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— 1 —

How about some good news? One of the very few good reasons to pay any attention to Instagram is the Humans of New York account. It never, ever fails to put life into perspective, sharing stories of strength and hope, as well as reminding us of the weight and burdens every soul we meet is carrying.

The past couple of weeks, the account has been posting stories from the Special Olympic World Games, being held in Abu Dhabi. Really, go check it out. 

 — 2 —

More good news:

What happens when you give a Franciscan $1 million?

He gives it away.

At least that’s what Brother Peter Tabichi, OFM, plans to do with the $1 million prize he won March 23, which came alongside the 2019 Global Teacher Prize, which he received at a conference Saturday in Dubai.

“This prize does not recognize me but recognizes this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything,”  Tabichi said.

The brother is a science teacher at a school in rural Kenya.

— 3 —

On building a “thinking Church:”

Aquinas has extremely pertinent thoughts on how to understand the unity of learning, he then adds, offering an answer to young people trying to join the dots of what they know.

“We’ve gone into places like Harvard and MIT, and what we’ve seen is that people who are absolutely expert at, say, natural sciences or law, are deeply tantalised by the idea of having a deeper understanding of reality,” he says, describing how students and academics take part in annual conferences on cam puses and in nearby monasteries, where they learn about the Catholic intellectual tradition and begin to engage with it, changing spiritually as they do.

All told, he says, the institute reaches about 15,000 people in person, with a further million people around the world listening to the conferences online.

“I think Aquinas is a resource that we can tap into today, that allows us to speak directly to our contemporaries and to our contemporary questions,” he says, noting that “questions that we have in our own sceptical era about whether there’s any fixed knowledge or truth than can be obtained universally are issues he deals with in a direct way that are extremely compelling and very profound”.

Fr Thomas was in Dublin last month to speak at St Saviour’s Priory on the need for Catholic intellectuals and in UCD on the theme of when religious belief is irrational, and it’s striking that he believes the Scriptures are themselves very clear on religious irrationality.

“On the harmony of faith and reason and the question of irrational belief, the most severe critiques of religious irrationality are in the Bible itself, in that you’ll find them in the Old Testament prophets, who were the most severe critics of superstitious or irrational religion or morally disoriented religious practice,” he says. Noting how excoriating the prophets could be of superstition, idolatry, human sacrifice, hypocrites and those who fabricate God on their own terms, he says “they’re very severe on almost every front and they’re equal opportunity offenders – they go after everyone”.

–4–

A pastor reflects on new life in his parish:

The other day a priest who had served 10 years ago at Star of the Sea remarked on the parish’s “amazing revival”. Mass attendance has been growing annually at 12 per cent, and income has more than doubled. We’ve planted flowers and shrubs, installed new lighting, restored the marble sanctuary and flung the doors wide open to the city. The parish school begins an Integrated Classical Curriculum (consisting of grammar, logic and rhetoric) this autumn, and parishioners are caring for the homeless and advocating for the elderly and unborn.

Mother Teresa famously said, however, that “we are called not to success but to fidelity”. Success and fidelity are essentially different categories, motivated as they are by different ends. While not demanding success, the Lord does expect the fruit of fidelity. His first command, to “be fruitful”, has never been abrogated, and “every branch that does not bear fruit will be cut off” (John 15:2). Christ promises 30, 60 and a hundredfold fruit to those who faithfully sow his Word. There is a way of measuring the revival of a parish, but it is not “success”. It is fruitfulness.

–5 —

Eve Tushnet on some reading on medieval Eucharistic piety:

Alongside the Crucifixion, the Eucharist–and specifically the Real Presence, the literal transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ–was one of the aspects of Catholicism which first drew me to the faith. I could tell you that it was because the Catholic doctrine seemed most responsive to the Gospels; I wrote a paper, back when I was the only atheist in my History of Christian Doctrine section, arguing that Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, when you consider His insistence in the face of horrified disbelief in John 6:52 – 57, wasn’t simply a metaphor like “I am the vine.” But I have to admit that I loved (and love!) the doctrine of the Real Presence largely because it’s visceral, bizarre, bloody-minded. It seems like the kind of overturning, catastrophic, violent thing the God of Exodus and Good Friday would do–the kind of awful thing our world and our actions would require of Love. It is hardcore.

When I was sick with stress and unsure if I’d really go through with baptism and confirmation, Eucharistic Adoration steadied me and got me through it. I’ve found Adoration deeply consoling, especially because you don’t have to worry about whether you’re able to receive Communion. Nothing’s required of you except your presence. There’s nothing you have to pray or do–just be there. The Mass is the corporate prayer of the Church but there are times when you want an intimacy, a bridal chamber for yourself and Christ, without dealing with your neighbor or your place in the community. Venturing into extreme anecdata, I’ve written a bit about the atttraction the Eucharist holds for those on the margins of the Church due to poverty or stigmatized sexuality.

So I picked up Miri Rubin’s study Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture with great interest this Lent. I’ve gnawed through this tome 20pp at a time and found a great deal to love in it, despite some disagreements with her framing of the issues. Rubin delves deep into all kinds of records and evidence–not only theology and hagiography but wills, church financial records, the annotations and marginal illustrations in prayerbooks; parody, superstition, miracle tales, and more. I loved her willingness to seek out everybody’s responses to the Eucharist, not just the “official” ones. I loved her attention to the ways that people use even our most meaningful cultural touchstones–no, actually, especially our most meaningful cultural touchstones–for a variety of all-too-human purposes, economic and political and emotional. One of Rubin’s theses is that the Eucharist grew steadily in cultural presence, and Eucharistic piety rose to a fever pitch, throughout the second half of the Middle Ages–but that this piety called forth responses, criticisms, heresies. Every doctrine gives people a vocabulary with which to articulate their resistance to it, or to the people who promote it.

— 6 —

Writing thing:

“Christ-Haunted George Saunders” from First Things:

Unwittingly, Saunders offers up a crucial question that Catholic art—in implicit imitation of the practice of penance—would do well to evoke: “This hurts, yes . . . but what is hurt?” In the gospel story, the cross darkens the disciples with these same grotesque questions; through the bloody wounds of Christ, the queries continue to pierce, pulsing past even the divine comedy of the resurrection.

Despite his pluralistic syncretism, then, Saunders’s life and works remain Christ-haunted. Which other living writer of such stature speaks reverently of the Latin Mass and the traditional Catholic practice of “offering it up”? As Saunders demonstrates, it is worth watching out for writers of repute who, even if they might not be able to recite the Nicene Creed in good conscience, are marked by their inherited, cultural Catholicity.

And Movie/Writer Son on:

Au Revoir des Enfants 

The priests and teachers of the school have taken in three Jewish boys in an effort to hide them from the authorities. Julien has trouble connecting with people easily partially because he’s so terrified that an errant word on his part, or on the part of another boy, could give away not only himself but the two others.

There’s a great moment in the latter half of the movie that highlights the difference in how Julien and Jean approach the world. All of the boys in the school have been sent out as two separate team to find a treasure. Julien gets separated from his team but finds the treasure on his own. Alone with night approaching, he looks around and finds Jean nearby.

Julien Quentin: I found the treasure. All by myself.
Jean Bonnett: Are there wolves in these woods?

Julien’s mind is on play. Jean’s is on the danger that surrounds him at all times.

— 7 —

Laetare Sunday is coming:

From Pope Benedict XVI in 2007:

Only a few more remarks: the Gospel helps us understand who God truly is. He is the Merciful Father who in Jesus loves us beyond all measure.

The errors we commit, even if they are serious, do not corrode the fidelity of his love. In the Sacrament of Confession we can always start out afresh in life. He welcomes us, he restores to us our dignity as his children.

Let us therefore rediscover this sacrament of forgiveness that makes joy well up in a heart reborn to true life.

Furthermore, this parable helps us to understand who the human being is: he is not a “monad”, an isolated being who lives only for himself and must have life for himself alone.

On the contrary, we live with others, we were created together with others and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life.

The human being is a creature in whom God has impressed his own image, a creature who is attracted to the horizon of his Grace, but he is also a frail creature exposed to evil but also capable of good. And lastly, the human being is a free person.

We must understand what freedom is and what is only the appearance of freedom.

Freedom, we can say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil and thus also to lose freedom and our dignity.

Dear friends, we are in the Season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. In this Season of Lent, the Church helps us to make this interior journey and invites us to conversion, which always, even before being an important effort to change our behaviour, is an opportunity to decide to get up and set out again, to abandon sin and to choose to return to God.

Let us – this is the imperative of Lent – make this journey of inner liberation together.

Every time, such as today, that we participate in the Eucharist, the source and school of love, we become capable of living this love, of proclaiming it and witnessing to it with our life.

Nevertheless, we need to decide to walk towards Jesus as the Prodigal Son did, returning inwardly and outwardly to his father.

At the same time, we must abandon the selfish attitude of the older son who was sure of himself, quick to condemn others and closed in his heart to understanding, acceptance and forgiveness of his brother, and who forgot that he too was in need of forgiveness.

And you know this:

EPSON MFP imageEPSON MFP image

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Where were we?

Post 1

Post 2

I’m going to veer a bit from my original “plan” on these posts, and jump ahead to a conclusion of sorts. And then next week or over the weekend, I’ll move back and elaborate. I just want to describe the landscape and what I’m reacting to.

Let’s summarize what I was attempting to communicate in those last two posts (found here and here.)

Human beings come in two sexes, male and female (noted: intersex conditions.) 

Gender is not the same thing as sex, but is intimately related and rooted in what male and female are about: procreative roles and powers.

Beyond that, we should be wary of identifying traits as “feminine” or “masculine.” That type of discourse can certainly help in exploring our personalities and identities, understanding the challenges in relationships and building community.

But, taken even an inch too far, fixating  on and defining “feminine” or “masculine” can become confining, limiting, exclusionary, confusing, oppressive and harmful.

There’s a deep mystery about the human person, including about sexuality. We seek to understand it, but always in humility and awareness of our own limitations.

As I wrote in those posts, I come at this from two angles: first, looking at the contemporary cultural and pop spiritual scene in which there are strong movements to associate spirituality with femininity or masculinity. I’ve said that many are helped and built up by that – and that’s great. But if you are a woman or man who can’t imagine attending a Catholic or Christian women’s or men’s conference or study group – that’s great too. That was really just a side point.

But – and this is the more important point – in observing the broader culture, I’m astonished, puzzled and increasingly angered by this paradox of living in a time in which I thought we were supposed to be past gender stereotypes – but finding that, in fact, gender stereotypes are quickly becoming pathologized.

Last year, ITV aired a series called Butterfly about a male child with gender dysphoria. Sarah Ditum wrote about it and what she said echoes what I’ve been trying to say:

Butterfly, though, is storytelling. It’s emotionally appealing. It’s accessible. It’s simple. In fact, it’s very simple indeed, which is why it’s quite boring, and also why it’s dangerous.

That’s a strong word to use of a primetime drama, but consider what Butterfly is telling its audience. It offers a starkly segregated version of childhood: boys do active, sporty things and girls are decorative and pretty. Max’s parents first of all try to “fix” him into having the appropriate interests – his dad with corporal punishment, his mum by treating the “girly” things as a shameful secret to be kept to the bedroom – and, when that fails, they solve the problem instead by recategorising him as a girl. The possibility that Max, like 60-90% of children with gender dysphoria, might simply turn out to be a boy who likes pink, isn’t given house room here.

