The Hard-Headed Life

Snippets since I fell off the internet – no, nothing bad going on, not really.  Just my life.  You know the scene.

1. The weekend before Thanksgiving, three kids are outside playing tag after dark.  Seven-year-old daughter comes inside, weeping and telling us she hit her head.  Mandatory concerned-parents questions, but we determine that it wasn’t that bad, she’s just tired, because what she hit her head on was her brother’s shoulder.  She settles down, though she keeps reminding us her head hurts.

A few minutes later, Mr. Boy comes inside.  His shoulder hurts.  You know — where his sister’s head hit it.  Can’t be that bad, right?

Next morning, as someone who shall not be named is trying to persuade the boy to quit favoring the shoulder and move it around a little so the muscles don’t get tight, the Mom-alarm goes off.  Something is not right with this scene.  Further Mom investigation, followed by confirmation at doc-n-box: Broken collarbone.

PSA: Do not play rugby with my 7-year-old.

2.  I wrote this article at New Evangelizers.  I knew it was slated to run on Thanksgiving, but I wrote it anyway.  Hint: I rant about the usual things I rant about, instead of telling you to be grateful for stuff.

How did writing this column change my life? I resolved to wear hats more often.  Not at church, necessarily.  Just around.  Because I like them.

3. At CatholicMom.com, I answered this post from Rebecca Frech. In my column, which you can find here, I assert that my children are not too sheltered, though I give no particular evidence on that point.  Those who worried that by “being selective about the movies they watch” you feared I was depriving them of sappy puppy-themed formula films, or hyper-violent Korean parodies of Clint Eastwood films, fear not.  We’re covering those bases tonight, that’s why I have time to blog.

4. Awkward blogger moments: I’m at the Family Honor in-town class session that finishes out the course Jon & I took last summer.  Great class.  Highly recommended.  We’re sitting at dinner, and the program director turns to me, and says, “Jen, I just found out you blog.  I just started blogging.  Tell me — how often to you post?”

I had to explain to him that I had recently fallen off the internet.  I went home resolving to post here ASAP, so I’d look more respectable when he clicked on my blog.  But the DSL was out.

#5 – #17: About the Internet

5. SuperHusband had to take a child to a violin concert Sunday afternoon, so he put Mr. Boy in charge of contacting AT&T to get the DSL fixed. All part of the child’s education.  (So. About all our sincere efforts to not make other people work on Sundays. Isn’t DSL like an ox in the ditch?  Isn’t it?)

So the boy gives it his best.  Of course, he does not himself work in telecom, so he’s fresh meat.  Customer service convinces him we need a new modem.

SuperHusband comes home and rejects this diagnosis.  A new modem is the two-aspirin of the Telcom customer service world.  He starts to make the boy call back customer service and argue more, but I step in and plead mercy, mostly on me but a little bit for the boy and his father, too.  SuperHusband gets on the phone, talks customer service off their ledge, and after a cordial but intense discussion with Nathan in India (is it Sunday in India?), they get the idea that maybe a change of service is in order.  AT&T will send a guy around in the morning.  No, they won’t charge for installation.

I’d been planning to go to Chik-Fil-A in the morning to check my e-mail, but I agree to stay home so the problem can be solved.

6. 8:10 AM the friendly customer service guy rouses me from a sleep even St. Josemaria couldn’t touch.  He’ll be there at 8:40, will that be okay.  Yes.  I lie and tell him yes.  It is not exactly lying if you are also praying that by 8:40 it will be okay.

7. My excuses for being tired include the fact that we are gradually shifting #2’s sleep schedule later and later, so that she can sing at midnight Mass.  Thus, all children are asleep.  Or faking it because they know it’s Monday, always a risk they might have to do work on a Monday.

8. I have no excuses for the way my house looks.

9. So what I need is a WWMDC bracelet. I go to the kitchen and start asking myself, “What would Mrs. Darwin clean next?” I clean that thing, then repeat repeat repeat.  By 8:40, as long as the blinds remain closed, and all the lights except in select cleaned-places remain turned off, the house looks like a place that would not cause a telecom tech guy to call social services.

10. I failed to think about the phone guy when we put chicken prison in exactly the place where the phone lines enter the house.  I apologized.  He pretended it was no big deal.  Tech guys lie just as much as housewives.

11.  He was incredulous when I explained that we had no crawlspace, and yes, the phone lines go through the attic.  A tech had just fallen through someone’s attic only last week.  AT&T does not want to send people into your attic.

12.  There were complications.  Complicated complications.  We eventually get hold of the SuperHusband, who has an intelligent conversation about telecom things with the tech guy.

13.  Tech guy gets permission from AT&T to install the new service on our ancient phone lines. Since running a new cable would involve the attic. And other things.

