Friday, October 14, 2016

Musical preaching

I love music. There are a few genres I do not understand or appreciate and pretty much everything out of the 80's has some negative association and so I cannot judge it fairly. But my music taste are pretty diverse.

I like the greats. Palestrina and Josquin. Mozart. I like folk. I like some pop and some country. I like some metal. I like to unwind with loud music turned up (and the curtains closed,) singing and dancing and cooking alone in my kitchen.

One of my pet peeves is when people tell me they like to listen to classical music because it is relaxing. Some of it is, of course. But some of it is wild and chaotic. Some of it is angry or dark. Some of it is sweetly romantic. Some of it is seductive. If I can listen to it while I am going to sleep, it is not good music. Or anyway, it is not to my taste.

I am very emotional about music. I let it affect me. What I want in music is to be taken in. I want to feel. I want to be engaged. Music reaches emotions which are hard to express. Sicut Cervus was not the first piece of music I loved, but it was the first time I gave thought to why I loved it so much. "As the deer longs for water, so my soul longs for you, my God." You can hear all of it. The deer and the water. And the longing. Such a longing. Especially in those opening tenor notes. It is stunning. Palestrina is a genius.

But all my favorites are affective. Bach can make piety exciting. Some pieces, like The Trout by Schubert, give me the same sense of calm as enjoying alone time in nature. Pete Seeger and his proteges stroke my inner social justice warrior. Irish music is fun; rollicking along, but with glimpses of a painful story and an incredible storyteller.

"When you sing, you pray twice."

When it comes to Church music, I have very strong opinions. Liturgical Music can be risky. If we agree that music inspires and elicits something real but hard to grab, we open it up to criticism. Is it emotional? Is the emotion appropriate? What should we be feeling during Mass? Or is it simply enough that the words be theologically sound?

Mass is a sacrifice, but it is a celebration! You are in the presence of the Lord and King, who taught you to pray by calling him Father. It is sacred, but it is also home. What should you be feeling? Awe? Comfort? Sorrow? Joy? Wonder? Liturgical music has the tall task of inspiring what is appropriate even when what is appropriate is paradoxical.

Music shouldn't just carry words, it should inform them. Elevate them. Give them a story or a perspective. Chant, echoing down the halls of history but endlessly present and always appropriate, preaches about inerrant theology. The swinging lilt of a traditional Irish hymn setting is warm and welcoming and very real. An early American march with a rigid building block time signature focuses fellowship and structure; this is who we are and this is what we are doing. The words and the sound echo and reinforce each other.

I am not a snob. I like it all. I like the organ at the shrine and the guitars at the teen mass. So long as the music brings something to the table, I like it. I think that most criticism of contemporary music are strange. What makes a three hundred year old song better than a thirty year old song? In the context of a two thousand year history, the three hundred year old song can't even claim age.

There is a lot of criticism of contemporary Christian music. Critics hear emotionalism or protestantism or happyhappyjoyjoy saccharine. They hear a bounce, empty of theology and covered with syrupy prosperity creed. It is more than an aesthetic preference. It is an aesthetic judgment. Mass is not a pop concert. It is not a sentimental appeal. If you are moved to tap your foot, is the music inappropriate? I hear the frustration, but I don't know where to draw lines.

One of the deepest musical experiences I've had was when an African American choir visited our parish. It was incredible. The layered rhythms and harmonies pushed back against overt and lingering dissonances. It preached pain, but joy too. That music explained joy in sacrificial suffering in a way no words possibly could. I was moved. If you are ever struggling with the concept of celebrating a sacrifice, I cannot recommend this experience highly enough.

Toe tapping is not the problem. Maybe entertainment is. That criticism can apply to any type of music. The job of the cantor is to lead a prayer, not to amuse you during the boring bits, which is good since we cannot all be amused by the same things. Does that mean that if you are entertained the cantor has done something terrible? That seems silly and also makes a hard task impossible.

If sentimental music is not the problem, maybe sentimentality is. The Mass is divine, but it is also human. We are the body. The Church. The people. Through the sacraments, our Lord comes to us, truly, physically and spiritually. We need that. The humanness. He designed us that way. Feelings are part of who we are and not a bad part. We shouldn't shut out out feelings, but we shouldn't let them lead either. They are unreliable and moveable. Appeals to feelings primarily can be misleading. A good artist can make you feel all kinds of emotions. Emotions can wrap untruth in the most delightful packaging.

What we need in liturgical music is pretty straightforward.

Music should be is interesting, but singable. It should be either very old or very new or possibly somewhere in between, but it must not be antiquated or voguish. It should be beautiful, but not entertaining. Well lead, but not performed. Appropriate to the mood of the Mass which is conflicting. It has to be culturally appropriate to a universal church. It should be theologically sound, even the moody bits which can't easily be parsed. We want it to sound good whether or not there is participation from the congregation, but we don't want the congregation drowned out by a blaring sound system. It should elevate, not overshadow. Why can't the music leaders get it right? It seems easy enough.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Mary, my mother, pray for me

My youngest daughter is three. She is a clever thing. You know the game that kids play when they don't want to go to bed? "Mommy! I need a drink! Mommy! I forgot to brush my teeth! Mommy, can you tuck me in? Mommy! I am scared! Mommy..."

Of course you do.  Everyone knows that game. My Becca is particularly good at the game. She usually wins. She climbs into my bed and looks into my eyes, with a three year old's piety and barely whispers, "Mommy, can we just say the rosary please?"

What can I say? I have mixed feeling because I do not love that she is clearly just using the rosary as a particularly effective excuse to stay up late. It that prayer? Can it be?

But I think of my heavenly mother. I think she would indulge the request joyfully, even in the knowledge of imperfect motives. Prayer does not have to be perfect. It rarely is. That is one of the things I love about the rosary. It helps my imperfect prayer life.

I didn't think I had any particular devotion to the rosary until about five years ago. Five years ago, my daughter was in the NICU. Because of her genetic condition, her fingers were fused together. The rosary was a detail of a very difficult time. We had an army of people praying for us and we truly felt God's presence. I cannot describe the calmness or the goodness that we knew, but it was nothing short of miraculous. God was with us in a powerful and peaceful way. People sent prayer cards and Mass cards and relics. We pinned the relics to her pillow. She was intubated, so she was sedated and not moving around a lot. We had those CDs you can find in the backs of Churches, theologians teaching on so many subjects. We used the Magnificat for daily meditation and prayer.

But the rosary was special. My mom gave me her mother's rosary while we were in the NICU. It had smooth beads and it was light. It felt easy in easy in my hands. The beads were small and oblong. The beads fit in Sarah's tiny rosebud hands.

Rosebud. That is the term the doctors used. If you put the tips of all your fingers together your hand forms the shape which can be imagined as a rosebud. That is how her fingers were fused.

I worried about her hands. Children learn by touch. One of the hardest things (there were many) during that time was well-intentioned people demanding that I think about her hands. I knew it was important. I didn't need extra layers of guilt. It plagued my mind even without their concerned advice. People want to help. I guess they thought that this important thing might fall through the cracks in the face of other major concerns. The doctors were concerned about her heart, her brain, her kidneys, her liver, and her lungs. I was worried about those things too, but I am her mom. I was worried about everything. I did not want her earliest sense memories to be sterile and cold. I played music. I sang. I learned infant massage. Touch matters. I fretted about her hands. Her touch. She needed sensory input which would normally just happen. I had to put things in her hands. Nothing fit. I had to be careful not to poke or pinch. Grandmom's rosary beads fit. It was almost a perfect fit, as though that rosary had been made for just that purpose. The small brown beads tucked easily into her hand and she could squeeze. She could feel.

I imagined that she was holding my grandmother's hand.

That rosary gave me comfort. Maybe I was using it as something of a talisman. I wondered, is that bad? I think my Mother in Heaven wouldn't think so. I think she dotes on us and loves us. I think that she was there loving me as I reached out to her imperfectly. Poorly, even. But she heard.

That experience made me feel a certain way toward the rosary as a devotion which I had not felt before. But it wasn't the first time the rosary affected me in a long acting way. When I was a teenager I wasn't sure what I believed. I challenged God and my parents and my educators to prove or at least carefully defend various truths. Mom handled my pushing with a gentle wisdom which she lived and showed by example. Dad handled my pushing with clear and articulate answers.

