Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What is altruism?

Throughout human history, we have been balanced between two opposing instincts or drives: the self-preservation instinct and the social or altruistic instinct.  The first tells us to eat, sleep, take care of ourselves -- and the second forces us to fast, keep vigil, look out for others.  As social creatures, we truly need this impulse to function.  Something deep in our natures tells us we are lion meat without our tribe, that we'd better look out for it even before ourselves.

A psychologist could probably tell you more about how the human brain is programmed for altruism; all I know is that we do feel happy when we do something for someone else, and feel distressed when someone close to us suffers.  The uber-strong empathy of the highly sensitive person is usually described as being highly conscientious, but it isn't in the sense of being better or more moral than others -- simply of experiencing more distress when someone is harmed, and more guilt when we feel we're to blame.

Christians call this impulse charity; the Greeks called it agape; the Romans called it pietas.   Whatever you call it, it's universal to every culture -- an understanding that it is praiseworthy to sacrifice your personal benefit for the good of others.  Every culture's heroes have this trait.

I've been writing historical fantasy lately.  It's a challenge really getting into the heads of people living in the Iron Age.  But one thing that becomes clear is that in an age of great danger and few resources, the sacrifice required of individuals is correspondingly higher.  Most people didn't choose their life's work; someone needed to be the blacksmith, here you are already knowledgeable as the last blacksmith's son -- boom, it's you, whether or not you like smithing.  You'd like to be a farmer, but your older brother got the land?  Too bad for you.  There was no birth control, so your choices were to have lots of babies (and quite possibly die giving birth) or abstain entirely.  In many cultures the standard was to have women who weren't allowed to marry -- either a younger daughter, or perhaps a lower-class woman -- to take care of other women's children. 

It's hard to write a love story in this atmosphere.  Our modern impulse is about throwing off the shackles of cultural demands and following our heart -- but back then, if you did that, someone else would probably suffer for it.  (That's why Brave is the only princess movie that's remotely realistic.)

Nowadays there are plentiful resources and correspondingly a great deal of freedom.  We tell people to find their bliss, to take care of themselves.  And perhaps we don't realize that this is a luxury of our age.  I don't think it's a bad thing -- our cultural standard for the amount of altruism required of a person has shifted in response to our need for it.  But perhaps in all this freedom we lose track of just how vital it is.

But sometimes, especially when I'm feeling resentful about my life, how many things I have to do to get to one thing I want to do, when it seems that everybody else is living more of the dream than I am, I think of what would happen if I didn't.  If I threw off the shackles of duty and followed my bliss in every moment.  Others would suffer enormously if I did that, of course, and that's why I don't -- even before you get to the part where sooner or later I would need some kind of job or something.

Love makes the world go round is a truism; and like all truisms it doesn't seem that wise.  But if I say altruism allows society to function, I'm saying exactly the same thing.  We would not survive, none of us would, unless we all were willing at least sometimes to put the good of others above ourselves.  When someone is really struggling for survival, either physically or emotionally, they are not generally capable of much altruism because self-preservation kicks in.  So when we find a person in that state and altruistically help them out of it, we set off a chain reaction where they, too, are able to build up the greater whole.

Altruism is more than an instinct, it's also a set of cultural instructions.  From it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country to love thy neighbor as thyself, we have many little bits of cultural data instructing us to put ourselves last.  Our mothers teach us to take the smallest piece when we're sharing something.  If we borrow something from someone else, we feel uneasy until we're able to return the favor.  We all make a huge deal over a soldier who falls on a grenade to save his comrades, because as a society we want to encourage this.  We know if the whole squad had run, they all would have died instead of only the one brave one.

I think that Christ showed us the meaning of altruism more clearly than anyone else ever has.  He spread the circle outward from our own tribe to everyone (love your enemies) and demanded we take it further than before (turn the other cheek).  And he founded a Church to keep teaching the same sort of thing forever after, so that now it's pretty much understood that we should get along with people who are different from us and let bygones be bygones rather than taking revenge.  People don't appreciate Christianity because by now its chief doctrines are truisms -- they don't realize just how radical they were at the time.  When Jesus came to earth, the Romans were exposing unwanted infants, the Celts were offering human sacrifices, and all over the world it was accepted that the poor would starve to death in the street and that was just an unfortunate fact of life.  If we hadn't gotten over that -- if we hadn't adopted such a radical altruism, the sort that led to exiling oneself to a leper colony to serve those there (like Damien of Molokai) or picking up dying people on the street to wash and feed them before they died (like Mother Teresa) or founding schools for the worst of delinquent children (like St. John Bosco), I can't imagine the world would have made the tremendous leap it has in 2000 years in terms of human flourishing and equality.

In any event, setting Christianity aside for the moment, we can see that altruism will always be necessary to humans.  Children require it; they can't give back, and it does not benefit us to help them, but the species is benefited when we make personal sacrifices to care for children.  And in order to cooperate in great ventures like we do -- governments, markets, corporations, organizations of any kind -- we all need at times to sacrifice what is personally beneficial for the good of the whole.

