Image description: Me in my black t-shirt with large yellow lettering that says “The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me.” Below in smaller print is the TCC logo and “CatholicConspiracy.com.”
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Image description: Me in my black t-shirt with large yellow lettering that says “The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me.” Below in smaller print is the TCC logo and “CatholicConspiracy.com.”
In light of the recent controversy over whether FLOTUS was wearing the proper shoes for climbing into an airplane to visit a natural disaster zone, I offer this quick guide for how to tell whether you are wearing what you ought to be wearing:
You are a politician: Wear a suit. Always wear a suit, except when you are being too uptight by wearing a suit. In that case, you should forgo the suit so you can be disrespectful for not wearing a suit.
You are a business owner: If you want to intimidate your employees by showing you are a member of the corporate elite, wear a suit. If you want to intimidate your employees by showing that you are powerful enough you don’t have to wear a suit, don’t wear a suit. The proper way to dress is called “Giving out free food to poor people,” unless it’s part of your secret plot to oppress poor people. The media will let you know.
You are a college student: Wear exactly the right t-shirt. Not wearing a t-shirt shows you are planning to oppress people one day, except when it shows that you are going to do great things one day.
You are a mother: Go change your clothes immediately. You obviously don’t care, at all, about your children, your family, or the downfall of civilization.
You are a father: Did you dress yourself? We can tell. Did your wife dress you? We can tell. Either way, you must never, ever, look like your mother dressed you. Also, she should have raised you better than that.
You are a teenage girl: Your clothes, if you choose to wear them, are just fine. Everything you wear is just fine. Anyone who says otherwise is body-shaming you. You are not actually required to wear clothes, though, because that would be sexist.
You are a teenage boy: You can wear whatever you want, as long as you are saving someone from imminent death. Otherwise, please go away.
You are a disabled person being bullied or glorified on the internet: Your clothes are the unique expression of you — don’t change a thing!
You are a disabled person who hasn’t been born yet, or who requires any medical care, ever, for any reason: Die, wastrel. Clothes are not meant for you.
You didn’t die, and now you’re out in public being weird: There should be better funding for programs to make you less weird.
You are a thin, beautiful, member of the British aristocracy: Your clothes are just perfect!
You are a fat, beautiful, member of the British aristocracy: Hence the destruction of the realm.
You are FLOTUS: Everything you wear is a symbol of why the other party would have saved us. Or destroyed us. Either one. Your clothes are so versatile!
You are attending a Catholic church: Your clothes are one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance. Just ask the person sitting in the next pew. If you dare.
Fr. Matthew Schneider has an article up at Crux, weighing in on the Should Converts Just Shut Up debate (which Crux started). Fr. Schneider probably says something very nice and that readers here would be okay with, because he’s good for that. I don’t recall we’ve ever disagreed before. Fr. Longenecker said something nice, for example. But I couldn’t read Fr. Schneider because I’ve started breaking out in the blogger-version of hives (BVH) every time I even see this discussion.
BVH reaction: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??
Kids. We have a way of evaluating people’s opinions on any topic, religious or otherwise.
We ask: Is it true?
It doesn’t matter whether the opinion comes from a cradle catholic, a convert, a heretic, or a rank atheist. What matters is whether it is true.
It is normal to take an interest in a person’s credentials. Sometimes, perhaps laying in the ER with your brain bleeding, you have nothing but credentials to rely on in making decisions. But if you’ve gone so far as to become a Catholic writer, then it is my hope that no matter how incompetent you are at medical or financial or engineering decisions, you have the ability to weed out the Catholic Faith from Not the Catholic Faith.
Those of us who have half an hour’s experience comparing what credentialed Catholics say to what the Church says can let you in on a secret: It is neither the number of years being Catholic, nor the sorts of degrees acquired, nor the kinds of sacraments received that determine whether someone is writing the truth. It is whether the person sufficiently desires to tell the truth that they make the effort.
Earnest people make honest mistakes, and dishonest people foment errors, and both categories of people are the reason we keep our thinking caps on.
