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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oh, Canada...

This is the last week of Camp Nanowrimo, and I'm so far behind in my word count that it isn't funny. It doesn't help that yesterday I had a visit to the dentist to replace a filling that went missing; after a very busy, non-writing weekend I just didn't need to lose such a huge chunk of valuable afternoon writing time, but missing fillings wait for no man. Or woman. Or any of the other seven-hundred-twenty options (apologies if I left anyone out! Not really).

One of the topics I hope to blog about next week is the rising tide of transgender activism and the dangerous direction it is taking. As a lead-in to that eventual discussion, I present exhibit A (for "appalling"). This article is about a proposed bill in Canada that would add gender rights/gender expression to Canada's Human Rights Act; it would, according to some critics, criminalize perfectly ordinary speech and totally normal assumptions people make every day when they are in contact with other people.

But this is a direct quote from that article; it is the Global News writer's definition of the word transgender: "A transgender person is a person who was misidentified as another sex at birth, often due to having physical characteristics not typically associated with their sex." (Link in original--E.M.)

Read that through very carefully. It may take two or three readings before you begin to understand what they are talking about. What they are saying is this: Nobody is actually born a particular sex. Nobody is born male or female. For some unfathomable reason, doctors "assign" sex at birth, and luckily for them the vast majority of the time they guess right--but it's only a guess. There's actually no way a doctor can tell someone's sex at birth, because some boys have vaginas and some girls have penises (e.g., "physical characteristics not typically associated with their sex."). So some unfortunate penis-girls and vagina-boys have to go through this hurtful process of claiming their rightful gender and undoing the terrible and egregious harm that was done to them when some careless doctor, looking only at empirical biological science and applying that to their genitalia, "misgendered" them.

And Canada's poised to make it a criminal offense, of the hate-crime variety, for anybody to deny that that, and not, say, gender-identity disorder or a deep disconnection with one's biological reality, is what transgender is.

Before you dismiss this as being nothing but Canada being Canada, remember that most of the harms we've seen from the progressive sexual agenda here in America were foreshadowed by similar situations in Canada. Before Americans were being sued, harassed, and driven out of business for refusing to celebrate or participate in gay "weddings," it was happening in Canada. Before people were being called bigots and hater in America for refusing to believe that two men or two women were exactly the same as a husband and wife, they were being called those things (and charged with crimes for their beliefs) in Canada. Before state "Human Rights Commissions" began policing artists and photographers and florists in America, they were doing this in Canada.

So when news writers in Canada can write without any attempt at humor a definition of "transgender" that pushes the belief that some poor girls (with penises) or boys (with vaginas) are tragically and unjustly mislabeled at birth, and that, really, all of us were randomly assigned sexes (note that the definition isn't even using the term "gender" here!) and nobody is really in any innate or real sense an actual man or an actual woman, I tend to pay attention. It's easy to shrug and say, "Oh, Canada..." It's harder to see our own militant sexual progressives reflected in the mirror along our northern border.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Happy Easter!

This post is a little late--is it really Easter Wednesday already?? But I wanted to take a moment to wish my loyal readers (yes, both of you!) a very happy Easter.

I do plan to resume regular blogging again, but I've been behind in my fiction writing and can't spare the time. Posts that will be coming soon include a reflection on the idolatry of physical strength, a look at some new manifestations of the transgender activist agenda, and a discussion of the virtue of prudence.

For now, though, I'm trying to get a newly-named character to behave herself. See you soon!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ah, Holy Jesus

Two things to me really bring Good Friday to mind. The first is this painting:

And the second is this hymn:

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
for our atonement, while we nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

Have a blessed and holy Good Friday! Back after Easter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Too busy to blog...

...but I hope to check back in before Easter.

Meanwhile, Princess the cat says hello. It's pretty amazing that she got into that basket, but I don't think I'm getting it back anytime soon. :)

Monday, April 10, 2017

It's Holy Week, not Perfect Week

Apologies for the short, late blog post; I have been desperately trying to catch up on my word count for Camp Nanowrimo. This is the first time ever that I have not met or exceeded the goal each day, and I am still about 2600 words behind. I am hoping to change that tonight.

But I wanted to get this out here, especially for the person who asked for it. :)

So often we start Holy Week full of plans and ideas about how it's all going to go. We imagine a serene, reflective week full of meditations on the Passion of Our Lord, motivated by the beautiful Palm Sunday Gospel reading. We picture a perfect Holy Thursday Mass, deeply solemn and full of hope. We think about the Good Friday service with its many lovely calls to repentance and prayer. Perhaps we envision ourselves taking part joyfully in the Easter Vigil, or perhaps we anticipate the celebration inherent in an Easter morning Mass. And then we think of Easter, of gathering with family or friends for a wonderful brunch or a magnificent dinner.

But this is Holy Week, not Perfect Week. We are called to holiness, not human perfection, on Earth.

Because sometimes there's nothing serene or meditative about Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of Holy Week. We may have work obligations or family routines or sick children or others needing our care. We may be swept up in the busy days of spring, with all that needs to be done. We may blink and find that it's already Thursday.

And we may or may not make it to Holy Thursday Mass or the Good Friday service. We may have to change our Easter Sunday plans at the last minute. We might find family gatherings stressful, or we might have no family nearby with whom to celebrate. We might be sick or exhausted or grieving.

It can be hard to let go of that dream vision of the Perfect Holy Week and the Perfect Easter. It's especially hard when you hear those voices telling you that if you were just a better Christian this whole week would be an oasis of perfection instead of a morass of the usual chaos.

But that's not true, because this is Holy Week, not Expert Christians Week.

Holiness is a call. It is the destination of a lifelong journey, not a quick stop along the way when there's nothing more amusing to do. To seek holiness is ultimately to seek Christ, and Him Crucified, and then to take up our own crosses and head for Golgotha on purpose. The real "purpose-driven life" is to have the purpose of embracing our own crosses daily, and the real "prosperity Gospel" is the prayer to prosper in perseverance in suffering above all--to follow in our Master's footsteps along the way of the Cross.