Which is why I find ideologies like capitalism (not the economic system called capitalism, but the quasi-religion of capitalism) or objectivism so toxic.  They teach that if we only ignore everyone else and pursue our own self-interest, everyone will benefit -- but that is simply not true.  There are small ways in which it's true -- yes, when a storekeeper and a customer with money bargain together for the price of butter, even if they each pursue their own self-interest, they can come up with a price satisfactory to both.  But if you expand that out to the whole of human experience, it's not true.  The poor dying in the streets are not benefited by you looking out for your own benefit first.  Your children aren't.  The elderly aren't.  The disabled aren't.

Of course self-sacrifice must be balanced with self-preservation; we can't pour ourselves out entirely if there is no one around to take care of us in turn.  But I do think that we should pour ourselves out just a little bit more than is comfortable for us, because everyone benefits when we do.

Nothing I've said here has been particularly novel or wise, and I'm wondering if it's even worth posting, but I think I'll let it stand.  I find this idea inspiring, because my life like every life requires some sacrifice, and sacrifice is always a little easier if we realize it has meaning.  And I think there is no meaning as vital and profound as this:  No greater love hath any man than this, than to give up his life for his friends.

Friday, December 12, 2014

7qt: faith and rules

1

The other day I had a good conversation with an atheist.  Why is it that talking to Catholics makes me want to run away and be a Wiccan, but talking to atheists makes me glad to be Catholic?

Anyway, he says that believing in God is easy, but he just can't believe God is so particular about what we do.  Why does God care if we eat meat on Fridays or not?

To which I said, it's a sign of gratitude.  We did not create ourselves, we have no right to exist, and we did not create this vast world teeming with food for us to eat.  It's a sign that food is a gift, straight from God to us, and we don't have the right to eat what we want, when we want.  God loves for us to enjoy his gifts, but it's good for us to recognize that they are gifts by sometimes going without them.

There are other benefits to sacrifice, like the way specific sacrifices set us apart as a culture, and how they teach us to strengthen our will.  I think all rules, even the arbitrary ones, have a purpose.  We, as humans, aren't really able to conceive of love apart from action.  We love through our actions.  And actions from going to Mass on Sunday to feeding the hungry are all ways we are showing that we love God, that we worship him, that we are grateful to him.  The fact that we don't choose what these rules are is another part of the point -- if we sacrificed only those things we wanted to sacrifice, we would be making our own wishes the standard, and one of the most important things we humans have to learn is that we are not the standard.

2

On that note, torture's been hitting the news lately.  I suppose you can imagine how I feel about that.  Maybe I'm an exception, but I don't have trouble feeling empathy for my enemies -- I have empathy for everyone.  But some people have different temperaments and don't have a gut reaction against torture.  They feel it's justified.

In that case, I guess I can see what a benefit it is to have a church with hard-and-fast moral teachings.  No matter how you feel, no matter if you don't understand, you still have to obey.  No torture, no matter what.

I wish I could trust everyone's consciences to come up with the right answer all the time, but for various reasons our consciences don't always work right.  It may be how we were raised, or it may be just difficult to hear our conscience over how badly we want a certain answer to be true.  But having a church with a clear moral standard means we always have a guidepost outside of ourselves to refer to.

Unfortunately the same people who love the Church's rules when they're directed at the people they don't like, are suddenly turning into cafeteria Catholics where torture is concerned.  Or they say that sure, torture is wrong, but these are instances where the need is great enough that we just have to overrule the moral law.

That's actually even worse, because you're saying that the moral law can be overruled.  The whole point of having a moral law is that it can't.  The foundation of Catholic moral teaching is that you cannot ever do evil, no matter how grave the reason.

And risk of death has never been sufficient reason.  There was a saint's mother (I want to say it was the mother of St. Dominic Savio, but I could be wrong) who said she would sooner see her son dead at her feet than commit a mortal sin.

That's a hard teaching.  And there are ways you could spin it that are very uncomfortable to me.  But I imagine, as a mother, receiving word about one of my sons: "He was captured by the enemy, and offered the choice to torture another captive or be killed.  He refused and was brutally murdered."

Would I be heartbroken?  Yes.  But I would be so, so proud.

3

Okay, that's enough awfulness for one quick takes, don't you think?  Have an adorable picture:

 Michael put on that blue scarf and said he was Mary, so I figured we could just make a Nativity scene.  They stayed in character for about an hour after.  And who was I?  God, of course.  Not my easiest role.


In this one, I laid her down on that orange blanket.  She rolled over twice within a couple of minutes and ended up clear over here!

4

Marko math: 

Over dinner, Marko asked me, "If there were three kids, and three toys, how many could each kid play with?"

I was excited that he had basically invented division.  "I guess each kid could play with one toy each, right?"

"Yeah!"

"What if there were six toys, Marko?  How many toys could each kid play with?"

He thought about it a long time.  Stammered a lot.  Then finally he had an answer he was sure about.  "The one who was born first gets three toys.  The baby gets two toys.  And the one who was born second only gets one."