I think if I were, therefore, to provide a useful bit of ad hominen caution for the unwashed masses about whom everyone is so concerned, it would be this: If your betters are telling you it is the type of person and not their ideas that need evaluating in order to discover the truth, you should stop reading those betters.
While I was out on the Epic Vacation, Mrs. Darwin came back from the Trying to Say God conference and put me on the list of “interesting Catholic women out there, who could not be described as liturgical cupcakes, who don’t need to take antagonism with the Church as an essential starting place.” She has a good list, and I could add to it, all of them ladies I’d buy a cup of coffee any day, just to be able to sit down and hear what they have to say.
Mrs. D. writes:
Throughout the talk, I wondered if the new standard to which Catholic Women’s Writing was being held was any less restrictive than the old one, whatever that is. Edginess and Pain has replaced Mommy Blogging, but if you don’t prefer to be either edgy and painful or to write about the The Three Graces I Obtained In The Grocery Aisle, what is there? Can women, even boring women who have a lot of kids, write about ideas, or just life? Is it necessary to prove our woman bona fides by talking about our clitoris and our orgasms and our vaginas, as some panelists seemed to think was a biological imperative?
. . . Writing the truth about pain, or fear, or brokenness is valid because the human experience encompasses these states. Writing about our bodies is valid because every human life is shaped by the body and its glories and its limitations. But these aren’t the only ways to write, even for Catholic women, and they’re not even always the most interesting ways to write. It’s okay to just write about a topic unrelated to sex (or not-sex) or relationship (or not-relationship). It’s okay to be a woman and write without referencing being a woman. The category of womanhood is bigger than any one box, even once all the liturgical cupcakes have been consumed.
In the combox, a reader writes:
This is what I aspire to. I wonder if anyone touched on the marketability factor. There’s a lot of pressure, for bloggers on paid platforms, to be Pinnable, Perennial, or Controversial. That pressure doesn’t mean there’s no audience for other kinds of writing, but other kinds of writing don’t multiply clicks the same way.
There’s some truth to this. There are a variety of strategies for successful blogging and other types of publishing, but ultimately neither servers nor paper pay for themselves. If you write for a publisher of any kind, your work has to draw enough readers to keep the publisher alive. If you are writing independently, you’ve got to pay the bills and feed yourself.
That said, pull a writer from Mrs. D’s list: Amy Welborn. Professional female Catholic writer whose work covers a whole lot of interesting stuff, and none of it falls into the false dichotomy concerning our supposed slots as Tigers or Cupcakes.
Adding to the list: Kathy Schiffer and Elizabeth Scalia are both accomplished journalists who will take on who needs taking on, but don’t need to wimper about The Patriarchy in order to do it. (Scalia haunts the whole spectrum — Aleteia runs both cupcake and tiger work as slivers of their massive Catholic pizza. She, personally, is closest to Peggy Noonan in her essays, and something like if Knox took his gloves off in her books.)
Simcha Fisher, I guess she’s her own special category in Catholic publishing, but she’s support-a-family-doing-this marketable, and yes she writes on controversial topics, we all do, but she doesn’t write off anyone else’s script. She writes what she sees.
Like Mrs. Darwin, I’m just throwing out a few names who’ve been in front of my face today. The point is this: Being marketable as a writer doesn’t require you to fit a particular mold. If you take a look at any given mold, you see a few people excelling and a lot of copycats spewing miserable drivel that no one really reads. It makes the category seem larger than it really is. The single common factor among writers who make a living at writing is that they all put in the work it takes to do this as a career.
I think sometimes when people go to a conference and complain about how All The Big Writers Are XYZ, what they mean is, “I can’t get famous enough because people don’t appreciate my greatness.” That’s a good way of thinking if you’d like to make yourself obnoxious or suicidal, but it’s no way to be a Catholic.
There are loads of reasons not to write. I practice those reasons with unsettling skill.
“Because I don’t fit the mold” is not one of the reasons. If you actually don’t fit the mold, maybe you have something original to say for a change.
It turns out I have a lot to say on certain topics.
