Thursday, July 31, 2014

What fiction topics have been done to death?

Earlier today my sister-in-law directed me to a Catholic blogger’s review of The Book Thief.  I haven’t read The Book Thief, but my s-i-l was right: the review was interesting:

Reason #2: Here’s where I get really heated (so please excuse me while I get melodramatic)–
Adding yet another fictitious book or movie about the Nazi Holocaust to the hundreds that already exist is not a good idea, at least not while there is a dearth of works about the other genocides of our time.Here’s why:
In Constitutional Law class, on of my law school classmates made the following analogy (I forget what it was about):
“Maybe it wouldn’t be like Nazi Germany where, you know, they kill you.  Maybe it would be more like Stalinist Russia, where they just take your property.”It took me a few moments to retrieve my jaw from off the floor.
In Stalinist Russia they just take your property.
This is what my generation thinks.
It’s an interesting point, isn’t it?

There might be all sorts of reasons why WWII makes, or seems to make, better subject matter for fiction. But it reminds me of a time when I was browsing the fantasy/science fiction section of a local bookstore. A woman near me pulled a book out from the shelf, read the back cover, and then shoved the book back on the shelf, muttering disgustedly, “If I have to read one more bleeping book about bleeping King Arthur...” I knew what she meant.
Are there some subjects, particularly in historical or other genre fiction, that you think have been done to death--especially if, as in the Holocaust/WWII example, some other equally important topics are being ignored?  What book topic would cause you to have the “King Arthur” reaction, as in, you won’t read another book about [fill-in-the-blank], not even if it’s really well-written and everybody you know is recommending it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hoping for the best

This past Sunday we arrived at our church around 8 a.m., as usual.  Mass doesn’t begin until 8:30, but we assemble half an hour early in the choir practice room for any last-minute practice that is needed (which is especially nice for those leading the responsorial psalm, which can be tricky).  It seemed just like any other Sunday.

But it wasn’t.  Minutes after arriving we learned that our dear pastor is leaving us.  Our new bishop has decided that our pastor’s many talents are needed at a huge parish to our north, a parish with 1600 families and a school.

I know that our pastor is up to this challenge.  He is a tireless worker, a faithful servant, a priest after Christ’s own Heart, and a dear and kind person.  He will do well.  But we will miss him.

In this Internet age I was able to do a bit of checking; the parish our priest is going to looks like an amazing place!  And the parish where our soon-to-be new pastor is coming from is also incredible: daily Adoration, pro-life and NFP efforts, Bible study and other adult education opportunities in addition to the children’s religious education, a focus on Mass, sacraments, and prayer.  There was a time in my life when news of a new pastor would have terrified me, or made me map out the distance to whatever church my former pastor was being moved to; it is new, and different, for me to have a much more trusting and hopeful attitude about what lies ahead.

I place a lot of the credit for my trust and hopefulness on our current pastor.  Even when he was telling the congregation about his new assignment, he began by reading the bishop’s letter, and then saying that people have been asking him if he is excited to have this new opportunity.  Well, he said, it’s not really excitement.  He is sad to leave us.  “But I can’t say ‘no’ to the bishop,” he said.  Then he paused, and gave a characteristic grin.  “Well, I could say ‘no.’  But it wouldn’t be appropriate,” he corrected himself.  More than a few of us chuckled at that, recognizing ourselves and our attitudes in that very human moment.

At plenty of times in the past I’ve been willing to storm out a parish’s doors the minute some new priest arrived, without giving him a chance to settle in, or the benefit of the doubt.  I don’t think that’s all that hard to understand; my formative years were the height of the Church in America’s Very Silly Season, where a pastor who “said the black and did the red” might move on and be replaced by a pastor who made things up as he went along, and skirted on the edge of outright heresy in every homily.  Even today, with the best intentions in the world, I have trouble with visiting priests or the occasional times when I have to go to Mass somewhere other than my own parish, because I find myself on “heresy watch” without even intending to go there.

And it is still appropriate--it is always appropriate--to address important liturgical abuses or actual heresy by appealing to the proper authorities.  But I’m talking about the knee-jerk reaction that comes from liturgical nitpicking and the spirit of suspicion that goes looking for error, and is never willing to see errors (especially minor ones) as, possibly, inadvertent mistakes instead of Signs of Father’s Real Agenda.  Cultivating that spirit of suspicion is spiritual poison that can destroy one’s faith altogether if left unchecked.

I still wish our pastor didn’t have to go, because he is greatly loved and will be sadly missed.  The people at his new parish are getting a real treasure, and I hope they will cherish him and work with him without that spirit of suspicion.  And as I hope for them to act, so I will act as well, when our new pastor arrives.  It’s a new thing for me to try to hope for the best from a new pastor instead of fearing the worst, but I think it’s a good idea.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Be who you are: a note about Catholic blogging this thing on?

I’ve been enjoying my lengthy summer blog break this year.  Well, technically I’ve been having one of the busiest summers I can ever remember; why did no one ever warn me that when your kids go to actual school summers become insane?  This is just more proof that I homeschooled mainly out of laziness and fear of bureaucracy.  Oh, and because homeschool graduation parties are awesome.  Yesterday my sweet sister-in-law hosted Bookgirl’s graduation party with a completely incredible cake-design which was perfect for a homeschool graduation:

But I want to resume blogging before the new school year starts, even though this year I will only be homeschooling one child.  Yes, that’s right: for the next two years, school will just be Hatchick and me, while the older two are off at college.  At least for this year the older two are commuting, and for her first semester Bookgirl is only going two days a week, so we won’t be completely lonesome!

