Monday, April 14, 2014

No Maps.

Lent makes me think about what it means to be Catholic. Sometimes I wonder if, had I not been born Catholic, I would have found my way to Catholicism. I simply cannot imagine calling myself anything else. I have moments where it is hard to believe. It is hard to raise a family in a way that seems so contrary to popular opinion. It is hard to feel God's presence at times.

It isn't as though my faith has never been challenged, or I have not experienced any of the things that have left a bad taste in the mouths of those that have left the church. Believe me, I have. It has never been easy to be Catholic. At times, it feels as though there is as much pressure from the inside of the church to be something as there is from the outside to be something else.

I do not have a sweet little cherub sitting on my shoulder that clues me into God's plans for me. It feels more like wondering around the NES Zelda game without a map: I only know where I have been.

The truth that I have found within the Catholic Church far outweighs the faults humanity brings to the church. I began this Lenten season writing about the seven capital sins. Sometimes we expect so much out of those that proclaim the truth of Christ, that we forget about their humanity. We expect perfection when it is not possible. We look for ways to discredit the truth, and we are filled with imperfections. Knowing the truth is different than putting it into practice. Knowing the truth is different than full understanding of the truth.

I make mistakes. I have doubts and faults. I cannot always find the best way to put the things I know to be true into practice. There are days where it feels like giving up would be easier, but then I imagine what my life would be like without the Mass, without the Eucharist or the sacraments, and without the truth of Catholicism... it would bring entirely too much darkness to my life.

As Holy Week progresses, I will probably take a break from writing. Thank you all for helping to grow the community of faith that is so important to me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No. I are a genius.

As someone who frequents the Internet, I also end up in Internet death matches discussions. After observing Calvin (4) and Hattie (2.5), I feel I have a new insight as to what these "Internet discussions" must really look like to more "evolved" folks:

Calvin: Mom, is the kitty from Kansas coming?
Me: (delayed) No. But we have a kitty.
Hattie: Kitty is at home.
Calvin: Why does one kitty and two kitties mean three?
Me: I don't know.
Calvin: I know that 1 equals 4 is 3.
Me: You mean '4-1=3'?
Calvin: Yep. I'm a genius.
Hattie: I a genius.
Calvin: NO.
Hattie: Yes. I are a genius.
Calvin: NO.
Hattie: Yes. Go to sleep Calvin, I'm mad at you. We are going home?
Me: Yes.
Hattie: See? I a genius.
Calvin: I'm going to trap you. I'm going to set a trap and you will fall in. Then the genius will be all mine.
Hattie: No. I a genius. Ha ha.

"I'll see your obnoxious post and raise you an insufferable diatribe."

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Post Where I Impress You With My GoodReads "Currently Reading" List

A few days ago, I was perusing the barrel of laughs that is Facebook. It was filled with various Frozen video shares, some quippy memes, updates, some bison running on a road, and a discussion about the poor and the rich in America. A friend of a friend asked (and I am paraphrasing here)

"If everyone is fed, does it matter how big the gap is between the wealthy and the poor?"

Since I am wading through the dense paragraphs in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (that link will get you all the sources for the quotes below), I have been knee deep in this subject matter for nearly a month now. I also spent several years working with the welfare population in a not-so well off town. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with the above statement, but I ask that you keep it in mind as I ramble through this post.

A few sections in Chapter 4 of the Compendium really struck me, and I would like to share them:

165 A society that wishes and intends to remain at the service of the human being at every level is a society that has the common good — the good of all people and of the whole person  — as its primary goal. The human person cannot find fulfillment in himself, that is, apart from the fact that he exists “with” others and “for” others.

I have long upheld that it is not my duty to vote for the government to care for those in need, but for me to do this myself. I believe that the best way to serve those in need, is at the smallest level possible: first in family life, and then our communities. The bigger the pool of people becomes, the more difficult it becomes to provide tailored services that provide the most help, without enabling or prolonging the suffering.

166 The demands of the common good...concern above all the commitment to peace, the organization of the State's powers, a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom.

