Sunday, May 31, 2009

To Go Where No One is Listening, Press Four

This week, I saw the new Star Trek movie and I have to say, I loved it.

I always love the way sci-fi futures solve all the little problems that vex us today with nifty neat technology. There aren’t any computers in the world of Star Trek that have to be taken back to the Geek Squad because some virus came through on an email promising to cure acne, make me lose ten pounds a night until I’m fit, and depositing an ungodly amount of money in my long forgotten Irish bank account. None of the cars or machines in that sci-fi world ever needs an oil change, only major repairs because some Romulan shot at them with highly advanced weaponry. And yet with all the high tech beaming and phasers, they haven’t lost the human touch. The communication between ships is still handled by a person, as versus a phone tree.

This is probably because at some point, the future techies installed a phone tree, thinking to cut into the Federation overhead by reducing demand for translators/communication officers to act as receptionists on board. I can just see how this would have played out:

“Hello, you have reached the communications branch of the starship Enterprise, NCC-1701. Please listen carefully, as our options have changed. If you require a standard rescue from a planet, star base or other such stationary locale, press 1. If you have a diplomatic request and require additional expertise such as a science, engineer or medical officer, press 2. If you are hostile or feel your planet’s issue is critical and cannot wait for normal diplomatic channels, press zero."

How many times did a direct photon get shot at the bridge, vaporizing the skeleton crew of loyal red shirted ensigns aboard for offering those sorts of choices?

Then I imagine, the techies tried voice recognition software. Having never had much luck with voice activated commands at my bank’s phone auto teller, I can just see the Enterprise switch board overloading as it tried to decipher Klingon suggestions that the whole Federation deserves Hell for creating such an infernal contraption. This would be after the sixth attempt to say, “The Federation is nothing but a collective of data gathering flunkies with Technicolor uniforms.” And having the computer voice recognition software translate it as, “You said you would like an Orion slave girl, a romulan ozal twist and three tribbles for Christmas. Is that correct?”

I know because my bank uses a phone tree and I’ve discovered over time that if I speak with my voice half an octave lower, like I’m a man, the machine understands. The moment I switch to my actual range, the phone tree begins to get confused. I’ve also found that accents increase the likelihood of me getting through to the bank’s version of Lt. Uhura much faster, so I’ve adopted a lt. Chekov approach. “I vould like to make a transfer from my savings account. Four thousand dollars, vwease.”

The machine is convinced I’d like to order checks with Dalmatians on them.
So I try Montgomery Scott. “I be needin a transfer.”

And the infernal contraption declares “For security purposes, we cannot process your request.”
After twenty minutes of attempting to get a real person or a transfer of funds, I’m cursing at the darn thing. I’d pull a Captain Kirk mood here, but there’s no one to punch. I just get to suffer because of the overuse and under impressive performance of technology.

“Damn machines.” I muttered, and then I realized, I’m turning into Bones.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Roman Scene We Might Consider

All consciences may not be formed the same, but Truth is inviolate.

Let us imagine.

It is the height of Roman power, when Ceasars are at their zenith, and thus all manner of "entertainment" is allowed at the Colosseum. Some citizens within the Empire, object to the feeding lions with renegade Christians as a form of entertainment, claiming to be "pro-life."

The centurions and aristocracy and government that are in power find these claims laughable, as these rebels bring it upon themselves by not being willing to be reasonable and see the nuances of the real world. If they would have open hearts and open minds and be willing to accept the equal nature of Zeus and Hera and the Ceasar himself to Christ, there would be no quarrel. If they would just give a bit of "respect" to those who disagree, they wouldn't find themselves in this situation.

Some of those arguably on the Christian side, have counseled that their fellow members ought to be more fair minded. They have said, "Debate about this issue is not about to close. Differing consciences on such a matter should be met with love no matter how vexing they may be." and that to argue by refusing to show deference or by shouting or getting upset, to "satisfy that furstration by shunning or denouncing your unseeing companion will accomplish little beyond expressing your exasperation."

Maybe, but when the lions are being sent routinely to rip apart the innocent, it might be time to satisfy some of that frustration.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fighting without a Prayer Never Works

Whenever my kids can't find their (pick one), shoes, lunch box, money they swear they've held onto for sentimental reasons since their baptism, the ugly accusation gets flung.

Someone took it.

Now when something's missing, if I'm on my game, I mention asking Saint Anthony. The kids know this, they often wave me off about it too. But when I couldn't find my daughter's tap shoes last Saturday (and she always always misplaces them), I was irritated. I ranted as I searched for her shoes. We were doing so well on time before that snag too.

"Somebody took it." she explained.

I'm was ready with the comeback, "Who? We all live here. No one else fits your shoes. No one else needs your ballet slippers."

It went over her head but as I said, I was irritated.
"Did you check under the bed?"

Kids are scurrying, checking under beds because the worst of all possible alternatives has happened on a Saturday, Mom is mad.

"Did you check under the couch?"
Kids are again running about, pulling all matter of footwear and no small number of socks out from under the various couches in the home.

