Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Archeology and anarchy

In which I use archeology to explain why anarchy doesn't work.  In a bajillion words or less.

I've been reading up on archeology lately.  So.  Cool.  It started with the Iron Age and then I had to look up the Bronze Age and next thing you knew I was in the Stone Age.  (I highly recommend The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age, by Richard Rudgley.  The thesis is that the stone ages, both paleolithic and neolithic, were much more developed than was originally thought.  And the newest archeological developments appear to support this, like this amazing find in the Orkney Islands.)

The major trait of the paleolithic period was that humans were hunter-gatherers.  They may have had a great deal of oral knowledge, but they didn't make many artifacts because anything they made, they would have had to carry.  We guess about them a lot, partly by looking at modern-day hunter-gatherers, and partly by their few artifacts and cave paintings.

The paleolithic period has a lot of fans, myself included.  Mark Sisson likes to talk about paleolithic diet and exercise, and Peter Gray about paleolithic psychology.  Their life sounds somewhat Edenic from what we know of it; they had few possessions, little violence, and basically no real government.  And they kept up this fairly stable system for a much longer span of time than the entirety of written history.  Kind of makes you think.

No one knows what made these nomads decide to settle down and start farming.  Farming entails more work, more risk of famine, and poorer health than hunting and gathering.  Did they just not realize this?  Were they lured by the promise of food growing right in their backyard?  Or was it just part of the curse of original sin, that we were going to have to start earning food by the sweat of our brow instead of picking it off the trees like we used to?

Whatever the reason, there was no going back.  Agriculture led to a population boom, and once the population had reached that size, it couldn't be supported on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle anymore.  Agriculture allows for dense food production, while hunter-gatherers must have a lower population density.  Furthermore, if your tribe was still hunting while your neighbors were farming, you'd be at a disadvantage.  They would come along and burn down your forest and plant corn in it, and it was pretty much farm or perish.  So people farmed.  We call it the Neolithic Revolution.

With the Neolithic Revolution, we get the concept of land ownership.  And from that point on, land ownership has been a necessity of life.  Unless you are a hunter-gatherer, you will need a patch of land for your very own.  (Nomadic herders might be another exception to the rule.)  This wasn't such a big deal in the Neolithic.  People staked out spots, but as far as we know, they don't seem to have squabbled over them much.  And small wonder: their best weapons were still flint arrows and stone axes.  These weren't much of a leg up over fistfighting.  Sure, you could do it -- but since you were as likely to be killed as your opponent, it wasn't a very good risk to take.  And anyway, everyone was too busy trying to survive by farming to do much fighting.  As a result, there was still not much government, and relative equality.

The Bronze Age changed this.  Bronze, you see, is not all that common.  You have to have both copper and tin to make it, plus specialized skill.  Someone who was a successful farmer and had some free time to spare, or someone with access to metals, or someone with secret knowledge, suddenly had a huge advantage over everyone else.  Why slave over the land when it was easier to make a bronze spear, head on over to your neighbor's farm at harvesttime, and just help yourself to their crop?

Suddenly Joe the Farmer was in a dangerous spot.  He needed the land to live -- but he needed weapons if he were to protect it.  And he needed time to patrol it, which he couldn't do if he were busy farming.  Naturally he looked over to the nearest, friendliest-looking guy with a bronze sword.  "Here," he must have said, "let's save ourselves some trouble.  I'll just give you a tenth of my crop right off, and in return you defend me against all the other sword-wielding guys."  That sounded like a good plan -- less bloodshed all around, and a living for the new "king" that didn't involve stealing peasants' entire livelihoods.  But it created as well a rigid social structure that relied on inequality.

And this, I feel, is the moment when anarchy, as a viable social theory, died.  (I do not mean anarchy in the sense of "chaos," but anarchism the political system, which sees everything as reducible to free association.  Real anarchists sometimes call themselves libertarians, but as an actual libertarian, I resent this.  I do believe in government.  Just limited government.)  It may well have been possible to have a stateless society in the Neolithic, and it appears that to some extent they did.  But I don't believe it is possible today.

Land ownership is taken to be a very minor point by most people.  For instance, when they say, "Oh, I'd grow a garden, but I live in an apartment."  But it's actually a very major issue.  Access to natural resources is necessary for survival.  If you do not have direct access, you will be reliant for your survival on those who do have that access.  That is to say, you rely on the grocery store, and on its continued willingness to accept scraps of paper in exchange for food.  You also rely on the owner of your apartment to continue to let you live there.  Since anarchists like to say that you are free to do whatever you want on your own property, it does seem to follow that your landlord is free to restrict your rights while you're living there -- as in fact landlords do, when it comes to quiet hours and indoor paintball parties.

So, you have to have land to be free from anyone's control.  Fine.  You buy a piece of it for $100,000 and say to yourself, "Now I am truly free.  I call no man master.  I will build myself a house, grow myself food, and pay no taxes, because after all I didn't agree to the social contract."  If you do this, anarchists freely admit, the IRS man is going to pay you a visit, so you really can't get away with it.  But, they say, you should be able to.

All right, so say the United States government agrees to grant you sovereignty.  Your 40 acres is now the sovereign nation of Yourland, and you can do whatever you want with it.  It is no longer part of the United States.

Immediately emissaries from Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and China all arrive on your doorstep.  All would like to invite you to become a protectorate and enjoy the many benefits of being a citizen of their nations.  And there is a veiled threat apparent ... if you don't comply, one or another of them is going to make you.  After all, they have missiles and you don't.  You have a shotgun.  It's not going to cut it.

Okay, so that won't do.  Let's just get rid of all governments.  Everywhere in the world.  There is now no government everywhere; we will work completely on the basis of free association.

