wisdom to inform de Solenni solemnly that a) she has cooties, b) she's not welcome in their clubhouse, and c) she should go make them a sandwich.

Actually, that's being much too kind.  Because what these gentlemen really did was pay no attention at all to what de Solenni had actually written but accuse her instead of radical feminism, of wanting women to be priests, of agitating for more female altar servers and EMHCs and--to use a certain priest's coy term--lectoresses, of ignoring the fact that the chief female virtue is always and everywhere HUMILITY (which means, of course, that women, even women with advanced degrees in theology, should shyly murmur that they are really quite stupid and that it's so kind of the men to explain things to them so patiently, as in this example), and of rampant narcissism.  Because, you know, the only reason anybody could possibly think that the Church deciding to sit down and ponder and talk about what it is that makes women different from men and how women's gifts are different from men's gifts and how women can develop and use these gifts for the good of all is a pretty good idea in an era in which people are really confused about the actual and real differences between men and women, preferring to see all of it as a mere social construct easily changed with a few changes made in grammar, and via hormones and surgery is--wait for it--evil "girl power" feminist nonsense.

It would be easy to laugh at the men who think this sort of thing, but I think the more interesting thing to do is try to figure out just why there are so many Catholic men--both on the Internet and in real life--who really do seem to believe that the problems in the Church and in the world today boil down to feminism.  I say "both on the Internet and in real life" because I have met a few men who seem to believe this, but just like the Internet Catholic RadTrad, the Internet Catholic Masculinist seems to be more vocal, more numerous, and more willing than his real-life counterpart to say outrageous things about women and feminism as they express his sense of deep hurt at not having been born in a civilized age when men were men and women were whatever their fathers, brothers, or husbands expected them to be.

Who is the Internet Catholic Masculinist?  I'm not at all referring here to every Catholic man whose wife stays at home and raises the children; it's possible to be a Catholic husband and father and yet to believe that one's wife is a real person, an adult human being, and one's true partner in this great quest toward Heaven (and toward surviving The Toddler Years without any great loss of patience or sanity).  Rather, I'm referring to those Catholic men who believe that the world started its journey toward the netherworld in an easily-carried basket when women got the vote, and that it has been all downhill since then.  If you think I'm kidding, rest assured that I'm not; there are blogs out there (though I won't link to them) written by Catholic men who have discussed their anti-female-suffrage leanings with all the passion of people who think they might one day actually succeed in wresting the vote away from those uppity female creatures God has (for His own mysterious reasons) littered the earth with in abundance.  Their reasoning is disarmingly simple: women, unlike men, are incapable of independent thought or disinterested action, so women will always make their election decisions based on emotion and self-interest, which is why we have abortion.  Point out to them that early feminists and suffragettes were pro-life while many men wanted legalized abortion for the convenience it offered them in getting rid of any evidence of their extramarital extracurricular activities, and they will inform you, kindly at first but with increasing hostility, that as a female person you are incapable of rational thought, which is the only reason you don't understand that they are right.  At this point you may as well give up; you will either be allowed to remain in the comment boxes on sufferance so long as your comments are limited to cheerleading, or will get yourself banned when, in a spirit of mischief, you say something like "Well, thank goodness women can inherit property and manage their own financial affairs!" which is nothing less, on these sites, than a declaration of war.

Why are the Internet Catholic Masculinists like this?  I think that some of them have truly been wounded, perhaps personally, by radical secular feminism and its ills (no-fault divorce, abortion, and the like).  And I have great sympathy for them.  But there are others whose masculinism is more theoretical, based on romantic ideas about the past, incorrect ideas about women in general, or some combination of these things.  I've been in arguments with men who were passionate defenders of "true femininity," but when asked to define this they seemed to have some idea of a woman who was Grace Kelly out in public with her family, Ma Ingalls at home with the children, and...well, we'll leave the bedroom persona shrouded in decency, shall we?  A truly feminine woman should, according to them, pass straight from her father's guiding hand to her husband's without forming any notions of her own, but should work outside the home for as long as her husband needs her to before the children come along.  Once the children come along they are her responsibility, as her husband works hard to give her the luxury of being a stay-at-home mother; she should not expect him to help in what is properly her work any more than he expects her to help in his.  She should only have friends he approves of, since she should trust him to know better than she does who is a good person for her to know--but she shouldn't criticize his friends or be upset if he goes out after work for a poker game or some such manly entertainment now and again, even if she has been at home all day with small people who don't yet speak in complete sentences.  She should spend little money on herself yet always have appropriate dresses (and veils) to wear to Mass so as not to embarrass him.  She should take any criticisms of her housework or her mothering as evidence of his great love for her in that he's trying to help her improve when she clearly doesn't know how to do something right.  She should never criticize him, though, because God has appointed him the master of their household, and criticizing him is sort of like blasphemy...sort of.

Now: do I think the Internet Catholic Masculinist actually lives like this?  Most of them do not.  Either they are not married, or their ideas of what their marriage would be like in an ideal world where men still had all of the authority in a marriage fall far short of the everyday reality of dealing with an actual, living, breathing human female wife.  But that makes their anger and their tendency to infiltrate comboxes shouting "feminism!" flare up whenever an intelligent woman like Pia de Solenni writes about how it might not be such a bad thing for the Church to develop a theology of women--because if the Church's theology of women didn't match the above description of what a wife and mother should be then there is at least a tiny danger that no one would take their desire for this perfect femininity seriously anymore.  Of course, they have the option of declaring that this new focus on a theology of women is just proof that the Church has been taken over by radical feminist malcontents and that they're as free to ignore the Church's teachings on feminism as they are to ignore her teachings against unjust wars, torture, or immigration--but it will be more comforting to them if they can growl to their cronies "I was against this whole 'theology of women' bosh and nonsense from the first time some idiot female scholar wrote about it, way back in 2013."