Um ..... well, it does add up to six, anyway!

5

I seem to have suddenly broke out into sunshine again, as far as having time for myself goes.  Sure, it's not much.  But I have found lately that Miriam is awake and happy for long enough most days that I can not only do laundry and dress myself, but sometimes bake a pie or spin!  And what's greatest is, I actually have the energy to do it.

6

I'm not going to tell you my Christmas plans .... but, supposing we did intend to drive halfway across the country with three kids, would we be utterly insane?

Probably.  The worst of it is that Miriam is actually sleeping so well and I'm afraid it will all be messed up if she has to sleep in an unfamiliar place.  But on the other hand, if her aunts could hold her while she sleeps ...... I could actually have some time with no one on me!  It would be wonderful!

7

Since last weekend, I feel I've blundered into an alternate dimension in which half the people think women shouldn't vote.  The argument goes like this:

"Women, on average, vote with the other party, or oppose things I believe in, so we'd be better off if they couldn't vote."

If you think that, you don't really believe in government by the people at all.  You don't believe in the principle of voting.  You don't believe in the marketplace of ideas, in which you have the ability to spread your good ideas peacefully.  Nope, you just want to disenfranchise everyone who disagrees with you.  In the end, what really makes sense would be to make yourself dictator.

Of course, some people really would rather be dictator.  But that's not going to happen, and neither is disenfranchising half the population.  Too bad for you!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Feminism at Christendom

Last night, I went to my alma mater to participate in a debate.  John and I were involved in the debate society as seniors (when it was founded) and one of the main perks to John of living where we do is attending all the debates.  It's not a student-only organization, anyone can participate, and John is one of the shining lights on the floor.

But last night it was my turn, because the resolution was, I kid you not, Resolved: Catholic feminist is a contradiction in terms.  That's one of my favorite topics in the history of ever!

Of course it's typical of Christendom to phrase it that way.  The place is not exactly a hotbed of feminism.  And it's not really that strange -- I myself was pretty strongly anti-feminist when I arrived.  I associated feminism with "wanting to be just like a man" and I thought that the implicit implication in that was that being like a man was better, which was disrespectful to me as a woman.

And sure enough, that was the implication that most people there put on it.  The dictionary definition of feminism was tossed around -- roughly "the advocacy of political, economic, and social equality between men and women" -- but a lot of people insisted that feminism is more than that, it's Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Margaret Sanger.  And of course none of them had read anything they'd written except a few quotes, but neither have I . . . I didn't think it was that relevant.  Feminism is a large, complex, shifting movement, and the only thing that stays the same about it, is that it's about equal rights.

After all, third-wave feminism has so many conflicting sub-types -- for instance, some feminists adamantly oppose beauty culture (as I do) while some call themselves "lipstick feminists" and think makeup is empowering.  There is no feminist pope, no magisterium that will excommunicate you for being the wrong kind of feminist.  There will be some people in the movement who will say you can't be a feminist and oppose birth control, but there are feminists who are more into a big tent and are happy to ally with anyone who cares about equal rights.

No one mentioned the really crucial problem with Catholicism and feminism, one which I'm struggling with: that birth control really is necessary for large numbers of women to participate in public and economic life.  Throughout the Middle Ages, there were empowered women scholars and leaders ... but they were a tiny minority, mainly just nuns, because the married women were too busy having baby after baby.  It's all very well to say that having a baby doesn't necessarily stop you from participating in things -- the reality is, for almost all of us, it does.  Babies have a lot of needs.  Even if you can afford a fulltime nanny, that baby is still probably going to prefer mama and so what are you going to do?  Women today who want to be successful in professional terms want to time their childbearing around their career.  Without birth control, the top level of professional and political success would belong only to those women willing to forego marriage . . . which would mean most of the positions of power in our society are still going to be men.

Of course, there is NFP and that's growing in popularity among "crunchy" types outside the Church, but I wasn't sure how the audience would take that idea.  Me, I'm glad to see non-Catholics trying something without chemicals and I don't really care if they follow the Church's teaching about good reasons for using it -- I mean, they haven't committed to our rules -- but I'm sure someone would call BS on that because they're not very comfortable with Catholics using it either.  (See: Andrea's comments on my Fair warning post.) 

And in any event, in a world where women can succeed, but only if they limit their family size, aren't you going to see a complete absence of Catholic women from spheres of power?  I should point out that the reason I want to see women in these spheres is not because power is fun to have, but because women have something valuable to add.  That was the main point I tried to make in my speeches -- that if men and women are so drastically different (and the body strongly believed they were), it's vital to get both voices in the public sphere.  Women are often the ones pushing things like concern for the poor, pacifism, eradication of the death penalty, and other love-and-mercy sorts of things.

But of course, to many people at Christendom that's a downside anyway -- someone suggested women should not be allowed to vote because too many of them vote Democrat.  Well, if that's so, let's also ban blacks and Hispanics, right?  Or, you know, you could try actually representing the sorts of things women care about and stop treating them like unwelcome intruders in your party.  So there's that.