And so here we are – in this transgender moment.

Now, wait. It’s a tiny percentage of people who identify this way, you say. Why take time to pay attention? Why comment? What’s the big deal?

A couple of reasons.

First, it’s interesting. One of the aspects of history in which I’ve long been interested in is social movements. I did a lot of work in graduate school on the 19th century woman’s movement, especially in relation to religion. I’ve studied feminism, and this is a crucial moment – it really is fascinating to see assumptions and ideologies flipped around in this way.

What we’re seeing in this moment, thanks to transgenderism, is a deep, even violent clash between social movements and ideals. It’s startling, to be honest. Some look at what is going on with a sort of Schadenfreude  – “Always entertaining to see the Left eat its own.”

And, well – I suppose there’s some of that.

But what’s going on deserves more serious attention than that – and it deserves it even from those of us who aren’t directly involved and see ourselves as distant from or unsympathetic to these concerns and issues.

Because what is going on is not just a squabble between interest groups or a struggle for acceptance and tolerance. The outcome is going to impact the law – in fact, one of the major explosive points in this conflict has come, precisely, because of a battle over law and policy in England over the past year – and the policies of organizations from Girl and Boy Scouts to your local high school and health club.

And we owe it to the truth to be thoughtful and clear-headed about the issue, and not get wrapped up into sentiment.

So what am I doing? I want to talk about what’s going on with this issue and share what I think are possible consequences – and help folks make sense of it, in whatever way I can.

I think this is a deeply important moment, and because of the power of rapid communications and the quick and harsh power that interests group can yield now, we need to pay attention. There’s a middle ground between:

  • Seeing this as an issue that crazy people over there are squabbling about and since I don’t like most of what they are saying anyway, I’ll just point and laugh

and

  • Blindly acceding to the nice-sounding  slogans of acceptance and diversity of the moment

 

Oh – and a warning. The material I’ll be linking to and quoting will, at times, be pretty out there and contain what some might find offensive language. And of course, I don’t agree with every other point made by writers and activists I’ll be citing. Just know that going in.

Here’s my entry point, and I think this pretty succinctly summarizes the current situation. The writer is a leftist feminist academic. Her field is not gender or sexuality, but I think this is a helpful summary of the core issues – it was published in 2015, but is still valid – again, her starting definitions are not those I necessarily share, but stick with it:

Transgenderism bastardises the core feminist insight that “woman” is a politically defined social category generated by male violence and the exclusion, expropriation and colonisation of female human beings. Rendered as a Leftist wedge issue, this insight becomes the distorted proposition that “woman” is a flexible human “identity” with which any individual might associate themselves – even fully-grown rational male human beings.

Rather than being a designator of subordinated social class membership, “woman” is a feeling that can swell in any man’s breast. Acting on this feeling, he might adopt sex-stereotyped clothing and behaviours, and others must hold these caricatured displays in high regard. Female pronouns must be used, and laws and policies must be changed to newly recognise women, not as an historically vulnerable social group, but as the product of an individual man’s inner thoughts and feelings.

The Leftist purge of women who refuse publicly to declare allegiance to such ideas of transgenderism is proceeding apace. It takes the form of the “no-platforming” of feminists at speaking events, the petitioning of conference venues to drop bookings from feminist groups, the public harassment and ridicule of dissenters, and lobbying for women to be removed from jobs and positions of public profile.

So what is she talking about in that last paragraph?

Basically, the war that has broken out, at least in English-speaking countries (that I’m aware of) between feminist, lesbian and transgender activists. It’s not a small thing.

The controversy exploded last year with proposed changes to the British 2004 Gender Identification Law – the changes would loosen the requirements for determining gender. The following is taken from an opinion piece by two scholars opposed to the changes:

One of the main reforms proposed is that anyone should be able to be formally recognised as a member of the other sex purely on the basis of self-identification. Therefore, the sole criterion for determining that a person is a woman would be that person’s belief (or stated belief) that they are a woman. Anyone who wants to be a woman would have to be viewed as one.

The effect of this proposal becoming law would be to erode the very concept of woman. It will erase women’s lived experiences, and undermine women’s rights. Being a woman is about sex and biology, in that our bodies determine so much of our experience, and also about the way we are constructed socially, which also helps determine our lived experiences. It is not about how a person feels or what they claim to feel.

Self-identification will allow anyone to access women’s spaces at any time, having self-proclaimed that they are a woman. This is  problematic for women accessing women’s spaces and services whose lived experiences (such as surviving sexual violence) or protected characteristics (such as religion that requires sex-segregation for certain activities) make it essential that women’s spaces remain sex-segregated.

Self-identification is also open to abuse by men seeking to access women’s spaces and women’s bodies. We are already seeing people who were born and still live and present as men claiming that they are trans-women in order to gain access to women’s spaces, including convicted sex offenders demanding to be housed in women’s prisons; individuals videoing women and girls naked in women’s changing rooms; and individuals seeking to join all-women candidate lists in local or national elections. Allowing self-identification of trans people will enable and embolden these types of activities.

There is clearly a conflict of rights and interests at the heart of these discussions. This conflict needs to be aired and discussed.  

So what is happening?

Essentially this:

In organizations, movements and platforms throughout the English-speaking world, women who question and challenge transgender ideology are being pushed out, excluded, and threatened.

The nature of the questions and challenges range across various concerns:

  • Transgendered individuals participating in girls and women’s athletic events.
  • Transgendered individuals being admitted into all-women spaces, ranging from prisons to shelters to, of course, restrooms.
  • Transgendered activists redefining women and aspects of female physiology.

Somewhat distinct, but of even more pressing concern is the impact of this on children and young people: encouraging children who are confused and – as most children and young people are – uncomfortable with body changes, fearful and confused about identity and the future – to latch onto gender stereotypes, accept hormonal treatments and surgery to “become” another gender.

I’m going to go into these in more detail in later posts. It’s easy to find all sorts of related news everywhere, but there are a few cases that interest me in particular.

What I wanted to focus on in this post is the impact on social movements – feminism and gay activism, in particular. You may not think it has anything to do with you, but think again. We should all know by know how quickly these demands develop.

One of the things you quickly – immediately – notice – is that the movement in this area is all in one direction:

Men identifying as women demanding access to traditional women’s spaces and activities.

It’s never the other way around. The pressure, the hate and the violence – yes, the violence – is emanating from men demanding to be identified as women.

And the pressure is on.  Here’s a good summary from Meghan Murphy – a Canadian journalist who this past week filed a lawsuit against Twitter for banning her – for saying, basically “men aren’t women.”

This is a long excerpt – and I encourage you to go read her entire piece for many more examples.

The statement that “Men aren’t women” would have been seen as banal—indeed, tautological—just a few years ago. Today, it’s considered heresy—akin to terrorist speech that seeks to “deny the humanity” of trans-identified people who very much wish they could change sex, but cannot. These heretics are smeared as “TERF”—a pejorative term that stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist—and blacklisted. On many Twitter threads, the term is more or less synonymous with “Nazi.” 

In many progressive corners of academic and online life, it now is taken as cant that anyone who rejects transgender ideology—which is based on the theory that a mystical “gender identity” exists within us, akin to a soul—may be targeted with the most juvenile and vicious attacks. “Punch TERFs and Nazis” has become a common Twitter tagline, as is the demand that “TERFs” be “sent to the gulag.” (This latter suggestion was earnestly defended in a thread authored by students who run the official Twitter account of the LGBTQ+ Society at a British university. The authors went on to say that the gulag model would, in fact, comprise “a compassionate, non-violent course of action” to deal with “TERFs” and “anti-trans bigots” who must be “re-educat[ed].”)

The reason why engagement with the most militant trans activists is fruitless, and yields only a slew of empty mantras and false stereotypes, is that one cannot argue with religious faith. At the core of transgender ideology is the idea that the old mind/body problem that has bedeviled philosophers for centuries has been definitively solved by gender-studies specialists—and that a female mind can exist within a male body and vice versa. Moreover, we are informed that these mystical phenomena are invisible in all respects, except to the extent that they are experienced from within—which means the only reliable indicator of supposed bona fide transgenderism is the self-declaration of trans-identified individuals (many of whom seem to have made these stunning discoveries as part of a sudden social trend).

Like other women who have been sounding the alarm about these trends, I regularly get accused of spreading moral panic, and of attempting to vilify trans-identified people as inveterate predators. But my issue isn’t with “transgender people,” per se, but, rather, with men. There is a reason certain spaces are sex-segregated—such as change rooms, bathrooms, women’s shelters, and prisons: because these are spaces where women are vulnerable, and where male predators might target women and girls. These are spaces where women and girls may be naked, and where they do not want to be exposed to a man’s penis, regardless of his insistence that his penis is actually “female.”

The internally experienced mystical conceits of a man’s mind do not affect any of the reasons why sex-segregated spaces were created in the first place. Female firefighters in Canada had to fight for years to have their own facilities like locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers, after suffering regular harassment in previously shared spaces. Such are the gains that the radicalized portion of the trans-rights movement wants to roll back. Generations of feminists have made it their life’s work to help women feel safe in historically male spaces. But in the name of ideological fashion, that has been flushed away in the name of male demands for “inclusivity.”

In May, nine homeless women signed on to a lawsuit against Naomi’s House in Fresno, California, after they were forced to shower with a biological man who, while claiming to be a woman, made lewd, sexually inappropriate comments to them, and leered at their naked bodies. In Toronto, similarly, Kristi Hanna filed a human rights complaint against the Jean Tweed Centre, which runs Palmerston House, a shelter for female recovering addicts, after she was told she must share a room with a hulking, plainly male-bodied individual claiming to be a woman.

….

Friends sometimes tell me that I shouldn’t worry too much, because Twitter “isn’t real life.” But online fights have an effect on “real life.” Last month, Canada’s Greystone Books, with which I’d been working on a manuscript for almost three years, told me they were dropping my book. The manuscript had just been completed, and I’d agreed to all the suggested edits with regard to the material on transgenderism. The email sent to me by the owner of the company was completely out of the blue, and explained, “I cannot and will not accept a manuscript for publication at Greystone which is hurtful to individuals or groups because of what they believe about their own gender.” When I responded with shock and confusion, he declined to explain what it was about my analysis that suddenly had become “unacceptable” to him. Presumably, he was just late getting the memo about “TERFs.”

We are indeed in an era of social panic. But this panic isn’t directed at trans-identified individuals, who, in fact, are now called on to lead parades. Rather, the panic is directed at anyone who claims that 2 + 2 = 4. After stickers with the words, “Women don’t have penises” appeared on campus at Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Jennifer Dyer, interim head of the gender studies department, blamed “TERFs.” And university president Gary Kachanoski responded immediately with a statement that called the stickers “transphobic” and “hateful.” Bailey Howard, director of external affairs for the Student Union, saidthat not one, but two meetings were being planned to “discuss next steps.” An anchor for NTV, Newfoundland’s provincial news program, labeled it a “hate crime.” All of this hysteria was set in motion by a set of stickers that express a sentiment endorsed, at least privately, by most members of our society. It feels like a Monty Python sketch come to life.

I was angry to have lost a Twitter account with tens of thousands of followers. I was angry to have lost a book deal. But I will recover. I am resilient, if nothing else. I will find another publisher and other ways to communicate with the public. I have countless supporters, and my career is far from over. Certainly, I don’t plan on shutting up.

