Saturday, October 28, 2006

Random Thoughts

It never fails to amaze me how many very proudly progressive types think nothing of badmouthing blue collar workers--the skilled laborers right along with unskilled. After all, we all "know" that plumbers are stupid, mechanics are men who couldn't get "real" jobs, etc.


On a Harry Potter site, I saw a reference to a non-book character Rowling created, "Honest" Willy Wagstaff, purveyor of questionable wands. Really, can you imagine a character who it'd be more fun to costume as at a convention? "Psst, wanna buy a wand?" [open robe to real rows of them]


Considering St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, St. Jude's Day (that's today) may be a good day to pray for Americans and British people to start acting less rude and crude in public. Or, better yet, to pray that more children are born into homes where mommy and daddy considered each other worth marrying.


If it's considered arrogant for Americans to tell people in other countries how they should run their governments, why isn't it considered arrogant for us to tell them they should use contraception?


When you walk by a girl in Best Buy, notice her hair, and think "boucle yarn", you may have spent too much time on Craftster.


In fall in south Mississippi, when people say "beautiful weather we're having" they mean just one thing: "Thank God it's not so hideously hot today!"


The capacity of humans to not learn from our mistakes is truly amazing. By which, of course, I mean my capacity to not learn from my past mistakes is truly amazing.

Still, I prefer living with my own incompetence to having the government step in and run things for me.


Even dogs--though a nigh-on infinitely superior animal--have trouble rivaling the safe, cosy feeling that can be brought on by the sight of a peacefully sleeping cat. Which is not exactly the feeling the sight of these cats arouses.


I saw something that said Protect Mother Nature. Would this be the same Mother Nature who dumps tsunamis, hurricaines, and earthquakes on us? The same one who buried Pompeii? I'm pretty sure that bitch can take care of herself.

Something to Amuse the Over Thirty-five Crowd

Recently a young co-worker of Uncle Pookie's, who's not long out of school, confidently told UP that he would still think about things the same way and have the same opinions the rest of his life. This amused UP enough to share with me, and I out and out laughed. (If you're under twenty-two or so and don't understand why this is funny, wait ten or fifteen years.) It may sound mean to laugh at youth's naivete, but I like to think of it as one of the consolation prizes we get in return for all of the things middle age takes away from us--things such as good eyesight, the ability to remember what we were just talking about, and the ability to go to work or school fresh as a daisy on under three hours of sleep.

For the record, when I was this fellow's age, I was an Utne reading, pro-choice, NOW-supporting, straight-ticket Democrat voter, who "knew" that all Republicans were racists; that all Christians were ignorant, gullible, and frightened of the big, wonderful universe we live in; that social conservatives were either tyrannical, sexist, reactionary men or their female dupes; that men just want to oppress women and women are somehow nobler than men; that anyone who didn't share my sexual mores was obviously repressed and joyless; and so forth. I don't think I was ever silly enough to say I would always hold the same opinions, but I wouldn't bet money I didn't think it--after all, why would I ever want to change, when my vast intelligence and two decades of experience had made me so obviously right about everything?

Something I've Wondered--Pro-life Grammar?

This is a very small thing and I am not trying to make fun of anyone by mentioning this, but I listen to EWTN radio or audiotaped TV pretty often and I sometimes hear something that I find grammatically odd. A fair number of people now use "pro-life" as a noun. They will say that someone "is working for pro-life", instead of saying that "So-and-so is doing pro-life work" or "So-and-so is a pro-life activist". Or they'll say things like "I try to talk to people about pro-life" or "She's involved in pro-life." Why not "I try to talk to people about pro-life philosophy/thought/concerns" or "She's involved in pro-life work." I don't understand why people would word things this way; it just does not sound like common usage. And how widespread is this? I accept Catholic teaching on life issues, but I am not involved in the pro-life political movement, so I don't know if this is something common to the movement as a whole or just something certain EWTN listeners/viewers use. It's not something that is keeping me up nights, but if anyone has an idea of what's going on here, I wouldn't mind hearing about it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