Frankly, though, I think that the existence of the Internet Catholic Masculinist just proves that we need a theology of women in the Church.  As Simcha Fisher put it:
But most of the Catholic women I know are just as disgusted with the sissifcation of the Church.  We have no desire to replace the sacraments with weaving classes and yoga.  This is stupid stuff.  This doesn't tell you what woman can offer, any more than a stroll down the porn and firearms aisle of your local porn and firearms store tells you what men have to offer.

I do not want to be a man, and I do not want to be like a man.  I also do not want to turn the Church into a hand-holding, feelings-sharing warm bath of emotion.  That's a parody of womanhood, and it's just as offensive to women of faith as it is to men of faith.

This is precisely why we  need a theology of women:   because we're tired of the parodies, the clownish extremes that purport to represent womanhood.

The Church is the bride of Christ.  We are all feminine in relation to God.  If we are going to understand what that means, then we need to use a little subtlety of thought, and react without the kneejerk fear and revulsion demonstrated by the commenters on Solenni's piece.
In other words, if your default setting any time somebody talks about the gifts of and role of women in the Church is to think: a) girls are icky!  b) not this feminist crap again! or c) aww, do the poor little dears need some attention today? then you are one of the reasons the Church does indeed need to articulate a truly radical theology of women, reclaiming what was good about feminism (newsflash: feminism did some good things, too) and illuminating the idea that women are real people with the light of faith.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thinking about thinking about the liturgy

Mark Shea recently admitted to the hideous personal failing of not being, you know, liturgically obsessed:
I’m not at Mass to be entertained, charmed, fascinated by a dazzling personality, or amused.  I’m not there to worship myself or hear about the People’s Democratic Republic of Heaven, where the energies that should go to build up the kingdom of God are wasted fighting over which lay martinets dominate a few “ministries” in the parish that have long ago ceased being about serving the least of these and are now platforms for personal power struggles in tiny tyrannical fiefdoms.  I don’t want to hear a homily in which a priest is now so remote from the most elementary truths of the Tradition that he sees the Mass as a forum for giving barn-burner political speeches to inform me that “Jesus needed to learn to overcome his racism like the rest of us” (and by “us” he means “you lot”).  I don’t want to improve the Our Father to the Our Mother nor pray in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  I don’t want to live with the impression that the last words of Christ to Peter were “Try experiments on my rats” and not “Feed my sheep.”

Why am I at Mass?  I want God.  That’s why.

But for exactly the same reason, I’m also not interested in the reaction to all this sort of twaddle from laity who have made it their life’s mission to be perpetually angry or obsessed with the minutiae of liturgy and hyper-critical of the Paul VI rite.  Just as I don’t want a priest to take me out of the Mass and into the cult of “Aren’t I Fabulous?” so I likewise don’t want angry Reactionaries endlessly critiquing and carping about how intrinsically inferior even a well-celebrated Paul VI rite is.  I don’t want to listen to paranoid rants about the Jewish conspiracy tunneling under the sanctuary, or how the vestments aren’t quite the right color, or how we must all panic because Pope Francis’ priorities are not particularly on gorgeous liturgy. I find his simple offering of a beach ball to God in gratitude for 3 million hearts touched by Christ at World Youth Day to be an occasion of deeply moving joy, not a reason to scream "Sacrilege!" I also don't think the Little Drummer Boy insulted God by not playing Palestrina. I’m not super-inspired by singing “City of God”, and I can't stand "Anthem", but on the whole, I think that if that's the worst suffering I have to endure, I’m getting off way better than the Hiroshima martyrs and I am not going to let it destroy my peace.
For which statement Mark then pays in the comment boxes at the Register.  Apparently, a lay person admitting that he doesn't spend all that much time thinking about the liturgy is proving that he's one of those Catholics (and if I have to define those Catholics for you, you're probably one of them too).

I tend to think that there are roughly three types of Catholics who spend a lot of time thinking about the liturgy.  They are as follows:

1. Clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons), especially those who most suited to thinking about and implementing the liturgy properly.  In one sense all clergy have to think about the liturgy, but I bet we've all known at least one good, holy priest who is quite content to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without lots of deep pondering about liturgical matters in general--and who perhaps isn't really suited to that sort of thing, anyway.  And that's okay!  There are many gifts, etc.

2.  Lay Catholics who are scholars, historians, musicians, and otherwise people who have reason to delve deeply into liturgical minutiae by virtue of their callings in the world.  I actually enjoy reading the writings of and/or talking to these people, because they are so knowledgeable and because they so rarely have a special liturgical axe to grind.  This may be because, immersed in the history of the Church's various worship forms, they don't seem to believe that the good Lord handed St. Peter the rubrics for the 1962 Mass in the Roman Rite just before His Ascension; they know that the form of the Mass has changed many times, in ways major, minor, and every way in between, in the two thousand and counting years since the Church was born.