Mom is still ranting.
"I want all your shoes...all the time...in the closet...where they belong....every time...everyone of you! How hard is this? Why do we have to go through this?" I am hitting my mom stride.

Kids are still looking. I've spotted one of them praying, muttering purposely in my direction, and I see the words, "Saint Anthony." But I'm still mad as I'm going through the cubbies, searching for two black tap shoes and two ballet shoes and the time is indicating we have 20 minutes or we're late. "No praying, just looking." I snap.

Still looking. 15 minutes or we're late. Rant resumes as I catch a few kids abandoning the search for shoes.

"I want your shoes up here...in the shoe tree...up high..." and I point for effect.

And there they are.

In the closet.

In the shoe tree.

Up high.

"Okay." The kids are all there. They all see the shoes.
They've seen me rant in all my ugliness.

"Kids," as I'm realizing, Saint Anthony took the shoes so that Mom would find her daily dose of humility, "I'm sorry I got so messed up over slippers." There are hugs. The apology is accepted en masse.

And then, while the children slipped back to playing Wii and watching television, as I began to start to scurry a bit to get the girls to their dance class, I asked Saint Anthony, "Could you help me find a way to get them to class on time too?"

And we didn't hit a single red light en route, not one.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Just a Second, Please.

The New York Post did a piece that explained how the current congress and our fearless leader have spent one billion an hour in the first fifty days. And all with no waste whatsoever! I know because the President and the government said so, so it must be true. Owning a calculator, I decided to figure out how much that translates to a minute and then a second.

At 277,777.77 per single second, 1,200,000,000,000 have vanished in less than two months. At current course and speed, if we survive the next four years and we still have 33,840 hours to go, we’ll pony up 33,840,000,000,000. What comes after a trillion? A Quadrillion. We’ll be talking about 33 Quadrillion. That’s….insane.

Now I know there are people out there saying “Pshaw.”
Of course we won’t get to a quadrillion.

We’ll be bankrupt first.

Our country is home to 350 million people. Using only what we have already spent, we could have given everyone $3,428.57 regardless of age, gender or immigrant status. Talk about a stimulus package! This home would have reaped $37,714.28 under that plan. I know it isn’t popular to say such things, but this President has spent more than any previous president…ever.

Maybe we could save time and some money by just asking the government “How much are we allowed to keep?” The argument has been put forth that while some people will suffer from these tax increases like small businesses and the like, these demands for money by the government are “for the greater good.”

Why doesn’t anyone ever admit these sorts of things are “for the lesser evil?” We’ll be unjust to you but it squares out because we’re being more than fair to more people than we are unfair. It’s just that since you had good things now, it’s okay if you take a bigger hit.

So, I’m worried for this country and I’m worried about fiscal responsibility. Saying, “The republicans were bad before me…” does not equal a defense. It's never worked in my house if one of my kids said, but my brother/sister was doing it first. That just means they're both in trouble. Memo to Democrats and the President: It’s part of why they were voted OUT of office. We wanted people to be fiscally responsible, like we have no choice but to be in our daily lives.

However, since we must suffer the reality that elections are not for another two years, I’d like to have just a second of the government’s time.

That will be two hundred seventy seven thousand seven hundred and seventy seven dollars and seventy seven cents please.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes From A Hospital Room

Home again, home again,
Jiggity Jigg.
I'm stuck back again bedside,
I'm in the Kid's Brig.


A recliner for a bed,
that doesn't recline.
On food rejected by airlines,
for each meal do I dine.


With a shower that trickles
and towels three inches wide,
In a more expensive less luxurious room
I could not abide.


My window looks out
on a wall made of brown bricks.
At all hours of the night maintenance
the phone, TV and clock do fix.


But it's the best room there is
for my son to get well,
so with zero amenities,
it's still heaven, not hell.


Paul's getting better.
He plays with his feet.
He coos and he gurgles,
it's his mother that's beat.


He rolls in his bed
and rips off his leads
and frustrates the needle nurses
with how little he bleeds.


He's still eating well,
and kicks during exams,
so the doctors have concluded,
like his mother, he's a ham.


Paul's condition is improving
and with it, his mom's
at this very expensive exclusive vacation
in a very small room.


So when we wean off the oxygen
and they remove the IV
we promise to write more
than rhyming poetry.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lego My Ego

I have a confession to make.

When I was a kid, I loved legos. My brothers got all these cool blue and black and grey legos and sometimes, they'd even let me play with them --and we'd make, well, they only came in rectangles and squares so we made lots of cities and houses and buildings. Then we'd rip them apart and do it again. There were unlimited possibilities provided one didn't mind that everything was a cube.

I kept trying to make a castle but there just weren't the right types of pieces for my complete vision. I didn’t just want ridges, I wanted turrets, I wanted it fantastic. And blue and grey weren’t going to cut it.

But modern sensibilities have ruined my childhood love. Now, legos come in all sizes and colors and with instructions. As such, they become ships. They become bridges and human figures and full scale renditions of famous landmarks of both film and reality. My sons love them.