Things are great.  But a very large group of people, known as the Walmart Corporation, decides to build a store right on the other side of your property line.  Fine.  No problem.  Their land, their choice.  But you wake up one morning and your fence doesn't look right.  It's been moved twenty feet over to make room for a bit more parking lot for Walmart.

"You can't do this!"  you announce to the representatives of Walmart.  "You are aggressing on my property, therefore by the Non-Aggression Principle, I now have the right to use force to stop your aggression!"

Walmart replies, "You and what army?"

So you leave, downcast, but when you get home you start calling your friends.  (Presumably you've figured out a way to string phone lines that everyone has agreed to; anarchists aren't dumb, they've thought of this.)  They are indignant, realizing of course that if it's you today, it might be them next.  But Bob can't help you because he doesn't even have a shotgun; he had a bad year in his business and can't afford it.  And Tim is laid up with the flu.  And Steve could help you, but he won't, because he wants to take his own chances.  Billy has seen pictures provided by Walmart that make it look like your fence was always in that spot.  And so on and so forth.

You get together what coalition you can, which ends up being more people than Walmart has.  But Walmart still has more money than you.  They have better weapons, helicopters, missiles, the works.  Odds are good that you will lose, if not this time, then next time, when McDonalds encroaches on Steve's farm.  Some people have access to better resources than other people, and better resources translate to better weapons.  Also, some people put 100% of their efforts into weaponry and make stealing their main form of sustenance, whereas people who fight defensively have to arrange for other forms of sustenance and can only put a smaller percentage of their efforts into fighting.  It does seem to me that the bad guy is always going to win in this scenario.

The facts are these:
1.  Life is not possible without access to the earth's resources.
2.  Access to the earth's resources is not possible without the ability to defend them against attack.
3.  Free individuals are at a disadvantage to states or corporations when it comes to defending their resources against attack.

It seems to me that, even if we have no other government, we're going to need some form of army.  Just a little one, properly equipped.  But equipment has a price tag, and where is the money going to come from?

Anarchists believe that the government has no right to tax, because taxation is just stealing under another name.  After all, I didn't agree to join the club that is the United States.  So why should I have to pay the club's dues?

I answer that taxes are not dues.  They are rents.  This is why I am a believer in property tax even though I don't much hold with income tax.

Because the fact is, you don't own the land your house is sitting on.  Not absolutely.  If you are an American, that land was stolen from Indians (hate to say it, but it's true) and defended against outside attack by the United States government.  The government then sold or gave it to certain citizens.  Those citizens sold it to other people, who sold it to other people, who sold it to you.  But when it was sold the first time, it wasn't sold complete, with full rights to sovereignty.  You were sold the use of it.  You can use it for pretty nearly everything you want.  But the understanding that went along with that gift or sale of land was that you would pay the government forever for its defense of that patch of land.  And you would follow a few basic rules that the government would set.

If you "opt out," you have to stop "renting" that land.  You can't keep it.  You are going to have to get a new patch, and it turns out all the patches are claimed by somebody.  This is the perennial anarchist problem, and it's why anarchists are theorists only; it's never been tried.  There's an idea now to build a platform in the sea somewhere and make it into an anarchist paradise.  I do wish them luck with that.

The only true anarchist paradise was feudalism.  Yes, at its best, it was a system of renting land and following the landlord's rules.  Each time the owner of the land died and his son took over, he too would have to go down to the landlord and swear fealty to him.  It's an individual social contract for everyone.  And the age-old transfer would take place: a percentage of my crop for your protection.  That portion of my crop goes to feed everyone who doesn't have the time to farm because they are busy training so as to protect me better, and to buy weapons for them.

We've gotten too far from the land to see it, but I really see all governments as simply a form of this ancient transfer.  The question that must be asked afterwards, then, is this:  Is the government a fair landlord, or an oppressive one?  Who is to protect us if our landlord oppresses us?

Ah, look at the time.  Thanks for plowing the whole way through this epic.  I'll address limited government... someday.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Some clothes I actually do like

I've had a number of people ask me, "Well, what kinds of things do you like?"  And I answer, "Argh .... I don't KNOW!"

There's some stuff I do like.  But most of it would not be considered appropriate to wear.  I mean, I just love this:

...but it would draw more attention than I'm really comfortable with.

And I totally wish I were Indian so I could get away with wearing this:

Or even these:


... but sadly I don't look even a little bit Indian, so I think I would probably offend someone if I tried.

So, as far as things currently considered acceptable to wear ....

I love jeans.  Used to hate them, until I discovered words like "boot cut" and "low rise" would win me a pair that was actually comfortable.  Now I could live in them.

I like jean skirts like this:

I have one of these, and another one in knee length.  (I don't like any length but ankle and knee.)  Embroidered details and patches are nice.

I love hippie and gypsy skirts.

I don't wear them too often because my kids use them as handles and I hate being dragged around by my clothes.  But I love them.  I had a paisley hippie skirt that I wore almost every Sunday for EIGHT YEARS.  It literally wore right out.  So now it's a mei tai.  What?  I couldn't part with it.  I'll have to post a picture later.

Given the choice, I wear short sleeves.  Long sleeves make me claustrophobic.  I just push them up.  I had a thing for awhile for fuzzy sweaters, but those got too claustrophobic too, especially with kids hanging on me.

I think dip-dyeing is one of the prettiest things ever.  I have a dip-dyed coral shirt with a butterfly applique that I love ... but it's a little tight so I never wear it.  Sigh.  I dreamed and dreamed when I was in college of a yellow dip-dyed formal gown ... but when it came down to it I wore something completely different because apparently they don't have things like that in the stores.  Particularly not in the under $50 price range.