[Note: During all this time, I am continuing to clean my house. The children wake-up eventually, and I convince them to clean the house, too.  I am acting as if there is some good reason why I woke up to a trashed house on a Monday morning, and that naturally if no DSL problems had arisen, I would not have spent the morning answering e-mail and blogging, I would have done those dishes! Right away!  By the time the tech guy has his marching orders, the house is looking sort of civilized.  My children transition to acting like they are doing school work. They are pro’s at this, and even I am briefly fooled.]

14.  There’s a problem.  The newly-installed service works, but not to the company’s quality standard.  More investigations.  A manager is called.  They visit all the phone jacks in my house.  They are gathering evidence that we have the weirdest wiring in the Southeast.  (There’s a place that’s weirder, I’ve seen the photos, but it’s in Baltimore.)  They need to install new cable.

15.  The manager moves on, the tech guy installs the new cable.  Through the attic, of course.  He sustains no injuries, thanks to my helpful tips.  (Stay on the plywood. Not on the pink stuff.)

16.  It’s not the cable in the attic after all. Maybe it’s the box at the curb . . . the one with the oak roots entangling it, such that the box cannot be opened.

17. More investigations.  Actually, the problem is a few blocks up the road.  Tech guy apologizes for mistakenly upgrading my wiring.

Utterly unrelated. Not really.  #18.  I agreed to be one of CatholicMom.com’s Gospel-reflection writers for 2014.  Lisa H. immediately signed me up for the 16th of each month, before I had time to change my mind.  This means I have to read a snippet from the Gospel twelve times a year, and think about what the snippet says.

Yes.  I know.  It seemed like a good idea to me, too.

Small Success Thursday: Not Too Much Jesus

 

Small Success Thursday

1. I’ve been tired lately, mostly because that’s the way my life is.  The first thing that goes is the prayer life, because of excuses:

(a) Tired = willpower AWOL

(b)  The things that make me tired (= my life) are always happening during the times I had planned to pray

(c) Or else tired = sleeping in = whole day thrown off = forget it, too late

(d) and of course the “I just forgot” problem.

So the solution was to buy a new book.  This one.  Which I was resisting valiantly until some knowledgeable person went and said I needed to learn what was in it.  She was right.

It arrived a few days ago, but remember, tired, so I didn’t really succeed at anything until this morning.  Wow.

I sorta kinda new how different it was to sing the psalms than to say them, but no, I didn’t really.

Zowie.

2. I’m pretty sure I’m doing it wrong, by the way.  I can’t sight read, and for various reasons the only instrument I had on hand was my daughter’s thumb piano, which means, if you are me, you have to give your best guess on anything that straddles Do.  And thumb pianos make me so confused anyway.  But even doing it wrong . . . what a difference.  Slower, though, but I didn’t mind that.  I even mostly paid attention to the words, which is an improvement.

3. I am not using #3 to complain about anything.

4. I turned in my column for New Evangelizers that is supposed to run one week from today.  It is not about Thanksgiving, so maybe my trusty editor will flip it around with another post.  Or maybe people want to spend Thanksgiving reading what I have to say about the Mass and church-n-stuff.  The thing you need to know:

I linked to Katie O’Keefe’s article about the Christmas Carols & Advent Hymns.

You should go ahead and look at that now.  She even tells you the difference between a hymn and a carol.  I didn’t know that before.

5. If I were to sum up my Theory of Leadership it would be this: Do the things people ask you to do.  I’m puzzled that people keep wanting to meet for the discipleship group, even on busy weeks when we also have a Bible study and a long day at the co-op and Thanksgiving coming up.  But people do, so we will.  You can’t really tell people, “No! Stay Home! Too Much Jesus!”.  Since that would be false and all.

6. The reason I know that people want to meet for discipleship group on Sunday is because I switched to a pediatrician at the clinic in the ‘hood.

7. Yes, that kind.  Where if you don’t have insurance they treat you on a sliding scale, and the New Patient Form doesn’t just ask you whether you’re homeless (they don’t ask you that in the ‘burbs), it has five different categories of homeless for you to choose from.

8. I did not do this out of solidarity with the poor.  I did it out of total exasperation with the reputable practice in the ‘burbs, combined with the fact that my eldest are tweens and teens now so the stakes are a lot higher in terms of the moral values of their physician, combined with the fact that my friend the homeschooling pro-life Catholic pediatrician from our discipleship group is one of the doctors there, and she told me to get off my rear and make an appointment because the kids were due for tetanus shots, ahem.

(She didn’t say it that way.  I am translating for readers here who do not speak Gentle-and-Sweet, which I don’t speak either.  I can understand it though, mostly.)

9.  So the practice in the ‘hood is a whole lot better than the one out in the sprawl.  Not just because my friend is one of the doctors.  (Though she might be having an impact).  The desk staff were both competent and friendly, they got things done, they were efficient, and they didn’t treat you like you’re an idiot.  And no one prescribed weird extra lab work ‘just to be sure’.  I’m sold.  Also, it’s closer to my house.