36 Things You Don't Know About Me

A long time ago I saw where a blogger or two had celebrated her birthday by giving a list of "X Things You Don't Know About Me", where X equals the number of completed years since you were born. It is not my birthday, but, as I think it says on my profile I'm a Scorpio, it will be no surprise that my next birthday is soon. Soon I will no longer be able to claim I am in my mid-thirties. At thirty-seven you've pretty much made it to your late thirties, and even if you do keep saying mid-thirties you have only one more year to do it, because thirty-eight is definitely late thirties. So here's my list, before I have to add another item to it.

1. I have never gotten a traffic ticket. (But I have been pulled over--twice when I first started driving, once a couple of years ago; the first two were due more to excessive caution than youthful exuberance.)

2. Number of high school classes I deliberately failed: two.

3. Three is probably my favorite number. (For another candidate see below.)

4. The smell of fresh gardenias always seems pleasant to me at first whiff, but a moment later makes me feel faintly nauseated.

5. Secret shame: I actually like that old Bette Davis movie, Now, Voyager, and have seen it twice.

6. Gin and tonic is my favorite drink.

7. I have been known to utter the phrase "the hegemony of the American lawn" on multiple occasions. And always in rant mode.

8. I used to have a snake phobia, and I was cured of it in a dream.

9. My sister and I are always recognized as sisters and have even been mistaken for twins. We don't think we look alike.

10. I wear a size 10 shoe and a size 10 ring. But not a size 10 dress.

11. I have a charm bracelet and the charm I chose to represent my husband is a knight in shining (more or less) armor.

12. People who see me with Uncle Pookie and ask how long we have been married inevitably express surprise at the answer--twelve years in December; apparently we talk to each other too much and hold hands too often to look like the bitter old married people we are.

13. I find Benny Hill hilarious.

14. I prefer to carry a golf umbrella, rather than a normal or small one.

15. I don't like to wear pants, skirts, or dresses without pockets; it seems the older I get the more annoying it becomes to have to carry a purse.

16. I always put my keys in my right pocket and my wallet in my left pocket, on the grounds that I need ready access to my keys but it's not a bad idea to have it take a moment to get to my money.

17. In my early teens, when I read about boys and girls carrying books differently, I immediately began carrying mine like a boy. I have made other, occasional experiments with using "male" body language.

18. I think the so-called white chocolate is an abomination before God. (Okay, not really, but it is foul and unnatural.)

19. I joined Mensa twice and let my membership lapse both times.

20. My favorite of the "big three" haijin (haiku poets), Basho, Buson, and Issa, is probably Issa; Basho might be the best, but I feel much closer to Issa.

21. I feel sorry for every ugly dog I see and part of me wants to adopt nearly every one.

22. I'm the only non-gamer I know who refers to a normal die as a D6--this is from hanging out with a gamer for, let's see, sixteen years now.

23. If we leave out desserts that involve chocolate, the most delicious dessert I've ever had was sweet potato cobbler. It's something my mother bought from a local woman a few times when I was a teenager. I've never encountered it anywhere else, but it trumped even cheesecake, which is my top dessert nowadays.

24. I love the smell of almond flavoring so much I've considered wearing it as cologne.

25. I was prone to carsickness as a child, and every once in a while now I will get a faint touch of it--or every few years a full blown case of it. It's not pleasant or something I would want to pass on to a child, but on the plus side, I threw up so much as a child I can do it without pain and with only minimal discomfort; I figure vomiting comes up more often in most lives than any astronaut-type activities which the motionsickness rules out, so I'm ahead. (Yes, that nasty pun was intended.)

26. I try to keep crystallised ginger in my glove compartment for nausea, but I find I want a sweet-with-bite taste far more often than I get nauseated.

