Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Shame We All Live With

Some people complain about parents picking their children's religion and ask if parents should have a right to do so. Given that such people typically do not regard any religion as efficacious or true, I don't see why they should care, given that we inevitably teach our children all kinds of pointless things they won't bother remembering into adulthood anyway. (Quick, what's your state flower?) But be that as it may, I think they miss a much greater cause of outrage--parents actually choosing their children's names for them.

There is no greater sign of having dominion over someone or something than that you name it. Slavemasters named their slaves. Pet owners name their pets. The owners of the rights to a creative work name it. The owners of a business choose its name. It doesn't matter what the preferences of the slaves or the people who are employed by the business are or what the pet would (if it had reason) want to be called, the owners make the decisions on names; it is a sign of being the owner.

So think how appalling it is that a parent should name his (or her) baby. One human being naming another human being, just because the one is powerful and the other is helpless and happens to share DNA with the first. The older one violating a relationship that surely should have love as its basis by committing an act that says, "I own you!" The other, small and vulnerable, having among its first moments in an unfamiliar world be the slapping upon itself of a name that it did not choose and may not like.

And does the state try to prevent this imposition of the larger person's will upon the smaller one? Ha! Not only does the state not prevent parents arbitrarily decreeing that a particular child will be known as Wilhelm or Jacob and another as Shaniqua or Emily Rose, it effectively takes the parents' part by not allowing the imposed upon party to change his name until he has reached adulthood. The child will be known by the not-chosen-by-him name on every government document upon which he is "represented" until he is an adult. And even after he becomes an adult, the government will put obstacles in the way of his desire to change his name by the imposition of such things as paperwork, filing fees, and/or a visit to a judge. (The procedure varies from state to state.) Madness!

Until such a day as the adult child finally manges to jump through the last government-mandated hoop to remove what he never asked for from his identity, he must not only use the undesired name on every government document, he must also sign it to every school paper he produces, write it on tags in his clothing, use it on his college applications, put it on his ATM cards, and even--if you will credit it--answer to it in his daily life!

Parents should not name their children! Children should get to choose their own name when they are adults, and parents should not be allowed to influence their free choice in this matter. It is not enough merely to call your Congressman or Senator. Contact the U.N.'s Human Rights Council and let's get international laws changed to protect the rights of children in this crucial matter. If enough people start working on this today, perhaps soon we will no longer have to live with the nightmare scenario of little girls having to submit to being called Jennifer even though they know they were meant to be named Sade.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Random Thoughts


During the final years of Virginia Woolf's life, James Herriot began his career of driving around Yorkshire, treating sick animals. And you know, I reckon as a veterinarian he contributed a lot more to humanity and to human (let alone animal) happiness than Woolf ever did. And his writing about it gave a lot more pleasure too.


Maybe it's just me, but I think if you're not yet physically well-developed enough to fit into the big boy condoms, maybe that's a sign you ought not be having sex yet.

As opposed to a sign someone needs to make you junior-sized condoms.


"Mostly free" is not good enough. Not in economic freedom any more than in personal liberties.


Hearkening back to something I wrote some years back, I think the next time someone mentions a pregnant dog to me, I'll start yelling, "They're not puppies, they're canine fetuses!"... Then again, maybe I have enough social marks against me already.


I wonder if Morpheus is a blanket-hog.


You can butt your head up against human nature all you want, but all you'll get is a bloody head.


I'm considering suing John Ringo for alienation of affection. 'Cause when my husband is reading one of his books, I can't get no affection. :-P


A lot of people fret about oil spills (and did long before the recent and ongoing unpleasantness), but hardly anybody frets about estrogen in the water supply from hormonal contraceptive use. That sounds like selective outrage to me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Pentecost

Happy Pentecost to any and all Christians reading this. To any Jewish people reading this, I hope you had a happy Shavuot. And to anyone reading this who doesn't know what Pentecost is, you can try here and here for some more information, but the short answer is that it commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit as described in the second chapter of the biblical book of Acts.