Anyway, I don't really have a solution to the birth control issue, but I think at least we should recognize that it is an issue.  That just because perfect parity at the top for women isn't going to happen, doesn't mean women should be banned from the top.  There are still lots of things holding women back besides biology, so why not team up with feminism to work on those obstacles?

For the rest, I'm afraid we've got nothing to go on but reliance on men's better natures.  We have to trust them to listen to our voices and represent us . . . and we have to make sure they get a chance to hear us, by speaking out about those things that matter to us.  Harriet Beecher Stowe didn't have a vote, but for better or worse she was partly responsible for the Civil War.

My closing speech was about how everybody wins if femininity is valued for itself.  If the sorts of things women do weren't disrespected just because women do them, women wouldn't have to change to be accepted in society.  Think of things that women are disproportionately involved in: cooking, childcare, teaching, librarianship, literature, sociology.  None of these are intrinsically either less valuable or less difficult than male-dominant fields, but they are paid less and valued less by society.  I read a very interesting article recently talking about how every time a field becomes female-dominant, its status immediately drops.  For instance, biology has become a popular science for women, and now people consider it "not a real science."  What the heck, how more sciencey can you be?  (Biased, I love biology.)  Twenty years ago no one would have dreamed of calling it a lesser science, but now that women major in it, it's "oh, of course you would major in that, it's not a real science."  Pediatrics is a field of medicine just like others, only harder because children are in a constant state of flux -- but as women flood in, the status of the field falls.

Unfortunately the main response to that was, "But respecting femininity isn't feminism, it's the opposite of feminism."  I can't believe I didn't see that coming.

Here's the thing.  Femininity is not hated for itself.  It's despised because women have it.  That's provable by looking at things like biology or pediatrics.  There's nothing "feminine" about these fields, they are just associated with low-status people -- women.  People think, "Well, it can't be that hard if a bunch of women can do it."  Improving the status of women across the board is the only thing that is going to change "like a girl" to a compliment instead of an insult.

It's a tough job, undoing a prejudice at least 4000 years in the making.  Western civilization has always been male-dominated, and the feminine has always, always been seen as less.  I think Christ started to change that, in the way he treated women and the respect he gave them -- and in the general gist of his message, about how the greatest thing was service and how God favors those of low degree.  The Magnificat is no joke -- Mary praised God for "lifting up the lowly" because she was, in the eyes of the world, the absolute bottom.

But I think that work is not entirely done.  Women are still lowly, and our culture still does not value service.  People still whine about "the feminization of the Church" like it's the worst thing imaginable.  Things that women are good at -- nurturing, friendship, love, mercy -- are seen as weak and lesser.

And -- as I failed to prove to the body -- feminism helps with that.  Lifting women out of poverty is a start, so we're not missing a quarter of the female voices out there because they're too busy working their fingers to the bone to survive.  But what about feminist work in media?  The media brainwashes us constantly, not generally in any purposeful way, but it persistently shows women with a set of stereotypes that hold us back.  (The stereotypes for men aren't much better.)  When the highest-status women in this country are gorgeous actresses, is it any wonder women obsess over our appearance?  When women appear in movies, they are never the protagonist (unless it's exclusively geared to women), always the love interest.  (This is why Hunger Games is such a big deal.  Written, might I add, BY A CATHOLIC.)  Is the Catholic Church doing anything to fix it?  No, we've got too many other things on our plate.  But feminists are.

Here's a list of feminist issues:
Representation in politics
Representation at the top layer of business
Better treatment of women in the media
Acceptance of women in the sciences
Fighting the dark side of beauty culture -- fat-shaming, eating disorders, etc.
Reducing rape and improving the treatment of rape victims (when Bill Cosby's word is seen as more worth believing than that of dozens of women, it isn't hard to see why most rapists are never convicted)
Fighting female genital mutilation
Increasing the status of women in the third world, by helping them get an education and lifting them out of poverty
Ending domestic violence against women
Fair pay
Maternity leave and the ending of discrimination against pregnant women
Freedom to make choices about where and with whom we give birth
Birth control

I see one of these issues, ONE, which isn't exactly what the Catholic Church can and should get behind.  Are we really going to demonize the whole movement because of that one plank?

I issued a call for a new wave of feminism, one that demands respect for children, since openness to children means openness to the many women who have them.  It means fewer women will want birth control or abortion.  It calls for children allowed in public spaces and at work, for childcare to be a respected career instead of some of the lowest-paid jobs in the country.  And yes, maternity leave.

I took my seat amid thunderous applause.  And then the vote went against me, 33 to 13.  Oh well.  I can't say that was unexpected.  At least they liked my speech, right?

The especially nice thing about the whole event -- besides all the applause, I won't lie, I like being thought of as a good speaker -- was meeting several very nice, intelligent women who agreed with me.  Then they asked if I had a blog, so if any of you ladies made it out here, drop me a comment so I know you found me. ;)  Feel free to poke around.  You might like some of these posts.

What do you think, is feminism compatible with the Faith?  Why or why not?

