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Yeah, no

Update: Richard Dawkins enters the chat

Look. I have zero problem allying with anyone on this issue, even Dawkins, if he’s beginning to ask these kinds of questions. There’s some agony among the gender critical radical feminsts in the United States, at least, that their traditional allies, from mainstream feminist groups to the ACLU, have gone all-in on the Trans Train and they find themselves applauding the likes of Tucker Carlson and (some) Republican politicians. But for the most parts, folks are understanding the seriousness of this issue and that it does, in fact, have the power to unite people across ideologies, and that, in fact, is a good thing.

Andrew Sullivan, with whom I have sparred in the past over…I have no recollection what, back in Typepad days – is inching along the tracks to Reality Town, but….is still taking wrong turns. Or maybe not taking the hints from the signage yelling at him along the way?

He’s got a piece up, exploring a way to a “truce” in the Trans Wars.

First, let me say that I’m very glad to see Sullivan acknowledge a few things:

  • The attempts to control discussion on this matter in fascist, authoritarian, intolerant ways
  • The issues with minors: surgery, puberty blockers and so on.
  • The existence of detransitioners

That’s good. But barely a start.

I could go on and on and on about this – and I have, and I would welcome the chance to have an exchange with Andrew about the issue or encourage him, to say, talk with Graham Linehan. But I’ll just point out the one, fundamental point that Andrew doesn’t address, that lies at the heart of it.

And I’m not even talking about any distinction between sex and gender or deep dives into what sex is or even the obviously misogynistic roots of the Trans Moment but simply this:

Is being male or female a matter of biology or of feeling?

Self-Identity. That’s it.

If you’re going to engage with this issue at the level at which it is actually being fought in law and social realities, that’s the question to address:

What gives a human being access to women’s spaces?

Is it biology or feeling?

Next week, I’m going to be doing my shift, helping out at a shelter for women. Every time I’ve served there over the past couple of years, I’ve imagined what it would be like for these abused, homeless women to be forced to share their living space with a man claiming to be one of them.

It enrages me.

What gives a human being access to women’s spaces?

Is it biology or a feeling?

Answer. The Question.

Progress Report

No, we’re not done (it is only the beginning of April), but let’s do a quick checkup on school.

Or “school,” as I call it.

We’ll make it more tolerable with a few GIFs.

You know when I do this, I’m mostly feeling insecure and suspicious that *nothing* substantive is actually going on around here,.

Substitute teacher key and peele GIF - Find on GIFER

Background: 16-year old “sophomore.” Homeschooled most of the time from 2nd grade on, with the exceptions of 6th and 8th grade, in the same, Dominican school.

Philosophy: Let’s get this done with maximum learning, minimum effort and as little guilt on Mom’s shoulders as possible.

First, testing: Not state testing, fool. Alabama requires no such thing, y’all.

No, just two: the National Latin Exam, taken in early March. I’m thinking the results should be coming soon.

Then, a week from tomorrow, a first pass at the ACT. Yes, he’s only a sophomore, but I’m using it mostly as a benchmark, and mostly for math. This is one of the administrations for which you can request the answers and explanations, so we’ll be doing that. His math tutor has been prepping him a little, and I’ve had him watch a couple of science section tips and hacks videos and doing a few of those every day – just so he’s not blindsided by the science portion.

via GIPHY [Video] | Mr bean funny, Mr bean, Book humor

Math: Tutoring continues apace with Algebra II and a little bit of trig.

Science: Chemistry completed. He “won” the final quiz show-style exam.

Mad Men 60S GIF by Clio Awards - Find & Share on GIPHY

Latin: NLE, and finishing up Latin for the Millenium 2. Somewhat regular tutoring sessions, including this coming Saturday, but then we won’t be able to meet for about another month.

Hail, Caesar! - Lola Noir BlogLola Noir Blog

History:

Me: What are you reading?

Him: Herodotus.

Dump of toasts and cheers - Album on Imgur

Spanish: Self-guided, using various books and videos, and listening to the local Spanish radio station every time we’re in the car.

Lalo Salamanca GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Religion: Liturgical year stuff, as well as Mike Aquilina’s Signs and Mysteries and starting a run through the Gospel of John next week. Fraternus, which is substantive, once a week.

Cheers Amen GIF - Cheers Amen Church - Discover & Share GIFs

Writing: Doing a recorded/graded fiction writing class through a Catholic online homeschool.

Jim Carrey

Literature: This past week, we talked about Ethan Frome. He also read Roman Fever and we talked about Wharton. I asked him what common themes he saw, I highlighted these themes as I’ve encountered them in other Wharton works. He’s got some Gilded Age context to wrap up – readings from Horatio Alger, Andrew Carnegie, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt – then next week we tackle Willa Cather and he starts on The Great Gatsby. This weekend I’ll plan out the rest of April.

Great Gatsby GIFs | Tenor

Music: The usual.

Bugs Bunny Piano GIFs | Tenor

Other: Boxing, bike riding, a video game, and some movies – this week, Stalker, which got him interested in Tarkovsky. Time in the backyard clearing things.

Forthcoming Teachable Moment: A Birmingham Opera production of The Pirates of Penzance, in the park amphitheater right over the hill from our house, some time in Charleston, and maybe even some time…somewhere else. We’ll see. We’ll decide over the next couple of weeks.

On his own? His reading Dune. No, not the first one. Not the second one. I think he’s in the fourth one. But then he’s also re-reading The Lord of the Rings.

Okay. I feel okay.

Next year? Can’t make any decisions until the local co-op tells us what they’re offering next year.

After previewing a mount from the crownstore.... — Elder Scrolls Online
No relationship to the content. I don’t think.

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Blogging on various readings and watchings this week.

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton here.

The film Stalker here.

The Old Maid by Wharton here.

— 2 —

I’m almost finished with Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. I got within 30 pages at about 1 am and decided to save it for today – I tend to not remember what I’ve read at that late hour.

