5 Things That Won’t Hurt You to Prep for Corona Virus, and #6 Will Shock You

Whether or not COVID-19 will become a problem in the Americas remains to be seen. So far so good?  But look, it’s almost Lent, and anyhow there is almost nothing you can personally do to prevent a pandemic or cause it to be more or less dangerous to yourself.  But almost-nothing isn’t nothing-nothing.  Here’s a short list of cheap, simple things that might make your life less bad in the face of a mortal threat, and will probably make your life better regardless.

# 1 Get Your Affairs in Order

It’s tax time anyway, right?  It won’t hurt you to organize your papers, see if your will needs to be updated, hunt down your logins and stick the updated list in the fire safe, etc etc.  Possibly throw out that stack of old catalogs and the wadded up paper towels you shoved in your purse just-in-case.  In the event you get in a car crash next week and your kids need to transfer money to their bank account to pay for groceries while you are laying in the hospital arguing with the cell phone company over your phone that got smashed to bits in the accident, everyone will be glad.

#2 Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

And lay off the soda.  With the flu, colds, stomach viruses, and presidential primaries going around, you want to be as healthy as possible.  In season in the northern hemisphere at the moment: Root vegetables, winter squashes, cabbages . . . maybe not your favorites, but they are comparatively affordable, nutritious, and the internet is available to help you learn how to cook them into something not-disgusting.

If you are gearing up for Orthodox Great Lent (as I am not, who are we kidding, but some of my friends will be), check out “How to Eat Well During Orthodox Lent” by Chris Masterjohn.  Just because certain Girl Scout cookies are Great-Lent-Compliant doesn’t mean you should build your diet around them.  As I might.  This is why we lazy-Latins are so grateful for the other lung of the Church where the fasting and praying gets done for serious.  Thank you.

#3 Taper Off the Drinking

Your liver thanks you.

#4 Get Your Blood Sugar Down

Hey, look, fasting! Coming Soon to a Church Near You!  If you have Type 2 Diabetes, or a predisposition to it, fasting with appropriate medical supervision can get your metabolic health in order long before any significant weight loss occurs.  Which in turn improves your ability to fight off all kinds of illnesses and generally makes your blood vessels much, much happier.  You can give yourself the gift of healthier blood vessels any time of year, you don’t need to wait for a pandemic to come around.

#5 Exercise

Exercise will not solve all your problems.  The amount you can do is limited by the reality of your life.  But doing the amount that you can, in the way that you can, makes your life better.  Ignore the haters.  You can be fat, sick, exhausted, depressed, disorganized, unfashionable . . . and still benefit from exercising the amount that your life allows.  Do that amount. If it’s too much, back off and try again.

And since you might end up in quarantine, and that might make you go absolutely bonkers, go ahead and figure out now what you can do for exercise and leisure in the confines of your home to maintain your mental health and your friendships with your housemates.  Not a lot of things we can control about the spread of new viruses, but this we can prep just in case.

And finally but foremost, brought to you by a person who needs to hear this . . .

Go to confession!  For goodness sake you shouldn’t need a deadly threat to clean up that crusty ol’ soul of yours.  But some of us are regrettably slack in this area, and if we won’t listen to reason, then we’ll just have to panic our way into holiness.  You could do worse.

 

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Photo: Open confessional, by Jean-Paul Corlin, via Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

 

How to Look Like a Saint While Heading to Hell*

Head’s up: This post is not g-rated, and it does dissect the allegations in a real abuse case.

To all but those few who knew his secrets, the news about Jean Vanier comes as a complete shock.  (Count me among the shocked).  How can this guy who did so much good — a guy who was seriously being considered for canonization — have been guilty of such crimes?

This is a question we can’t just set aside as impossible to answer.  It is not impossible to answer, and since sin didn’t go to the grave with this latest scandal, we have a responsibility to understand and act on the answer.  So, unpleasant though it be to launch into this topic right now, here are the three things that make it possible for an evangelist to live a double life.

#1 Stealth Predators Test the Waters

It doesn’t matter whether we are speaking of consensual affairs among willing adults or the most nefarious rape, if you want to live a double life, you have to move carefully.  Read this account of an abuse-survivor’s story to see how it’s done.  I chose this story in particular because it shows you exactly how a predator avoids detection (though in this case he got caught sooner rather than later), because we’re looking at a case where the predator tested the waters, fish got away, man had to move on.

What to note:

  • The predator (priest in this case) starts by building a trusting relationship.
  • Early on, the idea of secrecy or covert-ops is introduced (“tell your mom you’re seeing me for spiritual direction”).
  • The first abuse is an action that can be explained away.

Hence the insistence by the predator’s superiors that the abusive encounter was merely a “boundary violation.”  Let’s be clear: A man pressing his erect penis against a woman’s body, even through the barrier of clothing, is engaging in sexual activity.  No decent man will know he has an erection (this is not something men are unable to detect) and choose to physically press his pelvis against the body of a woman who is not his wife.

Legit foreplay for a married couple.  Not legit under any other circumstance, and no sane adult man is going to let a teenage girl become aware he has an erection by physically putting her in contact, even through clothing, with that part of his body.  Nope.

And yet we see in this sample case that the behavior gets excused.  Why? Because it was chosen by the predator for the ease with which he could wiggle away from the charges.  The girl was mistaken.  Either she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (because how does a young teen know what an erection is), or if she does know, then obviously she’s a hussy and she’s making a false accusation — bad family, dontcha know.  I’m concerned someone might be abusing her, and that’s why she’s acting out.  And gosh, I shouldn’t have hugged her, I shouldn’t have let her sit on my lap, it’s just that she reminded me so much of my niece, and she really seemed like she wanted a hug, and listen guys, I realize I had a lapse in judgment.  I’m so sorry.  I realize my mistake, and I’m not going to let it happen again.