Friday, December 5, 2014

7qt - TV, clothes, and exposition

1

Ever notice that when you're avoiding something you should be doing, you become very productive in other areas of your life?  This post is brought to you by that chapter of my book I don't wanna write.  Well, it's not the chapter's fault.  I just still haven't gotten really into this story yet.  And I know the only way to get into it is to keep writing.

2

But exposition sucks anyway.  You can't not do any, because every book starts in the middle of something and every character has a history, but no one actually wants to read it.  So you have to tuck in bits of it here and there, once people are interested enough to start reading.  The first chapter of Sense and Sensibility is a solid block of exposition, and that kept me from getting any further the first three or four times I tried to start it.

So there are all kinds of techniques.  The old "narrator looks at self in mirror and tells you what they look like" deal:
 Her curly hair tumbled around a face that had seen too much sorrow.  She combed her hair and thought of how her dad had died last year.

The "cram it into a few sentences when you need it" gag:
Joe drank a cup of beer.  This was bad, because he was an alcoholic.

And my favorite, the cabbagehead tactic:
Suddenly a total idiot who had been raised inside a box walked up.  "Gee, how did this civil war get started?"

Sometimes you can make people argue about your exposition, thus disguising it as conflict:
"Hey, Achilles, I know Agamemnon stole away your girlfriend, but maybe you could fight anyway?"
"Never!  I have to regain my honor after that whole embarrassing deal where my mom dressed me up as a woman!"

But whatever you do, it's never quite as much fun as writing action.  That's one reason why I've always had the strategy of giving my readers the least information possible to go on at the beginning, and hiding the rest as "secret surprises" later on, when they are too interested in the story to be judging my writing skills.  (Or is that just me?  The first chapter, I pick apart every word because if the style sucks, it's going back on the shelf.  Once I'm three chapters in, I am no longer aware the book is made up of words.)

3

Is it just impossible for boys to be quiet, or what?  I remember thinking, back when I was pregnant with Miriam, that maybe naptime wouldn't be so hard with her because the boys could entertain each other while I got the baby down for naps.

Hahahahahaha *snort* hahaha oh do go on.

Okay, I guess I was half right.  They entertain each other beautifully.  And noisily.  When they are happy, they joyously tear the house apart while shrieking.  When they are sad, they angrily tear each other apart while shrieking.  Either way there is shrieking.  I can get them to be quiet, if I'm right there with them reminding them every second.  But if they wander too far away from me right as the baby is falling asleep, my choices are, a. ignore it and hope they won't suddenly squeal (oops, they do) or b. yell to be heard over the noise they are making, and thus wake up the baby myself.

If I put them in their room, they scream and pound on the door, so that's no good.  If I turn on a movie, they fight over who gets to sit in Daddy's chair to watch it.  In desperation I have put them outside, but they scream and cry, so that I'm relatively sure someone will call the cops if I don't let them in.

So of course I have the baby sleep in the wrap, but if you are holding the baby, it's kind of hard to also keep the big kids quiet.  They get in fights and run to me, both screaming, and there goes the baby's nap.  Yesterday she barely slept at all and was fussy all evening.  Which, of course, means less attention and patience available for the big kids, but they aren't good about connecting cause and effect over that kind of distance.

4

Tonight I will be watching the last episode of Doctor Who available on Netflix.  No idea how long till season 8 appears on there.  What should I watch next?  I am not sure I want something as emotionally taxing as Doctor Who .... hence Revolution and House of Cards have both been put on hold.  I was watching them earlier this year, but they both were too intense and left me feeling depressed.  My shortlist is: Classic Doctor Who, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (watched it before, but I don't mind), Sherlock . . . I think SeaQuest is on there too -- another one from my childhood.  I also love Call the Midwife, but I'm caught up on it.  I liked Lizzie Bennett Diaries (HIGHLY recommend) but do not like the other Pemberley Digital adaptations.

Any other good TV recommendations?  I can't tell you what I like, because my tastes are always eclectic.  What do you like?  (Must be available to stream on Netflix or for free.)

5

Miriam is ROLLING.  Can you believe that?  She's about three and a half months; I can't remember when my other kids rolled over.  I do remember that it's the turning point of babyhood between "limp rag" and "into everything."  For Michael, it was a huge relief -- he at last wanted to be down instead of in my arms constantly.  For Marko and Miriam, it's had a bit of a downside ... no longer can I plop the baby down on a blanket and wander off, because when I get back the baby will be somewhere else.

Right now she can roll back-to-front but not front-to-back (pretty sure all of my kids learned in this order, maybe because I think tummy time is tommyrot) which means I lay her on her back, she kicks happily, I turn around and she's fussing because she rolled over and has a face full of lint.  I really need to sweep the floors around here.  :P

6

Perks of Town Council: we get to be in a parade on Saturday.  John sees this as a burden of statesmanship.  I think parades are AWESOME, and the kids agree.  We get to ride in the old-timey trolley.

WHAT shall I WEAR?