Cathy was my youth group leader. She handled my pushing entirely indirectly. Together we went to the abortion clinics every week and we prayed the rosary. I wasn't sure if I was Catholic, but the words weren't empty. They were a unified, meditative plea to God for help. I never questioned that he heard. I never questioned that he acted in ways I couldn't see. It wasn't that she avoided my questions, it was simply that the questions and answers were secondary and we both knew it. What we were doing mattered. I rattled off the words. Rote prayer. What about that? My prayer was a repetition of Catholic belief which I was not sure I held. Was that bad?

I don't think Mary thought so. I think she heard my argumentative teen concerns for what they were and stuck by me. I believe she prayed with us and cried with us. I think God heard my imperfect prayer.

I give Mary a lot of credit, I guess. Mary is a mom. She knows. She is listening. She gets it and she hears our pleas in the best possible way. When she prays with us and for us, part of the grace of the experience is that she closes a gap between our imperfect prayer and the deepest pulls of our heart. She brings us to her son, our Lord who perfects us.

The rosary is her gift. For rosebud fingers and challenging teenagers and impious children, the rosary is a lifeline. It is words, when you don't have words. It is meditative and emotional. Joyful and sorrowful, glorious and luminous. The rosary is a loving gift from a mother to her children who are imperfect people likely to mess up everything. 

Church Militant

Proud she stands with her tearful eye on the battle,
her knee falls on the ground
in humble adoration.

She hears the voice of her beloved
and arms herself.
Girded in Truth!
Clothed with righteousness!
Readiness! Faith! Salvation!

Arm yourselves, but be shattered! Arm yourselves, but be shattered.

Agonized and weary
her soldiers lament and
celebrate martyrs.

Glorious. Victorious. Jubilant.
But they did not understand and they were afraid to ask.

Soldiers serving the King. The servant.
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”

Lord. Your soldiers are ready. Confident. Empowered.
Lead us in battle.
Lead us to battle.
Lead us

She hears the voice of her beloved:
Feed the hungry. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Care for the sick. Visit the prisoner.

She kneels in dust. She is dust.
But formed. Awakened. Loved.

Proud she stands with her tearful eye on triumph,
her knee falls on the ground
in humble adoration:

Take up your cross.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


The morning after the debate between Hillary and Trump, I needed to remind myself that a wild imagination can be a wonderful thing. With two kids in school, I spent quality one on one time with my three year old. This is how we spent the morning. 


She skipped down the road, impatiently tugging on her mother's hand. "Faster! Faster! We have to get to the park!"
"What are we going to do at the park today?"
"We're going to have a picnic with the dragons. We might go to the stream. And...and...and...and... maybe just let's go!"

They sat together at a picnic table. While mom sat, she jumped up and collected leaves and nuts and started arranging them into a picture on the bench. 

"This is a butterfly. And then, a sun! He is yellow yellow yellow and he is smiling."

"Uh-oh. Mom. There is a bad dragon. We are going to have to run. No I mean it! Run!!"And off they ran. Glancing backwards to be sure they were staying ahead. 

"He's too fast and there is a bad witch, Mom. We are going to have to fight. Use your powers! Wait! I have your sword. Here!!"

Carefully unsheathing the sword, Mom swung at the sky! She yelled, "It is no good! I have an idea! I will use my power to freeze him and then you can get him with your sword! Help me!"

Hands outstretched, magical power streamed out from both of them. It sounded like a gushing river. "SHHHHHHHHH!"

She ran toward him. Their powers were not enough, even combined. The witch was using some kind of a protective spell. But she was worn enough to turn and flee with the dragon. Off they flew, fear roused and compelling. 

"Phew. Now we have to find the good dragons. Maybe the fairies know where they are. I know where the fairies are. They are at home. Over here! This is where they live. Can you see them? It is hard because they are playing hide and seek. They love hide and seek and tag just like I love hide and seek and tag. But they are there. You can't talk to them though. Only me."

Obediently, mom stays a few steps back while she learns where the dragons can be found. Momentarily, she returns confident in her informants. 

"They say we can find them by the water."

The pair approach the creek, alert to signs of danger. Seeing none, she throws a few magic balls as calling cards into the water and then waits on the bank. 

"I think we are going to have to go on an adventure."

"Aha! I knew it! Another bad dragon! He is so big! I am going to use my powers to make him smaller and smaller and smaller." 


"I think you need more magic! Hold up your magic!"

The dragon shrank down to the size of a small barn-swallow, which gave her an idea. 

"Let's put him in a nest. Then a mommy can come and teach him so when he gets big again he won't be so bad." 

She gently lifted the tiny foul creature and placed him in a bird's nest.

"They'll come now."

Sure enough, three dragons came flying toward us, just above the creek. One was carrying a baby dragon. She lead them to our picnic area. 

"C'mon! C'mon! Let's go guys! I have a tea party basket!"

We sat on the soft grass and shared pizza and drumsticks and the best cheese you can imagine. She poured tea for everyone except the baby. She fed him a bottle of milk and a cookie. 

A tiny kitten came and tried to drink the baby dragon's milk. The baby dragon got mad and tried to burn up the kitty, but he couldn't. Baby dragons can only do smoke. His mommy had to tell him not to scare kitties. 

She poured a small dish of milk for the kitten and told her mother that the kitten did not have a mommy. Could she please take it home? Seeing as the dragon would not stay a baby forever, and not trusting him to learn to control his temper before he could control his fire, she agreed. 

They said goodbye to their dear friends the dragons, and set off for home carrying a small but well fed baby kitten. 

And they even made it home on time to meet her big sister's bus. 

Sparkles and mud. That's how we roll. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Laundry and Sisyphus

My phone was dying, so I went upstairs to plug it into the last undamaged phone charger in the house. I found my charger bathing in a nice, cool glass of water. Not floating or toe dipping, but fully submerged.

My logic is not always perfect. I thought to myself that if my phone was going to die, I had better get my important phone calls out of the way quickly! Sarah has gone into SVT three times in the past week. The doctor wants to go ahead with the ablation procedure which we have thus far been successfully postponing with medicine. He also increased her dose of medicine, so it did not feel urgent. Still, I have to schedule it; surgeons are always busy for months so we have to get on the calendar asap.  I called his nurse. 

"Wednesday," she says. 

Wait. What? Wednesday? As in less than a week away Wednesday? I know he wanted it done, but that soon? 

She hopped off the phone to double-check that yes, the surgeon wanted Sarah in that soon and indeed he did. Wednesday. Apparently, this was a drop-everything-and-handle-this moment, not a put-it-on-the-overfull-calendar moment. So, phone battery low, I didn't argue. Heart surgeon wants to do ths procedure now? We will do this procedure now. I am on it. 

Except that I am not, really. This will be the frst time Sarah has had something serious done since my anxiety took its ugly consuming form. Will I be able to handle it? All else being equal, this is a pretty good procedure to jump back in with. (Leave my preposition alone.  I like it there.) It is a common procedure. It is not even called a surgery. They go in through the femoral artery and thread up to the heart. They try to induce the SVT and then they watch and see what is misfiring. Then they fix it. Still, it is uner general anethesia and they are messing with her heart. 

I decided that the task of reclaiming some bit of order in my home would go a long way toward keeping my brain from going haywire. So, I sorted six tons (as measured by my super-woman biceps) of paperwork and admired the sheer volume of medical mail we get. Non-medical stuff often gets lost in the shuffle. For instance, I found the invitation to the wedding we attended last week! Yay! A little late. 

Then I got out the vaccum. I like my vaccuum. It is brand new. About a decade ago we were given a used Hoover when someone else replaced it with something better. That has been our vacuum since then and it has served us well. But for the past several months, it has needed a new belt about once a month. This is an easy fix, so we dealt with it until my husband and I admitted to one another that in our heart of hearts, we both secretly really wanted to replace it. So, we did not replace the belt this time, we replaced the vacuum. We bought a brand new, well-reviewed Shark on Amazon. Oh, I was excited. Why are vacuums denigrated as gifts? What fun! It is all shiny and new and functional! It is light! I can carry it upstairs without breaking our my not-really-real super-woman biceps. Man,  I like ths vacuum. A week in, everthing is awesome. Not Lego awesome, but nearly. As soon as we have established the awesomeness of our new vacuum, I popped the old one on a freecycle-like page with full disclosure about its age and difficultes. It was snapped up in under five minutes. Out with the old!

 Back to yesterday. Yesterday as I am vacumming to save my sanity with my shiny new vacuum when the darn thing turns off. No excuse. No warning. No broken belt. It just turns off. A small voice inside me cries out, "That is what you get for trying to save your sanity with house chores!" But I silence the voice. Appliances are supposed to work. Vacuuming is supposed to be the uninteresting but predictable and easy part of the day.  