The freedoms listed above also allow for people to be cruel. To have opinions or beliefs that are untrue or bias. That does not make them right: as a Christian, I am called to serve all. To love all. A government cannot allow laws to be put into place that go against our basic human rights. It is difficult to remember sometimes that the standard of living the majority of Americans experience, is not the equivalent of human rights. State of the art technological advancements are not basic rights.

183 Christian realism, while appreciating on the one hand the praiseworthy efforts being made to defeat poverty, is cautious on the other hand regarding ideological positions and Messianistic beliefs that sustain the illusion that it is possible to eliminate the problem of poverty completely from this world. This will happen only upon Christ's return, when he will be with us once more, for ever. In the meantime, the poor remain entrusted to us and it is this responsibility upon which we shall be judged at the end of time. (Mt. 25:31-46)

No amount of wealth redistribution will end poverty. No amount of government intervention will end it either. Our duty on earth is to serve others: to imitate Christ.

187 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms. “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending”.

There is dignity in work. Work dignifies people. It is healthy. To borrow a term, the Social Assistance State puts this dignity into danger.
188 Various circumstances may make it advisable that the State step in to supply certain functions[401]. One may think, for example, of situations in which it is necessary for the State itself to stimulate the economy because it is impossible for civil society to support initiatives on its own. One may also envision the reality of serious social imbalance or injustice where only the intervention of the public authority can create conditions of greater equality, justice and peace. In light of the principle of subsidiarity, however, this institutional substitution must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary, since justification for such intervention is found only in the exceptional nature of the situation.

 In sum, humans find worth in helping others and in community. There are basic rights afforded to all, but we cannot expect the government to serve those that are our responsibility. Some circumstances would warrant temporary interventions, but long term solutions that would have elected officials and taxes do our duties for us do damage to us all.

I return to the statement from the beginning of the post:

"If everyone is fed, does it matter how big the gap is between the wealthy and the poor?"

I think the question is misleading. I think it is not really the right question at all. Are we caring for the most destitute in our communities? We use social service programs like food stamps as a crutch to lean on; an excuse. We use it to imply that those that need food and shelter have it supplied for them, but you know. Only the ones that can't help it. Only the ones that we find deserving enough. We judge and trivialize and minimize plenty. Our duty as Christians is not merely to serve those we feel need our help, but also to serve those that we don't think deserve it. Perhaps the truer and more difficult calling for us today, is to serve not just those in need, but those who are in need because of their own doing. It is easier to swallow helping someone down on their luck than it is to help someone who fell victim to their own devices. Christ didn't choose to die for Himself. He chose to die for our sins. He chose to serve us even though we chose against Him.

This is exactly what Christ would say. 

There are many forms of poverty. Maybe financial poverty can ideally be resolved with a large budget and wealth redistribution, but poverty will still exist.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Pool Pass, CPS, and the Enterprise Walk into A Bar.

The summer I turned 14, my grandparents purchased a family pool pass for me, my brothers and my cousin. It was a great summer. I spent most of it babysitting at the pool, but we were outside and I had a different group of friends to spend time with, so it was a nice change of pace right before I entered high school.

The hard part about being almost 14, and babysitting while trying to transition from a class of 17 to a class of nearly 300, is everything. Everything is hard. That summer, I had an awful taste of how crappy people can treat one another.

We would typically get rides to and from the pool every day (except for the day we had to walk home when a floater was discovered) from my grandpa. AKA, the absolute best grandpa to ever walk this earth. Our parents worked during the day, so that meant I was in charge at the pool. One day, my youngest brother (he would have been about seven at the time) had not played by the rules that morning, so I told him that he needed to sit out of the pool for a bit once we arrived. In typical little brother/big sister fashion, he didn't like that idea and I didn't like that he didn't like it. We argued for a little while and when he tried to run away from me and into the pool, I tried to stop him by grabbing his arm. I don't recall if I succeeded or not, but it would have been over and done with just as quick as it was to type up the story. Enter the lifeguard.

The pool would break for a bit every day, and everyone had to clear out. This usually meant lines at the concession stand or trips over to the playground. I was standing over by the concession stand with my brothers and a few friends, laughing, when A High School Girl Lifeguard (who I later found out was an only child) stormed into the middle of the circle. She was pointing her fingers in my face, yelling "I heard what you did, you piece of shit. I will be calling the police and CPS on you just as soon as I get to the phone." I immediately burst into tears as I tried to ask her what I did wrong, and she alluded to the arm grabbing incident from that morning. I tried to explain the situation, but I really was so destroyed at the thought of not ever getting to see my brother(s) again, that I ran to a pay phone in the park and called for a ride home.