7

That's actually a serious question, because my maternity pants have a giant hole (these ones have been worn for less than 18 months total, what is WRONG with them?!) and none of my other pants fit.  Not even if I suck in my gut, because it's my hips that are the problem.  I don't carry fat on my hips (it loves to settle on my belly and give me a muffin top) but the actual bones appear to be wider.  Weird.  I need to go shopping.

I haaaaaaaaaate shopping.

If I had time I would order fabric and SEW myself a whole wardrobe.  But no one has time for that, that's why there are clothing stores that sell tons of crap no one actually wants to wear.  We don't have the time to make what we really want.

Also, perhaps there is no such thing as clothing that is simultaneously warm, attractive, and non-irritating to the sensorily-challenged.  What I mean is that sweaters make me want to claw my skin off, scarves and turtlenecks feel like they're choking me, shoes pinch me, pants have all those seams, skirts ride up and/or trip me, and most fabrics are all fuzzy and awful.

You see, when the kids overstimulate me, that reduces my tolerance for other things, to the point that I'm like a toddler crying because their socks all have seams.  Why can't someone find a way for me to be warm and decent that doesn't require fabric to actually touch me?  It's twenty freaking fourteen, we should have figured this out. 

I hear Quick Takes are linked here now, I may as well try that out.  How was your week?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Guess that baby!

 Round two!

The rules are easy: guess which baby is which in each group.  Some groups have only two babies.  They are not necessarily exactly the same age in these photos, just roughly the same size so they could fit in the same outfits.  Click to enlarge.

If you can't tell, don't feel bad -- I'm their mother and I don't see any differences either.

Group 1 - stripey shirt

Group 2 - baseball outfits





Group 3 - smashed newborn faces


Group 4 - blue jammies

 Group 5 - robot shirt


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two kinds of Catholic

The comment thread on my last post has gone on and on .... I feel like I made a mistake in phrasing things the way I did.  I guess it sounds like I might be saying "here are my objections, come knock them down because I want to stay Catholic!"  When really I should have said, "here's what I think, I'm scared it makes me a heretic, reassure me I am still Catholic!"

If you whittle down all the individual arguments (which, if you're interested, are all being hashed out in the comboxes) I guess my real problem is that there are two kinds of Catholic.  And these two kinds of Catholic are as different, to my mind, as two different religions: different in worldview, different in priorities, different in the way they act.  It bothers me that there are two.  I worry that perhaps one is right and one is wrong, and that I am on the wrong side.

The first kind of Catholic tends to prefer things from before Vatican II.  Not the liturgy particularly (though they might) but the general tone of things. 

They believe that unbaptized infants who die go to limbo, and that non-Catholics of any kind, even if they never even heard of the Catholic Church, mostly go to hell.  One of these people told me, "If a man kisses a million lepers and washes the feet of the poor, but isn't baptized, he will go to hell, but if he is baptized and does the bare minimum of receiving the sacraments and avoiding mortal sin, he will go to heaven."

They believe that sin and grace are a sort of bank account; if you've done a certain amount of sin, you owe a certain amount of suffering.  Christ's sufferings on the cross were to pay off our deficit at the grace bank.

They like Benedict and don't like Francis or John Paul II.  Phrases like "who am I to judge" make them very upset.  They like Cardinal Burke.  It is very important to them that pro-abortion politicians are publicly denied the sacraments, and that sodomy is against the law.  They feel that people do bad things when allowed too much freedom, and the job of the state is to keep people from doing all those bad things.

When told that God killed lots of people in the Flood or at Sodom, or that he ordered the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, they aren't bothered.  But some of Jesus' parables about mercy make them feel a bit uncomfortable.

If you ask them how many people go to hell, they will tell you most people do.  They might point out that many private revelations have said this.

They worry a great deal about doing things right: about not using birth control or overusing NFP, about saying the rosary, about getting the liturgy perfect, about going to confession often.

If they get cancer or their friend dies in a car wreck, they say this was God's will and God must have some purpose in it.  Maybe he is trying to teach them something.

They say, "God is good, but it might be a sort of good that doesn't feel or seem good at all to humans."

All of this hinges on a view of God that says he cares very much about rules and about what you believe.  He isn't unmerciful, but they focus more on his justice.  I would like to emphasize that I am not attempting to parody this side; I know good people (some readers, probably) who fit more on this side and are probably better people than I am.

The other kind sees God differently, as loving and merciful without much focus on justice.  They think God cares a lot more about whether you love your neighbor than whether you believe the right things.

They love the Gospels (except for the whip of cords bit; that doesn't seem right) and flip nervously through the Old Testament till they reach the prophets at least.

They see sin as a break in one's relationship with God; grace fixes it.  Christ's redemption had something to do with fixing a relationship, not paying into a bank.  (But I learned the hard way, it's hard to get one of these people to explain exactly how this works.)

They believe God prefers five minutes of heartfelt spontaneous prayer to half-a-dozen rosaries, and don't tend to care all that much about how perfectly the liturgy is done.

They believe that a charitable person who loves God, but isn't Catholic, will probably go to heaven.  Even a well-meaning atheist probably goes to heaven.  They believe that you can think all the wrong things, but as long as you would choose the right things if only you knew, you're still in the clear.  They hope hell is empty, or nearly so.