10.  The kids were pretty scandalized by the routine questions, though.  They don’t ask about whether you use sunscreen in the ‘hood.  They do ask about whether you, 11-year-old, use drugs or alcohol.  Also, “Are you sexually active?”  My children were mortified, sheltered little creatures that they are.  Our parish youth minister would have been nodding her head vigorously — the big problems kids face are not starting in high school, they are starting much younger.

11. So maybe that explains why people are so keen for God more days of the week.

12.  Which point (scheduling discipleship group, Little Flowers, Bible study, etc.) we were able to confer about during the pediatrician Q&A, so that I could go home and e-mail folks to let them know, sort of, what’s up.

13. Also, we discovered #3 child is a little bit near-sighted.  Follow-up with eye doctor scheduled for early December.

14.  Hey, and music!  SuperHusband recorded this from Mass on Sunday, and Dr. Mad Musical Super-Genius set it to a slide show. There’s nothing like an apprenticeship to the mad scientist at the choir lab downtown to make a man quite relaxed about cantoring one teeny tiny psalm back at the home parish.

15. Also, I think I’m going to end up banned at St. P’s, on account of how I kept leaning forward in my pew so I could get a peek at my cutie-pie 11-year-old hanging with the sopranos, who were blocked by a column if I sat back nicely.  I did not wave, though. That counts for something.  I definitely pray better when strangers do the singing.

Mifft Wooden Christmas Tree

15.  Look! Advent Rabbits! It’s a convertible set, they turn into Christmas Bunnies on the 25th.

My friend Sandra said she’d bring home Miffy merchandise in exchange for French lessons.  I’m on it.  I think there’s a French proverb that runs something like Lapins de Noel arrivés, leçons de Français commencés. Roughly.

Mundelein Psalter cover art courtesy of http://www.liturgicalinstitute.org/#!mundelein-psalter/byelb.

Small Success Thursday

Small Success Thursday

Before I fall off the internet again, a list:

1. That homeschool co-op thing is going pretty well. Over at CatholicMom.com, I wrote about why I think we’re doing as well as we are, and what you should be doing now so that you can be as cool as us, this time next year.

2.  I read a good book.  That made me think about hats.  Hint: PG Wodehouse + Free Book = Happy Jennifer.  Also, as always, I ended up with bacon.

3. Without giving the game away, since I’m not actually a mantilla-blogger, the hat thing comes back to this.  (Yes, that link is not to my success, it’s to a good post by Dan Burke.  You should read it.)

4. I have a post in the queue for tomorrow.  It has seven parts.  See how organized I am?

5. I dropped the boy off in Bethune today for Boy’s Weekend.  On the way home, I had a BLT in Camden.  I am thinking that if someone wanted me to undertake a special project in which I drive US 1 testing all the BLT’s . . . that would be okay with me.  I would totally get Marian on that one.  Fiat, all that.

6.  Last night Christina Knauss (say: Kuh-Now-ss) from the Catholic Miscellany and I talked on the phone about bullying, special needs students, and classroom management.  I did not sound completely lost and confused, because we talked for a couple minutes 45 minutes *before* the interview, and she gave me a head’s up on the topic.  And then I got to think about it while I cleaned my house and she made dinner.  And then we talked.  All intereviews should be conducted this way.

7.  It was very helpful preparation for my author panel coming up on Saturday.  I don’t really know what people are going to ask me, but maybe something about those topics.

8.  You’re wondering what I suggest.  See page 91, highlighted in boldface:

There should be no tolerance of mockery, teasing, bullying, or rudeness from any quarter.

I’m looking at you, grown-ups.

9.  Why yes, I will be saying that on Saturday.  Grown-ups, prepare to squirm.

Updated: 10: Writing posts without typos is not one of my successes this week.

Small Success Thursday – Halloween

1.  I made it through the interview sounding mostly like myself.  Which is accurate if not always flattering. I haven’t listened, but I have it on good authority that’s how it panned out.

2.  Wrote this post to follow-up: Halloween, Playfulness & GK Chesterton.  I’m not sure whether my new approach at the blorg,of doing part essay – part book review (or snippet), is going to make my boss happy, or irritated, or nothing at all.  But it’s more fun than straight reviews.  I almost always have a book to go with a rant.  I’m reliable that way.

3.  We’re painting pumpkins.  Which means we:

(a) Obtained pumpkins.

(b) Attempted to carve them.

(c) Realized it was futile.

I like the painted thing better, honestly.

4.  Not only did I deskavate last week, I fully cleaned the entire study.  Yes.  For who don’t know, my study was sort of like that situation with the trash barge full of hazardous waste being parked in international waters waiting for someone to accept it.  And then, one day, cleaning fairies came and made all the garbage magically disappear, and left an organized work space in its place.   Not a small success.  But I cheat and post it here anyway.

5. I keep forgetting to write my seven takes for tomorrow’s giveaway.  Luckily it’s a feast day and I don’t have to be anywhere until noon.  So I can do it last minute.  If you find yourself take-stalking, just be patient, there’s no advantage to entering early.