And since the word Pentecost makes many of us think of Pentecostalism, here's as good a place as any to mention one of the many things becoming Catholic has done for me: it got rid of my culturally-absorbed prejudice against Pentecostals. I grew up among fairly mainstream Baptists and Methodists in the American South and there was a bit of a prejudice against Pentecostals (though of course, it being the South, everyone was too polite to be rude about it to anyone's face). Pentecostals and Holiness people were often called by the derogatory term "holy rollers" and were considered to have unseemly and overemotional, even tacky, religious services. People shook their heads at what they'd heard those Pentecostals got up to, with their fervent preaching and shouting and falling out on the floor and talking in tongues and--especially hard for Baptists to take--dancing. Some mainstream women might also shake their heads at the grooming restrictions many Holiness women adhered to, with their lack of makeup and their long hair.

I absorbed some of this prejudice myself, although I'm not sure if I ever realized it before I had to read The Grapes of Wrath for a class and found the Pentecostal Joads irritating to read about.

The ugly truth is that class snobbery was what was behind a lot of the head shaking, not doctrinal problems. Kathleen Norris has written about this a bit in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Pentecostals in the past often came from the poorer, less educated parts of society, and I think that still holds true, although I've heard that in the last twenty to thirty years the average wealth and education level has gone up. I think for some people a bit of that lower class tinge remains in their perception of Pentecostals.

For me, becoming Catholic got rid of my mild prejudice. For one thing I came into the Church on the Pentecost Vigil. That kind of makes you think about the Holy Spirit, even if you don't think that deeply. I believe in the Holy Spirit; I publicly affirm it along with my fellow Catholics every time I go to mass and privately every time I pray the rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet. I believe in the Pentecost account in Acts. I believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, even if my understanding is not good. So why should I or anyone who believes these things be bothered by people seeking the Holy Spirit?

For another, I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church teaches that everyone who is baptized thusly is part of the Body of Christ, even if they are not in full communion with Rome, and thus all other Christians are my brothers and sisters in Christ. (Yes, I know some Pentecostals baptize in the name of Jesus only, but I figure they are at least trying, so I tend to think of them as siblings in Christ too.)

For another, I was made aware of Charismatic Catholics--Catholics who pay a lot of attention to the Holy Spirit and enjoy more emotionalized or "spirit-filled" devotions outside of mass; some of them even "pray in a spirit language" (i.e. "speak in tongues".) This is not attractive to me, but the Church is both worldwide and ancient, creating room for a multiplicity of personal devotional practices, no one of which will appeal to everyone--and that is fantastic.

For another, even before I came into the Church I was very attracted to the line in Galatians about there being neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ Jesus. That seems to me a clear indication that we are to leave our worldy considerations, such as class consciousness or wondering if other people's cultural-acquired preferences are "tacky" or not, outside the Church door. I also did a fair amount of thinking around the idea that God's standards are not our standards. Remember that Flannery O'Conner story in which the smugly self-content Southern farm lady has a vision of all kinds of poor people and freaks going up to heaven before her, shouting and clapping and dancing on their way? It's like that. With God, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. You only have to hear "blessed are the meek" to know you are not in worldy territory; this is not how we think, but how God thinks.

For another, as a Catholic I'm now part of a religion that a lot of people look down on and consider full of tacky things. Pilgrims going in bare feet or on their knees up the steps to a shrine--how gauche. Crucifixes with blood dripping from them--a little too real to be in good taste. The Sacred Heart--what's that about? The Way of the Cross? Probably something "ethnic" people do.

And for yet another thing, Catholics receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. No doubt that helped.

So why am I going on at such length about my having shed what was only ever a mild prejudice? Well, for starters I'm glad it's gone; I'm glad I'm no longer bigoted against Christians in general, no longer inclined to demean myself by sneering at "fundies", and no longer prejudiced against "holy rollers". For another, in a time when any stick will do to beat the Church, I think it's good to tell some of the good we find there, even something as minor as this. American society has for forty-plus years held up prejudice as the greatest of secular sins. Well, the Catholic Church helped rid me of one subset of prejudice. That is a good thing, right? She deserves props for it, right?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Our Little Family Unit

For your viewing pleasure, a family portrait:


That's Uncle Pookie, our late cat GrouchyKitty, and me.