A predator who gets away with his or her crimes is someone who operates carefully.

#2 Toxic People Choose to Surround Themselves with Enablers

Obviously the predator has to move beyond those initial tests.  So how do you get away with your abusive behavior when sooner or later word is bound to get out?  You do this by making sure that no one close to the facts is going to report.

To a toxic person, there are two types of people in the world: Those who will tolerate the abusive behavior and those who will not.  The non-tolerators are systematically removed from the toxic person’s circle of friends.

Much of this is self-chosen by the healthy person.  If you have a boss who underpays and overworks, the simplest thing to do is look for another job.  If that friend is always dragging you down with gossip and drama, you start hanging out with different friends.  If a relative is taking advantage of your generosity, you set firm boundaries.

In ministry, self-respecting volunteers and paid staff don’t stick around long if toxic people are in charge.  They move on early. Gradually, without ever having been caught at any serious crime, the predator-in-charge finds him or herself surrounded only by those who will, for whatever reason, look the other way at sinful behavior.

And of course the career-climbing predator has additional tools available to help clean out the org chart.  Whereas a holy person will not lie to sabotage a fellow employee, a skilled predator is well able to build a case against those who need to be eliminated.  An insinuation there, a careful retelling of the facts here, and next thing you know that volunteer who wouldn’t shut up about actually following child safety procedures is out the door.  Once you are in charge of a ministry, it’s easy enough to find some pretext for making a staffing or organizational decision to unload the contingent who gets in your way.

Reality to consider as we pray for our priests?  It is almost impossible for a pastor of souls to know what is really going on in his parish or diocese.  Unless he makes a powerful effort otherwise, his life is going to be saturated by the company of people who revel in winning the game of being part of the priest or bishop’s inner circle, and people who want to play that game are not healthy people. Thus even a holy man is likely to end up enabling toxic behavior — and it’s hard to be a holy man.

#3 The Devil is Prowling and Sinners Lie to Ourselves

Allow me to quote the St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism: Venial sin is worse than the measles.

As an expert sinner, let me tell you, it is very, very easy to talk yourself into sin.  Venial sin, mortal sin, all sin.  The smarter you are, the better you can be at making up rationalizations for why this sin here is not a sin at all, and that one over there is maybe just a teeny tiny sin, especially after you consider all the mitigating circumstances.

The degrading nature of sin is plain as day to those who aren’t caught up in the self-built snare of lies used to justify the sinful behavior. That’s why sin hates daylight.  When you suspect you are sinning, you work hard to hide to the sin.  Sometimes you do this by acting in secret; other times you camouflage the sin so it passes as no-big-deal. If it must be discussed, you come up with words and phrases that make the sin sound like something harmless, or perhaps even something healthy.

This does not mean that adultery is just the same as making a frowny-face at your husband when he interrupts your phone call.  This does not mean that abusing a child is the same thing as that time you let the kids have brownies for dinner.  What it means is that the more intentionally we engage in the battle against even our smallest sins, the more easily we can understand how people who are dedicated to a life of good can also be deceiving themselves into committing serious evils.

The teeny-tiny devil who helps us justify our little sins is just a miniature, cute-faced version of the big devil haunting the peripheries.  To commit a little sin, tell yourself a little lie. To commit a big sin, tell yourself a big lie.  Same process.

There is no easy solution to all this.

What we want is to be able to say, “Now that I understand how this happens, I can prevent it from ever happening again!”

Not so much.  All we can really control is our own behavior.  We can choose not to be complicit in corrupt activities.  We can grow in our own holiness so that we are more aware when someone else is pulling out the excuses to justify a sin. We can teach our children and other souls in our care how to recognize and avoid sin in ourselves and others.

To the extent that we have authority to do so, we can take steps to battle against the structures and excuses that enable serious sin to flourish.

Meanwhile, free will’s a bear.  Be as good as you can, help fight evil where you can, and then fast and pray.

That’s what you can do.

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Photograph: French cuirassier during a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, courtesy of Wikimedia CC 3.0.

Related: Repentance, Mercy, and Prudence

*Lord willing, Jean Vanier repented of his sins and is now enjoying the delights of Heaven.  May we all benefit from the bountiful mercy of Jesus Christ who will do anything He can, even die for us, that we each might be saved from our two worst enemies.

Request for Contributions: Effective Communication on Parish Access for You, a Person with a Disability

Hey everyone, I am looking for help, quickly.  My awesome editor of the new book surprised me by wanting more, not less, info on making parishes accessible to persons with disabilities.

The question we need to cover: What is the best way for a parish to communicate with you, and vice-versa, so that your disability (medical condition, etc – so celiac, diabetes, severe allergies, chronic illness . . . all that can have parish-life implications too) can be accommodated right from the start?

Leave your comments at the blog discussion group, or message me on Facebook or Twitter @JenFitz_Reads.

We’re envisioning here both scenarios where the accommodations might already be present but you still have to know about them, and situations where you show up and have to start the process (however simple or complicated) of getting full access to parish life.

I’m looking for firsthand experience from the user-end, not stories of what your parish has provided to accommodate someone else, but what you as the person being accommodated (or the parent, etc., if appropriate) find most helpful in terms of effective communication to make the accommodation happen. Anything at all relevant to that topic.

[Include here also anything related to overcoming human stupidity, when your disability is not something that should be an access issue at all, but weirdly it is because people are dumb sometimes.]