3. Lay Catholics who are liturgical hobbyists.  These are people who are interested in the liturgy even though they don't have any special qualifications or backgrounds or roles--they just get deeply interested, in the same way some people get deeply interested in candle-making or stained glass art or other things that are somewhat related to worship.  Some of these people are cheerful hobbyists, capable of debating for hours on the question of whether or not shoe buckles are mandatory for priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form without taking it personally if Father doesn't actually own a pair of shoes with buckles on them; others of these people are liturgical cranks, people who believe that the Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form Mass was a conspiracy by Masons to drain people of their immortal souls by simultaneously suppressing the St. Michael Prayer after Mass and making people listen to Marty Haugen and Dan Schutte, people who believe that us poor suckers who attend the Ordinary Form are being cheated out of the required number of references to Hell and damnation in the Propers of the Mass, people who believe that their Mass produces superior, grade-A holiness in the souls of those who attend it, which can be proven by the concerned way in which they inform the rest of us that they don't so much hate the bishops as they fear and distrust them and worry that they'll lose the E.F. any day now as Satan gains his ascendency over the Church via all those bishops he's already corrupted and owns fully...

Here's where it gets complicated: you can meet liturgical hobbyists, and even liturgical cranks, at any O.F. Mass, and you can meet lots of nice people at the E.F. Mass who aren't liturgical cranks at all or even liturgical hobbyists except sometimes for the fun of it--and then, of course, you can meet lay Catholic scholars who turn out to be liturgical cranks, and some of the time you can meet Catholic clergy who are liturgical cranks, so there's a lot of overlap in these categories.  The bottom line is that just because you meet someone who tells you up front that unlike Mark Shea he or she actually enjoys thinking about the liturgy, it doesn't make them the kind of bitter liturgical crank who is convinced that most of the O.F. Catholics are contraceptors and Marxist-feminists who are already going to Hell.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to tell the difference between people who say they love the liturgy (either form) and mean exactly that, and people who say they love the liturgy but mean that they love some image of a perfect Mass they've never actually seen (again, in either form) or seen only rarely because the Masonically influenced bishops and modernist priests keep stealing their--our--liturgical patrimony, and it is this: let them talk for a bit.

People who love the Mass love it, full stop.  If you tell them you've only been to an E.F. Mass twice and didn't really "get" it, they might enthusiastically encourage you to try again, or they might be joyful that you like the O.F. Mass and go to Mass every Sunday.  What they won't do is tell you you're an inferior modernist hippie-chick Catholic so used to eating "baby food" or "pablum" that you can't yet stomach the "solid meat" of the Extraordinary Form, but that they will pray a Novena to St. Suspicious for you to gain the holiness, wisdom, and spiritual maturity to be able to attend, with the proper amounts of awe, fear, and trembling, the Extraordinary Form before it is just too late for your immortal soul.

There's nothing wrong with thinking about the liturgy; there's nothing wrong with just being grateful for it, either (unless you're a clergyman whose job involves thinking about the liturgy and you are shirking, of course).  But there is something wrong with thinking that thinking about the liturgy and coming to conclusions very much against the mind of Holy Mother Church is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My letter to gay Christians

Yesterday over at Rod Dreher's blog, I wrote a rather long comment addressed to two gay male commenters who expressed frustration at the way they've been treated by Christians.  I want to share that comment here, but I'm changing and editing it slightly to remove some personal elements both to the gentlemen in question and referencing myself, and to make it more of a broad, general message to gay Christian men and women who are still struggling with the idea that the Church sees them as beloved sons and daughters of God and yet asks them to embrace the same Cross of sexual morality that she asks all of us to carry.

The revised letter to gay Christians begins below:


Dear gay Christian brothers and sisters,

It is an uncomfortable truth that for us heterosexual Christians there are many things we have so often gotten wrong in our conversations with our gay brothers and sisters, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.

As a serious Catholic I can’t tell you that I don’t accept the Church’s teachings regarding the immorality of gay sex, because I do accept the Church’s teachings in this area, just as I accept her teachings against porn use, self-pleasuring, fornication, adultery, contraception, IVF and other immoral means of conception, and remarriage after divorce (all of which apply equally to us heterosexuals). The reality is that the Church’s teachings about sexual virtue which include celibacy for the unmarried, lifelong fidelity for the married, and chastity–properly understood–for all is not merely a list of sins and prohibitions, but at its heart a deep and fundamental understanding of the reality about the nature and purpose of human sexuality, the sexual complementarity of a man and a woman in marriage, and the powerful sign of the nuptial relationship between Christ and His Church which our human relationships point to despite their imperfections.

But another important facet of the Church’s teaching regarding homosexuality is that merely being gay or attracted to one’s own sex is not itself sinful, is a trial, can be a difficult cross to bear, and in no way excuses treating anyone who is gay like anything less than what he or she really is: a human being created in the image and likeness of God whose immortal soul is called to the same earthly mission (to know, love, and serve God in this life) and same eternal destiny (to be happy with Him forever in Heaven) as the rest of us are. You are priceless in His eyes; can you be any less in mine?
Now I know that the problem here for you may be that you can’t see how I can say that and yet insist that gay sexual expressions are always objectively sinful. To me, it’s simple: merely loving someone can’t remove the innate morality or immorality of an action, and that’s just as true for the man who hates his wife but loves his mistress as it is for anyone else who violates sexual morality in the name of love. Real love doesn’t jeopardize the soul of the beloved.

But there’s something deeply wrong with our age in that we tend to see genital expression as the only thing that matters, the only way love can really be shown or experienced, the only way that love can be real, and that’s such a sadly reductive, even empty way to view human beings. I think it’s one reason why we see such rampant divorce rates, such a rise in the number of people who casually live together for a few years, even generating children together, before moving on to the next new person, in the loneliness of the porn habit, in the ugliness of prostitution–so many people are convinced that they can’t be happy, or even really loved, without sex, and the irony here is that it is love, not sex, that has decreased.