I was very interested to see that Sofia Coppola is in the process of developing a series for Apple TV on Wharton’s book. It certainly lends itself to dramatization, but, as I’ll explain when I write about it, I preferred House of Mirth – the central female character is a bit more complex. Undine Spragg is screenworthy, but she’s not very deep. So perhaps that does lend itself more to the screen than the page.

“Undine Spragg is my favorite literary anti-heroine, and I’m excited to bring her to the screen for the first time,” 

One of the puff pieces about the project said, of course, that Coppola’s project will be judged against Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and Terrance Davies’ House of Mirth…implying that it’s a high standard, difficult to meet. Well, I watched half of The Age of Innocence and couldn’t take any more – Wharton’s subtlety was just….gone. I watched excerpts from House of Mirth and the miscasting was overwhelming. So I think a long-form adaptation directed by Sofia Coppola might not have a problem surpassing these standards.

— 3 —

How about a woman’s suffrage board game:

This is a very well-preserved and rare example of a political board game produced in limited numbers in England in the early 1900s. The game, Pank-a-Squith, was named after Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), the suffragette leader, and Herbert Asquith (1852-1928), British Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916 and a strong opponent of women’s suffrage. The colours of the militant suffragette movement, green, white and purple, are prominent on the 50 squares of the game which are arranged in a spiral. The aim of the game is to reach the central square which represents universal suffrage. A number of political events are represented, including suffragettes throwing stones through a window of the Home Office, as occurred in 1908, and Emmeline Pankhurst slapping a policeman on the face in 1909 to ensure that she was arrested. On square 16 a notice says that ‘Any player landing on this space must send a penny to Suffragette Funds’. The game was produced in 1909 in Germany for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain as a fund-raising item.

— 4 —

Also reading this week, due to finish in the next couple of days: Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. It’s very good, well-written history. I’ll have more about it over the weekend, I imagine.

— 5 —

The link to that last book did not go to Amazon. I’ve been trying to radically minimize my linking to Amazon (I think I only do so for the ebooks I have on there, self-published) and as of a couple of months ago, I cancelled Prime. Haven’t missed it a bit, although I will probably change my tune in December. But then, on the other hand, there are, of course, other ways to get products quickly now, and not having Prime will undoubtedly force me to be more organized about gift-giving.

Why? Well, it’s something I should have done a long time ago. I’ve never been an Amazon fan, mostly because the rise of Amazon happened as I was starting to write and publish books, and I saw from the inside how Amazon put the screws to publishers, and by extension, authors. Not to mention what they did to local booksellers (although that’s certainly rebounding, thankfully).

How did they put the screws to publishers? A lot of ways but it comes down to the same thing that Wal-Mart does to suppliers: Give us the terms we want or we won’t stock your goods. In terms of books, it mostly came down to demanding a wholesale price for products that was way below what a brick-n-mortar bookseller would pay, enabling Amazon, of course, to undercut price. This costs publishers and then authors, whose royalties are based on net sales (what the seller pays the publisher – usually 50% of cover price. Amazon routinely demanded far “better” terms, which then decreases the the amount of author royalties). Over a barrel, yes, but then what do you do if Amazon doesn’t distribute you? An old story.

And then, over the past few years, Amazon’s selective censorship and then labor practices made it ridiculous that I was giving them over a hundred dollars a year for “free shipping” that really wasn’t free and in recent years, was less and less dependable, and for a video service which provided me with no original material I wanted to watch and charged me extra for every good movie on the platform, anyway. It took too long, and there’s no great virtue in it, for other corporations do the same in their own way. But once I shook the tentacles free, I saw how stupid it had been to not walk away sooner.,

Anyway, all that is a prelude to this story on the Amazon union vote in the Bessemer facility, which is just a bit west of here, It seems to be going Amazon’s way, which honestly surprises me. I’m also surprised that barely half of the workers seem to have voted at all.

The first day of the public count in the Bessemer Amazon union vote ended Thursday evening with substantially more anti-union votes but there are many ballots left to be counted.

When the count ended for the day at 6 p.m. CST Thursday, there were 1,100 “no” votes against the union, and 463 “yes” votes, unofficially.

The count resumes today at 8:30 a.m. CST.

Update:

Workers at the Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama have voted against unionizing, dealing a major defeat to labor organizers hoping for a galvanizing victory in the South.

The final vote tally: 1,798 against unionizing versus 738 in favor of union. About 500 challenged ballots were not counted, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, with most challenges coming from Amazon. Those disputed ballots are not enough to change the results. 

— 6 —

“The Mind of God? The Problem with Deifying Stephen Hawking:”

On a new biography:

What Hawking’s book did offer was a highly marketable grandiosity, summed up in its most famous line: “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.” It established Hawking’s image of an amazing mind in a failed body. Hereafter it was not enough to regard Hawking (accurately) as one of the top 100 theoretical physicists in the world; he had to be—“in spite of it all”—a second Newton or Einstein. It was an almost Faustian bargain: Hawking wanted to be celebrated for his mind alone but craved fame too avidly to refuse the more compromised form of it that was on offer. To duck the truth about how much his celebrity depended on his disability colludes with society’s continuing discomfort about the whole issue….

….

Time and again Seife reveals Hawking to have been searching for any validation of his ideas rather than regarding them as hypotheses to be tested. Often he would only accept his intuitions were wrong when he had personally re-derived the results of someone else’s critique (and could thereby claim some credit for it). Scientists need some stubbornness, conviction and competitiveness; but too much of these attributes can hinder their science, as well as compromise the person. 

To admit all this is not to deny he was a great physicist (he might have even got his Nobel had he not died in 2018), nor that he could also be kind, companionable and fun. Rather, it is to judge him as we would any other public figure. It is to grant him his humanity. What we did instead was an all too familiar response to disability. We created a kind of “compensation cure,” much as the struggles of people with autism are obscured by the stereotype of the savant. Hawking’s life is worth celebrating, but if we make it a myth then it becomes just a story onto which we can project our anxieties and fantasies. He deserved better.