By now, Amazon same-day-delivery has delivered a brand new charger. Thank you Amazon, for always being there for me. So my phone is charging again. I can get back to the phone calls. I am a little hesitant because I hate getting on the phone and the last time  I attempted this chore, it grew. Freaking cardiologist. 

Not really. He is awesome. Kind of a rock star, actually, in his way. But the one phone call to schedule the one had thing turned into many phone calls to cancel and reschedule many things. I did it. I called my therapist and rescheduled our first appointment again. (Third time. I bet she thinks I am chickening out.) I called my dentist and rescheduled my appointment and my husbands, since they were back to back. I rescheduled Becca's dentist appointment. I canceled everything on Wednesday. Then, even though it is supposed to be outpatient, I cancelled everything on Thursday too. There is a chance that they will want to monitor Sarah overnight after the procedure, and I know my kid. So, I am kind of planning to spend a night in the hospital. 

The I get back to the order reclamation. Laundry is a good choice. No matter how many times you do it, it still remains to be done. Laundry will save my sanity. 

Fresh, clean, damp clothes pile into my dryer and.... the dryer will not turn on. The appliance gods are toying with me, a mere mortal with a sisyphean task. 

Undeterred by their spite, I decided not to touch any more appliances of any kind. I choose a chore which does not require them. I accomplished a task. A real task. Becca needed a dresser. I had one that was mostly full of clothing I don't wear. I don't mind if things are not always put away, but I cannot stand it when there is no away to put them. Becca and Lily have been sharing a dresser and it is not big enough for two people. I emptied, moved and refilled a dresser. All by myself. 

Now, Bob Marley is happening in my head. Every little thing is gonna be alright. Brains are unpredictable creatures. I guess appliances are too. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ideological Bubbles are for Popping

Four years ago I argued with a woman who was absolutely convinced that Obama hated America. It took me several pages of argument to realize that she was not speaking in hyperbole. She really thought that his agenda was to destroy the country. She did not think it was a secondary effect of a well-intended agenda. She saw a hatred and vicious anger which, even with her help, I never could see. I was baffled. To be completely honest, I remain baffled. I also remain in touch. She is still my friend. Now she is saying that and other similar things about Hillary. And I am still listening. It is not that I think she is right, but I think that understanding her perspective is valuable. Partly because she is a friend and I love her. Partly because she is not alone.

This year, I enjoyed the primary season debates under the hospitality of a friend who hosted conversational commentary. He liveblogged his opinions and we joined in. It was great fun, though it may have skewed my sense of normal politics. The people were mostly a mad mix of left leaning pro-life Catholics and refugees from a republican party gone barmy. Discussion was humorous, irreverent, and not strictly partisan. We were a kind of homeless band.

But as the season goes on, partisanship is rearing and roaring. Election years can be hard on relationships and this year is harder than many. It always feels like something huge is at stake. Campaigns are well funded advertisements designed to make us feel that way and they are very effective. This year a lot of people rooting for candidates on either side insist that this election could be the very last election, unless we vote correctly. America as we know it could disappear.

I have seen several posts admonishing friends with disparate beliefs to shape up or ship out. Unfollow me if. Unfriend me if. Disconnect from me. Go away. You are invading my ideological bubble.

I am not doing it. I am not cutting you off. You can unfriend me or unfollow me or stop contact in whatever way we keep contact, but I am not doing it. You have to be the one. There are exceptions, of course. I have friends who have had pictures stolen and turned into memes. I have friends who have had people accuse and abuse them and their families. There are lines that I will draw to protect myself and the people I love, but disagreement is not one of them. You can disagree with me about just about anything and still find yourself welcome. I want you here. I want to hear from you and about you.

One of these posts struck a nerve yesterday, when a priest friend asked that anyone who is a democrat or is voting for a a democrat should unfriend him. A priest! I have enjoyed debating with this man for years, so I knew we were not on the same page politically. Still, I have read what he writes and learned from him many times over the past few years. Now he wants me to close the door.

He did not say, if you are trolling my page looking for a fight, take it somewhere else. (I can respect that.) He did not say he wants to control the message on his page and so he would not allow comments in opposition. (I would disagree, but understand that.) He said go away. If you disagree, you do not need to listen. I do not need to listen. We do not need to communicate.

I think we do need to communicate, and now more than ever. I think that we need to listen with generosity and love, especially where there is disagreement. I think that the truth can survive a good beating, and it suffers without examination. I think that perspectives matter and choosing to try and understand where another person is coming from is a way of choosing love.

I know it is bad. Not everyone likes debate. That is fine. I don't think everyone has to wade waist deep in the big muddy. But please stop slamming doors.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Only one in a hundred will share this

Jesus is watching. Only one in ten people will have the courage to share this. I BELIEVE in AnGeLS and I BeLIevE In GoD. Type "I Believe" in the comments and prepare to be AMAZED by the blessings God will pour out on you.

God wants to cure this CHILD. Help us get to a million likes.

Like=1 prayer
Share=100 prayers
Comment "AMEN"= 1000 prayers
She deserves your best. A minute of your time could be the miracle she needs.

I KNOW it is an unpopular opinion in this PC world, but I love AMERICA and I support AMERICAN TROOPS! Did you know only one person in 1000 will share this? That is real COURAGE!

Cancer WANTS to beat this freespirit. God is Stronger. Type AMEN and SHARE!

Please. Stop.

Stop binding God's will to popularity. Stop pretending that it is somehow courageous to share pictures of kids. Stop reducing God's power. Stop.

Stop trivializing real courage and heroism by giving yourself credit for being proud of courageous heroes.

Stop enabling clickbait monsters who steal children's photos to drive up their traffic.

I am begging you. I know most people who are sharing these things have the very best of intentions. I am not accusing. But please consider, who is benefiting and who is it hurting?

Does it help the kids? It might be argued that spreading these things around increases prayer. It might. But you see, it isn't. Perhaps there are a select few truly pious social media missionaries who pray every time they see a post asking for prayer. But most of us don't. We scroll right by. Do you actually think, as many of these posts claim, that liking or sharing these things is prayer? Or is many prayers? That feels vaguely blasphemous and idolatrous to me.

Does it help the meme makers? Ah-ha! Indeed it does. Often these pages are scammers. It seems innocent enough, but these pages are collecting fans for cash. They grow by using content which will be shared. You share, you like, you comment. All these things promote their visibility. When they have grown nice and big they can either sell the page to a marketer or they can use the page to sell other scams. Money is a motivator.

Who does it hurt? It hurts whoever falls for the scams, and lets not kid ourselves. That is a lot of people and it could be anyone.

It can hurt families. I know of one family whose had a child whose picture was used for this spammy, scammy nonsense. It was a cute kid and a pretty popular meme. The trouble? This child had died. That was painful.

It hurts the subject of the picture. Their image is stolen and pimped for money. Even if they never know, that is not OK.

Does it help God? I am not sure I know what would mean. It certainly doesn't help his cause. It is, at best, a poor attempt by lazy missionaries. Often the wording itself is against scripture, which has a thing or two to say about boasting. Hint: it is not good. "None of my friends will share this, but I am proud of my God..." Puh-lease.

The popularity of posts that promise God's blessings if you like and share them is honestly sickening. Who is that God? That doesn't sound like the God I know.

God does ask us to pray for each other. He doesn't need our help. He already knows who needs what. He loves the person you are praying for and he already heard their need. But he told us to pray for each other and he promises he will hear and answer. It is valid to ask why. Why does an all-knowing, loving, omnipotent God ask me to pray for people?

We invite God. We pray for healing. We pray for conversion. We pray for protection. We pray for peace. When we intercede we are doing two important things: we are talking to God and we are forming our own relationship with the loving Father who is listening. "Father, you are dear to me and I am dear to you. I need you." Recognizing your limits and placing your trust in God is freeing. It is humbling, but it is also empowering to engage with the King of Kings.

Of course, social media can be a missionary field. Any interaction with other people can be. And I think it is a perfectly reasonable place to solicit prayer support. I know I have depended on my online village for support more often than I care to consider. I am not asking anyone to keep their faith or their patriotism or their pictures off the internet.

Use your judgement. Good people don't use God or kids or disabled people as marketing tools. Don't lend your social media presence to people who do.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dear Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

You haven't beaten me. You beat me up, again and again and again. You kick me when I am down and you tell me terrible lies. You warn me that I will never win. I can't. I should just stay down. You scream at me and make me feel small and helpless. You are a textbook bully.

But you haven't beaten me. 

I am learning to recognize your lies. Remember when you told me that I would never be better? I am better. Remember when you told me that you weren't real? You are. 

