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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

A bit of a week, here. Nothing dramatic, just getting into the groove of this weird new life – of just me and one kid. Described a bit here in this post. 

You also might want to check out the essay I had published in Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal.  I’m going to come right out and say that the final line of the piece is not mine. It was added – I ended with the quote. Which I still prefer. But I’m still grateful for the publication and the wider reach it afforded me, and will be following up with More Thoughts.

While we’re at it – Son #4 on Ingmar Bergman – a retrospective and overview – and then his ranking of Bergman’s best films. 

— 2 —

 

Related to my essay. I thought this was  good – from an evangelical perspective, a reflection on a few prominent defections from faith.  It’s based on a FB post, so it has that “tossed off” effect (which you see, er, here all the time, of course) – but it’s worth a look:

 

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

 

— 3 —

School is proceeding apace. This week has seen:

  • Latin – reviewing a chapter, preparing for a test that he’ll take Friday
  • Math – working through chapters 3 and 4 of Counting and Probability. Permutations and Combinations. I will throw in Khan Academy on the same subject tomorrow, to give a slightly different take.
  • Hamlet – reading aloud Acts 1 and 2, watching the Great Courses lecture by Professor Marc C. Conner – accessed through the pay-monthly Great Courses Plus. It’s a decent take – not deep, but good enough for us right now. We’ll be seeing the production of the Bedlam Theater of the play that is in residence at Alabama Shakespeare this month – I’m intrigued by the conceit – four actors playing all the roles. Watched snippets of the Yorick speech – the David Tennant, Branagh and Mel Gibson versions. I think David Tennant won.
  • Iliad  – listening to the Derek Jacobi audiobook reading. Not sure where we’re at. After listening to chunks on the trip, we’re on smaller snippets on shorter car trips to here and there. I’ll probably say, “Just read the next four books without listening” so we can get it all done by the time the Audible free trial ends.
  • Spanish – he’s doing on his own with a few resources. I’m not involved at this point.
  • Daily religion of Mass readings/saints – also started introducing the Old Testament using this book. 
  • Biology: Homeschool class taught by Ph.d. from a local college began this week.
  • He’s been grabbing the computer and writing something – short story or novel, I don’t know.
  • He’s still reading The Lord of the Rings
  • Regular piano lesson & jazz lesson. Organ will probably start back up next week.

Weekend:  High school football game; service project; serve Mass. Etc.

 — 4 —

Homeschoolers are forever talking about “spines.” Not – as in – you’ve got to have a strong spine for this line of work– but more in terms of a central organizing resource. What spine are you using for World History? That sort of thing.

Last night, M and I stopped by a local brewery to check out the Office trivia event they were having. It was rather a letdown. I told him we wouldn’t participate because I by no means thought we’d know enough to compete against people who’ve watched the whole series through ten times – as I know some people have. But, as it turned out – the questions were pretty simple (M knew all the answers, and he hasn’t watched it through ten times…I don’t think), and perhaps we should have entered. But then – the thing was so inefficiently run, during the 45 minutes we were there, all of six questions were asked. So…it’s good, in the end, we didn’t bother.

But then I thought – hey! There’s trivia almost every night somewhere in this town. How about using bar trivia nights as a homeschooling spine? 

Well?

Who’s in?

 

— 5 

Speaking of homeschooling – this was a link I used to post all the time when homeschooling younger fellows. A very nice monthly collection of quotes and poems related to that particular month and season. I like it – good for reading, sharing, copywork if you still do that. 

6–

More education rants. I do my share of griping about technology and education, but do you want a more succinct, knowledgeable treatment, one that you can easily pass on to your school administrators? Yeah, here you go:

But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste. In the first place, technology exacerbates the greatest problem of all in schools: confusion about their purpose. Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker. But in many public school districts we have already traded our collective birthright, the promise of human flourishing, for a mess of utilitarian pottage called “job skills.” The more recent, panicked, money-lobbing fetish for STEM is a late realization that even those dim promises will go unmet.

Second, it harms students even in the narrow sense of training workers: the use of technology in schools actually lowers test scores in reading, math, and science, damages long-term memory, and induces addiction. Both advanced hardware and the latest software have proven counterproductive. The only app or device found to meaningfully improve results with any consistency is an overhead projector in the hands of a competent human teacher.

Finally, educational technology is a regressive political weapon, never just a neutral tool: it increases economic inequality, decreases school accountability, takes control away from teachers, and makes poorer students more vulnerable to threats from automation and globalization…

….

Yet, after decades of trying, it is clear that injecting more tech­nology into education turns out to be a massive waste of time and resources, even according to its proponents’ own criteria. The massively subsidized rush to convert schools into Apple stores only diminishes students’ capacity for “creativity” and “innovation.” Technology, even in the narrowest commercial sense, depends on the liberal arts—pursuits that are subject neither to the practical demands of society nor to its untrained desires—to provide the higher ends that technology serves, as well as the new thinking on which it is based. The blatant commercial wastefulness and impracticality of number theory, not to mention literature or playing the violin, offers hints that those pursuits are priceless rather than worthless.