— 7 —

This coming Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. On St. Faustina, from the

The Gospel is from John.

Here’s a page or two from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.  

The story includes most of the post-Resurrection appearances, including the Thomas narrative, the focus of Sunday’s gospel.

Arranged, as I have mentioned before, according to the point in the liturgical year one would be most likely to hear that passage proclaimed in Mass (most Catholic’s point of encounter with Scripture).

And then, St. Faustina from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 


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

Bunner Sisters

Can you take some more Edith Wharton?

I’m not going to say one last – because it’s not the last. I’m in the middle of one of her longer novels, and I’ll have sometime to say about that when it’s done. And that will be the last for a while. We’re moving on. He’s reading Cather next week – and I’ve written about her before in this space – but after that we’ll be fully in the 20th century, so hang on for that,

As I was reading this longish story/novella, I wondered, How is it I know this is going to end badly? Is it because it’s Edith Wharton? Or is there something in the nature of the story or even the style that lets us know – there’s not going to be a “happy” ending here?

The other day in the comments, Brendan Hodge remarked that he’d read The House of Mirth as a younger man and not liked it much, but wondered if he’d have a different experience reading it today. And someone else commented that she appreciated Wharton more as she got older.

I think that’s probably true for me, as well, although maybe not. Maybe it’s just in my constitution. Coming from the family background I do, I was never much of a believer in happy endings anyway. I read MIddlemarch in my mid-20’s and loved it – it was extremely formative of my sense of the possibilities of life, far more, say, than Austen – as brilliant as she is. Most of the time people are not, indeed, rescued from their near-mistakes and misjudgments. Most of the time they plunge right into the delusion and must deal with the consequences for a very long time, if not the rest of their lives.

Anyway – this story may be set in New York City, but other than that, the setting is not “typical” Wharton, in that it’s not peopled by American aristocracy, but their opposites – the lower middle class, the poor and the recent immigrant, the struggling shopkeeper, the laundress, the seamstress and the addict.

And yes, I read this with a growing sense of dread. You can just see it – things are not going to end well. It’s a bit like House of Mirth in that you want to reach through the pages and shake someone. NO. DON’T MARRY HIM.

In ‘Bunner Sisters’, the older sister Ann Eliza and the younger sister Evelina live together in a shabby New York City neighborhood in the 1890s. The two sisters are beyond what was usually thought of as marriageable age. They keep a small shop selling artificial flowers and small hand-sewn articles for women, and they barely scratch out a living.

Ann Eliza decides to get Evelina a clock for her birthday with money she has saved, and that is when their real troubles begin. Enter the clock maker Herbert Ramy. He is a German, and he seems quite capable with clocks. Soon he starts coming around to the sisters’ house. At first Ann Eliza thinks he might be interested in her even though Evelina is the one who has had boyfriends before. Then Ann Eliza realizes that Evelina has her eyes and heart set on Mr. Ramy and decides to forgo her own possibilities in favor of her younger sister.

There’s a lot more that happens, and it’s pretty tragic. And then….completely surprising me to the point where I said, WHAT outloud, there’s a, yes, Catholic angle:

The elder sister drew near to the bed.

“There’s one thing I ain’t told you. I didn’t want to tell you yet because I was afraid you might be sorry—but if he says I’m going to die I’ve got to say it.” She stopped to cough, and to Ann Eliza it now seemed as though every cough struck a minute from the hours remaining to her.

“Don’t talk now—you’re tired.”

“I’ll be tireder to-morrow, I guess. And I want you should know. Sit down close to me—there.”

Ann Eliza sat down in silence, stroking her shrunken hand.

“I’m a Roman Catholic, Ann Eliza.”

“Evelina—oh, Evelina Bunner! A Roman Catholic—you? Oh, Evelina, did he make you?”

Evelina shook her head. “I guess he didn’t have no religion; he never spoke of it. But you see Mrs. Hochmuller was a Catholic, and so when I was sick she got the doctor to send me to a Roman Catholic hospital, and the sisters was so good to me there—and the priest used to come and talk to me; and the things he said kep’ me from going crazy. He seemed to make everything easier.”

“Oh, sister, how could you?” Ann Eliza wailed. She knew little of the Catholic religion except that “Papists” believed in it—in itself a sufficient indictment. Her spiritual rebellion had not freed her from the formal part of her religious belief, and apostasy had always seemed to her one of the sins from which the pure in mind avert their thoughts.

“And then when the baby was born,” Evelina continued, “he christened it right away, so it could go to heaven; and after that, you see, I had to be a Catholic.”

“I don’t see—”

“Don’t I have to be where the baby is? I couldn’t ever ha’ gone there if I hadn’t been made a Catholic. Don’t you understand that?”

Ann Eliza sat speechless, drawing her hand away. Once more she found herself shut out of Evelina’s heart, an exile from her closest affections.

“I’ve got to go where the baby is,” Evelina feverishly insisted.

Ann Eliza could think of nothing to say; she could only feel that Evelina was dying, and dying as a stranger in her arms. Ramy and the day-old baby had parted her forever from her sister.

Evelina began again. “If I get worse I want you to send for a priest. Miss Mellins’ll know where to send—she’s got an aunt that’s a Catholic. Promise me faithful you will.”

“I promise,” said Ann Eliza.

After that they spoke no more of the matter; but Ann Eliza now understood that the little black bag about her sister’s neck, which she had innocently taken for a memento of Ramy, was some kind of sacrilegious amulet, and her fingers shrank from its contact when she bathed and dressed Evelina. It seemed to her the diabolical instrument of their estrangement.

Evilina continues to decline:

“Miss Mellins, can you tell me where to send for a priest—a Roman Catholic priest?”