Politically, they see the Church's role in the public sphere as promoting basic human dignity, but not fighting culture wars.  They probably believe the state has the duty to care for the poor, but not to police sexual behavior.

If they get cancer or someone dies, they believe it's just one of those awful things that happens, not that God willed it specifically.

They say, "God is good, but it is a kind of goodness I can recognize as good.  I am sure God wouldn't do anything I think is evil."

In short, they are the "social justice Catholics," the "touchy-feely Catholics," the "Vatican II Catholics," the "as long as you're a good person Catholics."

The trouble is, I am made very uncomfortable by the worldview of the first camp.  I can't see God that way.  However, probably 75% of camp number two are living in a state of what camp number one would call mortal sin.  There aren't a lot of people who think that God is a merciful being who cares more about the heart than about rules -- and still follow the rules.

I do follow the rules.  I follow the rules because I think following the rules is a way to show love.  It might not be the only way.  I don't really care if it is the only way.  It is the way that God has revealed himself to me, along the story of my life, and the only love letter I know how to send is following the rules.  But for me that's always with the understanding that he'll cover what I'm lacking.  That if I'm totally and completely wrong, he'll say "but you were trying to serve me" and welcome me anyway.  And that for the many people I know who believe something utterly different from what I do, he's got that same mercy ready.

There are moments when it all falls into place for me.  When I see that there's a very delicate balance between too much fear of God's justice and too much presumption on God's mercy; when I realize that God is greater than my conception of him and that perhaps the rule-bound way that's so scary to me is his way of leading people to himself too; when it is clear to me that the reason there are few (or, comparatively few) attempting to walk this fine line with me is that walking the fine line is hard -- not that I'm doing it wrong.

At other moments, I look at it and say to myself, "This brokenness cannot possibly be of God.  The reason we're walking so far afield is because before 1960 it was all camp one, all the time, and since then it's been all camp two.  And the reason for the shift is that deep in our gut, we are following the world.  We followed the world in the early Church and in the Middle Ages, adopting harshness and legalism because those were the coin of the day, and we're following the world now when we suddenly say that being a good person is enough.

"Either that, or camp one is right, has always been right, and God is the stern judge I can't bear to imagine spending eternity with.  If that is what the Church is, I want no part of it."

That's the part that scares me.  Everyone says, "So long as you decide you will believe whatever you discover the Church teaches, you're in the clear."  Only I won't.  I believe in God's goodness, God's mercy, his infinite store of love, more than I believe in the Church.  I don't think that's doubt, exactly.  Maybe it's a deeper kind of faith.

The dark voice whispers, "This is pride, that you think you could know what God is based on your own reason, instead of trusting the Church to tell you."

Perhaps it is.  But when it comes down to it, I need a God who is love and mercy, who treats his children with the sort of gentleness that I try to have with mine.  I need to strive to be like that God, and not the other one.  I need to trust in that God, and not the other one.  And I just can't believe that God would give me this need for him, and then fail me on that.

Friday, November 21, 2014

7qt - mostly about faith struggles


1

I don't really like theology, as a subject.  Oh, it's not my least favorite (philosophy wins that award, hands down) but every time I try to study theology or understand it, I wind up feeling less sure of everything than when I started.

And yet lately, everyone I talk to has been getting an earful, because I have so much stuff I'm working on figuring out.  Questions like, "Does God punish people?" and "Why does God seem so different in the Old Testament from the way he seems in the New Testament?" and "When we say God is good, how are we to define goodness in a way that isn't circular?" and, most of all, "How am I to know this isn't all a big scam?"

That last question is the scary one.  After seeing how Regnum Christi functions, I have trouble trusting that all religion isn't just a way of controlling people.  In the past, I have heard and believed the argument that the apostles would never have endured martyrdom for a scam.  But now . . . it occurs to me how many of us pledged our word that Maciel was innocent of whatever he was accused of, and I'm not so sure.  We weren't consciously lying -- we were just that convinced.  You can convince yourself of almost anything.

2

My answer that I have gone to in the past, to comfort me when I am freaking out about it, is -- so what?  What is Christianity, if it's not true?  Well, it's a set of beliefs and practices that convince people to treat others better and which can be comforting.  It carries within itself notions like the dignity of man, the benefit of sacrifice, free will, and continuous self-improvement.  Even if it weren't true, I would still think Christianity was a net beneficial influence on humanity.  There is a reason the Church has survived so well -- it's a set of cultural ideas that definitely have a place in society.

However, a lot of things the Church teaches and does do not help society, but rather propagate itself.  Evolution favors the fit, but it also can favor the over-fit -- cancer, invasive weeds, and so forth, things that destroy the ecosystem.  Christianity and Catholicism in particular have mechanisms that keep people from leaving -- for instance, the belief in hell.  Religions that believe in hell naturally suffer less attrition than others, because people are afraid they'll go to hell if they leave.  A layer is added if you say that doubt is a sin that will send you to hell.  So maybe the safe choice is to not even question.