So even if life intervenes and Holy Week doesn't go the way you intended, the opportunity to seek holiness is still present in every moment, with every breath, as it always is. To God be the glory that it is so, for it is a mercy beyond our understanding.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A good Lent after all

We're heading into the last week of Lent, and I've got to be honest: this has not been a particularly successful Lent for me. Sure, there were some little sacrifices and some effort toward prayer, but spiritual reading and most alms-giving plans went out the window, and I feel less connected than usual to parish Lenten activities as well.

I have tried to keep up with the blogging, though, regardless of whether there are page views or not, and I think that's been helpful in some ways. It's good when you are in the midst of various types of chaos to try to carve out some sort of routine.

And when I really look at things honestly, I have to admit that this has probably been a somewhat unproductive Lent because it has also been one of the most chaotic winter-into-spring seasons I can remember in quite some time.

When the girls were still being home schooled I could blame "third quarter blues" for my tendency to get behind and unmotivated and whatnot during this time of year. Now that they're in college (though still living at home) it's not possible to make that claim. In reality, my "third quarter blues" this year have nothing to do with their school schedules and everything to do with the sense I've had since before Christmas that there's just too much to do, not enough time (or money) to do it all, and no end in sight.

If you had told me I'd feel this way when my girls were attending school somewhere other than my kitchen table I'd have laughed, but the reality, as I've come to realize it, is that home schooling was a convenient excuse for my periodic feelings of being totally overwhelmed by life. There are lots of other reasons why I start feeling this way that clearly have nothing to do with what the other people in my family are doing at any given moment, and if Lent has brought me some clarity it takes the form of that recognition: that sometimes, for no particular reason, and with no special circumstances, I start finding ordinary everyday stresses to be gigantic mountains covered in spiky plants and teeming with unpleasant insects or dangerous reptiles, so to speak. But the more I put things off or try to avoid dealing with them, the worse the "to-do" list gets, until I start to feel exhausted before I really even get started on a day's intended tasks.

I am far from alone in this. Plenty of moms who are friends or even family have told me that they get this way too, especially this time of year, when you start feeling like you've barely even taken down the Christmas tree before Palm Sunday looms large against the liturgical horizon with Easter just ahead (and, for some families, baptisms or First Communions or Confirmations or weddings or other Big Events to plan for and celebrate). If anything, I have resisted the idea that this is an issue for me because, after all, I have three grown children, and there are moms out there homeschooling a brood of eleventy-plus kids while maintaining a beautiful home and throwing a massive birthday party at least twice a month in addition to everything else. But that's where a Lent like this one does help clarify things for me, because I have told plenty of other moms of relatively small families or even women whose children haven't lived at home for a decade that it's okay to be stressed by normal home-life stuff: it happens, it's normal. So why don't I believe it for myself?

Pride, probably. Pride, and the reluctance to let go of the idea that there is virtue and holiness in Doing All the Things, that a good Lent is a Lent where I Did All the Things, and that being a good wife and mother means Doing All the Things even when they start to weigh on me and make me feel incompetent and even, sometimes, unworthy of my blessings.

Maybe grappling with these ideas is where God wants me to be, this Lent. Maybe this has been a good Lent after all.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Another short post

Another short post; I'm almost caught up, but am struggling to get each day's word count done. This is new for me, and it has a lot to do with the challenges of writing series books: so much of the time in the early chapters is spent in a kind of synopsis of previous books before you launch into the new story (and then you need time to figure out just what is going to be happening...)

I'm getting there! Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Still behind...

A very short blog post tonight; I thought I'd be able to get caught up on my Camp Nanowrimo wordcount by tonight at the latest, but so far I'm still about a thousand words short. I hope to have better news tomorrow, even if by "tomorrow" I mean "whatever extremely late hour of the night I actually quit writing tonight."

It's frustrating to be behind, even if I knew going into this writing sprint that a Nanowrimo event that started on a Saturday and continued over a Monday when I was going to be away much of the day wasn't going to get off to a racing start. Still, I'm within striking distance now, so we'll see.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jury duty: an unexpectedly pleasant experience

There was no blog post yesterday because I had jury duty for the first time ever. I've been summoned three times; the first and second time I was excused because I was the stay-at-home parent of children too young to be left alone legally. Texas is awesome that way.

The third time I was assigned to a judge who was in the process of presiding over a terrible criminal case involving funeral home fraud. I got an email telling me I didn't have to show up, because that case was still ongoing and no new jury would be seated in that courtroom until that case was concluded. I was quite happy to be excused, and even happier that my jury duty hadn't come up in time to be on that case's jury, because I had read enough about the original arrest of the defendant in the local news to find the whole thing pretty horrible.

So yesterday was the first time I had to show up in person. By signing up ahead of time and filling out the paperwork online I was assigned to a courtroom instead of having to go to a central jury room, which was good--and even better, I was assigned to the beautiful historic courthouse, which was amazing to see. I didn't take any pictures while I was waiting with the other potential jurors because I didn't want to capture someone's face inadvertently, but any pictures I would have taken wouldn't have looked this good anyway.

Obviously it would be a bad idea to blog about too many of the specifics, for the sake of the civil case that for all I know could still be ongoing. I can say that I was with a group of 18 people and my assigned number was 17, so I knew all morning that my odds of being picked for a six-person jury in a civil case were pretty slim. And, eventually, that was how it turned out; I did not end up on a jury. Still, as some of my fellow jurors agreed, courthouses have their own sense of time, like hospitals or airports: we showed up at 8:30, got signed in, got ready...and waited. And waited. And waited. The case just ahead of ours was continuing (probably from the previous week, but I didn't ask) and didn't finish until quite late in the morning. Then we had the voir dire process (which is pronounced differently in Texas than I had ever heard it before!) and by just before 1 p.m. the final selection of the six-member jury had taken place. The new jurors along with the judge, attorneys, and plaintiff and defendant were going to break for lunch before starting the case, but the rest of us were dismissed.