The start of my index of posts on Evangelization and Discipleship is now up here on this blog. I put it together because I happen to need to be reminded of things I kinda know but always forget.
The index is still in progress. I started by going through my posts at NewEvangelizers.com, then went through everything in the “Evangelization” category at my Patheos blog. There’ll be more later, but for now we’ve got plenty. The topmost section contains the basics, and I think I’ve managed to find all the posts I definitely wanted for the 101 pile.
Head’s up for the unaware: I can be a bit pointed. The especially acerbic bits are down at the bottom of the page in a clearly-marked category of their own. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Artwork: Annibale Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
In the past few weeks I’ve gotten to visit two of the Diocese of Charleston’s newest parish church buildings. St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg and St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken are both well worth a look. (Our Lady of the Rosary is still on my sightseeing wish-list; meanwhile, for something fun, go see the stained glass at St. Andrew’s in Myrtle Beach — there is more information about those windows available at the church when you visit. If you’re off the beaten path, Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood is charming and bright — the photos don’t do it justice.)
We are fortunate to live in a diocese where good design is flourishing. I don’t for a moment wish to naysay any of the hard work and sacrifice that went into creating these beautiful new buildings. On the contrary — I am grateful beyond expressing.
But let’s not delude ourselves: The very existence of some (not all) of this new construction should be an elegant, delightful, but shocking warning sign.
Let’s look at St. Mary’s as a case study. The original St. Clare’s chapel, now devoted to perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, was succeeded by the first St. Mary’s Help of Christians parish church early last century. You can read an insightful history of Catholicism in the region — dating back to the 16th century — here. The historic St. Mary’s parish church is still in use. It wasn’t replaced because it was no longer habitable. It was replaced because there were too many parishioners to fit into the building.
This sounds like a good problem, right? It is, in a way.
It would be more accurate, however, to say: There were too many parishioners for the number of priests.
The Catholic population in Aiken, SC, as with the rest of the diocese, has grown significantly due to retirees moving south (we get your empty church parts to refurbish our buildings), professionals moving here from other parts of the United States, immigrants arriving from around the world, a certain number of conversions, and of course old-fashioned human reproduction. Some of this represents spiritual growth; some of it is just other parts of the world sending us their Catholics.
But regardless of the cause, an unavoidable fact is now set in stone, brick, and concrete: We are not producing priestly vocations in adequate numbers.
The Diocese of Charleston has a good vocations program going. There’s always room for taking any initiative to the next level, but over the past twenty years the diocese has gotten conmendably serious and hard-working about reaching out to would-be seminarians. We do have vocations flowing. We have some superb new priests, and more on the way. Fr. Jeffrey Kirby didn’t receive the state’s highest civilian honor for nothing.
Still, the arithmetic doesn’t lie. Some parishes are on fire with the faith. Some Catholics — in every parish — are wildly in love with Jesus and have the fruit to prove it. But mostly we have to make larger buildings because we have pewsitters who love the pews, but who wouldn’t want to get carried away with any craziness. Catholicism is legit here these days. Church-going is civilized. If you’re nicely married, it’s a wholesome place to raise the kids.
We feel good about our faith and we do good works, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d really give your life over for. We pat ourselves on the back if we get the teens to Adoration for ten minutes. We’re wildly excited if a young couple gets married in the Church — the idea that most young adults would remain Catholic after high school is a rich fantasy. Some statistics, via Brandon Vogt:
- 79% of former Catholics leave the Church before age 23 (Pew)
- 50% of Millennials raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic today (i.e., half of the babies you’ve seen baptized in the last 30 years, half of the kids you’ve seen confirmed, half of the Catholic young people you’ve seen get married)
- Only 7% of Millennials raised Catholic still actively practice their faith today (weekly Mass, pray a few times each week, say their faith is “extremely” or “very” important)
- 90% of American “nones” who left religion did so before age 29 (PRRI)
- 62% leave before 18
- 28% leave from 18-29
If you’re not even Catholic, you are highly unlikely to become a Catholic priest.
