Monday, February 19, 2018

The priest and the dentist

(This is not dentist office decor. It is orthodontist office decor. I forgot to take a picture at the dentist's office.)

Saturday, I made it to confession. It's a nice way to start Lent.

Today, I'm sitting at the dentist's office, waiting for a routine cleaning.

It is hardly original to reflect on how similar the two experiences are, but I'm as inclined to be as unoriginal as anybody when I'm cowering in existential dread for the second time in the same week.

In The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas says--I am paraphrasing--that human wisdom is encompassed by two words: wait and hope. In general, I agree with this notion, but it must be admitted that the wait in the dentist's office is not particularly conducive to hope...

...and as I penned that last sentence, I heard my name called.

Now, it is hours later, and my general sense of well-being has completely returned, aided by a nice slow-cooker dinner and some time to relax (aside: does anybody else stress out over what they are eating on the day of a dentist's appointment--e.g., "No, not the popcorn! And I'd better not eat anything sticky..." to the point where you sort of stop bothering to eat at all? Please tell me it's not just me). The similarity between confession and the dentist experience did continue to manifest itself: how the waiting is followed by the awareness that both the dentist and the priest can easily tell just how badly you're failing to take care of things properly, how time seems to slow to a crawl, how you promise to do better (and you mean it, really, in both places, and then...) and how a sense of good humor returns to you and stays there until a) you sin or b) you remember that you've got another appointment in a month to replace a filling that has unaccountably gone missing.

Both the priest and the dentist want what's best for you. The priest in the confessional wants you to turn from sin and amend your life, and he knows quite well that you're not going to be perfect about it any time soon--but it's worth doing anyway. The dentist knows quite well that if you're a non-flosser you will continue to be a non-flosser, and that even if you make tons of progress and become a sometimes-flosser you may not get the benefits of that so long as you continue to consume sugar in the quantities you do (especially when so much of it comes in the form of carbonated liquid)--and yet, it's worth doing, so he will continue to ask you to do it. In a sense both the priest and the dentist embody that best sort of hope: the sort that sees the potential of the human being who in spite of his or her own worst nature and least beneficial impulses is still capable of changing for the better.

The priest and the dentist know the value of the hope Dumas spoke of. When I am in line for confession or in the waiting room at the dentist's office, the only thing I may be hoping for is that the experience will go by quickly; yet the kindly people seeing to my teeth--or my soul--have a better hope for me, the hope that in spite of everything I will pray a bit better, floss a bit more, and try a little harder to do good and avoid evil, whether in the moral realm or in the soda aisle.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Biology is not a social construct

Okay, I admit it: every four years I watch the Winter Olympics so I can see the figure skating. I hope we can still be friends.

Tonight I watched the final event of the men's individual figure skating competition. If you didn't watch it or recorded it for later I won't spoil things for you, but it was pretty amazing (if you like that sort of thing). I blame my enthusiasm for a sport I only follow during the Olympics on Scott Hamilton, whose 1984 Olympic gold medal performance is something I still remember watching.

I know there are other sports at the Winter Olympics that are just as exciting, and sometimes I manage to catch some of them on TV as well. As someone whose athletic gifts begin and end with, "Don't try it; you are short, weak, flabby, uncoordinated and will kill yourself," and whose memories of school sports include lots of moments where a ball aimed in my general direction knocked my glasses off of my face, I appreciate all the feats of strength, power, and grace displayed at the Olympics and admire all the competitors, whether they are gold-medal favorites or the first person from their country to compete in a particular sport at all.

But one thing that no person with any connection to reality can deny is this: there really is a difference between men and women in nearly every sports contest that exists.

Take figure skating, for one example. Only one female skater has ever completed a "ratified" (fully-rotated and cleanly landed) quadruple jump (or quad) in competition. Male skaters have been regularly completing quads in competition since the 1990s, and at this point a serious medal contender at the Olympics in men's skating will usually have several quads planned for the competition.

Or take skeleton, that crazy sport where people slide down an ice track headfirst on sleds. If you look at the results from women from the 2014 Olympics (because I don't think the women's 2018 scores are up yet) you will see that the gold medalist, Lizzy Yarnold, posted a combined time (four runs) of 3:52.89, while the results from men from the 2014 Olympics show the gold medalist, Aleksandr Tretyakov, posted a combined time of 3:44:29. In fact, if Lizzy Yarnold had been forced to compete alongside men in some gender-neutral future, she would not even have made it into the top twenty; Ben Sandford of New Zealand was in twentieth place with a time of 3:51:21--and in skeleton, that near-second time difference between Yarnold's time and Sandford's would have put her pretty much out of the competition altogether.

Men and women really are biologically different. Biology is not a social construct. You might be able to give a teen girl male hormones to render her infertile and then complete the process by mutilating her body, surgically removing her breasts and attempting to construct a fake male organ, but you cannot make her a man.

Unfortunately, our court system appears to disagree. In their eyes, parents who refuse to assist and pay for their child's gender transition drugs and surgery are just hopeless bigots who deserve to lose custody of that child. Granted, this is a difficult case; if the parents actually did attempt to use religion as a kind of weapon that was deeply wrong (though it should be noted that they deny doing this). But it is also deeply wrong to force parents to pay for hormones that will render their daughter infertile (let alone forcing them eventually to pay for gender removal surgery, given that this confused young woman will probably demand that someday as well).