I was surprised by how pleasant an experience the whole thing was. The bailiff was a very nice older gentleman who was good at making sure we knew what we were doing and putting everyone at ease; the judge took the time to come out of the courtroom, introduce himself, and set a tone that was engaging without losing sight of the seriousness of what the eventual jurors would be asked to do; the lawyers as they asked the jurors their questions were professional, courteous, and very willing to explain what they meant if anyone happened to be confused by a question; and my fellow jurors were all attentive and focused and seemingly quite willing to be there and do what needed to be done.

From what I hear, it will be a while before my name comes up again on the list of potential jurors, but after my experience yesterday I think I wouldn't even mind serving on a jury, especially if I were lucky enough to be assigned to a courtroom in the historic courthouse again. It ended up being quite a nice way to spend a lovely spring morning in Texas.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Caution: fiction writing mode engaged

Yesterday (Friday) was frustrating: we've been having phone/Internet issues, and though it looks like most of it has been resolved there's still one outstanding issue to take care of that can't even be looked at until Monday.  The day slipped away from me and I didn't end up blogging, once again.'s April 1st now! (Nearly two a.m., but who cares?) Which means that April's Camp Nanowrimo starts now.

I am writing the third book in the Adventures of Ordinary Sam series. The title is "Sky-Tangler," and, yes, our favorite cranky talking slightly magical bird from the mysterious kingdom of Ebdyrza will get his turn in the limelight, so to speak. Let's face it: there's a lot about Kittritt we still don't know, and some of it may tie in to these evil Enchanters Sam is gearing up to fight.

Blogging will continue, and hopefully less sporadically, but quite a lot of it may be about fiction writing. I won't take it personally if you wait until the next time I write about transgender agendas in kindergartens or the scandal of Catholics accusing each other of being insufficiently pro-life to check in again. :)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Two days, no posts

It has been busy around here, and I've had to make the writer's choice: in the handful of minutes I have had to write these past two days, do I write a blog post or work on fiction?

I've chosen to work on fiction, and it's the right choice. April's Camp NaNoWriMo starts on Saturday, and I'm not ready yet!

But I have to remember that "blog post" doesn't necessarily mean long, drawn out, serious stuff. It can be a few lines. Like this one.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What is a woman?

What is a woman?

There was a time when a question like that wasn't seen as being all that hard to answer. A woman was simply a female member of the species homo sapiens, as determined by such things as physical biology and genetic makeup. Just as certain words and concepts were associated with the male of the species such as boy, man, son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle and so on, so were some words associated with the female of the species such as girl, woman, daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and the like. While certain words and ideas did reflect societal constructs, such as "bachelor" for an unmarried man and "spinster" for an unmarried woman (with the idea that to be the first was no big deal while the second was practically a disgrace), the words I listed above had to do with relationships, and important ones. It seemed as though only yesterday people agreed that your brother could never become your sister, let alone your wife; now all it takes is for someone to shout "Love Wins!" for that horrible idea to become socially acceptable and those who object to it shouted down as irredeemable bigots.

I think that part of the problem is that in an age of modernity we have largely forgotten just how important the relationship-based words are, and the reason we have forgotten this is because we have forgotten what they mean. The vast majority of children born in China any time in the last several decades, for instance, have no experience whatsoever of "brother" or "sister" or even aunt, uncle, and cousin. In an America with a birthrate below replacement level and falling there are plenty of children who likewise will never really experience what those words mean on a deeply personal level.

And that's for "brother" and "sister," two words that indicate biological relationships. How much more are we forgetting what words like "husband" and "wife" mean, since so many people think a husband or a wife is just a temporary relationship dressed up to look better in public, and so many other people carry on like husbands and wives without bothering to marry? The beginning of the end of these ideas was no-fault divorce, which formed a couple of generations of people to think that husbands and wives were easily replaceable people primarily used for sex whose temporary role in one's life should not unduly burden one; the actual end, of course, was Obergefell, because once a husband became some sort of thing that could have another husband, or a wife the sort of thing that could have another wife, the words became completely meaningless to the level of gibberish.

The reason the concept of marriage is now gibberish is precisely because if marriage has nothing to do with sexual complementarity, that is, with the union of a man with a woman, then it has nothing to do with anything. All those other relationship words: mother/father, son or daughter, grandfather/grandmother, only have meaning and context within the light of that relationship of husband and wife. When we call an adopted child a son or a daughter, for example, we can only do that because we know what a son or a daughter is--in fact, the addition of the word "adopted" shows that we do understand what a son or daughter is, and that when we can raise someone else's child as a son or daughter this is a special gift both from us and from the child's birth parents who are, due to unfortunate circumstances, entrusting us with something so precious.

But when marriage no longer has anything to do with children, when biological sex gives way to fluid and fluctuating notions of gender that are grounded in nothing but subjectivity, when we can't say what a son or daughter is anymore because a daughter can have two "moms" and decide to become a son, then we can't say what  woman is anymore, either (let alone a man). In the end, a woman isn't anything at all, except when she objects to the presence of "women with penises" in her gym's changing area and showers, at which point she becomes a bigot.

If women are nothing special, then mothers aren't, either. Already we see modern feminism going on the attack, floating the idea that women should be prohibited by law from being stay-at-home-moms once their youngest children are in school. After all, why should women stay at home to raise and nurture their own children, when they could be working ten to twelve hours a day building a career or at least selling stuff at the local big-box store? Women aren't the only ones who give birth anymore; plenty of "men" who just happen to have vaginas give birth too these days, so why should the women get to be slackers while the men have to earn paychecks, something that is far more important than bringing up the next generation of humans, or furries, or genderfluid fairy boi creatures with unicorn tattoos? Childcare should be outsourced to the cheapest possible workers so that women and "birthing men" can take a nice healing holiday after the birthing process and then get back to the widget factory as quickly as possible, so that the genders can finally be equal.