For as long as I’ve been talking to catechists and faith formation leaders, the refrain has been the same: “The kids in religious ed don’t even go to Mass.” Some do, of course (mine, and quite a few others I know), but a surprising number of children are dropped off for CCD but never taken to Mass. The situation is so dire that some parishes have resorted to requiring children preparing for sacraments to provide hard evidence they attend Sunday Mass, such as getting a bulletin signed.
Here’s another example by way of a personal story. My daughter’s would-be confirmation sponsor is an ardent young Catholic well known by many in the local Catholic community. As we put together paperwork, however, we discovered that due to an oversight when the family purchased a new home, they are not presently registered at the parish they attend most. We’ll get it all straightened out one way or another, don’t be scandalized because there is no scandal.
But the underlying situation is this: It is now the rule that the way we “prove” someone is a “practicing Catholic” is via a set of papers and financial transactions. Get registered, turn in collection envelopes, and you qualify for a “Catholic in Good Standing” letter. The idea that one could simply be a faithful Catholic known in one’s community is utterly foreign to the present practice.
What if you trusted people when they said the godparents or sponsor were good Catholics? We have come to fully expect people would outright lie as a matter of course.
Thus we live with a different set of lies. We as a Church are so alienated from any sense of real community that we depend on bureaucratic proxies that supposedly indicate a practice of the faith, but everyone knows that they don’t. Everyone knows that teenagers go through confirmation to make their parents happy, and then drop out at first opportunity. Everyone knows that the confirmation class is composed of kids who last attended Mass at their First Communion. Everyone knows that when we teach the Catholic faith assiduously, the kids whisper to themselves, right there in class, which parts they think are bunk.
The parts they think are bunk are almost invariably the parts their parents likewise think are bunk. The Catholic Church is the stronghold of people who know how to shut up, smile, and get along.
Any student of Church history can attest that things have always been shockingly bad. The behavior of Catholics is the incontroveritble evidence that God must be holding this institution together, because it sure isn’t us. That is not, however, an excuse to keep on behaving badly.
I write this today because I’m concerned that our beautiful new buildings will lull us into continued complacency. We will persuade ourselves that what we’ve been doing is working.
The buildings themselves cry it out. We shouldn’t have mega-parishes. We should have enough priests that when the parish overflows, we’re ready to form a second parish nearby.
The lack of priests isn’t some mystical aberration. God isn’t suddenly pleased with the idea of men exhausted from administering multiple parishes and saying half a dozen masses in a weekend and having to rely on collection envelopes to know who comes to Mass because they couldn’t possibly meet all the parishioners they are supposed to be pastoring. Nonsense.
We have no priests because we are very good at getting along and forming lovely clubs, but we are terrible at being Catholic.
If we don’t change this, St. Mary’s beautiful new building in Aiken will enjoy a brief sojourn as a Catholic Church, and then go the way of Sacred Heart across the river, no longer a church, now just a lovely but Godforsaken building.
Late last Lent an Orthodox friend and I were whining about how much we hate fasting. There are people in this world who don’t have much appetite, and he and I are not those people. Furthermore, at his parish he knows these guys who fast for days and days during Holy Week, and hold up just fine. We’re not talking St. Starvicus of the Empty, Empty Desert who lived on a weekly mouthful of bitter herbs in the second century. We’re talking about flesh-and-blood normal guys with day jobs in modern America.
How do they do it? We had a number of theories, and mine were all wrong.
Not too long into Easter (happy happy feast feast) I stumbled on a website run by a physician whose practice includes overseeing a lot of clients who fast extensively for health reasons (primarily in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, as it happens). Dr. Jason Fung is a normal (secular, slightly potty-mouthed) Canadian-guy MD with normal-people clients and a lot to say on how fasting affects your body, and why our non-eating Orthodox friends are experiencing something radically different when they fast than that misery you feel on Ash Wednesday when you eat one regular meal and two small snacks.
–> I have no opinion on whether or how you should fast, other than that you should mind the Precepts of the Church and also common sense regarding your own health and state of life. But if you are bored, here’s a site with the answer to the question of What’s with those people who don’t eat for days on end?