But this isn’t just about me. It’s about a cultish movement that is flexing its muscle on campuses, in civic organizations, at public events, and in the back offices of social-media companies, to strike down anyone who dares point out that the gender emperor wears no clothes. It is about our ability to debate important issues and speak the truth in the public realm. It’s time for all of us—not just women and feminists, who are now taking the worst of it—to put their collective foot down and demand a return to sanity.

 

TO REPEAT:

You can look at all of this  and say, Hahaha – what do you expect from progressives? Feminists getting a taste of their own medicine!

I suppose you can do that. But it’s not a serious response. For this isn’t a battle being fought only on Twitter and in academic departments. We’ve seen how quickly the social landscape changes.

For this can, in a way, be a teachable moment, can’t it? It can be an opportunity for us to take a deep breathe and indeed reconsider what it means to be a person, a woman, a man – and consider whether or not certain old truths still might be…true.

I mean, look at the bolded paragraph section up there. And think about, compare it to this article asking – is the soul sexed? 

…..

Fair Play for Women is a UK-based organization that has all the resources you need to get started. 

Here they are on Twitter.

We are concerned that in the rush to reform transgender laws and policies women’s voices will not be heard. Run entirely by a team of volunteers with skills in many different disciplines, without any corporate sponsorship or formal funding, we have worked hard over the past year to bring this issue to public attention.

Women get called transphobic for simply asking questions. Women are afraid to speak out and fear for their jobs and reputation if they do. We provide the safe platform necessary for women and men to voice their concerns, share their real-life stories and expert knowledge.

4th Wave Now looks at it from another angle:

The purpose of this site is to give voice to an alternative to the dominant trans-activist and medical paradigm currently being touted by the media

Twitter.

Jane Clare Jones is a writer with a strong voice. She blogs here. Her most popular post is “The Annals of the TERF-wars” found here. Again, warning for strong language.  

 

Trans activists: So hey, when we said we’d like you to treat us like women that wasn’t right, because actually, we ARE women and we demand that you treat us exactly like women because we are women and that you to stop violently excluding us from all your women things.

Women: Um, we thought you were male people who had to transition to help with your dysphoria?

Trans activists: No, that is out-dated and pathologizing. Women are women because they have a gender identity which makes them women.

Women: Um, we thought we were woman because we’re female?

Trans activists: No, you are women because you have magic womanish essence that makes you women. We have the same magic womanish essence as you, it’s just that ours got stuck in the wrong body.

Feminists: That sounds kind of sexist. Can you tell us what this woman-essence is, and how it gets stuck in the wrong body, because that sounds like a weird metaphys…..

Trans activists: It’s SCIENCE.

Feminists: Science says there’s ‘magic woman essence’??? Are you sure? Because feminism would…

Trans activists: Shut up bigots.

But it’s hilarious. And true.

Julia Beck, on Tucker Carlson this past week, describes in this long piece how she was kicked off the Baltimore LGBTQ Commission for calling a guy “he.” 

Our very first meeting was in May. To make the commission “as inclusive as possible,” Mayor Pugh invited applicants to a welcoming reception. When I arrived,  Ava Pipitone, president of Baltimore’s Transgender Alliance, was preaching everyone’s favorite buzzword: “inclusion.” He seemed a caricature of femininity with overtly demure mannerisms and performative vocal fry. At the end of his prepared speech, Mayor Pugh tenderly embraced him, thanking him for being “so brave” at the podium.
….

When I arrived to the first Law and Policy meeting, Ava Pipitone, of BTA, shook my hand and greeted me by my full name. I knew I was in for a show. I asked him what he does for a living, and he gushed about the app he’s developing with engineers in California — “like if Air BnB and OkCupid had a baby” — a dating website based on rental locations, every pimp’s wet dream. It was no surprise to hear him confess later in the night that he’s an agent for the global pimp lobby, the Sex Workers Outreach Project.

Before we could talk about bylaws, Pipitone announced the rejection of my written comments on some new policies from the Baltimore Police Department. He further derailed the conversation by asking me to name his sex. There was no point in lying. I said, “You’re male,” but my Co-Chair, Akil Patterson, a gay man, disagreed on the grounds of gender identity. When I asked Patterson to differentiate “gender” from “sex,” Pipitone accused me of gaslighting. Instead of answering, they deferred: Why does a stranger’s identity matter so much? Why can’t you just support trans people? What does it have to do with you?

I brought up Karen White, a convicted pedophile and rapist who was placed in a UK women’s prison, despite being legally male and undergoing no steps to socially or medically transition, where he then raped two inmates. White’s case illustrates how easy it is for men to manipulate the law, but Pipitone smirked and claimed I was being performative. In delicate tones, he expressed concern with my leadership. He claimed Lesbianism and transgenderism are incongruent political forces (probably the only thing we agree on). Instead of enacting “lateral violence” against transfolk by crashing “our parades,” he argued that lesbians should assimilate with male lesbians to “punch up” at an unnamed oppressor.

Incidentally, Beck’s piece is at the website After Ellen – a lesbian website whose editor is today under attack from transactivists for some reasons I really don’t understand.

****

Several years ago, when I first started observing these movements, the following popped into my head. If you read my first post on this, you know that the thought of Germaine Greer and 80’s era feminists who questioned the impact of reproductive technology on women has been very important to me. What all of these thinkers – as well as pro-life feminism –  emphasized wast the cultural and social temptation to, as it were, castrate women to make them more productive cogs in male-defined social and economic structures – make them easier to sexually exploit, with little fear of pregnancy – and render them more efficient workers. Hence the title of Greer’s book The Female Eunuch. 

So when I started seeing this moment evolve, here is what I thought, and I can’t shake it:

When historians look back on this, they’re going to see the ultimate triumph of  misogyny, enabled by technology: The ideal woman – is a man. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welp, so much for the “week” thing. Also, apologies for those who either read the unfinished post earlier after I accidentally scheduled it, or came here looking for it. Here it is. 

I’m going to talk about gender this week. Probably not every day. Because every time I do that I end up either getting caught up in something else and breaking my promise or…keeping my promise and letting it take over my life.

So why this week?

Well, these are notions and thoughts that have been peculating for a while. As is the case with almost everything these days, there’s just so much – it’s paralyzing for those who want to write or talk about such things. You think you get a grasp on one aspect of it, you settle on an angle – and thirty minutes later, some other news story or perspective pops up and blows it all to hell. Again.

But as I looked at the Mass readings for this week, I was struck by the fact that this week – this fifth week of Ordinary Time – we’re starting, with our first readings, with Genesis 1.

(And Mark 7 in the Gospels.)

So, it seemed to fit.

But don’t come here looking for restatements of takes you’ve read elsewhere. I have my idiosyncratic way into these issues. You won’t find hardcore social analysis here.

For sure you’re not going to read rhapsodic celebrations of complementary natures or the feminine genius. If that’s your thing, go for it. It’s just not my thing – it’s not the way I think or experience being a person.

I’m puzzling through some things and trying to say some things out loud that I’m not hearing many other people say.

So we’ll begin, as one does, with the personal angle.

Where I’m coming from. 

I want to talk about gender (and sexuality) because it’s an issue that’s fracturing our culture and fracturing social and political movements – which is rather entertaining to watch. My reasons have nothing to do with any sort of personal, passionate interest in gender issues or investment or attachment to a cause.

Briefly:

I’m 58, going to be 59 this summer. That means I was born in 1960 and grew to adulthood in the 1960’s and 70’s. I’m an only child of academically-minded parents. My mother almost got a M.S. in Library Science and my dad was a Ph.D. in political science. I grew up in college towns from Bloomington to Lubbock to DeKalb to Lawrence to Knoxville. Small families on both sides, mostly educators and business people on both sides, male and female, father’s side southern minimally-practicing Methodists, mother’s side French-Canadian Catholics, mother specifically very sour on post-Conciliar Catholicism by the early 70’s, stopped going to Mass. Highly intelligent parents, politically and socially middle-of-the-road, constant conversations about issues in the home, exposure to the life of the mind, etc. , etc…..

Why is that relevant?

I think because, as I reflect on how I think of myself as “a woman” that background might go some distance in explaining why I have a hard time doing just that –  thinking of myself in terms of  “a woman” who’s part of this group called “women” that is supposed to have particular interests and characteristics. Or at least – defining myself primarily in terms of “womanhood.”

I just…can’t.  I don’t even know what that means, really. I’ve never had any driving desire to attach myself to other “women” in women’s groups because we’re women and that’s what women do. I suppose in part it’s because I’m not a joiner, period, but I do sometimes wonder if it’s because I was raised in this household where a) I didn’t have a brother for comparison – either by my parents or myself, and so my existence wasn’t delineated against any male family member peer and b) the expectations my parents had for me and their sense of who I was had nothing to do with being female – it was all about learning and ideas and accomplishment (to some degree) and living a decent life as a person in a family and in society. No one ever talked much about being female or male or what that meant or what was right or appropriate. I was just a person.

I went to a small Catholic high school in the South in the 70’s, so consciousness-raising was really not on the menu. I mean – no one cared. When I got to college – in 1978 – at UT, I did venture to the Woman’s Center. I was a politically minded person, but I’m really not sure what I thought I was going to find or why I was going – I do know that one of the musicians in the folk group at the Catholic student center was a part of it. Perhaps she invited me? Well, for whatever reason, I went to some meeting, and heard, right away, a focus on abortion. It was the center of the conversation. So I stepped away and didn’t return.

Later on, I did get involved in the national organization Feminists for Life – at a pre-internet era when involvement in national groups was a lot more challenging than it is now. But I did, and knew all of the leadership at the time and their writings and the writings they promoted were very important to me.

Every few years, it seems, people rediscover the possibility of progressive/liberal prolife views – it’s good that it gets rediscovered, but also puzzling to me how short our attention spans are now. Every time someone raises a proverbial fist on Instagram and proclaims in wonderment, “Yo! I’m pro-life and – ” wait for it, you’ll be shocked and amazed – “a feminist!” – aren’t you amazed? I just feel old and grumpy. More so than usual.

Okay, let’s look at that word: feminist. It’s not a big deal to me. You want to call yourself a feminist? Sure. You want to avoid the term? Sure. I don’t care. You want to write for pages or talk for hours about why you do or don’t call yourself a feminist? Then I’ll probably find something else to do.

Once, probably in the early to mid-70’s, my mother, who was born in 1924, went on a rant about feminism. She said something like, “Sure, I’m a feminist. I’m an old-school Amelia Earhart, Rosalind Russel, Katharine Hepburn feminist. We all were.”

 

 

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And if there were any late 20th century feminists who had any role in my intellectual formation it was first, Germaine Greer, and later, Camille Paglia – although Paglia is not as serious a thinker as Greer. Reading The Female Eunuch and Sex and Destiny blew my mind in my late 20’s and early 30’s. That as well as pro-life feminism, and various feminist critiques of developing reproductive technologies – critiques which were standard and pervasive – provided the framework for any most of my political and social framing of women’s issues.

So that’s the essence of my growing-up-as-a-female: Raised playing in neighborhoods with boys and girls, mostly outside, reading whatever I felt like reading, all of us wearing shorts and t-shirts and jeans and tennis shoes, my toys a jumble of Barbies, games, a dollhouse, contraptions like Spirographs and this Fun Flower Thingmaker, a firetruck, a dump truck and lots of Matchbox cars. Expectations? Mostly that I’d be a professional of some sort, probably an academic. And that I’d try to live a good life.  I wasn’t raised in a household that articulated or even assumed any particular female-identified choices or behavior.