When I read the writings of gay people and especially of gay fellow Christians, what I hear there is a kind of fear: a fear that you (all of you) cannot be loved outside of the gay community–that is, that you will only be loved by the rest of us if you hide who you are, or pretend to change, or otherwise give up on something that, like it or not, is a part of who you are.

To the extent that our gay brothers and sisters have given up on any sense of being loved outside of gay relationships, we Christians have a lot to answer for. My Church’s teachings may be quite nuanced (if anybody bothers to read them) but I know other Christian churches do not make the distinction between the orientation and the actions, and burden young gay men and women with the idea that God is against them or even hates them for being attracted to their own gender. Since some of these same churches have no problem at all with remarriage after divorce or the use of contraception I suggest they might want to deal with the huge protruding ocular plank of their own before seeking out specks in the eyes of others.

The truth is that God loves you as you are *and* that He wants you to adopt the same moral code He wants everybody to adopt. It’s admittedly going to be pretty hard in your cases if or when you recognize the call to embrace that particular cross, but you’re not alone: it’s hard for the married couple who hate each other, for the lonely single guy who has nothing but a couple of meaningless hookups to remember as he grows old, for the elderly widow or widower, for the *young* widow or widower, for the young wife and mother whose husband ran off with a floozie, for the man whose wife has early-onset Alzheimer’s which began two years before he was supposed to retire…and so on. If, instead of viewing each other with deep suspicion, we could walk in solidarity like real Christians, supporting each other in our trials and crosses instead of shrugging and suggesting everybody just put his or her cross down and get busy doing whatever feels good, imagine the power of the love that would be built up by such a thing.

One final thing: there’s this poisonous attitude among some Christians that gay sins are much, much worse than any other kind, and that this justifies treating gay people unkindly. The worst kinds of sin are those that come from pride, not from lust. And even to the prideful we’re supposed to show mercy. If it’s reductive to think of human beings in terms of their sex lives, how much more reductive is it to think of them primarily as their sins? You are not your sins, whatever those might be, any more than I am mine, and we all, whether we know it or not, live amid the rays of Divine Mercy.

Your sister in Christ,

Erin Manning

Monday, August 19, 2013

For goodness' sake

Msgr. Pope does it again with this post titled The Church is a bride, not a widow:
But I want to say to all the negative ones: the Church is a Bride, not a widow.

I have, in twenty-five years as a priest, found a great deal of affinity with traditional Catholics. I love the Traditional Latin Mass (and have celebrated it since 1989), chant, polyphony, traditional churches, stained glass, and I toe a line in rather strict conformity to the Church’s teachings and Scripture’s admonitions. I preached Hell and Purgatory even when it wasn’t cool.

But in recent years I have found my relationship to many (not all or even most) traditional Catholics tested and strained. I say “tested” because I have found that if I do not adhere to a rather strict, and I would say “narrow” line, I am relegated to be thrown out of the feast, and there in the “outer darkness” to wail and grind my teeth.

It would seem that for some, I am required to bash bishops, lament that the Church has “never been in worse shape,” and that every single solitary problem in the Church today is “due to Vatican II” and the “Novus Ordo” Mass. Stray too far from this, either by omission or commission, and I am in the hurt locker, the penalty box, and relegated to being no better than one of “them.”

Last week on the blog was especially hurtful. All I did was quote what I thought was an interesting statistic, that the average number of priests per parish in 1950 was “1″ and that in 2013, the average number of priests per parish is also “1″. There are many interesting questions that can be raised about this number. Perhaps there were more ethnic parishes then, perhaps church closings now are a factor, perhaps many of us remember the Northeastern Urban experience, but knew little of the rural experience back then which balanced our reality. Yes, there have been closings and declines of late, but overall there are 17K  parishes nationwide today, slightly more than in 1950, and double the number of putative Catholics. And at the end of the day, the number averages out to “1″ priest per parish. More here: [01] and here: [02]

Anyway, while one may dispute how helpful or illuminating the statistic is, the real grief came to me with just how hostile and even nasty some comments (many of which I had to delete) were. There were personal accusations against me, there was a bevy of bishop-bashing, and Pope-bashing statements, and any number and variety of venomous attacks against perfectly legitimate Church realities, liturgical forms, and the Second Vatican Council itself.

Like Msgr. Pope, I would never assume that all those who love and attend the Traditional Latin Mass  (a.k.a. the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) are sour, bitter people who see no good from Vatican II and think that all bishops today are bad men who just want to oppress them.  I know a few joyful Trads.  I'm sure there are plenty.

But I have also encountered, both online and in real life, Trads like the ones Msgr. Pope is describing above.  And, being me, I'm starting to develop a theory about it all.

We human beings have a strong yearning to believe that at some time in the past, people were much more virtuous and holy, much more focused and directed, much more responsible and organized, much better at being good and holy priests and nuns and husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and children than we are now.  I think that what we can truly say is that there were ages during which the very notion of virtue wasn't so much under attack--that is, that there were ages during which men and women greatly praised, say, monogamy and saw no real conflict between their appreciation of its virtues and their personal sins involving affairs, or ages during which a priest might have a shining reputation for sanctity at the same time that he was quietly pilfering out of the collection box for his own gain, and that despite the conflict between the public praise of virtue and everyone's private evils, there was at least some social cohesion possible around the idea that it was a good thing to be good or at least to strive for goodness.  And that made life at least theoretically better for the vast majority of people who didn't have affairs or pilfer out of collection boxes or otherwise commit big sins unrepentantly all the time, because the illusion of the public's goodness, coupled with the presence of the confessional as a quiet reminder that sin wasn't eradicated just because it wasn't displayed, made it seem like everyone was more or less on the same page about the desirability of virtue and holiness.   Which, when you think about it, made the job of parents, teachers, religious superiors, and so on that much easier: plenty of time for Junior to learn that adults could be horrible sinners and hypocrites after he'd first learned to admire and appreciate goodness.