At CMOM – Why Your Town Needs a Catholic Homeschooling Cooperative

In which I share one of those stories about things that you know happen, but are kinda hard to believe.  This is not the reason my parish started our little homeschooling group.  We got started because I’m a slacker-mom who needs people to keep me honest, and other people I know are smart, sociable, diligent, and gullible.  But the little excommunication incident the other week affirmed for me that we were providing a desperately needed service.

The article has a pile of links for those who think maybe they’d like to get something started, but aren’t really sure what to do or how to do it.

Enjoy!

FID Concluding Thoughts: A Soul at a Time

LawnChairCatechism

So now what? That’s the question Sarah R. poses for us as we wrap up the summer-long study of Forming Intentional Disciples.  You read this book.  Is it going to change anything?

In answer, here’s my timeline:

2012 – People keep telling me I need to read this book.  But wait.  Book budget blown.

Fall 2012 – Acquire book via Catholic Company review program.  Yay.

Jan 2012 – Write book review.  Yep.  It was that good.

Meanwhile . . . Fall 2012: Friend across town has been steadfastly organizing Little Flowers Lite one Sunday a month.  Handful of Catholic moms hanging out in the living room while girls learn a virtue and do a craft in the dining room.  Yay faithful friend.

More Fall 2012: Neophyte Dads Who Don’t Know Better do the Good Married Man thing and turn out with ladies for LFL.  Bored.  Feeling like third wheel.

More Fall 2012: It’s our turn to host LFL.  SuperHusband is making his escape, when Neophyte Dads show up, observe Mr. Boy preparing for AirSoft battle with neighborhood hooligans friends. Mr. Boy gamely provides training and opportunities to suffer.  Neophyte Dads get grass stains all over good church clothes.  –> “Stinging Nettles”, the testosterone wing of Little Flowers Lite is born.  Boys and Dads suddenly very gung ho about spiritual development of little girls.

Spring 2013: Monthly Sunday afternoon get-together of Catholic families => tiny stable Catholic community.  Dads start doing crazy stuff like leading everyone in a Rosary before pot-luck supper.

More Spring 2013: Celebrity Internet Priest gives inspiring talk about What’s Killing American Catholicism SuperHusband listens to wife talk about talk.  Nods vigorously.  Says, “E-mail Internet Priest.  Our friends need to hear this.”  Internet priest replies*, “Your friends need to read this book. You may have heard of it.  Forming Intentional Disciples.

May 2013: Jen mentions in e-mail to Sarah R. that forming book club is on now on to-do list.  Sarah R. decides the whole internet should join in.  Persuades Lisa H. at CatholicMom.com to be the host site.  OSV happy, very accomodating.

June 2013: Real life book club forms.  Invite a combination of LFL / Stinging Nettles Families and a few other likely candidates from parish and around town.

Meanwhile . . . May 2013, Homeschooling Moms get together to look at favorite text books, get ideas for coming school year.  Friend from LFL/SN shows Jen program Jen wants to try.  Jen knows she is too undisciplined to succeed on own.  Says, “Could we maybe form a teeny-tiny co-op to meet every other week as we start the new chapter?  Just enough to keep me honest?”  Friend hesitates.  She’s really quite busy.  Jen makes puppy eyes.  Friend says she’ll think about it.**

Early June: Handful of Homeschool moms meet at home of hesitant friend to get ideas for a co-op.  Massive list of desired classes emerges.  Pray for host parish to appear out of nowhere.  Because there’s no Mass at the public library.

Middle of June: Jen phones Fr. Excellent, asks if maybe he’d consider perhaps possibly one day if it’s okay letting parish form homeschooling support group at parish.  Fr. Excellent replies, “Don’t need to think about it.  Yes.  Go ahead.”

End of June:  First real-life book club meeting for FID.  One or two have read book or started to read book.  Some have vaguely skimmed study guide.  All get into lively discussion about WKAC.***  Decide to meet again, maybe even read book.

Beginning of July: Second real-life book club meeting for FID.  A few more have read more pages.  All agree need for evangelization is pressing.  Conclusion: Wait a minute.  Can’t really help others develop personal relationship with Jesus until my own is in half-decent shape.  Determine that next meeting we should ditch book — goal accomplished — and go straight to becoming a discipleship group for ourselves.

Middle of July: Homeschool Moms meet to finalize proposed plans for co-op / support group.

More Middle of July: Pray Fr. Excellent will approve proposal.

More Middle of July: Fr. Excellent approves proposal in world’s shortest meeting, goes straight to helping us book rooms.

End of July: First discipleship meeting.  Launch theme of loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and neighbor as selfBecause: Easy. Haha.  SuperHusband displays his superness by preparing massive study for testosterone wing: Men and teen boys meet on screen porch, spend two hours studying theme of “love” in Scripture and in Deus Caritas Est. Ladies teach kids first few lines of the Latin Gloria, just ’cause, then do coloring sheet, chat and have snacks.  Jen pleased with split format, allows SuperHusband to do research, Jen to borrow notes for ladies’ meeting following session.