I mention it now during Advent because if you want to run pre-Lent experiments on yourself, now’s the time.
A profound thank you to Jane Lebak for sharing this link. Sometimes a song is so bad that the only good use for it is turning it into a Star Wars plot summary.
Dear Adults Who Edit Hymnals,
Did you know that young people are linguistically competent? You might have noticed the way they are constantly making up words and phrases that confound you to pieces. This is because they are able to learn languages, even English.
Therefore, it is not necessary to wipe every use of the word “Thou” from your hymnal. People under the age of 150 are able to learn new words, just like people in previous eras were able to learn new words like “telegraph” and “wireless” and eventually even “social security check.”
Also, you look very stupid when you “fix” a hymn for us by making it grammatically incoherent in the effort to remove verbs ending in “est.” So perhaps you are not able to master the English language. But the rest of us can pick it up pretty well, thanks.
Jennifer <– So done with offering it up. Just done. Get me to confession, please.
When I moved the blog to the new location, I didn’t pull over the entire old sidebar. FYI the new sidebar has lots of good stuff, including a freshly-harvested crop of internet reading now that I’m back to goofing off on the internet. But if you’re looking for the annual collection of Old Reliable Advent Links, here they are:
This is not the year I grow the list, but look, when I searched Wikimedia for “Advent” this slightly-wrinkled manuscript page from the “O Antiophons” category popped right up:
Artwork courtesy of Benedictine monastery of Podlažice [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
St. Nicholas 2015 was more festive, but this year, thanks to the wonders of iBreviary, a poor spiritual life, and my top most annoying-to-other-parents parenting habit, we just scraped out an observance of the feast.
What happened is that late last night I finally unearthed my long-interred blogging computer. Things have been good here. I took about two weeks to get over a cold, then a third week to pounce on the opportunity to turn my bed into a work table while the SuperHusband was in Canada for three nights on business, and forsook a return to blogging in order to sort and purge the wall of backlogged paper files that had been looming over me for about a year. Now, finally, the layer of dust on the screen of my tablet has trails of finger-marks where I returned to the internet last night, briefly, and am trying again today.
How to make me have a crush on you like I’ve got a crush on Ronald Knox: Announce that you’re hosting Stations of the Cross during Advent! Yes, friends, I’m living in the wonderland. Mind you I have not actually attended Stations at my parish this Advent, because the timing hasn’t worked out yet, but I can be all happy and joyous that other people are having their spiritual lives put in proper order, anyway.
Me? My 1st Week of Advent gift was showing up to Adoration for a half an hour before fetching the kids from school, and sitting there in the pew when guess who walks in? My own kid. The whole fifth grade, not just my kid, but my kid’s the one I was particularly pleased to see. How to make me have a crush on your parish school? Random acts of Eucharistic Adoration, thanks.
So that was last week. This week, the gift iBreviary gives to good little children with bad parents: Time Zone Problems. If you check my sidebar on this blog (click through if you are reading this from e-mail or a feed-reader), the iBreviary widget will take you to today’s readings. Except that iBreviary is from Italy, so today means What Italian people are experiencing. And thus, late in the evening in North America on December 5th, what you see is the feast of St. Nicholas of Bari.
Ack! A celebration!
So I quick summon children and remind them to put out their shoes, then wrack my brain trying to think up some festive item already on hand that I can stick in those shoes to mark the feast. Fortunately, the SuperHusband
has had a bucket of biscotti from Costco stashed in a secret location. Italian-American is our theme for this year.
But sadly, no, it’s not that simple.
Naturally, I completely forgot to put the biscotti in the shoes. Thus it was a cold, dark, wet, barren St. Nicholas waking for us.
So let’s talk about lying.
People hate this. I mean, they can’t stand it. It makes heads spin. But here’s what we do at our house: We let our kids know how the world works.
I know! Thus over time they learn all kinds of adult secrets, like where babies come from, and that there’s a moment in the mandatory confirmation retreat when you open a heart-warming letter from your parents, and also that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all games of pretend.
Is our home life thus devoid of all magic? By no means.
