Inside My Apologetics 101 – Faith, Evidence, and Objective vs. Subjective Truth

Today I was subbing for my daughter’s apologetics class, and thought I’d share the letter I sent home to parents, since it covers topics that come up online a bunch.  You blog readers don’t get to see the whiteboard photo referenced below because it has students’ names on it from a chart we made at the top of the hour, and I’m not smart enough to figure out how to blur them out of the image.  For your viewing pleasure, I’ve posted completely different photos at the bottom.  Close your eyes and imagine a whiteboard of illegible black scrawl instead, and you’ll know everything you need to know.

Dear Parents,

Attached is the photo of the whiteboard from apologetics at the end of class. Parents, the kids were starting to get the general concepts we went over, but were still having a hard time articulating the key ideas and applying them. It might be helpful for you to have them go through the picture with you and tell you, as best they can, what it is everything refers to. For your convenience I’ve written all the text in slightly illegible lettering so that students have to rely on their memory to fill in the indecipherable bits — you’re welcome.

None of this is in the book, since I was subbing for our regular teacher (Mrs. K) and just working off notes from a different apologetics class I taught a few years ago. But it’s all important stuff and well worth mastering if you enjoy life as a sane person.

Key ideas to draw out of your child:

1) Objective vs. Subjective truth. In apologetics, we need to be able to listen and identify when the person we’re talking with doesn’t understand the difference between unchangeable truths and those facts that are genuinely a matter of opinion, experience, etc. We need to be able to *explain* the difference between subjective and objective facts to friends who don’t realize there is a difference, or don’t realize when they are treating an objective matter as a subjective one. We need to know whether a given statement is a matter of subjective opinion or objective truth.

2) Types of evidence. There are different types of evidence for different types of things. Scientific laws, or laws of nature, are discovered and proven using the assorted tools of science to verify repeatable tests and observations. The facts about historic events and persons are established using the types of evidence that apply to persons and facts. You can’t, for example, do a series of scientific tests to know that Christopher Columbus existed — but you can collect historical evidence for that fact. We need to be able to know, therefore, what *kind* of evidence is suited to proving which kinds of facts. Because God is a Person, and because God acts in history, the types of evidence we are looking for are the sorts of evidence we use for determining historical events and the existence of persons.

In apologetics we need to be able to identify when someone we are listening to has the notion that God is a force of nature that should be subject to scientific evidence, and clarify and explain that God is a person and therefore a different type of evidence is valid. We want to be able to walk our friend through the rational, evidence-based types of proof that one would use in determining whether or not a person exists or an event took place. A useful tool is to walk the person through the types of evidence for or against their own existence.

Not on the board, but an important idea which we discussed in class: Faith is the action of taking the evidence we’ve gathered and using it to come to a conclusion. I can gather all kinds of evidence about the existence of gravity or the existence of Christopher Columbus, but ultimately if I believe in either of those, it is an act of faith. My faith isn’t separate from and certainly not opposing evidence and reason; rather it is the follow-on to gathering evidence and using my reason. Think of it as the third step: Evidence + Reason (logic) + Faith = Belief.

I might be a person who comes to faith easily, requiring very little evidence and logical analysis before I take the leap of faith. For example: I believe in asteroids even though I’ve never had any personal experience with one, and know almost nothing about them. I have an even stronger faith in the existence and power of tornadoes, which I’ve also never seen, because I’ve got even more evidence and experience and knowledge about them — even though all my knowledge is second- or third- hand. Ultimately, though, if I wanted to disbelieve in their existence, I could. Faith is the leap I make to assert that I do in fact believe in these things.

I might, in contrast, be a very skeptical person. Imagine if I decided I would only accept a belief in tornadoes after extensive study and firsthand experience. All the same, even if I were very skeptical, if I’m a rational person there will be some level of evidence that is eventually sufficient to allow me to make the leap of faith and affirm that yes, tornadoes do exist. I can be very skeptical — that is, be a person who requires large amounts of evidence and long periods of logical analysis (reasoning) prior to coming to faith, but still make a decision to affirm or deny a fact. Faith is the act of affirming or denying facts.