The sciences and mathematics have a historic place in the cur­riculum, and technology does not, for the simple reason that the latter is not inherently “about” anything. Absent human contributions on specific topics, cut off from the subject matter of academic work, technology is nothing—an electron microscope without any samples, darkened VR goggles, an empty spreadsheet. Specializing in techne as such means trying to teach people to be good at “making” without having any idea of what to make, or why to make it.

How did we get here? The American public education system, a rusted-out 1976 mustard sedan whose “check engine” light is always on, is driven by a psychopath who wants, by turns, to crash it for the insurance, to insist that cars can be submarines, and to spend hilarious sums on unnecessary parts

— 7 —

Zillions of words uttered, gallons of ink spilled, all to try to explain Christianity and distinguish it from other belief systems – or even to declare that it perhaps isn’t so different after all. Shrug. 

These very few words from Scottish composer James McMillan answer both the seeker and the doubter, it seems to me.  What is the human person? Who are we and what are we about and what are we to make of this life on earth, strange, beautiful and suffering? McMillan and his family found the answer embodied in the brief life of his disabled granddaughter,

…the important things in human existence are not the money you make or the power you accrue, or the influence you bear — it is something which is embodied in a little [pause], in a little broken child, like Sara…

…And that’s the kind of revelation of sorts that comes through a knowledge of what the Catholic Church teaches. And a teaching that is made incarnate in a very damaged wee girl.

 

 

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

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Gregory’s story has a lot to teach us about that tricky thing called discernment.

Back in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted two General Audiences to this saint.  He began with a helpful outline of his life – born into an important Roman family, serving as prefect of Rome, turning his family’s land into a monastery togregory the greatwhich he retired, then entering the service of the pope during very difficult times in Rome, including the plague, which killed the pope, and then…

The clergy, people and senate were unanimous in choosing Gregory as his successor to thend  See of Peter. He tried to resist, even attempting to flee, but to no avail: finally, he had to yield. The year was 590.

Recognising the will of God in what had happened, the new Pontiff immediately and enthusiastically set to work. From the beginning he showed a singularly enlightened vision of realty with which he had to deal, an extraordinary capacity for work confronting both ecclesial and civil affairs, a constant and even balance in making decisions, at times with courage, imposed on him by his office.

Benedict engages in some more analysis in the second GA. This is useful and important to read. 

Wanting to review these works quickly, we must first of all note that, in his writings, Gregory never sought to delineate “his own” doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.

And that is what any teacher of the faith, especially a pastor, is called to do.

Moving on:

Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties. Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul. Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the “preacher” par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all. Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person: here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology. From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.

Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the “ars artium”, the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.

Another significant work is the Dialogues. In this work addressed to his friend Peter, the deacon, who was convinced that customs were so corrupt as to impede the rise of saints as in times past, Gregory demonstrated just the opposite: holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proved it by narrating the life of contemporaries or those who had died recently, who could well be considered saints, even if not canonised. The narration was accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographical text, capable of enchanting entire generations of readers. The material was drawn from the living traditions of the people and intended to edify and form, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions regarding the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell, the representation of the next world – all themes that require fitting clarification. Book II is wholly dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia and is the only ancient witness to the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty the text highlights fully.

Above all he was profoundly convinced that humility should be the fundamental virtue for every Bishop, even more so for the Patriarch. Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decisively contrary to great titles. He wanted to be – and this is his expression – servus servorum Dei.Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way. His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants”. Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.

And he’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. 

amy-welborn-bookgregory-the-great

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— 1 —

We’ll make this super quick.

 

2

All right! There’s one! Seriously, though – Thursday was a travel day. From Omaha down to College Freshman’s college, where we took him out for lunch, dropped off some treats, got the scoop (everything going fine, it seems), said, “See you at fall break” and then drove on.

 

— 3 —

We’d thought about stopping in St. Louis, but at some point earlier in the week, I realized that we’d get to St. Louis by probably 5 – which meant that all the “attractions” we might want to see would be closed. Sure, the wonderful City Museum would be open, but it’s not that we’re too old for that now (14), but more…who wants to do that without a partner in crime? And we’ve been to the Arch, which is great, sure, but worth a stop on a trip like this – a “stop” meaning an overnight? Nope.

So Memphis it is, with a brief stop in Ste. Genevieve – a place I’ve wanted to visit – the first permanent European settlement in Missouri. It was a somewhat illuminating sidetrip – many original structures crowded on small streets, far enough from the river to hopefully avoid the floods – a small river ferry just outside of town as well – but it would probably be better to do when things like the visitor’s center and the museum were open and the ferry was running.

-4–

We’ll do one major thing here this morning – a site we haven’t done yet (no, not Graceland – I went to Graceland years ago, and with a $40 admission charge now –  er, no.), eat at a favorite barbecue place, then head home. It really does seem impossible that it was only a week ago that we were heading through here with a about-to-be college freshman and me, a very nervous parent. It seems a million years ago, both in time and emotion.