When you first showed up and told me I was dying, I believed you. You didn't even need a cause of death. You just showed up and announced that it was all over. You were taunting me in front of my kids. I put on a face for them, but I was cowering. 

We're old acquaintances, but still when you came charging in an running things I did not recognize you. The old anxiety was small and subservient. The old anxiety was timid. The old anxiety would sometimes spark and fan fear into flames, which leapt about painfully but with minimal destruction. When you charged in like you owned the place I did not recognize you and even now I wonder if you aren't a different player who shares a name.

You screamed at me. "Be afraid. Be afraid of death. Be afraid of pain. Be afraid for your kids. Be afraid for you husband. Be afraid for you parents and your siblings and everyone you have ever loved."

When I confronted each individual fear, you simply invented more and screamed louder.

"Don't you know about...?"

Until I didn't know how to argue. Until you were the only voice I could hear. Until your unhinged taunts outgrew my mind. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get out of bed. I tried to cover you with mind-numbing TV, but you just laughed. I was shaking and vomiting. Remember that?

You're a mean SOB. But you didn't beat me.

You shamed me. You told me I was weak if I needed help. Surely I was strong enough to send you away on my own.

But it isn't weakness to ask for help. Asking for help isn't admitting defeat. I needed help. I needed control of my mind.

With my doctor, I stood up to you. We didn't chase you off the playground; that's is your bully tactic. We just cornered you. We took your power away.

You can stay, but you are not in charge anymore. You can even have a job. Your job is to help me find problems so I can address them before they grow. But I don't trust you anymore, and so for now we are keeping you under lock and key. Two tiny pills every night before bed.

Anxiety, I am winning. You don't own me. And I am not ashamed of the help I needed and continue to need. I am only ashamed that I ever believed your lies and that I ever allowed you to boss me around. 

What if Love is Impossible?

Another day, another horrible story. People are growing numb and it is understandable. It is painful to keep on caring. Is it even possible to keep on loving?

Love your neighbor. 
Who is my neighbor? 
The one who is suffering. 

It isn't written that way and there are so many wonderful details in the story. But the one on top, the most basic is a pretty direct answer to a pretty direct question. Love. 

But it is impossible. Completely impossible. 

I have been in a battle with anxiety. That is a subject for another post. But a piece of what is on my mind is fragility. Because I was having panic attacks daily, often without an obvious trigger, for a time I was very guarded. I could not listen to good music because literally any intense emotional response was likely to trigger a panic attack. I am a person who, perfectly healthy, cries watching the news. I had to stop watching the news. I had to protect myself. I had to be able to cope with my life. I had to be able to get out of bed. I had to. 

Not everyone is battling with anxiety, but everyone has a threshold. Confronting mine is just the detail of my story which put me on this twisty mind path. There is more than enough suffering to meet and exceed anyone's capacity for empathy. It is impossible to love in the way we are commanded. 

Love with compassion and hope. Love which tends the needs of the suffering. Love which is a balm. Love which heals and confronts. 

I want to know how to respond, with love, to the terrorist attacks. I want to know how to respond to racial injustice. I want to welcome immigrants. I want to love. 

Lord, I am listening. I hear you calling me, but I can't. I just can't. I am broken and weak. I am scarred and scared. I want to love, but it hurts and I am afraid. I don't have it in me.  
Dear one, I am in you. I am with you. And nothing is impossible for me. 

“For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

We are supposed to love. Pain or even impossibility are not an excuse.

Miracles happen. Peter walked on water. Jesus fed thousands with a Dagwood sandwich. The dead rise. Illnesses are inexplicably healed. People are protected. It happens. Miracles happen. It is a pleasant conceit that He is up in the sky waiting for us to ask for whatever we think we want, and with a twinkle and a wave, we get it. God as Fairy Godmother. But that is not how He works, as any honest person can attest.

Miracles are not universal. Not everyone who needs a miracle gets one. People die terribly. People suffer. You cannot tell the history of the Church and skip over the martyrs. And you wouldn't want to.

Miracles show us that God's power is not bound. He does not need us to be able to explain or even comprehend His actions. Miracles teach us that nothing is impossible for God. They are not an excuse to duck our duties to the people around us; miracles are an object lesson in God's power.

Before I can begin to face questions about what to do, I have to care. How do I keep on caring? How can I keep on loving? How can I avoid numbness? How can I let myself notice and feel for people who continue to suffer? How can I help? I can't. But nothing is impossible for God. And He is with me.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Can I hate the syndrome?

This morning my friend's son was sick. It is one of those flu-bug things which is really no big deal to most kids, but for her son it is serious. Fever means seizure risks. "Some days I really hate [my son's] syndrome."

I get it. 

I hate that my daughter will need so much surgery. I hate that she has had so much surgery. I hate that my kids are all familiar with hospitals and ambulances. I hate that she cannot call out to me or come to me in the middle of the night if she has a nightmare or if she is sick or just afraid. I hate that going to the park or anywhere means steeling for the possibility of unfriendly encounters. I hate that we have to plan around wheelchair accessibility and I hate how admitting how much of a limitation that is. I hate that I can't just hire a babysitter and go out. I hate that everything is harder for her. Everything. Even breathing. 

Some days, I want to hate Apert syndrome. 

We don't like to say that, as parents. It feels like a betrayal. 

It isn't fair. You are allowed to hate diseases and injuries. You can hate cancer. You can hate broken bones. You can hate pneumonia or diabetes. But syndromes are different. It is easy to think of it as something that happened to my kid. Something she didn't deserve, like a disease. But it isn't. 

Apert syndrome is not all of who she is, but it is part of who she is. It is literally written into her DNA. And some days, it is hard to love that part because that part hurts. 

But it isn't all bad. You will never meet a happier kid than my Sarah. I love her wide open eyes. I love her creativity, as she figures out alternatives. I love her moxie. I love her perseverance. I love her sweetness and her joy. When people are unhappy around her, she blows them kisses. I love her huge contagious smile. 

My heart is softer and that can hurt, but it is good. My other kids are more likely to be empathetic and dependable, or so the research on sibling of kids with disabilities says. 

Sarah can't walk or talk. We took her to an indoor playground today. She doesn't want help, so she was scooting around on her own. She scooted right up to kids, without regard for age, gender, or race, and signed friend. The kids didn't generally understand, but many of them smiled anyway so she was communicating effectively. That is really cool. She is really cool.

Apert syndrome had a hand in some of that. Sarah did all of that. 

Everyone has those parts. The parts that make your life a little bit harder. The parts that hurt sometimes. The parts that shape you and your interaction with the world. In some ways, these are the parts that make you you. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What I need you to know

Better is not really better yet. I have been taking my medicine for about a week. I have had good days and bad days, which is the same as it ever was. Yesterday was a bad day. Mostly I am tired. I have to talk to the doctor about that. I heard that it was normal and it would pass and I hope that is true. 

Here is what I need you to know. 

1. Anxiety is not the same as fear. The problem is that my brain is sending fear signals all the time, even when nothing is wrong. When something actually is wrong, I go from high alert to overdrive. My body cannot handle it. 

2. I am getting better. I need you to know that I am getting better. I am getting treatment because I believe I can get better and I need you to believe it too. Treatable means bearable. Treatable is the lifeline. 

3. I am trying. Even when you can't tell. 

4. It is in my head, but please don't say "just." Just trivializes it. It is in my head. You know what else is in my head? All my thoughts. Everything starts there. The decision to put one foot in front of the other happens in my head. In my head means it affects everything. 

5.I am still me. The same me. I know you are having trouble seeing me and maybe you are afraid. I am. But I am still here. 

6. This diagnosis is not a new thing, it is just naming the old thing in a way which makes it treatable. This is progress. 

This is all still new and I have a lot to learn. And I am learning. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Chasing Joy

I don't feel like the same person who started this blog. I don't feel joyful. I feel a lot of things, but joy is not one of them. I am searching for me.

I love this meditation from the Little Flowers of St. Francis and I come back to it often. It was my favorite when I first read it as a teenager. It was the subject of my senior essay at St. John's college. It was the first thing I wrote about in this blog. Joy, perfect joy, is in the cross.

This is the antidote for the dissonant bells and clattering noise of pop-theology. Everything is not going to be OK all the time. God didn't promise that. He promised a cross. The sheer arrogance of some theologies, bubbling over with promises of wealth and happiness (as these things must indeed be related) is offensive. But let's not chase that rabbit trail today.

Today I want to talk about wellness.