August: The Month of Crazy.  And yes, thank your prayers, the kick-off lunch for co-op went well.  Catholic School folks turned out, and I really really like what I learned.  What they are doing totally complements what we are doing.  Thrilled to have established a means to channel young families towards the school.

Meanwhile, completely separately: Youth Ministry volunteer couple, now parents of several young children, realize parish needs ministry to young families.  Starts hosting monthly event.

***

So where are we at the start of September?  

It’s beginning to look a lot like those multiple overlapping opportunities for finding  a small group within the parish.  We’ve got:

  • A parish ministry to young families meeting once a month, thank you leaders for seeing that need and running with it.  Which gives us an easy invite for new faces on the playground after Mass on Sunday.
  • The home-based family discipleship group, involving a mix of families from around town, with plans to meet twice a month.  Format put together for adults, teens, boys & girls so that everyone gets some study and some fun.
  • Homeschooling co-op on Fridays doing a combination of academics and spiritual extras (Benediction, Mass, apologetics for kids, Latin/English chorus, Catholic memory work stuff) that fills some needs parents were asking for.
  • Preschool co-op every other week, using the curriculum from Catholic Icing, actively inviting parents of young children from the parish to get involved.
  • Local Catholic school at neighboring parish offering flexible half-day and 3x/week preschool options for parents who need more than the co-op, less than a full-day five days a week program.  And more-n-more scholarships for Catholic families who want K-8 Catholic education.  If we hadn’t asked, we wouldn’t have known.

Do you understand how magnificent it is, to be able to say to someone you meet on the playground, “You might be interested in . . . ” and have a place to send them?  Our parish was already doing good stuff. The usual complement of ministries – RCIA, religious ed, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul — you name it, doing things that need to be done, and giving folks an outlet for this or that part of the Christian life.  But what has arisen over the summer fills some gaps.  We had a big hole in the “parent of young children” department, and no way for our existing ministries to meet that need.

All these things are small.  We’re talking a handful of families here or there.  That’s how it should be.  You can’t know 15,000 people well. You can’t listen to 15,000 people talk about what’s going in their life, or ask a burning question, or vent about this or that frustration in the Christian life.  Lord help our priests, you can’t in 10 minutes on a Sunday say the one thing that all 15,000 people need to hear and know about in order to take their next step in building their relationship with the Lord.  You can’t hear 15,000 confessions, or dispense sufficient pastoral ministry in the handshake line after Mass.  It’s too much.

Sherry Weddell shares stern words about the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of the Christian life.

How does lay-run discipleship — the multiple overlapping opportunties — fit into this?

(A) Eucharist is the wellspring from which we ordinary lay Catholics draw our everything.  That gives us the ability to create our little bits of lay discipleship about the parish.

(B) The Eucharist draws in people thirsty to God, like the sound of running water.  A lot of times, people don’t even know why they’ve walked in the doors of the local parish.  But they have.  And you show them: Drink.  They taste and they want more.

(C) Multiple overlapping opportunities for getting involved in small communities = chance to drink deeply of the Christian life.  And make that climb towards the summit of Christian life . . .

(D) Which is the Eucharist.  Foretaste of Heaven.

–> Where does Fr. Excellent and all those other sacraments fit in?  If the Eucharist is the source and summit of the spiritual hike towards Heaven, the other sacraments are the outfitters, trail head, ranger station, and EMS.  Or whatever you like.  Fill out your analogy.

Fr. Excellent brings the Jesus.  The rest of us layfolk have the mission of getting ourselves to the Jesus.

***

So that’s my change report.  Get the souls to the Jesus.  Doesn’t happen in a big giant talk.  It happens soul by soul, in these small initiatives that meet the particular needs of the particular souls who’ve walked through the parish doors. Favorite part:

No matter what our particular charism, doing our individual parts to bring the Lord to others is the one thing that’s going to get our own souls ready for Heaven.

Sheesh that’s a marvelous system.

__________________________________________________________________

*Not exact words.

**Not strictly sure whether Jen made puppy eyes.  But something similarly desperate.

*** WKAC = What’s Killing American Catholicism.

 

FID Week 13: Why Yes, God Doesn’t Just Want This, He’ll Make It Happen

13-LawnChairCatechismSquare

I’m late to the game this week, but the topic is a big one: “Expect Conversion”.

Throughout the book, Sherry Weddell keeps mentioning the one thing so easily overlooked: God isn’t just a Person . . . He’s a Person Who Does Stuff.  With Humans.  He shows up and does His part.