Life, indeed, goes on.

–5 —

A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a Diary feature for the Catholic Herald. I wrote it – then rewrote it from scratch in the very early hours of the morning it was due in a hotel room in Caceres, Spain because, as I keep griping, my laptop for the moment is this STUPID Chromebook (don’t buy one) that I had to buy for former college senior’s former senior year in his former school, and little did I know that if you forget your Google password and think, “Eh, I’ll just reset it” – that resetting wipes everything from the Chromebook – including the Word app you’d downloaded because you hate Google Docs.

(Don’t buy a Chromebook)

Ahem. Okay. Well, so I wrote – and rewrote it, and then sort of forgot about it. They never sent me a link to the published version. Yesterday, I was thinking, “Hey, I wonder about that Corpus Christi piece – did it ever actually get published?”

Well, here it is!

Not a lot to it, but it might make ya think, as they say.

— 6 —

This is great. Absolutely great. We’ll be using this.

Aquinas 101 from the Dominicans (who else?)

— 7 —

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2020 Devotional available. 

Son’s new novel available.

Son posts film thoughts every day during the week. And, as I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week: He has a full-time job, writes fiction, watches tons of movies and writes about them daily (Tarantino this week) has a wife and a five-year old and still has found time to read War and Peace over the past couple of months. Yeah.

Here’s his blog post on the novel!

 

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

 

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He’s dead, she’s dead, they’re dead, so now what?

I’ve experienced some loss and grief, and so have you. This past year Netflix has brought us a couple of high-profile short series that, you might have noticed, have death and its aftermath at the center: the unlikely-friends-comedy-mystery Dead to Me and the Ricky Gervais comedy After Life.

I’ve watched them both – Dead to Me when it came out in the spring, and After Life just Related imagethis past weekend. Neither was entirely satisfying, and I’ll say that Dead to Me was especially disappointing considering the cast and that I was predisposed to dislike After Life anyway.

This won’t be a full-scale review, but more of a (brief) reflection on what interested me in both shows: the particular aspects of grief and loss they evoked.

Dead to Me stars Christina Applegate as Jen, a woman whose husband was killed in a hit-and-run accident while out jogging. At a grief retreat, she’s befriended by Judy, played by the wonderful Linda Cardellini (you may know her from Mad Men). There are all kinds of plot twists and the show lurches between dark comedy and more than one mystery – not only who killed Jen’s husband, but who exactly Judy is and why she’s latched on to Jen. I eventually lost interest in the plot machinations. Less convolution would have served the story well.

But there was a truth at the core of Dead to Me that went beyond female bonding.

What gets everything going is Jen’s obsessive, driving need to know what happened. How did her husband die? Why was in that place at that time? Who did this? What could she have done differently? Was she herself at all responsible?

It’s a natural series of questions for this character, given the very real mystery and crime that caused her husband’s death. Nonetheless, it highlights, rather effectively, similar questions that any less dramatic death tends to raise in the hearts of the living: How did this happen? Whose fault is it? Could we have done anything differently?

And whether the death in question was sudden or expected, accidental, natural or criminal, whether our initial reaction is acceptance, relief or shock, eventually the questions and doubts hit, and depending on the specifics and who we are, we might spend some time wondering about it all and even obsessing about our own mysteries. We run scenarios in our head, we ponder the chain of choices that got the dead to the point at which death found them and wonder if there could have been different choices made that would have cleared a different path.

And – as Jen discovers – sometimes the answers we uncover can make us, at the very least, uncomfortable, or even rock our world. When death irrupts into life, the living suddenly find themselves with access to the dead’s secrets – as we go through our parents’ houses and papers, our spouses’ and friends’ records and letters. Some questions are answered, but more will probably be raised – with no one around to answer them any more. We thought we knew them, we thought we understood, we were confident that past events told one story, but in fact the real story might have been something quite different all along.

The thing is, this is true all the time, even apart from death. How well do we know others? Not very well. We live in a narrative that’s only a sliver of reality. That doesn’t make it unreal, necessarily – although then again, it might be.  Death has the power to force the question – what really happened here? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Did I understand anything at all?

That’s the real, essential question of Dead to Me, and I just wish that it had more of a place in the show than wacky hijinks and mystery for its own sake.

After Life is also dark, also a comedy, none of that unexpected as it comes from the mind and pen of Ricky Gervais. I’m not a huge fan of Gervais, especially in his self-important Professional Atheist guise, although I did like The Office and Extras and very much – very much –  appreciate his firm dismissal of transgender activism and other aspects of Cancel Culture. He’s one of the few consistent public figures out there on this score: Yes, I have the right to express my views, no matter how noxious they’re judged to be – and that means others do as well.

Gervais plays Tony, a man whose wife died of cancer some months before we get rolling. They were together for twenty-five years, and childless. Tony works at a small-town newspaper and spends his days having foul-tempered run-ins with various townspeople and co-workers. Episodes are peppered with Tony watching videos left by his wife when she was in the hospital, as well as videos he made of their life together.