27. I am unaccountably fond of the number twenty-seven.

28. I am blessed with an excellent digestive system, which I have abused mightily for over thirty years.

29. I used to be able to read French well enough to enjoy French haiku online, but these days I'm doing good to remember what Parlez-vous anglais? means.

30. I have a St. Martin de Porres medal on my keyring, which is a simply designed Bacardi Limon freebie; I have never actually tasted Bacardi Limon.

31. I was baptized on the Pentecost vigil (i.e. the eve of the Feast of Pentecost). Coincidentally, I was recently asked if I'm a Pentecostal, which surprised, then amused me. I guess it was because my hair, which could now be considered waist-length, was hair-sticked into a huge bun, and I appeared to have no makeup on.

32. I ascribe to the "if somebody compliments your makeup, it's no compliment" school of thought, at least in most situations. But I did have some fun with dramatic, '80s style eye makeup back in the '80s.

33. Like Gilda Radner, I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn't itch--also, what doesn't cause pain or more than very minor discomfort. So no pointy-toed shoes, no tight clothes, and no eyebrow plucking. I'm also anti-excruciating boredom, so no tanning and no endless filing, buffing, and painting of my fingernails.

34. I sing very badly, but I enjoy singing, especially filk and novelty sing-a-long type songs; I know all the words to quite a few songs like "I Shot Bambi's Mother" and "The Scotsman".

35. What's in my car CD player: Aaron Neville's Believe. Near Christmas I like to put in a Handel CD I have, that includes extensive selections from his Messiah.

36. I've seen every Ranma 1/2 TV show and OAV, and the Ranma 1/2 movie.

If 36 items just isn't enough Auntie Suzanne for you (which I find very hard to believe), try this list. Oh, and BTW, my mentioning I'm a Scorpio should not be taken as an endorsement of astrology; besides the fact that astrology is a pseudo-science, divination is forbidden to Jews and Christians and so as a Catholic I usually try to avoid even the appearance of it. But that doesn't change the fact that I can remember things I picked up years ago or the fact that, if you give Blogger your birthdate, it enters the astrological signs in your profile automatically. It also doesn't mean I don't still smile at certain jokes, such as, Q: How many Scorpios does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Why change it? We LIKE the dark.

[Edited a few entries 10/28/06, but I'm confident I left in enough typos, questionable grammar, and rambling to leave it obvious I needed sleep when I wrote this.]

The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living (and another recommendation for better Catholics)

The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living, by John Zmirak & Denise Matychowiak. ISBN 0-8245-2300-8

Growing up I remained untouched by anti-Catholic prejudice. I did hear the merest handful of mildly anti-Catholic things, but for one reason and another--I was a child and liked the Easter bunny, I thought one story was logically inconsistent and so must be a misunderstanding, etc.--they had no effect on me. But I did develop a kind of stereotype of Catholics all on my own--namely, an idea that Catholics were apt to have a sense of humor about their religion. As best I can remember, I first got this notion as a teenager while sitting in a hospital waiting room in Jackson one day. A Catholic priest came in to talk to some people who were waiting and after some chit chat I overheard him tell them the joke about the drive-thru confessional (motto: toot-n-tell or go to hell), which made me have to suppress the urge to giggle behind my magazine. Now, I can't say I ever thought much about this notion of mine--it was just a sort of general, vague expectation that got some confirmation now and then. And I don't think it's any more accurate than your average stereotype; in other words, I'm sure I'd have no problem finding plenty of joyless Catholics who'd be right at home delivering a hellfire and damnation sermon in a James Joyce story, if I went looking for them. But who wants to look for them?* Let's just remind ourselves that Merrie Olde England was Catholic England and move on.