Was that strange or unusual? I honestly don’t think so. The girls and women I grew up with – we didn’t feel any particular need to assert any roles that we felt denied.

Nor – and this is my focus right now – did we feel any pressure to dress or comport ourselves in a “feminine” kind of way.

Perhaps others have different experiences. No doubt they have. But that’s just mine.

Discrimination, exploitation and worse exists and always has. The powerful use and repress the less-powerful, and this happens in a web of racial, sexual, socio-economic and cultural identities. Ask any woman or minority group member trying, say, to work in predominantly white male environments in the past or in the present. It’s real. The harsh, contemptuous, lurid male gaze cast upon women is real, something most young women can tell you about in distressing detail.

But what this rambling post is about is not that. It’s not about workplace discrimination or social exploitation. I’ll get to that in a couple of days.

No, what this is about is simply setting the stage for my …confusion and puzzlement about how we got from there to here, particularly in regard to gender “roles” as expressed culturally and socially.

Quite often those kinds of questions are posed by older folks looking back and wondering how a seemingly more restrained past became so loose. My observation takes me in the opposite direction.

And really – honestly – I’m angry.

I reflect back on the 60’s and 70’s and I see a casual, relaxed landscape in which kids and young people are exploring and figuring things out,  and it seems, everyone is wearing earth-toned plaids.

And at some point – I don’t know when – the pink and blue shelves sprung up. Sprung up, exploded and closed us in.

You know what I mean, right? How you go into a toy store or even the toy section of a department store, and you can tell the “girl toys” from the “boy toys” simply by color? The girl section is all – all – pink and the boy section is, if not baby blue, dark blue and black?

For contrast, take a look at vintage Christmas catalogs – here’s a great collection that will definitely take you down some rabbit trails. I looked at a few from the 50’s and 60’s and the FAO Schwarz 1967 catalog.

Yes, toys are, to some extent “gendered.” But perhaps partly because they catalogs aren’t in full color cover to cover and employ fewer human models, you don’t have your oppressively pink-and-blue division. In fact most of the toys and games are just that – toys and games for kids. There’s an acknowledgment of realities – no matter their source in nature or nurture  – that more girls than boys like dolls and household-related toys while more boys than girls lean to toys that echo life outside the home. But it doesn’t strike me – nor did it growing up in it – as oppressive or restrictive. As I said – I had a lot of cars and trucks and science kits and yeah, I think I had a cowboy gun and holster

Even the kids’s clothes are – yes, obviously made for female and male tastes – are for the most part, simple and straightforward. And, yeah, plaid. Not super gendered either in the direction of Girl Power or Tough Guy!

Oh look, – here we go. No more words necessary. I was probably four years old here and look what I got for Christmas: a fire truck. A baby doll carriage. And a freaking punching ball. 

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Chaser – 3rd birthday. Look at my big present.

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And guys, this wasn’t a political statement. This was 1963, pre-second-wave feminism, which my family didn’t get into anyway, despite being academics. My parents were, at the time, good Kennedy Democrats, and this was the Durant, Oklahoma home of my conservative Southern Methodist grandparents. It was just not a big deal. 

****

As I said, this is an intro.

My typical, discursive, wandering intro to get my brain to a more focused place.

And that place is, quite simply, wondering how we – to use a common phrase – transitioned  – from:

…a landscape in which expressions of “gender” were downplayed or even discouraged as stereotypical and limiting

to..

..a landscape in which “feminine” and “masculine” stereotypical preferences and expressions have become pathologized.

Where little girls who like short hair and to play outside in the mud or tween girls who are uncomfortable with their changing bodies are being told that this is clearly a sign that they aren’t a “real girl” and then shot through with puberty blockers and given mastectomies and then boys who don’t like sports and present effeminately are being told they are obviously really girls– because, you know…

you can always tell a girl by how much she likes girly things.  

OHLT

****

Come back for more.

I’m already thinking it’s the Reformation’s fault.

But you predicted that, didn’t you?

 

 

 

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Welcome new readers. Check out my books (some linked on the right) and pages with permanent links to themed posts (above.)

Well, that was quite the weekend on the Internets, wasn’t it?

When the Covington Catholic photo flashed across one of my feeds, I freely admit that my first reaction was, “Expel him!” accompanied by several tweets/posts that mercifully existed only in my head.

And then…as it does…a fuller picture started emerging. As it does.

I won’t rehash the whole thing. I wasn’t really intending to add to the verbiage, either, but here I am. If you want to know where I stand on the sequence of events, check out Robby Soave’s piece at Reason. He captures most of my sense of it. I’ve watched other videos out there of the moment, which make one thing very clear to me: that initial narrative of “Boys in MAGA hats surround and taunt Native American protester” is false.

And you might want to stop and pause there. For despite all the other “lessons” and penumbras of meaning being spun, that is where this thing took off: from an image of a kid looking at a protester, which, we were told captured a moment in which these students surrounded a protester, mocked him and one boy, in particular, stood and stared him down, smirking.

But is that what happened? I don’t think so – and this is from watching several videos a couple of times.

What seems to have happened is that group was assembled on the steps, waiting for their bus. There had been this Black Hebrew Israelite group nearby for a while, demonstrating, taunting and filming, and then Nathan Phillips approaches with his group, drumming, chanting and filming, and he heads right into this group of boys who were, it seems doing school chants to both pass the time and distract from the first other group. Phillips walks right into the group – for whatever reason. There’s a video out there of the moments right before the encounter captured in the photos, as well as the encounter itself, and it is nothing like those initial headlines indicated. The student at the center of the controversy is just sort of standing around with the dozens of others, laughing and waiting – and then Phillips stands in front of him, drumming. The student clearly doesn’t really know what to do.  In the most widely-disseminated images, his resting face seems to some like a smirk – but when you look at videos from the other side – there’s one in which he turns and tells one of his classmates arguing with an activist to cool it – he just looks sort of uncomfortable.

So the bottom line is: the initial narrative was inaccurate.

No matter what you make of the students wearing MAGA hats at any time, but particularly representing a Catholic school at the March for Life, their whooping, a few of them tomahawk-chopping – some might have been mocking, some might have been mindless, some might have been unrelated to anything specific, the nature of private education, particularly single-sex private education, masculinity, Smirks Through History, Georgetown Prep, whatever  – none of that matters. It could be that the culture at this school is problematic – the culture at most secondary schools is problematic for one reason or another, and wealthy private schools are usually the worst.

But does that matter in this really very specific moment? Sorry, it just doesn’t. Because the reason these students were condemned, threatened and doxxed was because, it was said – they swarmed and victimized Nathan Phillips. At that moment. And that didn’t happen. Watch the videos. You may not like their behavior.  I get it. I personally still get triggered being around more than, say, three high schoolers at any one time.

You know, we live in times in which we’re not supposed to be all binary and stuff, so, sure,  let’s not be binary. It is just not the case that the only two possible scenarios here are: 1) Privileged White Boys Re-Victimized the Marginalized or 2) Precious Angels are Rowdy but, you know, Angelic. 

It could be just a weird situation that happened one day in one small corner of the world.

You start there. You try to get that right. 

Here’s another video that picks up after Philips picked this particular MAGA-hatted teen to drum in front of. I actually think this is one of the more illustrative videos out there (we’ll see if it’s still there by the time you read this – it might well have been memory-holed by YouTube). And it reinforces my position of “weird situation that happened for a few minutes, people drifted away, so why are we all talking about it?” 

Basically, Philips is in the kid’s face for several minutes, drumming and chanting – who knows why – and everyone around them is either watching, slightly confused, or filming, except for one activist with Philips (his grandson, I think) who is loudly and profanely arguing with a student. At some point the bulk of the kids start chanting something, but it’s clearly their school chant, and they’re not even looking at the drummer. And then, most of them drift away, to the bus, I’m assuming.

We could say a lot about this – about the impact of the crazy fast news cycle, ideology and perception and the sewer that is social media, but I’ll let others carry that load.

I want to highlight two reactions.

First, Fr. James Martin. Who, very early on, went to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with his hot take:

I am as disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students as I am moved by the quiet dignity of the solitary man who continues to chant. Those students could learn much from this elder, if they had chosen to. Or if they choose to.

 

24 hours later, Fr. Martin published some more thoughts, beginning:

Regarding the controversy over Covington High School: I will be happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were acting as good and moral Christians. The last thing I want is to see Catholic schools and Catholic students held in disrepute.

And I’ve certainly been wrong before.

..and ending with a call to attend to this teachable moment:

 

Another essential lesson, which transcends whatever happened in Washington this weekend: an understanding of the appalling treatment that Native Americans have endured in our country. That lesson needs to be learned regardless of what you think of Covington High School.

This Teachable Moment can offer us, if we are open, lessons about dialogue, encounter and reconciliation during this coming week, which is, believe it or not, Catholic Schools Week.

Of course, Catholic Schools week is not this coming week. But I digress.

There’s no sense in any of this that Fr. Martin has watched the videos of this encounter. One is under no obligation to engage with this issue at all, much less spend time with the videos or the testimonies, unless, of course, one has decided to issue opinions. Then you should probably try to be informed. And when you’re trying to be informed, you don’t have to depend on, as Fr. Martin, does, musing about different “narratives” that have “emerged.” You just sort of go to the tape, watch it, and take a stand. And maybe watching all of that still leads you to think that the kids behaved disrespectfully. Sure. But base it what’s actually out there, rather than sighing about the Mysteries of All Those Darn Narratives.

Gosh!

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My point is that Fr. Martin entered the fray right away, characterized the encounter in a way that is now widely disputed and says, well, he’ll apologize if  the boys were acting as “good and moral Christians.”  – not – if my characterization of the incident was incorrect. 

Ah.

And of course, one might wonder if part of the dialoguing Teachable Moment he wants to facilitate might touch on journalistic ethics, social media ethics and critical thinking skills.

Anyway, let’s move to Catholic apologist Mark Shea, who began his Facebook post (now deleted) on the matter with:

The MAGA goons were threatening confrontation with a small clutch of black protestors. (sic) As is done in his tradition, Phillips intervened with a drum and a chant to draw fire to himself. It was an act of peacemaking. The goons then mobbed and mocked him and he did not respond in kind. This was classic non-violence. The attempt to paint this as “elderly man with drum terrorizes 70 innocent athletic douchebags” is a narrative only the Right Wing Lie Machine would have the gall to promote

So, to repeat, Catholic apologist Mark Shea characterized the students from Covington Catholic High School as “MAGA goons” and “athletic douchebags.”

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Sunday evening, Mark has published a piece at Patheos apologizing a bit – although his Facebook and Twitter posts calling these teenagers “MAGA goons” are still up.  He has now embraced the narrative that Phillips was a peacemaker, so there’s that. (I repeat – look at this video and see if it would strike you, if you were there as “Oh, this fellow is trying to bring peace into this situation as he drums in my face and his grandson yells at my classmate.”   He also says,

I disliked the “Crucify Them!” response because I think punishment should be ordered toward redemption, not destruction.

But….MAGA goons…athletic douchebags.

New Evangelization, I guess. *Shrugs.*

Shea also talks alot about the incident without being terribly specific about his takeaway from what he saw on the matter on which he’s opining, using another writer’s sequence of events.

Which, of course, is a defining characteristic of contemporary online rhetoric: to vaguely describe a situation, group people into categories, declare their motivations – but without many specific citations because 1) you don’t have time because you know something else is going to come down the pike for commentary in the next hour or so and 2) you know that your readers are going to be satisfied with the non-specific narrative you offer because they don’t have time to source it either, and are also busy waiting for the next thing.

