Last night I hosted the Tom Petty Tribute Kitchen Cleaning at my house, which made my husband hopeful (about the kitchen) and my children puzzled (about Tom Petty). I looked my son in the eyes and shook my head and said, “You’re not from the 8o’s, are you?”
He affirmed that he was not.
Tom Hoopes at Aleteia sums up the reason parents of a certain age have such a profound love of Tom Petty, despite the man’s flaws: “Tom Petty provided the soundtrack to my life.” The songs matched what we were thinking and feeling and didn’t necessarily even know it until we heard the song.
Taylor Swift does that. She is an astute businesswoman, yes, but also she is an artist with a gift for saying what American women are feeling.
Discerning Catholics will not necessarily care for everything Tom Petty had to say, and certainly should not care for everything Taylor Swift has to say. But as I argue over at the Register, we need to pay attention to what Swift is saying. Why? Because she is describing the lives of nearly every woman in this country today.
So we’re at ladies’ Bible study the other morning, and the topic of literary genres in the Bible comes up. Not everything is a scientific treatise (this blog post is not, for example), and we aren’t obliged to read Genesis as if it were one.
Which got me thinking: What genre is Genesis?
It’s not exactly poetry, though it has plenty of poetry in it.
I’ve seen arguments for calling it “myth,” but those arguments always involve long explanations of why the word “myth” doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means. I’m not sure that’s what is anyway, even after all the explanations.
A romance, maybe?
It is one, but it isn’t just that.
The defining feature of Genesis, it seems to me after two hours of new discoveries in just chapters 1-3 — and I was pretty sure I’d already gotten the bulk of the discoveries out of Genesis on the previous seven zillion readings — the defining feature is that you just keep learning more, and more, and more about God and His relationship with man.
Which leads me to my new name for the genre: Theological Concentrate.
The book we’re studying is Courgageous Women: A Study on the Heroines of Biblical History by Stacy Mitch. So far so good. Doesn’t play around in going right to the thorny topics in Genesis 1-3. Cover art courtesy of Amazon.com.
The most painful fallacy I see among Catholics is the false dichotomy between “social justice” and “life issues.” It’s moldering baggage from the Church’s political divisions over the last fifty years or so: We know that a branch of dissenting Catholics labeled themselves “social justice” warriors, and so our alarm bells go off whenever we hear someone talking in vague terms about peace and justice and not much clear doctrine.
We have to cut this out.
Catholics who believe the entirety of the Catholic faith are not obliged to hand over a portion of our faith to agnostics-in-Catholic-clothing. We get to own the whole package: the Trinity, the Church, the Sacraments, Scripture, and the entire Christian moral life. We don’t have to settle for our slice of the “pelvic issue” pie and doggedly shun any topic we fear might have somehow, somewhere, been enjoyed by a Democrat. We certainly don’t have to swallow the line that justice with regards to immigrants, the environment, workers, prisoners, or any other category popular on the Left can thereby only be solved by the Left.
Bitterness isn’t born ex nihilo. Bitterness is the festering of a spiritual wound, and many Catholics are infected by bitterness because they have suffered real, penetrating, stinging wounds at the hands of their fellows.
When you see someone being rabidly ugly, that didn’t come from nowhere.
When it’s you being rabidly ugly, it often feels like “righteous anger.”
Hmmn. Are you filled with a sense of peace? Do people generally agree that the way you speak and act is gentle and life-giving? Do even some of your opponents speak of you respectfully, because your are well-known as someone who is rational, calm, and has good sound reasons for your beliefs?
Or is it maybe possible that, fault of the hurt you’ve endured at the hands of people who had no right to treat you that way, you’ve started to get a little bitter?
Allow me to tell you a story about this woman who foolishly volunteered to help at church, and wild monkeys came and pelted all the splash bombs at each other.