[I didn’t use tornadoes or asteroids as examples in class, so that’s new fodder for you in chatting with your child.]

We acknowledged as well, in class, that there are people who simply refuse to accept any level evidence. In class we imagined someone who might, for example, dismiss my (Mrs. Fitz’s) existence, even if they met me in person, on account of how perhaps it was a hallucination, or an actor was paid to pretend to be me, or some other thing. Likewise you could imagine someone explaining away the existence of tornadoes by offering some alternate theory of why they thought they saw a dark whirlwind and heard loud noise right before their possessions were blown away. In apologetics it’s important that we distinguish between someone who is simply looking for more evidence to work through rationally prior to coming to a conclusion, versus those who would never be satisfied with any level of evidence, because they have made a decision in advance about the truth of this or that assertion.

(We didn’t practice this, but a good method for finding out where someone stands on this is just to ask them. Listening is the #1 skill in apologetics.)

Finally, a point that came up in class a couple times is that in apologetics we must be very precise. Please assure your students that in class it’s good to be brave in discussing ideas even if you aren’t sure of the right terms or facts; we will simply pause and clarify definitions as necessary. We learned the word omniscient, and affirmed that none of us humans are omniscient, so it’s okay if you have to acknowledge you don’t know something, and it’s okay if your friends help you clear up any misunderstandings you have.

Have a great weekend!

Jen.

File:Líneas de Nazca, Nazca, Perú, 2015-07-29, DD 46.JPG
 Eerily apropos photo by: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

And here’s a tornado, because: I’m a believer.  No tornado-deniers at my house.
File:F5 tornado Elie Manitoba 2007.jpg

Photo by: Justin1569 at English Wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Update on the Radio Silence

Short version, since last I wrote:

  • The kids started school! 3/4’s are being farmed out to TOTAL STRANGERS, and 1/4 is home with me, thriving in the silence that comes from emptying the house each day.  So I was offline for a bit, focusing on the transition and all that.
  • Then 1/4 of the children came down with the wicked nasty evil virus you don’t want.  Thank goodness it was the homeschooled child, I think I would have cried if I had to pull a kid out of school for a week with an uncontrollable fever during the child’s first week of school ever ever ever.  Instead: Documentaries were watched.
  • Then 1/2 of the parents caught it (me).  Not as badly, actually!  More tropical depression than cat 5 hurricane.

So all that sucked up three weeks right there! Whoohoo!

I’m doing better now, thanks for asking, but am having to catch up on all the regular-life business that got neglected, and continue the transition to school year activities.  (Example: This week, I’m going to REMEMBER THAT ORCHESTRA STARTED and actually bring my children!  That will be neat! Teachers love it when you do that.)

That’s all I’ve got time to say now.  Headed to Adoration this afternoon while a child is at PE, and as always I keep my readers in my prayers!  I will write soon, I think.

 

File:Flamencos andinos (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Laguna Cañapa, Bolivia, 2016-02-03, DD 63.JPG
You know who takes good photos? Diego Delso. That’s who.

PS: Let me just say that if you have the option of sending your child to a good Catholic school or a good Catholic homeschool? Do that.

 

Photo: Andean flamingos (Phoenicoparrus andinus) in the Cañapa lake, Bolivia. Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0

God’s One Weird Trick

File:Bagues.jpg

I learned three things from lectoring yesterday at my niece’s wedding, and a fourth I don’t want to forget.

The first is that the same old readings are never the same and never old.  First and second readings were the two most popular Catholic wedding choices going, Genesis and Corinthians.  You’ve heard them so many times you think you know them by heart (though you probably don’t).

But this time, standing before this couple, certain words pop out and resound and suddenly make sense in a way that almost feels like they were waiting all these millennia for the right two people to come along and make you say, “Aha! So that’s what this reading is about!”