Our own age is demonstrably unlike this.  Society no longer believes in virtue or goodness, not in any cohesive way.  Sure, people might say, for instance, that it's wrong to lie, or cheat, or steal, but then they'll parse the definition of those words down to their smallest particles until they mean less than nothing, and it all becomes about to whom you lie or your motivations (the noble lie), with whom you cheat and whether the person you're cheating on is okay with it (the mongamish relationship), or from whom you steal and whether or not you steal boldly (the corporate raider or the stock market coup).  If hypocrisy was once the tribute that vice paid to virtue, today vice pays no tribute at all to virtue but insists that it is virtue, after all, and that virtue is vice, being intolerant and all that.

So some people look at earlier ages, realize this strange distortion in the notion of goodness, and wonder: what happened?  The real answer (the Fall happened) isn't all that satisfying, because if the present age's degeneracy is, like all of man's degeneracy, the result of the Fall, then there's no guarantee that we ourselves or those we love won't end up suffering either because of the vicious or by becoming vicious themselves.  It is much easier to find and blame a certain Thing for the loss of the sense of goodness.  That Thing has been, at times, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, Electricity, the War, the Second War, Communism, Atheism, and Feminism, just to name a few.  Within the Church in our recent past, that Thing has been Vatican II, primarily--that Thing on which we can blame all the other Things, all the bad Things that have happened since that time, both inside the Church and out in wider society.

You see, once you have identified that Thing that leads to badness, all you need, for goodness' sake, is to set yourself at opposition to that Thing.  You might become a self-sustaining farmer who shuns electricity and machines, or you might marry the sort of man who sincerely believes that women are an inferior creation and tells you so at every opportunity, or you might become the most spendthrift of capitalists.  Or you might blame the Novus Ordo (a.k.a. the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite) for everything (or at least for everything that isn't the direct fault of the Democratic Party).  Once you've done that, why, all you need to safeguard your goodness (aside from Mass, confession, frequent daily prayer, almsgiving and other good works, of course, but that goes without saying) is to avoid that bad Thing that has caused, in your carefully studied opinion, all of the trouble.

And so knowing where others stand regarding that bad Thing becomes a kind of shorthand.  Just like Glinda's question to Dorothy, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" the questions about which form of the Mass in the Roman Rite a Catholic attends can become a shorthand to assess a person's overall goodness or badness.  If someone says, "Oh, I only attend the Latin Mass!" he or she can safely be regarded as a good person, but if someone says, "I go to the Latin Mass when I can, but there's a nice Novus Ordo near my house..." then further questioning is needed.  If that person then fails to show unqualified support for the right sort of politicians or the proper level of disdain for certain types of entertainment, etc., then one's hands may safely be washed of that person (and not a moment too soon!).

To be fair, there are people who do this in reverse, asking whether the TLM attendee thinks the pope is a real pope or whether the Latin Mass attendee accepts Vatican II--and those questions are only properly asked by one's bishop or pastor, so lay people are being extremely rude to ask them.  But I personally haven't seen this reverse questioning as frequently (your experience may be different); most people I know who ordinarily attend the Ordinary Form are fine with the Extraordinary Form and have maybe tried it a few times and are perfectly happy for those drawn to it to have it free of any unjust restrictions (just ones, like the lack of availability of priests trained in the Extraordinary Form, are a different matter, of course).  Now, they also don't tend to think that all the problems in the Church and in the world could be solved once and for all if the Church just jettisoned the Ordinary Form and admitted it was a bad mistake, immediately substituting the Extraordinary Form complete with a ban on females on the altar (except to clean it) and a requirement for females to cover their heads and an absolute prohibition on any music composed after 1560 and/or not written in chant notation: but this is because they are sane.

Alas, the only thing we can do for goodness' sake is keep trying to be good, and to share the joy we find in that pursuit with those most broken by our culture's weird tendency to call evil, good and good, evil.  Which is the only thing anybody has ever been able to do: to take up our Cross and follow Christ, and find great joy in doing exactly that.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The trouble with children's movies

Here's a lovely breath of fresh air and sanity from Luke Epplin at The Atlantic:
After finishing last in the race's first two legs, Dusty briefly takes over the lead before crashing into the Pacific Ocean during a violent storm. Damaged and discouraged, Dusty nearly drops out before the race's concluding leg. But Dottie restores his faith by reversing her initial doubts: "You're not a crop-duster. You're a racer, and now the whole world knows it." Rejuvenated, Dusty overcomes his doubts--not to mention his oft-stated fear of heights--and triumphs in the race's final seconds. Hammering home the movie's already unambiguous message, a doting fan at the finish line tells Dusty that he's "an inspiration for all of us who want to do more than we were built for."

It's probably no coincidence that the supremacy of the magic-feather syndrome in children's movies overlaps with the so-called "cult of self-esteem." The restless protagonists of these films never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can't fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, it's the naysaying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community. As Jean Twenge, the controversial cultural critic of America's supposed narcissism epidemic, argues in her bestselling book Generation Me, younger generations "simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams."

Following one's dreams necessarily entails the pursuit of the extraordinary in these films. The protagonists sneer at the mundane, repetitive work performed by their unimaginative peers. Dusty abhors the smell of fertilizer and whines to his flying coach that he's "been flying day after day over these same fields for years." Similarly, Turbo performs his duties in the garden poorly, and his insubordination eventually gets him and Chet fired. Their attitudes are all part of an ethos that privileges self-fulfillment over the communal good.