Apparently the camera not only adds ten pounds (to me), it makes husbands shorter and turns black calico cats solid black.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Not Having to Dress Up for Church


Why I'm Ambivalent When I Hear Other Catholics Say We Should Dress Up for Church

Saturday I was driving home from a casual trip out and thinking about stopping at a store to browse, when a glance at the clock suggested that, if I skipped the store, I had time to get to vigil mass in time to go to confession beforehand. So I did. As it turned out I didn't go to confession because the line was too long (mass was late starting without my adding to the line), but it was good anyway: I got to be at mass, to hear the scripture readings and make a spiritual communion, and (presumably because it was May Day) to hear some Marian music I don't get to hear often. This included a lovely Ave Maria sung by a man in the choir loft and Salve Regina as the recessional; I'm no singer, but I enthusiastically joined in on the recessional.

This experience was the highlight of an already good day, and it couldn't have happened if I had had to "dress up" for church, rather than being able to go as I was. Which was in blue jeans and a pretty, new-to-me knit top and tennis shoes.

Catholics online often bemoan the way contemporary Catholics dress for church, and I agree with them that we--or at least we here in America--can and should do better. But at the same time I am really glad I have the freedom not to worry too much about how I'm dressed when I go to church. I'm glad that I had the freedom to just go Saturday, knowing that noone would turn me away or talk about me viciously behind my back.

When I was growing up (Baptist), we had to dress a certain way for church services; this seemed to be the case in all the churches around where I lived (Bible Belt). Everyone had to dress up to the best of his ability; women couldn't wear pants, however nice, to Sunday services; and blue jeans were verboten, especially for women. Shorts were only for the small children at Vacation Bible School, not older girls. The first instances of women showing up in pants suits for Wednesday night prayer meeting or, worse, a teenage girl in blue jeans for Sunday night service were occasions for talk.

My mother paid a lot of attention to dress for church. I can't say if she was representative of others or not (I hope she was not), but she placed what I consider an excessive amount of importance on dressing for church. It was more a matter of vanity and pride for her than a matter of being decently clad for worship. I'm sure that, had anyone brought such a thing up, she would have given verbal agreement that just being clean, respectable, and there was more important than being expensively dressed, but that's what it would have been--verbal agreement. In actual fact she fretted about not having clothes and shoes nice enough to make a good showing among the other women and about her daughters not being as expensively dressed as the children of some other families. She fretted about it to the point she considered not having nice enough clothes to be an excuse to stay home. What does that say to a child?

My sister absorbed just enough of this attitude that, when I once suggested she visit one of the local Catholic churches, her "considering-it" question was, "How do they dress?" I understand the desire to be approriately dressed, but somehow that didn't seem like the most pertinent question to me.

For me, church could never be about clothes. One of the things I like about mass is that it is centered around Jesus; it is not about the minister or the quality of the preaching or the socio-economic status of the worshippers or my appearance, but about Jesus. If it were about me and my appearance, it wouldn't be worth going.

Now, because it is about Jesus, it is worth dressing up, even if we don't always do it. I don't wear immodest clothes to church, nor do I wear anything dirty and torn or anything that might reasonably be distracting or offensive to others. I would insist on similar minimal standards (probably higher) if I had children I was responsible for, and I would complain if my husband said he was going to wear, say, his Viking World Tour tee-shirt. If I'm too casual too often--and I am and I admit it's largely laziness--I at least try not to be a total slob in my dress. I also make sure I am clean, hair combed, etc., because I do know I am going to meet Jesus in the Eucharist. (Also, as a matter of charity, I don't want to become a form of involuntary penance for my pew-mates, due to bad breath, body odor, or head-swimmingly thick cologne.)

An interesting thing, though, is that we meet Jesus in the Eucharist in every mass, not just Sunday mass, and people saying we should dress up are usually talking about Sunday mass. I think everyone expects people at daily mass to wear their daily clothes, whether it's formal business wear, business casual, uniforms, or the stay-at-home mom or retiree look. (Or maybe they just expect daily communicants to know how to comport themselves.) Personally, I like that expectation--that idea that worship can take place every day and is not just something that happens when you are dressed a certain way. Mass happens, whether it's Sunday or not, whether you are dressed in your best or not, whether you feel like it or not. I smell a bumpersticker: Mass Happens. ... Eh, maybe not. My "Haiku Happens" idea was a lot better.

Oh, and in the unlikely event any non-Catholics want my advice on clothes before visiting a Catholic church, here's what I told my sister when she asked: "It would be more respectful not to wear anything skin-tight or low-cut but other than that, wear whatever you want. I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what you wear to a Catholic church, there will be someone there dressed better than you and someone dressed worse than you."