One of the offshoots of faithy-ism is a tendency to act as if God is off in a distant bleacher somewhere, wanting us to put on this or that great ministry program, so He can wave and cheer and go grab Himself another beer at halftime.  Which is why when the SuperHusband and I hosted a local book club for Forming Intentional Disciples, we were pretty alarmed when people kept coming back to our house for another round.  And we kinda cheated — we started with people who were already gung-ho Catholic types.  Still, it surprised.

Turns out God’s interested in this whole “evangelization” thing.  Like it was His idea or something.

***

When people complain about asking the saints for help, or complain that Catholics take this free will thing a little too far, I pull out the analogy — not strictly speaking an analogy — of the four year old helping Mom in the kitchen.  It’s not that God couldn’t bake the brownies without us, it’s that it pleases Him to let us measure the cocoa and mix the batter. And that it’s important enough for our own good that we turn out and do our part, however messy and incompetent and desperate for His watchful attention — that He’ll wait until we’re ready to put down the Barbies and get to work.

Working with God is part of our education as adopted children — recall we are not angels-in-training (as if that weren’t a big enough destiny) — but in fact co-heirs with Christ.  Thus it’s important we learn the family business.

***

What’s weird is that God will let us play with our fake food in the play kitchen for a mighty long time.  Allow me to be very blunt: Mandatory “volunteering”, signed bulletins as proof of Mass attendance . . . all these managerial fixes to the glitches in our sacrament mill system . . . they are symptoms of a very serious problem.  They are symptoms that we’ve turned our parish religious education programs into a cotillion.

Well, cotillion is a popular thing, and Catholic cotillion is a bargain compared to the Junior League.  And plus of course there’s the part about how people really do desperately want to know, love, and serve God, so your program is going to draw comers, even if those comers have no idea what they are really asking for.

But if you’ve got piles of students churning through the program, and they’ll even come to Mass if you threaten them with missing their debut . . . you’re playing with fake food.

***

Fake food is easier than real food.  It doesn’t smush.  Doesn’t sour.  Doesn’t fall apart because you overbeat it.   It’s plastic and you can’t live on it, but it looks good.

Real food is not as impressive-looking as fake food.  It takes longer to prepare, and it never looks as good as that shellacked foam burger-style sculpture thing in the picture on the menu.

Real discipleship is more work.  The results are not so predictable, because it’s humans using their free will to build a relationship worked out over time, and with all kinds of back story complicating that relationship.  But it’s Mom in the kitchen making real brownies, even if they do end up with 4-year-old finger prints and all the pink sprinkles in one corner of the batch.

Because God never brings fake food to the party.  And He is a party God, no two ways about it.  Kingdom of Heaven = Party, the parables remind us.  So you say, “Lord, I wanna work in your kitchen with You.”  And He’s gonna show up.  And start baking.  So plan for that.

Intentional Discipleship: On Giftedness

LawnChairCatechism

I’m going to plead dubious hotel internet, and skip last week and move straight to session 12, “Personally Encountering Jesus in His Church”.

The topic is . . . What are your spiritual gifts, and how can you make yourself useful for a change?

Here’s what I’m noticing lately: There are certain things that I do that cause me to completely forget myself.  I become utterly unaware of Jennifer, and just go into this mode where I’m doing my thing, and it works, and I’m not conscious of any effort.  It just happens.  I forget to eat (not my ordinary state), I forget I haven’t had any coffee (not my ordinary state) . . . I forget everything.  And just do that thing.  I’m 100% present in the task.

If you come to my house you will quickly discover I do not have the Gift of Housekeeping.  And I have to work very very hard to remember to offer you a drink.  I’ll just forget.  I enjoy having guests, but I’m no good at it.  Not my gift.  By way of contrast, I have some good friends at my parish, and they do have that gift.  I walked into their little rental place, and in the first twenty minutes I knew that (a) this couple has the gift of hospitality and that (b) my one friend was going to have to drop dead before I’d ever let her off our ministry’s hospitality committee. (And then, only reluctantly.)  It was a useful follow-up to reading the discipleship book.

–> This couple has such an overwhelming gift of hospitality that when they told me they’d purchased a large home in an expensive neighborhood, my immediate reaction was Benedictine, not Franciscan: Good call.  Their home is essentially a public building, with a steady flow of guests to whom they minister. To only have one or two people visiting is a slow day for them. Truly a gifted couple.

***

It’s always nervous business, admitting to your own gifts.  Because of course you open yourself up to the mocking laughter of people who will look at your results and deride your little efforts.  But so what?  At least once a quarter, I get into a rousing argument with my parish music director (whom I adore, in the non-theological, smoochie-huggy girl way).  My whining does not negate her gift.

So that said, here’s the thing about effort and gifts: Longtime readers of this blog and its predecessor know that I am capable of perfectly bad writing.  Still, words come out of me.  It isn’t a question of whether I’m going to write something . . . it’s only a question of what I’m going to write, and how I’m going to write it.  So the effort is a pleasure.  I’d rather write than do anything else.  I write in my head when I’m eating, when I’m sleeping, when I’m cleaning, when I’m driving, when I’m praying . . . all the time.  Enough decades of that, combined with a few pointers from reliable instructors, and you end up sort of competent in your field.