One of my kids is in classes once a week at St. Optimist’s, and a couple weeks into the new school year the director identifies a problem: Students are dropped off at class early (a good thing), and therefore teachers are having a hard time getting their classrooms set up in the half-hour before the program begins. Due to assorted logistical constraints, it is not possible to set up earlier.
The director assess the situation, looks at our available resources, and proposes: Since we have an empty classroom and a number of background-checked, fully-trained classroom assistants who are free during that crucial half-hour, how about all the kids who arrive early report to the spare room, where volunteers can do music with the kids.
“Music with the kids” is a time-honored way of occupying children during downtime, and the parents are all in favor of extra minutes of music education. Somehow I am that music person.
–> Mostly likely because I am foolish enough to think: I have long years of experience with keeping children occupied and educated. I have written my own VBS program from scratch and pulled it off (with the help of a good team), including the part about music-with-kids. I wrote the lyrics to a VBS song and made up hand motions and everything. I can totally do this. Not a problem.
So I say to myself: Some people complain that Mrs. Fitz can be a little dry when she teaches. These children are about to go into ninety minutes of class time, some of them are quite young, and we don’t want to push their sitting-still skills too far. Also, Mrs. Fitz isn’t exactly a trained musician, to put it politely. But she has written a VBS program before. Mrs. Fitz is usually pretty popular when she thinks up games for the kids, indeed she keeps both Wiffle balls (red and blue for sorting by team) and a bag of splash bombs on hand, because you never know when you’ll need them.
This could be why Mrs. Fitz’s classes get a little carried away sometimes. <<– That reality was not something I was thinking about when I wrote up plans for the first go-round. Indeed we could describe the first attempt at planning the “Music Games” half-hour as “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
It was not a good idea.
It may well have been my most spectacular teaching failure ever.
Setting aside all the minor infractions against good classroom management skills that did not help: The game thing just wasn’t a good idea.
About half the children were enthusiastic about games and eager to do interesting activities oriented towards developing an awareness of rhythm, tempo, and communication skills (like paying attention to what your singing partners are doing). The other half of the children were clearly hard-wired to receive the sensory input of “there is a foam ball in my hand” and immediately activate the DODGE BALL IS ON centers of the brain.
No one got hurt, and that’s about the only positive to report on the post-incident review.
I felt compelled to speak to the other volunteers afterwards and say: “It is very important that you know that I know that our class this morning was an absolute disaster.” –> There are few things more painful than having to return in a week to “co-teach” with someone who thinks that Lord of Flies, Foam Dodge Ball Edition is a desirable classroom experience.
None of the other parents immediately quit the program and moved dioceses, so the frank apology maybe kinda worked.
But of course I didn’t get fired either, which meant that I had to come back a week later with a much better plan.
The new plan had three prongs to it:
Plan ahead to prevent those minor infractions (of mine) against good classroom management skills.
Plan ahead to be ready for the wild monkeys and know what you are going to do when they enter the room formerly known as Dodge Ball Free-For-All and are tempted to act up again.
Ditch the games and go with a super-calm approach to music time instead.
We can always re-introduce games another time.
And it worked. Some of those kids who were primed for Total Nerf War made superb music students when I gave them a format that didn’t involve anything remotely resembling PE class. Teachers reported that the kids arrived to class calmer than they’d been all month, and overall behavior the rest of the morning was better as a result.
No, I am not making it up when I say at the outset of my book Classroom Management for Catechists that yes, in fact I’m horrible at this stuff. It was a madhouse. Total insanity.
That’s pretty embarrassing, but the following week I proved my other assertion: You don’t have to be naturally good at classroom management in order to learn how to teach well. It’s a skill. You can learn it, and you can review and improve as-needed over time.
I also maintain that there’s a time and place for every kind of class. Some groups of kids do really well with active, even boisterous, learning activities, and some kids do phenomenally well with the exact opposite. What are you, omniscient? I’m not. If you plan wrong, change your plans until you get them right.