Although I do not know what our total word count for this section will be (and therefore how many detailed stories or quotes I can use), please indicate with your comment whether you are up for being directly quoted or whether you are providing background info only. If you are game for being quoted, let me know what to call you in the book. If you need to be quoted anonymously, PM me (so it doesn’t show up in a public FB feed).  You can refer to yourself by full name, job title, and credentials, or you can give me something descriptive but vague such as “Mary, a retired accountant on the Gulf coast,” or “John, a new convert working with an inner city ministry to street performers,” or whatever suits.

If I already have your story, we’re set, just remind me I’ve got it and give me permission and quoting info if you haven’t done so already. But you might have more to say, or particular details that are pertinent to this specific question. If so, repeat with fresh info or emphasis, please.

***

Related: If you have more stories of excellent examples of being a person with a disability who is involved in evangelizing* (discipling) ministry in some manner in your parish or the community you serve, I’d be interested in hearing two things:

  • The big-picture story of your work (who you serve, how you serve, stories of people growing closer to Jesus), which will just as likely end up *elsewhere* in the book, not related to disability at all.
  • Possibly to be put in the same quote or possibly to be used as info elsewhere, stories on the details of making access happen, whether that be something already built into your ministry or something that had to be organized.

*If you’re doing it right it’s all evangelizing. Don’t get hung up on vocabulary.

What doesn’t make the book will end up getting used somewhere, if you give me permission to do so.  Let me know that.

Thank you!

Cover Art/ Image Description: This is the cover of the book I’m asking you to contribute to, The How to Book of Evangelization, coming out in June 2020 from Our Sunday Visitor.  FYI for those who don’t know, publishers come up with book covers all on their own, without the author’s input on the design (they get info from the author all about the book, of course).  So it’s magical that they chose a shade of purple I love, and a big ol’ crucifix splashed across the cover that looks an awful lot the like one I have a view of from my office.  God provides.

Transplaining J.K. Rowling

Quick update: Rod Dreher has excerpts of the ruling against Maya Forstater, if you wish to know what all the fracas is about.  Read it.  Forstater’s crimes are thought crimes and speech crimes.  Is this the society you want?

***
For insight into the state of the culture war, here’s Katelyn Burns at Vox explaining that J.K. Rowling, the poor dear, just doesn’t know any better because she’s been raised by those dreadful backwards British feminists.  Holds onto these horribly unscientific ideas about gender and biological sex, dontcha know.

Full Disclosure: I am one of seven people on the planet who have no opinion whatsoever about the Harry Potter books.  Haven’t read ’em, don’t plan to, don’t care if other people do or don’t. Not my genre.  As a result, I’m in that rare position of not caring, one bit, whether J.K. Rowling and I agree on issues dear to my heart.  But weirdly, she’s been caught holding an opinion not unlike* my own:

Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill

So let’s talk about her need to Woke Up!

Feminism is a Big Tent

The group of people (and I’m one of them) who believe men and women should have equal rights is an extremely large and varied population.  We have, at times, different ideas about what “equal rights” looks like in both theory and practice.  There are sharp divides over questions such as whether women should have lots of children (I think women should be free to do so), whether they should stay home to rear those children (I think women should be free to do so), and whether one ought to practice distinctive gender roles within marriage (I think women should be free to do so).

So it is no surprise that the varied group of persons calling themselves feminist, and holding in some general way to a belief in equal rights for women, would be divided on the question of where male-to-female transgender persons fit into this equation.

Are There Things Only Women Experience?

One of the divides among feminists is about what exactly the female experience is, and how it plays out in society.  Are there power imbalances between men and women?  If so, where and how do they occur?  How does one’s experience of being a woman vary based on social class, race, wealth, education, political power, physical ability . . . all these questions are dealt with by feminist thinkers in varying ways.

And most importantly, feminism has from its inception looked at the question of What does it mean to say someone is a woman?  What does it mean to say someone or something is feminine?

One answer, and the answer to which I and many other women (and men) hold is that something is feminine by simple fact that a woman experiences it.

The Fight Against Gender Stereotypes

We who hold this view do so for logical reasons, but also for reasons seated at the very foundation of the feminist movement.  In fighting for equal rights, a significant hurdle to overcome was the challenge that xyz items (legal status, political power, equal pay, certain jobs . . . and the list gets longer and more absurd the more restrictive the culture) were not open to women, or appropriate for women, because it wasn’t “feminine.”

This leads to experiences like my beautiful, stylish, teenage daughter dropping in at Lowe’s Hardware this week to buy more flashing tape for the construction job going on at our house . . . and being directed to the command hooks.  Yes, she is in the middle of a DIY project  — but it’s not hanging knick-knacks, thanks.  She eventually helped the employees find the product and showed them how to scan the barcode on the box, because she knew what she wanted and they’d never heard of it.

Is construction a “feminine” activity?  Well there’ve been female contractors on all the crews that came to our house, and the parts we’re doing ourselves keep involving me and my daughters . . . so I say yes.  The fight of the feminist movement is to not be told Honey you need to leave that dangerous, dirty construction stuff to the men, it’s not for people like you.

The Experience of Being a Woman is Distinctive

Some of what feminists write about is experiences like this one, where, due to societal prejudice, people still assume girls like my daughter couldn’t possibly know what flashing tape is or how to use it.  Other experiences are distinctively feminine regardless of culture: Menstruation, intercourse as a woman, childbirth, breastfeeding, weaning, menopause . . . these are uniquely feminine experiences.

Cultures vary, and so do the experiences of individuals within a culture.  When we look at situations like the hardware store example, there may well be men who can relate in some way to my daughter’s experience; there may also be women who never experience that low-level bless your heart prejudice.

Likewise, not all women experience their reproductive sexuality in the same way.  There are situations where a given man and a given women might find more in common with each other than they do with some other men or other women.  It happens.