I told my grandpa what happened when he got there, and I really have no idea what happened when he went back in to speak to the guards, but I do not remember ever seeing him so upset.

My adult self remembers this story, and knows where my 14 year old self went wrong. At the time though, I was just trying to assert my authority and get a handle on a sibling argument, not intentionally harm my brother. All the same, those feelings of panic wash over me every time I see or hear someone joking about calling CPS on a caregiver or parent. It has happened to me probably a dozen times on Facebook: one of the crazies is learning to walk and has a nasty bruise. One of the crazies is seen in close proximity to a Bumbo chair. A picture shows off the less than graceful nature of a toddler. Your kid poses with a pirate and a parrot.

"You would really let your child that close to a parrot or a stranger?"

I can take a joke. I can snark with the best of them and my sense of humor is warped like the Enterprise. It is difficult to feel anything but panic when someone mentions calling CPS on you for normal childhood experiences if you have seen children taken from homes for not having dressers. Can we give moms a break here? Next time you think it might be a funny joke to suggest you plan to call an agency that takes children from their homes, and requires you to go through legal means to get them back, maybe you could just say, "I love how adventurous your child is!"

Monday, March 24, 2014

That Elusive Beast Called Kindness

Dear Twenty-Something Me:

I remember you. Your impatient foot tapping. Your eye-rolling and deep sighs that showed how put out you were by folks with large carts of groceries in front of you. I know you thought your time was worth more: after all, you did have a party to get to. A nap to take, books to study, or a job. The eye roll definitely started in high school, and it just got worse: probably in preparation for this day.

Today was your Shopping Trip From Hell. Frank was screaming because that's his jam. Hattie was chasing Calvin. Calvin was pouting over something that was probably extremely important, and there you were, just trying to push the cart around aisle stockers and the after school rush. It was 45 long, and painful minutes of forgetting something on the other side of the store and having to dodge carts bigger than your own. You finally got to the front of the store to check out and then you swing the cart in line, hoping the kids stand still (quietly) for just a few more minutes. Then it happens.

A young, impatient twenty-something says, "Can I just go in front of you? I only have one thing and I am in a rush."

Your face goes blank as you imagine all the things that will go wrong in the added five minutes. Then, you imagine saying "No." and standing awkwardly in front her until you are done checking out with your crazy children orbiting around you and screaming. So you shrug, defeated, and take a deep breath to hold back any trace of tears. My, my. How the tables have turned.

Fortunately, (and unfortunately as it turns out) another lane opened and you were motioned over. Although you were flooded with relief, you couldn't help but mutter, "Or would you like to go in front of me in that lane as well?" Classy.

So, Twenty-Something Me, I am telling you this cautionary tale for two reasons:

1. In the hopes that you realize it may not seem like such a big deal to you if you ask or just cut in line, but I assure you that time is just as valuable to a mom at the end of her ropes.

2. In the hopes that the above realization will help you to gather some kindness earlier in life, so when today comes, you keep your snide comments to yourself and just breathe.


Exhausted, Thirty-Something You

Friday, March 21, 2014

Faith and Reason

I will sheepishly admit to feeling as though I am in a faith dry spell. I certainly know what I am supposed to believe and why. I understand the logic, and natural law. I don't feel burdened attending Mass or by any other the other Catholic responsibilities or duties. But the faith thing... I feel like Dantes. 

Can I not escape him?!

Faith is hard. I had an entire class that did nothing but focus on Aquinas but faith still feels like hope. Prayer, sometimes like wishing. As in, "Boy howdy, I hope I have faith. I hope God is there. I hope my faith is real. I wish I could confirm that this is all real." I remember the Catho buzz in college about Mother Teresa and her spiritual drought, and the folks that still call her a fraud. It is heart wrenching to see someone that devoted their life to serving others as best as they could during times that they felt abandoned and probably most needed to see or feel or touch proof that it was all for a greater purpose, be called a fraud. Dismissed for not meeting someone else's arbitrary definition of "good" or "service."