However, because legos now come with special pieces and specific forms, my boys assemble them and then, well, that's it. The masterpieces are to be placed on mantles, tables, bookshelves, and never touched again.

I know.

One day I was cleaning a bit too close and knocked a few things down quite by accident.I had to apologize and promise to be more careful. It took ice cream and a round of baseball to get back into my kid’s good graces.

For many Christmas and Birthdays, the legos were gifts and the piles of created pieces mounted up. And I said nothing and was very careful where I vacuumed.

But the mantles and bookshelves were starting to get crowded. In the basement, there was a 4x8 library table we set up for arts and crafts. It was now overrun.Having once attempted to clear the table only to be stopped by a near melt down, "You're throwing away my childhood." type drama, I am now seeking a statute of limitations from either my boys or the lego company, beyond which it may not be considered reasonable for legos to remain in their assembled form.

The corporation has so far not returned my calls.

My sons on the other hand…
"How about a year?"

No answer.
"How about two?"

...Okay, but once they leave for college, I'm making a serious castle out of those babies...and then, no one's touching it until I retire.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

And Now for a Catholic Commencement...

If you want a funny alternative to my piece, I highly recommend:
http://ironiccatholic.blogspot.com/2009/05/ironic-catholic-alternate-notre-dame.html.
Otherwise...

My brain is fried from all of this, and I need to attend to the domestic church that is my home, instead of the ivory twin towers of academia and politics. But I do have an alternative suggestion for next year's commencement speaker.

First, we must discern what would constitute a good nationally prominent figure, known to all. The individual must be historic, life changing, a person who inspires real hope and real change.

Second, the person must be known for good works, dedication to the sick, the poor, and to ending injustice and suffering in general.

Third, the person must be a good speaker, with a riviting charismatic personality that speaks to both the rich and the poor, the educated and the simple.

Fourth, the commencement speaker must invite each gradutate to go out and be more loving, more humble and more grateful for the gifts they have received. The speaker must envoke the new graduates to go out and be lights to the world, to engage it with their wisdom, their service and all their hearts.

Fifth, the person's example as embodied in written and spoken words, actual work and whole life, must be perfect and subject to intense scrutiny. Personal character witnesses and testimony about these works, words and deeds must hold up and show that they have endured the test of time.

In light of all these qualities which must be non negotiable, there is only one candidate who could meet the entire criteria. Hold Commencement, and at the point where the speaker would get up, present the Blessed Sacrament.

Ask for prayerful sober reflection for the hour, and invite all to adore Him.

And let this be the tradition at Notre Dame and all Catholic institutions of Higher Learning from now on.

Friday, May 15, 2009

NEW BLOG I FOLLOW! GIVE A LOOK SEE!

Domine, da mihi hanc aquam!: We're becoming more pro-life!#links#links

Once More Into The Breech

I'd let this go, but the argument came from a dear friend who holds that because President Obama is NOT Catholic, the 2004 United States Council of Bishop statement on Catholics and Political life, does not apply.

By this reasoning, the decree asking that Universities not give a platform or awards or honors to people in positions of leadership or power that advocate/vidicate or promote positions antithetical to the Catholic faith (like say, abortion, stem cell research, and other hot button issues), only applies to Catholics not being true to their Catholic faith.

Okay. Let's go with that interpretation. Then, we are saying, we shall not honor people being hypocritical to their professed Catholic faith, because it is the disengenuousness of the individual that hurts the Church if the Church via the University, validates their position.

But it's okay if we're hypocritical to our own Catholic faith via the University by honoring those who legitimately disagree? If the graver sin is disengenuousness...

So the bottom line by this thinking is, we can honor President Obama at the University of Notre Dame, we just couldn't honor Joe Biden.

Look. Abortion kills children, but it also destroys souls and I'm not talking about the unborn, I'm referring to the mortal peril caused by agreeing to or performing such a henious act upon the innocent. Giving a platform to this President, given his predilictions on this topic, and past policy decisions, both before the election and since, provides comfort to those who would say that abortion is simply a hard imperfect decision, and not a moral issue with grave consequences.

Pray the rosary. Ask Mary directly to ask her Son for a miracle. The Lord listens to his Mother.

If you are new to the blog, check out Perhaps Why, Why the Notre Dame/Obama Scandal Matters and Yes I'm Still Mad, and Notre Dame Choses between God and Country. I keep thinking I'm done with this, but it is so hard to bear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yes, I'm Still Mad, and I know it.

Back in 1993, I took a course on Epistemology; that is the study of knowing ways of knowing. There was a woman’s way of knowing, an African-American way of knowing, and emerging gay and lesbian ways of filtering the world that were based on collective norms gathered from within the designated strata or population being scrutinized.

The problem with epistemology is two-fold.

1) If one is not a member of the designated group’s way of knowing, one is presumed either to not be aware of how things might be filtered, or unable to comprehend fully what they might mean. Thus, truth is only discreetly revealed to those in the specific filtered class of people, and it is not necessarily able to be transferred.

2) The line which creates the filter by which one knows something –male/female, gay/straight, is to this middle aged Catholic educated Texas female mother of nine’s mind, arbitrarily set by those who wish to draw the lines, but maybe I’m just limited that way.