Still, and this is the assertion of the strand of feminism that I and J.K. Rowling appear to have in common, there are certain experiences that are distinctive to being female, and should not be explained away.

Where Does This Leave the Male-to-Female Transgender Person?

Here is an interesting story from those who are old enough to remember a time when transgender wasn’t a thing, we just had drag queens and transvestites and dinosaurs: Back in those days, no one was paying attention to who used what bathroom.  If you looked like a woman, you used the ladies’ room, done.

Passing was everything, of course.  “Success” was the friends sitting out on our porch, he a man of variable sexual interests, his date a man in drag, and our housemate coming in late, chatting for a few minutes, and the next day asking, “Who was that?  A couple from church?”  Well, no.  Good friends, but not church-friends, heh.

Now it is clearly on record that I do not hold that the correct treatment for gender dysphoria is an attempt at a sex change.  But allow me to assert something that I think is important in respecting people who experience gender dysphoria, whether they consider themselves transgender or anything else: Other people who have not been there don’t know what it’s like.

Other people might be able to relate, to some extent, because they have had analogus experiences in some other context.  But to be a man who feels strongly that he is a woman? To be a man who undergoes any number of personal changes in a sincere attempt to embody the womanhood he feels is his own?  That is a unique experience.

It is not the same as having the privilege and ease of being born with a female body.  It is not the same as growing up with a firm sense of your masculinity or femininity.  It is not the same as going through life with the whole world agreeing with you about what your gender is or should be.  It is not the same as showing up in the ER and doctors just know what to expect from your body where sexual differences are concerned.

Can Harry Potter Feminism Serve Transgender Persons?

Among the many strains of feminism in the big tent, there’s a brand that I and many women have rejected.  This brand says that “equality” means men and women must be the same. I need to surpress my fertility, pretend not to have a period, show indifference to motherhood, and all the while prove to the world that I’m just as strong and mathematical and scientific as any man.  (In fact I am more mathematical than most of the men I went to grad school with, but that’s not what confers equal rights — theirs or mine.)

I find this abhorrent.  My equal worth as a woman doesn’t depend on my ability to pass myself off as smaller, pudgier, breast-laden man.  My right to equal pay for equal work doesn’t depend on my supressing my fertility or weaning my baby prematurely.  I don’t deserve to be treated with respect only if I can somehow prove that I don’t experience “girl” emotions or “girl” interests.

We who hold that the experience of being born a woman is distinctive, valuable, and deserving of equal rights and equal respect don’t subscribe to the “woman are defective men” theory of gender differences.  Femininity informs many aspects of our lives, but it is not what gives us equal rights.  Being human is what gives us equal rights.

I assert that for transgender persons, this kind of feminism is not the enemy.  This is the path to genuine respect and genuine equality.  On this path, the unique experiences of being transgender are not brushed away.  Your worth as a human being is not measured in how well you “pass” as the gender you identify with.  To openly acknowledge that being a male-to-female transgender person is different from being born female is to get off the hamster wheel of forever having to prove yourself “woman enough.”

Shall We Cancel Harry Potter?

I don’t expect many beyond my ordinary readership will find this point of view persuasive.  We are living in an age of soundbite philosophy.  Logic and the examined life are, at present, out of fashion — and the fashion police are vicious.  The idea that one could have an honest opponent, or even an opponent whose freedom of speech is worth preserving? Unthinkable.

So J.K. Rowling may or may not hold up in the twitterstorm.  If she does, perhaps Harry Potter becomes one of those embarrassing franchises now requiring the cultural-safety warning.  Perhaps, in one of those twists only our warped times can produce,  Chik-Fil-A starts issuing wizard cows.  Who’s to say?

But I’m grateful there are still a few voices championing the strain of old-school feminism on which I was raised, because I believe it’s a point of view that serves all men and women well.

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Photograph of Sojourner Truth, whose “Ain’t I a Woman” speeches should be mandatory reading on this topic, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

 

*I am somewhat flexible on the question of whom you sleep with, but I think you ought to save sex for your faithfully wedded spouse.  But let’s not get into the co-sleeping debate, okay?

Mind Your Narratives!

Here’s an article with a fascinating finding on ancient European social patterns that also showcases a modern western social pattern.  What DNA and isotope sampling from ancient German cemeteries has found is that it was customary, four thousand years ago, for adult sons to remain with their family of origin, but for adult daughters to leave home and marry into family groups elsewhere — groups that were far away in distance and distinctive in culture.

This is a pretty interesting discovery, because: Who does that?  Right?  Neat.  Lots of fodder for thoughts on what that ancient society might have been like.

Sooooo . . . where should our imaginations head?  We could take it any direction we want, and in so doing we’d learn more about our imaginations than we would about ancient societies.

Notice how the otherwise objective and informative article subtly adopts the narrative of poor, oppressed, rejected adult daughters.  We see the illustration of that sad, lonely girl looking back in misery as she’s pushed out of her home and forced to march towards an unknown fate.  The text tells us that the girls are “sent away” and that “you have to give away all your daughters.”

Well, that might have been true.

Or: Maybe girls looked forward to the adventure that awaited them?  At seventeen I was pretty happy to hit the road and see the world.

Maybe women were considered more capable of the emotional and social task of cementing extended networks of relationships across distant tribes?

Maybe wealthy young women (the social class that traveled, per this set of findings) appreciated not being stuck in the expectations of their family of origin, who would always remember their childhood foibles, and were privileged to be able to forge for themselves an adult identity uniquely their own, among a people who expected the new daughter-in-law to bring with her distinctive customs and perspectives, and who valued the combination of innovation and energy that an older teen brought to the community?