I want to share something which won't surprise you: someone you know and love has been treated for anxiety or depression. I am not outing anyone. People can tell their own stories, or not, as they like. I am telling mine. Mine is still in pieces and I am only beginning to put them together. I want to let the light and fresh air in. I want to talk about it. I want to dispel a few clouds.

I have been dealing with anxiety and maybe depression. It has been getting worse for some time and this weekend was particularly bad. I had a panic attack. It was not the first, but it was the worst. I was scared. I was throwing up. I was shaking. It was a long few days of recovery, even when the panic was over.

I realized that my baseline is not acceptable. This should have been obvious. For months, I could not listen to music which affected me emotionally ( good music), because it might trigger a panic attack. I could not exert myself physically, because if my heart started beating too fast I would have a panic attack. I could not watch TV or movies which were actually dramatically interesting, because it might trigger a panic attack. Most startling to those that know me best: I could not engage in argument. Especially political argument. Heart racing. Nausea. I walked out of one argument literally seeing stars- my head was spinning. (In my defense: Trump.)

I've had trouble describing what is happening sometimes. Nerves. Or Anxiety. Fear. No matter what word I used, people want to know what the object is. Why am I anxious? What am I afraid of? Sometimes there is a rational answer. Sometimes there is an answer, but it isn't rational. Sometimes there is no answer. You know the physical feeling you get when you are scared? That is how I feel, but with no object. There is no fear for you to dispel. It isn't a feeling. I mean, it is. It is a physical feeling. The one associated with fear- you know- the pit in your stomach, body shaking, coldness... but I am not afraid. That is the wrong word.

Want to laugh? During Lent, I sat down with my family to watch the Prince of Egypt. Remember that animated telling of the Moses story? I had to leave in the middle of the movie because I couldn't breathe. THEY WERE KILLING THE BABIES!

For all of this, I have just been adjusting. I walked away from the children's movie I couldn't handle and calmed down alone in my room. I thought I was fine. Because I could calm down.

But I am not fine. I am hiding from life. And you cannot hide forever. This weekend knocked some sense into me.

So, I made a long overdue appointment with my doctor and I asked for prayers on facebook. I shared a small bit of my story in a closed group people who have Apert syndrome and their families. I said I am suffering from anxiety and maybe depression. I expected comforting words of support. I expected promises of prayer. I did not expect the deluge of people telling me that they had been through this too. Some were public. Some sent me private messages. Some people sent detailed stories. It wasn't just support from people who loved me. It was solidarity. And it wasn't just in the special needs network, it was everywhere. Friends from everywhere I have ever made friends.

Someone you know has been treated.

And some of them felt ashamed.

I heard from people who thought it was a weakness to need medication. I heard from people who thought prayer should have made it all better. These are the common and devastating lies. This is the stigma which keeps people away from getting help.

I still love The Little Flowers, and specifically that meditation on perfect joy. As Christians we are called to take up our cross. Sometimes that means coping with unavoidable difficulty. But sometimes taking up your cross means facing the difficulty head on. I do not know what God's plan is, but I know that if he gives me the tools to take care of something and I leave it to him anyway, that's on me. Using tools is not a lack of faith or a weakness.

I do not yet know what the path to wellness looks like for me. This is terribly unfamiliar and I am scared. I have been saying, for probably a year, that even if I won't do it for me, I should do it for my family. I am not a good mom. I am not a good wife. I am not a good friend. I can fake it as well as anyone, I guess, but no one who lives with me is fooled. I need help. I am confused, but I am not ashamed. And I am going to get better.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Cultivated Power

She reaches up to break through
the frozen barricade. 

Finding the sun. Finding the air. Finding a way. 
Up and out. 

Metal and muscle stashed away for the time. Impotent. Waiting. Waiting.

But she with forceful struggle uncurls. Unfurling tiny, sweet, tender, tendrils.


Breaking through she lifts her face to the sun and unveils.

Warmth and light
Revealing. Revelling. 
Undeniable. Unfathomably lovely. 

A beacon of hope. Life. Creativity. Ingenuity. 

And exquisite frailty. 

Exultation. Proud and powerful. Jubilant. 
Shouting for joy.

Winter wants another round. 
Weighting. Weighting. 

Shaping her gift: an icy stole. 
Hard. Harsh. Heavy.

She shrugs. She bends. She bows. 

She dances, adorned with sparkling crystals. 
Underestimated beauty. 

Fragile. Frail. Unbroken. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dancing with Strawmen

A conservative friend posted this letter and asked his progressive friends to respond. I don't think my progressive friends claim me in their ranks, but I identify (with hesitation) as a democrat and I took the bait. After some back and forth, he suggested we get back to the point. This letter. 

This letter is, to my mind, emblematic of deep political divide. We are not talking with each other, we are talking about each other, and sometimes we're screaming. This letter is not aimed at me. It is aimed at similarly minded people who are also angry at me. It is not intended to wake my mind to new ideas, it is intended as a jeer. The reader, not me, is expected to laugh and pump fists in loud agreement about the idiots on the far side. 

But my friend, a thoughtful conservative, did not hear what I heard. Fascinatingly, he didn't even hear the insult aimed at me. So deep is the divide, that where I heard insults, he apparently heard truths. So, line by line, I wanted to make sure he read the same thing I read. 

Dear lazy, liberal “Christians”

The letter tees off with what is among the most offensive thing he writes. I'm not a "Christian." I'm a Christian. The scare quote implication is deeply (and deliberately) offensive. Rightly, faith informs politics, not the other way around. Using politics as litmus test for faith is, um, uncharitable. And wrong. And rude. 

who think it’s totes okay for government to be “charitable,”
Style. You are implicating youth, I suppose? We're totes diverse. Totes. We also don't think the government is charity. I assume this is an indirect reference to social safety nets. 

Stop it. You’re lack of understanding for how government works is just terrifying.
*Your. But I am a terrible editor and I make a thousand typos a day. I won't judge you for the mistake, tempting though it is when the following phrase is, "lack of understanding." 

Not terrifying in the peeing my pants kind of way, terrifying in the Pontus Pilate way. You know, the guy who cleaned his hands of the matter and allowed Jesus to be crucified. “Mob rule” won that day, logic did not.
*Pontius. Sorry. I will stop. It is the line by line thing. It makes errors pop out. I make 'em by the million. But then, I try not to call other people stupid. 

Anyway. Sweetheart, I am so glad you are not afraid of me. Coming from the side of the aisle which is currently imploding over the masses loudly choosing a barbaric mouthpiece over leveler heads, there is some irony. "Give us Barabbas!" It is so clearly and obviously the wrong choice, but your party is too angry to care. But you are not comparing us (me) to the masses, you are comparing us (me) to Pontius Pilate. He didn't choose evil; he allowed it to be chosen. 

Am I saying you crucified Jesus? No, of course not, but I am saying you’re wiping your hands of responsibility by allowing the government to be “charitable” on your behalf. Not only is that just plain lazy, it’s anti-Christian on principle. It also shows a complete lack of understanding for how Christianity works. Even if you do have a Jesus fish on your car. Lemme guess, you drive a Prius? We’ll address that in another post. But please, understand, if you take away nothing else from this column, the left lane is for passing!

OK. So, there are a lot of evils we could talk about. (There are even a few which might work in your comparison.) but you chose governmental charity. Can we talk about that? What exactly are we talking about? I assume you are not a complete monster and you do not oppose all social safety nets, right? You are attacking a category, but you wouldn't approve of abolishing it. That is because, rightly implemented, the category is not about charity but justice. Both/and not Either/or. Social safety nets and charity. We don't pick.

Jesus called his disciples to care for the least of these. The poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners, etc. This is Christianity 101. We all know it. As Christians we’re called to be Christ-like, to be his disciples, to preach his word. All good things. Put a giant check mark next to your Jesus fish.
This is going to sound like a slight detour, but hang with me. Christianity 101 has been skipping a chapter- the same chapter for as long as I can remember. Everyone knows the list. There are not many places where Jesus says, "Do this or you'll go to Hell." Where he does, we should notice. Largely, we do. Your list: the poor, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner-- it is the right list. You are reciting, not quoting so I won't hold the omission against you. But let's notice anyway, because everyone makes the same omission and I cannot bring myself to believe that Jesus would approve. The verse in question says, "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’" 

Did you notice? Hunger and thirst can be paired, so we won't call that an omission. Likewise, ill and in prison. Who are you leaving off the list? The stranger. Always the stranger. Go ask anyone to quote that verse and, the chances are unless they look it up they will make the same mistake. Who is the stranger and why is he on the list? Why does everyone forget? Scripture has a lot to say about this guy and it is uncomfortable. There is room for discussion, of course, but discussion isn't happening. Here is one place to begin: 21 Stranger Claims in the Old Testament.
Here’s the rub, though. Who did Jesus tell to take care of the poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners etc.? His disciples. Okay, yeah, that does sound obvious, doesn’t it, what with me pointing it out all of one paragraph up? Welcome to the literary technique of “foreshadowing.” But for some reason you leftist Christians have confused Jesus’s teachings to his disciples, with instructions for government.I get it, sometimes Jesus used parables to make things easier to understand. In the days before Twitter, Jesus had to simplify a lot of things so people would remember his teachings and subsequently pass them down via oral transmission. Yet despite his over 140 character limit, Jesus never said “Blessed are those who believe the government should tax people, so that government can redistribute it and give to others. Because personal responsibility is overrated. #FeelTheBern” Unless I’m missing a beatitude.
 If you get to repeat, I get to repeat too. Both/and not either/or. Social safety nets do not replace charity. If you think they do, you do not understand either one. 