The question, how does defining one’s reality by one’s collective experience and as unknowable to someone not of that experience, not slip into defining reality only by one’s own individualized experience? How does epistemology not simply collapse into solipsism?

The professor thought I was trying to be cute with the question.

But either truth is knowable or it is not Truth. If it is not Truth, it is merely perception. If reality is merely perception, then the demarcations by which one filters one’s perceptions are almost without limit, such that no one can claim to know what another experiences or comprehends.

Knowledge is not transferable because no one can be certain of what knowledge is, or what should be conveyed, or how much of it is comprehended by the recipient.
Language eventually breaks down in this radically individualized filtering of the world. “You wouldn’t understand,” becomes the natural barrier and explanation for any disagreements.

One’s gender, religion, economics, orientation, I.Q, geographic location, all can be applied to create an impasse from one human being to another as a means of negating any validity in opposing viewpoints. “You’re from the south so you wouldn’t understand.” The accusation of “Lack of comprehension” connotes to the other side, an innate unworthiness to be part of the discussion. The accusation renders any criticism by the side not able to sport a more sympathetic demographic epistemology, impotent by sheer lack of specialized status. Everyone’s argument for their point of view has been reduced to NIMBY status, save the one with the most momentum behind it. (Think loudest and most organized voice).

To get an “A” in the class, one had to come to embrace the concept of epistemologies as legitimate representations of whole groups of people. One had to also identify one’s own misconceptions, biases and intellectual scaffolding that impeded comprehension of other epistemological templates. It also helped to have a thesaurus handy.

“We see but through a glass darkly, but then, when the perfect comes, we shall see face to face.” I think sums ups all epistemologies fairly accurately, but then I simplistically believe that we are understandable and knowable to each other. I’ve since discovered St. Augustine and love his take on things in City of God, wherein he talks of the difference being not what we suffer, but the way in which we suffer.

So we come to today. I have to say, I’m starting to comprehend something of how an epistemology works to convey a sense of import and validity of feeling, without discerning or declaring truth. I must admit freely, I do not understand how it is that President Jenkins can authentically reconcile his Catholic faith and the Catholic identity of the University, with honoring President Obama, (despite his explanations), I only know it is spiritually wrong to honor a man who supports the antithesis of Mary’s Yes in all forms. I know it is not Catholic to honor a person whose policies deny the fundamental humanity of some people based on their level of physical development, and who supports the willful destruction of some people at the hands of others, in the name of research.

I only know this platform weakens the Catholic voice of the faithful to say clearly, Embryonic Stem Cell Research is deliberative destruction of nascent human life for the satisfaction of scientific curiosity. It is wrong. I don’t care if it turns lead into gold and brews the elixir of life, the cost is too high. Catholicism is not about “my way of knowing,” it’s about following HIS WAY, and knowing that is the way, the Truth and the Life.

I also do not understand declaring via a letter to the alumni, that he is not honoring President Obama’s policies by honoring the man, but merely the office and thus the man in the office. If President Fr. Jenkins were to disinvite the man holding the office as a matter of honoring Catholic faith over political policy, perhaps then Fr. Jenkins could say to the media that he wasn’t dishonoring the man holding the office, merely the policies held in firm conviction by the man in office. But I don’t think that would sell with the media any better than the current spin is selling with me.

But then, epistemologically speaking, what do I know?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

T-minus 50 Minutes and Counting

Bed time has remained a source of frustration for many years. Ever since we got to having three triumvirates of children, we've tried the stagger step approach. The plan was to have the youngest three bathe, brush teeth, and in bed with a story by eight. The next three would get the same regimen and be nestled in their snug little beds by 8:30. Our three olders would have lights out by nine o'clock.

Like 8-tracks and now cassettes and buying overpriced housing using variable ARM's, it seemed really excellent in theory.

If one can get the plurality sitting down to dinner by six, the bed time aircraft carrier launch sequence starts promptly at seven. It relies heavily on the cooperation of all children for a sustained period of time. It also presupposes dinner is ready and waiting and not in the planning stages at 6:30.

In the world according to Sherry, (which also has her finding an agent, losing 15 pounds and getting a hair cut), at 7 o’clock, two of the oldest three would scoot to the kitchen to get the dishes done, while a midling would clear the table. A second midling would vacuum the floor and wipe down the chairs. The third older and the third midling would assign themselves to me as assistants in getting the trio of youngest ready for bed.

(As long as I'm in this happy rose colored world, I might as well finish the mental fantasy, it's good exercise).

By 8:00 pm, the kitchen would sparkle, and so would the children. The older would help bring the two toddlers to their room and read them a story. The midling would get her clothes so we could start the second round of bedtime preparations. I'd put the baby in his crib and even coo a little lullabye, maybe start his mobile, tuck the corners in of his blanket and kiss his head. No one would come up to me in that quiet moment and say,

"MommomomomomomomomomomomMOM!""Yes?""Um....I...Um...I have a paper to show you and it's good but I need you to sign it and I saw that no one is doing the dishes and you said they were supposed to, but instead they're downstairs watching Batman and I have paper cut."