And if mothers aren't special, then neither are fathers (who can be born with either a penis or a vagina) or sons (who might have been inappropriately assigned the wrong gender at birth) or daughters (who face discrimination if they happen to be transitioning away from male) or aunts or uncles or grandfathers or grandmothers or pretty much anybody we used to refer to by those outdated relationship words.

What is a woman? The modern state answers, chillingly, "Whatever I say it is. And you must agree or face the consequences." And the modern men and women and genderless alternate reality beings cheer and proclaim that someone born a man is now the Woman of the Year...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A small and familiar cross

I had planned on getting that "modernity and women" post up today, but it's a few minutes to midnight and I've been sidelined all evening by a pretty bad migraine. So it will appear Monday.

We had some thunderstorms roll through last night, and high winds all day today. My head pain is a reminder that it really is spring in Texas now.

The truth is that migraines are a cross that doesn't even seem all that much like one anymore; I've had them for so long that the pain and disorientation are familiar. I know what to do for them and how/when to do it, and unlike my younger self I'm not all that stubborn or resentful about the disruptions to my schedule. If anything, having dealt with migraines my whole life is probably a gentle introduction to the similar disruptions and inconveniences that most of us go on to experience as we age.

I've slept a bit this evening, and now I will probably be awake for a while--at least until I can take another dose of medicine. While I'm awake I will offer this up for those of you who are really struggling this Lent with the kinds of physical, mental, and emotional pain that doesn't go away in two to twelve hours with some relief from things like painkillers, ice, or a darkened and quiet room. God bless, and I'll see you Monday!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Progress on the fiction writing front

I'm working on a blog post for tomorrow about modernity and women, but I'm not going to be able to finish tonight. Today has been a really productive day for me from a writing perspective, beginning with the 3 a.m. finish--finally!--of the first draft of Book Eight in the Tales of Telmaja series. This book took me longer to finish than some of the others, and while I think it may be a bit longer than some of the others the real reason it took a long time to finish is because the story is complicated and a bit dark compared to the earliest books. Several scenes, especially toward the book's ending, required on-the-go rewriting (which is something I don't usually do) and they will probably require careful editing too. There is such a fine line between a dramatic situation and a melodramatic one, and I'm not always sure whether or not I have inadvertently crossed it.

After that, I spent a good bit of the day setting up the final version of the first draft in the template I will eventually use to publish it. I write my books in that template already, but at the moment I am switching between different word processing tools (including using Google Docs so I can work on my Chromebook instead of being tied to my elderly Mac Mini) so it made sense to go ahead and create the template in MS Word. I ordinarily avoid Word as I much prefer Pages for Mac, but the advantage of using Word now is that I can write in Google Docs on either the Chromebook or the desktop and then generate a Word file that can be used for publishing. To be honest, setting up my template in Word wasn't as difficult as I thought, because the most vexing problem was creating the right section breaks to keep real page numbers (as opposed to tiny Roman numerals) from appearing on the title page, copyright page, and the other usual beginning pages of a book. When I created the template initially in Pages I had just as much trouble with the section break/page number problem, so I can't say that my difficulties today had anything to do with Word; they really just have to do with my own lapses in word processing proficiency.

I've been struggling to get back up to speed on my writing projects this year, but I finally feel like I'm making progress. It's a good feeling, and I hope to keep this pace going as I head back into the editing part of my life as a self-published author.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reality is not optional

Laurel Hubbard made history this weekend by becoming the first transgender female to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand. But her victory in the over-90-kilogram division, in which she lifted a combined total of 268 kilograms (roughly 590 pounds) to best silver medalist Iuniarra Sipaia of Samoa by 19 kilograms (roughly 42 pounds), was not without controversy.
Despite a year’s worth of blood tests showing Hubbard had no more testosterone running through her veins than any of the other female weightlifters competing in the Australian International this weekend, some of those Hubbard beat questioned the fairness of the competition. 
“If I was in that category I wouldn’t feel like I was in an equal situation,” two-time Olympian Deborah Acason, who competes at the 75-kilogram level, told New Zealand news site Stuff. “I just feel that if it’s not even, why are we doing the sport?”

Why, indeed?

The truth of the matter is that playing a game that pretends that the only thing that differentiates a male and a female athlete is testosterone--ignoring such things as muscle mass and center of gravity and bone structure, which have a lot to do with weightlifting ability--is both silly and unscientific. Laurel Hubbard is not a female. He is a male, who wishes to live as a female. His desire to live as a female can be somewhat accommodated by an understanding society, but it cannot alter reality for actual women, whether in the changing room, the gym shower, or the weightlifting event. It seems so blatantly obvious a truth that I am surprised it even needs to be stated.

Another truth that is impossibly obvious is this one: actual biological women are the ones who will suffer the most under any new trans-friendly agendas, programs, or societal expectations. We are the ones who have to give up our private spaces, and it matters more to us if men are using those spaces than it matters to men if the occasional woman dressed like a man enters theirs. Don't get me wrong; men shouldn't have to put up with it either. But a six-foot-tall male isn't ordinarily going to feel threatened by a five-foot-five woman who thinks she's a man entering his public bathroom in the same way that a five-foot-five woman will feel when she has to share a locker room with a six-foot-tale man who says he feels female today. And male athletes aren't facing the possible domination of their sports by women dressed like men and injecting testosterone; women have a real possibility of women's sports being erased by men who, despite dressing like women and taking steps to reduce their testosterone levels, still clearly have advantages over the actual female athletes.

