Charlie Hebdo: Distinguish Respect for Others and for Life

My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum:

There is a time and a place to discuss the differences between religions and even advance Catholic claims to subsistence in requirements of salvation. That is the purpose of interreligious dialogue. It is a work of charity and even of evangelization.

We gain little by demeaning all of Islam because of the radicals. Such a tactic may very soon work against Christians, whom the secular culture is starting to view as radicals in ourselves. I hope that by distinguishing between hateful, violent terrorists and the ordinary lives of the Muslim faithful, we will also teach others to distinguish between the true message of love and salvation offered by Jesus Christ and some of the more twisted versions out there.

We do not want the angry secularist to say, “See, all you religious people are violent and hateful.” We want to live in a culture where the earnest atheist can speak with respect to the earnest Christian and the earnest Christian can speak with respect to the earnest Muslim. This is an application of the Christian truth that all men are created in the Image of God.

So in regards to Charlie Hebdo, we can mourn. We can protect our citizens. But we should not fall to the level of the attackers and let them turn us into people as hate-driven as they are. A sincere and respectful environment is the only way to witness to the truth of Christ and proclaim His message as we are called to do.


The Value of Women in Society: True Humanization

This, I think, could easily become my rallying cry and a motivating goal for any authentic feminist:

A greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love.’ (para 4)

This comes from John Paul II’s 1995 Letter to Women.

Bring the baby!

Thriving, life-loving women can perform something vital for our culture: help move us away from systems and definitions that value only production.

A society worth living in–a society God wants us to live in–is a society that loves human life and celebrates a life of flourishing for all.

All people, all women and especially stay-at-home moms (who are all too often overlooked by well-meaning folks) can participate in this. Two huge strategies I see for moving our culture closer to a more human dynamic are these: (and they don’t even require a revolution)

1. Education. Education itself in most schools is set up like a factory: desks in rows, students grouped by age like expiration dates on products, lots of sitting, bells to announce shifts, huge group lunches, standardized tests and standardized curriculum. Unsurprisingly, the forms of public schools were developed during industrialization. They produce factory workers. Let’s change that.

Let’s make education more human, more child-friendly. This is the job of all parents and especially stay-at-home moms who dedicate their lives to their children because they know that caregivers are not interchangeable robots who wipe bottoms and spoon mush into baby mouths.

Homeschooling, unschooling, Montessori, new schooling–and hey it can include public schools if they are open to it. Parents forming groups of like-minded fellows to get together and teach or rather…to present, to incorporate the child, to let the child grow. One thing is for sure: segregating kids by age is out. Misleading benchmarks are out. Attentive, loving connection is in. Authentic discipline, guidance, virtue. These are what we want.

2. Bring kids everywhere. As a stay-at-home mom, I really want to break the taboo that forbids children from a lot of public places. Congressional Hall, for instance; libraries; nice restaurants; universities; art galleries; Target (they can come here, but they had better not touch anything); courtrooms; office buildings.

All the important places where adults get together and do important things are unofficial no-kid zones. Why is that? Surely many of the people participating must have children. Surely these people might be interested in sharing important things with their children.

I think it has a lot to do with that mindset of favoring only production. This production mindset says: “We can’t have kids here because kids have needs like eating and going to the bathroom, and we important adults can’t get distracted with that stuff because what we are doing is just so very important for all of us important adults.”

And that seems to make sense because our culture is very concerned with important adults and the things (and money) that they make. For this reason, we have compartmentalized society: the adults are on one side making, doing and saying important things. The kids are on the other side not interfering with the adults and simultaneously being trained to do important things, or so goes the narrative.

But perhaps this compartmentalization ought to be challenged. If we are indeed a unified society and children grow up to take over the reins, why exclude them? Why balk at the diaper changing mat?

So here is my one-woman revolution: there are lectures and conferences I would like to attend. I will attend them, and I will bring my baby. If she needs to be excused, I will take her out because I sincerely want all participants to benefit from the meeting. But as long as she is non-disruptive, why should she not come?

I saw this work very successfully at the Diocese of Arlington’s Risk Jesus event, which I attended with my baby. As did many mothers. All day long. It went just fine.