The writers of The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living obviously have a great love and respect for Catholicism and seem to be orthodox Catholics, but they don't mistake that as necessitating going around all po-faced and somber.** They have a sense of humor about their religion and about Catholics, especially perhaps the bad Catholics of the title--which is most of us. (Though I personally prefer to call myself a malpracticing Catholic--as in, I do it badly, but I keep at it anyway.) Most of us, when we're not actively commiting obvious sins, prefer coasting along in a kind of happy mediocrity, rather than answering an inconveniently demanding call to holiness; that is (fallen) human nature. The Guide's authors are always wryly aware of this, and they bring that awareness to their celebration of the sometimes weird world of Catholic feasts and fasts (mostly feasts), saints and sinners (mostly--well, we've covered that already). They made me laugh out loud multiple times and smile to myself on, I think, every page.

The book's purpose, as the authors state in the January 6th entry ("Epiphany and Carnival: The Work Ethic Be Damned"), is "to dig into the Catholic past and unearth an unending supply of pre-texts for parties". They do this by laying out the book from January to December and giving plenty of saints and events to celebrate in each month, interrupting seven times to give "executive summaries" of the sacraments. Most days have a suggestion or suggestions for celebration and many have recipes. Some of these suggested celebrations will get you branded as an eccentric by friends and family, one or two will have the neighbors looking oddly at you, and at least one has the potential to get you arrested. Most of them also sound like a lot of fun. Mostly innocent fun, such as the Easter egg fight or the St. Hubert's Day suggestion, although I'm not so sure the glee with which I imagine the consequences of inviting my maternal relatives--WASPy, Germanic types who fight by not talking to one another for years on end--to a Proxy Penance party (see Shrove Tuesday entry) is entirely an innocent thing. And the Guy Fawkes Day (obviously NOT a Catholic holiday!) suggestion is in questionable taste--fun, though.

As for the recipes--from smothered squirrel to Cheese Pascha, from Flaming Spinach Salad to German Honey Cakes for Bears--they sound delicious; I think I may start with the Soft Olive Oil Bread from the Not Particularly Penitential Recipes for Lent, although Uncle Pookie expressed some interest in having the dessert Nun's Farts (which sounds a lot nicer in untranslated French, provided you're not a native French speaker). As befits a book about life in a church that tries to be catholic (i.e. universal), the recipes are drawn from multiple ethnic backgrounds.

This book would make a good gift for Catholic friends and relatives, especially with Christmas coming up. (Do note that if you buy it for your relatives, you won't be able to use the advice about getting out of hosting future Christmas dinners.) There's no need to wait until Christmas to buy a copy for yourself. If you're so gauche as to have reading material in your bathroom, you can leave your copy there to amuse guests who wouldn't normally read a Catholic book--really, who's not going to pick up a book with a cover photo of the Pope making funny faces? Depending on your fastidiousness level, you might want a second copy for the kitchen. Upshot: Highly recommended.

If you're looking for a gift for Catholic relatives whose sense of humor might be missing through inaction, another possible gift is Edward Sri's The New Rosary in Scripture. It's a book about praying the rosary, with reflections from the Scriptures on each mystery and JPII's letter on the rosary. I'm not all the way through it, but it is good so far. Of course, if you're feeling like pointing out the mote in their eye, you could remind them of the Oscar Wilde line about how the Catholic Church is only for saints and sinners, that nice, respectable people will just have to be Anglicans.*** Or, more subtly, you could include a handmade bookmark with the following Hilaire Belloc verse:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino! ****


*I grew up among Baptists who, no matter how fun-loving people they might be in general, tended to be utterly humorless when it came to religion (their own, anyway; I recall a couple of Methodist jokes); laughter anywhere around the subject of religion would be interpreted as laughing at it, and any kind of pleasure other than hymn-singing (with body held very still, so no one would think you were dancing) was banished from both church and heaven, as far as I could tell. Frankly, after that I've always found a little light-heartedness--even irreverent lightheartedness--much preferable. (Please, please, note I am not slamming Baptists, only reporting my own impressions as a young person. I once heard a Catholic priest say that Baptists are some of the best friends Catholics have on the pro-life front, and I really do think we Christians and religious Jews need to make common cause against a culture--or cultures--that would destroy us all. Also, as these were white Baptists and their church-going behavior did not even match that of Baptists in predominantly black Baptist churches right across town, I see no reason to think they were representative of Baptists everywhere.)