In all the push for "transgender rights," it has not escaped the notice of observers that the people who stand to benefit most will be biological males. A biological male who is struggling to compete in sports could declare himself female and suddenly be a superstar. A biological male who enjoys harassing women (or worse) in private spaces can declare himself female, and suddenly the doors of women's clubs, restrooms, locker rooms, women-only gyms etc. are wide open to him.

Meanwhile, this confused young girl will someday have to come to terms with the reality that she is not actually male, no matter how much her body is loaded with male hormones or how many body parts are removed or mutilated. Despite a push by transgender activists to control the message, the Internet is full of stories of women who decided to "become" men only to realize the harm they were doing or had done to themselves--some of it irreversible. Some of these people will detransition and begin living and presenting as their actual biological sexes; others will continue in their transgender identity but without any significant changes in their mental or emotional health as compared to their pre-transition state.

If there was ever a time for someone to move slowly, consider all her options, and include her parents in her decision-making process, it ought to be a time like this. Some heartbreaking stories I've read from transgender people include this: that until they completed their transition, they honestly and sincerely believed they were on the road to becoming a member of the opposite sex--not merely being able to look superficially like one. One female-to-male transgender person said she thought she would be male, full stop--able to date or marry biological women, able to do anything a man can do--not a "trans" male. She was shocked and horrified to learn that if she went through with "bottom" surgery the surgery has to be repeated every ten years, as the faux male organ will not last any longer than that. The trans activists blame bigotry for this result, because they can't seem to accept the simple reality reflected so easily in the Olympic scores: that men and women really are different on a biological level and in a way that hormones and surgery can't change.

Unfortunately, even the International Olympic Committee doesn't really accept this. Male-to-female transgender athletes, for now, only need to prove their testosterone levels have been below a certain level for a year prior to competing in order to compete as women (the fact that they have other biological advantages beside testosterone is just ignored). Females who transition to males, on the other hand, don't need to prove anything, probably because the likelihood of a biological female ever successfully competing against biological males at the Olympic level is virtually nonexistent in most sports--a clearly unequal rule that ironically highlights the very differences the IOC is pretending to ignore. If a large number of biological men start winning all the gold medals in women's sports, the IOC may have to reconsider this policy: just imagine a future Olympics where the top 20 "women" competing in women's figure skating were all born male, and can all perform multiple quads in competition--something that, as yet, no actual woman has ever been able to do.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

None of it will matter

After yesterday's horrific and tragic school shooting in Florida, the conversations began as they usually do.  One side blames these tragedies on gun ownership, demanding new laws to restrict gun sales and confiscate guns already owned, among other measures.  The other side blames these tragedies on mental health issues, pointing to how many times the profile of the shooter is essentially that of a young troubled man who has exhibited mentally ill behavior and has been prone to violence--a loner, an outcast, a weirdo, as onlookers who knew the shooter will often say.

You might say that there's another group which blames the culture, and there is, but sometimes when you talk to these people you find that they either blame the culture of casual gun ownership or they blame the culture of dysfunction that leads to mentally ill children and young adults. 

Neither side is completely wrong. No solution to the problem of school shooting can ignore the issues here, both that certain types of guns are way too easy for people who have exhibited serious problems to get hold of, and that people who exhibit serious problems are not given the access to significant mental health services they obviously need.

I’m preparing myself for the school shooting. I can’t wait. My aim has gotten much more accurate … ” the teen allegedly wrote in his journal. “I’ve been thinking a lot … I need to make this shooting/bombing at Kamiak [High School] infamous. I need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can. I need to make this count. I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings (and attempted bombings. I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes, so I don’t make the same ones.”
If you think that came from the Florida shooter, think again. Here's a bit more of the story:
An Everett teen who was arrested on investigation of attempted murder Tuesday noted in his journal that he’d learned from other mass school shootings, wanted to make the body count as high as possible and wrote he couldn’t “wait to walk into that class and blow all those (expletives) away,” according to police. 
The 18-year-old student was arrested at ACES High School after his grandmother called police to report that she had read a few pages of her grandson’s journal and was alarmed, according to the document of probable cause submitted by the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“We are really grateful to the grandmother. It couldn’t have been easy for her to do,” said Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the Mukilteo School District. “It speaks to the importance of the saying, ‘if you hear something or see something, call authorities,’ and that’s what she did. It’s quite possible she saved many lives including her grandson’s.”

That unnamed 18-year-old teen was arrested in Washington State on Tuesday, after his grandmother made what must have been an agonizing call to law enforcement. And then, on Wednesday, another teen who was exhibiting all the same signs, who had been reported for his violent potential, who was referred to--jokingly--by his former fellow students as the person most likely to shoot up the school, went and did exactly that.

We can make certain kinds of guns harder to sell. We can even ban some of them outright. We can tighten up loopholes that make it possible for people who should never own guns to get one. Some people call for banning all guns, but it's doubtful that such a measure would ever be enacted in a nation where plenty of people hunt, engage in target shooting, or collect vintage weapons.