What if our society began to incorporate children? What if mothers and fathers could bring their kids to work? What if work places became learning places too? And corporate centers had playgrounds? What if CEOs taught leadership skills from 1:00-2:00pm to ten year olds right there in the building? What if engineers taught math? What if literature professors taught reading? What if people of all ages were seen as the rightful center of value, as different but beloved parts of a whole?

Well, for one thing, it would eliminate the stay-at-home vs. working-mom dilemma.

And it can start without policy changes or massive overhauls. A civilization of love can start with you bringing your baby to a lecture; you creating a curriculum of ideas you deeply value and sharing it with your children and your friends’ children. It starts with congresswomen bringing their children.

Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli is already doing it. She’s pictured above.

It starts with any of us. And the results could be staggering.


Reader Questions: Am I crazy? Where else is off-limits to children? What is the true purpose of society? And is it defensible to segregate the children and the elderly?

Pope Francis on Responsible Parenthood

From: Little Catholic Bubble. Yes.
“Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.” 
In other words: Pope Francis in 2015 is repeating the teaching of Pope St. John Paul the Great in 1984 (see “Responsible Parenthood“) who is repeating the teaching of Pope Paul VI in 1968 (see Humanae Vitae).
And just like his predecessors, Pope Francis spoke these words of responsible parenthood within the overall context of condemning artificial contraception as a moral evil and promoting Natural Family Planning. I’m glad that most of the media reports did put that relevant fact in the body of their pieces, but gosh, if you don’t get past the headlines, what would you think was the message?

Growth vs. Stagnation: The Primary Challenge of Adulthood

It’s easy–painfully easy–to resort to established ways of doing things: patterns we’ve learned, methods we know. We already know how to do it–and it works. In everything from how we communicate, the style of clothes we wear, the movies and music we consume, the technology we utilize and especially in our thought heuristics, we tend to opt for what we know.

As an adult, the fatal temptation is to resort to only these established methods and become confined by them instead of helped.

It’s been seven years now since I completed my undergraduate degree. College makes it easy to learn: it’s a new environment which demands us to adapt. It’s full of stimulating and challenging courses, people and events. We are encouraged to try new things, travel, consider and reconsider. It feels exhilarating and mind-stretching to piece together one’s own worldview from fresh and exciting ideas and experiences.

Then comes graduation, a job, parenthood and adult life.

All those methods we learned, we stick to because they work and they helped us to learn and understand and do things quickly. Parents especially –I am one– have priorities (babies) that demand so much of our attention that expending extra time on finding new bands or reading a new book of philosophy or even driving a new route doesn’t always happen. Welcoming a baby is so demanding that we resort to those time-tested ways of knowing and doing that we’ve learned.

The temptation is to stick with what we know because it’s safe and it works. But this temptation is deadly: deadly to our souls, our intelligences, our Faith and our bodies.

In the book Dune, author Frank Herbert elaborates the prescient abilities of the hero Paul Muad’Dib:

Muad’Dib could indeed, see the Future, but you must understand the limits of this power. Think of sight. You have eyes, yet cannot see without light. If you are on the floor of a valley, you cannot see beyond your valley. Just so, Muad’Dib could not always choose to look across the mysterious terrain….And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning “That path leads ever down into stagnation.”

The clear, safe, easy path leads ever downward into stagnation, like the business man who keeps pursuing more money, more security, more promotions and wakes up at 45 years old to find his wife and children strangers.

Life is always changing. Attempting to force things to stay the same or expecting them to stay the same is a recipe for a shrinking consciousness. Even in faith. Karl Barth wanted to break Christians out of the old ruts of reading the Bible and have the Faithful see the vibrant, fresh living God-man who is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. From personal experience, we know that if we aren’t growing in the Faith through devotion, prayer, holy reading and otherwise, it’s easy to forget things. It’s easy to think that Jesus is the man we think He is. But Jesus is God; God is infinite and ultimately incomprehensible to man–that is we can never understand or know Him completely. But we can get closer the more we read, pray and act. God is always surprising us, as Pope Francis put it: “A God of surprises.” God is always calling us to go deeper, love more, give up more and follow Him more purely.

Earthly reality, as created by God, is like that too. We can never know or understand it all, but the more do learn, the more developed we become. The more open we will be to admitting that we don’t know it all and that we can learn A LOT from other people and other ways of thinking and doing.