Oh, and I'm a Spring.  For the most part I love my colors.  Except I don't much care for pink, which if you look at the swatches I have to choose from is pretty unfortunate.

I just can't imagine a world in which I would wear fuchsia on purpose.  I do like all those blues and greens though.  Also red.  I can wear true red, and look good in it.

I like flannel shirts.  They are so soft.  Really, I like everything that's soft (NOT velvet though, because I do not call that soft).  I like to wear flannel shirts unbuttoned over a tank top.  That's actually what I'm wearing right now.

I like pashminas.  I have three really pretty ones ... but I never wear them except maybe for really formal events.  But they are wonderful.  If they are long enough, they make excellent baby slings.  They also can be nursing covers, mantillas, or shrugs.  Pretty much whatever you want.  And they are pretty.

I am not much of an accessorizer.  I have jewelry, but I never wear anything but my watch and rings.  Which is a shame ... I used to wear this lovely Celtic pendant almost daily, but then Marko broke it, sniff.  I think I fixed it, but I hardly want to get it broken again.  Perhaps for some special occasion, someday.   I also have some bracelets and things.  Which I never wear.  It just seems silly to wear it around the house, but then if I ever go anywhere fancy, I'm totally distracted by my jewelry because I'm not used to it.

Oh, I don't have pierced ears.  I don't want them either.  I'm not really comfortable with holes in my body.  I do kind of like tattoos (depending, of course), but they're just kind of permanent and painful and I'd be scared to get one.

I am picky about shoes.  I don't like heels of any description; I teeter.  I have a pair for weddings which are pretty enough, but they are not at all comfortable.  And they're only an inch and a half!

I like ballet flats, sandals, minimalist sneakers (think Pumas) and boots.  Boots like these boots:

 Aren't they a dream?

So that should clear some things up.  Now I can send people to this post when they ask me "what do you like?"  This is the stuff I like.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do the clothes make the mom?

Every once in awhile, I see a mention of frowsy stay-at-home mothers.  You know the ones.  With the yoga pants and the oversize t-shirts and the perpetual ponytail.  Complete with an assumption that they don't care about themselves, that they don't respect their vocation, that they must have terrible self esteem.

Every time I read those, I get all up in arms.  Because they are talking about me.  Tattered, ill-fitting jeans?  Check.  Husband's shirt?  Check.  Ponytail?  Always, always check.

But the thing is, I like myself fine.  I love my vocation.  I'm pretty happy about life in general.  I just can't make myself care about clothes.

When I was a kid, my mom considered me a "fashionista."  I liked putting together weird outfits.  I am not exactly sure when I grew out of that phase.  Maybe it was when I finally went to school and got bullied over the clothes I had thought were nice.  Or just the well-meaning friends who were always, always trying to give me a makeover.  I appreciated the thought, but at the same time I would think, "Why is it always me who gets the makeover?  Is there something wrong with the way I look?"

Right before I left for boarding school, I had a style.  It was rather awful, but I was thirteen and I'm pretty sure everyone's style is awful at thirteen.  My favorite outfits included:
*the confidence outfit, which I wore if I was feeling shy: giant cream-colored skirt down to the floor, prairie boots, and a sleeveless button-down lavender blouse
*the medieval outfit: loose white pants tucked into slouchy black boots, a large yellow shirt belted at the waist with a thick black belt
*the homey outfit: knee-length jean skirt, white silk undershirt, open flannel shirt

Yeah.  I was pretty funny-looking.  But I was homeschooled at the time and was really enjoying being able to wear what I liked instead of what would be accepted by everyone else.

I had to have eight outfits for boarding school, and they all had to be skirts or dresses.  That was fine by me, because I liked them better anyway.  I went shopping at my favorite store (Goodwill) and borrowed some clothes from my mom.  I am positive I looked pretty ridiculous in some of those clothes, but I loved the way I looked and I had a level of confidence in my clothes that I haven't had since.

As soon as the summer program was over and I had decided to stay, one of the consecrated took some time with me to go through my closet.  She wanted to make sure I was looking like a real "Woman of the Kingdom."  Well, it didn't go very well.  She made a few quips and chuckled a bit over my clothes, and I laughed along in a sort of embarrassed way, because yeah, now that she mentioned it, my clothes were kind of ridiculous.  Even the "confidence skirt."  So silly that I had ever felt confident in that.  Now that she mentioned it, I could clearly see that I looked like a bag lady in it and that everyone had always thought so.

So I agreed to let them send all my clothes to the Salvation Army.  (My mom was furious of course, because half the stuff was hers -- I hadn't thought of that.)  And then this consecrated woman took me "shopping" in the little room in the basement where they had some good clothes.  Some of the outfits I loved.  Some I really didn't like (oh, olive green corduroy jumper, how I don't miss you!).  But I accepted all of her choices and that was just what I wore.  After I got sent home, I pretty much kept wearing the same things until I left for college.

Since then, I've just hated having to choose clothes.  I hate shopping for them, I hate spending money on them, I hate trying to make them into outfits.  I don't have much of a fashion sense, and I don't trust what little I do have.  When I really take some effort and put things together that I like, I feel great -- for about half an hour.  Then I start doubting myself and feeling like I've taken a horrible risk and probably everyone thinks I look like a doofus.

So I get advice from friends, and basically never go shopping alone.  But that carries its own risk, because if I'm not careful I end up going home with stuff I don't like.  And then I never wear it because it's not comfortable or it feels like a costume, like I'm dressed up as someone else.