Maybe, because she was likely joining a society that was not completely unfamiliar, as there would have been older women in her own community who came from the culture she was traveling to, it could have been best-of-both-worlds?

Or maybe not.  Maybe it sucked being a teenage girl in early bronze-age Europe.  Maybe you got buried with all your arts and crafts from your native tribe because your nasty father-in-law didn’t want too look at your ugly foreign figurines one minute longer, and you were counting the days until you were dead and buried because your mother-in-law resented you for being part of this vast cultural norm that caused her to lose her beloved daughter and get you instead, and also you overcooked the cabbage every. single. time.

We don’t know.

In the study of history, we have to be careful not to foist our own narratives on the blanks in our limited trove of evidence.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Pricing People Out of Parish Life

Over at the blorg I put up a quick note about something that caught my eye: Best Practices in Evangelization = Unintended Lesson in Homelessness.  The trouble with things you dash off, as a friend so tactfully put it in a comment, “I need to be awake to really see what she is saying clearly.” Ha.  What I say is:

  1. Hey look! The Archdiocese of Baltimore is doing something awesome.
  2. Notice what their missionaries need to live on?  What does that tell us about living wages for families?
  3. And that reminds me of a fresh new rant I’ve cultivated lately . . .

Allow me to tell you about #3.  Recently someone posed the question: What do you think of holding abc parish ministry at xyz commercial venue?  The primary concern was that the venue might be suitably excellent for the ministry, or maybe the nature of the location was potentially problematic for some participants.  Charitable discussion ensued.  The one small thing I had to add:  Is it possible for people to attend without having to pay for the privilege?

I find with surprising consistency that among American Catholic parishes there’s an expectation that people who love Jesus will cough up money for dinner or drinks or babysitting so that they can participate in parish life.  There’s an assumption that if your child desires a sacrament, you will be able to get free from work and find transportation on a day and hour of the week chosen for you without consulting you — nearly always an hour when service workers are expected to be on the job, and when special-needs kids are melting down after a long day of pretending to be normal.  My rant reaches its peak when friends tell me about their parishes where mandatory sacramental prep costs the equivalent of a month’s rent on affordable housing.

The assumption is that most participants will have the money, and if you really cared you would reorganize to find the money and clear your calendar; in the unlikely event poor persons should want to do the parish thing, then the poor persons can beg the proper authorities so that a patron steps forward to pay their way.

Now let me be clear: I am not against Theology on Tap.  I am not against Ladies’ Night Out at the local restaurant.  I totally get that someone’s got to buy the books and craft paper and the new boxes of markers for religious ed.

But let me also be clear: When we make the decision to center parish life on pay-to-pray events, we are making the decision to exclude the people who don’t have money for that.

What with it being Mother Theresa’s feast day yesterday, and what with the Gospel reading this past Sunday, it is more and more on my mind how much our default mode of operating in the American Church is to center parish life on the needs and abilities of an affluent, able-bodied, main audience.  People who can’t keep up with that lifestyle are often an afterthought and an exception.

The article I cited caught my eye because in the midst of explaining a ministry that is exactly the opposite of all this — true evangelization of the poorest of the poor — there was a sobering reminder that yes, the cost of living is high.  Take a look at some income charts from the Census Bureau.  A very rough statistic is that about 1/3 of American households earn the same or less than what it costs to sponsor a healthy, single young adult with no children living as a missionary in church-provided housing.  Here’s a short discussion of the prevalance of credit card debt among Americans (Money tip: If you can’t pay off your credit card bills, you can’t afford to go out to dinner at the restaurant).

I think we should change this.  I think I am as bad as anyone about building my life around my comfortable little middle-class bubble.  But the Gospel says what it does, and to paraphrase my pastor yesterday, “Things go better when you do what God tells you to do.”  So I’m thinking the US Church in general needs to reorganize parish life so that people who are resource-thin are the center, not the periphery, of our faith community.

 

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

When Did We Flip? A Plea for Love & Reason When LGBT+ is a Catholic Family’s Reality

Editor’s Note: This essay is an anonymous contribution from a faithfully Catholic parent struggling with the giant black hole in the Pride Month Social Wars that gapes where sanity ought to reside.  The author asked to be completely anonymous, but this person is a friend I respect immensely, whose long and complex experience is worthy of your consideration. -JF

I can’t wait for this month to be over.

When did we flip? When did Pride month become something other than a just reaction to deadly harassment that led to the Stonewall riots, that defiant protest that all people have human dignity? When did Pride parades become a subculture’s visible face that allowed and even lifted up a public, campy hypersexual acting out? Where, at least sometimes, children were widely applauded for dressing in drag? (Mind you, this in a wider culture where only 10 years ago, we were outraged that little girls were forced to dress provocatively by big box retail selections.) When did these new Pride parades become a local event where people everywhere said “c’mon, and bring the kids!”?

When did we flip? When did we move from people saying rightly “he’s my son and I may not understand or agree, but I love him,” an honest and loving response that honors the dignity of all involved and the bonds of family….when did that change to a deluge of older folks having their own “coming out” this month, saying “my adult children are gay, or lesbian, or bi, or transgender, and anyone who disagrees can shut up and go to hell”? (I saw this three times in one week.) Yes, I hold the Catholic position that acting on same sex attractions sexually is wrong, although I wouldn’t dream of holding forth on that with everyone I know. I may share that if invited to, or possibly with others with whom I am in a close relationship. But this “flip” I’ve found this month is as vocally hostile and vicious, even much more so, than anything I have seen from the other side. I know LGBT+ folks have died as victims of prejudice, and suffered every form of harassment leading up to that. But I spent two decades of my life in an extremely LGBT+ friendly environment in a deeply fundamentalist Christian part of the country, with many friends who identified as LGBT+, and I rarely saw anything as widely or openly hostile as this.