Back to the fantasy!

It is 8:30. Kisses all around and lights out, (after a brief trip down memory lane to answer a question about what I used to do when I was a kid), and the second group of three is down! It would be beautiful.

The oldest three would come to give hugs/kisses goodnight at around 9, and lobby for extra reading time. "Of course." we'd beam. The kitchen looked great!

My reality is that at 9:30, I'm still resending my toddler daughter to bed. I've discovered my five year old son is downstairs because his older brother is downstairs, and when I mention bed time, suddenly they start cleaning the basement. "Mom, we're busy cleaning."

It's a blatant ploy but I can be bribed. "Well, come up when it's done!"

I'm thinking the task is so huge, they'll prefer bed.
My toddler daughter comes up, her arms filled with shoes that have been abandoned in the TV room. "I'm just putting these things away." The basement is a flurry of activity. One of the kids has turned on the stereo. They’ve brought down the duster, the yellow dish gloves and a whole roll of paper towels. And so I wait.

It's ten o'clock and the vacuum whirrs into life. By 10:25, they come up. They want to go to bed.

The basement is gorgeous.
I feel vague guilt, but looking at a cleaned room assuages it.

Now I don't want to be a bad mother so I'm going to work on giving them the opportunity to try and bribe me while securing for them a good night's sleep. I'll still say and do all the same things, I'm just going to tinker with the process.

Tomorrow, I'm serving dinner at four.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Gifts of Mother's Day

Mother’s day is a type of emotional Rosharch test of a mom’s relationship with her kids. The children go to school and the teachers have them paint rocks, glue puzzle pieces, color charts and create prose and poetry to illustrate their love for the one who brought them into this world.

To date, I have three paperweights covered with old jewelry, a Popsicle trivet, a tie dye pot holder to go with the trivet, and two button covered heart pins. To avoid massive quantities of duplicate gifts which invariably trigger “Hey, that’s mine, I gave her that last year.” Or “Where’s mine that I gave you last year?” or worst of all, “Mine was better,” I’ve had to switch preschools…twice. Alternatively, I could have stayed with my first pick and eventually gathered enough glittery jigsaw puzzle piece pins to assemble a life size poster of the unfortunate blonde from the movie Goldfinger.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thoughts; the thoughts are lovely. It’s just sometimes Mother’s day reveals more about how little of the message we send every day seems to be getting through. For example, the teacher of my first born made a sheet with a yellow daffodil on it. Every child answered the question, “I Love my mom because…” and there were sweet things like she makes me pancakes, she lets me use bubble bath, she fixed my train set. And then, there was my son’s response, “She lets me do anything I want.”

As I stood there staring at the strange words he’d chosen, I thought of how I’d promised him I would never tie his shoes again if he quit trying. I considered how I’d demanded he make his bed daily and made him do extra math and English enrichment the summer BEFORE Kindergarten. I’d even refused to get him a Charizard Pok√©mon card that cost $60 for his birthday. Instead I’d bought him a shirt with the beloved but irritated orange flame-tailed dragon on it that was six sizes bigger than my son because it was the only one in the entire mall I could find. Then I thought about the fact that he currently drives me crazy because he still wears the orange shirt to bed and he’s a teenager!

But it isn’t just my first child with which I’ve had odd experiences owed to the second Sunday in May. I’ve had the same first grade teacher for three of my children. She has them assemble books about their Moms. The results from each Mother’s day have made me certain that whatever else is going on in my kids lives; they aren’t paying much attention to what I do. One page said, “My mom likes to …” I would have answered: write, bake fattening desserts and read. In the books thus far, the survey results indicated I do jazz, (haven’t since I was 17), another answer, play video games (Nyet, that’s Dad), and my personal favorite, watch TV. (No, I’m the person who turns off the machine).

They were consistent about where I like to vacation, the beach. But apparently I have voiced at some point, a loathing of California, France and Japan, as these are three places I’ve indicated I would never want to go. These books show me that what I am doing, even if I think I’m doing something else, isn’t what they perceive. I think I’m jumping up and down and saying, “Clean! I shouldn’t have to pick up your socks every day…” and they’re understanding something else. One thing’s for sure, they aren’t getting that they should pick up their socks! But the books make me grateful that perhaps, the reality I’ve created for them is not as hard as I think sometimes I can be.

The kids have given me glitter boxes and pipe clean flowers and I have loved the love conveyed in them all. Their hopeful eyes as they wait for me to open the presents are more lovely and more valuable than the beaded key chain or a CD sun catcher for the garden inside the tissue paper. The hope in their hearts is what every Mom all over the world hopes to grow and develop by the daily care they administer.

Sitting at the table over a leisurely bagel breakfast, my daughter yawned and asked “What do you want to do today Mom?” I could tell she was already not listening as she eyed her sister’s book, the fifth in a series that the older one had just finished. “I’d like to…” I started as I saw her pick the precious tome up from the table and curl up into a living room chair to disappear in a world of demi-gods fighting in New York. I went to the jewelry box to fish out a few button and jigsaw pins for accessories while I murmured to no one in particular, “I’d like this to happen, just as it’s happening.”