**Actually, I seem to recall reading a snippet from St. Thomas Aquinas, in which he said that being humorless and cheerless could, at least in some cases, be considered a sin, as it pointlessly makes your company a trial to others. Anyone know the quote?

***No offense intended toward Anglicans. From what I've heard, you guys have done a much better job of hanging on to traditional church music than we have.

**** "Let us bless the Lord!" is the translation I've seen, but I think we can use the more Bible Belt-friendly, "Praise the Lord!" I await correction by Latin scholars, if any is needed.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Random Thoughts

Does anyone ever refer to the largest box of condoms as the family pack?


You have to wonder about the elven economy. They seem to be more into frolicking than into the whole Protestant work ethic thing or building factories, or even doing much in the way of cottage industries. Where do they get their stuff? My theory is they go to the dwarves for most non-food items, but the dwarves aren't going to give things away, so what do the elves barter with? UP suggests dwarves pay the elves not to frolic near them, but that would suggest an extortion economy that doesn't seem very Tolkien-esque.


I wish even half the people who claim to be worried about the decline of mom and pop stores, would spare some concern for the decline of the mom and pop family.


When we see a shamrock we're reminded of St. Patrick (or Ireland followed by St. Patrick's Day festivities), but I think St. Patrick would prefer we were reminded of what he used it to illustrate--the Trinity.


It's good for adults occasionally to watch teen romance-focused programs--good, because it reminds us of how very glad we are to be past all that angst.


It's even better for married people of the 35 and up crowd to listen to their same age single friends talk about dating. Nothing makes you appreciate being married quite like hearing about what it's like starting your evening out being scrutinized by a gimlet-eyed nine year-old who thinks you're trying to usurp his daddy's place or how hard it is to find any man over 35 who isn't an eternal bachelor, a freak, or heavily involved with his ex-wife.


It's a little odd that on all those crocheted cross bookmarks little old ladies make (or used to make?) you have to turn the cross upside down to use them.


Funny misspelling I saw: for expatriate, "ex-patriot". Well, I guess some expatriates are ex-patriots.


Maybe I'm sophomoric, but there's something bordering on hilarious about the idea of The Reader's Digest Bible. Wikipedia says it cut 55% of the OT and 25% of the New. No word on whether it was conveniently sized to fit on the back of the toilet.


Flaws can produce benefits. Thanks to being absent-minded and (since adulthood) near-sighted, I've read many amusing signs, seen a "unicorn" in a field with goats, and learned what cinnamon tastes like on lettuce.


What if you spent your whole life trying to "find yourself" only to discover that you're just not that interesting? Wouldn't you wish you'd spent that time trying to find Truth--or Beauty, or God, or even other people?


What exactly is WRONG with vacuuming in a dress and pearls?


All too often when reading the news these days, I'm reminded of Chesterton's The Flying Inn; it's not a great novel (Chesterton's fiction is inferior to his nonfiction and this is not his best) but a story about Islamic sensibilities/law being sneaked into a Western country stealthily, bit by bit, seems kinda relevant nowadays.


Jack Chick puts out some pretty hateful and inaccurate literature about my religion, yet I have never had the urge to riot in the street, march around with placards that say "Behead those who insult Catholicism", or shoot any of their distributors. Nor, as far as I can tell, have any other Catholics.


Recently a mother and father in Maine tied up and kidnapped their nineteen year-old daughter, allegedly to force her to have an abortion. Whatever happened to parents threatening their young daughters with simple homelessness if the girls don't abort the illegitimate grandchildren? The Maine couple had duct tape and a gun in their car. Oh brave, new world that has such people in it!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Knitting Rhymes,Old and New

Uncle Pookie has had to be away a lot this week, and I have trouble sleeping without him, so I pulled out my homemade knitting needles to learn to knit with. Night before last I learned the double cast on and the knit stitch with the help of the wonderfully clear instructions at KnittingHelp.Com. Last night I learned to purl--badly; KnittingHelp made it very clear, I was just clumsy in my execution. Tonight when I tried practicing it again, I was actually worse at it, and I wondered if a purl rhyme might help.