I believe it is essential, imperative for all humans to always be developing and growing. Even for adults and parents. Even for those of us who have demanding priorities such as small children. I don’t mean that we have to go snowboarding then river rafting then coffee-tasting every weekend (those that’s a fine thing to do). I just mean that we should never give up our drive to learn and continue and set new goals.

If we don’t set new goals and grow, life becomes an empty sort of waiting for the end. That’s not a life any of us want or are called to. Even if we are bound to a bed, we can grow.

Further, we know that skills and expertise atrophy if they aren’t used. That’s why I reject the well-meaning sentiments of a lot of mom-sites that say, “don’t worry about this or that. It’s not the ‘season of life’ for that. You’ll have time later.” This is true when it comes to keeping an immaculate house. Parents of young children have a real struggle there. But when it comes to skills and development, that advise isn’t helpful. We can’t abandon a skill or knowledge set (such as drawing or politics) and expect it to be there fifteen years later when we have time again. There’s never time. Skills diminish in time. Do it now.

That being said, for the mom in me and for other moms, parenting is a hugely demanding and developmental moment if we let it be. It can teach us and stretch us further than we ever thought possible. It demands that we love selflessly and nurture a new life that we will one day have to relinquish to live on its own and make its own decisions. It’s a huge undertaking.

Yet in the midst of parenting, the parents can and will flourish by continuing their own development. It will make us better parents and caretakers and better spouses, (provided of course that we can order it properly to our vocation to Faith and family life).

As I thought about all this, it reminded me of Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development, which I learned in high school. For adults 40-65, he identifies the primary challenge as “generativity vs. stagnation.” He understands stagnation as “a dissatisfaction with the relative lack of productivity.” His his concept of generativity is a little different from mine of growth. For him, generativity specifically involves contributing to the next generations. That’s very important. I think it’s also important to note the importance of growth for our own individual well-being too. Creating, growing and developing turns us into the people we were meant to be as spouses, parents, children of God, artists, or whatever.

So we must grow boldly where we have never grown before. In order to be happy and in order to be the people God created us to be. It’s hard once the schooling ends, but it is all the more essential.

Up Next: three types of activities in life: creating, consuming, relating

Pope Francis on how Motherhood is under valued

“To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address.

Mothers, he said, “are often exploited because of their availability. Not even the Christian community values them properly, despite the eminent example of the Mother of Jesus.”

Mary’s example provides an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the role of all mothers in society and the Church, the Pope explained, noting how despite all of the “symbolic glorification” we give to motherhood, it is still under-valued.

“All of us give credit to our mothers for life and many other things, but not always are they listened to or helped in everyday life…Their important contribution to the life of society, their daily sacrifices and their aspirations are not always properly appreciated,” he observed.

To be a mother is a gift, the Pope said, and explained that through their sacrifices, mothers assist in helping society to overcome its self-centered tendencies, as well as its lack of openness, generosity and concern for others.

“In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

Pope Francis then drew attention to the phrase “martyrdom of mothers” coined by Archbishop Oscar Romero, who served as the archbishop of El Salvador and was shot and killed while saying Mass in 1980 for speaking out against social injustices committed by the government.

This maternal martyrdom, the pontiff noted, consists of a mother’s ability to offer herself in silence, prayer and total surrender, “without any fanfare,” to her motherly duties.

A mother’s sensitivity “to all that threatens human life and welfare is a source of enrichment for society and the Church,” he said, observing how it is common in moments of difficulty to encounter the tenderness, dedication and moral strength of our mothers.

-from CNA

Pope Francis, you are the man! How very true this feels.

Even as a mom I don’t think I see and appreciate everything my own mother did for me.

Some Articles of Mine from Truth & Charity Forum

Two Pieces on the Synod on the Family

Guttmacher Inst: On The Increased Need of Family Planning Services

Earth Day: Life vs. the Environment: A False Dilemma

Denmark Forces Churches to Perform Gay Marriages


The Difference with the Civil Rights Movement

In the spirit of understanding deep philosophical differences in an effort to have an honest and civil discourse:

The Civil Rights movement was built on the egalitarian assumption that African Americans shared with those of European ancestry a common humanity which transcended and ultimately undermined racial categories; by contrast, LGBTQ politics assumes that self-determined individual sexual identity trumps everything. It is thus built not on the foundation of a common humanity but on the priority of the individual’s will.