When did we flip? When did love and friendship demand interpersonal agreement on this issue? When did human rights demand an ideological assent? When did friends begin worrying that teaching the Catholic position on sexuality in a Catholic educational institution as kindly and gently as possible would get one reported to a human rights board? When did sexual ethics move from the realm of revelation, natural law, prayer, and conscience to simple mob rule?

When did we flip? When did a majority of the people of the Catholic Church, hierarchy and laity, decide to give up on this issue? Because very few are saying anything akin to a nuanced distinction between inherently good human dignity, a neutral stance toward sexual orientation, and right and wrong sexual activity defined by intent and purpose. We’re losing most of a generation (or two) because they do not agree with the Catholic position on sexual activity reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, Instead, they see all things LGBT+ as a new civil rights movement. And of course, there is a partial truth here–we are called to defend all basic human rights (life, food, shelter, decent work, education). When people who identify as LGBT+ lose those human rights, we must fight that loss.

But something has happened here that goes beyond the real need for defending human rights. Many are buying the line—indeed, the hook, the line, and the sinker–that a life without sexual intimacy is not a life worth living. That human dignity can be won or lost, gained or dismissed, through sexual performance or lack of it. Some of what we’ve seen the past five years goes beyond Kinsey’s wildest and twisted imagination.

Seriously, when did we flip? Was it at Obergefell? Was it when we had a rainbow projected on the White House? Was it when Will and Grace made everyone laugh? When courts began closing religiously affiliated adoption centers? Was it when we had a sexual abuse crisis in our own Church and tiptoed around the homosexual abuse? Maybe, drip by drip by drip by drip, combined with friends who are gay, family who are lesbian, and more…we just wanted the ongoing struggle to define sexuality rightly to end by folding our cards and saying, “I can’t do this anymore”?

For a movement that argues it is all about love, there sure seems to be a whole lot of hate going on this month. Yes, on both sides–historians in the future will not look on this decade kindly as any model of civility. But all over the place this month I have increasingly seen a movement whose motto is “love is love.” And too many turn that phrase as, of all things, a rallying cry to shut out and shut down those who ask “but what is love anyway?”

As I said, I basically lived the ally life for two decades, from the beginning of the AIDS crisis until around 2005. Most of my friends for many years were LGBT+, and people I both loved and love. I went to a graduate school that was a bit of a hotbed of LGBT+ activism. I was thrilled I would have LGBT+ friends who would be like uncles and aunts to my own kids, when I had them. I read Judith Butler. I read John O’Neill. I went with gay friends to their bars. And I thought the Catholic Church would eventually come around to seeing that there was nothing wrong with homosexual unions. So many things were changing, like the use of contraception–surely this would as well?

But then a number of things happened. I read Theology of the Body and thought, to my surprise, hmm…that’s actually quite beautiful. I read Humanae Vitae and thought, to my surprise, hmm…that makes logical sense. I married and had a baby—and realizing that our love actually could result in a new human being had a bigger material and spiritual impact on our marriage than I expected. The first ultrasound of my firstborn still counts as one of the most unexpectedly profound spiritual moments of my life.

Later, I practiced contraception for about a year—and for something that was “no big deal” according to everyone else, I was quite unhappy. Then, simultaneously, the experiences of my LGBT+ friends from graduate school began to show signs of wear. I had a friendship with a gay man where he betrayed my friendship badly, which caused me to step back from being so involved in the ally life. Another friend who suddenly identified as bi realized, after coming out of a major depression, she was happier with her ex-husband (and rejoined him). All my other LGBT+ friends broke up with their long term partners. (Did some of my straight friends do the same? Sure. Did ALL of them? No. I realize this is anecdotal, but I am simply sharing my experience here.) Finally, I met a priest who I got to know quite well, who dealt with same sex attraction, but was chaste, and found a way to affirm church teaching as a wellspring of truth that led his challenges into a call to holiness.

It dawned on me that choosing chastity–regardless of sexual orientation–and being genuinely joyful was possible. It also dawned on me that given what I had seen, the people conforming with Church teaching (or at least trying to) were in general much happier and content people. So while I got to this place in a backwards manner–I have come to hold the fullness of the Lord’s teaching, communicated through the Church, on matters of sexual identity and expression. Perhaps I should have gotten there through obedience, a generous listening to the teaching of the Church. But by God’s grace, I did get there. God got me there.

So I look at every pro-Pride advertising campaign, every Facebook post, every virtue-signal tweet, every rainbow flag on my street, every “Love your neighbor—no exceptions” yard sign with a mixture of emotions. The most positive reactions are askance—because I see in a lot of people where I was years ago, wanting to support friends and family with or without reservations. And some of the civil rights issues are real. The persecution of LGBT+ people in many regions of the world is undeniable and sometimes brutal and deadly. This must be denounced and fought on human dignity grounds in the most full-throated manner possible.

But my most negative reaction is horror, because one of my children, a child I love so much I would die for him or her, says he/she is bisexual. And while he/she is Catholic, and seriously so, this child also sees no one—literally almost no one—encouraging him/her to lead a chaste life, showing him/her it can be possible, fruitful, holy, even…happy. At one level, he/she wants to hear this. He/she needs a mentor. But he/she cannot even claim the LGBT+ label without a flood of people demanding him/her to come out and join a movement that, at least in some corners, foments increasing bloodlust for anyone daring to step in and ask “but…what is love?” A movement that flipped somewhere to badly misunderstanding what human dignity is, and where it comes from.