We can make mental health services easier to access. We can foster a culture where being shamed for seeking mental health treatment is unthinkable, where nobody has to hide the fact that they've seen a therapist or counselor from potential employers, dating prospects, or anybody else, anymore than they would have to hide consulting a doctor for diabetes or cancer treatment.

But none of it will matter, in the end, we keep thinking we can outsource the difficulties and problems and pains of the troubled young men in our communities. None of it will matter if the people like Adam Lanza and Nikolas Cruz just keep slipping through all the cracks. None of it will matter if we think we can look away and let someone else do the tough job of finding compassion and love for the kid who isn't just odd, but more than a little frightening.

In Florida, multiple calls to law enforcement, expulsion from school, and red flags everywhere weren't enough to stop a school shooting. In Washington, one truly loving grandmother who was terrified by her grandson's evil musings in a diary was, in all probability, enough to stop a similar attack. We can work on better gun control laws, and we can work on better access to mental health services. But none of it will matter if we don't work on our own indifference.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hashtag: Lent

It's Ash Wednesday! Actually, I'm coming to this blog post a bit later than I had planned, so it's already Ash Wednesday night. Only a few more hours of fasting! Not that I'm counting.  (Okay, I am. You may be too. I won't judge you.)

I hope your Ash Wednesday has gone well. Mine has, but mostly because I stopped trying to do the impossible and focused on doing the obligatory (e.g.: fasting). I'm hoping this will set a tone for Lent for me this year, and that I will approach each day asking myself, "What can I do for Jesus today?" instead of "Which of the roughly seven thousand things that I signed up for this Lent, at least mentally, are going to get done before I go stark raving mad?" Because that's not a recipe for a good Lent, even if it has taken me a long time to figure it out.

If you're like me, and you constantly struggle with the desire to do Most Of The Things (I'm not quite crazy enough to think that All Of The Things are possible), you, too, may have figured out where those impulses come from. For some of us, it's a form of spiritual pride (I'm gonna OWN this Lent!). For others of us, it's a form of one kind of fear (If I don't pray a twenty-decade rosary daily, God won't care about me or want me to clutter up Heaven!) or another (If I don't show up at every single Friday Stations of the Cross, all my fellow parishioners will judge me and decide I'm a fake Catholic!). For still others, it's a dread of missing out (But...but...there's a fish fry after Mass! With hush puppies!). And for lots of us it's a poisonous combination of several of these things.

None of this stuff is exactly new, but lately I have seen a relatively new phenomenon crop up online. I call it the hashtagification of Lent.

You may have seen some of the same posts and tweets I have already. There's the one encouraging each person to spend Lent cleaning out his or her closets (the "forty bags in forty days" challenge is an example of this); there's the one encouraging people to stop buying certain items all through Lent (the one which suggested giving up beauty products made me smile, as I buy foundation and mascara approximately twice a year and rarely use them even though I should); there are others focused on ideas that are somewhat more traditional, in the sense that they require giving up food or beverages, but there's a social media twist of sorts. In and of themselves, these "Lenten campaigns" are not necessarily a bad thing--we can all use a bit of creativity when it comes to our Lenten sacrifices or prayers, people naturally want to share good ideas they've seen somewhere or other, and there's certainly nothing wrong with being present as Catholics on social media which includes letting our non-Catholic friends in on what this "Lent" stuff is all about.

Unfortunately, there are some pitfalls to a "Hashtag: Lent" approach to this season. Actually, they are much the same as the pitfalls I've already mentioned above: it's easy to get caught up in spiritual pride when sharing the awesome thing you will be doing for Lent; it's easy to feel peer pressure to do that trendy thing your friends are doing; it's easy to think that you are hearing God's voice inviting you to take part in a Lenten challenge when actually it's the voice of Pinterest; it's easy to want to Do the Thing because you are afraid you'll be missing out on something important if you stick to your usual Lenten sacrifices involving fewer desserts and more daily prayer.

The truth is, none of us is immune from these kinds of pitfalls. That's one of the reasons we have Lent in the first place--so we can put aside all the noise and clutter, all the voices and pressures, and listen to the Lord. Our voluntary sacrifices are not about achieving some kind of spiritual perfection, which none of us can attain this side of the grave anyway and which we never will attain by our own merits. Christ wants us to follow Him, to listen to Him, and to be with Him. To the extent that the #Lent sorts of things truly help us to do that, they are good; but to the extent that they distract us from answering the question, "What can I do for Jesus today?" they may not be as helpful as we might hope.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A return to blogging

Back when blogging was still a Thing, I remember that lots of Catholic bloggers would announce that they would not be blogging during Lent. These days, people only announce that they're getting off of social media for Lent; nobody blogs enough to quit doing it during Lent anymore.

I certainly haven't been blogging, because I decided a while ago that I really need to focus on my fiction writing instead. But in all honesty, I miss my blogging habit. Any writer worth his or her salt will tell aspiring writers that the most important thing to do is to write something every day, and blogging helps fulfill that purpose in a way that Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms simply do not.