It’s always like this when you pray the Scriptures, because you aren’t reading some old story, you are stepping into an interaction between the eternal and the pressing present.

Second: If you can only pray one prayer, try the Litany of Humility.  I’m not convinced it’s even necessary to pray the thing all that often, because it’s that powerful of a prayer.  Something that struck me as I was reading through the “Love is . .  .” series in Corinthians 13 is that all the different aspects of love are fruits of humility.  Thus the litany is a two-fer: You can quash your miserable ego and accidentally find yourself becoming a loving person into the bargain.

Try it.  You’ll hate it.  Until you don’t.

Thirdly, about that liturgy!  The Catholic liturgy is extraordinarily dense, and thus exquisitely suited for use by we the extraordinarily dense.  I could not help but notice how little anything at all depended on we the people present doing the work, other than that we show up and do it.  I don’t mean that it’s anything-goes for the humans: When we cooperate with God, making the effort to know what we’re doing and do it as well as we’re able, the liturgy is better.  It’s always better when you work with God rather than against or apart from Him.

I think because I was up there reading (which I only really do at family weddings and funerals), I was more conscious than usual of the part we humans bring to the Mass, and this allowed me to see how much we humans aren’t the ones bringing it.  God does the work, we cooperate.  The Catholic liturgy is in this way completely opposite of anything else.

And the fourth thing that’s so hard to get through thick human skulls:

Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13:8, for your  memory-verse purposes.)

That’s the one weird trick.

We try all the other things.  We go on and on and on about how we have to do all the other things, because the one thing needed just won’t cut it, quit being so pie-in-the-sky.

But of course, there is pie in the sky, which changes everything.  The Persons putting on that party know their business.  We dense ones have all these other methods for chasing after human happiness, and it turns out there’s just that one thing that always works.  Never fails.

So my feast of St. Lawrence* resolution is to try the one thing.

 

*Why yes, in keeping with the feast day, it was in fact a barbecue reception.

 

Popular Wedding Readings

Infographic courtesy of Together for Life

Wedding ring photo courtesy S.Mitch at French Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

A Thing You Should Do, and the Jen Fitz Mid-Summer Update

What’s with the radio silence?  Let me just tell you.

But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’s Theology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity.  The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could.  So put that on your calendar.

The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.”  I usually stick to code on these things.  But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically.  I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.

***

Now back on topic.  A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”

Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer.  So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.

File:Souq Waqif, Doha, Catar, 2013-08-05, DD 107.JPG
I needed a picture that would preview well. I love this one. It’s by: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0. Click on the image to see all the details.

The very, very, long answer:

But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed!  Isn’t that cool?!  I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind.  June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.

I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation.  Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse.  No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.

It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.

Some other interesting body-things for this summer:

Dang it I can’t talk anymore again.  The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time.  This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.)  80% isn’t 100%.  On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.

–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations.  Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking.  So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour.  But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.

Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.

Except for some other problems.

The stamina isn’t there.  This is a thing that keeps confusing me, because I swing all day long between being really quite fit and functional and being completely incapacitated with fatigue.  Here are a series of excerpts from a description I came across that describes me dead-on:

Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .

This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again.  Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day.  More on that below.

I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:

Impaired oxidative phosphorylation  [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.

Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”

The answer is that at this writing, no I am not.  But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot.  (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache.  Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad.  So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is.   I think most other people can also use those adjectives.

[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.”  I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs.  So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]

And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:

Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.

This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life.  Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there.  Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.

And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:

. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.

This thing I hate.  I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks.  Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately.  I just get all the fatigue.  (Um, and I always have a cough.  So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)

Exercise does help.  The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do.  Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise.  I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.

–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time.  If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards.  Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep.  There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.

The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others.  So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do.  Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.

Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.  Not being snarky there.  I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”)  Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).

So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible.  I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues.  If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later.  It might be just lucky coincidence.

Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:

Heat intolerance!

It took me a long, long time to figure this out.  Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.

I live in a warm climate.  I don’t mind being sweaty.  I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day.   Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on.   I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself.  (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).