Ordering notes if you are so inclined: For bulk orders, phone or e-mail Liguori and find out what the best deal is. It may be worth while to combine orders with a neighboring parish in order to get a volume discount. There’s also a Spanish edition, Manual del manejo de clase para catequistas. The book is useful for anyone who has to manage groups of children. You can read my summary of what it’s about over at my books page.
A friend shared this fundraiser for yet another young person wishing to pursue a religious vocation, but student loan debt stands in the way. I don’t discourage you from helping. Meanwhile, the problem looms very personally for us.
The other morning, Fr. Gonzo and I were chatting about this and that, the subject of Mr. Boy (now a senior in high school) came up, and Father suggested, “Look into Reputable Faithful Catholic U. I think it might be a good fit for him.”
I was a little taken aback, mostly because I’m too deep inside Catholic circles, so I know some of the dirt on RFCU. But of course, Fr. G. is no less ignorant, he gets around too. The question on further reflection isn’t whether this or that school has problems (it’s a fallen world, they all will), but whether the education and formation are suited to the student at hand. I resolved to give RFCU a good look.
And then I remembered the part about the loans. If the boy goes to an in-state public college, he can get through debt-free. That’s basically a four year walk through Heathens Are Us, but not entirely so. It’s possible to cobble together a decent education if you pick your way carefully.
The boy is smart. He could get accepted at a good Catholic school. He’d have a lot to offer the school, and the school would (if well-chosen) have a lot to offer him, but also there would be debt involved. Un-subsidized tuition plus housing costs will do that to you, even after you knock off the usual discounts for pretty-good-but-not-perfect students who ask for aid.
A little debt if he goes on to be an IT guy (his planned profession) is manageable. If he goes on to be an IT guy, a good solid Catholic education will be well worth the investment. The difficulty is that students who start out with nice secular career plans don’t necessarily end there, witness the fundraiser above. A kid with a religious vocation, if he can be counted on to answer it, would do better to stay out of debt and also live in the wider world a bit — there will be plenty of time for the Catholic enclave later.
So anyhow, all that to say: I don’t know much, just that I hate student loans, and I hate that the standard model for good Catholic education seems to require them.
Photo by Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. Back when universities were first invented, this vocation question wasn’t really a problem. But of course the students still behaved terribly and people complained. I think higher ed is just something we all want to always complain about.
We’ve got a new round of Catholic internet drama going, and it hardly matters what the excitement is this time. I’m keeping my nose out of it, because otherwise my post will lose its perennial freshness. Ever ancient, ever new — that’s Catholic craziness for you.*
Meanwhile, for those who haven’t sworn off iGossip and taken up gardening or macrame, here’s my three top tips for keeping your head on straight and your friendships in order, even when someone’s wrong on the internet.
1. Remember Who’s Talking
The Catholic internet is composed of two groups of people:
A. Calm people. To wit: Jimmy Akin, and then this one really sweet mom lady who posts pictures of her kids eating solemnity-themed cupcakes. There might be a third.
B. Hotheads. That’s the rest of us.
Oh, I know, even now you’re rushing to either dissect a Church Father or quick find an obscure Catholic holiday your children can celebrate with costumes made out of paper plates, so that you can squeeze into Category A. But admit it: If you take a strong interest in controversial topics like politics, liturgy, or catechesis, you probably have just a touch of opinionated fireball inside that cool, calm exterior. Maybe more than a touch.
And here’s the clincher: Those other hotheads you’re reading right now? They are living in a completely differently world than you.
You’ve been given a view down the shirt of every staff member of your parish; she’s been informed one time too many that her ankles are a near occasion of sin. He attends St. Simon & Garfunkel’s, and has been twitching every since they went to an all-harmonica Mass three years ago; your parish bulletin is now published almost entirely in Latin. Because people complained Greek was too hard. Your religious ed program consists of, “Pick a color you really love. Share with your friends how it makes your feel.” Their religious ed program consists of, “You may get up off your knees as soon as you have the Vulgate memorized. Then you may work on your diorama of the fires of Hell.”