Jesus tells us to do all these things, but he doesn't say how. Is donating to a soup kitchen OK, or is the act too far removed? Is any cooperative action OK? There are fools on both sides who are spouting off about how Jesus would vote for their guy and we should too. Snopes even had to refute one popular idiocy saying that the pope had endorsed Bernie. So I get it. You are hearing nonsense. Here's the thing: Jesus wasn't a Republican either. In his great wisdom, Jesus did not come to a time and place where participation in civil society meant voting for one of two immoral parties. The whole WWJD thing nearly always sounds weird to my ear. The incarnation means we are both to act as Jesus and to see Jesus in each other, even when the other in question happens to be running for office. Diverse opinions and perspectives nearly always add value and sometimes more than one is true. So how are we going to do the things Jesus said we have to do? We are likely going to disagree about the answer, but that's OK, provided that no one thinks an appropriate answer at the Pearly Gates is, "I voted." You want that point? I'll give you that point. Voting, even voting for social safety nets, does not absolve anyone of the critical commands in scripture. 

Oh, but you say the government are the people because the government is actually funded by the people. Therefore the government, in the mind of you, is made up of Jesus’s disciples? Clever.Okay, let’s talk about that.
I'm not owning that garbage. Nope. But then, I also refuse to say that we are a Christian Country. 

In short, no. You’re wrong here too. Sucks, don’t it? See, in order for the government to give money to people who do not have it, or have not earned it, the money must first be taken from people. Yes, it is taken. Sometimes by force. Most people, if given the choice, would not volunteer their money to the government. Put simply, taxes are not voluntary, charitable donations. Still with me?
Ugh. Dude. With the tortured youth rhetoric. Whose voice are you mocking? Did you find some nitwit, redneck, Christian, Sanders-supporting, liberal millennial? Is that a thing? I guess I should count my blessings. If your strawman was a hipster we'd be parsing bespokes and perchances. 

But your point. No. Taxes are not charity. And no, they are not voluntary. We are with you, captain. Except for that quip about people who have not earned it. Do I sense poverty shaming? Foreshadowing again? Meh. I'll let you get there. 

 I’m feeling the Jesus theme, so let’s have ourselves a parable.Two men are walking on a street. One of them is a cis-gendered man, the other is a white transwoman. Multiculturalism. They come across a homeless woman, who has scrawled “Will Work for Food” upon her sign, probably with a pen which is toxic to the environment. One of the men says “This saddens me, someone should do something.” The other man agrees, responding “Yes, someone should do something about it.”A third person walks by. Gender neutral for purely illustrative reasons. Let’s call it/zi “Jordan.” Stay with me on this one, leftists. Both the transwoman and the cis-genered man stop Jordan. One pins Jordan to the ground, the other takes his wallet by force, removes 38% of the cash, pockets a large percentage for himself (administrative fees) then gives a few dollars to the homeless woman.Pleased with themselves, the tranny and the cis-man pat Jordan on the back and say “Thanks for being charitable.”In case that wasn’t clear, if you’re the “Christian” who thinks the government should give money to others, you’re the tranny. And possibly a sex criminal, we won’t know for sure until you meet a jury of your peers.That’s not transphobia, by the way,
YES IT IS. Did using a slur make you feel better? It is a huge distraction from your point. An illuminating and bilious distraction. But finish anyway.  
 I was merely distinguishing my parable from the many parables Jesus told about work, or being charitable to others, or the one about the mustard seed, but didn’t tell about the government redistributing wealth. Again, perhaps I missed that part. But I know for certain Jesus never used a transgender in his parables. Confusion averted.
Confusion is still dancing circles around your convoluted "parable." (See? I can do scare quotes too!) But, lets get straight to the point, shall we? In your story, two people assault a third to give a few bucks to a homeless woman and that, you think, is representative of liberal Christian voters? Let me just ask, what if we cut the homeless woman out of the story and insert, say, war. Does that represent conservatives? Of course not. Because no one sane actually thinks that taxes and robbery are the same thing. 

I don't actually know you. Maybe you are an anarchist or an idiot or both. But let's assume not. You don't object to taxes generally. You don't even object to legal ramifications for people who refuse to pay. You object to tax money being spent in specific ways. This "parable" is all bluster and steam. 

Now that we’ve established you’re being a miserly crapweasel,
Hang on. I have to talk to my friend who posted this for a second. J- See? The name calling is not "alleged." It is repeated. Did you really miss it? -B
let’s also take you to task for not giving at all. Across the board, regardless of income level or faith, Conservatives give much more personal contributions to charity than liberals do…
Conservatives give more regardless of income level. I have seen those numbers too. The same data set provides other tidbits. Gays give more than anyone else, for instance. The very stingiest of all are secular conservatives. Fascinating. But to your actual point, it turns out that religion, not politics, predicts donating habits. Religious liberals and religious conservatives give pretty equally. Faith is not irrelevant. Look it up. Then stop spitting on my Jesus fish. 

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.Because, as leftists of course, you think “charity” is a vote for Bernie Sanders. This is incorrect. See above parable. See also,the Bible. See also a dictionary which will outline the difference between charity and taxes. Cross-reference to see if they’re synonyms. Tell me what you find…
Oops. I responded before you finished. Sorry. See above. 
So please, for the love of what Jesus actually taught, stop voting for politicians who promise to raise taxes.
Get ready for non-sequitur in 3...2...1... 
You’re not being charitable, you’re not being Christ-like.
Bam! There it is. Maybe I am not. I am trying. In any event, my voting habits are not predictive. 
You’re just being an easily exploited rube with zero critical thinking skills. No, your Jesus fish will not absolve you of this one.
Name calling again, my friend? Rude. 

Listen. Reasonable people can disagree about taxes. What does a fair tax look like? How high or low? Progressive or flat? Reasonable people will also disagree about where the money should be spent. Defense spending or social safety nets? Veterans? Space programs? Education? What should the budget be and how should we allocate the funds? We will argue about priorities and budgets. These things matter and reasonable people will disagree with enormous emotional energy. If you want to have that conversation, I am listening. 

Reasonable people do not equate taxes and aggravated robbery. 

Oh! And by the way. The Jesus fish thing? I don't know why you keep bringing that up. We liberals more commonly sport COEXIST stickers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

hijab solidarity

I have been thinking about it for some time. I have a couple friends who have done it, but none locally. Is this a thing I want to do? Do I want to wear a hijab?

I am homeschooling my oldest daughter and February is black history month. We've been going to the library and choosing books. I let her choose her own books. She chose a book about Frederick Douglass and a book about Abraham Lincoln and one children's book about a cotton picking slave. We've been talking about slavery and the idea that people can be treated like property. We talk about history since slavery was abolished in our country. We talk about racial bias and discrimination. We talked about different forms of discrimination. We talked about how discrimination thrives when it is tolerated. We talked about how sometimes discrimination is overt, but sometimes is quiet and insidious. We talked about how it isn't gone. Some people live in fear even now.

And then I knew. I want to do this. It is not OK with me that some of my neighbors live in fear.

I need my kids to see that it is not enough to disapprove quietly in your home. This tiny and safe act is barely more than quietly disapproving. But it is visible. And my kids would see. We are not people who allow discrimination. Maybe we don't know how to fix it, but we won't tolerate it. And that is not nothing.

I read criticisms of hijab solidarity. You cannot lay claim to an understanding of oppression just because you wore a symbol for a day. That is kind of like the Romney thing (remember?) when he told America that he understood poverty because he ate ramen and used an ironing board as a table.It is nonsense and it is offensive. Also, many Muslim women do not wear the hijab and some even see it as a symbol of oppression.