So help me, I have found myself in a place where I can argue that this sexual activity is intrinsically disordered, and even if he/she simply does not understand that it is wrong, it has a real and negative impact on a person’s spiritual life: a living “out of order” that may be well-intentioned, but which acts as a barrier to full communication with God. I don’t question anyone’s good intentions. I question whether the act matches their intentions, and if the act doesn’t hurt a person more than they may realize. After all, this isn’t me saying this. It is God, through his scriptures and through natural law theory. And salvation may not be a fashionable word these days, but it is the heart of what Christianity is about. I worry that our silence as a Church refuses people the narrow (but walkable) path that leads to salvation.

It seems that no one in the Catholic Church in America knows the pain of watching a teenaged child stepping on stones through a whirling river moral lava. No one seems to know of my child’s struggle to chart a path that leads to true freedom this month. Or, much more damnably, doesn’t care.

Once this month ends, could we step back from the mob roar and actually talk about what it means to live out what is right and what is wrong? How to love through disagreement? How guaranteeing human rights doesn’t include forcing a state-regulated ideology? Could we stop brandishing rainbow colored social media swords and admit this is a bit more complicated than “whose side are you on?” Or if we have to choose a side, let’s call it the side for human dignity that is rooted first and foremost in being sons and daughters of the Father?

I can’t wait for this month to be over. But I suspect the reckoning is for more than 30 days.
–anonymous

ps. I prefer to own what I write by signing it. But this essay is anonymous for the sake of my child, and giving him/her space to make decisions based on faith and experience. I have an advanced degree in theology, so if your first thought is “if he/she only knew the right biblical interpretation of x,y,z etc., or truly understand natural law”–trust me, I’ve read it all, thanks.

File:WhereRainbowRises.jpg Rainbow over mountain of cedar trees

Rainbow photo by Wing-Chi Poon, courtesy of Wikimedia CC 2.5

Need Your Help: Stories of Equal Access

I need your help with getting a door unlocked.

I’m a parishioner (and at last check parish council member) at a large and historically-significant parish.   Thanks to renovations over the years, there are three wheelchair-accessible entrances feeding the parish church.  Unfortunately, since November of 2017 all three of those doors have been locked.  The only way to get into the building during Sunday Mass or Saturday Confession is to either walk up a short flight of stairs (seven if I counted correctly) or wait around on the sidewalk hoping to flag someone down who will go unlock an accessible door for you.

Unfortunately, the pastor of the parish doesn’t seem to understand that it isn’t okay for someone with a disability to have to make advanced arrangements in order to be able to get inside the building for Mass or Confessions.  He’s otherwise a fairly stand-up guy, but he seems genuinely shocked that I would be angry about this issue.

I’m not above launching a massive public shame-storm, but that’s a weapon of last resort.  What I’d like your help with is attempting to show Father (and I tell you again: he is otherwise a pretty sane guy) that equal access matters.

Here is a form where you can share your story.  Can you share with him an example (or multiple if you’ve got them — fill out as many entries as you’d like) of how equal access, or lack of it, has affected your life?

My plan is to pass on to him your stories so he can see, person by person, just how painful it is to be the one stuck out on the sidewalk wondering how you’ll get in.  I’ll also put in a Mass intention for the collective intentions of those who share their stories (so Father L. gets to pray for you, cause that’s his job), and of course I’ll pray for you individually and I think he will too.

I’m not looking for angry.  He’s gotten plenty of angry from me, and believe me, I’m not as nice in regular life as I am on the internet.  I’m looking for your personal story of how being able to participate in parish or community life made a positive difference for you or someone you love, or how being excluded by needless barriers did the opposite.

The reality is that barriers keep people out.  After a year and a half of locked doors (in a previously accessible parish), the only regulars with disabilities are the few who are okay with the new status quo as second-class citizens.  Everyone else has disappeared.  If you showed up as a tourist (the parish receives many out-of-town visitors at weekend Masses), you’d follow the signs to a locked door and maybe succeed in waving someone down, or maybe just give up and move on.  As a result, Father L. no longer sees the people who are most affected by his decision: You’re all gone.

I need you to make yourself visible to him again.

Thank you so much.

I’ll post updates as I get them.  Also: If you choose to let me share your story (and only in that case — opt in or your story remains completely private), I’ll pick a few to post here and elsewhere, so that your voice gets heard far and wide.  Thank you!

File:No Accessibility - Alternative Handicapped Symbol.svg

Image: No Accessibility Icon, courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain

Manliness and a Perfect Funeral

Hathaway’s funeral was perfect.  Chanted Extraordinary Form Requiem Mass at the old but not old-old St. Mary’s church in Aiken, then procession to the graveside for a Melkite burial.  Nothing says “four last things” like a Dies Irae in the hands of a good cantor.

As our line of cars, lights on, hazards flashing, police escort, ambled down US 1 towards the cemetery, traffic of course made way.  But this is a land where funerals are still taken seriously, and even on the four-lane highway where there was no practical need to do so, most vehicles coming the other direction pulled to the side, stopped, and put on their lights, paying their respects.  You have no idea of it, I thought as I passed driver after driver putting life on hold for two minutes of stillness in honor of a complete stranger, but you are witness to the funeral of one of the world’s great men.

***

John’s daughter asked (shortly after his death) if I could speak at the funeral meal.  After the perfection of the funeral homily and the solemnity of the mass and burial, what I had prepared seemed woefully inadequate.  It also was not very gentle, but fortunately there was a line-up of nice friendly people to follow, including a dear friend with the gift for coming across as a big, chummy teddy bear while he reminded the audience of the value of redemptive suffering and the need for masses and holy hours of reparation.