It has taken me too long to realize it, but my writing suffers when I don't write daily (at least on weekdays, anyway; weekends have always had a rhythm of their own that isn't always conducive to meditative ponderings and the resultant paragraphs of thought). I end up doing everything else first and writing last, and though I'm a night owl by nature it's not always possible to get into the writing zone if you don't even start trying to write until one a.m. or so. Taking the time to compose even a short blog post during daylight hours is a step in the right direction for me.

So, I've decided to blog again, and I'm starting up today on purpose so that I can make a habit of daily Lenten blogging starting tomorrow. By the end of forty days or so of daily writing I'm hoping I will have made this a regular hobby again.

If you're inclined to join me and read what I write, here's what you can expect:

1. I won't be linking to my blog posts on Facebook anymore. I'm not in this for the traffic patterns, and while I never mind if other people want to share something I write on social media there's too much of a self-promotion vibe for me to be comfortable sharing my blog posts like that. (I have a hard enough time promoting my books, which are actual products I have for sale and which people seem to like.) So if you want to see my posts you'll have to check in here.

2. I will write about all sorts of things, just like always. If you like my posts about current events but aren't interested in my posts about writing children's fiction, just read the ones you like.

3. If you are hoping I will spend lots of time praising Trump and bashing Francis, or praising Francis and bashing Trump, you are bound to be disappointed. There are plenty of echo chamber blogs out there where you can read posts along those lines. This isn't one of them.

4. Although I wish I could allow comments again, I really can't. Moderating and approving comments is a very time-consuming job even if you have a small blog with just a few dozen dedicated readers. If you want to respond to something I write, you can always send me an email and let me know if it's okay to publish it (as before, I will assume correspondence can be posted unless you tell me otherwise).

Even if only a couple of people decide to join me here: welcome back! When I began blogging long ago I envisioned it as being like those long, discursive letters people in Jane Austen's day used to write to each other, and that's still how it feels to me--like somehow, on the other side of the screen, there is a friend who just wants to read what I've written today, whether it's about something weighty and important or about something silly and trivial, or anything in between. Thank you for being that person today, and I hope to see you in the days to come!

Oh, and there will still be the occasional song parody. You have been warned. ;)

Friday, September 8, 2017

The religious test, revisited

By now, everybody has heard about all the anti-Catholicism on display during the recent confirmation hearing of 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, when both Al Franken and Diane Feinstein raised questions about Barrett's suitability for office given her Catholic faith and practice.

I know it's obnoxious to quote yourself, but back in 2013 I wrote a post warning that this sort of thing was about to happen. In fact, I'm surprised it took five years. Here's what I wrote at the time:

However, if SCOTUS decides to "Roe" the nation on gay "marriage" and impose it on the nation via judicial fiat, one of the most immediate effects of such a ruling would be to require a de facto religious test for many public offices. Because the ramifications of a SCOTUS pro-gay "marriage" ruling would be to define those who don't accept gay "marriage" as bigots and any anti-gay "marriage" position as bigotry, the Supreme Court would essentially open the door for a prohibition against "bigots" holding many public offices. This would mean that the only Catholics who would qualify for public office would be the heretical ones who dissent against Church teaching against gay "marriage," while faithful Catholics who accept all Church teaching would be barred--officially or unofficially--from serving in many branches of the government. An immediate example that comes to mind is that of chaplains serving in the United States Armed Forces: will they be required to officiate at gay "weddings" or to otherwise violate Church teaching, or will the government simply decide that "bigots" don't get chaplains anymore? I fully expect that to be one of the early battlegrounds. 
If the Supreme Court decides that opposition to homosexual acts and opposing the pretense of two-man or two-women "marriage" is the same thing as racism, then no quarter will be given to any religious citizen whose deeply held religious beliefs oppose gay "marriage." Whatever is done to Catholics and the Catholic Church in a post-gay "marriage" America will be the template for the eradication of religious beliefs that call homosexual activity sinful on the grounds that to hold such beliefs makes one an evil bigot who cannot be tolerated by a free secular people. 
The religious test is coming. Are we ready?

Anybody who thinks this is an isolated incident is still kidding himself (or herself, or the sparkly gender-neutral/genderfluid self of the moment). The truth is, five years ago I still had Catholics telling me that gay "marriage" would never become the law of the land, and that there were more important issues to worry about.

It's likely true that Sen. Feinstein, at least, is more worried about Barrett's views on abortion than on gay "marriage". But it's the redefinition of marriage that has allowed the anti-Catholic (and anti-religious) biases that have been growing in our country in the last few decades to take off the polite mask of inclusion. Religious citizens can't be included if they are anti-LGBT bigots, right? Abortion gave the secularists no real grounds to silence their opponents, but the line we are hearing repeated endlessly these days (as mentioned in Rod Dreher's piece above) is that religious beliefs are no excuse for bigotry (and since any opposition to same-sex marriage can only be bigotry, then all believers who oppose SSM are bigots. Q.E.D.).