“A priest, Miss Bunner?”

“Yes. My sister became a Roman Catholic while she was away. They were kind to her in her sickness—and now she wants a priest.” Ann Eliza faced Miss Mellins with unflinching eyes.

“My aunt Dugan’ll know. I’ll run right round to her the minute I get my papers off,” the dress-maker promised; and Ann Eliza thanked her.

An hour or two later the priest appeared. Ann Eliza, who was watching, saw him coming down the steps to the shop-door and went to meet him. His expression was kind, but she shrank from his peculiar dress, and from his pale face with its bluish chin and enigmatic smile. Ann Eliza remained in the shop. Miss Mellins’s girl had mixed the buttons again and she set herself to sort them. The priest stayed a long time with Evelina. When he again carried his enigmatic smile past the counter, and Ann Eliza rejoined her sister, Evelina was smiling with something of the same mystery; but she did not tell her secret.

After that it seemed to Ann Eliza that the shop and the back room no longer belonged to her. It was as though she were there on sufferance, indulgently tolerated by the unseen power which hovered over Evelina even in the absence of its minister. The priest came almost daily; and at last a day arrived when he was called to administer some rite of which Ann Eliza but dimly grasped the sacramental meaning. All she knew was that it meant that Evelina was going, and going, under this alien guidance, even farther from her than to the dark places of death.

When the priest came, with something covered in his hands, she crept into the shop, closing the door of the back room to leave him alone with Evelina.

It was a warm afternoon in May, and the crooked ailanthus-tree rooted in a fissure of the opposite pavement was a fountain of tender green. Women in light dresses passed with the languid step of spring; and presently there came a man with a hand-cart full of pansy and geranium plants who stopped outside the window, signalling to Ann Eliza to buy.

An hour went by before the door of the back room opened and the priest reappeared with that mysterious covered something in his hands. Ann Eliza had risen, drawing back as he passed. He had doubtless divined her antipathy, for he had hitherto only bowed in going in and out; but to day he paused and looked at her compassionately.

“I have left your sister in a very beautiful state of mind,” he said in a low voice like a woman’s. “She is full of spiritual consolation.”

Ann Eliza was silent, and he bowed and went out. She hastened back to Evelina’s bed, and knelt down beside it. Evelina’s eyes were very large and bright; she turned them on Ann Eliza with a look of inner illumination.

“I shall see the baby,” she said; then her eyelids fell and she dozed.

I am always interested in portrayals of Catholicism in fiction, particularly from writers who are not Catholic. What I see over an over again as I encounter these depictions is a sense that in the Catholic Church, and particularly as embodied in religious and, of course, especially priests, is that Catholicism, even to an outsider, represented something solid and unchanging, with the contrast between the human, weak even foolish-seeming minister and the solidity he bears, mysteriously covered in his hands, of particular interest.

Recall The Damnation of Theron Ware? And The Power and the Glory? And the last scene of O’Connor’s The Displaced Person?

Not many people remembered to come out to the country to see her except the old priest. He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.

Stalker

For some time, the 16-year old has been mentioning a movie he’d like to watch …this science fiction movie by this Russian director.

It took a while for the suggestion to register, but I finally realized he was talking about Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, a director of whom I’d never heard until the past few months, first because of one of my older’s son’s blog posts and secondly because Rod Dreher spent time last year watching his films and writing about them here and there.

Ah, okay I said….look…here it is on the Criterion Channel….must be a sign…but almost three hours long? You sure you want to watch it?

He was sure. So we did. And it was not what either of expected. I mean, I knew it would be thoughtful and philosophical, but I didn’t know it would be this thoughtful and philosophical, and my son certainly expected something with more of an action/plot focus. But he enjoyed it nonetheless, and it prompted some good conversation.

Latest Andrei Tarkovsky GIFs | Gfycat

Here’s the plot:

The Stalker was made in Estonia in a ruined, dreary, uninhabited landscape littered with dilapidated military machinery and hauntingly overgrown structures leaking water at every turn. This setting is referred to as “The Zone.” The characters, Writer (representing culture, the arts, emotions) and Professor (representing science, technology, rationalism) come here on a search from an unnamed city in a military industrial wasteland. It is said that in The Zone is a Room where all the desires of those who reach it are satisfied. It is carefully guarded by fences, watchtowers, and military police. Since The Zone is illegal, tricky, and unpredictable, travelers hire guides, called stalkers, to show them the way in and out. The Zone seems to be a region suffering from a nuclear accident, either military or industrial.

(Or an alien visitation)

The film is “slow” and meditative. Tarkovsky gives you little choice but to put your expectations aside and just watch, wait and listen.

The Stalker is not a suspenseful adventure thriller. Packaged as science fiction, the film lacks the slick futuristic appearance one expects from that genre. In fact, it seems to be, rather, a contemporary allegory. This is undoubtedly one of the ambiguities in the film that infuriated Soviet film authorities. As the railroad car stops in The Zone, the film shifts from black and white to color. Three cruciform telephone poles fill the frame, symbolically marking the passage. The characters in The Stalker are approaching God with reverence and humility. To make this understood, the issue remains hidden. The timing of revelation is up to God. In this way God makes the most of the process. In the Emmaus story Jesus conceals his identity to make the most of his presence. The astonishment experienced by the disciples upon recognition deepens the meaning of their encounter. Tarkovsky mimics Jesus’ method here. Instead of quick, efficient movement, the approach is poetic and ritualized. The process in the film, like the process in the Emmaus story, becomes as important as the result. The danger of Writer’s direct approach is that discovery would be merely obvious. The outcome would be trite, even spectacular, but not vital. By contrast, the Stalker’s humble approach allows God to transform characters (and viewers) through the journey.

I experienced The Stalker as a beautiful, haunting and true allegory of the spiritual life.