I feel like I ought to dress up more.  I should care how I look.  Every time anyone gives me clothes advice, I feel like what they're really saying is, "Have a little pride in how you look.  Dress up.  Stop being such a slob."  But why should I care how I look?

I mean, am I dressing to impress strangers?  Why do I care what strangers think?  How often do I even see strangers?  I leave the house maybe twice a week.  And are these total strangers really judging me because I'm in jeans?  I usually have on a clean shirt, so why should they care?

Or am I dressing up to impress my friends?  Pretty sure my friends know what I look like.  And if I'm still on the level that I feel like I have to dress up for their approval ... I just don't know if we're really friends.  I dress up so professors, bosses, etc., don't judge me, but I don't have those anymore.  I find it really freeing to know that I really don't have to impress anyone I don't want to impress.

Am I dressing up for my husband?  That's what people say, but the reality is that my husband really doesn't care what I wear.  Really.  Truly.  He prefers it if I don't wear makeup and if I keep my hair long, which I do, but other than that he barely notices.  If he had his way, he'd never wear anything but sweatpants.  If I had my way, I'd go naked.  Really.  It's more comfortable and I really think the human body is much prettier than anything we put on it.  But Adam and Eve just had to eat that apple, so here we are.

I do like the argument, "Well, you dress up so that people will know you care."  And that's a nice thought.  I want people to know I care.  But what, exactly, is the caring thing to wear?  What I think looks nice, or what they think looks nice?  And how am I to know either one of those?  And if I just wear what everyone else agrees is nice, am I going to feel like I'm walking around in someone else's ill-fitting skin?

Today I went shopping.  I went with a friend, but I tried to get clear in my mind what I wanted so I didn't get anything I didn't like.  I got some jeans with an embroidered flower on them, which are awesome, and a dress which I think I like.  Not quite sure.  And yes, having a flower on my jeans does make me feel better about life, just a smidge.  I like the thought that I might meet new people in these jeans and that they would know this tiny detail about me right off, that I'm the sort of person who would wear a flower on my jeans.  Though maybe I'm expecting too much, because I never notice what people are wearing.

I just feel kind of dysfunctional, as a female who doesn't care about clothes.  Was my fashion sense stunted by childhood traumas?  Or did I never really have one?  Because nine days out of ten, since I can remember, I just grabbed stuff out of a drawer and put in on.  I liked having a uniform.  It was one less thing to think about.  These days, I just grab what's closest.  If I know I'm going to be going out, I try to make an effort to wear a shirt that actually belongs to me.  I envy men everywhere their ability to wear the same basic uniform almost every day.  A man in khakis and a polo shirt is rarely out of place anywhere.

Is something wrong with me?  What's the solution -- to get with the program, somehow find myself some nice clothes and force myself to wear them daily?  (Plus actually buy new ones when I've worn out the old ones, which is the worst of it ... if I actually find something I like, I wear it to tatters because I know I'll never find something else just like it.)  Or should I let go of what people think I should wear, and just be a slob if I feel like it ... and also maybe a little funky if I feel like it?

What would you wear if you had no one to impress?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Religious hobbyism

There's this thing out there that drives me crazy.  I call it religious hobbyism.  It's where religion is your hobby, but you don't actually practice it like a religion.

In this category would be attending every "cool" liturgy you can find, Eastern Rite, Extraordinary Form, what-have-you, but if you can't find a "cool" Mass to go to, just skipping.

It's walking out of every Mass with a list of pros and cons: "I did like the homily, but did you notice they didn't say the correct prayers for the day?"  "Yes, that's true, but did you get a look at that thurible?!"

It's being always at the ready to participate in a theological debate, but being an arrogant jerk the whole time.  It's skipping your prayer time so that you can put the smackdown on someone who's wrong about a fine point of doctrine.

Also known as "totally missing the point."

But as I was reflecting on this tendency, I began to feel this niggling little discomfort inside.  Because I'm not free of this.  Like, not at all.  I was lecturing someone on Facebook today as to how wonderful it is that Pope Francis is choosing to wash the feet of prison inmates on Holy Thursday, thus showing us the importance of performing the corporal works of mercy, when Marko came and hung on me, demanding something to eat.  And I thought, "Feeding the hungry is also a corporal work of mercy, and here I am, too obsessed with being right to feed my own children."  So I got up and gave him a cookie.  I did finish my comment after, but I toned it down a lot because I was starting to really think.  Why do I do this?  Is it because I truly want these people to know Christ instead of picking at the Pope for wearing black shoes?  Or is it because I personally like the Pope so much and feel so defensive of him that it's become more important to be right then to respect their own journey?

Because we all are bad Catholics.  I know I am.  I've said it often:  I stink at being Catholic.  I haven't prayed the Rosary of my own free will in years.  Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and I can't even forgive my own husband unless he's the first one to apologize.  I have been known to say to a sick child in the middle of the night, "Stop crying or we won't have any fun tomorrow!"  Which corporal work of mercy is that?

I'm not sure I know the cure.  In some ways discussing theology at all appears to be an occasion of sin for me.  I get freaked out: "What!  Non-Catholics all go to hell?!  I didn't know that!  I can't imagine a good God would do that!"  I spend days in a state of angst and doubt.  And then I look it up in the catechism and find out that oops, I was right the first time, it is quite possible for non-Catholics to go to heaven.  The Good Thief was never baptized with water either.  (Look it up, #846 and following.  So awesome!  And also happened to be what I already believed, which is nice.)

But on the other hand, these discussions do draw me deeper into understanding.  And understanding doctrine is, in its essence, understanding God.  Is God the sort of person who would damn someone to hell for all eternity for not knowing better?  No, he is not.  And when I find this out, I am drawn to love him more, to keep asking him that all important question, "Who are you, anyway?"