I already knew the traditional rhyme for the knit stitch

In through the front door,
Once around the back,
Peek through the window,
And off jumps Jack!

This is for English knitting. KnittingHelp/Amy Finlay modified that, to make a Continental knit stitch rhyme:

In through the front door,
Up over the back,
Peek through the window,
And off jumps Jack!

I've enjoyed reciting that one many times already, and I think rhymes can help people learn.

Googling for a purl rhyme I came across a few knit rhymes, all slight variants on that first one I gave, except for this one:

Jack goes in,
Puts on his scarf,
Comes back out,
And takes it off.

As for purl rhymes, I found the generic knitting rhyme

Under the fence,
Catch the sheep,
Back we come,
Off we leap!

It's generic because it can be used for either knit stich or purl. I also found the similar

In front of the fence,
Catch the goat,
Back we go,
Jump off the boat!

I don't like this one. Not only is it similar and generic, I can't figure out what the goat's doing on the boat--I mean, really, what's going on on that boat that they need a goat and a fence and why would it drive someone to jump off?

The only purl-specific rhyme I found was the charming

Down through the bunny hole,
Around the big tree,
Up pops the bunny,
And off goes she!

That's cute, but I thought the second line made it sound a bit more suited to English knitting, so I decided I'd make my own. My wanting to emphasize the backwardness of purling, led me to start off with "In through the backdoor", which I'm afraid stalled me for a bit, as I have a somewhat soiled mind, and that line has, well, connotations. But here's my Continental purl rhyme:

In through the back way,
Then rope the hog,
Back out the gate,
And jump off the log!

Okay, so it's not actually so Continental-specific as I was thinking earlier tonight--remember I'm somewhat sleep-deprived--and it's not going to appeal to little girls the way the bunny rhyme would, but I like it. It's easy to remember and I think it's already helped improve my purl stitch; I don't know, maybe that was inevitable when I practiced a little more, but the rhyme, especially the second line, did make me slow down and focus on what I was doing. Anyone who wants to emphasize the ease of purling--obviously, I wouldn't--could modify it to have themselves (and the hog) falling off the log. Of course, PETA is probably against the roping of hogs, even in verse, so I came up with some other purling rhymes, involving scarves and wharves and such, with nary a swine in sight, but I don't like them much, so I'm sticking with my hog purls.

I'd enjoy reading any knitting--or for that matter, crocheting or sewing--rhymes, that others have heard or written.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Maybe "Get Over Yourself" Can Be a Koan?

If I never hear another pretentious American talking about "the Zen of this" or "the Zen of that", I will have had my fill. "The Zen of X" always comes down to something like, "I've found that such and such activity is relaxing" or "I do this seemingly simple thing, but I pay attention when I do it, so I'm more spiritual than you non-attention-payers". Yes, yes, repetitive physical activity is relaxing and allows the mind to quieten down and come up with creative ideas; you, I, and our elderly Aunt Edna all know that, but Aunt Edna never applauded herself for it or attribute its effect to a religious/philosophical system she didn't practice. And paying attention to clipping your toenails may give you a greater quality of experience, but in the end, you're still just clipping your nails. And, if I may go so far as to contradict any number of women's magazines, clearing the clutter out of your living room doesn't make you or your living room Zen--the room looks better and it may be easier to be in it, but odds are that while you sit looking at your empty table, enlightenment will remain as elusive as ever.