The bottom line of the plot here is: Tony has lost his world, and doesn’t see a reason to Image result for after life gervaiskeep existing. Suicide is continually on his mind, even when he chooses against it – that choice gives him, as he puts it, a “superpower” – to keep on living life exactly as he pleases, saying and doing what he wants, knowing that at any point he can just end it.

After a few episodes of this jerk behavior, we have a shift – a decision Tony makes results in a tragedy (although he never really takes ownership of it), which results in him rethinking things – along with a few other encounters, he comes to understand that, yes, he has a “superpower”  – to impact the lives of others for good.

So…(again, spoiler alert) – the last episode gives us the equivalent of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie or It’s a Wonderful Life as Tony opens up to life again, finally realizes that he’s not the only person in the world who’s suffering and sprinkles the fairy dust of good deeds over his surroundings. It’s almost shockingly sentimental.

There’s truth about grief and loss in After Life. Dead to Me brings out the questions a death can prompt. After Life centers on the wrenching world-shifting of loss, the question of what is the world now if my world as I knew and loved it is gone? As well as the possible answer of – it’s whatever and it doesn’t matter and so what.

Probably the truest statement in After Life is Tony’s account of his feelings – he’s an atheist remember – that  “I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her.” As I’ve written before, one of the flashes of empathy I experienced in the aftermath of my husband’s death was just that kind of feeling – being drawn to where ever the deceased was. I wasn’t tempted myself – honestly, I wasn’t – but I understood, in a way that I never had before, how someone, completely lost and thrown out of their world by this kind of loss, could attempt to follow.

The other very true big thing in After Life is the role of others in pulling us out of a loss-centered existence back into life. For Tony, it’s his dog – every time he’s seriously tempted to kill himself, the presence and needs of the dog pulls him back.

The dog plays another interesting role that I’ve not seen commented on – perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Tony is a person with some warmth, but he’s also got (not surprisingly) that Gervais cruel humor thing going on, even with those he loves. Besides the videos left by his wife, Tony watches old videos that he’d made of moments with her – and up to a point, most of these moments involve him surprising her in a borderline cruel way – dumping water on her, and so on. But then, as events start to turn and some light begins to dawn to break through Tony’s nihilism, the clip he watches has a different tone – it’s the moment when he awakens his wife, not with a loud noise or water, but with this brand new puppy, a ribbon tied around its neck. A sign of the goodness of which he’s capable – a reminder.

Back to the bigger truth – it’s what I found over and over again. In the face of loss, I had to ask a question, and the question centered around my kids. How do I want them to live? They lost their dad at a young age. Devasting. Life-changing. Potentially disastrous. How do I want them to live with that? If I choose to live my life defined by loss and who’s not there any more, that’s one thing – bad enough – but to raise kids to be centered on the hole, the shadow, the absence – instead of on the joy that life promises – well, that’s just cruel and even a little sick, isn’t it?

And what follows from that?

If I want this for my kids – why not want it for myself as well?  If it’s good enough for them – to move on and embrace reality, which includes joy as well as pain – it’s good enough for me, too. Live the way you hope those you love will live.

So there’s the truth bombs of After Life: Death rips your world apart, and healing happens when you recognize that you’re not the center of the world.

Life goes on is one way to say it – but in a bigger, more generous sense: Life goes on, and life is full of hurting people – and despite your pain and loss – or maybe even because of it – you can do something to help.

That’s the superpower of loss, when we are honest about it and ourselves – empathy.

There are a few more things to like about After Life and some that turned me off.

  • The vulgarity is that off-the-charts British mode which makes frequent use of a word that starts with c that even I can’t stand to hear. Hate. It.
  • Gervais is, of course, an argumentative, proud atheist, and gives his characters a couple of opportunities to show off against weak theist strawmen. These are boring. The show is Gervais’ and comes from his worldview, fine. But what makes it less interesting in the end, is the underlying assumption that the theist’s answer to loss and grief is of course simplistic and easy and less “realistic” than the atheist’s. Because no believers ever grapple with mystery and shadow and questions,
  • What’s ironic about this is that the conclusion of After Life is certainly heartwarming, but also…simplistic.
  • I’m not big on demanding things of a piece of art – saying, for example, that a character shouldn’t have done something or said something. But I’m going to go ahead an violate that rule here. Gervais’ character is, indeed a selfish, self-centered jerk, but I still found his reaction to his wife’s death wanting – even in that context. He doesn’t, for example, articulate any resentment or questions about her suffering. I mean – she had cancer. So I guess she suffered? And she certainly suffered in the mental and emotional challenge of confronting death. Most people would bring this into their expressions of loss, atheists and theists both.
  • Nor do we have any sense at all of who she – Lisa – was as a person. The “loss” is all about Tony – about his life and his loss and the hole in his world. Yes, it fits in a way, and simplifies the dramatic trajectory, but it’s almost too simplistic. A big part of recovery in loss, I discovered, is being able to live with the dead in a healthy way – not as ghosts, not as dead and buried, but as a presence whose existence had – and has – meaning. You know you are turning the corner when “thank you that this person existed” begins to outweigh “dammit, this person’s gone” in your thinking.
  • And that’s a thought that’s echoed in a broader context by another character in the series – a woman that Tony encounters in the cemetery. He goes to visit his wife’s grave, she’s there visiting her husband’s of 49 years: I wouldn’t change anything. If I went back and changed one thing I didn’t take, I might lose something that that bad thing eventually took me to. You shouldn’t regret anything or think: “Well, if I went back, I might do this or I might do that”