But it's always going to be a constant fight.  Humility vs. pride, obsession with being right vs. focus on doing right, speaking or listening.  It's hard.  In a way we're all religious hobbyists, we're all material heretics, we all miss the point.  The crucial thing is not to give up on the battle, but to keep fighting, to keep asking myself, "Is this what God would do?  Is this what God wants?  Am I missing the point again?"

Two good articles that have called me on this tendency lately: Unclean and There Ain't No Pure Church.  I tell you, without Simcha Fisher and Mark Shea to tell it like it is, I don't know where I'd be.

I think this is the last "Catholic post" for a bit.  My apologies to those of you who are waiting for pictures of cute babies.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A time of trepidation

(This is a very Catholic post.  My apologies if it makes zero sense to anyone else.)

The time between Benedict's resignation and Pope Francis's election was a time of much fear and trembling for me, as I suppose it was for every Catholic.  Who will it be?  Someone "good," a real spiritual father, a wise leader?  Or someone who, while not teaching heresy, wounds the Church through neglect or scandal?  We have been spoiled in the past century ... we are accustomed to very holy Popes, whereas at different times in history there have been some real rotters.  But even in this century, I don't think anyone who's been paying attention could say every Pope was perfect or made the right decisions all of the time.

When the news articles and stories came pouring in about Pope Francis, about his simplicity, his warmth, his wise words, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  He seems like a good one.  We're in the clear.

But I can see now that maybe that was premature.

I'm not afraid that Francis isn't going to be a great pope.  I'm pretty sure he is.  But it's a little scary all the same.  Are transitions from one papacy to another always this difficult?  This is only my second (like most Catholics I know), and I didn't notice a huge upheaval when Benedict was elected.  But then I was at Christendom and everyone there loooooved him.

Yet even then, there was a lot of speculation and a lot of assumptions which turned out to be false.  Both Benedict's admirers and his enemies called him "God's Rottweiler," the Grand Inquisitor, and so forth.  They expected him to be bringing the smackdown.  Those who knew him well told us he was gentle, patient, scholarly, and so forth, but all anyone could see was that he was known to be very conservative.  So the conservatives and traditionalists (aka everyone I knew) threw parties, and the liberals (so I heard) were wailing and gnashing their teeth.

But what happened?  We got a kind, patient, gentle Holy Father, one with a professorial bent.  He wrote three encyclicals, two on love and one on hope and zero on smackdowns.  He worked on unifying the Eastern Churches (and made enormous progress) and the SSPX (which is still being stubborn) and the Anglicans (which I think has been mostly a success too).  He allowed broader use of the Latin Mass, which of course had made that wing of the Church love him forever.  But he just wasn't as harsh as was suspected.  No excommunications.  No anathemas.  And I think, for the most part, that that was a good thing.

Everyone already thinks they know what Pope Francis is going to be like and what he's going to do.  They have tried both the "liberal" hat and the "conservative" hat on him -- which was very amusing, reading articles saying the exact opposite things about the same guy in the same paper on the same day -- and found that neither fit.  So they shoved on the liberal hat and now we're supposed to assume he's a liberal, I guess?  Except the real liberals are still annoyed because he's already said he believes in church teaching on this, that, and the other unpopular thing.

Keep in mind that I have said in the past, "If it's possible for there to be such a thing as a liberal orthodox Catholic, that would be me."  And I think to some extent that's Pope Francis, too.  His sympathies are with the poor, he's already mentioned the environment, and he isn't much into small-t traditions.  But I don't think we should for a second assume that that tells us everything about what he will do.

What scares me, though, is not what he'll do.  It's what other people will do.  I've been reading the comments on Rorate Coeli (a rather traditional blog), which I don't recommend doing right now.  There is a lot of shrieking and moaning and gnashing of teeth because we now have a "liberal pope."  The articles that site is posting are ridiculous, like a quote by the cardinal who sat next to Bergoglio in the conclave and is reported to be friendly with him, implying that the liturgy needs renewal.  And everyone leaps on that shrieking, "The Pope is going to redo the whole Mass yet again!"  No.  He is not.  At least, not so far as I know.  Can't you at least let him tell you himself what he would like to do?

My favorite comment all day has been this: "Rodrigo Borgia himself would be a better candidate. At least Alexandrer VI didn't mess with the liturgy!"  (For those of you who don't know, Alexander VI was a libertine with lots of illegitimate children whom he made nobles and cardinals.  Commonly considered one of the worst Popes of all time.)

Traditionalists are assuming their Latin Mass will be ripped away from them.  Some are advising joining the SSPX and others the Eastern rites.  (Eastern Catholics are saying, "Please don't.  We are not an asylum for disaffected Westerners.")  One person commented that he had already stopped attending Mass over this.

I think that's terrible.  How can you let your fears of what the Pope might do come between you and God, present for you in the Eucharist?  If you are afraid, don't flee from him, flee to him!

But it gets worse.  There's this ... individual ... on the internet who goes by the name "Maria D*vine Mercy" (hope that asterisk keeps her adherents away) and claims to be receiving private revelations from Jesus.  Of course there are dozens of these on the internet, plus like six antipopes, so I don't usually lose sleep, but unfortunately she got lucky.  She claimed Benedict would be driven out of office in a huge scandal.  Of course that isn't what happened, but it's close enough and now her followers--she has at least 17,000--are crowing about it.  Worse still, her next prophecy is that the next pope will really be an antipope:

"The false prophet will now take over the Seat in Rome. . . . They will bring God’s children under the rule of the little horn, who will sit in pompous splendour in the Seat of Peter. . . . Seated in the Chair of Peter, this imposter will shout aloud and proudly proclaim his solution to unite all churches as one.  Hailed as a modern innovator, he will be applauded by the secular world because he will condone sin. He will bring in new laws, which will, not only contradict the Teachings of the Catholic Church, but which will go against all Christian laws."