The next time anybody asks how someone else's same-sex marriage hurts Christians, you might answer that it's sort of harmful to be labeled a bigot and considered unfit for certain jobs, just because you don't think two men or two women are the same as a husband and wife. I doubt your interrogator will appreciate your point of view; in fact, I think the next party line will be that any harm Christianist bigots suffer for refusing to bow down before the idol of gay "marriage" and pour out libations (or bake cakes/arrange flowers/take pictures) is really their own fault, for holding such outlandish beliefs about the sanctity of marriage, the complementarity of men and women, and the need of children for a mother and a father in the first place.

Friday, August 25, 2017

If the only thing holding you back from homeschooling is fear...

The past few days on Facebook, I have seen some pretty bizarre reports of the LGBT agenda being pushed at younger and younger students. From a story of a teacher who traumatized very young students--kindergartners--by having one of their male classmates leave the room, return in girls' clothing, and then tell everyone that he is really a "she," to the report of Canadian elementary school teachers attending an "Inclusiveness Training" workshop to promote acceptance and support of--wait for it-- LGGBDTTTIQQAAPP students and peers, the task of teaching school children that the traditional family of mom, dad, and children is just a meaningless lifestyle choice no different from (or possibly inferior to) the choices made by a mom who used to be a dad and zir two or three pansexual and genderfluid partners seems to be right on schedule.

Rod Dreher's got a lengthy and thoughtful post about all of this up today on his blog; it's amazing to ponder how quickly this is all happening.

When things like this make the news, I start hearing a lot of people say things like: I would homeschool if I could. I wish I could homeschool. I thought about homeschooling, but I just don't think I can do it. Before my youngest homeschooled daughter graduated from high school and went to college, I used to write more about homeschooling, and it occurred to me that some people might find my perspective, as a retired homeschooling mom, helpful these days.

In the first place, I want to offer recognition and respect to the reality that yes, some families cannot homeschool--maybe not right now, maybe not ever, maybe not for every child in the family. If you are relying on two incomes and losing one of them means losing your home, for instance, you probably can't jump straight into homeschooling. If you have some serious physical or mental health issues that would interfere with your ability to keep your children at home and try to teach them math or spelling, homeschooling might not be right for your family. If a child has special educational needs that you can't meet without the support of the local public school, you may need to keep him or her in school, even if you decide to homeschool his or her siblings. There are other situations, too; the reality is that even if you really, really want to homeschool it's not possible to wave a magic wand and make it instantly possible for your family.

The same thing is true about putting your children in the local Catholic schools, or getting them into a private Christian school, and so on. Sometimes it's possible; sometimes it isn't. We have to do the best we can with what we have as parents.

Having said that, what if your situation is simply this: what if you are increasingly aware that your own local public schools have boarded the transgender bandwagon, your third-grade daughter will be enrolled with a "female" classmate who was a boy last year, your first-grade son will be hearing books like "King and King" and "I am Jazz" read aloud during story time as the children are prepared to embrace the full LGBT agenda, and your fifth-grade daughter's best friend has started to insist on a gender-neutral name and refuses to wear any clothing not purchased in the young men's department of the local department store? What if, in addition to all of this, your part-time job during school hours has disappeared and your cousin who home schools her children keeps urging you to give it a try?

What if, in fact, you actually want to homeschool your children, and there's really nothing stopping you but your own doubts and fears?

If that's the case, then it may actually be possible for you to homeschool, and it may even be a really good idea for you and your family. The truth is, I can't tell you to go for it because I don't know your actual situation, but what I can tell you is that a lot of the fears people express--and I mean real fears, not excuses you make when you really don't want to homeschool but people in your community or church or family keep pressuring you to try--aren't always as scary as they seem. Here are a few of the ones I've heard most often over the years, in no particular order:

1. I'm afraid to homeschool because I don't think I'm smart enough. This gets expressed in lots of different ways, but particularly seems to center around the fear of being able to teach math and science, which many of us struggled with in our own student days.  Interestingly enough, this fear gets expressed by people ranging from high school graduates to those with advanced degrees. It's good that we revere elementary school math teachers as much as we do, but honestly, this is the kind of fear that gets blown out of proportion.

My answer to this one is: today, far more than when I began to homeschool, there are plenty of sources of outside help. From online classes to free video tutorials to local co-op classes to private tutors, aids to teach your child that tricky subject or two abound, and don't require huge amounts of money, either. Sure, if you want to sign your child up for a full-scale online school-at-home program, those might get a bit more expensive, but they exist (they did not when we began our homeschooling years) and can take all the pressure off of the nervous new homeschooling teacher mom. If you're pretty sure you can handle kindergarten numbers, but the thought of long division sends you into panic mode, there's no need to worry.

2. I'm afraid to homeschool because I don't think I can control my kids and make them do lessons. I've said it before, but this fear really has nothing to do with homeschooling and everything to do with discipline and proper respect for parents. If you can't discipline your children, if the after-school and weekend hours are endless parades of chaos and misery, then chances are your school isn't teaching your children discipline either (and they may say it's not their job to do so). Honestly, when people tell me this, I try to respond (gently) that whether they homeschool or not the real issue is the discipline situation. Since children are usually only at school for seven hours a day, five days a week, the question then becomes: how do you control them during the approximately ninety-one hours a week that they are out of school, at home and awake?

