My vote for Most Important Book of 2012

I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world.  I bought one book.  This is it:

Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours.  Perfect timing.

What it is:  Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC.  Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right.  Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman.  But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring.  Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.

The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here.  It’s what happened.  The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler.  (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.)  The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details.  Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.

–>  I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen.  If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few.  Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.

Why “Most Important Book?”

This is a story that needs to be known.  It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today.  And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:

  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Diplomacy
  • Poverty
  • Immigration
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom, Period
  • Refugee Camps
  • Cultural Clashes
  • Corruption
  • Goodness and Virtue
  • Faith
  • Priestly Vocations
  • Religious Vocations
  • Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
  • Lying
  • Rape
  • Suicide
  • Generosity
  • Orphans
  • Welfare
  • Stinky Mud
  • Used Cars
  • Huggy vs. Not-Huggy

You get the idea.  There’s more.  Without a single moment of preaching.  Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.

Buy Bread Upon the Water by Deanna K. Klingel, published by St. Rafka press.

Don’t Compromise on Freedom

Visit Ave Maria Radio’s site http://www.stophhs.com/ devoted to stopping the HHS’s unconstitutional regulations.  There’s a petition you can sign (easy – no complicated registration – but not anonymous), useful links, and suggestions on ways to help.

Freedom of Religion: The Right to be Wrong.

Several years ago a friend shared a frustration about her job as a public school teacher: She felt that in the faculty lounge she had to pretend to be pro-life, lest she lose her job.  She worked in a conservative school district, and the other staff leaned to evangelical Christian (she did not).  She felt persecuted, and she didn’t think it was right.  I agreed.

Not because I was myself on the fence concerning abortion — I had always opposed it.  But because it seemed to me that if you are a government employee, you shouldn’t lose your job for agreeing with the laws of the government you serve.

[I should clarify here: She was not complaining that she couldn’t share her views with students — she had no desire or intention of doing that; given her subject and the ages of her students, abortion was not ever going to be discussed in the classroom in any way.  What she feared was that merely holding the beliefs that she did would cost her job.]

In studying history there comes an ugly moment when you suddenly understand how hopelessly immersed you are in your own culture.  Future people will wonder why you did not have more courage to stand for what you knew was right.  They will also wonder why you did not see how terribly wrong you were about principles that, to a later generation, seem entirely clear.  But the pull of your own time and place is too powerful.

That is how I feel about the law.

Product of late 20th-century USA, having grown up on patriotic songs and the Pledge of Allegiance and trips to Williamsburg and copies of the Constitution handed out at the bank in 1987 to commemorate the bicentennial . . . I’ve got this obsession with the Bill of Rights.  I am too late-century to believe it has been flawlessly administered, but I can’t shake the idea that it ought to be.

And enshrined in the 1st Amendment is the right to be wrong.  We call it freedom of religion.

Even though Congress is not supposed to make laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion, of course it does.  If your faith prescribes polygamy or ritual human sacrifice, no-can-do for you.  Morality informs the law, and no amount of arguing that your religion required you to embezzle that money will get you out of jail.  The majority will legislate the boundaries within which you may practice your beliefs.  The majority of course, being composed of people who are sometimes wrong.

(Example: Slavery.  Big mistake that one.  No slaves were emancipated by arguing in Confederate court, “My religion tells me I shouldn’t have to be a slave.”  But religious arguments — initially regarded as crazy fringe nutcase arguments — did eventually persuade the Union government to emancipate.  No comment on the timing.)

And then there’s the taxes.  We don’t get a discount for deciding we object to the nuclear weapons program or the latest foreign war.  I suppose you shut your eyes and pretend your particular contribution is all going to food stamps, and someone else’s cash covers the objectionable stuff.  Either that or you buy in to the whole “Whose face is on that coin?” thing.

[More limits on free exercise:  We can’t even get out of the draft selectively — either you’re 100% pacifist, or you sign on for all wars at all times — no concept of just warfare as a religious principle to be actively lived by able-bodied men of military age.]

So what’s the big deal with the reproductive-services-funding mandate?  Critics of the Church observe that the law is only asking for employers to pay for services that Americans overwhelmingly want, and that the medical industry considers perfectly good healthcare.  You’ve got to be some kind of crazy fringe nutcase to object to wholesome American goodness like Sterilization and Apple Pie.  (Correction: There might be a case for raising insurance rates on the people who eat the pie.)