****

Bottom line takeaways:

  • If you are going to comment on this moment, comment on the moment. Watch the evidence that’s out there closely, then link the words and ideas in your commentary to pieces of evidence.
  • Don’t bother with commenters who can’t be bothered to do that and who prefer to build narratives out of ideology, straw men and caricature.
  • Maybe think about the impact instant communication and social media has on our perception of events and their importance. Consider this:

What happened in your neighborhood over the weekend? Do you even know your neighbors? Your community?

It’s like that joke you see during election year:

Me yesterday: Has no idea who my city council representative is

Me today: Tweets three times on the shifts from red to blue in California’s 33rd electoral district.

Or, in church terms – being an expert on the scandals in the Archdiocese of Whatever, while never engaging with one’s own local church.

Social Media and the internet puts us in touch with the world and tempts us to believe that we can impact the world with just a click – and that if we can know about it and if we can influence it, we must. 

And yes, yes, good comes out of it.

But is it really that much good? Is it worth it? Is it really better?

Remember that the foundation of all sin is pride. Right there. Pride. So, maybe before I post a Hot Take, I should think – why am I doing this? If the reasons come down to nothing more than virtue signalling or a sense that *I* have “followers” who are super interested in my life or my opinion and I owe them a hot take – or I have to keep my profile nice and high by entering into this fray – pride. 

It might be worth it to consider, in moments like this, the “power” of all this as a temptation. A temptation to put our energies into conflicts and issues that are none of our concern and that we really can’t do anything about – so we’ll ignore the people right around us whom we might actually be able to be in deeper communion with and help. 

The time one spends on a screen evaluating the look on the face of a kid I don’t even know, will never meet, doing something I’d never have heard about if not for people following other people with cameras – what could I have been doing with that time that involved people on my street, in my neighborhood, or in my own community? Heck – my family? 

Could it be that there’s a force that is seeking to discourage us from deep communion with others by deluding us with a promise of false power and false connection  – and mostly false power – so that we’ll spend all of our time and energy chasing that with nothing left for real-life encounters – the kind that really change the world?

 

 

 

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I’ll start with the easy stuff and work my way up (or down)

Watching: I ended up watching most of Mission Impossible: Fallout with Son #2 on MondaySunday evening. Yes, he has school on Monday, but he did some good work (more below on that) this afternoon, so he merited a treat. He and brother had seen it this past summer, but he spied it at Redbox and decided he’d like to watch it again.

I hadn’t seen it with them, but I walked into the room when the Paris part started, and since it was, well, Paris, I was interested, and ended up watching the rest of the whole gripping, silly thing. Very well done with entertaining supporting characters and (it should go without saying) fantastic action.

And now someone who’s exempt from most of his exams and only has to go into school on Wednesday for Calculus is in there watching The Princess Bride. 

(Exam exemption? Best incentive ever.)

Listening: My youngest, playing the postlude at Vespers at the Cathedral Sunday evening. His teacher asked him to turn pages for him at the pre-Vespers organ concert and then do the postlude. If you to my Instagram page, you can hear an excerpt – it’s the last image in this post. 

I’ll stick this in here, because it also involved listening: it was a busy weekend at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham. It began very early Saturday morning with a Rorate Mass

The Rorate Caeli Mass is a traditional Advent devotion wherein the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent is offered just before dawn. In many instances families and individuals travel an hour or more, rising and arriving very early for this stunningly beautiful Mass. The interplay of light and darkness speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.

The Mass takes its title, Rorate Caeli, from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8:

“Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”

The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.

As was indicated on the Cathedral’s Facebook page, they planned for 100 attendees. There were at least 200 present. I took some photos, but far better are those taken by Mary Dillard of the diocesan One Voice and Ryan Penny from the choir loft (more on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.)

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What a lovely, deeply meaningful tradition. One more profound way to enter into the spirit of waiting and expectation, of journeying from darkness to light: by joining the God-created natural rhythm of a day in the life to the spirituality reality at hand and making space for one to inform the other.

You begin in the dark..

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…and walk out into the light.

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More on our rector’s blog here. 

Then, Sunday morning, some Bambinelli Sunday coming your way:

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The Pope’s not the only one with a balcony!

And then, Vespers:

 

 

Wonderful listening in that pre-Vespers concert there. We’re very grateful for the music here at the Cathedral. Read more about it here. 

Reading: I had written quite a bit on this earlier today, but it somehow did not get saved during a computer restart. That’ll show me. I am going to try to recreate this in fifteen minutes, no more, and then move on with life.

Late last week I read Andre Dubus III’s Gone So LongDubus is a widely admired writer in his own right, but is also known as the son of Andre Dubus, fiction writer (mostly short stories) and essayist and Catholic. Dubus died in 1999, and I wrote a piece on him for, I believe, OSV. You can read it here. I often refer to Dubus’ story “A Father’s Story” and his essays in Broken Vessels and Meditations from a Moveable Chair are fine pieces of spiritual reflection.

Not that Dubus was a saint. Nor would he ever claim to be. He left Dubus III’s mother when his son was ten, and the son examined the subsequent struggles in his memoir Townie. Father and son came to a reconciliation of sorts before the father’s death. This past fall, America ran an interview with Dubus which offers insight.

FF: Your father was a devout Catholic. How did he live his faith day to day? Did he read the Bible, religious books, say the rosary?

AD: Because I did not live with my father after the age of 10, I can only answer this question from that kind of distance. I do believe, however, that for years my father kept a copy of the New Testament beside his bed that he read from, though I’m pretty certain he read far more of the fiction stacked there. As I said above, until my father was run over and then spent the last 12 and a half years of his life in a wheelchair, he tried to attend Mass seven mornings a week. After he was crippled, he would have various lay people come by his house to administer Communion. I know, too, that my father said the rosary daily, something I don’t know how to do and know little about…

 …I’m no authority on forgiveness, but I do believe that my father, who was very young when he became a husband and a father, in his early 20s, did the best that he knew how to do at the time, which, of course, is not the same as doing the best he could do. This is true for all of us, though, isn’t it? And that’s where the potential for growth comes in. None of us are exempt from screwing up. I believe strongly, and I have a hunch my father would agree with me on this, that in his 62 years on the planet, my father put the very best part of himself into his writing. Everything else, including his wife and children, came after that. A close second I would add. But after that.

This way of being led to a masterful body of work, led to the kind of art that can change lives, art that will continue to live on for years and years. But there were costs to this. To him. To us, his six children (and ex-wives). On some level, I think my father knew he wouldn’t have a very long life, and he needed to get to that desk. Well, I’m grateful that he did just that.

Gone So Long is a novel about a shattered family: what happened, why, the life-long consequences and the possibility and question of reconciliation and forgiveness.

It’s told from three perspectives: Daniel, the father, 60-ish in the present day, Susan, the now adult daughter, and Lois, Susan’s grandmother who raised her after the loss of her daughter, Susan’s mother and Daniel’s wife Linda when Susan was three years old.

It is not really a secret what happened to Linda and that Daniel was responsible, but because the details are doled out only gradually over the course of the novel, to just lay it all out here would be spoilerish – and part of the building tension in the novel lies in the shadows around that foundational incident in the past, as well as the contemporary question of how this damage is playing out in the present and whether or not healing is possible.

It’s a serious, painful read so is it proper to say that I “enjoyed” reading it? Doesn’t seem right. But it was an interesting, engaging world to be involved in for a few hours over a few days: the shabby beach amusement park setting of the character’s early lives, the Florida of the present and more recent past, including – and this was surprising – those days in 1990 when the University of Florida campus was terrorized by serial killer Danny Rolling – interesting because I was living in Gainesville at the time.

Dubus is known for his deeply empathetic excavation of character, and that’s in evidence here. You get to know almost every character well, which means seeing their choices from their perspective and, if not agreeing with them, understanding them. This happens, though, because Dubus takes a great deal of time and space to explore these characters – and perhaps it’s just a bit too much. I felt the book was a little longer than it needed to be, with points being made several times in several different ways.

I have a couple of other critiques.

First, there’s an exception to the nuanced characterization: it’s Bobby, Susan’s jazz musicologist husband. If we had a photograph, he just might have a halo hovering over his head. In reflection, it seems to me that Bobby functions as an authorial substitute: he clearly seems to be that compassionate, all-understanding creator and manager of this little universe we’re living in. Even the quote he has painted on his wall from his favorite jazz musician about his fellow musicians expresses this:

I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow themself, but to be with me. 

While I found some of the other characters irritating in their bad choices, Bobby was irritating in his magnanimous perfection.

And then, this. Two points as introduction:

  1. Look, a character is a character created by a writer. That writer has the right to do whatever they want and create whatever they would like – what these people do in their fictional universe is up to the author, and that’s that.
  2. It’s absolutely true that the way we live out our sexuality and relationships are linked, in mysterious ways, to family dynamics and history. That’s not news. It’s absolutely true, and as we grow and come to understand ourselves, we see this. It can be a key to unpacking and unlearning destructive behaviors.

But I think it’s also true that explaining the impact of damaging family histories by drawing a line from that to sexual behavior is…kind of the easiest choice a creator can make to explain that history. I thought about this a lot (to pivot rather wildly) during Mad Men, which was a show I really liked a lot, but which also got tiresome in the way that the only way characters expressed tension in interpersonal dynamics was through falling into bed (or more often..on to a desk or office couch..). Okay, I would think – it’s quick and easy, and shorthand in a way, but honestly, there’s a lot more that happens in human life when people are uneasy or torn or broken – beyond sex.

What I’m getting at here is that Susan, deeply traumatized and torn from her parents for terrible reasons and raised in a less than optimal home, always yearning and wondering, acts out that pain through sexual promiscuity. Which would not be unheard of, of course – as one searches, vainly, for warmth and connection and love, to do so in a string of short-term relationships – it’s the story of modern life, isn’t it?

But something about this storyline irritated me, and I think it’s because of St. Bobby. If Susan had been dealing with all of this without a Perfect Older Man managing things, if she’d found inner strength and a way to deal with the unimaginable strangeness of her situation more on her own terms, I probably wouldn’t have reacted as negatively as I did.

In the end, I experienced Susan’s story as an expression – to use a popular critical term – of the male gaze at work – not, as it’s usually understood, in an objectifying sense, but in a paternalistic one.

Which perhaps makes sense in this world, since a father’s massive failure and sin is at the core  of her pain. But in the end, I suppose I was dissatisfied and irritated because I wanted Susan to find what she needed without being rescued, in part, by a saintly middle-aged man.

Writing: Still working on the manuscript due in January.

I’m in the Catholic World Report “Best Books I Read in 2018.” 

 

 

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A very quick, super busy weekend in NYC.

The occasion: For some reason my 17-year old is a Vikings fan. Vikings were playing the Jets. Oldest son, who lives in NYC, said, “Hey, why don’t you bring him up for the game?”

So…sure!

Left Friday, arrived at LGA about 9:30. Took shuttle to hotel #1 in Astoria (picked because of the shuttle). Went out and walked down the nearby Steinway Street, which, for the distance we walked it, is shoulder to shoulder hookah bars that time of night – interesting! We got some fabulous shwarama and falafel at Duzan, then went back and crashed.