This is a very scary line of reasoning to me.  Ever being told I shouldn't question is a major trigger for me, and so I question anyway, because I figure sincere questioning isn't doubt, but a search for God who is Truth in the first place.  Yet I still worry .... maybe all my doubts are my own fault for asking questions and I should just stop.  Only what sort of trust do I have in God, if I think even examining my faith, discussing it, and reading up about it will destroy my faith?  Surely he has answers to all the questions?

3

Why I am I so scared?  Well, you see, I'm not the stereotypical questioner I used to imagine -- someone who's just trying to find an excuse to leave so they can sin.  Even if I weren't Catholic, that wouldn't change my moral standards.  My conscience, wherever it comes from, is pretty strict.  I can't think of a single rule the Church has that I don't agree with.  I'd no sooner use birth control than I would take up bulimia, because it feels equally wrong to me.  So, no, I'm not looking to get out of anything.

In fact I'm not looking for a way out of the Church at all.  I want to be Catholic.  I'm holding onto my faith by my fingernails, because with it threatened like this, I realize I really do want to believe it all.  It's hard to even say why.  I know it isn't because I want to feel superior (I don't; I know some wonderful atheists) and it isn't because I find much comfort in it.  A little bit of it is because the Church is the only community I know -- probably 75% of my friendlist is Catholic, and the sort who would be very upset with me if I left.  Some of it is straight-up fear: if it turns out that God is a vengeful God, I don't want to be on the bad side of that -- even if I were 99% sure it was all a hoax, that 1% would come with scary consequences so best not to risk it.

But I think perhaps, on some level that I can't quite put into words, I really do love God and want to be with him.  I want to live in a world that has that much kindness and truth in it.  I want to have someone to say thank you to, the many times a day when I need to say thank you.

4

But for the moment I feel I can go on.  I had a scary couple of days when I really felt it must all be false; less a real argument against any part of the faith than just a fear that I'm getting manipulated again and I don't want to have my life and beliefs turned upside-down again and maybe it would be morally wrong to hide my head in the sand and try not to think of my doubts, because it would be lying.

But I had a good talk with John, who pointed out that he, at least, is one person who believes the whole thing without either painting God as a big jerk or hedging his bets for fear of hell.  You see I have this deep distrust in my ability to know anything, and there are so few Catholics I know whom I trust much more than myself.  But there is John.  I have a great deal of trust in him.  If I can tell him all my worst doubts and they don't trouble him, I think for the moment I can go on.

I've also resolved to read the Gospels again.  The rest of the Bible is an iffy proposition; some things are great and uplifting and other bits are upsetting.  So I'll start with just Gospels.  It's a start.  Because Jesus is the sort of person I really would like to know, not because of fear but because he is so easily recognizable as Good.

5

In other news .... gosh, what else is going on?  Michael has been sleeping very badly, and worst of all, won't let you leave the room if you come in at night to comfort him, so you have to stay there for half an hour or more.  If you try to sneak out, thinking he's asleep, and he isn't, he comes fully awake and wails that he needs you to "be wif me!"  And for fear of waking Marko up, you just have to sit back down and wait.

Because I have a great husband, though, I am not handling much of this.  I'm staying with Miriam, who actually sleeps through the night once in awhile (knock on wood or the Internet Curse will get me) and so I get more sleep than John does.  We've even moved a sleeping bag into the boys' room so John can sleep in there if he has to.  Sometimes he's in there from 4 am to 6, when the kids get up for the day.  I sure hope this stage doesn't last.

6

Today I buckled down and actually sewed the dress for Miriam I said I'd do weeks ago.  It took me like an hour.  Funny how I can put off things for so long that wind up being really no trouble to do.


The fabric is just a receiving blanket that I happened to have.  Since it's cotton flannel, it's nice and warm and soft.  I would have preferred pink trim, but the green was all I had.  No pattern, I just cut it vaguely Miriam-shaped and sewed it up.  I had planned to put a button opening in the back, but when the neck hole went over her head easily, I skipped cutting an opening.

For my next trick, I want to knit her a headband with a flower on it so people will know she's a girl even though I don't dress her in pink much.

She is three months old now, and just reached the stage when she immediately rolls to her side when I put her down.  Still can't roll all the way over, unless she's on a very uneven surface like a pile of blankets.


She's not asleep in this picture; she's just super excited about that thumb.  


7

Marko has all of a sudden gotten super affectionate.  Not in the sense of wanting affection from me -- he's always had stages where he wanted lots of attention.  But in the sense of figuring out what I like (hugs and kisses and saying I love you) and very pointedly doing them.  It seems a little artificial, but I think he's just finally wrapping his head around the idea that he can make other people happy by doing certain things, so I appreciate it and tell him so.

Anyway, what is sweeter than a little boy who says "Come back here, I want to kiss you"?  He is not always so good about listening, he sometimes pinches his brother, but he really does care about making us happy and that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.  You see, kids don't love their parents when they're little ... they need us.  But Marko is finally reaching a point where he's ready to give back.

How was your week?
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