And the answer is this: We grew up in late-20th America.  We know freedom of religion isn’t perfectly administered, but we still believe in it.  We practice it with compromises, but we do try to practice.  Jews who actually keep kosher are not therefore excused from paying all their taxes, just because Federal cafeterias serve those scary puffed-up Not Hebrew National hot dogs.  But we don’t therefore say the government has the power to require all employers everywhere pay for pork barbecue.

–> It would be understandable if some Jewish people found it objectionable to purchase a dozen bacon cheeseburgers for the guys at the sales meeting , even if there were other Jewish people who had no such reservations.  We’d get it.  We’d think that mandatory pork-purchasing — and being fined for failing to offer pork as a choice at the company cafeteria — was a stupid law.

We don’t think Chick-Fil-A should be required by law to be open on Sundays, even though other Christian businesses operate on those days.  Likewise B&H Photo has a constitutional right not to process sales from Friday sundown till Saturday sundown.  Even if there are employees who want to work during those times (and who need the hours!), or customers who wish to patronize the company during that time.  We have a right to eat on Sundays, but the government doesn’t mandate that all grocery stores and restaurants be open on those dates.

The trouble with the contraception-sterilization mandate is that our government has decided these items are more like clean water or public safety, and further, our government has decided that every private employer in the United States is now the public agency tasked with delivering these goods.

The majority of Americans do not believe contraception and sterilization are immoral.  They find the Catholic church is wrong wrong wrong on this matter.  That is fine.  But proper response is then, “Well, this is America.  You have a right to be wrong.

From the view of the majority, the  next question is: “What will happen if we let these crazy fringe minority of people be excused from directly purchasing items they find objectionable?

Our government says the answer is this:

Not directly purchasing your employees contraceptives would be like just giving them cash and saying, “Go buy your own bacon if it’s that important to you.”

And that would be wrong.  Because there are limits on the freedom of religion.  Your religion is known for not approving of certain products, but everyone else in America loves that product.  Look, a lot of the people at your own house of worship are discretely eating the bacon, and usually the Rabbi doesn’t say much about it . . . you’re a threat to order and morality.

You must not just give your employees the cash.  You must set up an account for unlimited purchases at Bacon Is Us.  Or be fined.  If you don’t like the stuff, don’t eat it.

Note that this is not about money.  It would be entirely reasonable for the HHS to require that conscientious objectors simply pay their employees the necessary amount of cash to cover the cost of these services.  That’s Living Wage 101, which the Catholic Church has been trying to explain since before ever the HHS saw light of day.

Employees could then purchase however much bacon contraception and sterilization coverage they wanted.   Exact same amount of employer outlay.  Exact same amount of contraception dispensed and reproductive powers eliminated.  Only, it would respect the right of American citizens to practice their own religion.

 

3.5 Time Outs: Vocation Reality Show

Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, whose plan for internet domination will no doubt culminate in underground bunkers.  Every indication the  Alvin- and-Chipmunks warning is not an idle threat.

Click the Picture to Learn about the Secret Lair

1.

Byzantine Christmas.  A friend sends in this link to a Byzantine Christmas menu.  Yummy.  FYI for those who can’t get enough of all things Byzantine, she forwarded it from the Byzantium Novum yahoo group.

Double FYI: No, I am not planning to cook all this.  I just like thinking about these things.  My 9-year-old has baked some cookies, though.  That’s a step up from last year, in terms of our ratio of homemade-to-store-bought Christmas foods.  Thank you  nice religious ed family who sent the mason jar of cranberry cookie mix.

Oh, and look what my DRE gave me (and all the other catechists, I’m pretty sure) for Christmas:

Mine is not this exact one. Mine is smaller and has just the Holy Family, and the stable is an arch shape.  But it’s from the same project and very similar. It looks super cool.  Maybe I could get some photographer guy I know to take a picture.

2.

If five-year-olds had to choose their vocations:

“I do not like most boys.  Most.  They make you play army all day.  But there is one boy I do like:  Jesus.”