The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”

It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise.  Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.

The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate.  Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.”  But it’s certainly my loudest.  As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE.  This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing.  I’m home all day with four kids.  There’s noise.  There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.

What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides).  And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.

So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog.   I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that.  But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:

Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake.  Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me.  I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.

So we went.  And I was fine.  Dreamy fine.  No problems.  Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc.  Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.

Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy.  Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often?  Two reality checks:

  • Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
  • If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.

So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.

And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning.  So yeah, CAWOG.  I’m rolling with it.

I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut.  (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there.  I guess it’s dry now.  But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.

Your Whole Life is Worth Living, Not Just the Shiny Parts

Not Dead Yet is hosting a protest of the latest hot new pro-suicide film.  If you are unable to protest directly, at least share the information around social media, to let people know that you, too, think suicide is never the answer.

Meanwhile, on the question of whether life is worth living when it isn’t everything you’d always imagined, reprinted below is what I wrote two years ago today on the horrible expression, “I got my life back!”  Let’s just say that most people who use that expression didn’t actually experience the separation of body from soul.

PSA, if you get this blog via e-mail or feed-reader: All these links above I shared in my twitter reading-feed, which you can see easily, and any number of other good links, by clicking to through to jenniferfitz.com and cruising the sidebar.

***

5/28/2014

At this writing, I am the poster child for Better Living Through Chemistry.  If we were to rely on a drug-ad cliche to sum up the post-prescription transformation, one might reach for the old reliable, “I got my life back!”

And that would be nonsense.

I’m not ungrateful, I’m tremendously grateful.  I’m thoroughly enjoying this dramatic change in circumstance.  I certainly don’t mean to squash the happiness of anyone who’s experienced some similar reprieve.  Nor would I ever dismiss the genuine suffering — far greater than anything I’ve experienced — that others endure with no such relief.

But here’s what: My life has been here all along.

It didn’t go anywhere when I was at my sickest.  I was living my life.  And don’t understand me to mean, “I was finding happiness in small things!” or “I realized that time with my children was such a treasure!”  Oh please.  I’ve always been easily amused, and I have the bunny ears to prove it.  I wouldn’t choose to spend all day every day with my children if I hadn’t treasured them from the get-go.*

My life is bigger than a collection of accomplishments and abilities and happy moments.  Laying very still in a big machine in a cold room, praying abbreviated rosaries to pass the time because I can’t keep track of ten Hail Mary’s without beads or fingers,  but I can keep track of three?  That’s my life.  Part of it, anyhow.  Doing routine tasks with no music, no singing, because I needed every ounce of concentration to get the work done?  Life.  My life.  Walking oh-so-slowly 1/16th of a mile around the indoor walking track because the little girls want to go run during their sister’s volleyball practice, but no going up on the track without an adult?  Mine.  All mine.

When you divide your life into the parts that you’ll claim ownership to and the parts that you reject, you steal from yourself.  You miss out on a chance to be everything that you could be.  Some of the parts no sane man would choose, but there they are, unchosen but endowed all the same.  Are you going to live them, or are you going to waste them?

Bigger on the Inside than the Outside

It matters because we are formed by what we do and what we choose.  Given our fallen world, what our bodies do reflects our inner lives imperfectly.  The effort to pray, poorly, comes out like so much failure when your body is not cooperating. The effort to work, to think, to love, all of it looks like so much worthlessness.  And then one day — in this life or the next — suddenly your body behaves itself, and you discover your soul was growing stronger through all that effort.  Effort that seemed, like walking uphill on a too-fast treadmill, to be getting you nowhere but miserable.

The paradox of redemption is that every good is to be sought, but no evil is to be wasted.  We work, diligently, for what is good. For healing. For an end to poverty.  For peace. For the good of souls everywhere.  We become more like Christ the more we work for that good.  And yet, like Christ, an integral part of our life on earth is making even the evil be good.