Read why this is not true here.  Short answer being that we have a guarantee from Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church founded on the rock of Peter.  But you can see what this would do to people.  There are some people who really believe Francis is an antipope and that it is their duty to disobey him.  It doesn't even matter what he says or does.  This "prophetess" has told them to expect an antipope, so they are out.  A schism.

It breaks my heart.  Just breaks it.

Maybe we need to go back to the words of yet another Pope, John Paul II.  His most famous quote: "Do not be afraid."  How can we not be afraid, with so much uncertain?  The traditionalists afraid for their liturgy, the neoconservatives afraid of the gay agenda, the liberals afraid of corruption in the Curia, and pretty much everyone (myself included) terrified that we haven't seen the last of the sex abuse scandals and desperate to see the Church cleansed of all those monsters.  We're so, so scared.

But we have to take courage, for Christ has overcome the world already.  He promised to be with us always, even to the end of time.  First, with the Eucharist, where we have his real presence.  And second, in the papacy, where we get actual guidance about the right way to go.  Why be Catholic?  Because God is here.  That is the only answer there has ever been.

I see it like a sailboat, turning first this way and then that way to catch the wind.  Those of us on board are shrieking that we are seasick, that we can't figure out where this boat is going to, that we are perishing.  But what we don't see is that Christ is holding the tiller himself.  He turns it a bit to the right, a bit to the left, just a touch, just the right amount.  He knows where he's taking us.  We don't have to know all this.  We just have to sit tight, hold on, and try to have a little faith.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis

So, big surprise out of the conclave there, hm?  Though I would have been surprised no matter what.  I deliberately didn't research the papabile because I know how it goes.  Whoever is considered a likely choice ends up not being it, and relatively often it's someone no one has heard of.

Here are some random thoughts on the conclave and our new Pope, in no particular order.

We watched the white smoke livestreaming online.  Or rather, I watched while the kids whined and grabbed at me and destroyed the house.  Sigh.  And then the computer crashed and I spent five minutes restarting and freaking out that the announcement would come while I was struggling to get back to the website!  But no worries.  We had a long wait.

When the cardinal came out to make the announcement, my thoughts went like this: "Man, he looks dour.  Either his pick didn't win, or he is cross about something else.  George?  Who's named George?  Surely an English speaker then?  Wait, that's an Italian last name.  B-something.  Not Bertone?!  If it's Bertone I think I am going to have to give up on the idea that the Holy Spirit chooses the Pope, because the God I know would know better than to pick Bertone.  But no, his first name's Tarcisio, not George.  He chooses the name Francis?!  That's a good sign for sure!  Finally these announcers are telling us who it is ... and it's no one I've ever heard of.  Okay, research time."

I think it's awesome that by the time I got to Wikipedia it had already been edited.  "Jorge Bergoglio" redirected to "Pope Francis I" and then five minutes later to just "Pope Francis."  (Pope Francis I is incorrect because there's no Francis II.  That's like going by Joe Sr. if you don't have a son named Joe Jr.)

Pope Francis is the first New World pope, the first Jesuit pope, the first pope to choose the name Francis.  He's from Argentina, 76 years old (right when people were expecting a younger pope), the son of a railway worker.  Before entering seminary, he studied chemistry, and when out of favor with the leaders of the Jesuits, he worked as a high school science teacher.  He's known for being quiet and a bit shy.

I am really excited about him for so many reasons.  First of all his personal asceticism.  He's famous for leaving the official bishop's residence empty and living in a small apartment and cooking his own meals.  He used to take the bus instead of a limo or taxi.  There are photos of him all over washing the feet of various people, including AIDS patients.  In a time when we keep getting grief for the Pope's supposed wealth, I'm very excited to see someone who might cut down on all the pomp and circumstance.  I don't believe it does any good.

He wasn't even Pope for a day before I saw him criticized on Facebook for not wearing a red cape and a gold pectoral cross when he appeared for the first time.  Seriously?  And now I'm in a debate with some people on Facebook over whether all those trappings (tiaras, red shoes, sedan chairs, ad infinitum) really do anyone any good, or if we'd be better off without them.  I take the latter position.  Did you know the Popes used to wear a triple crown and ride around on a giant sedan chair?  I say, good riddance.  It looks ridiculous and it gives entirely the wrong idea of what the Pope is all about.  "Servant of the Servants of God" is the pope's oldest title ... and I am pretty sure St. Peter didn't ride through the streets of Rome on a sedan chair on the way to getting crucified upside-down.

Simcha Fisher did a great article about Pope Francis.  "Pope Francis, future patron saint of the socially awkward.  Oh, how we've needed you!"  That was how I found out he went home from St. Peter's on the cardinal's bus and went out the next morning to pray at St. Mary Major ... and pick up his luggage and pay his hotel bill.  I can just imagine those cardinals tagging along: "But Holy Father, you can't -- Holy Father, you don't have to -- Holy Father, let me carry -- oh, for heaven's sake!"  That makes me smile.

So did First Things.  "Cardinal Bergolio is an interesting figure and hard to place within the favored framework of “conservatives versus liberals.” That is in any case an ill-conceived opposition since it imports political or cultural categories into a religious context where they really do not fit. It also is especially ill-suited to Bergoglio, for seen from one perspective he appears to conform to the “progressive” profile, being a strong advocate of economic justice and compassion for the poor; but viewed from another he appears a stout defender of traditional Catholic teachings on sexual ethics and beginning- and end-of-life issues."