The Room that’s at the center of the Zone is, as this says, a location where one’s deepest desires – whether you consciously realize them or not – are fulfilled. It’s also a deep and profound mystery. The Stalker himself has never entered it – he just sacrifices himself to lead other there, convinced of its reality and its truth.

The way there? It’s dangerous, certainly, and one can’t approach it directly. One must take a careful, circuitous route, watching and paying attention. The journey there is one that we make with others but also, paradoxically, alone. We learn from each other as we go, we sharpen each other, we argue, we wouldn’t even be able to get close without the presence of those others – but also, in the end, we gaze upon it in a type of solitude.

And, as the Stalker lets them know, the way you get there won’t be anything like the way out.

There are three on this particular journey. All three are a mixture of certitude and questions, the latter of which come to predominate as the journey progresses, with many utterances made that begin as firm declarations, but then peter out into silence, unfinished. I want……I need…

The Professor, who, it turns out, can’t deal with the mystery and the possibilities of what others might experience and use the Room for – wants to destroy it. The Writer wants something, doesn’t know what he wants – perhaps, he indicates at the beginning, nothing more than inspiration. But he eventually acknowledges that as soon as he knows exactly who he is and what he wants, he’ll have no reason to write anymore – ultimately can’t face what the Room offers.

And the Stalker?

He’s in agony and despair because he completely believes in the mystery and possibility at the heart of the Room, but it seems, no matter what he does or who he leads there – no one is willing to really believe, enter and be embraced by the hope he is convinced the Room offers.

It struck me that The Stalker is a very apt film for those in ministry to watch. Perhaps not at the beginning , when they’re full of idealism and convinced of the fruit that will undoubtedly grow from their efforts. That would be dispiriting. No, sometime later, though.

And not as an affirmation of those negative, despairing moments of frustration those in ministry (or any helping profession) experience, but simply more of an …. explanation of it and a meditation on the experience, one that rings very true, in the hardship, the hope, the frustration of that life and all the countless, endless questions it raises:

Then to what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

john baptist de la salle

Its the Octave of Easter, so we don’t do saints’ feasts or memorials, but perhaps we can just note this day as the anniversary of his death, then:  St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the 17th-18th century French priest, founder of the Christian Brothers, who revolutionized education.

In brief (from a Catholic Herald post no longer available):

Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) is one of the most important figures in the history of education. As the founder of the Institute for the Brothers of the Christian Schools – not to be confused with the Irish Christian Brothers – he showed a revolutionary fervour for the education of the poor.

In teaching techniques, too, he was an innovator, insisting on grouping pupils together by ability rather than by age. Against the traditional emphasis on Latin, he stressed that reading and writing in the vernacular should be the basis of all learning.

Equally, Catholic dogma should lie at the root of all ethics. Yet de la Salle also introduced modern languages, arts, science and technology into the curriculum. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: “Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction.”

From a LaSallian page:

John Baptist"john baptist de la salle" de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.

An excellent summary of the life of the saint can be found at a webpage dedicated to a set of beautiful stained-glass windows portraying the main events.

Not surprisingly, de la Salle left many writings behind. Many, if not all, are available for download at no cost here. 

All are of great interest. De la Salle wrote on education, of course, but since his vision of education was holistic, he is concerned with far more than the transmission of abstract knowledge or skills.

You might be interested in reading his Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.

It is incredibly detailed. Some might find the detail off-putting or amusing. I see it as a fascinating window into the past and a reminder, really, of the incarnational element of everyday life. The introduction to the modern edition notes:

De La Salle sought, instead, to limit the impact of rationalism on the Christian School, and he believed that a code of decorum and civility could be an excellent aid to the Christian educator involved in the work of preserving and fostering faith and morals in youth. He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity. In this way the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society.

Perhaps we can see a key difference here – the difference between educating with a goal of prioritizing self-expression and self-acceptance and that of prioritizing love of others and self-forgetfulness.

Huh.

A sample:

Decorum requires you to refrain from yawning when with others, especially when with people to whom you owe respect. Yawning is a sign that you are bored either with the compabruegel-yawning-man.jpg!Largeny or with the talk of your companions or that you have very little esteem for them. If, however, you find that you cannot help yawning, stop talking entirely, hold your hand or your handkerchief in front of your mouth, and turn slightly aside, so that those present cannot notice what you are doing. Above all, take care when yawning not to do anything unbecoming and not to yawn too much. It is very unseemly to make noise while yawning and much worse to yawn while stretching or sprawling out.

You need not refrain entirely from spitting. It is a very disgusting thing to swallow what you ought to spit out; it can make you nauseated. Do not, however, make a habit of spitting often and without necessity. This is not only uncouth but also disgusting and disagreeable to everyone. Take care that you rarely need to do this in company, especially with people to whom special respect is due

Also of interest might be two books on religious formation, gathered here into a single volume. The first centers on the Mass, and the second on the prayer life of a school.  The first was intended, not just for students, but for parents and the general public as well, and once again, offers a helpful and important piece of counter evidence against the ahistorical claim that the laity were not encouraged to “participate” in the Mass before the Second Vatican Council.

Of all our daily actions, the principal and most excellent one is attending Mass, the most important activity for a Christian who wishes to draw down God’s graces and blessings on himself and on all the actions he must perform during the day. jeanbaptistedelasalleNevertheless, few people attend Mass with piety, and fewer still have been taught how to do so well. This is what led to the composing of these Instructions and Prayers to instruct the faithful in everything relating to the holy Sacrifice and to give them a means of occupying themselves in a useful and holy manner when they attend Mass.

To begin with, we explain the excellence of holy Mass, as well as the benefits derived from attending it. Next, we point out the interior dispositions that should animate our external behavior at Mass. Finally, readers learn the means of focusing their attention fully during the time of Mass.