Maybe it is true that I do let them do anything they want. Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Saints Preserve Us From Our Art

I wrote this back when the Da Vinci Code came out as a movie but admittedly did not publish it. Why? I guess I thought it was too angry. But since they've come around for a second helping, I decided, they deserve angry leftovers. I made a modest few edits. Enjoy.

Hey, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A sophisticated man with a scholarly bent uncovers a conspiracy that has taken place for centuries and which involves the Church! He goes about proving that the Catholic church has withheld truth all along and was just as Gnostic and fallen as the rest of us and should be utterly viewed as an ironic relic of oppression to all people not “in the know.” And there’s the sensational aspect of the angels and demons too.

Some people don’t understand what all the fuss about the daVinci books or the stupid movies, after all, it’s fiction. They also don’t understand about ‘piss Christ’ as it is just art. And in a breath-takingly quick retraction, they add, “And it’s not even a good book.” Or “It’s not even good art.” (As if the quality of the piece determined whether or not it was offensive or problematic).

The talent of the writer Brown is not the origin of the tsunami of criticism that has come in the wake of the coming film. No one impugned or praised his talent for spinning a yarn. It’s just (gee they’re sensitive), some people are upset that his tale, though fiction, puts forth the premise that the entire Church in all of its history is a lie. It is a lie about the teachings of Jesus, it is a lie about his death and resurrection and its meaning, and it is a lie about the Church keeping Christ’s teachings alive. My goodness, what thin skins we Catholics must have, to not see that this is just entertainment! It is a lie on so many levels; it would be comic if it were not so obnoxious.

To make this obvious to those out there who still protest the protests let us consider why one might get upset or worked up or have sermons and articles and interviews on masse and in mass about a film? If this same story had been made up about Mohammed, there would be rioting in the streets all over the world, as over the comics in Denmark. If the same story were about Jews, it would be anti-Semitic and condemned. This film is a continuation of the Anti-Catholic bilge, masquerading as entertainment.

Bear-baiting and countless other tasteless activities over the history of this country were considered “entertainment” once upon a time, and they weren’t harmless either, whatever the marketing or sensibilities of the times were. To paraphrase another movie of the star of this one, “Stupid is as stupid does.” (full credit to sister for that one).

For those who still think, all this is a fuss over nothing, what aspect of Catholicism, if not its history, if not the papacy, if not the guidance of the Holy Spirit, if not priest celibacy, if not the resurrection, if not the gospels, if not the Eucharist, is worth getting worked up over?

Someone from the media please, craft us the circumstance under which the beautiful people of the entertainment industry would say, "No, this would be offensive to people of the Catholic faith." I'd like to know exactly when they'd feel that a line between harmless joking and cruel insensitive loutish garbage had been crossed. Yes, I know it's a trick question because there isn't one.

(Sigh).

It’s an old story. It’s a tired story, and it never, not once, not ever, was entertaining.

My final thoughts on the stupid films, the stupid books and the stupid defenders of this hateful tripe: Memo to Ron and Tom, you were enjoyable and beautiful to watch once, now even Toy Story and Happy Days has a bitter aftertaste. All three of you, you can say you don't hate the Church, but that doesn't make it true. (And confidentially, I'd watch out for those actual Swiss Guards if I were you), not to mention, riled up Catholic Texans.

Remembering 13 years...

My daughter turned 13. She's so much more together than I was when I was that age. (I put the awk in awkward). She reads more. She knows more. She automatically pays attention to detail in a way I still have to consciously consider to manage.

When she was first born, my first words were, "Let me see her." and "She's beautiful." I then said, "That was much easier than the first time."

The nurse washed her up and laughed. "Are you going to have any more?" she asked. Keep in mind, I was fresh from delivery. I smiled, "Oh yeah." Little did I know.

On my 30th birthday eve, she slept through the night. She was two months old. She continues to be a source of comfort.

Having a strong independent streak, one day she decided to color her entire left arm purple. She wore boots with a tutu and a crown on a regular basis before "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse." When being instructed on riding a bike by her older brother, she rolled her eyes. "I've been watching you for years."

At four, she started pre-school and the first day was a parent/child day. She said she didn't need me. Brimming with confidence, she played, she ordered me to take a picture of her teacher, sans her, and explained when I asked her to share the toys with the other kids, "They get to play with ME."When we left the room, she collapsed in tears. "What's the matter?" I asked, utterly baffled.

"I still don't know how to read!"

She also was fierce with us, but absolutely sweet on Dad. For him, she would try harder, she would study, she would practice piano, she would master how to do the layup and she would study politics to sound impressive.

She now keeps a literal library in her bed, (at last count, 23 books), stacked neatly against the wall for easy reference. She plays the saxaphone and loves orange, purple, the Orioles and anything that seems like it might have come from the elves of Lord of the Rings.