In other words, he is really Catholic, not left Catholic (super Catholic when it comes to caring for the poor, not so much into that doctrine stuff) or right Catholic (crazy about doctrine and liturgy, but thinks saying "get a job" is the same as caring for the poor).  He's Catholic like me.  And I like that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So tired of this

As a Catholic, the best thing I can ever hope for from the news media is that they will completely ignore my religion.  That's right.  A good Catholic news day is one in which there is no news.

Because the second there is news about the Church -- like now, with the conclave going on -- it seems like every newspaper and TV personality thinks, "Oh!  Catholics!  That reminds me about the personal bone I have to pick with them."

Reactions I've heard lately:

1.  "There's a conclave going on!  Bet all those cardinals are pedophiles, snicker snicker.  Nothing so funny as sex abuse."  (Jon Stewart said that, more or less.)

2.  "Ah, Catholics!  They're so out of touch about sex.  Don't the cardinals realize that most Catholics don't believe Catholic sexual teachings?  Time to rewrite the Catechism!"  (The Washington Post said this one.)

3.  "Oh, those woman-hating Catholics.  If only there were a female Pope, we'd finally get the kind of Catholic Church we'd all like to see."

4.  "Wait, I don't get it.  How is X person I respect a Catholic?  Don't they know their tithes support sex abuse?"

5.  "...the Pope, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world ..."

Because I have some remnants of good sense, I have not been commenting on this crap.  That's like wandering into the wrong pub in Scotland during a soccer match, wearing the wrong team's colors.  Not gonna do it.

But these statements do deserve answers, so here goes.

1.  Sex abuse is not funny.  It will never, ever be even a little bit funny.  Is the Holocaust funny?  What about ethnic cleansing?  Slavery?  No?  Okay, what makes sex abuse any different?

This doesn't mean we shouldn't be angry about it.  Or that we should ignore it.  But it's something that should be taken seriously.  Those responsible should most definitely be punished; I feel quite strongly about that.  But those who are not responsible in any way -- like most priests aren't -- don't deserve to be treated as if they are.  Try this parallel on for size: "Oh, you're German?  I'd better not borrow your soap then -- it's probably made from the corpses of Jews!"

Is that funny?  No, it is not.  It's not funny, first, because the bodies of Jews and other Holocaust victims being turned into soap is not funny.  And second, because you just assumed that a person, purely by virtue of being German, is responsible for the Holocaust.

Most Catholics are opposed to sex abuse.  Most of us are horrified and sickened by it.  You might not hear this so much because Catholics can be afraid to talk about it at all.  But believe me, we are.  And it's really, really hard on priests to be suspected of abusing children solely by virtue of their vocation.  Imagine how you might feel if you dedicated your entire life to serving God and others and as a result, had people eying you with suspicion or openly insulting you and calling you a child molester.  This is one reason why it's important to dig deep, uncover every guilty priest, and punish them.  Only when we're sure we're rid of all the bad eggs can we stop suspecting all priests, all the time.  (Though don't get me wrong.  People still will suspect all priests, all the time, probably for the next hundred years at least.  But at least it won't be justifiable.)

2.  I'm sure it must be uncomfortable for the modern world to find itself so out of touch with an organization that claims to be in possession of the truth about human morality.  But I don't think it's true that simply because most people nowadays disagree, our doctrines are wrong.  In AD 100, most people thought gladitorial games were okay.  In AD 1000, people thought it was okay to oppress the poor, if you were lucky enough to be in a position to do so.  In AD 1965, pretty much everyone decided birth control was a-okay.  The Catholic Church is always the stick in the mud that refuses to get with the program. 

Our sexual ethics are difficult and in contradiction to basically everything that modern society is based on.  But that really doesn't affect the possibility that they might be true.  I believe that they are true, that the Church has the authority to tell me they are true, and that they are unchanging.  Following the Church's teachings on sex has not always been easy in my own life, and yet I can clearly see how fidelity to those teachings has shaped my life into the beautiful thing it is today.  I don't want those teachings to change.

But even if I did, it wouldn't matter.  Even if 100 out of 100 people in the pews thought contraception was okay, that wouldn't make it okay, and it wouldn't make the Church suddenly declare that it was.  There was a time when two thirds of bishops thought that Jesus was a lesser creation of God the Father instead of his equal.  They even elected a heretic bishop as Pope.  And the second that Pope took office, he proclaimed to everyone the teaching the Church has always held and still holds today, that the Son is consubstantial with the Father.  That tells me there's more to this dogma thing than a bunch of old guys making stuff up.  God is really, somehow, in his mysterious way, guiding the Church. 

If you don't believe that, then at least believe this: the Catholic Church is not now and will not ever be a democracy.  We base our teachings on what, historically, our teachings have always been.  We don't change our doctrines ... ever.  And the teaching on contraception is one of those unchangeable things.  It is hugely inconvenient sometimes and requires a great deal of personal sacrifice, but it does appear that it comes from God, so there's no helping it.

3.  I think people confuse the priesthood with power.  This is called clericalism and it's bad.  Priests are intended to be servants.  Their job is to act in the place of Christ to provide us with sacraments.  Actual decision-making -- insofar as there are decisions to make, because as I said above we don't change our doctrines -- could be done by anybody.  There are lots of women who are theologians, abbesses, parish council presidents, and so forth.  If these women don't have enough power, that might be a problem.  But ordaining them isn't the solution.  The solution is to give the women who are already working within the Church more authority when it comes to decision-making.