If I were Buddhist , whether Zen or not, I think I would find it a bit offensive that non-Buddhists think they can become Zen masters just by deciding whatever they're doing anyway is Zen--and coincidentally they can sell books about it to others who want to think their pleasant hobby is deeper for them than for other of its practitioners who haven't bought the book. I think if I were from a Buddhist-heavy country, I think I'd petition the UN or something to stop this. But maybe they're all being philosophical about it--i.e., rolling their eyes and getting on with their lives, like sensible people. They can probably find some inspiration for that by studying American Indians, who've long had to endure Americans of European heritage enthusing about how they're "genuine Native American shamans" because they once attended a weekend seminar on it and got a certificate; selling "authentic" plastic dreamcatchers; lecturing Indians of Tribe X on how to build an X sweatlodge; channeling Indian spirit guides, etc.

Me, I'm not so sensible. I think I may start involuntarily channeling Lewis Black when I hear "the Zen of showering/embroidering/soldering/licking popsicles/whatever". And that can't be good for my blood pressure.

If only I could meet some of these people, I could sneak up behind them while they're doing their Zen thing and whap 'em upside the head. It would make me feel better, and I'm sure, being Zen, they'd appreciate my efforts on behalf of their enlightenment.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Also This Past Week--Two Feasts

St. Francis' Day

Wednesday (October 4) was St. Francis' Day. St. Francis is the one post-Biblical saint that everybody knows and likes, whether they're Catholic or not. Everybody has at least a vague idea of who the brown-robed figure preaching to the birds is. Something a lot of people don't know, however, is that Francis once set out--probably foolishly; certainly in the sense of "being a fool for Christ"--to convert Muslims. Unsurprisingly to a cynical person such as myself, he didn't have much success with that. Still, I've wondered for several years now why we don't ask him to pray for the conversion of Muslims today; I know some contemporary American Catholics now consider it taboo to suggest that Christianity is something non-Christians might want to convert to, but personally I'd think Francis might like having a crack at it from Heaven. I mean, I don't want to interfere with the custom of taking animals to church to be blessed on St. Francis' Day, but if all the non-pet-owner Catholics, Anglicans, and others who recognize St. Francis were to pray for conversions to Christ on that day, it could only work to the good, right?

(Re praying to saints, for any non-Catholics reading this: Catholics believe that it is beneficial for people to pray for one another. We also believe that the pool of people we can ask to pray for us is not limited to those currently alive on Earth, but that people who are alive in heaven can also pray for us. When we pray to a saint we are asking that person to pray to God for us. A saint is anyone in heaven, not just famous ones like Francis whom the Church officially recognizes as such. You can ask anyone you believe to be in heaven to pray for you; for example, the priest who baptized me said he frequently asks one of his aunts, who was a very holy woman, to pray for him.)

Remember Lepanto!

The day before yesterday (October 7) was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Why it is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary may be unexpected to some--it commemorates a coalition of Christian forces, gathered at the Pope's request, turning back the further incursion of Turkish forces into Italy. The Pope attributed the victory to the rosaries prayed for the Christian forces--although I'm sure the soldiers and their weaponry had something to do with it; "trust God, but keep your powder dry", as the saying goes--and instituted this annual feast to celebrate. This was the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, and you can read more about it here and here.

Why I think we should remember Lepanto is that it shows that people in those parts of the world formerly known as Christendom--we'll just call it the West now--can band together to defeat an enemy who does not share our values and who would enslave us.

If you'd like a literary remembrance, you can read The Battle of Lepanto at G. K. Chesterton's Works on the Web here or at Bartelby here. (Although I must admit that, much as I like Chesterton, I have trouble reading this poem's lines about "Don John of Austria" without thinking of Don John from Much Ado About Nothing--another bastard--which rather spoils the effect.)

Of course, it's probably un-PC of me to suggest that we should remember Lepanto, that Western civilization might be worth fighting for, that Christianity might have anything worth converting for, etc. A nice, tolerant person would remind you that all cultures are equally worthwhile--except for ours, which is tyrannical and fascist; that all religions are equally wonderful--except for Christianity, which is always and in every way oppressive, and Judaism, which unforgiveably contributed to the creation of Israel; that only poor, ignorant people would join the military; and that only "prey-ers" would pray for victory or even for the safety of our troops. What can I say--I'm not a nice person.