Last night I was struggling with these thoughts while reading about Church social doctrine. I came across this line:

75. Faith and reason represent the two cognitive paths of the Church's social doctrine: Revelation and human nature.

I feel as though I am always being asked to choose.

I don't mean that I see faith and reason as at odds with one another, just that I can't seem to have both at the same time. My faith brought me to the point in my life where I began to study Catholicism closer and grow in my understanding: it brought me reason. My spiritual life is a construction zone. I am counting on reason to get me through. 

For now, I will go with what I have, and try not to focus on the doubt. I am reminded of the sign on the wall at Druber's Donuts:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Most of the time, I hesitate to chime in on celeb gossip or stories. I enjoy movies and TV for entertainment purposes, and my interest stops there at this point in my life. That does not mean that it did when I was a child, or that somehow celebrities do not find themselves not just in the spotlight, but trying to figure out how they became role models.

The phenomena of looking to celebs to tell us how to look, how to act, how to vote, what religious views we should have, what words to ban... escapes me, but I am not naive enough to assume that others (especially others that are at an impressionable age) will also avoid the chatter.

While I could write all day about the choices that those in the spotlight face in their willing and unwilling roles as role models and trend setters, I would like to focus specifically on how we react and our expectations when celebrities are perhaps not good people.

Certainly there are rumors, and certainly no one is perfect, but when imperfection and violence are involved, there are victims. Our justice system maintains "innocent until proven guilty", and what often happens as a result is a real hardship for the victim: a football player kills the mother of his child and then himself but is lauded as a great guy. In a case of "community celebrity", a young girl is unable to give consent and her name is driven through the mud to protect the young boys responsible. A few Hollywood examples:

Michael Jackson
Jackson did in fact go to trial on charges related to child molestation, but was acquitted.

Alec Baldwin
Allegations have been made that Baldwin abused his wife, and tapes surfaced of voice mails where he is berating his then eleven year old daughter.

Chris Brown
The link here is a piece addressing the sexual activity of young boys and how different it is viewed from the sexual activities of young women. I think we all are aware of the intimate partner violence issues Brown has faced in recent years.

Brynn Hartman
Brynn is probably most widely known for the murder suicide she committed that took the life of her husband, Phil Hartman.

Kobe Bryant
One of the worst cases of victim blaming I have seen. I once attended a conference where the details of the prosecutor's case were read along with the public character assassination the victim experienced. At the end, the speaker revealed who the defendant was, and it was Bryant. A fine and devastating example of trying the victim in our public court instead of holding the perpetrator accountable.

Woody Allen
A brilliant director in the eyes of Hollywood, but a man that, at the very least, has questionable relationships with the children in his life.

This list could continue, but it is a good round up of the types of crimes and offenses that I am referring to: child molestation, rape, IPV, even death. What do we expect from Hollywood in regards to the perpetrators? How do we expect the victims to be treated? A reader (Hi, Mom!) pointed out that that we cannot or will not protect victims that are not famous, so what do we do about the perpetrators of these too-ugly-to-talk-about crimes? No one wants their good names sullied by being related to the mess, but no one wants to give up the perks of being related to genius mind that makes you fistfuls of money.

I find looking at these crimes as they relate to celebrity to be a good example of the reality for victims in our own backyard as well. The skeezy guy that doesn't shower and lives around the corner is often not the one to be most concerned about when it comes to this types of violent or sexual crimes. Often, perpetrators are in positions of authority or respect: teachers, scout leaders, church clergy and lay people. People with significant influence (or just enough influence) to make it more difficult for others to believe that a respectable person could be responsible for such a heinous crime. So we move to the next plausible explanation: the victim must be lying. It is easier to believe someone a liar that it is to give up our shiny happy world that sometimes people with talent or money can do bad things.

So I ask again: what can we do to protect victims of abuse? How can we better send the message that the perpetrators of these horrible crimes are not going to be rewarded but instead held accountable for their actions? As someone that truly wants to believe in rehabilitation, I ask: What good are we doing the perpetrators (that are statistically very likely to have once been victims themselves) by rewarding them for their talent, but by not helping them stop their own history from repeating itself?