I’m joking, kids, I’m joking. But seriously: Very many times, the source of the argument among faithful Catholics is not a radically different understanding of the faith; it’s a dramatically different experience of how the faith is lived in their corner of the universe.
Even if you and the other keyboard-jockey both attend the same parish and the same Mass, the two of you have different backgrounds. Different playground traumas. Different incidents that color your view of the Church. Consider the possibility that your worthy opponent has good reasons for being so wrong-headed.
2. Try to Talk Your Friend Off that Ledge
One of the highlights of my internet life is seeing how many people who think I’m absolutely, horribly, wrong about something are perfectly ready to engage in productive dialog, if I take a genuine interest in what they have to say and why they say it.
(I know, some of you shuddered when you heard the word “dialog”. Listen: It can be good. It’s not always a code word for “namby pamby faithy-ism.” Respectful conversation can be a fruitful means of getting closer to the truth – iron sharpens iron and all that.)
The mark of a crazy person isn’t the odd temper tantrum or hot-button topic. Everyone has their bad day, bad week, bad decade. It happens. Have you tried gently asking a few questions, or did you go on the counter-attack? I know the counter-attack urge, I understand it, trust me. (See: Hothead.) But don’t be shocked that someone gets defensive when you go on the offense. It is the mark of Christian maturity to resist when the hotheads try to work you into a lather.
And if you did go on the offensive (see: Hothead, Takes One to Know One), from that moment on you’ve got to consider every harsh word in your little brawl to be just a bad night at the pub. You engaged. You were part of the problem. Brush yourself off, go home, sleep off the hangover, and try to be friendly next time. Give your sparring partner the same charitable benefit of the doubt you’d like extended towards yourself.
3. Let Go of the Envy
Blogging, Facebook, Twitter . . . these media all require us to put ourselves out there. There’s nothing inherently sinful about being a person who has a knack for marketing. Don’t begrudge someone their one big talent. Don’t assume that, “I have to make my writing pay because I’d fail out of engineering school in half an hour,” is the same thing as, “I possess an enormous ego.”
Do people who depend on writing to earn a living have to be utterly focused on bringing the paycheck in? Yes they do. Just like people who depend on plumbing or electrical work or writing software have to be focused on keeping their profession profitable. Everyone has to eat. But just because the construction company has to watch its bottom line doesn’t mean that every foreman is a self-centered money-grubber who’d happily see your children crushed to death during breakfast, just so long as your account is paid in full and your check has been cashed.
A concern about page views or advertising revenue or book sales can be a professional hazard. But a professional hazard does not make every professional hazardous.
Take pleasure in the work that you do, and take pleasure in the success of others who do similar work. There is a massive need for evangelization. Our mission at St. Blogs is to colonize cybersapce. Scratch the internet, find a faithful Catholic. That’s the goal. Get out there, be that Catholic.
Have a great weekend.
*Let’s just see how perennial this problem is . . . I originally published this post, verbatim, on May 31, 2014. Entitled, “How to Stay Sane in St. Blog’s,” you can read the original at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz/2014/05/how-to-stay-sane-in-st-blogs. I updated the title because last time someone wondered what “St. Blogs” referred to, and I had to update that post with a link to an explanation.
My editors here at the Catholic Conspiracy have succumbed to my pleading and issued a The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me t-shirt that suits my aesthetic demands:
The best link for the moment if you want one of your own is: http://www.cafepress.com/mf/110941637/the-dogma-lives_tshirt . From there you can choose a variety of size options including maternity, kids’ and baby options. The editors went with the more expensive shirts because their research indicated the quality is significantly better. To offset that, they are offering the GAME20 coupon code, which gets you 20% off your order.
Note that shipping is more favorable if you purchase all your shirts in one go-round, so poll your friends and relatives before you do your batch order.