In addition to disparaging routine labor, these films discount the hard work that enables individuals to reach the top of their professions. Turbo and Dusty don't need to hone their craft for years in minor-league circuits like their racing peers presumably did. It's enough for them simply to show up with no experience at the world's most competitive races, dig deep within themselves, and out-believe their opponents. They are, in many ways, the perfect role models for a generation weaned on instant gratification.

The magic-feather syndrome has so thoroughly penetrated animated features that it's difficult to imagine a film that doesn't incorporate at least some of its tropes. Perhaps, you might be tempted to argue, kids movies have to be this way. But that's easily debunked--just look at Pixar's roster, which features a number of magic-feather narratives but also includes stories largely about family, friendship, and growing older.
In addition to some of Pixar's films, the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown is mentioned by Epplin as an antidote to the magic-feather narrative pushed by so many kids' movies.  He is definitely on to something there: can you imagine a children's movie today with the theme "You may still mess up on the eve of the biggest possible triumph of your life, but guess what?  The world still goes on."  I can't, either; the message today seems to be, "Even if you are still a child, you are smarter, more talented, more determined and more potentially successful than every grown-up you know--not just someday, but right now, this very minute."

Epplin hints at this next bit, but it's something that bothers me about modern children's movies and other children's entertainment offerings: have you ever noticed how nobody who is a hero or a success in any way ever has a dull, routine job?  The one exception is the super-hero's alter-ego, and even there we have newspaper reporters or photographers or millionaire playboys instead of waiters, taxi drivers, teachers or businessmen.  I may not have watched the sitcom Family Ties very much back in the day (though it was popular when I was a teen), but I knew enough about it to know that one of the main characters, Alex P. Keaton, dreamed of being a banker or a financier or a Wall Street wizard; today's teen heroes are usually budding rap stars/singers or musicians or actors or sports legends (or, sometimes, all of the above).  Granted, it's hard to make a movie or TV show about a teenaged accounting genius, but is it fair to push a subtle message to kids that unless they end up in sports or the entertainment industry they're nothing but routine plodders without any dreams?

The real problem with children's movies is that once children have outgrown the potty-training age, the message of "You can do this if you just believe in yourself!" is no longer really true.  And children, on some level, understand this quite well.  No amount of believing you can fly will make you Superman (as many a toddler has learned to his sorrow).  No amount of wishing or hoping will make a child in Arizona into an Olympic figure skater--and if that's really her dream, and she has real talent, her family will have to move near to the closest skating rink, which isn't even a possible option for many if not most American families.  No amount of crooning in the shower will turn a tone-deaf boy into the next Justin Bie...oh, wait; never mind--how about "into the next Pavarotti."  Teen-idol related snark aside, you get my drift here: some children will be extraordinary at ordinary things, things like being reliable and capable and organized and intelligent and hard-working, things that the movies tend to ignore.  And for those kids, the message pushed by children's movies is the most problematic; it's not "Follow your dreams!" but "Your dreams are too small to count."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Does your smartphone use more power a year than your refrigerator?

That's the provocative issue being discussed here:
How much energy does it take to power your smartphone addiction?
The average iPhone uses more energy than a midsize refrigerator, says a new paper by Mark Mills, CEO of Digital Power Group, a tech investment advisory. A midsize refrigerator that qualifies for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star rating uses about 322 kW-h a year, while your iPhone uses about 361 kW-h if you stack up wireless connections, data usage, and battery charging.
The paper, rather ominously titled "The Cloud Begins With Coal: Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure, and Big Power," details how the world's Information Communication Technology (ITC) ecosystem — which includes smartphones, those high-powered Bloomberg terminals on trading floors, and server farms that span the size of seven football fields — are taking up a larger and larger slice of the world's energy pie.
The slice right now, according to Mills, is about 10 percent, or 1,500 terawatt hours of power. (For context, one terawatt hours is one trillion watt hours, and one watt terawatt hour can power about 90,000 homes.) Much of that energy is going to server farms, those giant clusters of computer servers that power "the cloud," as well as wireless networks. [...]

All added up, Mills calculates that it now takes more energy to stream a high-def movie than to manufacture and ship a DVD of the same film.
Read the rest here, especially the concerns about how much coal we're burning to fuel our device addiction and the need for cleaner fuel alternatives.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why isn't this national news?

I want to preface this post by saying that I'm not posting this as a kind of "See, abuse of children takes place in lots of places by lots of sick people, not just in the Catholic church by evil priests!" thing.  We Catholics don't help the abused by such tactics, and admitting that bad things happened and that we're trying to affect positive changes in the Church that will make it harder for predators to gain access to children should be said without qualification.

At the same time, when I read the following story, I wondered why it wasn't all over the national news:
In October 2012, Lori Janczewski was diagnosed with cancer. Days later they received more heartbreaking news.

“Four days after my wife was diagnosed, a state trooper came out to our house and we found out our son was molested,” said  Janczewski, who is also fighting his own battle with Multiple Sclerosis. “Somebody sent an anonymous email with pictures of my son to the board of education and the superintendent.”

The email and pictures proved Erickson “was a predator and he groomed our son to molest him,” he said.

Someone also posted the pictures online.

“They never found out who sent the emails and brought it to the surface,” Janczewski said. “On the one hand, we’re very appreciative … but on the other hand, we’re angry. Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Why did they put the pictures on a porn site?”

Yet despite the horrible news, the family finally had an explanation for their son’s troublesome behavior. [...]