File:Detail of Silver Processional Crucifix - Museo Nacional del Virreinato - Tepotzotlan - Mexico.jpg

 

*No aspersions being cast on parents who find their children are best treasured as they get on and off the school bus.  Lots of ways to treasure those darlings.  Mine do well at home.  Except when they don’t.

 

This post first ran on Patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz two years ago.

Artwork by Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pinterest Parenting: Behind the Scenes of Raising a DIY Pro

I want to show you my daughter’s handiwork and explain how it got this way, because it’s a story about what parenting really is.  When you are comparing your crazy life to some glossy home magazine spread, but it’s a real home inhabited by real people, I want you to understand that it didn’t come from nowhere.

So this is my backyard:

Isn’t it gorgeous!  That’s the little grilling area off the kitchen.  My daughter (age 14) completely overhauled this space a few weeks ago, with the help of her sisters.  It was her response to the three of them being kicked outside until they’d cleaned the place up, on account of their not being able to be quiet inside for even one hour while I took a nap.

No really, that’s the story.

Here’s a before picture. Just kidding, but yes, the place was pretty much trashed.

To the left, behind the grape vines growing up around the mailbox, is the famous green castle.  When it was first built the castle looked like this:

That’s the top two stories, and in the photo above you’re looking at a portion of the bottom floor.  It’s a bit worn down now, and we’ve replaced boards and added shade over the years.  We built it because we only had this teeny-tiny strip of private, fenced backyard area when our kids were little, so we had to build up-not-out for the play structure.

Part of parenting is using the talents you have (my husband did the carpentry) and the resources you have to give your kids some space to grow. This is what we had to give.

Even after this month’s clean-up, there’s still some trashy-looking stuff behind those red doors, but at least it’s down to all purposeful trash.  An example is an upside-down plastic flower pot that serves as a table during “City,” the kids’ economics game that is the successor to the even trashier (literally) “Medieval Game.”  They make up all kinds of sociological experiments when I kick them outside.

More history . . . See this cute wooden bridge leading to the seating area?

We went to Las Vegas to visit my parents some years ago, and in the early morning while it was still cool out, we’d walk around the neighborhood.  The front yard landscaping in suburban Las Vegas is incredible – just gorgeous.  The kids took photos of yard ideas, because they wanted a pretty yard.  One thing they all liked was a wooden bridge over a rock riverbed formation.  Superhusband built them this bridge for the play yard, and it connects to a second patio where we have a laundry sink.  That area is not very pretty, though it’s now 90% less trashy than it was a month ago.

Lesson in parenting: We’ve had all these moments where the kids recognize and appreciate beauty, and we build on that . . . and our yard is still mostly trashed.  They’re still kids.  Their aspirations exceed their self-discipline.  We’re still tired parents who don’t make them clean up enough.   But slowly the beauty-to-trash ratio improves, year by year.

 

Here’s some lemon balm my daughter totally stole out of my part of the yard, and put into a terra cotta pot she also stole.  I’m good with that, she didn’t mess anything up.

I love to garden, but I basically stink at it.  My kids have variable amounts of love of gardening, but it’s not like we’re this amazing family out singing hymns while we hoe all afternoon in the pumpkin patch or something.  We buy plants or seeds, stick them in the ground, and most of what we plant dies of drought or flood or some horrible fungus you don’t want me to describe.  But a few things survive, and we learn more about what will grow in our actual yard (the garden books are wrong and the internet is wronger), and slowly it fills with things that aren’t entirely dead or pestilent.

Every living plant you see in these photos was a gamble.  Life is a gamble.  You just keep trying things.

 

Aren’t these hanging cacti adorable?  They are a little freaky if you look closely, because they are leftovers from a life science lab on grafting plants.  She has to have franken-cacti because non-school plants are expensive.  She took kimchi jars (I know! We buy it! We don’t make our own!) and sawed off the tops, then made the hanging knotwork out of string that came from who-knows-where.