I’m sure most people did not like what I had to say, but the one person it was written for thanked me for saying it.  Below is the text, with most of the typos removed.

***

When we try to explain the difference between men and women, we tend to resort to stereotypes.  We know that men possess, on average, more physical strength than women, so we use examples of large, muscular men performing heavy manual labor.  We know that men have an inborn, undeniable vocation as providers and protectors, so we reach for clear examples of those.  When we think of providers, we might give the example of a successful business owner, or an accomplished professional; or we might think of an ordinary workman or farmer putting in long hours at physically grueling labor in order to provide a simple but decent living for even a very large family.  We know that men are created to be protectors of the family and community, and thus we look to the sacrificial life of men who have careers in the military or as law enforcement officers.  These are not bad examples.  But they don’t get to the heart of what it means to be a man.

John Hathaway had the rare and excruciating vocation of showing the world what it means to be a man.

You could not look at John and think “typical big strong muscular man.”  (Though at times he astonished me at how strong he was.)  But what is a man’s strength for?  It is for serving God and serving his family.  John Hathaway used every ounce of his physical strength in fulfilling his vocation as husband, father, and Christian.  I remember him telling me the story of literally crawling to Holy Communion one time, so determined he was to receive Our Lord despite whatever parish he was visiting not noticing he needed the sacrament brought to him in the pew.  John was a wealth of medical knowledge – if I had a difficult medical question, he was on the short list of people I’d go to with such questions – because he was utterly focused on husbanding his strength, as the expression goes, so that he would be as strong as he possibly could be in order to serve his wife, his children, and God.

As a provider, John fell in the terrible predicament of those who are extremely talented but not in financially lucrative ways.  He was an English professor in a nation where adjunct professors sometimes literally live out of their cars because they cannot afford rent.   Many men find themselves in this position, willing to do whatever it takes to provide for their families, but thrust into overwhelming circumstances beyond their control.  The despair this can cause men is at times deadly.

John Hathaway deployed extraordinary determination and perseverance and ingenuity in figuring out, day after day, year after year, how to provide for his family.  And he did provide.  He absolutely embodied what it means for a husband and father to be a provider.

As a protector I want to talk about John’s role in defending his children’s very lives.

We live in a time when it is legally and politically and socially acceptable to say that John and Allie and Gianna and Josef and Clara should simply be killed.  They should never have been allowed to be conceived, for fear they not measure up to some ideal standard of human health.   Allie, the same Allie who has been a pillar of strength and a fount of practical help to Mary over this past harrowing week; the same Allie who is delightfully talented and devoted to sharing her talents with the community . . . is someone that even Christians will sometimes say, “it would have been better if she’d never been born.”

I would say John’s life work was one steady, undying protest against that evil.  He tirelessly spoke and wrote and worked to persuade the world that his children deserve to live.

This vocation of his was painful.  It was physically and spiritually exhausting. He deployed every spiritual and physical weapon at his disposal against the constant and at times overpowering despair and darkness that descended on his life.

I can recall at times literally thanking John for still being alive.  I thanked him for the depths of the agony he endured by dint of continuing to pursue medical care in order that he might, for as long as possible, be present in this life to his family.  I thanked him selfishly: I knew that death would be easier and more pleasant for him, and I knew that when that time came I would feel his absence profoundly.  John was a delightful person to know and to talk to and to be with.

In closing I want to commend Mary for her choice of a husband.  She has faithfully withstood no end of criticism for marrying a man who lacked the superficial traits that are idolized by our society.  But she has known what others don’t see: That she married a man who truly embodied manliness to its fullness.  He cherished her, he sacrificed daily for her and the children, and gave his life and every ounce of his strength to providing for and protecting his family.  He made his own and by extension their relationship with Jesus Christ his number one priority.  He was everything any man could ever aspire to be.

File:Iglesia de La Compañía, Quito, Ecuador, 2015-07-22, DD 149-151 HDR.JPG

The pale and fleeting beauty of the Shadowlands, as seen in the Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.

Ableism Entrenched

Up at the Register: Are People with Disabilities Welcome at Your Parish?

Ableism is the counterpart to “racism” or “ageism,” the often-insidious discrimination against people with disabilities.  Ableism is happening when a parish that has three wheelchair-accessible entrances decides to lock all doors except the one with the stairs.  No malice, just complete indifference.

When you park in the handicap spot even though you don’t need it, that’s ableism.  It’s also ableism when you assume the person with the tag must be faking just because you can’t identify an obvious disability.

Here’s an example of how pervasive ableism is:

We’re at the “atrium” of the children’s hospital today, a big sunny play space where kids can do fun stuff.

Children's Atrium, MUSC Children's Hospital

L. is in the teen corner doing arts and crafts, and it gets to be a few minutes before closing.  The other family there is a patient with her dad and a sister.  The dad calls clean-up time, and I get up and go help with putting away all the craft supplies.  I’m not really paying attention to who is doing what, other than that I start with putting away the things we personally got out (because I know where they came from) and also I tell L. to go sit in her wheelchair and hold all our junk for the trip up.

Here’s the entrenched-ableism mindset: In my brain I compose an explanation for why my kid is not helping clean up.

My child has a broken sternum from open-heart surgery less than 3-days earlier, and I am feeling the need to be ready to explain why she can’t walk around putting things away.  In a children’s hospital.  Where everyone else is there with a kid (or is the kid) who also can’t do all the things.

Mind you, not a person batted an eye.  But you know you are used to living in an abelist world when you just automatically prepare to fend off stupid accusations against a kid with an invisible (and thankfully temporary) disability.

Which is why we have parishes that lock people out of Mass if they can’t climb stairs.  And that’s a problem.