It’s so steady a flow that I have a hard time getting my head around non-literate cultures.  But thinking about such a world, where you have to use your mouth to explain things instead of your keyboard . . . might explain my teaching compulsion.  I suspect the two go together — for me, at least.

***

So.  Gifts in the parish.  I like doing stuff and being useful.  Turning out and offering my services comes pretty naturally to me.  But that idea of multiplie over-lapping opportunities? Definitely.

As I’m putting together our little homeschool cooperative for the fall, something that’s come to my attention, repeatedly, is that our group is not for everybody.  So much so that I asked if the local Catholic school could send a rep to our kick-off pot luck, because we get families who want a good Catholic education for their family, but really homeschooling is not their best solution. There needs to be a pile of different communities within the parish where each family can settle in and find their little spot to grow in the faith.

(The principal said she’d come!  Pray for only friendly people to turn out, please?  We don’t want to be *those* homeschoolers).

–> My experience is that parish conflict seems to be at its worst when:

(a) The parish offers only a few approved outlets for growth in the faith.

(b) Parishioners feel like they must be very bad people if they find this class boring, or that ministry not their cup of tea.

(c) Ministries are perceived as competing with each other.

(d) A preference for _____ is understood as a rejection of ________.

The funny thing about that instinct, and I’ll take the homeschooling example for one, is that preexisting conditions have such a powerful impact on our perceptions.  Homeschooling is perceived as radical because we happen to live in a time when it’s uncommon. Parochial schools are perceived as wildly expensive because we live in a society where public K-12 schools are tax-funded with 100% scholarships across the board, and college degrees are considered a necessary part of preparing for middle-class life.

Compare, say, the experiences of the medieval urban middle class circa 1200, with the equivalent professional family today . . . you get a radically different notion of what a normal education is, and who ought to be teaching what, how, and at what price.  Even though today’s engineer really is just the modern counterpart of yesterday’s blacksmith or carpenter (or engineer). One of the quirks of our own time is that we’re terrified of acknowledging that people have different gifts, and therefore need different types of education.

***

With all that said, here’s a round-up of my favorite resources for college-material Catholics needing a 101 on the faith.  I’m pretty sure the reason we don’t see more good theology programs in our parishes is that everyone is embarrassed to admit that some of the people in the pews are smarter than others.  Like it would be such an insult to Mrs. Nicely the casserole lady if she discovered that Dr.Thinky the professor was off reading a big heavy book about Jesus.  But seriously?  Get over it.  I’ll quit plugging hefty text books the day everyone starts saying my cooking is as good as it gets.  Until then, let’s all be sane and do our respective things.

Evangelization for People Who Talk Wrong

10-LawnChairCatechismSquare

This week’s discipleship topic hits me in all my worst places.  I’d love to be good at listening, or good at talking — and I can certainly do both.  But getting the timing and topics right?  Not always.

My catalog of weaknesses:

Between my secular and shy-Catholic upbringings, including God in ordinary conversation does not come naturally to me.  I don’t go around saying “God bless you”, or praising God in random moments with strangers.  I really love it when people do, and living in the Bible Belt, I get to hear Jesus Talk, the good kind, quite a lot.  It really breaks the ice, and lets the listener know what they’re dealing with.  If you’re Christian, it lets you know you’ve found a kindred soul; if you’re not Christian, it lets you know you’re dealing with one of those Christian nutcase people.  I approve all around.

My early-adulthood evangelical upbringing allows me to feel guilty every time I don’t mention Jesus. Did I just miss an opportunity to share the Gospel?  Souls are at stake!  Say something! On the one hand, you can drive yourself nuts, agonizing over whether you said the exact right amount of Christian Stuff in each conversation.  But realistically: Souls are at stake. If you love someone, you don’t want them to spend eternity in Hell.  So attentiveness to how we use our words is a pretty good habit to cultivate.

Wait a minute – where does devotion to the Holy Name fit into this?

I didn’t grow up with novenas and statues and holy water fonts in the house.  We went to Mass a couple times a year, owned one heirloom Bible, and lit the Advent candles and put out a nativity scene at Christmas.  That was as devotional as we got.  But I think that longstanding custom in many parts of the world to bow the head at the mention of the Holy Name?  Probably it influenced our family conversation.  There was “baby Jesus” in the manger, but He pretty much stayed there.

I know it influenced me deep inside, because when I first discovered that people south of the border name their children “Jesus”, I was floored.  You can’t do that!  Name your kid the same thing as his first cousin if you must, but *that* name is taken!

(Development of cultural broadmindedness update: As long as I pronounce it “Hay-soos”, I’m good.  But don’t try to make me call your kid Gee-zuss.  No can do.  I’m not there yet.)