Following this presentation, we explain all the ceremonies of holy Mass. Finally, this book suggests two sets of prayers, one based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the other on the sacred actions performed by the celebrant during Mass. Thus the faithful can alternate between both sets of prayers without growing overly accustomed to either one. Those who prefer can select the one set they like best or that inspires them with greater devotion

I’m going to share with you excerpts from my books related to the Mass readings from today.

The first reading, from Acts – a page from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes from the section, “Heroes are known by their love.”

amy-welborn-book

The Gospel is the narrative of the Road to Emmaus. From The Loyola Kids Book of Bible StoriesRemember, the stories are organized according to when we generally hear them in the context of the liturgy:

The Old Maid

So…why keep writing about these vintage things I read and this relatively ancient history, instead of, I don’t know, Rachel (Girl-Stop-Apologizing) Hollis’ latest apology?

Because reading, for example, Edith Wharton helps me see how to write about the present in a way that (I hope) is timeless.

And, through sharing it, I hope to remind you that the past may be a foreign country, but the inhabitants share the same human nature that we have, with the same temptations and desires. Plunging into their world helps me navigate the present. Perhaps it might for some of you too. And perhaps it might inspire some of us to just stop scrolling and tolle lege instead….

Anyway, let’s do another Edith Wharton story. I’ll try to keep it short.

“The Old Maid” is somewhere between a story and a novella. It was adapted into a film starring Bette Davis in 1939, but reading of the differences between story and film and watching the over-the-top trailer make me uninterested in seeing it.

Plot synopsis, and yes there will be spoilers. I’m not going to dance around that with a century old work.

Delia Ralston is married to Jim Ralston, scion of an old New York family, expertly described in the opening to the story. I’ll quote some of it below. Her cousin, Charlotte, is engaged to be married to Jim’s cousin Joe.

Over the past couple of years, Charlotte, after a year in Georgia to cure her of a fever of some sort, returned full of charitable instincts and has been caring for a group of poor children. She comes to Charlotte in crisis. Joe has told her that she must stop caring for these children after their marriage! For if they fell ill, it would impact any future children they might have!

Plot twist!

One of those children, a supposed orphan named Clementine, or Tina is…actually Charlotte’s child!

Her year in Georgia was, of course, actually a pregnancy-related confinement, far away from judging eyes.

Another plot twist!

The father of the child is Clement Spender, the great love of…Delia’s life whom she could not marry because he was a mere artist who refused to give up his art and his wanderings. In his sadness upon returning from Italy, he turned to Charlotte and…well, there you have it.

So, because this Secret Must Be Kept, Charlotte walks away from her engagement, finds a way to bring Tina into her care without revealing anything, and then they both move in with Delia, and over the years, Delia’s husband died, her other children grow to adulthood and move out, and in order to afford Tina greater prospects and to allow her to marry the New York Scion with whom she is now in love, Delia adopts Tina and gives her her name.

And so the last part of the story focuses on the struggle between the two women over who should be considered Tina’s “mother” even though such an understanding is only between the two of them – not even Tina knows. Charlotte is the more distant of the two and really does not have a maternal relationship with Tina, and Delia does. The climax of the story comes on the night before Tina’s wedding night when – and though Wharton is not direct about this, it’s clearly what is at stake – one of the women must go instruct the young woman about the facts of life and her marital duties. Who will it be? Who should it be?

The story is told in the third person, from a combination of omniscient perspective and from Delia’s. We never get inside Charlotte’s head.

And yes, a very different world from ours. Looking at the story from our 21st century perspective, we might focus on the issue of social mores – and how simpler, in a way, life would have been if Delia had only been able to openly acknowledge her pregnancy and maternity, and they’d been able to live their lives, free of judgment. There’s lots to talk about related to social stratification, women’s roles in this society, and what was considered possible and impossible for men and women of various social classes.

That’s one way to look at it.

But just as helpful – from a human perspective – set of questions concerns motivations, hidden and open.

For what is actually fueling the conflict between Charlotte and Delia? It has less to do with Tina and the pull of motherhood than it does with Clement Spencer, of course. He drops out of the story, but he doesn’t really – for his daughter is living with these women, day and night, a symbol of lost love and rivalry. The struggle over Tina – and specifically the struggle over who gets to perform the ritual of initiation into the world of adult woman’s sexuality, is really about both women clinging to that part of them that was once lost, found and lost again.

So, perhaps the story prompts us to examine motives, stated and unstated, and to confront how regrets and resentments impact decisions and might even victimize others, no matter when or where we live, or who we are…

….Instagram influencers and us ordinary folk alike…

The fourth generation of Ralstons had nothing left in the way of convictions save an acute sense of honour in private and business matters; on the life of the community and the state they took their daily views from the newspapers, and the newspapers they already despised. The Ralstons had done little to shape the destiny of their country, except to finance the Cause when it had become safe to do so. They were related to many of the great men who had built the Republic; but no Ralston had so far committed himself as to be great. As old John Frederick said, it was safer to be satisfied with three per cent: they regarded heroism as a form of gambling. Yet by merely being so numerous and so similar they had come to have a weight in the community. People said: “The Ralstons” when they wished to invoke a precedent. This attribution of authority had gradually convinced the third generation of its collective importance, and the fourth, to which Delia Ralston’s husband belonged, had the ease and simplicity of a ruling class.

Within the limits of their universal caution, the Ralstons fulfilled their obligations as rich and respected citizens. They figured on the boards of all the old-established charities, gave handsomely to thriving institutions, had the best cooks in New York, and when they travelled abroad ordered statuary of the American sculptors in Rome whose reputation was already established. The first Ralston who had brought home a statue had been regarded as a wild fellow; but when it became known that the sculptor had executed several orders for the British aristocracy it was felt in the family that this too was a three per cent investment.

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. 

 

First: The pages on Mary Magdalene from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

Then, here’s the chapter from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies that discusses Mary of Magdala’s encounter with the Risen Lord and her role in that post-Resurrection period in general.

amy welborn

 

Chapter 2:

‘WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?’