3. I'm afraid to homeschool because I don't want my kids to miss out on socialization. Bearing in mind that these days the problem is often: what, exactly, is the direction of the socialization the school is providing? there is also the reality that the notion that homeschoolers are all unsocialized misfits is less true today than it has ever been. True, the media sometimes likes to trot out some homeschooling family from the Second Church of the Leafy Covenant of True Religion, or something (congregation: 84, except in summer when Mrs. Bleek's arthritis gets well enough for her to attend) who don't believe in socialization, television ownership, songs written in 3/4 time, immodest clothing that reveals a woman's wrists, or the consumption of any foods that have ever been advertised by a clown or a singing chicken--but these are hardly the norm when it comes to homeschooling families and their children. Your children can have as much social interaction as you and they wish to have.

4. I would homeschool, but my one child really likes [fill in the blank], and I don't want him to have to give it up. Again, these days, you probably don't have to, unless [fill in the blank] involves sneaking up to the school roof to conduct gravity experiments with Styrofoam balls and ball bearings, and even then he might be okay depending on how tall your house is. But if [fill in the blank] is a sport, or a musical activity, or art or drama, or a club, or any other learning enrichment, chances are good that he can still do it. Depending on your state, he may even get to stay on the school's team or squad or gaggle of Galileo impersonators. But if he can't, there's probably a group of homeschoolers he can join.

5. I really do believe the public schools are cesspools, and I'm terribly worried about what my kids are getting exposed to, and I'd really rather homeschool them, but I can't, because I'm the State Secretary of Education. Okay...I admit it. I've got nothing. :)

If what's going on at your child's school is pushing you closer and closer to homeschooling, and if the only thing holding you back is fear, I encourage you to give homeschooling another look. You and your family are the only ones who can make this decision, but homeschooling is more accessible than ever, and more socially acceptable, too. Maybe the time really is now. Or maybe it will be, when it's your six-year-old who comes home crying because she's afraid she, too, will one day turn into a boy...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I'd rather write books

It's been a long time since I last posted! I've been doing some fiction writing over the summer.

And--let's face it--blogging just isn't, anymore. I admire the people who keep doing it, but I haven't been one of them for a long time.

I'll keep coming back from time to time out of habit, I'm sure, but I'd rather write books. :)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

At the Gluttony Pride Mass...

(Please note: the following is an attempt at satire, inspired by this real-life news article. I am putting this up front to make sure everybody knows it.)

June 14, 2027

ANYTOWN--The word "brunch" usually conjures up images of cozy breakfast restaurants, but for several dozen gluttony pride activists and their families, a Mass held in their honor at the Cathedral of St. Volusian was more like a brunch.

The doors of the Cathedral opened to reveal snack tables dotted with omelettes, bacon, and pancakes placed strategically throughout the church building. Those attending were encouraged to help themselves on their way up to a special area in the front of the church, where large sturdy recliners provided comfortable seating to the small-in-number but vigorously welcomed group, all of whom were members of Gluttony Lovers Always Eating, or GLAE.  Many of them were dressed casually, sporting t-shirts which read "We're Round, We're Around, Get Used to It!" or, more simply, "GLAE Pride!"

"I'm so glad to see you all!" Cardinal Tweedledum welcomed the group, which included gluttony pride members and GLAE families from several different parishes in the archdiocese. "For too long, the Church has hurtfully focused on the so-called 'sin' of gluttony, wagged her fingers at you about the virtue of temperance, and called your appetites disordered. Your appetites for far more food than is needed for sustenance isn't disordered; it's just 'differently ordered!"

Recognizing a quote from the popular new book Building Rather Heavily Reinforced Bridges by Jesuit theologian Father Phil Lacious, the GLAE crowd applauded.

The welcoming of openly gluttonous people to a Mass would have been unthinkable a decade ago. But Cardinal Tweedledum is one of a number of new Church authorities trying to be more welcoming and inclusive of groups like GLAE. In an interview last week, Cardinal Tweedledum explained. "The shift started happening a long time ago. We used to differentiate between people who were trying to get away from their sins, and people who didn't see their sins as sinful. But the conscience gets to decide. Maybe gay sex, or adultery, or theft, or lying, or gluttony isn't right for me personally. But if it's right for you, well, who am I to judge? We've always had fat people in the Church, and we sort of took it for granted that most of them went to Confession when they overindulged and that otherwise they were sincerely trying to learn temperance and stop overeating. And we know that some fat people aren't gluttons--health problems and so on--and some gluttons aren't fat. But the GLAE Pride people set us straight. Making them feel unworthy, unwelcome, like they were less than everyone else just because they're capable of eating an entire rotisserie chicken for a light snack--that was wrong. That was unwelcoming and intolerant, and we're trying to change that."