But the truth I find most irritatingly and blindingly obvious is this: transgenderism is a war on reality. A man can say he feels female, and though I still maintain he does not know and never will know what it really feels like to be a woman there is room to be sympathetic and tolerant. But when a man says, "I am a woman," he is stating something which is not, in any empirical or scientific or rational way, actually true. He can identify as transgender and like women's clothing and want to be surgically altered to appear somewhat female, but what he cannot do is be, in an ontological sense, a woman, no matter how hard he tries. It is as impossible for a man to be a woman, or a woman to be a man, as it is for a fish to become a bicycle; it is not rational to believe in such possibilities. 

Some characteristics really are immutable. I, a short woman, cannot become a tall woman, though I can wear shoes that make me appear taller. I, a Caucasian woman, cannot become an African-American woman, and I think it would be sort of insulting to actual African-American women if I insisted that I could somehow become one of them. And I can no more become male than I can become a marsupial or a mongoose.

When we live in a culture in which such blindingly obvious truths have to be explained and defended, we are living in a culture that thinks reality itself has become optional. Such cultures rarely last long, and are usually replaced, sometimes violently, by cultures that have no problem distinguishing the difference between men and women.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Video screens do not belong in a Catholic church

This past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to attend Mass at the beautiful new main parish church which is very close to where I live. My family has been members of the mission church attached to this parish for about nine years now, and we sing with the choir there, but it's nice to have the main parish close by now (it will probably make Holy Days of Obligation much simpler, for one thing).

The church really is lovely, and it's clear that a lot of work and attention went into the details. The soundproof, massive confessionals at the back of the chapel used for daily Mass are especially wonderful, and the overall look is of a traditional Catholic parish church.

Which is why the screens were so jarring.

Yes, video screens, mounted on swing-arms along the walls and facing the congregation so that those attending Mass could see hymn lyrics, readings, and so on projected at the left and right hand sides of the church. There were no missals or hymn books in the pews, though in fairness I should say that as the pews have slots to hold such books I don't know for sure if future plans for missals or hymnals might be in the works. Perhaps they are--one can only hope.

Part of my objection to the screens is a practical one. I am one of those people who sings at Mass whether I'm with my regular choir or not. I may not be perfect at sight-reading but I'm adept enough to be able to follow along with an unfamiliar hymn if I can see the music. But the screens don't project the music--just the words. I stood silent during the entrance hymn, which I had never heard before, because without being able to see the notes I had no idea where the music was going. I was not the only one--I would estimate that the vast majority of those attending were not singing any of the music at Mass. But in the old tiny church, they used to--so this isn't a matter of "Catholics don't sing anyway" so much as it is "These Catholics used to sing when they had hymnals, but many of them seem to have given up."

If the goal was to replace hymns with choir-led antiphons (which have easy-to-learn repeated refrains for the congregation to join in) it would be one thing, but somehow I doubt there is any such goal.

Another part of my objection to the screens is the aesthetic. This is, as I said, a fairly traditional-looking church. There is no "in-the-round" seating or gratuitous modern oddity (apart from a large baptismal font of a somewhat modern design as you enter the church, but this is not all that unexpected these days and it was not unpleasant in terms of design). You could easily imagine a pastor deciding to build on the traditional architecture to add other traditional elements. So the screens looked as out of place as a kazoo in a symphony orchestra--they just didn't belong.

I know, because I've heard it from Catholics who are used to screens in their churches, that the idea behind them is supposed to be pastoral and money-saving. In theory the screens will cost less than hymnals, and are touted to be better and easier on the eyesight of elderly parishioners than printed books. I'm not elderly yet, just solidly middle-aged with bifocals, and I can tell you that the screens were hard to read, especially given that you have to turn completely away from the altar to look to your left or right to see one. I'm not sure why people buy into the argument that screens are somehow better than books, given the obvious disadvantages.

My biggest objection to these trendy, trivial pieces of modern culture is just that: they are trendy, they are trivial, and they are pieces of modern culture better left outside the church doors. Given the pace at which technology ages, today's hot new innovative screens are going to be tomorrow's technology nightmares. They will seem as relevant and useful as burlap banners or 1960s hymns before long, requiring expensive updates to equipment and software that will end up costing far more than a quality hymnal like this one. In addition, they add a trivial and temporal note to what is a timeless and eternal act of worship. We have gotten used (however reluctantly) to seeing huge screens at such places as waiting rooms and restaurants and stores, but do we need them at Mass? Shouldn't Mass be a place where the distractions and annoyances of modern life disappear, instead of being mounted along the walls where they will compete with the Holy Sacrifice for our attention?

No, screens and similar "worship aids" simply do not belong in a Catholic church. I am sorry to see them show up where I live, and I hope that the justifications and excuses for putting them in church buildings will evaporate quickly and we will one day think of them as a silly and bad idea that temporarily got implemented instead of a glimpse of further intrusions of what is worldly, banal and mundane into the Mass.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A post my fiction-writing friends may enjoy

Scene: A featureless room, something like a collage made of empty canvases or a completely blank rectangular space.

Enter New Character, who flickers into the space, looking somehow blurred and incomplete.

New Character: Um...hello? What is this? Where am I?

Writer's Voice: Welcome. You have successfully made the journey from fleeting inspiration to fledgling character. This place is a sort of holding room at the edges of my imagination. Just where we go from here will be largely up to you.

NC: To me? But I'm not even sure who I am. Or what I am. These aren't talons, are they?

WV: That remains to be seen. As for who you are, all I know so far is that you are here. I can trace your present evolution--you are part original idea, part blatant theft of other people's good characters, and part archetypal hero--or, at least, archetypal something; I suppose it's too soon to tell if you will be a hero. But your slow evolution across many hours of daydreams doesn't tell us who you are. We will have to find out.

NC: (a little nervously) Okay. Say I buy all of that so far. How do we find out? What exactly do I do?