Some Thoughts Around the Amish Mass Murder Last Week

Murder is murder but somehow it seems even more despicable to target people who may be more vulnerable because of their relative isolation and lack of ready cell phones.


Maybe they would have been less vulnerable had anyone in that schoolhouse had effective weapons.


Although as a Catholic I can not condone or promote suicide, it is hard not to agree with Dennis Miller that, if you get so twisted up that you fear you can no longer stop yourself from hurting children in that way, that it might be time for you to stick your chin out and "take one for the team". You just need to do it before you go into the schoolroom with the K-Y jelly and the ropes, not wait until you think you're going to be caught.


Right or wrong, the people I pity most in all of this are not the family of the girls who were murdered, but the children of the murderer. Even if their mother moves them away from this small area, so that they can be relatively anonymous, I can not imagine how horrible this knowledge will be for them to live with.


I don't know the details, but I was heartened to hear in Rod Dreher's good opinion piece that the Amish were collecting money to help the widow and children of the murderer.


NRO's John Podhoretz, mentioning Rod Dreher's saying elsewhere he wished to become the sort of person who could stand over a murdered girl and say not to hate the murderer, said that some people we should hate. (I hope I'm not oversimplifying what I read days ago.) Yesterday Jeff Jacoby had a column saying "hatred is not always wrong, and forgiveness is not always deserved". I think both men are failing to distinguish between hating an action and hating a person. You can hate very much a despicable action and hate the attitude or philosophy that led to that action, and yet not hate the person who committed it. It is hard to explain why or how this can be so, but it is. A human person is more than one or several despicable actions he has committed; even the most depraved person still has some human dignity and worth left about him, no matter how much he has done to deserve our scorn, simply because he is still human. We punish the despicable action and we try to prevent other such actions, but we don't have to hate the person to do it--although anger is inevitable and hatred is sometimes thoroughly understandable.

Jacoby goes on, "I cannot see how the world is made a better place by assuring someone who would do terrible things to others that he will be readily forgiven afterward, even if he shows no remorse." And, "The murder of the Amish girls was a deeply hateful evil. There is nothing godly about pretending it wasn't." Forgiveness does not mean we will not punish the wrongdoer's anti-social action in a just way. Forgiveness does not mean we will fail to protect our society from other such attacks, both by that perpetrator and others. And forgiveness certainly does not mean we will say what the wrongdoer did was right. It does mean we will let go of our anger and our resentment against that person; we will refuse to let resentment eat away at us, destroying our lives.

I personally have trouble forgiving--I'd much rather sink an ax in the chests of people who've deliberately hurt me or my family, then (in certain special cases) dig up the bastards' graves and dance on their corpses--and I used to argue much the same line Jacoby does with my husband, who is a much better person than I am. My husband used to tell me that forgiveness does more for you than it does for the person you're forgiving. Age and--please God--maturity have brought me around to thinking he's right; holding on to our anger and resentment may or may not hurt the other person, but it definitely does a number on us. I also finally came to realize that forgiving someone was not the same as saying what they'd done didn't matter, that it wasn't wrong. And THEN I became a Christian, with an obligation, not only to forgive, but to pray for my enemies; nobody who's tried that ever said this was an easy religion.

One place I would agree with Jacoby--besides believing that the murders were an evil, godless action--is that forgiveness is not always deserved. But Christians such as the Amish are still called to forgiveness, whether the wrongdoer deserves forgiveness or not. And we're required to pray for those who do evil against us, whether those people deserve our prayers or not--probably especially when they don't deserve them. It's rarely pleasant or easy to do, but it is a requirement. And what is the alternative--a society dominated by vengeance and inhumanity?