Founding member of the local GLAE chapter Addie Pose agrees--to a point. "I'm cautiously optimistic that the Church will get with the times and change her old fat-shaming teachings that call gluttony and overeating sinful one of these days," Pose said. "Masses like this one are a great sign of hope to our community--hope that we can come out of the pantry and admit that we like to eat, that eating is the most important part of who we are and how we identify. But we have a long way to go. The Catechism still teaches that gluttony is a sin. Active practitioners of gluttony are often barred from priesthood or religious life, usually on some kind of spurious health concerns as well as the spirituality question.  All of this is terribly hurtful to the gluttony pride community, and as a community we demand that greater attention be paid to our concerns. As much as I appreciate the cardinal's efforts here, it's not nearly enough. True welcoming means accepting and affirming us in every aspect of our lives, including at the dinner table."

Brother Toby Lard, a theologian with ties to the New Meals Ministry group that serves the GLAE community and agitates for changes in both secular and religious laws to accommodate the gluttony-American community, says that Cardinal Tweedledum's gesture of a Mass where people are encouraged to keep eating through the entire celebration is a good start. "The GLAE community finds the one-hour fast prior to Communion to be especially hurtful," Brother Lard said. "It singles them out in such an obvious way. This is not a community of people who is used to going a full hour without eating. We are asking them to suffer in ways that ordinary eaters don't have to just to encounter Jesus, and that's got to be addressed."  Brother Lard, whose scholarly works include a study of the gluttony community of Ancient Rome complete with its lavish feasts and vomitoriums, adds, "Christ was well aware of the widespread and community-based practice of 'safe gluttony' among the Ancient Romans, and yet He never condemned those practices or told anybody to avoid feasting. He often encountered people while feasting, and frequently used food-based metaphors and parables to teach His flock, which is not consistent with the idea that Christ would ever have condemned gluttony." Asked how the Church's prohibition against gluttony came about, Brother Lard's answer was immediate. "Paul," he said. "The Apostle Paul had some truly weird hang-ups. He just didn't like people to enjoy life at all, you know? And unfortunately his ideas have impacted the Church for ages. But luckily that's all changing now."

Addie Pose isn't quite so sure. "We've presented several demands to Cardinal Tweedledum, and he's already shot down one of them completely. There will be no consecration of deep-fried Communion wafers, even though we use unconsecrated deep-fried wafers in our private worship services. Some of our members have gone ECUSA over that--the Episcopalians were willing to experiment with deep-fried Communion. But we're Catholic, and we just want our culture and our community and our struggles reflected when we encounter the Lord. Is that too much to ask?"

Cardinal Tweedledum says it is--for now. "Who knows where the Holy Spirit will guide us eventually?" he said. "But, confidentially, those things are a mess, and besides, the Church doesn't allow the extra ingredients that go into the coating." He added, "Some of the other things the GLAE community wants are no trouble. Bigger pews with more spaces between them--we're already planning to remodel a section of the Cathedral for that. So few people show up to Sunday Mass anymore that it's not a problem at all to rip out half or two-thirds of the pews to make the worship space GLAE-friendly. Of course, the Affirming Nudism group will need to test the pews to make sure they're still acceptable to the clothing-optional Catholics, and we will need to have diversity sensitivity training to make sure the Celebrate Thieves group doesn't think the spread-out pews are somehow meant to discourage their lifestyle which includes occasional pick-pocketing. But other than that I think we can be as welcoming and affirming as possible."

GLAE Pride member Ella Fantine thinks the cardinal is doing a good job. "I remember my mother telling me I was risking eternal damnation by eating a whole coffee cake for breakfast every day," she said, wiping away tears. "To have Cardinal Tweedledum welcome and affirm all four hundred and six pounds of me and tell me I don't have to change at all--that I can eat two coffee cakes if I feel like it--is amazing. This is a message of hope and love for all, and it has taken a long time for us to get to hear it. But finally our lifestyle is being seen as just as good, noble, grace-filled and holy as everyone else's, and it's about time."

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A dangerous experiment

What a busy month this has been! I can't believe I haven't blogged since May 1st, but actually that's probably a good thing. There have been so many news headlines and articles to annoy me this month that it's arguably better that I'm finally sitting down to write more generally about them all instead of about individual and specific articles.

I'm talking about the rash of news articles, opinion pieces, blog posts and other writings all lining up to push the transgender agenda on America. As I wrote long ago on my old blog, the goal of the gay "marriage" push was never just about redefining and destroying marriage; it was always about deconstructing gender, destroying society's alleged "heteronormativity," and obliterating people and ideas that don't agree that biological sex means nothing and one's individual and personal definition of gender and sexual orientation is sacrosanct.

Here in Texas, we have seen that in the legislation that has been dubbed a "bathroom bill." Even that phrasing is designed to make people think, "Oh, how silly. Who cares where small children use the bathroom?" The reality that this legislation covers other things like whether or not teenage boys can change in the girls' locker room and whether or not a middle school girl will have to share her hotel room on a school sports trip with a boy in a dress gets overlooked by focusing on the word "bathroom." In point of fact, there are all sorts of spaces and situations in school environments that have typically been sex-segregated, most of them for excellent reasons. Demanding that a fifteen-year-old boy who is suffering from gender identity disorder be allowed to play girls' basketball and go on road trips and share hotel accommodations with "her" classmates is a lot more serious than requiring five-year-old girls to let a boy in a skirt share their bathroom, though even that is fraught with potential problems for the actual biological girls who deserve modesty, privacy, and respect. But most so-called "bathroom bills" are establishing policies that go far beyond kindergartners' bathroom habits.