WV: The goal here is to bring you fully into existence and make you as human and real as possible--and, yes, you will be human in some sense even if those talons stay put. In order to do that, I will be putting you through a series of tests. By seeing how you react to various imaginary scenarios I will not only be able to figure out who you are, but also what type of story you belong in. This is a crucial part of the storytelling process, so I apologize in advance for any inconveniences you might experience.

NC: Inconveniences?

WV: Yes. My tests will be an escalating battery of physical, mental, and emotional stresses, including, but not limited to battles, assassination attempts, imprisonment, various wounds and injuries (some of which you may have received in the distant past but which still impact you in various ways) betrayal by your nearest and dearest, loss of your nearest and dearest due to death from causes ranging from natural to highly improbable to wildly paranormal, isolation, loneliness, fear, and various manifestations of existential dread. I will also need to find out if you are, for instance, the sort of person who would burn his own arm brandishing a flaming torch at a pack of wolves in a desperate attempt to keep your companions safe or the sort who would quietly take steps to toss the smallest and/or weakest member of your group at the wolves in order to escape yourself. These, and similar scenarios, are completely necessary to the eventual development of the story. They will all take place here in my imagination, but rest assured that if my imagination runs away with me and I actually bring you beyond the brink of death it's not permanent or anything.

NC: Wait--what?  I didn't agree to this!

WV: I'm afraid you did, the moment you took shape enough to appear here. But perhaps some of my older characters can explain things better.

Various Old Characters, much more distinct and real than the New Character, appear.

Old Character 1: Settle down, youngster. Let us tell you what's what.

NC: What could you possibly tell me that would make me agree to go through this?

OC 1: Well, for one thing, it's not personal. The writer doesn't hate you. She's actually quite fond of you, to get you this far and consider making you a main character.

OC 2: That's true, you know. I ended up a side character. It isn't bad--at least I exist in a story. But everybody knows the main characters get the best scenes.

OC 3: I failed my early tests and ended up a recurring character. It's steady work, but only the most avid readers ever even notice me.

NC: So you're saying that if I go along with these tests, if I do well, I'll be important somehow?

OC 2: The main character isn't just important somehow. He or she is the reason the story comes to life. Without a good main character there isn't a story.

OC 1: (chuckles) That's the truth. I'm a main character, so I know. It may not be fun to do all of this preliminary work, but believe me, it's necessary.

NC: Necessary? How? Why?

OC 1: The writer can't tell the story until she knows you. Really knows you, inside and out, knows what you like for breakfast and your current preferred weapon in single combat or your past as a tax attorney or whatever. All of that stuff tells her what the story is about. Then, too, she knows how you react to things, which is important when the story is moving along rapidly. She can't stop the action every single time to decide how you feel about snakes, or whatnot.

NC: (slowly) I suppose that makes sense.

OC 2: Of course it does. And you want to be a character, because otherwise you go back and wait for another opportunity, which might never come along.

NC: I see. (pauses for a long moment) Okay. I'll do this. Even if I think that I'm not likely to be a tax attorney, not with these talons.

WV: You never know. Let's get started.

Scene changes dramatically. New Character, becoming more visible, is running at full speed over a mountainous terrain, pursued by shapeless creatures who appear to be firing some sort of quills at him; the quills explode on contact, but New Character manages to dodge them all as he leaps over the ground. Suddenly he finds himself at the edge of a cliff. Grimacing over his shoulder, he mutters "It's always something," as talons protrude from his hands and a giant triangular wing, reminiscent of a glider, emerges from his shoulders...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Or, why Catholics can't have nice things

A little St. Patrick's treat at our house today. Yes, it's still Lent.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Or, as it's called on the Internet, "Happy day my bishop did/did not grant our diocese a dispensation so we could have meat on a Lenten Friday and why I am/am not happy about it."


In our diocese of Fort Worth the bishop did grant a dispensation--the cathedral here is St. Patrick's and there are plenty of Irish-Americans in the diocese, so the dispensation seems like a wise pastoral move. We still had meatless pasta tonight because that's what I had planned, but we weren't being smug about it. I don't have a problem with my fellow Catholics happily eating corned beef and cabbage or even a steak tonight, provided they live in a diocese under a similar dispensation. And, obviously, I don't have a problem with Catholics choosing to abstain from meat voluntarily, whether from spiritual or housekeeping motivations, either.

What I do have a problem with are the fights between the people who sigh and roll their eyes so hard their keyboards break over these weak bishops granting (and weak Catholics gleefully accepting) a dispensation from one of only a handful of Fridays in the year when American Catholics are even obliged to abstain from meat on the one hand, and the people who act like a dispensation is a Holy Meat-Order of Obligation such that choosing not to eat meat anyway amounts to some kind of scrupulous Pharisaical pride that is more dangerous to the soul than eating a hamburger on Good Friday or something on the other.

You see, it's not good enough for some of the avid abstainers that they can still choose to abstain from meat during a dispensation anyway; they have to malign the people who are taking advantage of the dispensation and cast aspersions on the episcopal authorities who grant them. And it's not enough for some of the happily dispensed that they get to have meat today if they want it; they have to insist that anybody under a dispensation who chooses to stay meatless today must obviously be a holier-than-thou sort who should be held up to ridicule for not having a proper Irish feast (even if they are not Irish at all). We can't just be happy for each other and happy for the Church on this feast of this great saint, because that would stem the outrage and stop the gossip and stanch the bleeding from the circular firing squad wounds, but we can't have that. And this is why Catholics can't have nice things.

It's true: whenever you find Catholics online having minor disagreements about liturgical matters or Catholic customs or modes of (morally acceptable) living or politics--dear heavens, the politics--you will find people on both sides of any such issue bristling with outrage and certain that their way is the one right and proper Catholic way, and that everybody else is doing it all wrong. Charity goes out the window; brotherhood takes a flying leap from a parapet; civility walks the plank, and patience, prudence, and propriety plummet into the icy waters of discord and disdain. Instead of building each other up for the sake of the Kingdom, we all--and I include myself--seem more interested in a bit of recreational shredding not only of ideas, but of the people who hold them as well. We may dress it up in fancy language, but a lot of our Internet internecine debates are every bit as silly as arguing over whether Bishop Thusandso really ought to have let the rabble have corned beef today, or whether Catholic Neighbor A isn't being more Catholic than the pope in choosing to eat grilled cheese instead.