If you want a kid who does DIY’s, you have to let that kid just raid the supplies and try stuff.  This is how my home gets trashed. Yes, my home is mostly-trashed in the pursuit of either beauty or laziness, one or the other.

We fought bitterly over where she was allowed to hang her hanging candles.  All supplies totally stolen from other parts of the house or yard.  Hobby Lobby made zero money on this one.

Look at this pretty sitting area!  I got those curtains cheap when the girls were little, and they get used when you want to hang pretty curtains someplace — like if you’re having a princess-themed birthday party or something.  They are hanging over the clothes rods and clothes lines that were our attempt to make a place to store all our whitewater gear, but it didn’t work out and was a fetid mess.  Blech.

I still don’t know what to do with the whitewater gear.  It’s piled in my laundry room waiting for a new home.

All furnishings and accessories in this photo were raided from another part of the house or yard.  In some cases there was a weak attempt at either covering up the gaping hole or putting an almost-as-good item in place (like: a bathmat set down by the front door where that rug used to be).

Also, I got yelled at because that rustic wooden box had yucky insects in it.  It was super disgusting, I agree with her there — but she totally wanted me to drop everything and decontaminate just so she could have her coffee table.  Darling, part of growing up is learning to battle insects all on your own, thanks.

Final thing: The monogrammed pillow.  That was made by the 14-year-old express for this project.

Let me explain to you about this.

My kids have had virtually unfettered access to sewing supplies, including a varying number of rescued sewing machines, over the years.  Prior to the massive clean-out, this porch was heaped with a crazy-mountain of every kind of craft thing.  I don’t even have any sewing things, at all, any more, because my children have stolen them so diligently that now it’s easier to just make them do the sewing, done.  (I was never any good at it anyway).

If you want kids who craft — who really get good at developing their own style (I never, ever, monogram anything, no child picked up that habit from me), and thinking up a project and giving it a try, and eventually get to where they’re producing good adult-quality work — you have to let them make a mess.

Maybe you’re good at having them clean up after, maybe you’re not.  (I’m not.)  But you have to give them space, and let them experiment, and not be horrible about insisting every project be perfect all the time.  As I write this, my nine-year-old is baking cupcakes.  I just stay out of the room, and she can come ask me questions, and I’ll help her with putting things in and out of the oven when the time comes.  If they don’t turn out — whatever.  It was only cupcakes.

I let my kids play with paint, and now when I needed a patio table re-painted, I could trust a child to paint it as well as anybody.  I let my kids play with food, and now my son cooks dinner as his primary household chore.  My kids aren’t perfect.  Everything they do doesn’t turn out golden every time.  When my daughter took these photos, she carefully framed them to not show the less-pretty parts of our life.

That’s real life: Part beauty, part mess.  Sometimes you really need to pay attention to the mess, and sometimes you need to sit back and enjoy the beautiful.

Photos by E. Fitz, used with permission, copyright 2016 all rights reserved.

When People Tell Your Kids that Porn is Just Fine

I have a daughter who adores rabbits, and therefore she knows what porn is. “No, dear, you can’t have that particular bunny sticker,” I had to explain several years ago, when she was searching Amazon for, well, bunny stickers.

Why not? She wanted to know, of course.

“Because that’s the logo for a company that sells pictures of naked ladies.”

No need to discuss sex, or what makes porn distinctive. She can intuitively know, by the simple fact that she shuts the door before changing clothes or going to the bathroom, that selling pictures of naked people is wrong-headed.

She has a righteous indignation about the purveying of pornography because a perfectly good rabbit has been co-opted into the works. At her age, I expect she feels as badly for the rabbit as for anyone.

***

The children’s grandmother has a stall in an antique mall. It’s one of these old brick factories that’s now home to a hundred or so vendors of everything that turns up at estate sales. If you want a case of Coca-Cola, unopened, from 1967, this is your place. I have to stay out of there because my sponsor at Vintage Books Anonymous threatened to stage an intervention.