I will not claim any insight into an oppression I have not experienced. That voice is not mine and if you are not already listening, you should be. There are first hand experiences all over the place. Whether for themselves and their friends or for their children or even the children themselves, the voices are there and you should be listening.

As a Catholic, I am familiar with a disagreement about whether a veil is a symbol of faith and/or humility and/or femininity or a remnant of a patriarchal iteration of the faith. I do not have any opinion at all about whether or not Muslim women should wear the hijab beyond this: it is not a choice which should be influenced by fear.

I chose to wear the hijab.

I worried about what to wear. Was my attire going to reflect a culture I couldn't claim? I put on bland, grey, modest clothing which wasn't going to reflect anything at all. Then I found my favorite scarf. But I worried again. Can any scarf be a hijab? Are there rules? Is my French floral thing all wrong? But, I had committed and that is what I had.

I didn't know how to put it on, but youtube has a million tutorials. I watched several, and then I played with the scarf until it framed my face. Is my hair supposed to be fully covered? Tight around the chin or no? Apparently, there is a thing called a hijabi pin. I didn't have one and I couldn't find a safety pin, so the wrap is looser than I liked.

I was self conscious about my face. I am not usually. But, wrapped, it felt on display. My eyes are not symmetrical and my teeth are crooked. I noticed every blemish and wrinkle. I put on make-up. Not much, because I am still me and I just don't know much about make-up. Just lip gloss and mascara.

I ventured downstairs where the kids were waiting and ready to go outside. I was all worked up in my head. Were they going to ask? What would they ask?

But they didn't. My two year old told me, "I like your lips."

We went outside and all the sudden I wanted to run back in. What would my neighbors think? What if I ran into someone I knew? What if a stranger asked me questions? What would I say?

Fully clothed, with more covered than I am used to, I felt naked. I felt exposed. I felt like I was showing something personal which perhaps I'd prefer to keep private. Why? What was I showing? My own faith was as neatly tucked away as it generally is.

I realized that I was afraid, fairly or not. I did not expect to encounter any rudeness in my area, but I didn't even want to see questioning eyes. I picked up my head and I smiled.

In the end, I was not out for very long. It was strange and harder than I thought it would be. I felt like a coward.

I will probably do it again and maybe I will get more comfortable. Maybe I will even get better at scarf oragami.

It is a tiny act. But in my house, it is a beginning of a discussion. It is a quiet but visible choice. We will not tolerate religious bigotries.

I am an American. But I am a Catholic first.

"I'm a Muslim, but I'm an American first." When I read it, I thought it was jarring. I'm an American, but I'm a Catholic first. Unapologetically. But the thing is, I'm allowed to be. No one demands that I apologize or undermine my faith. No one. They might not get it and they might even make laws which prove the ignorance. (Guys, no. We oppose birth control as such, not just if it causes abortion.) But I'm allowed to disagree. And I'm allowed to cite my faith as reason. I'm allowed to be Catholic first.
Religious freedom means nothing if it excludes unpopular religions.
A popular evangelical leader went on a popular TV program and made the accusation that Muslims are infiltrating DC and the White House. The interviewer got credit for pushing back: what evidence do you have. (None, as it turns out. Hearsay.) But it's the wrong criticism, right? The whole accusation was that Muslims are there. Not terrorists Muslims or jihadists or whatever the buzzword du jour might be. Just, Muslims are there. The right response is, "Of course there are Muslims in positions of authority and giving advice to those that are! Without them what hope do we have of diplomacy with Muslim nations? Worse, what claim do we have to moral high ground if religious freedom is a myth?
Christians, my friends. My people. My brothers and sisters. We cannot get this one wrong. I'm disgusted. The short-sighted, selfish, fearful bigotry has found voice and its growing. Reject it. Not in my name. Not in my country. Claim the mantle of freedom and love without fear. Religious freedom which only applies to Christian is a lie. No one in America should be afraid to observe their religion. No one in America should have to hide or apologize for their faith.
Disagree, if you do. Loudly and openly. But with love and respect and welcome. Freedom and faith demand it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

I am doing everything wrong. Everything.

When I was pregnant for the first time, my godmother recommended a book written by her pediatrician. When it comes to things which stress me out, I am an information collector. The more I know, the more capable I feel. But when it came to being a mom, I didn't want the books and the studies and the information. I was an older sister in a big family. I had been doing childcare in various settings for over a decade. I was feeling pretty confident in the whole parenting thing. I just knew I was going to rock this. So, I didn't read the parenting books. The hundreds and hundreds of books and theories and whatnot... I ignored it all, except for the book my godmother had given me. I read that book carefully. I read it in part because she told me to, and there just isn't a lot of advice she could give that I would outright ignore. She awesome. But I also read it because as soon as I started, I was hooked. I was laughing and learning. There were even sections which I read aloud to my husband.  Dr. Dan's Last Word on Babies and Other Humans is fantastic. His premise in writing the book is that mothers are overloaded with too much and contradictory information. We are not as confident as our mothers were. That is not a comment on any specific person or theory, but on a trend he watched over several decades of practice. In the book, he doesn't make grand pronouncements about what is right and what is wrong. He just pours out facts and humor. I especially loved the section on breastfeeding and bottle feeding, which is why it is on my mind now. Without pontificating, he offers useful, helpful advice without judgement to moms who have made either choice. 

A few days ago a popular Catholic writer, Dr. Gregory Popcak, wrote a severe criticism of the choice to bottle feed rather than breastfeed. In his harsh portrayal, breastfeeding is morally superior. It seems intended to be an inflammatory piece, which reflects something unflattering about the writer. I don't want to argue directly. Simcha Fisher wrote a careful, loving and necessary response, which has the benefit of perspective and actual experience. 

Breastfeeding is one of those issues. Nothing you can say is going to be as innocuous as you think. Everyone who has an opinion has a strong opinion, and they all disagree. Even if you start with apparent agreement, specifics swarm in divisive chatter. Weaning? Cover? No cover? Never-ever-ever leave the house you breast-wielding, baby-feeding harlot? It is all very stressful, for a tuned in mom. Worse, stress is counterproductive. Stress inhibits production and let-down. Maybe Popcak doesn't know that since he's never done it, but it's true. Making this an issue which will not only affect the child for the rest of their lives (gag me) but also affects your immortal soul puts too much at stake. The good doctor is working hard against his chosen cause by injecting it with dogmatic moralism. 

But breastfeeding is only the beginning. Moms get to fight about everything. Not only do we get to fight with each other, but we are harangued at every turn by non-mothers. Good clean dirt to build strong immune systems or sterilize everything? Education: public, private, or home? Montessori? Waldorf? Traditional? What about sleep training? Or parenting styles: Attachment? Free range? The biggie: Should mom work? Even little non-issues can be the subject of real emotional attacks and disagreements: Sticker charts are either emotionally scarring or the only way to ever teach anything and WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE STILL USES A BINKIE? Diapering? Yup. We fight about that. Not even the shit is sacred. 

My confidence swings up and down. Some days I think I am the supermom I thought I was going to be. Other days I know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that I am doing literally everything wrong. 

I hate talking to other moms about parenting style and choices. These are emotional and serious discussions where everyone shows up with their favorite theories, rife with acronyms and pseudoscience and expert opinions. Alternately whiney and judgey, these discussions could reduce even the most confident parent to question their methods. After all, how good can your method be if you can't name it with an acronym or a doctor? Honestly, half the time I can't participate in the discussions. I do not know what the acronyms mean. I have no idea what is being claimed so I have no idea whether I agree or disagree. 

OMG. The OUBD method is like the NAPP&P method, but like... better. Kids actually score better across all measures including HNOA and NKND! It actually works. I knew this one kid who was flunking in school and now he is graduating from a homeschooled Ivy League. 

Don't look that up. If it means anything it is purely accidental. That is how I hear those discussions: Strings of letters peppered with judgement and nonsensical anecdote. 

We are beating ourselves up and then beating each other up. 

I am not actually saying that expert opinions are useless. You want to breastfeed and you are struggling? There is an expert for you. You want to homeschool but you're a little afraid, there is an expert for you. You have a specific child with a specific behavioral issue? There is an expert for you. If you are very lucky, there might even be an expert whose theories you find applicable across nearly all your parenting problems. And there is no reason not to share the helpful information you have found, so long as you keep in mind that the expert you found and love might be entirely useless to me. Also, in my experience, the expert might be your mom. 

Here is my method. I am not a doctor but there is an acronym, so it is an actual thing which you must take very seriously. 