The real world is far more, dare I say it, amazing than some cheap sleight-of-hand holiday trick.
If you tell your kids Santa is real, whatever. Not my problem (I’m not going to tell your kid that, but you can). So be it. To me, orchestrating such moments of artifice is a pale and pathetic imitation of the beauty of faith in the real world, where real miracles, both natural and supernatural, happen all the time.
I don’t object to figurines of Santa at the Nativity; but today (December 6th) in particular, and every day more generally, we get St. Nicholas adoring Christ, for real, at the Holy Mass.
Is that too abstract for children? By no means. Children know very well that what something looks like is different than what it is. They know that there is real supernatural power in this world. The game of Santa or St. Nicholas is, if you let your children play the game rather than hogging it for yourself, like a game of house or soldiers or any other dress-up: We’re children playing at real things, trying them out.
The game is marvelously fun, even when you nearly forget it, twice.
If your children are in on the game, the wonder of it no longer depends on falliable you. It now can rest on its own power, and wreak its real marvels even when you yourself are a few marvels short of a shooting match.
Thus, today, as I was rushing out the door at 7:10 to quick drive a teenager to school before coming back for the 5th grader, said 5th grader noticed the shoes were still empty.
Oops. Time is tight, but the feast is only once a year. “Run back to your room, quick, so St. Nicholas can come.”
I grabbed a stool, she went and hid in her room for a minute, and I found St. Nick’s stash of biscotti and quick doled it out, one-per-shoe. Magic accomplished.
The other week when I posted my rant-o-rama about the misuse of the label “amazing,” John Hathaway went right to work at the blog discussion group pulling out of me the what’s really going on here?? We managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and below I’m going to explain what I think is the biggest, most deadly part of going around thinking other people are “amazing.”
But first, a few side issues that deserve some resolution:
(Yes! Even though I am a convicted comma abuser! We pundits would have nothing to do all day if we sat around waiting for our holiness to arrive before we opened our mouths.)
Now, on to the Pedestal of Death.
Let’s talk about Superman. He stops speeding bullets. He leaps tall buildings in a single bound. He’s the guy you look for when you need something done that ordinary people just can’t do. He’s called “amazing” because he does things you and I never could.
Ordinary people of course are “amazing” in the sense that we are each the precious and intricate handiwork of God. Spend half an hour learning about the things we’ve discovered to date about, say, the way a human nerve cell functions, and you’ll be rightly amazed. Furthermore, our loved ones bring all kinds of invaluable gifts to the world simply by being themselves. Despite my cantankerous headline the other day, your children are in fact amazing even when all they’re doing is drooling over their baby food. There’s that.
But sometimes we call someone “amazing” not out of simple wonder at the marvel of human worth and dignity, but more in the Superman-sense of amazing. We have gotten to where certain classes of people who happen to be doing hard things are given the Superman label.
Doing this isn’t just over-enthusiasm. Such labeling actually causes humans to die.
Life is hard. Humans — all of us — are called to do hard things.
When somebody is dealing with some tremendous difficulty, they aren’t being Superman. They are experiencing human life.
Lately though, our society has gotten that idea that difficulties are only for Very Special People. We consider suffering to be the sole province of amazing superheros, and do all that we can to excuse everyone else — people who are “like us.”
If you have a baby with an adverse prenatal diagnosis and you don’t choose to abort that baby, people call you “amazing.” Only special superhero people can do that; ordinary people would have to abort, because they just can’t take it the way Amazing SuperParents can.
Thus it follows that if you happen to be raising a child with a serious illness or disability, or you happen to be such a person yourself, surely you are “amazing” for experiencing such a life.
If you reach a point where your family member’s illness or disability becomes overwhelming, you’re “amazing” if you continue to care for that person rather than opting to go ahead and put the sufferer to death. If you yourself are the one directly suffering and you choose not to commit suicide, again you are “amazing” for enduring what “ordinary” people just couldn’t do.
No! No! No!
There’s just nothing “amazing” about not committing murder. Ordinary old you is a person who is called to man-up and do your best to muddle through difficult circumstances.