We can do better than this, and we owe it to saints like St. Patrick to try.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Writer's diary: getting over the fear of endings

I've been working, for the past two days, on finishing the first draft of the eighth book in the Tales of Telmaja series. For those readers who don't know me from my old blog, I write and self-publish children's fiction; at present I have books in both the Tales of Telmaja series and a newer series, The Adventures of Ordinary Sam, available for sale. You can read more about them at my website, and both paperback and digital copies can be found for sale here.

Last year I managed to publish three of the six books I have available so far. I had hoped to keep that pace going or even accelerate it a bit, but the first three months of this year have been unexpectedly busy in other areas. That's one of the reasons I decided to blog more frequently during Lent: sometimes I have to break out of a habit of putting everything else first and writing way down near the bottom of the list.

I think anybody who pursues an artistic or craft-based interest will get this. It's extremely easy to decide that some household chore or bit of planning must urgently be done, and that one's artistic endeavors can always wait. What I've learned as a writer is that this isn't true. When you have the kind of time available that is conducive to writing, even if it's only five minutes, you will lose a lot if you let that time slip away or squander it folding socks or something.

This year, I lost the momentum I had going during November's National Novel Writing Month as December began, and never really got it back. Four months later I'm looking back at a bewildering kaleidoscope of things like Christmas and New Year's and four out of five family birthdays and a couple weeks of flu and the birth of four kittens and the persistent and escalating havoc wreaked by those kittens and I don't wonder that I haven't finished Book Eight yet--I wonder that I managed to complete the last two chapters and part of the epilogue at all.

But now that the end of the book is drawing near, I'm fighting a different battle: the "fear of ending" battle. Every writer knows this one, when your attempts so far to stifle your inner editor (as the good people at NaNoWriMo put it) suddenly fail and you start to believe there's some mystical perfection swirling around book endings and that if you don't get the ending exactly right on the first try you will ruin the whole book. No matter how silly that sounds when you actually put it in words (as I just did) it's a persistent fear, at least in my experience. It's hard to let go and move on to the next stage, the editing and proofreading and editing and proofreading and editing and...well, you know.

Still, there comes a time when you just have to push through it. You have to quit looking for household chores and hanging out on Facebook, and just finish the darned book. Because you want to publish three more books this year, and because April is coming, and it's time to switch gears and write the third book in your other series beginning April first--and that's no joke.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A very short blog post...

...courtesy of these guys, who, along with their other two siblings, decided last night that it was desperately important to keep at least some of their human friends up until four a.m.:

I'm still awake and functioning, but my ability to form coherent sentences is rapidly disappearing and I think it would be better to save any more serious posts for a later date.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Modesty and manners

I don't always agree with Simcha Fisher--heck, I don't always agree with myself, so that's not saying much--but I really liked her recent post about that modesty kerfuffle at a Catholic high school in Illinois. Go and read it, if you haven't already.

If you spend little time on the Internet and missed the story, here it is: a Catholic high school helpfully put together an illustrated manual to guide female students into choosing an appropriate dress for the upcoming high school prom. Various secular Internet people then got hold of it and started throwing around words like "patriarchy" and "body-shaming" because apparently telling young women as clearly as possible that they cannot come to prom dressed like streetwalkers who are offering a half-price sale on their services is beyond the pale.

I've commented on various modesty debates before now, and I'm hardly a stickler for some set of arbitrary rules that insist on seeing overtly sexual motifs in perfectly ordinary women's clothing. That's not what this prom guide is doing, not at all. It is attempting to set some clear standards for the girls who plan to attend the school prom. After all, each girl is still free (if her parents approve) to dress like a porn star or red-carpet demimonde at any private family party or public gathering at a venue with no dress code, but at a Catholic high school's prom it is perfectly proper for the high school to prohibit certain extreme fashions that do not reflect well on the school's image. The truth is that these extreme fashions are nearly always to be found among the women's clothing choices; men are, by and large, more conservative in their dress for formal events.

There are important conversations to be had about modesty, about whether the concept is sometimes used to blame women for men's faults, about whether certain religious traditions outside of Catholicism use the idea of modesty as a weapon of control to keep women in their "place," so to speak. But it's also important not to freak out every time a dress code appears, or every time shorts are prohibited (for men or women) at at some nice restaurant or at the Vatican, or, in general, every time some rule of dressing makes its way into the public eye.

The truth is that the high school in question might not have needed a guide to modesty in an age where people still had good manners. By "people" I include (perhaps first and foremost) fashion designers, many of whom have rudely overlooked the reality that most women actually don't want to appear half-naked in public, that we don't find skin-tight clothing comfortable or (most of us) flattering, and that nothing is less conducive to a relaxed and fun evening than having to wonder every time you so much as lift an eyebrow whether so slight a motion is going to cause some body part or other to display itself to the curious or voyeuristic. The kinds of extreme fashions the Catholic school wishes to prohibit are usually aped after Hollywood couture, and the thing people forget about a Hollywood star who is somehow supposed to walk, run, fight bad guys etc. in less fabric than a one-month-old generally wears is that she usually has a whole wardrobe team making sure her film doesn't suddenly veer into nudity (unless it's that kind of film, of course).

Apart from fashion designers, a lot of ordinary people lack good manners concerning clothing these days because we live in an age that has no real standards of dress anymore. We can lament this all we want, but it's both unfortunate and true. Even such simple rules of etiquette as wearing black to a funeral don't apply anymore. The trend for at least fifty years has been toward an increasingly casual way of dressing.