The boy who makes her play army all day still doesn’t like girls, either.  Except when he can get one to run around the yard brandishing weapons.   In eight years I will have four teenagers.  Seriously enjoying the easy years.

3.

SuperHusband points out that hunting season only lasts two more weeks.  During which he will be designing and building shelving for the living room.  Not shooting things, and maybe his friends won’t be shooting things either?  Maybe the dog does not need her own stock pot from Santa after all?  Also, maybe my living room will not have the “Tornado Strikes Shed, Library, Toy Store, and Art Museum, Deposits Contents in Suburban Home” look?

Okay, no, let’s not overreach.  But at least I’ll be out of excuses.  That’s a start.

3.5

. . . they said she had torticollis.  In a five-year-old?  I’d only heard about the newborn kind.  I had no idea about the sort that makes a small, non-complaining, previously perfectly happy (if resistant to bedtime)  child suddenly start moaning and kicking her feet in intense, intractable pain.  The worst of it lasted through the night, and it took nearly a week of Rapunzel Therapy to effect a complete cure.  But she’s good now.  Next time we’ll know what it is.

***

Remember last week when I mentioned a vague specific prayer need?  This week, pick your favorite saint-who-suffered-slander-from-enemies, and ask for a little assistance on that same job.   Thanks.  Have a great week!

What use a Classics Degree?

Darwin answers the question:

This isn’t because a degree in the humanities is “useless”. I believe that learning Greek, Latin, history and philosophy was very useful to me. But it was useful to me in the sense that a liberal art is meant to be useful — in allowing one to think like a “free man”. It is not useful in the sense of providing instant and easy employment. I think that it would be helpful if colleges and departments were a little more honest about this. It would also be very, very helpful if people took it into account before blithely borrowing large amounts of money. (And if people were less blithe about borrowing so much money in order to fund college degrees, perhaps the absurd rate of tuition increase would slow down. You may be assured that one of the things allowing universities to make off like bandits is that people have the illusion that having a degree, any degree, is an automatic ticket to a “good job”.)

He also confirms that Rush Limbaugh is not a classicist.  Apparently people were confused on that point.

***

Meanwhile, Archbishop Chaput demonstrates how to use such an education.  From his “On Being Human in an Age of Unbelief”:

That leads to my fourth and final point. The pro-life movement needs to be understood and respected for what it is: part of a much larger, consistent, and morally worthy vision of the dignity of the human person. You don’t need to be Christian or even religious to be “pro-life.” Common sense alone is enough to make a reasonable person uneasy about what actually happens in an abortion. The natural reaction, the sane and healthy response, is repugnance.

The whole thing is excellent, and eminently readable.  Print it out and read it on paper, because it merits sitting down and giving it your full attention.  Great essay to discuss with your high school or college student.

 

3 Quick Takes: Rosary, College, Good things to read.

I could never be coordinated enough produce seven on a Friday.  But here’s three:

1) If you ever wondered how someone like me ended up in the Legion of Mary, yeah, it’s about how you’d think.  Don’t be fooled by that lovely little picture Sarah R. stuck up, I pray nothing but plastic these days.  Unblessed at that, which horrifies the gallant rosary-maker I thanked the other week, but I tell you right now there is a rosary permanently stuck in the track of the seat of my truck.  Yes.  With the cheerios crumbs and the hardened mass you secretly hope is just gum, but maybe it isn’t.  It’s all I can do to pray the thing; keeping it from falling out of my pocket and into the netherworld where no blessed objects belong is beyond my  ability.

2) I don’t care what the nice guy at the Newman Society says, $20,000 a year for college tuition is not “affordable”.  Put me firmly in the camp with Msgr. Pope, on the question of “Are We Unjust to Require College Degrees As Often As We Do?” Yes.  We are unjust.  It is a mockery to post “degree required” positions for jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the cost of student loans.

3) I am having massive fun today hitting the “share” button in Google reader.  I made a little sidebar here on the blog that shows my favorite google-read posts.  If you are like me and never, ever, actually visit your favorite blogs (because you read everything in RSS), but weirdly you want to know what things other people wrote that I think are worth reading, I think the link to my Google Reader Shared Posts page is here. Which in theory you could subscribe to.  I have to test and see if that works.  (Update: Yes!  It works!)