Some people endure their hardships with admirable fortitude and good grace, while others of us aren’t winning any prizes for Sufferer of the Year. But all of us, by mere dint of our humanity, should anticipate the time when we, too, will bear our share of hardship. We don’t have to seek it out; it will find us.
When it comes, we will not be Amazing Supermen. We’ll feel the sting of the bullet and the penetrating wound and the leaking of life from our bodies in an unstoppable river of blood. Suffering hurts. Suffering is difficult. Suffering eventually robs you of this mortal life.
The going expression is that if you put someone on a pedestal you’ll see their clay feet, but I don’t think that’s the gravest risk anymore. Anymore, the pedestal is where we put people we want to admire from a safe distance. If you keep far enough back from someone who’s working through a difficult part of life, and you squint so you don’t see the messy parts, you can convince yourself you’re looking at Superman.
You can say to yourself, “I could never do that. I’m not Superman like that person is.”
You can say to other people, “I don’t expect you to do that difficult thing, because if you’re not Superman it’ll be just too hard for you.”
You can say, “Well, they are the ones who chose not to abort or euthanize — if they’re having a hard time, it’s not my fault they tried to act like Superman.”
These are lies. The people you know who are doing hard things right now? They are ordinary people.
If you admire someone’s fortitude or good grace, don’t say, “Wow you are so amazing!” as if your friend were from another planet, possessing super-human attributes. Rather, say, “Wow. When my time comes to face some similar trial, I hope I’ll have learned enough from your example to be able to do you proud.”
By Matrakci Nasuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today’s rant is brought to you by Facebook. Thank you, Facebook!
What happened is that my boss posted photos of her kid in a creative, super-cool Halloween costume.
(You can see a sample of them on Ella’s wall. FYI if you mostly read Family Circus and Umbert the Unborn, it’s probably not going to scratch your itch; then again, you probably don’t read here anyway.)
It is an above-average costume in ways that made it hard to find the right adjectives — so let me begin by forgiving the people who used my trigger-word in their reactions. But we must be clear: The costume is not amazing.
Here are some things that are amazing:
There are other things, of course. But lately I’m wondering if people just don’t get out much, because they are constantly expressing their amazement at things I hope aren’t actually that astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, or breathtaking.
It’s normal to be impressed by someone’s display of intelligence and wit; it’s a bit insulting to publicly announce that you’re stupefied by it.
The amazing insult is constantly being hurled at mothers of many young children, and other people who are in the midst of doing hard things. It stings two ways.
First is the if you only knew feeling. I make this look easy? Honey, you have no idea how hard this is. You’re not seeing all the ways this is difficult for me.
The second is baser: So you’re telling me that you didn’t think I was able to do hard things?
The amazing insult sucks all the merit out of an accomplishment.
My ninth grader has exceptionally good grades this year, especially when compared to many of her classmates. Is there some staggering, shocking, startling secret to her achievement? No. She works hard for those grades. She does the reading. She makes flashcards and studies them. She turns in her assignments on time. It’s not an astonishing accomplishment, it’s the fruit of her hard work.
I’m very sorry if you’d find it stupefying to discover your teenager did homework, but I assure you the school doesn’t fabricate these assignments with the expectation that students will roundly ignore them.
I don’t mean to be so much of a curmudgeon. Once I sat down to help an artist friend with some accounting questions, and I said something along the lines of, “Accounting isn’t complicated. You just keep a record of what’s happening.” His retort was dead-on: “Okay, so how about if I told you that in order to draw something, all you had to do was look at the thing and draw what you see?”
Someone else’s talent can seem astonishing to us when it’s a talent we ourselves do not possess. Like this video of Italian glass blowing (be patient, it takes a couple minutes to get past the intro and into the glass works):
There is indeed tremendous wonder and beauty in all the things that humans can do.
Still, I’m a little worried about people who are too-easily amazed.
Astonishment. Hand-colored lithograph by Thomas Fairland after W. H. Hunt, original watercolor, 1839, lithograph c. 1840s via Wikimedia [Public Domain]