 

All fine. But in the end After Life falls way short because, ironically, the atheist worldview that critiques Christianity for being all simplistic-pie-in-the-sky-easy-answers offers…easy answers. Why? Because mystery and meaning essentially have no place. Tony learns to live better and move on because he finally listens to the people who are constantly telling him he’s good and funny and “lovely.” And his dog needs him. That’s really….it.

This Baptist blogger puts it very well, I think: 

 Far from portraying grief in grey or gritty terms, the series’ world is permanently sun-lit and serene. Tony lives in a fictional town which is lightly populated, he works a dead-end job but is obviously affluent, giving the whole sequence of events a dream-like, heavenly feel. This is undoubtedly intentional, but one has to question the creative ambition behind this. Are we being consoled that grieving without God and without future hope is hard but ultimately enlightened? Are we really probing the pain of personal loss by using utopia as a backdrop?

The conclusions of the drama are as sunny as the summer bleached pavements on which it unfolds. At the opening of After Life Tony is at war with the world, standing up to opportunist thieves, feeling irked by other people’s eating habits, threatening a school bully with being bludgeoned to death with a hammer, starkly rejecting a date, showing impatience with his elderly father, and knowingly helping someone else to commit suicide. So far, so fearless. But the gradual turn around in Tony’s life is hard to quantify against these earlier behaviours, his empathy for others seeming to be restored through conversations with an elderly widow and a feckless psychotherapist. The resolution to the drama is vacuously redemptive with Tony’s goodness turning around the lives of all who are in his orbit. He resolves to treat others well as a means of grace, reserving his ire only for those who deserve to be handled with contempt.

This is all too easy. It is such a shame that a programme which purports to probe grief, which interrogates God, which heralds humanism, is so lacking in self-awareness and auto-critique. Gervais writes as though Beckett never had, as though existential angst is a thing of the past, as though creation simply awaits its redemption through human good. This is desperately naive, and utterly insufficient to face the true realities of living in the rough stuff of a broken world. Gervais does not want God but he longs for good, he does not want absolutes but he does want altruism, he wants to talk about grief but only as a vehicle for humanistic grace. There are depths to loss which are not plumbed here, there are anxieties and contradictions and cross-pressures which plague our existence as human beings, there are deep wounds which cannot be healed lightly, and After Life does little to address or grapple with any of this.

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Written Thursday night, not quite finished…might as well post it, since I took the time to write it.

Not me, not really. It’s what’s blasting from the other room, because Someone is watching ..what’s the third one called? The Two Towers? No. Return of the King. And Someone Else is out gallavanting around. He’s been driving for over three years now, and this particular car (manual) for over one, so I don’t really get nervous any more. But then I start thinking about it, and…I get nervous.

So, no – I’m not up for focusing on Trollope right now, and I just did my 7 Quick Takes, and I can’t focus on writing anything substantive, so…I’ll blog some more. About school. How about that.

I’ll make this my first official Homeschooling High School post. For real.

Long-time readers know about our dipping in and out of homeschooling. (Link up there for some of the more substantive posts – more by just clicking through these. Although I probably didn’t correctly label everything, so there’s undoubtedly more ramblings and bullet points out there somewhere.)

We’re on Kid #5. His history: PK-1: school  2-5: homeschool 6: school (different than the first time) 7: homeschool 8: school (same school as 6th, different administration, better experience.)

High school, at this point: homeschool.

Why? He’s intelligent and self-motivated, he spends a lot of time on music (although he still maintains he doesn’t want to pursue it professionally – his teachers and I just keep our fingers crossed…), he has zero interest in the high school scene right now, he wants to travel, and – on my part – he’s the last one, I’m edging close to 60, my conscience won’t let me rest easy on this matter. I’m an introvert and relish my time alone, but also honestly? My oldest is almost 37 years old, I know time flies like the wind, and there is really no reason not to homeschool. In good conscience, I have to put my own “needs” (which are not really needs) aside…for just a few more years. You can talk all you want about glorying in your own individual career path or perceived calling, but bottom line: when you accept children into your life – they come first. And you have to try to not be a jerk and a martyr about it either. That second part is usually the hard part for most of us, including me.