The kids have been going to help their grandmother keep her stall clean and organized since as long as they’ve been old enough not to be a menace to porcelain. They dust knick-knacks and re-fold linens, and put out the latest crop of dishware, and they love doing it. The owner of the mall and the other vendors who work the counter know the kids, and the kids know them.

This week while working at the shop, my nine- and eleven-year-old daughters, always on the lookout for bunny figurines, came across a basket of Playboy that one of the other vendors had displayed on the front counter of his stall.

It’s not just an antique mall anymore, it’s a porn shop.

“Does the owner of the mall know about this?” my husband and I asked, when we heard about it late that night. The vendors stock their own stalls, there’s no central merchandise system.

“Yes. She told him he had to tape the covers shut.”

Ah. I see.

We’re knowingly putting out pornography for children to find as they hunt through the acre of treasure.

“It was right next to the big display of pocket knives,” one of my daughters said helpfully. Because you know, boys are interested in those sorts of things.

Things People Tell My Children About Pornography

But they’re vintage Playboys. I got that argument. It was related to me secondhand by my children, who’d been told that by someone at the shop; I heard it again directly from one of the vendors at the shop. As if dusty porn were somehow not porn.

I told the story to the kids of Msgr. Roth of blessed memory, who preached one Sunday about living out your faith all week long. He’d gone to visit a parish family, and they’d realized too late that their porn was sitting out on the coffee table. They apologized and put it away. Not in the trash—just out of sight. “Don’t put it away for the priest,” he said to the congregation. “You shouldn’t have that in your house at all. If it’s not okay for the priest to see, it’s not okay.”

I don’t know which family he had visited, but I know that I got a babysitting job for a family from church that year, and that was how I got my chance to see what’s inside the covers of Playboy. Apparently church people don’t hide it for the babysitter, either.

But they’re taped shut. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re selling pornography at your store. You’re telling the world that it’s fine to buy and sell this stuff. You’re making the decision to attract buyers of pornography to your business.

But that guy who runs the stall is just trying to make a living. That’s right. He’s decided he wants to profit off the exploitation of women and the uncontrolled lust of those who find pornography so compelling.

I didn’t use those last terms with the children. But I did explain to them, when the topic came up again, that the suicide rate among women involved in the porn industry is astronomical for a reason. They can appreciate why.

Don’t Keep Calm, Don’t Carry On

“I can tell you are very emotional about this,” I was told when I phoned in my complaint.

Yes, indeed. Discovering that people are knowingly putting out pornography for my children to find makes me emotional.

There are times when calm is not the answer.

What kind of sick person thinks we should feel calm about this?

As I told my children, who were well aware I was in rare form over this incident: Women are dead because of what this industry does to them. It is right to be upset about that.

The reality is that we Trumpers think the exploitation of women is AOK. It was fine for those church families way back in the ’80’s, so why wouldn’t it be fine now?

One of the children expressed, in a later discussion, some of the nonchalance they’d absorbed from the world around them. And thus I explained: To tolerate the buying and selling of pornography in your place of business is to say that you think it’s just fine for girls like mine to be exploited this way.

If it’s not okay for your sister to be treated that way, it’s not okay for anybody’s sister to be treated that way.

Parents: Would you be willing to paste your daughter’s face on that centerfold?

Doesn’t feel so wink-wink-giggle-giggle when you look at it that way.

Related: Marcel Lejeune has good handbook out now, written for those seeking to overcome their addiction to pornography. Cleanesd: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn is right to the point, and includes a compact, readable introduction to the deeper issues of the faith behind the right appreciation of human sexuality. Highly recommended for anyone who’s concerned about this issue, whether it’s a personal problem or you just happen to care about your fellow humans.

Cleansed - A Catholic Guide To Freedom From Porn

Cover art courtesy of Pauline Media

About My Mom . . .

. . . Something I can say with certainty:

There was never a moment of doubt, not a single moment, but that my mother loved all of us children with her whole heart.  She was, and in eternal life remains, the very embodiment of maternal love.