Up the next morning, packed up and walked (with our backpacks – we were only staying for two days – it’s all we needed.) down to the Museum of the Moving Image, located in the old Astoria Studios, which for a time (the 1910’s-20’s) was the busiest movie studio in the country. It was good, although I wish they had the history of the place a little more prominently displayed and even used as a framework for exhibits. The special exhibit right now is on Jim Henson, which was very interesting, especially the material about his early career. Jim Henson’s is the only celebrity death I’ve ever reacted strongly too – if you were around and sentient during that time, perhaps you remember? It was because he was relatively young (53) and it seemingly came out of nowhere (it was toxic shock syndrome related to a bacterial infection…although there’s also disagreement about that, too), so it shocked many of us.

Anyway, after that, we caught the train, went across the East River, checked into hotel #2 – the first time I’ve ever gotten a hotel in Manhattan on points, so yay – and it was perfectly located – the Residence Inn that’s very close to Bryant Park. We were headed to the Morgan Library, but on the way we stopped at this chicken place in Korea Town we’d been to a couple of visits ago – and it did not disappoint this time, either. Super quick, too – it’s already

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cooked, and you just grab it from the case. Perfect for what we needed. at the moment.

Then over to the Morgan Library for their excellent exhibit on Frankenstein at 200. I’d figured this would be the main museum experience for J because he’d be game watching the rest of the time – and he read Frankenstein last summer for school, so perhaps he’d relate?

One side was material related to the cultural and personal genesis of the work – explanations of the gothic, of the state of science in the early 19th century, and so on. Included were a few manuscript pages of the novel, written in Mary Shelley’s 18 & 19-year old hand. Amazing.

On the other side were posters and programs and illustrations from adaptations. As with so much else, the popularity of Frankenstein was solidified very early by adaptations.

Ann Engelhart – friend, collaborator and water-colorist – met us at the Morgan. I always enjoy going there – they have good, well-curated smaller exhibits (Frankenstein this time and one on Thoreau last time we were here)  and it’s always wonderful to peruse whatever manuscripts they’ve pulled out of the collection in the library itself – not only the illuminated manuscripts and one of the three Gutenburg Bibles in the collection, but things like a hand-written Liszt transcription of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. 

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At this point, the oldest son met us, and then took J away to watch football (Tennessee-Alabama & Indiana-Penn State about covered it) with him at a bar. The three of us then walked back through Bryant Park and up to Steinway Hall, Steinway’s Manhattan showroom.

A diversion – Steinway, is of course, headquartered in Astoria – the very spot we’d been in the day before. The history of Steinway is a good one to study for a bit of a microcosm of immigrant energy, 19th century social tensions, and the transformation of the urban landscape during this period.

Here’s a short summary of Heinrich Steinweg’s invention and development of the fortepiano and his emigration to America in 1853. 

And here’s a history of the Steinway presence is Astoria/Queens – Steinway (as he changed his name) moved his workshop from Manhattan to Queens in the face social unrest – fears of anarchists and socialists – and the draft riots.

With all of this newfound space, William was able to bring in plenty of infrastructure to support the company and its employees. Victorian row houses were built for Steinway employees so that they could all live close to the new production headquarters. Steinway Village spanned, roughly, from what is now Ditmars Boulevard up to the East River/Bowery Bay; and from 31st Street to Hazen Street. A group of the original two-story brick homes has been preserved on 20th Avenue and 41st Street.

Besides the housing, several amenities were developed to make Steinway Village a place that employees and their families could spend all their time. Steinway Reformed Church, built in 1890 on land donated by William Steinway, still stands at 41st Street and Ditmars. The Steinway Library, started with books from William’s own collection, is now a branch of the Queens Library. A public school (one of the first free kindergartens in the country), a fire house, and a post office were also built.

For entertainment, Steinway employees had North Beach, an amusement park/resort area with a ferris wheel, swimming pool and German beer garden located on the Bowery Bay waterfront. The venue did not survive Prohibition, however, and eventually became the site of North Beach Airport (which was later renamed LaGuardia Airport).

William helped develop a whole network of transportation, including ferries, streetcars, trolleys, and horse-car railroads to make the neighborhood more convenient and bring in additional revenue. His influence in the area was so far-reaching that he was responsible for the development of the tunnel under the East River that is used by the 7 train today. 

Someday, we’ll go on the Steinway factory tour – but not for a couple of years – since you have to be 16 to go on it…..

Oh, but back to Manhattan. Steinway Hall has a dedicated room for those who’d like to play a Steinway. There are perhaps some days when it’s more in demand than others, but on this day, we only had to wait about five minutes to take our turn.

Yes, an $80,000 piano feels different….

img_20181020_180038We then did some wandering, stopping in a store here and there (like this one – my son’s favorite), seeing a group doing Capoeira – this Brazilian martial arts/dance thing that is becoming all the rage up here, I guess, then eventually ended up back at Pete’s Tavern, where my oldest wanted to take us to dinner. It’s one of his favorites, and a fun spot to go, it being the longest continually-operating restaurant in New York City.

Sunday morning:

Mass right around the corner from our hotel at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents. It really is just by coincidence that the Masses I’ve attended while traveling over the last two weeks have been Extraordinary Form Low Mass – they’ve both been closest to our hotels at the moment. This one was considerably less crowded than Mass in Kansas City, but that’s not surprising – it’s not a residential area, to say the least. I do wonder how many tourists stumble in there for Mass and settle in, only to be deeply confused, wondering if they’ve entered a time warp of some kind. I think they could probably do a bit more with information directed at people in that situation.

Then a quick breakfast at a deli – we attempted the Andrews Coffee Shop, but it was packed out (not surprisingly), so we just stopped in at a deli down the block, where the guy behind the counter took about five orders before he started cooking, didn’t write anything down and got it all almost 100% correct. “A legend,” as my son said.

Next: Penn Station where my oldest met us, and my fears of my Vikings-gear clad son getting beat up by Jets fans was somewhat alleviated by the waves of Vikings fans surrounding us, also headed to the game. A good weekend trip to NYC, I guess, right?

Then M and I headed to Brooklyn, bearing all of our backpacks – we’d checked out of the hotel, of course. We took the 2 train down here:

…where Ann met us, and we had a lovely afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum – where I’d wanted to go for a while.  They had a decent little Meso-American collection, which M enjoyed – particularly since he found a pretty definite error on one of the placards (I’m going to have him write a letter this week to the museum about it, suggesting a correction.) He also enjoyed the Egyptian collection, which is good-sized, and we were all moved by these large paintings of prisoners during the Russian-Turkish War.

There is some fine American work, including this striking portrait.

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The “Brooklyn Della Robbia” is lovely, and I was..amused by this placard.

My translation: For a while, this piece was deemed way too Eurocentric and Christianist for our eyes. 

Ann and I both took some time to separately go view Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. 

I’ll admit – I was surprised, both by the piece and by my reaction to it. As a young woman, I followed the very controversial beginnings of this piece, as it toured the world, scandalized some and then finally settled in Brooklyn. I was somewhat intrigued, but saw it mostly as a pretty strange concept, and not expressive of any kind of feminism I was interested in signing up for.

Seeing it in person is an experience that convinced me it’s a worthy piece of art, not just a gimmick. And to be honest –  the conceit of it is going to strike a 58-year old woman differently than it will a younger person. We are, in generally, more comfortable and less shockable (some of us, at least) and the body is just…the body. Weird, amazing, singular, life-giving and at the same time, dying. Given the chapel-like setting, of course a spiritual response is expected – but what that is will depend on whether or not you’re looking for the divine feminine or your looking for hints of the desire for Truth, Beauty and Life in what people make in a broken world, through a glass darkly, despite themselves.

 

(If you go to the museum site and read the questions and answers about the piece, you’ll see how the end game to identity politics is clearly in sight, as the museum earnestly responds to a question about the exclusion of “transgender women” from the piece…..)

We then had a fabulous lunch at Werkstatt – fresh, homemade pretzel, wurst, schnitzel and goulash, with lovely cool little dabs of salads to provide contrast. It’s the kind of place: small, serious yet informal – that is totally the norm in the New York City, that is not a big deal, that just sits on the corner like it’s a Waffle House or something – and would be dominating Instagram as  The Restaurant of the Moment for six solid months in Birmingham. It’s just what happens when you get millions of people living in a few dozen square miles, having to compete, live and express their passions. Everything happens and such a higher level – for good and for ill, I suppose.

A great meal!

Ann then drove us around Prospect Park, showing us some great home architecture as I, as I always do, try to figure out how in the world normal people live there, living in these expensive apartments and houses, eating out all the time, paying enormously high taxes… And they do. I get part of it – salaries are higher, people share dwellings, but still. I really don’t understand!

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Ready for Halloween!

I didn’t get a photo – I don’t know why – but of particular interest was the fabulous Japanese House, constructed in the early 20th century. Go check it out. 

 

Then…..the ordeal of getting back here. Which was only sort of an ordeal. We went back to Penn Station, then the train to the Newark Airport (flying out of Newark because of the kid at the game in NJ). For his part, he was making his way from MetLife Stadium to the airport, accompanied part of the way by my oldest. There was some…confusion, but all’s well that ends well. He made it. Our original flight was supposed to leave at 8:30, but it was massively delayed, assuring that we’d miss our connection from ATL to BHM. When I got to the airport, I immediately went to the gate agent and she put us on standby for another, earlier – also delayed – flight. It was supposed to leave at 7:15, I think, but was now scheduled for 8:05. I really don’t understand how all of this works. There were over a hundred people on standby for this flight, and we were #8-10. How did we get so highly placed? I don’t know. And we got on. I don’t have status of any sort. So no – how we got on is a mystery. But we did, and were able to make the connection (if we hadn’t – we would have taken the later flight, and I would have rented a car in Atlanta and just driven home.)

And now, grumbling, everyone’s back in school, and here I am….phew!

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You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

Today is the feast of the North American Martyrs. I have a post here, and I encourage you to go over and read it, and take special care to read St. Jean de Brebeuf’s instructions to his missionaries for how to minister to the Hurons.

There is so much nonsense tossed about more or less constantly about the…well, about almost everything having to do with the Church. So many straw men, so many mischaracterizations of the past, so much selective remembering and so much obsession with a few hobbyhorses that, honestly, aren’t anywhere to be found in the Gospel or the greater Tradition.

So, yes, contrary to what you hear these days, accompaniment and going to the peripheries is not something that Catholics only recently discovered, and that thanks to Pope Francis. I mean – be logical. How could the Gospel be spread through the whole world if, you know, these women and men weren’t all about going to the peripheries? 

So yes. Read what St. Jean de Brebeuf had to say hundreds of years ago:

You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them. Even if it be necessary to criticise anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion. In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.

 

— 2 —

Last night, my youngest son and I attended a lecture in a nearby brewery given by one of our local academic stars, Dr. Sarah Parcak, who has won wide recognition for her work in satellite archaeology. She spoke about her citizen scientist initiative, which she funded from the million bucks she was awarded by the TED initiative:

GlobalXplorer° is an online platform that uses the power of the crowd to analyze the incredible wealth of satellite images currently available to archaeologists. Launched img_20181018_184055by 2016 TED Prize winner and National Geographic Fellow, Dr. Sarah Parcak, as her “wish for the world,” GlobalXplorer° aims to bring the wonder of archaeological discovery to all, and to help us better understand our connection to the past. So far, Dr. Parcak’s techniques have helped locate 17 potential pyramids, in addition to 3,100 potential forgotten settlements and 1,000 potential lost tombs in Egypt — and she’s also made significant discoveries in the Viking world and Roman Empire. With the help of citizen scientists across the globe, she hopes to uncover much, much more. This is just the beginning. With additional funding, Dr. Parcak aims to revolutionize how modern archaeology is done altogether, by creating a global network of citizen explorers, opening field schools to guide archaeological preservation on the ground, developing an archaeological institute, and even launching a satellite designed with archaeology in mind.