And about ten days ago Catholic blogger extraordinare Sherry Antonetti received an email asking the question, “What does it mean to be a Catholic blogger?”  Her excellent answer is here, and she invited other bloggers to answer as well.  

When I look over Sherry’s list, I have to admit the second point, the one about using charity, is the one I struggle with the most.  It’s much easier to be snarky, to assume that people who disagree with the Church’s clear and ancient teachings are thundering dunderheads in need of a good scolding, than to try to meet people where they are and go from there.  It is especially hard to strike a charitable balance when you are commenting on an important issue knowing that some of your readers will agree with you completely, some may disagree slightly and point you to a fuller understanding of the Church’s teachings, some will disagree completely and claim there’s room for Catholic dissent on the issue (even when there really isn’t), and some will decide that attacking you personally is their best bet for combox revenge.  If you pull your punches too much, you may feel (as I sometimes do) that you are not speaking the truth with the fearlessness of a disciple, but if you come out swinging you may face the uncomfortable realization (as I also do) that you are looking for a bit of recreational outrage, and are more interested in scoring points than in winning hearts.

But the one point I would add to Sherry’s list is this one: Be who you are.

I’ve read blogs by people who are genuinely trying to find their Catholic blogging “voice” because they don’t really know what that voice will be yet.  I was there, once, too.  I kind of thought, way back when I started blogging, that the whole “Catholic homeschooling mommy blog” thing seemed fun.  And then my second post was about abortion, and so was my third, and along about the fifth one or so I waded into a comment-box battle going on over at another Catholic blogger’s place about the public chastising of a politician that took place during Mass, and the idea of a nice sweet little website to talk about workbooks and the dreaded Third Quarter Blues shimmered like a mirage and...well, it took a little while to vanish completely, but vanish it (eventually) did.

I retain a great deal of respect for the Catholic homeschooling mommy bloggers (and even the Catholic mommy bloggers who are not homeschooling in the least, except for the stuff the school makes them do with their kids at night and on weekends).  I respect the “sweetness and light” Catholic bloggers, and the “scholarly philosophical” Catholic bloggers, and the “wildly popular and occasionally dangerous” Catholic bloggers, and every other sort there is, too.  So long as they are each being who they really are, their blog will contain that ring of authenticity that is, I think, essential for a Catholic blog to have.

What I have trouble with are those Catholic bloggers who seem to keep trying to be something they are not, the ones who seem to look around and think, “Hmm, right now the Keeping It Real Catholic blogs are getting the most traffic, so I need to Photoshop (tm) some piles of dirty laundry into my living room and stick the baby in front of the garbage can the dog just knocked over--and I wonder, if I sprinkled pencil shavings on my baseboards, would they look authentically dusty?” etc.  Granted, most of us wouldn’t have to go to near that amount of trouble, but the point is that Keeping It Real blogs only work when the blogger is actually keeping it real.  If she has a cleaning lady who comes twice a week or is a total neat freak who frets when the vacuum lines disappear from the carpet, or if unfolded laundry in the living room would cause her to need therapy, then she is not Keeping It (or anything) Real by pretending to be a bit messy and disorganized, while thriving amidst the chaos.

And the same thing is true when Crafty Catholic Blogs get the most traffic, and people who are not the least bit crafty or artistic suddenly try to write posts about making fully functional mini-guillotine vegetable choppers out of wooden craft sticks and a repurposed razor, or something of the sort.  Or when Scholarly Philosophical Bloggers are all the rage, and people who mix up Plato and Play-doh(tm) on a regular basis try to wax eloquent about something, even if it’s just their thoughts while pondering a bowl full of tadpoles one of the kids is presently trying not to kill  raising on the kitchen counter for a homeschooling science experiment.  Or...well, you get the point, and the point is: be who you are.  Be yourself, even if you don’t share your whole self all the time on your blog (and who does?).

It’s quite natural for brand-new Catholic bloggers to experiment a bit with everything from blog platforms and templates to writing styles to the content they like to create.  But sooner or later you will come to learn what sort of things it seems more natural to write about, and what just doesn’t work for you.  And that’s terrific, because one of the great things about being Catholic is that we don’t all have to do it the same way.  Sure, we have things in common, huge, important things, like trying our best to follow Jesus, failing and sinning on a regular basis, and working to cultivate a love of Mass, the sacraments, prayer, devotions, and so on, all while figuring out our vocations and our specific challenges to bring Christ to the people around us (while remembering that snark rarely helps). But the Catholic blogosphere is one of the rare places where you might have one Catholic blogger who regularly posts about her love for vintage motorcycles, while another Catholic blogger shares his personal library of original chant-style compositions, while still another is wildly amazing in the fine art of birthday parties, and yet another sees a blog as something between a soapbox and a podium--and all of that is absolutely fine and dandy, because we’re Catholic, which means there’s room for all of us to be ourselves.

So my advice to new or novice or budding Catholic bloggers is just that--be who you are.  The temptation to follow the crowd is as present in the blogging world as it is anywhere else, as is the desire for popularity, but none of that will be worth much of anything if you spend all your time trying to be someone you aren’t.  Let your blog be a reflection of the unique person God made you to be, and you will be a Catholic blogger, and probably, before long, a friend to people you might otherwise never have known.