(Also – if there were slightly different options for secondary school around here, we’d be looking at those. But without going into details – the options don’t fit, for different reasons. Our public school that we’re zoned for is lousy, while I’ve had two kids go the IB route, and this one would be a natural for it in some respects, I just don’t believe in that intense level of study in a curriculum established by others at a secondary level any more – as if I ever really did – and the private school options are either too elitist and secular (I’m not going to pay thousands of dollars to plop my kid in proudly pagan cultures, you know?) or just mediocre (at this point – we’re keeping our options open for the future though) Let’s just say that I have friends who live in parts of the country where they have hybrid charter classical schools and such. *Jealous*)

Also, even though he maintains resistance to pursuing music professionally, he does like it, does spend a lot of time on it, and if he were in a high-level school all day with a few hours of homework at night? Good-bye to that. No way could he do it, mentally or even just practically –  especially the organ – because of the limits on practice times, mostly.

We can do this. 

So here’s where we stand in terms of subject matter and structure:

  • Classical piano study w/teacher, mostly long-distance, as teacher is a graduate student in a doctoral program out of state. Current rep: Brahms Scherzo, Prokofiev Diabolical Suggestion and (as of this week) Hayden, Sonata 52, mvt 1.
  • Jazz piano study w/local teacher, once a week.
  • Pipe organ study w/local teacher, every other week. Lots of Bach right now, but once fall starts, that will probably expand a bit.
  • I’m going to have to figure out opportunities for him to perform. The “classical” instruction is no longer associated with an academy or larger group, so it’s up to us to find places to play. He may do some competitions, but we are being casual about that. I’m looking into assisted living facilities, first..then we’ll see. He has occasional opportunities to play a song or two with his jazz teacher in his gigs around town.

You might wonder about practicing the organ. It’s a challenge. We have permission from a few local churches to use their organs, but there’s one in particular that we’ve settled on. It’s fairly close to our house, the church is open all day, the calendar is posted online and actually kept current so I can make sure we don’t bump into a funeral or something, and the organ, while mostly electric and not a true pipe (they call it a “toaster”) is serviceable. I often post his practices to Instagram stories, so if you want to hear, check in there. Hopefully in a few months, he’ll be filling in during church services once in a while. That’s the goal.

  • Science: Biology class with other homeschoolers, taught by a local Ph.D from a local university faculty. Once a week.
  • Math: Algebra II, taught by a retired math teacher with many degrees, and experience that includes teaching in the local International Baccalaureate program (she taught my daughter Pre-Calculus, I think). Once a week. Given his interests, I think I’ve decided that what I want for math for him is two years of studies that will get him ready to take pre-college standardized tests (Algebra II, Geometry, Trig), plus a good dose of statistics and probability. I am, of course, fairly anti-standardized testing, but I think in this case, we’ll have PSAT/SAT/ACT and even GED prep books on hand to provide benchmarks and guidelines. Basically: learn this stuff, get it done, and move on.
  • Latin: He began Latin I this summer, and he’s on track to finish it by the end of October, then start prepping for the National Latin Exam and start Latin II. Meet with tutor, probably every couple of weeks, maybe more to prep for the NLE. He wants to do Greek also, but the Latin tutor has recommended a solid trip through Latin I-II before tackling that.
  • Spanish: He did Spanish I last year in school, and has kept up with Spanish informally all summer. Spanish II will probably happen via a recorded course with Homeschool Connections as well as a couple of week-long language school sessions in Mexico or Central America. (told you – travel’s a part of this deal.)
  • Writing: Going to use this and work through it.
  • Literature: Sort of ad hoc. He wants to do Greek things, so we’ll start with the Iliad and the Odyssey this fall. Use various recorded lectures (Hillsdale, Great Courses) as intro and framework. Latin tutor will be involved in this as well.
  • We’ll always have a Shakespeare play going, related to local performances. This fall, the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern will be doing Julius Caesar and King Lear, so we will revisit the first and dig into the second.
  • Most other studies of the humanities will be ad hoc, related to travel or local performances and events. I’ve told him that I always want him to have some sort of serious, adult history book going, on whatever topic he’s interested in. I’ll always be checking on that Big Picture, making sure he’s got the framework and flow, but he has a good sense of that, and so I’m not too worried.
  • We’re already looking at summer programs. Most of the summer programs at the good Catholic colleges are for older kids – rising juniors and seniors. There are a couple he’s pretty interested in. There are a couple that are open to the age he’ll be next summer, so we’re looking into those.
  • I have a growing list of competitions – mostly writing – open to high school students. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll take a closer look at those. I’m thinking that besides the Norton book, we might use competitions as a framework for working on writing.

At this point, the weeks already look busy. Thursday will be the fullest day: two classes, and probably two music lessons. Wednesday night: Catholic guys’ group. Saturday morning: service work with a local Catholic ministry to the disabled. Meetings with Latin tutor and long-distance music lessons every ten days to two weeks.  And even though the classes only meet once a week – well, that’s just the classes. He’ll have to give a lot of time to studying those subjects in between classes.