That's not all bad. There's certainly some benefit in not having to have one set of clothing to wear at home and another to wear out in public--let alone a third to wear to church and a fourth to wear on special occasions and a fifth for sports and a sixth for..oh, well, you get the idea. Having certain basic pieces which you can dress up or down is a good thing (and it is especially good when these pieces are machine washable and easy to take care of).

But the negative is that it is sometimes harder to figure out what is or isn't appropriate to wear for various occasions, and prom is one of these occasions. The fashion designers don't help young women determine what to wear, and neither do the various teen magazines promoting the idea that the girl with the sexiest dress somehow wins. We talk about giving girls body-positive messages, but a competitive and feminist spirit that encourages more and more envelope-pushing clothing abbreviations ultimately benefits men more than women; specifically, it benefits the very men who are already likely to treat women like objects.

Unfortunately, a lot of people act as though there are only two possible outcomes: the hijab or the hooker-dress. The middle way of manners isn't even thought of, but it should be. After all, if a Catholic school is hosting a party then they, as good hosts, ought to give the expected guests some idea what to wear; it is terribly frustrating to be invited to a party and have no idea whatsoever what kind of party it is or what clothing is appropriate, such that half the guests show up in torn jeans and the other half in  three piece suits or silk dupioni sundresses with pearls. By letting the guests know what is expected the Catholic high school is making a sort of "first move" in the game of manners; now it is up to the guests to be well-mannered guests and dress accordingly. That this very ordinary display of manners inspires any kind of a freak-out, let alone an Internet one, is just a reminder that we live in a time when the concept of good manners is itself seen as some sort of intrusion on one's theoretical right to a radical individualism that feels oppressed any time it must put the good of others ahead of its own whims and desires.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why not support paid parental leave?

On Facebook I've been participating in a discussion about paid maternity leave. As you may already know, America is the only industrialized nation that does not provide any paid parental leave. The average paid leave among industrialized nations is 17 weeks; in America, you can, if you work for a large enough employer, take up to twelve weeks off after you give birth--but apart from any vacation time you may have saved up that leave will be unpaid.

It should be fairly obvious that the mothers who suffer most from a total lack of paid maternity leave are those who are the least well-off economically. A relatively wealthy two-income family may be able to arrange to do without the mother's income for some or all of the twelve unpaid weeks mandated by law, but a two-income family with less total income may find that any loss of income at all puts them in danger of being unable to pay their bills. 

Since Catholics reject the idea that only rich families should have children, or that children are optional lifestyle accessories for those few married couples capable of bearing, unaided, all the expenses involved in raising and educating those children, it seems to me that Catholics should support paid maternity leave at the very least, and paid parental leave as a just way to ensure that even stay-at-home moms can count on their husbands' presence and support for at least some of the time after baby comes home from the hospital--important enough in ordinary circumstances, but crucial in situations where there were birth complications, where the child ends up in the NICU for a while, and even when there are already children at home who need Dad to help care for them while mom recovers from childbirth.

So I always find it surprising when Catholics do not support these ideas, and raise various objections to them. Sometimes the objections are nakedly partisan: the Other Side supports paid parental leave, so we must oppose it. Those arguments aren't worth addressing.

But when the objections are more specific it is worthwhile to address them, and in the rest of this post I will make a preliminary attempt to do so.

First objection: We can't afford paid parental leave. Who would pay for it, and how would it be done?

Answer: Countries far less wealthy than America manage to have paid parental leave. By many estimates, six weeks of paid leave would require no more than an annual payroll deduction of about $30--that's annual, note, not monthly. Even if we doubled that to 12 weeks of paid parental leave we would be looking at $60 a year, or $5 a month, or $2.50 a paycheck. This amount would hardly be noticeable among other payroll deductions such as those for Social Security and Medicare.

Second objection: Paid parental leave will cost employers too much, and will raise the price of goods and services.

Answer: See above; also, not offering paid leave has costs, too. When women return to work too soon after giving birth both they and their newborns are more at risk for various health complications, some of them quite expensive. Women still dealing with normal postpartum issues may, understandably, be less productive at work as well.

Third objection: If it is too difficult for women to work after giving birth, they should just quit their jobs and become stay-at-home moms. Second incomes are for luxury expenses, not necessities.

Answer: While most of us Catholics fully support stay-at-home moms and agree that not all dual-income households actually need both incomes, the reality is that since the 1970s the number of two-income households have risen to the point where in some parts of the country it may be difficult to impossible to live on a single income. Wage stagnation, the rising costs of housing, transportation, and health care, and the huge and growing problem of crushing student loan debt has created a situation which traps many young couples into relying on two incomes. Ideally any family who wants one parent to stay at home with the children should be encouraged and supported to do so, but the notion that all women who work outside the home can just quit and stay home instead of needing parental leave after a baby is born ignores the situation we have now. 

Fourth objection (and, yes, this really was said): women in the past didn't need paid maternity leave, so why do women need it now?

Answer: obviously, the majority of women in the past rarely worked outside the home following the birth of their children. Not only did this negate the necessity for paid maternity leave, but also women had a network of support from other women in those early days following the birth of their children: their mothers, sisters, unmarried aunts or cousins, neighbors and friends became a pool of help and aid for a mom with a newborn. Today, nearly 70% of women older than 16 work outside the home, which means that the stay-at-home mom may not be able to call on her mother or aunt or sister to come and help her once baby arrives. Those of us who were lucky enough to have family willing to sacrifice some time after the arrival of our children are certainly grateful for that blessing, but there are many women who have no such available relatives or friends and who are also facing the necessity to return to work relatively quickly after their child is born.

The reality is that we can't just say we care about families, about mothers and fathers and children, without carefully considering the real need for at least some paid parental leave for an event as life-changing as the birth of a child. Even six weeks of paid leave would be important time for healing and recovery and for bonding with the new baby. Families need this--so why not support it?