Because this child is also the official organizer of birthdays, she was concerned about her own. Normally, she locks herself in my room and wraps the presents, reminds me to get a cake and whatever number we need from the store and does decoration flawlessly. She frequently acts as a coordinator of games for the younger set when we host a party, and she loves being part of the plan even if we're on top of things.

I promised I would actually get to the details and I did wrap her presents. I even made her favorite cup cakes, or rather, she did with my help. (Chocolate sour cream, no frosting). I was feeding the baby and reading aloud the recipie with helpful commentary. Watching her work and seeing how much she's grown up, its hard and real to recognize that soon, I will be sending sour cream chocolate cupcakes to college (5 years will fly by), and I will remember because there isn't someone there nagging me not to forget.

Happy Birthday Athena, my gentle wise child. My original assessment of her still holds. "She's beautiful."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Breaking Fast of Champions

Learning to read the tea leaves of my various children’s inclinations and interests has often left me struggling between the desire to raise each child individually and the functional ease of running an army in which choices and options are extremely limited.

As a mom, it’s just simpler to say “Okay dogfaces, make your beds and get dressed or there’s no breakfast.” And “Drop and give me 20 minutes of cleaning before you get a minute of computer time.” than it is to accommodate the fact that on any given Saturday, three got up at six to watch cartoons, two more awakened at six-thirty, didn’t like the shows that were on and went back to sleep after fixing themselves waffles, and three play the Wii system downstairs until noon when their fingers give out and they notice...they're starving.

If I wait until everyone is up to cook, I’ll be here until eleven thirty and have blown the morning. If I feed people on demand, I’ll be a short order chef all day. The trick in a large family, is learning when to switch into the mode of raising nine only children, and when it’s time to raise only nine, and when it is time to raise Cain.

On the subject of sons and daughters also rising, I have come to the following hard and fast rule. “If you are old enough to read, you are old enough to feed yourself on Saturday morning.”

My daughters rejoiced at this new found freedom and promptly got out the griddle and made pancakes. My oldest son fired up the microwave to make himself some bacon. Having started the project, they now needed supervision to usher the breakfast through to safety. I got to cook pancakes. I got to cook bacon and show how to clean out the oven. I even had the luxury of making eggs for the two toddlers that saw the eggs used for pancakes and began caterwauling for a scrambled breakfast. It was 11:30 am and I had a pile of dishes and only six of nine children fed. I had snitched a piece of burnt bacon and a pancake sopped in syrup. It would have been grossly unfair to deny my middle son his modest request for oatmeal with raisins and cut up apple but I can’t say I didn’t feel tempted.

After cleaning up, I created the supplemental rule. The corollary to this parental guideline is, “If you make a mess, you will be cleaning it up.” Suddenly, the kid that said “Food taste better on real plates.” preferred paper. Suddenly, my daughter liked microwaved scrambled eggs. Suddenly, stuff coming out of a toaster tasted “really good.” However, meals were still being drifted into like high tide, and the menu ran the gamut from sausage and grits to hot chocolate and apples.

To minimize traffic congestion and mess, I set hours for the kitchen when the cafeteria is closed. It may seem a bit petty but I firmly hold that there is no way the kids can be more fatigued than me, and as such, if I can’t sleep until ten, why should they? The first time I instituted kitchen closing hours, there were howls of protests from the older children.

“I’m sorry, but the Board of Health requires that we suspend food preparation for the next ninety minutes pending clean up from the first meal of the day.”

“But I didn’t eat.” My son protested.

Now lest anyone think I am heartless, I will stipulate that I had seen this same teen scarf down three pieces of cold pizza as soon as he opened the refrigerator.
“You just had…” I pointed to the plastic bag containing the last humble piece of pepperoni from Friday night.
“That was just a snack.”

Looking at the individualized choices that ranged from peanut butter on toast to hot chocolate and an apple to microwave pancakes to baked cinnamon rolls, I have come up with one more rule for managing the kitchen on weekends.

Bring Mom breakfast in bed and don’t tell me what you’re eating. Just clean up afterwards.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Perhaps Why

The honoring of President Obama with a law degree at commencement has confounded those who love the ideals embodied by Notre Dame.

I have been pondering for several days, why would the President of the most celebrated Catholic University in America remain so resolute when so many people of the faith and leaders of the Church were counseling otherwise?

Through various websites like ndresponse.com and the Cardinal Newman Society and the Sycamore Project, over 350,000+ signatures were placed on Fr. Jenkin’s desk, alongside countless other letters, messages, emails, phone calls and specific recommendations by fellow priests and bishops, including the Bishop of SouthBend. The outcry was clear. It was passionate. It was prayerful, anguished and spontaneous. Still, Father Jenkins and the University persisted.

On April 27th, the response was then augmented and echoed by the slated recipient of the Laetare Medal, Mary Ann Glendon, when she opted to decline the opportunity in light of the pain this scandal has thus far brought.

So I wondered. Was Father Jenkins losing his faith? Was he beholden to an increasingly secular faculty? Was he hungry for recognition for a school that had not had a shining moment on the football field in a long time? Was it a personal weakness for power or fame? Was it a combination of some or all of these things?