And more living wage: Chocolate

From The Anchoress.  Go read.

***

Where does the money come from to pay a living wage for workers?  It comes from your profits.  In order to pay your workers enough, you must give them some of that money you wanted to keep for yourself.

–> For this reason, there is not an obligation to pay your workers out of your own need.  “Need” as in need.  But if your company is reporting profits?  If you are taking home more income than you need to meet your basic needs?  [Hint: Your needs are about the same as all the other human beings.]  All your workers need to be paid their entire wage.  That is, no less than the amount necessary to live. You get to take home extra money after you have paid all your bills.

Profits are not evil.  Profits are good and necessary.  Profits are desirable.  Profits are what you use to invest, to grow your business, to produce more wealth.  But if your profit depends on taking advantage of the misery of others in order to cheat them of their daily bread that you might live in greater luxury?  Then you are a) not a successful businessperson, and b) evil.

***

I don’t usually go in for bizarre economic regulations and all that.  But this is in area where responsibility rests with employers.  A boycott is good, but ultimately consumers are not auditors.  There is a legitimate role for government oversight if employers are habitually abusing employees.   But I’d rather see good third-party auditing instead.  For all the shenanigans of accounting firms, at least when one goes bonkers, it can fall apart and be gone — not so easy to dissolve a government agency.

Auditing wages is something accountants could do and do well.  You can count on an accountant to look straight at you and say, “No, actually your kid doesn’t need dance lessons.” Accountants don’t fall for lines about cultural integrity and hermeneutics of inadequacy and blah blah blah.  We say things like, “Oh, guests are coming over.  Guess we ought to turn the heat on then, people expect to take their coat off indoors, don’t they?”  And then we turn the heat back down soon as those luxury-wallowing parasites get out the door.  No, accountants will not make you overpay your workers, you can be sure of that.

‘Till now we’ve wondered how we could possibly simplify the tax code, what with all the accountants that would be out of work.  But look!  Problem solved!  Free them all up to audit something useful for a change.  Then write just the bare minimum of a law needed to bring the facts about hiring practices to the light of day.

On being poor in America

Great post by Anthony Layne.  Go read.

***

Something I think that is confusing to many of us today is the sheer amount of stuff floating around the US.  Things that you used to have to save up for — electronics, a roomful of toys, a pile of gadgets — these things are just there.  How can you be poor if you have a microwave or a TV?  Try selling either one, and see how much food you can buy for the difference.

Growing up (not poor – middle), we had one PC that was highly valued.  Not something a poor person could own.  I have in sight as I type 6 — six — working laptops that are hand-me-downs nobody wants.  Not ones we bought, ones other people gave us because they were of no value.  Even the kid I know who invents things with old electronics doesn’t want them.

Our brains are stuck in 1986 when we say things like, “How can you call yourself poor if you have six laptops?”  The answer is: Those things are knick-knacks.  Worthless.  I could sell my decorative sea shell (next shelf over) for more — at a garage sale I might get 25 cents for the sea shell.  (Dear thieves: Please do not take my sea shell.)

Poverty in America is weird.  Very weird.  But it’s real.  Living wage? Have I mentioned living wage lately?  I’ve been remiss.

Living Wage Explained

Look here.  This is what we’re talking about when we say “living wage”.  Specifics.  The real deal and why it matters, and what the numbers are.  Read read read.

***

FYI I’ve gone back to submersion here.  My apologies to those of you who are in my e-mail backlog, I will get to you soon.

CRS – Somalia Famine

If you are looking for a way to feed refugees of the famine in Somalia, Catholic Relief Services is there.  Here’s the CRS main page.  (H/T to Red Cardigan for the head’s up.)

 

***

Utterly unrelated, but it has to do with CRS: Larry’s Beans makes really good coffee.  100% fair trade, shade grown, and either organic or transitioning to organic.  And wow, good.  Good.  CRS is one of their partners, though I learned about it through an evangelical friend who used to own a coffee shop, and now runs a local Larry’s Beans purchasing co-op.  Yes.  Sometimes (okay, usually), I think of my evangelical home group as a The Gluttony Group.  Because we eat that well.  But we also talk about God and stuff, so it’s a wash.