Which is one reason why it has been so annoying to see the media focus, again and again, on "transgender" kindergartners and first-graders and whether or not they can, despite being biologically male, relieve themselves in the little girls' room. These articles take the unquestioning stance that if a five-year-old boy says he's a girl, why, he IS a girl, a girl who just happens to have a penis--and nobody but a bigot could ever object to girls with penises using the girls' bathroom, right? Those meanies, to tell this child that his--er, her--penis makes him--or, her--a boy! It's cruel to misgender a child based on such whimsical things as, you know, his actual biological sex and his penis and his actual other boy parts/organs and his chromosomes...I mean, SHE is wearing a dress and lip gloss, so that PROVES that SHE is a girl!!!

It is, of course, utter nonsense. He is a boy suffering from gender identity disorder. On the statistically small chance*** that he will grow up to identify as a male-to-female transgender, everyone around him is being told to tiptoe and whisper around the reality of his maleness, and his female classmates are being conditioned to believe it is mean and cruel to object to his presence in their private spaces--no big deal, perhaps, at age five, but what about when they are all 12 and grappling with periods in public restrooms (a fond memory for NO actual biological female I've ever heard of), or 15 and on that sports team trip? When you condition girls to accept boys and men in their private spaces, you are opening them up to the possibility of real harm--no, not necessarily from the gender-confused, but from those who will take advantage of the situation. We are telling girls that it's okay for boys to be in their bathrooms, changing rooms, locker rooms, and even hotel rooms so long as they identify as female--and then giving them no tools at all to make that split-second determination that that boy in a dress actually identifies as female, while this boy in a dress is a rapist taking advantage of their willingness to let him in.

But when you bring that up at all, the transgender propagandists brush such concerns aside. They assert without evidence that this sort of thing won't happen. There will be no increase in attacks on women and girls in private spaces, because they say so. When you provide news articles about attacks on women in private spaces they insist condescendingly that those kinds of attacks happen anyway, and just because we are now being conditioned not to object when an obviously male person enters a women's bathroom or dressing room there will be no increase, now or ever, in these attacks.

What is actually happening is that we are conducting a dangerous societal experiment in female safety. Many of us believe, not without evidence or reason, that attacks on women in private spaces actually will increase when both men and women are taught to see it as no big deal for a man to follow a little girl or young woman into a restroom or changing area. Just because he looks like a man, it doesn't mean he is one! We must stand back and let "her" enter "her" preferred restroom or changing area--and until his victim starts screaming we are bigots if we are worried about the situation.

The safety of actual women and girls is being treated as something that is totally expendable in the war to promote the full LGBTQIA spectrum of identities, orientations, and behaviors. Finding that unacceptable is not bigotry; it is common sense.

***Most children with Gender Identity Disorder do not end up identifying as transgender as adults.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Keep writing

I have to be honest: this was the most difficult National Novel Writing Month event I've ever taken part in. Camp Nanowrimo of April 2017 almost became the Nanowrimo I didn't complete.


Never underestimate a redheaded novelist.

The book itself, the third book in the Ordinary Sam series, isn't quite finished yet. But by the end of the Camp Nanowrimo event yesterday I had crossed the 50,000 word mark, making this the fourteenth time I have managed to do this (three times so far with Camp Nanowrimo, and eleven times writing during the original National Novel Writing Month event in November).

Am I writing this blog post to brag about it all? Not in the least. I'm writing it because every year I encounter people online or in real life who say they want to write a book, or that they wish they could write a book, or that they'd really like to try NaNoWriMo, or some such thing. And some of them do try, but circumstances come up and they have to quit early without making their goals, or they slog through the month and still come up short from a word count perspective--and at that point the temptation is to quit and never try again. Because, some of them are thinking, I already failed, and that proves I'm not really a writer, so why bother trying?

Well, as I said before, on my fourteenth attempt at this I found myself facing the reality that after making a fifty thousand word count goal thirteen times in a row this might finally be the year I didn't make it. But even if something had happened and I had failed to make the word count at the last minute yesterday, I already know I'm a writer. And so, if you're really honest with yourselves, do you--those of you who really do want to write that book, those of you who tried NaNoWriMo already, those of you who are always spending at least part of your time in an imaginary world inside your mind.

Don't sell yourself short. Don't give up. Don't quit trying.

Sure, there are temporary circumstances that might make a really big word goal unreachable right now. But you won't always be tandem nursing two sets of twins or homeschooling a dozen children all day or running three-fourths of the volunteer work at your parish or whatever else you've gotten yourself into these days. In those situations a word goal of "One coherent sentence typed in Times New Roman per day" might be more than enough. But someday when the children are all eating solid food or attending universities, etc., you may find yourself with time to do much more--and it will help immensely if you've already started, how ever small your previous efforts may have been.

The only real setback would be for you to give up writing altogether, because that would be a real tragedy. The world, as the National Novel Writing Month people put it, needs your novel.

The priest and the dentist

(This is not dentist office decor. It is orthodontist office decor. I forgot to take a picture at the dentist's office.) Saturday...