In the most benevolent of interpretations of the events, Fr. Jenkins thought of his beloved university and saw the prestige of having another President come to speak at a commencement. He probably anticipated there would be some people upset by the invitation, but nothing more would come of it than that he might receive a few irritated phone calls, and some angry letters and emails.After all, the President of the United States was a popular President, who received more votes than any other candidate in history, and a majority of the Catholic vote.

Surely people wouldn’t demand that he rescind the invitation to the President of the United States; this was their president too. This was a commencement, not a campaign. The moment would not be an endorsement or a plug for any particular position. It was an honor for the school and would showcase Notre Dame as being a place for both parties, in case any prospective students with liberal or democratic tendencies were put off by the misconception that only red meat Republicans attended.

Additionally, Notre Dame had a long and storied history of supporting civil rights and here was part of the fruit of the school and its students’ labors in that struggle. The first African American president of this country that had once held slaves, segregated children and denied equal opportunity to people because of the color of their skin, was coming to speak.

The President had shown he was willing to be a moral voice for good. He had declared torture to be always wrong. Saying something that obviously morally correct and yet controversial, took courage. There was much about the President and the current party sitting in power, both in the executive and legislative branch that fit with Catholic social teaching. Service to the poor, healthcare for the sick, room in the inn for the immigrant, all of these causes reflected issues that should transcend the parties’ labels of “R” and “D” in the individual lives of Americans, of Catholics and the whole body of Christ. The vast plurality of Congress reflected the general public’s desire to champion these worthy causes.

So I could almost see how Fr. Jenkins came to think that inviting this particular President to speak was an acceptable action.

Almost.

But then I went and reread the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ 2004 statement concerning “Catholics in Political Life,” and Fr. Jenkin’s interpretation of that statement. Fr. Jenkins’ defense parsed cannon law to indicate that honoring someone who was not Catholic who acted in defiance Catholic teaching was not a violation.And then I thought about what this President has actually done in a few short weeks not withstanding his dulcet tones. And I remembered how the confluence of executive orders, the shift in power in the legislative branch, and current events have created an environment hostile to the unborn, and thus to the moral teachings of the Church. Fr. Jenkin’s interpretation of USCCB law could not be interpreted by the public or by the faithful as anything but spin.

So although I can sympathize a little bit with how lonely it must feel now for Fr. Jenkins to be so scourged by his own school’s people, the alumni, and no small number of the Catholic community at large, I still come back to the firm reality that the University created in honor of the most holy woman on Heaven and Earth, is giving applause and a stage and an award to a man who advocates the very opposite of Mary’s humble “yes.”

Notre Dame shall honor a man whose policies demand that the faithful “Render unto Caesar” money that will be used by organizations to promote abortions abroad and finance experimentation on frozen embryos at home.

Fr. Jenkins should have used better judgment.

These days, the unborn have only tangential representation in the form of a few outspoken legislators. They live in limbo. They are created and then frozen. Some are sentenced to await experimentation and then death. Others are simply sentenced to wait. The unborn are burned with acid. They are dismembered. They are destroyed within their mother’s womb by the thousands. They stockpile outside of any womb, waiting. The unborn remain the poorest of the poor, without refuge save the grace accepted by each individual woman who imitates Mary by saying “Yes.”

So it is now that institutions like the University of Notre Dame must be the fiercest advocates for the unborn. It is now that those in power must be reminded daily of their duty to all citizens, including the most defenseless, most voiceless, the most vulnerable. The University of Notre Dame is an institution of higher learning; but it must also be a light to the world. That is what all Catholics and therefore, all Catholic institutions are called to be.

Fr. Jenkins may be the University President, but he should also be God's man first.

Notre Dame may be a University, but it should be Mary's first.

And thus I come back to “WHY?”

It may be only a coincidence but ND1, the Notre Dame plane used to woo coaches and others, filed a flight plan to and from Washington DC on April 22nd. The University said Fr. Jenkins did not go there to meet with the President, but it also has not said why the plane went to Washington. If it had been to recruit a hot prospect in the off season, this would probably have been made public.

Just a few short days later, on April 29th, the SouthBend Tribune ran a story that the University of Notre Dame will be one of the recipients of funds from the stimulus bill for research “on elements that are the basis of nuclear energy.”The funding for the Energy Frontier Research Center is between 2 and 5 million per year for five years. There are sixteen schools that received such grants from the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Could it be that simple?

It may be that all of this scandal was simply about following the money and obeying those who control the purse strings. Ten to twenty-five million dollars might have influenced the decision to hold fast on granting the current leader of the free world an honorary degree.

In Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons,” there is a moment, when Richard Rich reveals to Sir Thomas More that he has been given the position of Attorney General of Wales as a reward for his perjured testimony that helped convict More. The saint responds, "Richard, it profits a man nothing to trade his soul for the whole world; but for Wales?"

Whatever the reason, it remains a very expensive degree to grant for all concerned. Whatever the profit for the University of Notre Dame by the grant of this award, the cost was too high.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!