But the decision to allow birth control or ordain women or marry gays or whatever the world would like us to do, isn't actually an option at all.  The magisterium's job isn't to decide things or to make things up.  Its job is to look into the teachings we have always had, and to continue saying the same stuff.  That's not a position of power.  It's a position of humbly doing what you're told.

4.  First of all, "tithing" is kind of a Protestant thing.  Catholics are not required to give any particular amount to any particular thing.  We're supposed to support the work of the Church according to our means ... that's it.  Some people like to give to various independent Catholic charities.  Most of us put at least something in the collection basket on Sunday, but that goes directly to our own parish, no one else.  To give money to the diocese, we have to give to the bishops' appeals.  To give to Rome, we can do Peter's Pence once a year.  Anyway no one follows up on this or keeps track, so if a Catholic is concerned about his diocese's handling of sex abuse accusations, he can simply not give them any money.

But if you do give money to the Church, odds are that most of it is used to pay the priest, pay the organist if you are lucky enough to have one, buy vestments, keep the lights on, keep the heat on, repave the parking lot, buy bread and wine for Mass, support retired priests, keep the soup kitchen open, buy blankets for the homeless shelter, and so forth.  If you are a Catholic who is concerned about this -- find out!  And then donate only to those parishes/dioceses/charities that are completely above-board about where their money is going.

5.  Pope is actually a pretty thankless job.  Yeah, the Pope has a fairly nice apartment, and nuns to cook his meals for him.  My guess is that it's not as nice as the White House, with its professional staff and chefs.  But what most people mean when they say "the Pope is rich" is St. Peter's and the Vatican Museum.

I personally think that St. Peter's was a waste of money to build.  It's beautiful, but was it really worth the Protestant revolt?  But it's here now.  Bulldozing it would also cost money at this point.  But the Church isn't making money off St. Peter's.  Unlike many historic churches owned by the Italian government, it's always free to visit.  The Vatican doesn't have big hotels, restaurants, or gift shops around to make money off tourism.  Even the bathrooms are free, which can't be said for many bathrooms in Rome.  The Vatican Museum does cost -- 16 euro I think -- but it's cheap for entrance to one of the world's major museums.  It's also free once a month.  You know who profits off all the tourism of the Vatican?  Italy.  Italy is where there are hotels, restaurants, gift shops, street vendors, and so forth.

The Pope is only powerful in the sense that everything is his fault.  But Church teaching is unchangeable, so again, his job is to humbly keep repeating the same stuff we've always believed.  Doesn't matter if the Pope happens to disagree with it.  He can't change it.  He has to keep saying the same stuff regardless.  That doesn't sound like power to me.

Pope is not a paid position, and though it does come with benefits, it also has a lot of downsides.  Benedict was a virtual prisoner of the Vatican.  With the level of fame he had, the excitement people had about meeting him, every trip had to be a state trip.  It's not like he could just fly home, coach class, to Bavaria to visit his old home.  Imagine the fuss that would cause.  Meanwhile he gets to be reviled and hated by large numbers of people and considered directly responsible for every priest that abuses a child, every bishop that covers it up, every official in the Vatican bank who launders money.  That's all on him.

I have seen the boss's job, and I do.not.want it.

Anyway, I'm just looking forward to things settling down in a month or two.  We'll have a new Pope, who hopefully will be okay, and maybe people will get tired of talking about my religion and go on to mock someone else.  Just leave me to worship my God in peace.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Request for readers

So, my book is done, and I've done some preliminary editing.  But the trouble is that I still can't tell if it's good.  I really enjoyed reading it over.  The wonderful thing about writing 100,000 words in two months while sleep-deprived and distracted with two small children is that when you read it over, it's all completely new.  I barely remember writing it.  But the thing is, I always like my writing if I can ever manage to read it instead of skimming over it.  It's always just the way I like it: some description but not much, characters that I TOTALLY identify with, plot that moves at exactly the pace I'm comfortable with ... because I wrote it and I always write the book I would like to read.

What I mean is, I need someone else to look at it.  But not lots of someone elses ... everyone is offering, but I really only want two or three people to read it at this point.  Otherwise I'll get too much feedback, which is just as bad as not enough.

So here's a list of what I want from a reader:

*You have to be willing to give substantial feedback.  I do not want to hear back with "It's great, couldn't put it down."  Argh.  That is no help.  I'm going to have a list of specific questions I'd like you to answer, and if you feel like jotting down the page numbers of any specific typos, that would be GREAT.

*You have to be willing to give honest feedback.  I would be happy to hear, "Put this one under your bed and start on the next," rather than "It's great," only to hear, "It's awful" from all the publishers.  If you liked it but hated the battle scenes and thought I needed more descriptions... that actually gives me somewhere to start and is the best kind of advice.

*I would prefer people who often read this genre.  It's historical fantasy set in 5th century Britain ... so if you are a fantasy nerd or especially an Arthuriana nerd, I would like to hear from you.

*Ideally you've written a bit yourself.  That often helps you be a better editor.

*I'd like it if you could finish within a month or two.  So volunteer if you have a little time on your hands.  It takes me a couple of days to read through it each time, but ... well, I'm no judge.  It's a pretty standard length for a fantasy novel.

Comment below if you'd like to volunteer.  I'll pick a few people and send them the manuscript.  If I don't pick you, I might send you a subsequent draft later, or my query and synopsis, so that a fresh person can read these.

Sorry to be so demanding about this ... but think of the benefits!  You get to read a book which might possibly be good, for free!  And ... no, that's about it.  But you'd be doing me a solid, anyway.
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