-Carl Trueman, from the First Things blog

Thoughts on “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne

Ruby K. Payne’s classic “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” distinguishes between situational poverty and generational poverty. In generational poverty, the learned culture and environment of life in poverty becomes a significant hurdle for the poor person to overcome to enter the middle class. She describes some of the “hidden rules” that define life between the classes. One very important one regards time: for those in poverty, the “present is more important. Decisions made for moment based on feelings or survival;” for the middle class, the “future is most important. Decisions made against future ramifications.” For the wealthy, “traditions and history are most important. Decisions made partially on basis of tradition and decorum.” The attitudes towards destiny are also telling. For those in poverty, “believes in fate. Cannot do much to mitigate change,” ie enjoy money now because tomorrow there won’t be any and I’ll always be poor. The middle class on the other hand feels more empowered, “believes in choice. Can change the future with good choices now.” For the wealthy, simply “noblesse oblige,” their destiny is to watch over the lower classes. (p 42 and 43).

I cut this quotation from a piece I am working on, but it still fascinates me.

The idea is that there are so very, very many things in my life from how I learned to drive, what I value in purchasing clothing, my hobbies, everything really, that were influenced by my parents’ state in life.

How many aspects of the experience of others do I overlook on a day to day basis simply because those aspects of their lives are invisible to me in my learned experience?

The idea of hidden rules also has helped me make sense of a few instances of social faux pas in my life.

Experience teaches us and teaches us by omissions as well. For Christians, as we are called to love God and love our neighbor and the poorest among us, we need to be alert to ways to love our neighbor especially when their experience might have been defined by completely different parameter than our own. And yet, we are all still human and we all need love and to be loved.

I hope I can be more awake to some of these differences.

Have you ever thought about the hidden rules in your life or the hidden rules for others?

Themes for 2015: Farm, Creation, Writing, Crafting, Painting

Pinterest recommended that I come up with “themes” for the New Year instead of “resolutions.” While I could always eat healthier and go running more often, calling it “themes” stirred far more ideas in my mind. So here goes:

For parenting:

Farms – this year I want to teach my littles about farm life: growing food, raising animals, living on the land. So that means I’ll be doing a lot of learning myself. I got them two farm picture books for Christmas. I plan to visit local kid-friendly animal farms, barns and of course Claude Moore Colonial Farm, my favorite place in Northern, VA. I even plan to try my hand at raising a few veggies again. Never once have I succeeded at bringing a plant successfully through the spring, summer and fall alive. May this year be different. My youngest will be one year old in the spring, so maybe she will be interested too. I think it would be a good way for us to get outside, learn about American history and culture, see animals, exalt God’s creation, and as always, eat food. I like food.

Art – My two year old loves painting with his dad’s art supplies. I plan to fill out our art supply cabinet and bag with way more acrylics, brushes, canvases and also the kiddy construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, poms poms, etc. I think this will be a great family activity for us all since we all love this stuff. I also look forward to making posters out of the things my boy finds in nature.

The Grown-Ups

Devotion: finding ways for us both to grow in our Faith. As with business or the mind, if it’s not growing, it’s dying. Stagnation is death. May we blossom and flourish. [Additionally, I hope to get better at talking about my Faith instead of being weird about it. Yeah, most people aren’t super Catholic, but I am and I love it, so why would it be weird to share that with someone interested in me as a person?]

Creation: Nature, God’s creation is so calming and pure. Just a walk outside lifts my mood more than a million cupcakes. I want to get outside more, which relates to my parenting themes. My hubby and I have recently compiled a decent array of camping gear. It only got tested once last summer. Let’s break it in this year.

Drawing: For Will, drawing. Lots of it.

Writing: For me, both my novel and articles. Because I write Catholic articles, when I took a break from it, my spiritual life suffered. For me, writing little Catholic articles is actually a form of devotion. I would like to balance this better with my longer project.

There are more of course, but I’ll leave it here for now. Do you have any themes for the new year?