Despite the disturbing revelations, the Janczewskis were content to let the legal process take its course. They kept a low profile and followed Erickson’s criminal case closely. Erickson admitted to his misdeeds, and the couple attended his sentencing July 10.

That’s when they learned for the first time that numerous teachers in the school district wrote to the court to plead for a lenient sentence for their colleague. They were shocked to see several teachers – and school board member Mike Eagan – sitting across the courtroom with the sex offender’s family.
“Neal made a mistake,” teacher Sally Campbell wrote to the judge, according to the Ogemaw County Herald. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something in to the authorities which began this legal process.”

“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” wrote Amy Huber Eagan, a teacher and wife of board member Mike Eagan. “I am also hoping that he can stay remanded to the custody of the Ogemaw County Jail and not be sent to a prison facility.”

“Neal has pled (sic) guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” teacher Harriett Coe wrote, according to the Herald. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends. He has been candid and conveyed his action to his family, friends and co-workers.”

In all, 10 people, including seven WB-RC teachers, submitted letters of support for Erickson, most pleading for a reduced sentence. They included Campbell, Amy Eagan, Coe, Toni Erickson, Carol Rau, Marilyn Glover, Sandi Lee, Kathryn Weber, Kathleen Sheel and Kathleen Palmer, the Herald reports.

It gets worse: when the family started demanding that these teachers be censured for rushing to support their son's molester, someone started a fire in the family's garage that did extensive damage; they have been harassed in the community as well, though it is fair to note that many supporters have now come forward to share their outrage at the teachers and the local school administration for their actions and words in support of the molester.

And that molester?  That predator who preyed upon this family's innocent son?  Not only was he the boy's math teacher--he was a former president of the Michigan teacher's union.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rod Dreher and the culture war

At his TAC blog today, Rod Dreher has posted on a variety of culture-war topics, resulting in the usual outcries from the usual sorts of people who believe in tolerance and the fair exchange of ideas until a conservative shows up and starts talking, at which point they believe in only tolerating that conservative when that conservative agrees with them.

Okay, I kid.  But only slightly.

First, Rod posted about Russia's response to the "gay rights" movement.  While going out of his way to say that he thinks the law forbidding gay "propaganda" goes too far from a Western perspective and that he rejects any and all violence toward gays or anybody else for any reason, Rod still said the unforgivable--that, you know, historically speaking, Christians would be more comfortable with the idea that we shouldn't be shoving gay propaganda at minors in public than with the American idea that kids absolutely must be taught how to have gay sex with lessons that begin in their fifth-to-eighth grade classrooms (go here for a .pdf of the proposed Common Core sex ed standards if you can stand it).  In other words, Rod was making the point that the West, including America, is very much post-Christian and is openly hostile to Christian values especially about sexual morality, and that anybody who doesn't realize that or realize how odd it sounds when we hear Russia--Russia!--standing up for, say, the right of children to be raised by a mother and a father instead of any assorted pair regardless of gender hasn't been paying attention; that is, this stuff sounds odd to Western Christian ears because we long ago gave up on the idea of our government and its institutions being anything but godless, secular, and utterly hostile to our values.  Meanwhile in the former locus of godless Communism...cue the "Twilight Zone" theme song.

In a couple of more recent posts, Rod has written about the cluelessness of a parent who can't quite bring himself to teach his daughter his own moral values, and about the State of California and its rush to pass "Make women everywhere feel totally unsafe in public bathrooms, changing areas, gyms etc." laws otherwise known as transgender rights bills.  Because the right of a five-foot-two-inch tall female to use the bathroom without having men enter that bathroom and say they are transgender (whether or not they actually are, which is a separate question) does not exist, and it's bigoted of her to want it to.  I predict that those posts, which still have fairly small numbers of comments, will end up being 50+ comment threads because so few people can bring themselves to promote sanity or common sense without having to qualify that impulse by a million expressions of politically-correct ideologies designed to minimize the impact of any actual sanity or common sense.

Sometimes, the Catholic blogosphere seems like a nice, quiet little echo chamber where people can sit back and discuss parenting styles, homeschooling vs. traditional schooling, and liturgical minutiae--and don't get me wrong, it's nice that we have this quiet space for discussion of things the rest of the world doesn't seem to be concerned about.  But there really is a culture war out there, and sooner or later, we're going to have to start paying attention to it--and get ready to fight.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Catholic Internet Awesomeness vs. the "Yes, but...

Well, I'm back!

By which I mean that I plan to resume more or less daily blogging at this point.  I enjoyed my break tremendously, but discovered that I do not actually spend more time on my writing projects when I'm not blogging.  I spend less time on them, because I'm not sitting in front of the computer in the first place.  Go figure.

Today I want to point to two examples of Catholic Internet Awesomeness.  Here's the first, by Msgr. Charles Pope:
Some years ago the theologian Fr. Jonathan Robinson wrote a commentary on the modern experience of the Sacred liturgy and entitled it, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward. It is a compelling image of so much of what is wrong with the celebration of the Liturgy in many parishes today.

While Fr. Robinson certainly had the celebration of Mass “facing the people” in mind, his concerns are broader than that.

Indeed, we have the strange modern concept of the “closed circle” in so many modern conceptions of the Mass. Too often we are tediously self-referential and anthropocentric. So much of modern liturgy includes long lists of congratulatory references, both done by, but also expected of the celebrant.

Instead of the Liturgy being upwardly focused to God and outwardly toward the mission of the Church (to make disciples of all the nations), we tend today to “gather” and hunker down in rather closed circles looking at each other, and speaking at great length about ourselves. [...]