T: Teach. You are the first and most important teacher, whatever education method you choose. Your kids are learning from you, so be sure you like what they are learning.
W: Worry. You know what? You are going to worry and that's OK. Keep it in check and take it for what it is. Don't let fear make your decisions, ever. But don't squash your fears just because they are fears. Worry makes you cover the electrical sockets. (Then it makes you uncover them when it turns out your kids didn't care about the sockets, but those covers sure are fascinating and now little fingers are perpetually prying and poking and removing them with silverware.) Which brings me to...
A: Adjust. All the time. If a thing is not working, pivot. No matter who told you what or how sure you were that this was going to work. 
D: Deference. Your kid is a unique little person. Respect them. Appreciate them. Get to know them. They are not a little mini-you. Notice and enjoy what makes them individuals. 
D: Delight. All the little things. All the big things. All the hard things and the silly things. Take time to enjoy them. 
L: Love. Love should be first but Ltwadde isn't a word. 
E: Example. Be a good example. Sing. Pray. Love. They are learning more than you know just by watching you. So be aware of that and be a good example. And, since you aren't perfect, that means apologizing often. 

Twaddle. It works for me, and it will work for you too. Because family dynamics are unique and often unpredictable. 

Friday, January 15, 2016


I've been asked for a blurb about the state of Christianity in America. Blurbing is not my specialty. The average word count for a blurb is about 200 words. I could talk about the word blurb for 200 words. This might be above average.

I am a Christian. My faith is my core. It is my who, my why, and my how. I can talk about other things without talking about God, but he is never very far away.

I am also an American. I think about that less, but it's essential. Being an American means I take for granted certain privileges. I think and believe and say what I want, with courtesy but rarely law in mind. I might make someone mad, but no one is going to throw me in jail or worse.

I am a Christian American. I'm not going to spend hours finding all the data, but according to Pew Christians made up 70.6% of the US population in 2014. The article I found wants me to fuss about the decline from prior studies. We are not a Christian country, but we are a majority Christian country with an elected government. So.

My experience as a Christian is rarely, but not never, challenged. I go to Church without fear as often as I like. My Church community is huge, so I have several choices about which Mass to attend on Sundays. My faith doesn't make any demands of my wardrobe or style which would make me stand out in any particular way. School is out on almost all the days I go to Church. We crazy Catholics have a sprinkling of holy days which don't happen on weekends, but they are rare and not a difficulty. When I am out in public and no one knows or cares what my faith is, most of the time. Sometimes I wear a cross, but I am more likely to get a compliment on the style than a question about my faith if I wear something which identifies me as a Christian.

As a Christian, I note with interest that I disagree with Christians more often than I agree. I don't think it is because I'm an outlier. Christians are so diverse that there are very few true sentences which begin with the words, "Christians are." It can be really frustrating when I read about mainstream Christian leaders saying things which I think border on blasphemy. I want to scream, "This guy doesn't speak for me!" But I don't. (Usually. Sometimes I do. Ask my hubby.) I talk and write about my faith and I don't speak for them either.

I don't experience persecution. I have experienced, um, pressure from some other Christians. It is still true that not all Christians think Catholics are Christians. (It's cool though. We papists don't oust our bigots either and we have a few.) I remember when one of my high school dates took me to meet his family. When I got there I was seated with his dad and his pastor. They were really worried about my soul. It was a long and uncomfortable conversation which revolved mostly around free will. I was unprepared for the attack- and I certainly felt it as an attack, though they meant well. I hope they still pray for me. I could use it. Even that is rare and seems to be fading. Most of the time I feel free to believe and express my belief without fear.

That all being said, I am not blind; I recognize political battles which take direct aim at my faith.

Many Christians are worried about religious freedom. We are watching with varying levels of concern. The birth control mandate has been really frustrating because so many people completely miss the point. I was experiencing real anxiety after my third child and my doctor wanted to put me on birth control (not to control the anxiety, but to prevent another pregnancy.) I told her I was Catholic and she was very kind and understanding and recommended a specific birth control which she assured me was absolutely not an abortifacient. She wasn't being pushy. Even after all the media hype and uproar, she understood my faith position to be, "Abortion is bad. Birth control is abortion." She was startled when I said that birth control itself is immoral. She wasn't going to argue, and neither was I. It was just a brief and surprising window into each other's minds.

There are lots of stories about Christian persecution if concerned Christians want to look for them. And people do.
"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours." John 15:18-20
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard it explained that if no one hates me it is because I am a terrible Christian. It is right there for anyone to read. But I don't think it means we have to go looking for persecution or angry anti-Christian bigots. They are there. But in America they are in the minority by a huge margin and we are protected by good laws. We should be alert, but not paranoid.

Some Christians are worrying deeply about social and political changes. Gay marriage is legal; are we about to see lawsuits demanding that our pastors preside or our church building be used? Must a Christian baker who opposes gay marriage refuse to bake a cakes for those weddings? Should he? What about any other artistic service? A DJ? A florist? What about non-artistic services, like linen rentals? If I own a linen rental company am I allowed to refuse customers based on their sexuality? Should I? What are the lines? How do we balance discrimination and religious freedom? I know how I would answer any of these questions, but the answers are neither universal nor particularly helpful. (Doubtful, but possible; No; Not unless he's been asked to write or artistically depict something explicitly offensive; Same; Same; Same; No; No; The lines aren't neat; Carefully.)

Politically, we are redrawing all kinds of boundaries. And this is important to me both as a Christian and as an American. Religious freedom is not a fluffy bit of nonessential law. It is central to American identity and history.

I have never been afraid to go to Church. I have never been afraid to proclaim my faith. Sure, I've been in situations where my faith is going to be the butt of a joke and that is uncomfortable and not acceptable. I've even been in situations where I was to cowardly to defend my faith. But I have never been in a position where I felt like defending my faith would cost me more than embarrassment- and to be honest even that is rare. 70.6% is a pretty comfy cushion even if it is shrinking.

Being a Christian in America is a great gift. I love my faith. I love my Lord. I love living in a great country where I don't have to hide or risk martydom. I love being able to speak honestly and openly. I think diversity is good for thought and faith. Our system means that my voice is relevant and that is exciting. Our system means that 70.6% is a big deal. Being a Christian in America means that if I insist on embracing a counter-cultural identity I'm claiming more than Christianity; I'm claiming a specific iteration. Most Christians do claim a counter-cultural identity, even if they are white, able-bodied, and straight. And they aren't all crazy. If you oppose abortion, gay marriage, and birth control, you can legitimately claim to be counter cultural. If you oppose all those things and war and torture, even more. If you oppose abortion, gay marriage, birth control, war, and torture and you support immigration reform, welcoming refugees, and universal healthcare, you are in a tiny little club which makes nearly everyone angry. At least in my experience.

A piece of the reason it is so hard to claim to counter cultural is that America is America. Whatever we disagree about, we are proud of our revolutionary beginnings. Our culture takes pride in being counter cultural. Every generation has a hipster. Every iteration of generational rebellion eventually becomes formulaic, but soon there is a new one. Part of the American identity is rebellious and independent thinking. Our culture is proud of its diversity. We all want to claim that. What does it mean to be counter cultural here?

I am baffled, to be honest, when I hear about Christians getting worried about not being allowed to pray in school and such like things. That's silly. Of course you can pray. Anywhere you want. No one knows or cares if you do. What they mean is they are not allowed to lead the school in prayer or otherwise make non-Christians feel as though they don't belong, which is different. We are so used to being in the majority we don't even notice the minority.

The biggest attack to religious freedom is coming from Christian Americans. So comfortable, so distant from oppressions which brought their forefathers here, many Christians are sick of religious freedom. Calls to close mosques and register Muslims. Armed protests when and where Muslims take their children to pray. Defending these disgusting assaults on freedom. Christians are leading these attacks.

I have been thinking about participating with a group of women in declaring solidarity with Muslim women by wearing a hijab on Fridays. I am not committed, but I am thinking about it. I am disturbed by fear mongering and divisive rhetoric about Muslims. The day a law requires Muslims to register is the day this Catholic Christian registers Muslim. I don't know how many times the Bible talks about welcoming strangers because we too were once a strangers in a strange land, but I hear a scriptural command.

Fear is disfiguring. There is a growing bigotry vandalizing our values. The coward who hides his fear with aggression. That is not my faith. That is not my country. If we start losing the political battles and lawsuits giving concern it will because we abandoned our commitment to religious freedom. American Christians are powerful. When we live up to the ideals of our country and faith with confidence and clarity and hope and courage, we are better.

1797 words. Lets make it an even 1800. God bless America.