So when is this vaunted travel going to happen, you ask? Some long weekends probably this fall, but the “classes” are scheduled to end in early November and not begin again until, I don’t think late January. Plenty of time…..But honestly? These first few months need to be a little more…schoolish, I think. For both our sakes – self-discipline, and then, my peace of mind (as in what are we doing what is he missing out on are we getting everything in panic)

We will probably squeeze something in in late August, after Brother gets deposited at college and before the homeschool classes start up here.

Alabama has very relaxed homeschool rules. They don’t require you to submit anything besides attendance. But of course, we’re talking high school now, and we need to have good records. So that will be the emphasis: not necessarily planning, but meticulous record keeping: daily, which is then collated to weekly, which then, on a monthly basis, is collated thematically: Books read/topics covered, etc. Writing samples preserved.

Goal? Finish the basics of high school in a couple of years and then start in on community college classes. He has a particular Catholic college in mind for “real” college already, and it does seem like a perfect fit, so all of this will be happening with that goal in mind.

We’ll see. I’m definitely in the mode of Okay. Just stop. That’s enough. You can’t do everything . Just Do These Things and get some sleep. 

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Kids and the Church, youth and religion, keeping kids Catholic…etc…etc…

People worry about such things. They think and write about them a lot.

Sometimes, finding a different angle is helpful: a story from another perspective, another time, another tradition.

Here’s one:

I learned about this short book – almost an extended essay, even – via one of my regular stops – the Neglected Books page. Here’s the entry.

It’s not a book you’ll find in your local library, but you can grab a digital copy via archive.org. By the time you read this, I’ll have returned my “copy” and you can have at it.

(Those engaged with children’s books will recognize the style of the cover art – it’s Edward Ardizzone, famed illustrator. Perhaps you know the Little Tim books? Don’t get your hopes up with this one, however – the cover is the only art. Nothing inside.)

The Long Sunday is a memoir of a very specific aspect of Fletcher’s life: his religious formation. You can see why it interested me. He was raised in a middle-class home in a Image result for the long sunday fletcherseaside town in the east of England (his father was a chemist  – pharmacist) by Wesleyan parents.

It is, of course, quite different from a Catholic upbringing – but in many ways the same and very valuable for anyone interested in the question of how we attempt to live out religious faith in communities and families – and how we attempt to pass it on. Essentially: it’s very good to be reminded how children and young people see and experience what adults are saying – and more importantly, doing.

Fletcher is, of course, writing as an adult and filtering his experiences, but he was also a psychologist and, it seems, attempting to be fair-minded about everything. Spoiler art: he doesn’t follow in his parents’ footsteps.

The Neglected Books entry goes into detail, but it basically comes down to a few factors:

  • Adult hypocrisy. Nothing rank and horrendous like thieving church elders or abuse, but smaller points that a child inevitably notices, for Fletcher here, mostly centered on judgmentalism.
  • The aura of judgment weighs heavily in other ways. The spiritual milieu of his youth was heavy with judgment of outsiders. Naturally, when he actually starts to experience “outsiders” and sees the goodness of which they are capable – he begins to question what he has been taught.
  • An awareness of manipulation. Some of what he writes benefits from hindsight, certainly, but the nudges were there as a child: seeing the bribery offered for attendance and achievement, prizes given for Sunday School performance and even turning other children in for their wrongdoing. On a broader level, Fletcher spends a lot of time delving into the machinations behind what we’d call revivals – this is the era of Billy Sunday, when mass evangelization, fueled by media and communications technology – is exploding.
  • Finally, a point which is, I think, pretty powerful and easily applicable today – and ties in with the other points. His puzzlement at a certain dissonance between the importance ascribe to these matters of faith and salvation – and the relatively small amount of energy and interest people actually seemed to devote to sharing it, except during those revivalistic bursts.

 

Even if they believed implicitly that the warnings so gravely uttered could safely be disregarded for themselves, since they had the assurance of salvation, I did not see how they could contemplate arriving in heaven to hear the welcoming words, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’, with any satisfaction while knowing that the God who thus greeted them had made such very different arrangements for the reception of others who, for any reason at all, had failed to earn His good opinion. It was therefore extremely disconcerting to my simple mind to observe that while to all appearances, worshippers did take very seriously the ideas presented to them from the pulpit—whether about the evils of procrastination or some other subject of religious discourse—these ideas washed off like water off a duck’s back as soon as the service was over; or if not quite that, made an impression completely insignificant in relation to the portentousness of what was said.

In the course of my boyhood I reflected on this matter long and earnestly, and came slowly to the conclusion that in religious discourse nothing meant what it appeared to mean. For reasons best known to themselves the adults were by common consent playing, and thoroughly enjoying, a highly dramatic game of ‘let’s pretend’. Those who took it seriously, as a few did, and carried over into daily life the solemnity of foreboding and fear evoked by the game, or even the exaltation of conscious righteous-ness, did so precisely because they took themselves very seriously, and so did not perceive that they were at play. The others, knowing that it was a game—an interlude—squeezed out of it all the emotional excitement they could just as we children did when we dressed up for a charade, played ‘cops and robbers’ or in some other way exercised our imaginations to heighten the intensity of our enjoyment of the experience of living. Needless to say, I reached this conclusion intuitively. At no time during boyhood could I have put it into words; I was simply observant of my elders’ behaviour and mentally alert enough to want to make some kind of sense out of what would otherwise appear to be mutually incompatible forms of thought, feeling and action co-existing within apparently intelligent and rational human beings. More mature reflection has not convinced me that my intuition was very wide of the mark.