The solution to the Holy Name conundrum I learned from an evangelical friend: Call Him “the Lord”.  I remember years ago listening to a friend at home group talking freely about her conversations with The Lord, her reliance on Him, her trust in Him . . . so comfortable and intimate.  The person who loves her most in the world, but who is also King of the Universe.

And it reminds you who’s in charge.  Easy to forget that God’s got the internet, the airlines, the kid’s math homework, fire ants, the Republican party .  .  . all of it under control.  Nothing, no matter how stupid or evil, happens that He doesn’t allow — and He only allows it because he’s got the ultimate double-effect back-up plan, in which everything evil gets turned back for good in the end.  The Lord.  There’s only one.  And He’s on the job.

A Time for Talking and a Time for Shutting Up

I fall apart coming and going on this evangelizing thing.  I tend to not mention God when I should, see above + shyness + don’t like to offend + [insert excuse here].  But then I’m such a problem-solver helper-type, that when someone does bring up the whole God topic . . . I go into “Here’s what you do” mode.

Yeah, that doesn’t really fly.

So I’m working on my listening skills.

If you’re good at this, please share?  If you stink at it, you can share that too.

 

Forming Intentional Disciples, Session 9, Chapter 8: Seeking and Discipleship

09-LawnChairCatechismSquare

The questions this week get right to the ugly bit about reforming the Church: There would be no need for reform if people weren’t doing things wrong.

To be a disciple of Christ is to concede that you do a ton of things wrong.  That it’s your mission in life to find out what you’re doing wrong, and to change — through your own willingness, and through your cooperation with the grace of God.

All this would be unbearable if we were condemned for our sins.  The reason to stick around for Christianity is because God does not demand our blood, He offers his own.  We don’t have a religion that let’s us brush off our sins as “no big deal” or “not really hurting anybody” or “just a mistake”.  It is a big deal.  We do get hurt.

And we freely choose to do wrong even when we know better.   Venial sin is worse than the measles, to quote the much-maligned children’s Baltimore Catechism.  Mortal sin is worse than cancer, to quote I’m-not-sure-whom.  You only die of cancer once; you die of mortal sin for all eternity.

I’m persuaded that Christians today, in addition to having a loose grasp on the reality of God and everything else, haven’t got much of a notion of forgiveness.  We observe (correctly) that our friends are eminently likeable people, so we decide that must mean they are innocent.  We observe (correctly) that God loves our friends, and therefore they can’t possibly be headed to Hell.

The results is that when someone really betrays us, or really commits some serious, shocking harm, we have to switch over to demonizing.  I’m reminded of a murder I read about in the newspaper once. The neighbor observed that the murderer (a mother) loved her children dearly, evidenced by the fact that she made her children brush her teeth every night.  Surely a mother who makes her children brush her teeth before bed wouldn’t murder them in the morning?  Except that she did.  The clean-teeth rule doesn’t hold.

I happen to like just about everyone, so the Do I Like You? method of moral theology doesn’t satisfy.

In our parishes, the reality that our leaders sin (and err) does not negate everything they do.  A devoted musician, a kind catechist, or a generous priest, doesn’t cease to be devoted or kind or generous on account of this or that unrelated shortcoming.  “How can you say Mrs. Beazly wasn’t prepared for her lesson!  She loves the children so dearly!”  Well yes, she does love the children, and that’s to her credit.  She still needs to brush up on her theology.  And since she loves the children, surely she’s willing to sit down for a quick review of the creed, to make sure she’s got her facts right, no?

And it works the other way.  “How can you say that man is a good priest, when he presides over Disco Mass every Sunday?”  Well, yes, the disco Mass really must go.  But that doesn’t mean Father needs to go.  May the disco Mass perish in the netherworld, and Father chuckle with relief in a safe, happy place where we’ll spend 10,000 years with never a glimpse of shag carpet*.

So on the one hand, sin and stupidity ought to be shocking.  How *could* you spend all these years in church leadership, and not even have a personal relationship with the Lord? Seriously?  And on the other hand, sin and stupidity are such part and parcel of our everyday lives, it gets a little boring.

Which is not to say we shrug and put up with up with it.  Measles, remember?  Vaccinate, prescribe, rest and fluids, visit the sick person, recover slowly, be careful about hand-washing and sharing cups.  But you would no more hate your friend for catching the measles than you ought to hate your friend for catching original sin.  It happens.

Forgiveness is that moment when we let go of the natural horror of realizing things are really, really wrong, and step in and help out the sinner in whatever way we are able.  Sometimes all we can do is pray. Sometimes, for the eternal safety of ourselves and others, spiritual quarantine really is the only prudent option.

(Said with full force of the virtue on that ‘prudence’, not a wiggly fearful over-caution hiding behind the real thing.)

Other times, we can do something more.  When we can, we do.

*This vision of Heaven has not been approved by the Church.  But if there is shag carpet in Heaven, it will be some kind of Divine shag carpet that persons actually want in their homes. Purgatory, on the other hand? All bets are off.