Luke is the only evangelist to mention Mary Magdalene before the Passion narratives, but once those events are set in motion, Mary is a constant presence in all of the Gospels, without exception. For the first few centuries of Christian life, it is her role in these narratives that inspired the most interest and produced the earliest ways of describing Mary Magdalene: “Myrrh-bearer” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

At the Cross In both Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41), Mary Magdalene is named first in the list of women watching Jesus’ execution.

Luke doesn’t name the women at the cross, but he does identify them as those who had “followed him from Galilee.” John also mentions her presence (19:25), but his account highlights the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ words commending her to John’s care.

After Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women are still there. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) both specifically mention her as seeing where Jesus’ body was laid, and Luke again refers to the “women . . . from Galilee” (23:55), whose identity we are expected to understand from Luke’s early mention of their names in chapter 8.

Finally, as the Sabbath passes and the first day of the week dawns, the women still remain, and the Twelve are still nowhere in sight. Matthew describes Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not the mother of Jesus, but probably the Mary, mother of James and Joseph, whom he had mentioned in 27:56) coming to “see” the tomb. Mark and Luke get more specific, saying that the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. John, interestingly enough, in chapter 20, ignores any other women, and focuses on Mary Magdalene. She comes to see the tomb, finds the stone moved and the tomb empty, and runs to tell Peter.

At least one early critic of Christianity seized on Mary Magdalene’s witness as discrediting. As quoted by the Christian writer Origen,the second-century philosopher Celsus called her a “half-frantic woman” (Contra Celsus, Book II: 59), thereby calling into doubt the truth of her testimony of the empty tomb.

What is striking about John’s account is that even though Peter and others do indeed run to the tomb at Mary’s news and see it empty, that is all they see. They return, and after they have gone away, Mary remains, alone at the tomb, weeping. It is at this point that, finally, the risen Jesus appears.

Of course, Jesus appears to Mary and other women in the Synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew (chapter 28), an angel first gives them the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women then depart to tell the Twelve, and on the way they meet Jesus, they worship him, and he instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

In Mark (chapter 16), they meet the angel first as well, and receive the same message as Matthew describes, and are, unlike the joy described by Matthew, “afraid.” (Fear and lack of understanding on the part of disciples is a strong theme in Mark’s Gospel, by the way.)

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen Jesus described. Manuscripts of a century later do contain the rest of the Gospel as we know it, continuing the story, emphasizing Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, and identifying her as the one from whom he had exorcised seven demons. She sees him, she reports to the others, and they don’t believe it. Jesus then appears to “two of them” (perhaps an allusion to the encounter on the road to Emmaus we read about in Luke 24) who then, again, report the news to the Twelve who, again, do not believe it. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are at table, and as is normal in the Gospel of Mark, their faithlessness is remarked upon.

Some modern scholars suggest that Mark 16:8 is the “real” ending of this Gospel, which would mean that it contains no Resurrection account. Others, including the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a preeminent scholar of the New Testament, argue that when one looks at Mark as a whole, it is obviously building up to the Resurrection,including prophecies from Jesus himself. Wright theorizes that the original ending was perhaps lost (the ends of scrolls were particularly susceptible to damage), and that what we have now is an attempt by a later editor to patch up that lost ending, but not in a way inconsistent with Mark’s intentions.

The theme of disbelief also runs through Luke. Interestingly enough, this Gospel doesn’t recount an encounter between the women (who are finally again specifically identified) and Jesus, but only the appearance of “two men” in “dazzling apparel,” who remind them of Jesus’ prophecies of his death and resurrection. The women, no longer afraid, go to the apostles, who, of course, dismiss their tale as idle chatter.

What’s clear in these Synoptic Gospels is, first, the strong sense of historical truth about the accounts. Rationalist skeptics would like to dismiss the Resurrection as a fabrication, but if it is, then the storytellers did a terrible job, didn’t they?

After all, if you were creating a myth that would be the origins of your new religion, would you write something in which the central characters — the first leaders of this same religion — were so filled with fear and doubt that they appeared weak?

If you were making up the story of the Resurrection from scratch, you would, as a person living in the first century, in the Roman Empire, and presumably as a Jew, only be able to think about this resurrection business in the terms and concepts available to you. And, as N. T. Wright has so ably demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003), even the first-century Jewish world, which did believe in a resurrection of the body, saw it in completely different terms — that it would eventually happen to everyone, at once, at the end of time (Wright, pp. 200-206).

And in general, when you read over the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, you are immersed in an account in which people are afraid, confused, in awe, and eventually profoundly overjoyed. There is a veil drawn over the core event — the Resurrection itself is never described because, of course, none of the witnesses saw it.

They saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. A clever fabricator and mythmaker would not have woven his account with such nuance, and would probably have offered a direct account of the event itself, perhaps even with a clear explanation of what it all meant. But that’s not what we read, and somehow, ironically, all of the confusion and human frailty is powerful evidence for the truth of the account.

Most importantly for us, a first-century mythmaker would not have featured women as the initial witnesses of these formative events. It is inaccurate to say that first-century Jews did not accept women as reliable witnesses at all. There was, of course, no unified system of law within Judaism, and what was practiced was dependent upon which rabbi’s interpretation of the Law was used. Some rabbis did, indeed, hold the opinion that women were not reliable witnesses, but others disagreed and counted a woman’s witness equal to a man’s.

However, the fact that a woman’s reliability as a witness was disputed, unclear, and not consistently accepted, would, it seems, discourage a fabricator from using women as his source of information that the tomb was indeed empty. It certainly wouldn’t be the first choice to come to mind if your aim was to present a story that was easily credible, would it?