Pretty great stuff!

— 3 —

Has anyone watched the PBS This American Experience about Eugenics? I’m wondering how honestly it grapples with the fact of the association between Progressivism and eugenics. 

— 4 —

The NY Post looks at homeschooling New Yorkers. 

By the way, I’ve started dipping my toe back into that world. We’re definitely home/roadschooling at least the first year of high school here, so let those rabbit trails begin again…..

Oh, and here’s another article from City Journal:

Maleka Diggs didn’t intend to homeschool her children. She and her husband, along with their two young daughters, moved to an apartment in a sought-after Philadelphia neighborhood with top-rated public schools. But when Diggs took her older daughter to kindergarten registration, bringing the necessary paperwork to prove residency and eligibility, the school principal didn’t believe that she lived where she did and made disparaging remarks, including asking if coupons paid her rent. “I was angry and hurt,” she recalls, “but it was the best day because it was the beginning of my journey toward homeschooling.”

She quit her job in corporate America and began replicating school at home. She was determined to create a rigorous academic environment for her daughters, complete with worksheets, cubbies, and bells, but the rigidity began to strain the mother/daughter relationships and to hinder learning. She began exploring self-directed education, avoiding the teach-and-test model of schooling in favor of interest-led learning. Today her daughters, now 13 and 11, learn in and from the city, becoming immersed in the vibrancy around them. Her older daughter leads a book group for tweens and teens and is starting a business based on her talent for cooking. Her younger daughter plays Brazilian drums in an adult ensemble group. Diggs has launched the Eclectic Learning Network to create connections among city homeschoolers and to partner with local organizations and businesses to offer homeschooling programming. “My mission is to build community one family at a time,” she says.

From the same author, Kerry McDonald (who has a book coming out next year on unschooling) – a look at compulsory education laws:

Without the state mandating school attendance for most of childhood, in some states up to age 18, there would be new pathways to adulthood that wouldn’t rely so heavily on state-issued high school diplomas. Innovative apprenticeship models would be created, community colleges would cater more toward independent teenage learners, and career preparation programs would expand. As the social reformer Paul Goodman wrote in his book New Reformation: “Our aim should be to multiply the paths of growing up, instead of narrowing the one existing school path.”

In his biography of Horace Mann, historian Jonathan Messerli explains how compulsory schooling contracted a once expansive definition of education into the singular definition of schooling. Indeed, today education is almost universally associated with schooling. Messerli writes: “That in enlarging the European concept of schooling, [Mann] might narrow the real parameters of education by enclosing it within the four walls of the public school classroom.”² Eliminating compulsory schooling laws would break the century-and-a-half stranglehold of schooling on education. It would help to disentangle education from schooling and reveal many other ways to be educated, such as through non-coercive, self-directed education, or “unschooling.”

Even the most adamant education reformers often stop short of advocating for abolishing compulsory schooling statutes, arguing that it wouldn’t make much difference. But stripping the state of its power to define, control, and monitor something as beautifully broad as education would have a large and lasting impact on re-empowering families, encouraging educational entrepreneurs, and creating more choice and opportunity for all learners.

 

— 5 —

You know how some cities have great old train terminals? A lot of them seem to be called Union station or something close. Well, Birmingham used to have a grand old structure like that. Used to.  But in our version of the Penn Station tragedy – but without quite as much protest – it was torn down. Here’s the story, in case you’re interested. And take a look. Sigh.

Unbelievable.

— 6 —

I’m proud to announce that The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories was awarded a silvermedal in the religion category of the Moonbeam Awards:

Launched in 2007, the awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to celebrate children’s books and life-long reading. ….

Creating books that inspire our children to read, to learn, and to dream is an extremely important task, and these awards were conceived to reward those efforts. 

Reminder: The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is structured according to the liturgical year, and the stories are retold within a Catholic, liturgical paradigm. So if you’re looking for Advent devotional reading – you might consider adding this!

(It’s available at any Catholic bookseller of course, but I do have copies here as well.)

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— 7 —

Heading to NYC later today…keep up with the shenanigans on Instagram, especially Stories. 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The big news down here was of course, Hurricane Michael. We were well out of the way of anything except some clouds, but of course the Gulf shore is “the beach” for this part of the country. We’ve never actually been to Mexico Beach, but many people do spend time in that area – and of course many live down there and have seen their lives turned completely upside down in this devastation. I can’t see how an area recovers from this.

Before and after photos here.

 

— 2 —

Reading: A couple of days ago, I read the novel The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen. I had read her The Great Man and thought it was just okay – but this was on the new books shelf at the library, it vaguely appealed to me, and I wanted to have a real book on hand to read one evening as a prophylatic against the temptation of screens, so there you go.

Like the other – it was okay. It kept my interest, and I enjoyed reading about food – from one of the ship’s chef’s perspective – and music, from the perspective of an aging Israeli musician on board. In fact, both of those subplots – about the Hungarian sous-chef trying to figure out his path – and the string quartet composed of one woman and three men, all elderly and all veterans of life in Israel during its formative years, including military service – were absorbing enough. But the rest of the characters were too lightly sketched or too (surprisingly) stereotypical representatives of ethnic groups. I thought she could have done a lot more with the setting and bigger theme – this “last cruise” is on a smaller cruise ship being retired after this voyage, a ship that enjoyed its heyday in the 50’s and 60’s , and the voyage was themed to be a retro celebration of all of that. There was also just a bit too much busy-ness in the plot and honestly, the main female character (not the musician) wasn’t interesting at all.

A lot of readers on both Amazon and Goodreads hate the ending – and so I was prepared to hate it, too, but…I didn’t. When you have a book set on a ship, you’ve got a ready-made metaphor for Life right there, and it just seemed to me that the ending was, if not emotionally satisfying, true to the way that life goes, all of us knocking about on this ship, subject to uncontrollable forces, doing what we can, be surprised by each other along the way.

Some reader-reviewers say that the end is too much like the climax of The Perfect Storm, but since I’ve neither read nor seen it, I can’t speak to that.

— 3 —

Well, we’ve got some canonizations this weekend, don’t we? Romero I get of course, but Paul VI? Really? Well, I take that back. Since I have no illusions about ecclesiastical politics and ideological agendas, sure, I get the push to canonize Paul VI. But…yeah. Tell me about all the popular devotion to Paul VI out there. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

/cynicism.

Well, that’s not honest because my cynicism is never off. Sorry.

Anyway, more important than my snide remarks are the lives of the five other saints being canonized today. Here’s a report.

Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio was born in Pescosansonesco (Italy) on 13 April 1817 and died in Naples (Italy) on 5 May 1836. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on 1 December 1963.

Blessed Francesco Spinelli, diocesan priest and Founder of the Institute of the Sister Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, who born in Milan (Italy) on 14 April 1853 and died at Rivolta d’Adda (Italy) on 6 February 1913.

Blessed Vincenzo Romano, diocesan priest, who was born at Torre del Greco (Italy) on 3 June 1751 and died there on 20 December 1831.

Blessed Maria Caterina Kasper, Foundress of the Institute of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ who was born on 26 May 1820 in Dernbach (Germany) and died there on 2 February 1898.

Blessed Nazaria Ignazia March Mesa (in religion: Nazaria Ignazia di Santa Teresa di Gesù), Foundress of the Congregation of the Misioneras Cruzadas de la Iglesia Sisters who was born in Madrid (Spain) on 10 January 1889 and died in Buenos Aires (Argentina) on 6 July 1943.

— 4 —

Samford University, a local Baptist institution, is hosting a conference at the end of the month – on teaching Dante. 

In a 1921 encyclical marking the 600th anniversary of Dante’s death, Pope Benedict XV praised the great Florentine poet as “that noble figure, pride and glory of humanity.” Few writers have shaped the Christian intellectual tradition and imagination more than Dante, this noble figure whose work stands between two worlds, embodying the creative genius of the Middle Ages while anticipating and shaping the Renaissance to come. “Teaching Dante” will bring together more than thirty scholars from across the disciplines to explore effective strategies for introducing a new generation of students to Dante’s achievement and influence.

Hopefully, we’ll get to the free lecture, by Notre Dame’s Theodore Cachey, called “Mapping Hell.”

— 5 —

Next Monday is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila. She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 

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St. Ignatius of Antioch coming up, too – October 17. Go here to prep for that!

— 6 —

If you don’t come here regularly during the week, check back a few days to the big post I did on our long weekend trip to the Kansas City area. 

 

More travel coming fairly soon: to NYC this time, so stay tuned here and to Instagram for that.

Just a reminder: if you cast your eyes up the screen a bit, you see a couple of tabs up there – and they will take to pages with blog posts focused on those topics: homeschooling and travel. The travel page isn’t complete, but I’m getting there.

Also – I’ve posted some more general interest posts of old to the Medium site. 

 

— 7 —

Coming soon: Posts on Better Call Saul and Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, which I read on the plane to Kansas City.

Hopefully, early next week.

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Heading out for the long weekend, but the weather indicates that rain is going to be a feature of our location, so here’s hoping I do more than sit on a runway on Saturday. As per usual, check Instagram, especially stories, for updates.

 — 2 —

I’ve blogged almost every day this past week about one thing or another, so just click backwards for some more of this kind of thing if you like. In particular, you might be interested in yesterday’s posts on St. Francis of Assisi.

— 3 —

Today’s the feastday of St. Faustina, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

 

 

— 4 —

Every other day or so I offer a digest of what I’m reading, watching, listening to and so on. I’ve not read any books since yesterday, but I did read this article – which you should be able to access if you’re interested – on the collapse of early 19th century religious orders in Peru. 

For many years, the sudden collapse of the major religious orders in Peru shortly after independence has interested this author. For the religious orders, Lima had been what it was for the viceroy: the center of the organizational structure for most of the continent with the stately conventos and lavishly endowed churches to attest to the importance of that position. Yet, within a relatively short period, 1826-1830, the grandeur faded and the power disappeared. Why?

And even if you’re not interested…I’ll tell you what interested me. First the tone of the article – published in 1982 and written by Antonine Tibesar, a Franciscan friar and historian – deeply scholarly, but refreshing in its (not surprising) deep understanding of religious life from the inside. Secondly – well, the history – a good thing, since it’s an article about history. What Tibesar is asking is just what the title suggests: in the early 19th century, religious orders collapsed in Peru. Why? Well, the simple and obvious answer is that the Spanish government had been sporadically, but intensely determined to secularize religious orders (that is put the orders out of business and require any man or woman who sought to remain a priest or nun to prove they had a means of support and place themselves under the control of a bishop) and that drive made its way over to the newly independent Peru.

There were other shenanigans, which I can’t quite parse out, perhaps because I’m tired. But in the end, Tibesar blames other religious as much as he does the secular governments for the capitulation.

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And I only go on as long as I have about this as a reminder of the complexities of religious history: that if Catholicism is struggling in Europe and South America – well, it has been struggling, off and on, in often profound ways – for centuries.

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A couple of local churchish notes. First, the rector of our Cathedral has made available a booklet he’s put together about baptism in the Extraordinary Form – which is happening more and more down here.  You might find it interesting and useful. 