***

I can say the same of my grandmothers, stepmother, mother-in-law, grandmothers-in-law, a whole host of aunts of assorted stripes, and a collection of other fine women who have been mothers to me.

I am very well supplied.

IMG_4938

Photo: My mother’s baptism cross, and a heart pendant my stepmother gave me.  Love them both.

 

How to Have a Good Mother’s Day – 2 Steps

I don’t really, truly hate Mother’s Day, contrarian posts on the topic not withstanding.  There are reasons for this.  Two reasons, and they are my patented method for having a good Mother’s Day despite the fact that it is, as it happens, that day.  These two steps should work pretty well for most non-mothers, though in some cases the best you’re going to get is not as bad as it could have been.

Step 1: Don’t Expect Things

Evil presumably well-intentioned people use this holiday to sell you all kinds of ideas.  The idea that you should want to give or receive a particular gift, or that you should want to go to brunch, or that you should want to participate in their fundraiser, or heaven forbid, but it happens, that you should suddenly take an interest in purchasing greeting cards.*

Marketing plus cultural momentum can cause you to develop any number of unrealistic, unhealthy expectations.  Resist clinging to these ideas and others like them:

  • That your family life is and always has been just like the last five minutes of any episode of Little House on the Prairie.
  • That you like the food other people cook for you.
  • That today the weather is going to cooperate.
  • That you are going to get that nap you’ve been really wanting.
  • That the homily at church is going to be any good, and the Ave Maria is really going to hit that special place in your heart this time.
  • That the lady who gave you that really weird statue of Mary had better aesthetic sense than you after all.
  • That your kids are going to spontaneously give up fighting for twenty-four hours.
  • That your life is pleasant.
  • That you are going to enjoy this day.

Best Mother’s Day reading?  The Silver Chair.  Puddleglum has it going on.

Cultivate the right attitude, and when people ask you Monday morning, “Did you have a good Mother’s Day?” you’ll be able to respond quite honestly, “Well, it was almost exactly like the descriptions of the Second Coming, only heavier on stinging insects and with a conspicuous absence of an actual end to time and beginning of eternal life, which I’d been looking forward to — but hey, now I feel totally like the real Second Coming is going to be great.  So yeah, it was good.  How about yours?”

Step 2: Get Yourself a Present

Bacon is traditional, but you can totally branch out on this one.  Waiting for other people to figure out what floats your boat is overrated.  Take the initiative.  The only rules are that it be something you actually want, and that it be something you can afford.  Driving yourself deeper into debt is not Mothers’ Day compliant.

Wait a minute?  You’re not a mother? Hah.  Who said that had anything to do with it?  You have a mother, and that’s what counts.  Get yourself a prize.

 

Note to Skeptics:  I am not kidding.  Try the method for yourself and be amazed at the results.

 

* I know many people who purchase greeting cards and are otherwise upright citizens with precious gifts to share with the world.  Don’t judge, guys.  Don’t judge.

 

File:Charnel House at St Helens Church, Cliffe, Kent, England, 2015-05-06-5136.jpg

Photo:By Slaunger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Want to know what this quaint little cottage is?  Here’s the description from Wikimedia:

The Charnel House, located in a corner of the graveyard at St Helen’s Church in Cliffe, Kent, England. The Charnel House was built during the mid 19th century. It was used as a make-shift mortuary until the bodies were taken away to be buried. Its location close to the river Thames is key as bodies found were washed up or floating along the Thames were retrieved and taken to the charnel house to be stored awaiting identification and burial.

The building continued to be used until the start of the twentieth century, when a series of Public Health Acts forced buildings such as this to become redundant. After this, the Church used it for storage and at one time a hive of bees was also put in there to deter intruders. It is now classified as a Grade II listed building by English Heritage.

And why is it the Wikimedia Image of the Day on the vigil of Mother’s Day?  Because Wikimedia knows.  Yes, indeed.  What you need is a cottage full of bloated corpses, or angry bees as you prefer, and then your holiday will be shiny and bright just like it ought to be.