“[And] so that the apostles [the women] did not doubt the angels,Christ himself appeared to them,so that the women are Christ’s apostles and compensate through their obedience for the sin of the first Eve. . . . Eve has become apostle. . . . So that the women did not appear liars but bringers of truth, Christ appeared to the [male] apostles and said to them: It is truly I who appeared to these women and who desired to send them to you as apostles.” (Hippolytus, third century, quoted in Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, by Susan Haskins [Berkley, 1997], pp. 62-63)

496px-noli_me_tangere_-_poussin_-_museo_del_prado

‘Noli Me Tangere’

John’s account of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to Mary in chapter 20 adds more detail than the Synoptics. She comes to the tomb while it is still dark — recall how John’s Gospel begins, with the wonderful hymn describing the Word bringing light into the darkness — and she sees that it is empty, and then runs to get the disciples. Peter and another disciple come to the tomb, see it for themselves, but leave, since, as John says, they didn’t yet understand “the scripture” — perhaps the Hebrew Scriptures as they would be later understood by Christians.

Mary stays, though, weeping ( John 20:11). She peers into the tomb (the level of detail in this account is fascinating) and sees two “angels in white” who ask her why she is crying. She says, sadly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” ( John 20:13). She then turns and sees another figure; we are told it’s Jesus, but she doesn’t know until he speaks her name ( John 20:16)

One of the more well-known moments in this account comes in John 20:17, when Jesus says to Mary, in the famous Latin rendering of the words, “Noli me tangere,” which has commonly been translated, “Do not touch me.”This, however, is not the most accurate translation — either in Latin or English — of the Greek, which really means something like, “Do not cling to me” or “Do not retain me.”

So, no, Jesus is not engaging in misogynistic behavior here. Nor is he (as some modern commentators suggest) alluding to a supposed former intimate relationship between him and Mary. This is not about touching; it is about understanding who Jesus is and what his mission is. After all, Thomas is invited to touch the wounds of Jesus in John 20:27. No, Jesus tells Mary to let go of him, to look beyond the moment, to the future. After all, his very next words direct her to go to the apostles and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ( John 20:17). Knowing Jesus for who he is, we cannot stand still. We have to move, get out, and share the marvelous news that in Jesus the barriers between humanity and God are dissolved.

Which, of course, Mary Magdalene does. All of the evangelists agree that she was the first to announce this Good News to the apostles, who, more often than not, responded with skepticism.

But such is the way it has always been. God always chooses the least in the world’s eyes, the unexpected and the despised, to do his most important work. To see this event only through the prism of politics, and to be inspired by it to think only about gender roles and such, is to be willfully blinded to the greater reality: Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and as we are touched by this truth, we are, at the same time, called to go out and share it.

Mary of the Bible

Mary Magdalene’s future in Christian spirituality and iconography is rich, evocative, and even confusing, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters. But it all begins here, with powerful simplicity and themes that will resonate through the centuries.

Mary Magdalene, healed of possession, responds to Jesus with a life of faithful discipleship. As spiritual writers and theologians will point out, she’s like the Bride in the Song of Songs. She’s like the Church itself, called by Christ out of bondage to the evils that pervade our world, giving ourselves over to him in gratitude, waiting with hope by the tomb, even when all seems lost, and rewarded, in a small, grace-filled moment, when, in the midst of darkness, we hear him call our name.

Questions for Reflection

  • What does Mary’s desire to hold on to Jesus symbolize to you?
  • How do you experience this in your own life?
  • Why is Mary referred to as “Apostle to the Apostles?”
  • What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relationship to Jesus?

MORE

Mummy Parade

Wow. This was really something, and food for thought on Easter weekend.

A procession of 22 mummies made its way through Cairo on Saturday in a multi-million dollar event intended to draw attention to Egypt’s ancient heritage.

The procession included the preserved remains of 18 kings and four queens moving in order of the eldest first on climate-controlled floats decorated with wings and pharaonic design in an ancient Egyptian style.

Well-known ancient rulers including kings Ramses II and III, Queen Hatshepsut, King Seti I and kings Thutmose III and IV were accompanied by horses, carriages, Egyptian film stars and celebrities.

“This parade is a unique global event that will not be repeated,” said Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El Anany.

Lights and banners lined the route, which passed through Cairo’s upmarket Garden City district and the Nile Corniche.

It is hoped that the event will be a showcase for Egypt’s world-leading tourist potential to a global audience, after the coronavirus pandemic caused losses to the industry of about $1 billion a month.

The mummies were relocated from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum to a site in the capital at Fustat, an ancient city built after the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641.

A new museum, the National Egyptian Museum of Civilisation, will be their resting place.

It’s crazy. Sorry.

I mean….it’s good to see a nation give props to its heritage, I suppose – sort of the opposite of what everyone else in the world is doing these days, but good heavens.

But, as the article says forthrightly – it’s really for the sake of tourism. WE’RE STILL HERE!

Which, considering that Egypt is one of the few spots Americans can visit as tourists on that side of the world right now…might not be a bad idea…

***

As I said, I was struck by many aspects of this event (how do Islamic forces within Egypt view this? I guess Covid’s over in Egypt?) , but mostly that it occurred on Easter weekend. Here we are, celebrating Jesus, the One who conquered death, the One who lives and gives us life – real eternal life, not wrapped-in-shrouds-paraded-through-the-streets “life” – and there go those lifeless old bones in their golden arks.

I am a skeptic and a cynic when it comes to the powers of this world, and shed no tears when statues and plaques are razed, taken down and changed up. No human being, no matter what they’ve accomplished, merits a pedestal . And remember, before you throw the saints up at me, that the saints themselves would be the first to wave away honors sent their way. Which is not an argument against the Catholic cult of the saints , but simply for realism and humility, even as (especially as) we honor any human being.

On the other hand, this does speak to the importance of ritual and ceremony in human life, doesn’t it?

As Flannery herself said,

I have noticed that the girls at the local college adore to have ceremonies in which they light candles or hold lighted candles. Any excuse will do….

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