As you read The Long Sunday, it seems clear that Fletcher never reached a point of trying to evaluate the worth of the religious tradition in which he was raised based on any deep evaluation of its truth claims. His assessment of whether or not what he had been taught was “true” was based entirely (at least in his telling) on

  • Whether or not those who professed the faith behaved in ways consistent with the teachings
  • Whether or not those who professed the faith lived as if they actually believed it mattered and was as life-defining as they claimed
  • Whether or not certain claims related to human behavior seemed true to him – that is, were outsiders really “bad” or unhappy? Were the believers, who made him memorize Scripture verses about joy – joyful?

So it wasn’t – does God exist, did Jesus exist, what did Jesus teach, did Jesus rise from the dead, is the Wesleyan tradition faithful to what Jesus taught?

But you know – Fletcher’s youthful criteria – your behavior will tell me if this stuff is true, all right –  are probably far more common than the second set of deeper questions. We all know it – we know how human failure and hypocrisy impacts spiritual witness.

Which is why a faith formation and experience built on the “power” of personal witness and the strength and vibrancy and enthusiasm of human beings and their communities is flawed and maybe even doomed.

Join us because we’re an awesome, vibrant community where you’ll find faith and joy and peace in our awesome, vibrant community!

It’s a conundrum, a complex dynamic, and even a dance of sorts. What does Acts tell us that people noticed about the early Christians? What got their attention? The preaching? Not really. It was more: See how these Christians love one another.

As Fletcher’s experience tells us – the witness matters, deeply. Who among us hasn’t been drawn closer to faith because of another person’s sacrifice, patience or joy?

But, as the broad and deep experience of two thousand years of Catholic living has also told us – human beings will fail. Human beings will let you down. Every saint, every wise spiritual writer works hard to diminish their own role in any spiritual endeavor, beginning with Paul himself: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So a healthy, whole Christian tradition, based on solid ground, always reminds us of the objective reality – God and God’s Word – that our human actions only faintly echo and weakly point to. I’m trying we say – but look – I’m going to fail. Every day. I’ll tell you what God has done and how God has changed me and yes, saved me, but every day is still a struggle, and I’m glad I’ve helped a little, but really – faith is much more than what you see here in our smiles and handshakes.

Anyway, The Long Sunday is an interesting, short read – if you’d like a glimpse into the past, into a religious tradition struggling a bit with modernity and some food for thought about the line between formation and manipulation – take a look.

Finally – this was an interesting passage I present for your consideration – he wrote the book in the late 50’s, but is reflecting on the early 20th century, when the earliest form of film was coming into vogue.

It’s startling how accurate the observation still is:

 

I have often thought that anyone who is going to write anything like a definitive history of religious life in the twentieth century will have to devote a chapter, and a long one, to the influence of the cinema. Until it became a popular form of entertainment, their church was, at any rate for people of the Nonconformist denominations, the focus of all their social activities and the only place of amusement most of them ever entered.

Curiously enough, when the `Bioscope’, as it was then called, came on the social scene, religious people took to it like ducks to water. Perhaps because the Magic Lantern was regularly used on church premises by returned missionaries, temperance lecturers and others who were above suspicion, it had already acquired an odour of sanctity; and as the Bioscope was no more than an improved form of Magic Lantern—indeed it had begun to supersede the Lantern as an instrument of religious instruction before it was commercialized—it was accepted without question.

Today the cinema has taken over a great part, not only the entertainment value of institutional religion, but of its spiritual significance as well. The modern cinema is a place of worship, corrupt and superstitious worship, no doubt; nevertheless it provides for millions of people the only experiences of the ‘numinous’ they ever have. It is indeed a remarkable fact, which religious historians will have to examine and account for, that as the cinema developed it took on more and more of the trappings of the church in a degraded or caricatured form, while at the same time more and more places of worship began to look like cinemas, complete with tip-up seats, organs of the Wurlitzer type, projection-rooms and screens; and to employ all the devices of commercial propaganda to popularize their wares. This strange convergence, or interchange, of roles, is not, I think, coincidental.

My own impression is that the cinema and all it stands for represents a break-through into overt expression of the impulses that were rigidly repressed by the religious prohibitions that conditioned the thought and behaviour of professing Christians in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I suspect that the real inner significance of their life and faith is revealed when the secular and the religious institutions are seen as the obverse and reverse of the one spiritual coin. 33qq

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amy-welborn

 

 

Saints are People Who are Brave…

From the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

More

 

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