Please consider dear reader that my proposal is not for a sudden and swift change in our liturgical stance. Rather, that we begin to ponder if, by our inwardly focused stance in circular and fan shaped churches, facing each other, we are communicating what we really intend. Does our stance project that our real focus here is God? Does it communicate the goal of the liturgy to lead us to God? Does it inculcate a spirit of leadership in our clergy who are called to lead us to God? Does a largely closed circle manifest an outward trajectory to evangelize outward and unto the ends of the earth?

Whatever pastoral blessings come with “facing the people” (and there are some blessings) there may be value in continuing to reassess whether our modern pastoral stance of an inwardly focused liturgy serves us well and communicates what we are really doing and experiencing.

And the second example of Catholic Internet Awesomeness comes from Catholic celibate gay blogger formerly known as "Steve Gershom," whose real name is Joey Prever and who, in an example of courage that should inspire us all, comes out and openly admits to being Simcha Fisher's brother:

I also didn’t want people to know I was gay. I was ashamed of being gay, because I had been taught to be ashamed; even though it doesn’t make sense to be ashamed of something you didn’t choose, and even though it’s just one among very many weird things that can happen to ordinary human beings.

I was also scared that the people in my life, especially the men, would start to keep their distance, or pity me, or see me as Different, or not want to hug me anymore ever, or just generally be weirded out.

The main reason I’m not ashamed or scared anymore is the way my friends have treated me since I told each of them. You people are such a blessing to me. I mean Jamey T. and Ben L. and Amos H. and Matt D. and John C. and Josh L. and John P. and Becca L. and Rosaleen T. and Berna S. and Ellen T. and Phil S. and Mike S. and Pete C. and Matt J. and John M. and Gregg W. and Richard R. and Jon G. and, and, and…! You see how blessed I am, probably not even to be able to remember (although I really hope I did) all of the people who have shown me earth-moving amounts of love. I don’t know if half of you understand half of what you’ve done for me, but I’ll be grateful for you till the day I die, and after.

(A special thank you goes out to Simcha Fisher, who is my favorite blogger and my inspiration in seventy different ways and also, incidentally, my sister, and Leila Miller, who posted the piece that started it all.)
Now, why do I call both of these posts examples of Catholic Internet Awesomeness?  Because they are both examples of faithful Catholic gentlemen living out their vocations and leading by example according to their states in life.  In Msgr. Pope's case, we have an ordained priest (not, note well, some grumpy lay Internet self-appointed liturgical nitpicker, for which fault of my past I beseech God for mercy) telling us he sees the possibility of great blessings proceeding from a reconsideration of the present liturgical posture of the priest facing the people in favor of a more ad orientem approach--and as a priest, as someone whose business, so to speak, the liturgy is, as someone who is in a unique position to evaluate the pros and cons of making a change like this, his voice carries conviction.  In Joey Prever's case we have a lay single man telling us what it's really like for a gay Catholic (and he has noted many times that while the use of the term "gay" may be problematic, it's more problematic to twist ourselves into semantic knots to avoid a term that like it or not has fallen into common use to mean a person who is attracted to his or her own gender) who is trying to live as a faithful, celibate, fellow Catholic among people who don't always get how to relate to that.  Oh, and he'd like to get married (to a woman, of course--what part of "faithful Catholic" didn't you get?) but worries that being so open about his struggles may impact that.  Thinking about some of the single adult Catholic women I know, I can only imagine their thought processes here: Hmm, this guy is gay.  He's also a faithful celibate Catholic man whose blog reveals the sincere, intelligent, funny, charming personality of a guy who is a terrific communicator and open to talking about his feelings...Honestly, I'll be surprised if Joey doesn't have a dozen marriage proposals by the end of the month. :)  But I digress.

My break from blogging showed me how often I read something and rush into "redheaded disagreement mode" without first thinking about who the person really is, what he or she is trying to say, whether he or she has some special qualifications to say those things (and I'm not necessarily talking about professional qualifications, just life experiences and the like) and so forth--in other words, sometimes I start saying "Yes, but..." before I've really finished listening to what the person is trying to say.  I have a feeling that both Msgr. Pope and Mr. Prever will experience something similar in reaction to their two posts, from the "Yes, but..." contingent.  Please note: I'm not saying we shouldn't ever disagree with someone (can anyone who has ever read this blog imagine me saying that?) or that we can't voice our opinions quite strongly, but I got the feeling during my break that sometimes we could avoid a lot of St. Blogs combox spit-fights if we stepped back and listened first.

Do I think that celebrating Mass ad orientem would help increase reverence at Mass and foster a better understanding of the priest's leadership role, among other things?  I'm not sure--but I'm willing to think about it.  Do I think that faithful gay Catholics who agree with Church teaching and try to live by it should be treated no differently than faithful straight Catholics who agree with Church teaching and try to live by it?  Definitely--but I admit to needing to learn a bit more from faithful Catholic gay men and women about how the rest of us can be welcoming and walk with them in solidarity without insulting them by insisting that weakening the Church's teachings on human sexuality is the only way for them to be really included (a position I've never taken myself, but I know too many well-meaning Catholics who seem to think that this is the only way to proceed when it comes to welcoming our gay Catholic brothers and sisters).  Do I think that I've sometimes been guilty of rushing to post all my thoughts and ideas on these kinds of subjects without really thinking about the people who are raising these issues and concerns in the first place?  Certainly.  And the only "Yes, but..." I have to offer today is, "Yes, but I'll try to do better going forward."  I know my readers well enough to know you'll call me out on it when (not if) I fail to live up to that notion.