— 6 —

Secondly, the Church in Russellville, Alabama is experience tremendous growth, people-wise, and needs a building to match. Here’s more at our rector’s blog about it, plus a video about the parish. 

The Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen made a great deal of money through his work on television and the talks and special media appearances he did besides. But one of the (surprising?) things we discover upon studying his life is that not only did he donate most of his earnings to the missions, but he also used some of his funds to build churches in poor areas — including in the South. There are churches in Alabama that were built by Archbishop Sheen! In spite of the celebrity he enjoyed, he lived rather frugally and was quite generous where it mattered the most.

I am not aware of a Fulton Sheen-like person who might help with this current project and great need, but it is similar in scope.  In the small town of Russellville, Alabama(pop. approx. 10,000), there is the parish of the Good Shepherd. Or as many of its parishioners know it — “Buen Pastor”. The town has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom work in the area chicken processing plants (maybe in the past you’ve eaten some chicken that met its fate in Russellville!). In the past, the church was built with great support from Filipino immigrants. With some exceptions, the Catholic population in Russellville has long had a large immigrant component.

The current church seats 200. Each Sunday, Fr. Vincent Bresowar, its pastor, has to put out chairs wherever he can find the space. Under his good leadership the parish has grown. But he is only one priest: he could add more Masses to accommodate the growing community, but priests are only supposed to say so many Masses per day (basically, two Monday-Saturday and three on Sunday, max). Fr. Bresowar routinely has to go over the “legal limit” to accommodate his community. He generously does so — but celebrating so many Masses wears down a priest. I know this from experience.

What they need in Russellville is a new and larger church. Fr. Bresowar has purchased an adjacent property to ensure sufficient space for the new church and a real parking lot that begins to accommodate the crowds. He has had a local architect design a building that actually looks like a church and he has employed a great consultant to help with the interior decoration. Cutting every possible corner while also recognizing that a church building is built first of all for the glory of God, Fr. Bresowar has come up with a plan that will cost in the ballpark of $2.5 million.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, in consultation with the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Birmingham, has approved a Capital Campaign so that Fr. Bresowar and parishioners may begin in earnest to raise the needed funds. Remember: this is a primarily immigrant community. They are very resourceful people and will do their part. But they are not pulling in large salaries. They are open to life and have numerous families. They are often helping their families in their home countries, who live in destitution. Some of them will be able to give “in-kind”, helping with the construction and finishing. They will host many fundraisers. But in the end, we need to go outside this community to raise the money needed.

 

— 7 —

Finally, from the Catholic Herald  – Michael Duggan on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s glimmers of religion:

Leigh Fermor was full of admiration and respect for the role that the monks of the West had played in history, for the centuries in which they were the only guardians of things he loved: literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities. He also found that the company of the small number of living monks‎ he was permitted to speak with was like the company of any civilised, well-educated Frenchmen “with all the balance, erudition and wit that one expected, the only difference being a gentleness, a lack of haste, and a calmness which is common to the whole community”.

More profoundly, he also came to appreciate the role of monasteries in what is sometimes called the economy of salvation. It was their belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer – “a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought” – that explains the sacrifices these men made. Vows embracing poverty, chastity and obedience were destined to smite “all fetters that chained them to the world, to free them for action, for the worship of God and the practice of prayer; for the pursuit, in short, of sanctity.”

Leigh Fermor smiled at the fact that the monastic habitat should prove “favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed”: his ambition, on the one hand, to get a book finished and his publisher off his back, and, on the other hand, the ambitions of the monks. These men, he found, could still embark on those “hazardous mystical journeys of the soul” which culminate in “blinding moments of union with the Godhead”, the very inkling of which, “since Donne, Quarley, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne wrote their poems, has drained away from life in England”.

In the Introduction to A Time to Keep Silence, Paddy grappled briefly with the question of what his experiences inside the monastery walls might ultimately signify. He wrote that he was profoundly affected by the places he described. Though unsure about what his feelings amounted to, he was convinced that they were “deeper than mere interest and curiosity, and more important than the pleasure an historian or an aesthete finds in ancient buildings and liturgy”. In monasteries, he found “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”. Describing himself as no stranger to “recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief”, he implies nevertheless that he had been the beneficiary of a “supernatural windfall”.

In the end, Paddy never fully cashed in this windfall. A Time to Keep Silence was published in 1957, but there were to be no more books on an exclusively religious theme. His life (a quite extraordinary one, in ways I have barely touched on here) was filled with many different interests, pleasures and friendships, some of which would have thrown up serious obstacles to any burgeoning Catholicism.

He had an open relationship with his wife, Joan Rayner, who was also a committed atheist.  While he stayed on in Rome to witness (and “swoon” at) the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958, his primary reason for being in the Eternal City in the first place was to conduct an affair with a young divorcee.  Three pages of A Time to Keep Silence are devoted to the conflicts and mysteries of chastity.

I am speculating, of course, but perhaps Leigh Fermor’s temperament – that old, latent religious mania – sometimes led him back towards the threshold of belief, only for his appetites to lead him away again, down the path of least resistance, garlanded with pleasures, adored by friends and lovers, and adoring them in return.

Many of us know some version of this dilemma.  We need a strong motive to turn our backs on the worldly delights which converged on Patrick Leigh Fermor like iron filings on a magnet, in favour of the less certain rewards that emanate from spiritual dread and spiritual joy.  As Artemis Cooper has pointed out to me, Paddy (unlike, say, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene) “could live without answers to the big questions: what am I doing here, why is there evil in the world, what has God got to do with it.  These big themes didn’t preoccupy him much.”

To those who’ve read the books and letters, this observation has the ring of truth.  But could it be that Patrick Leigh Fermor was able to live a life seemingly unpreoccupied by God because of the knowledge that he had acquired at first-hand in places like Saint Wandrille and La Grande Trappe?

This was the knowledge that, all the while, in those monasteries scattered across the West, which he called “silent factories of prayer”, there were other civilized, well-educated gentlemen just like him who had succeeded in abandoning everything.  And that they had done so in order to help their fellow-men, and themselves, to meet something he had intuited himself during those brief pockets of time spent in monastic cells, woods and cloisters, something which he and most of us push to the back of our minds for most of the time, and to which he gave a name: “the terrifying problem of eternity”.

There is a strange thread of connection between all of these items. I’m not sure what it is, exactly….

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Here’s a public service announcement for you.

I was sitting here at my computer, with my phone on the desk. A new phone (not an Iphone. I don’t do Apple. Just don’t like the ecosystem.) . It kept….pinging. No notifications came up. I cleared it. Made sure Google Assistant was disabled. I put it back down.

Ping. 

Pick it up, look.

Again, no notifications. Put it back down.

Ping. 

So I’m thinking…is it just the action of moving it around that’s doing this? 

What to do? A search, of course. “Pixel won’t stop notifications.”

Ah-ha. 

Now. Look at this photo and see if you can figure out what was happening. This is where I was setting it.

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 — 2 —

On top of that stack of books.

Which – because we are very cutting-edge here in Alabama – are equipped with RFID tags for checkout. The phone has the technology that enables it to be used to tap for payments, etc – and so every time I set the phone down on the books, it sensed the presence of the tag and tried to communicate with it.

(The more you know….)

 

— 3 —

This is going to be quick today. I had a busy day today and am going to San Antonio on Saturday, so my brain is full of that business.

 

— 4 —

I had read a bit about this before we went to Japan – how the country has consciously tried to increase tourism over the past few years – but this article sets it all in context and reaffirms my sense that I won’t be going over there for cherry blossom season…

Ninety-eight point five per cent of the population identify as ethnically Japanese and there are 127m of them. Respect, protocol, correct form – these are the absolute fundamentals of Japanese life. And a devotion to cleanliness, which is revered as a moral virtue. When my wife was a child she, like every other Japanese primary school student, cleaned the floors and windows of her school. There was no hired help, because the students did the cleaning. There was no shame in this act – just the opposite. For what could be more of a source of pride than in keeping your place of education spotlessly clean? It is a uniquely Japanese attitude not shared or even understood by the rest of this slovenly planet, which doesn’t even take its dirt-smeared shoes off before entering the home. Mass immigration was never going to fly in Japan. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hit on a brilliant ruse – let the foreigners in for a couple of weeks at a time and then send them back home. Not mass immigration as a saviour to Japan’s coffers, but mass tourism. So for the first time in its history, Japan was transformed into one of the world’s great tourist destinations. And it has worked. Spending around $1.3 billion, 600,000 tourists from the People’s Republic Of China came to Japan this spring for hanami – the ritual viewing of the sakura cherry blossoms, which bloom and die in a matter of days. Nothing is more essentially Japanese than hanami, a celebration of nature’s temporal beauty, and now the world is taking a selfie in front of those falling pink leaves. Abe was hoping for the number of international tourists to reach 20m by the time of the Tokyo Olympics, which start on 24 July 2020. But Japan shot past the 20m mark five years ahead of schedule. By 2017 the number of visitors had already reached almost 27m a year and Abe’s revised ambition is to attract 40m visitors a year by 2020 and 60m visitors a year by 2030 – which would make Japan a tourist destination almost twice as popular as Thailand.

 

— 5 –

A couple of localish links:

I am a sucker for “Abandoned ___________” photo spreads and features. Ruins of any sort are my thing. Hitting close to home is the Abandoned Southeast website which in its most current post features a crazy house not too far from where I live. It’s interesting that since putting up the post earlier in the week, the blogger has been able to update it with the news that the house has indeed been purchased and the new owner is planning to clean it up and renovate it. More photos at the What’s Left in Birmingham site.  I feel like driving over there just to see if I can spot the feral pigs he mentions.

Best news of the week has been that one of my favorite blogs – Deep Fried Kudzu is back. Ginger blogs about travel and food, mostly, with particular interests in WPA public art, primitive found art and grave shelters. I can’t tell you how valuable her blog has been to me in the years I’ve lived down here – whenever we’ve got an adventure on the horizon, I search her blog for information on quirky things to see and good places to eat.

So, for example, it was through Deep Fried Kudzu that I learned about the Amish community up in Tennessee, which we visited a few weeks ago. 

So…she took a well-deserved break, but I’m glad she’s back – see – there’s still a place for blogs in this crazy world!

— 6 —

It’s St. Bartholomew’s Day!

In art, the apostles are often portrayed in art with the means of their death, so you do see Bartholomew holding his flayed skin.  The most well-known is the depiction in the Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

"amy welborn"

Also impressive is the huge statue in St. John Lateran. It stands in the central nave, along with representations of all the apostles. 

"amy welborn"

And take a look at this post from the Clerk of Oxford blog on some medieval traditions, with this lovely and true reflection:

This story suggests all kinds of interesting things about memory and oral transmission in eleventh-century England, and the way traditions were perpetuated within communities; it’s unusual to have such specific details of the means by which knowledge was transmitted from one generation to another. Young Eadmer, listening to Edwin and the others tell their story, was not very different from the children at St Bartholomew’s who ran the other day to receive their currant buns, watched over by their elders; one purpose of such ceremonies is to imprint their memory on the younger generation, specifically in this case the principle of St Bartholomew’s ancient tradition of charity. The elders were once children themselves, and one day the running children may be the watching hospitallians in their wheelchairs. With stories, current buns and biscuits, we ensure that our children know about the past so that one day they will remember and acknowledge it as we do.

 

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Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

 

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

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