Thursday, July 31, 2008

Inspired by "Joyfully Rejoycing"

This website, Joyfully Rejoycing, was mentioned recently on Unschooling Catholics. I remember coming across this a few years back when I was very new to the idea of unschooling. I read it, and was partly inspired and partly scared out of my pants.

I'm not sure now why I was so frightened by reading it. Probably because I intuited that if I pursued the path of unschooling, I would need to change, and I feared it. I think I thought the true answer, or antidote, to my rather "hands off" upbringing was the iron fist. I thought I had to maintain an "iron fist" heart, lest I simply fall backwards into emotionally neglecting my children.

But, what a ridiculous choice. There is another way to parent, and it is called respect. It is not easy to move from a paradigm of control to a paradigm of respect, because the fear is there that you as a parent will be made a fool of, that your children will end up controlling you and you will be stuck.

The truth is, children are needy. Children are people, and people are needy, therefore children are needy. Generally speaking, unless things have already happened, children naturally look to the big people in their lives to show them what the reality around them means. Like the rest of us, they desperately need to follow someone (Someone).

When I serve my children, I am teaching them to serve. When I respect my children, I am teaching them to respect. When I yell at my children, I am teaching them to yell (ask me how I know this).

I don't need an "iron fist" heart. I need a heart that knows and respects my own needs, and a heart that is following the One who leads me. Then I will be able to lead my little ones with their needs, safely.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quoting Michael Nesmith

I had this inscribed on my class schedule in high school (for the record, we had to carry them in folders with us everywhere, every day, and get them stamped in study halls...) I thought of it again today, and as I re-read it, I realize how very much I still like it.

Blue is blue and must be that
but yellow is none the worse for it:
hearing only with ears
seeing only with eyes
feeling only with fingertips
and this and that creeps away
never having been known by men to whom it would
not have mattered anyway.
Stand easy children for God is good
and speaks softly to all men.

Tammy Takahashi on Deschooling

When I was in school, I had no idea how trapped I was in someone else’s idea of success and happiness. My whole value system was based on whether my professors approved of me. My grades defined how good my life was. And even as I questioned the validity of the teaching methods I was asked to perform, and I struggled against the status quo, I never once thought of breaking out and finding my true self outside of school. I was eternally happy being miserable: all-nighters studying for exams, piles and piles of reading material that I was always behind on, facts and figures I impressed professors with but which never had time to sink in because I was on my way to something else—all these things made me “happy.”

I was convinced that in order to be happy, I had to be “busy” and “challenged.” I was convinced of this because I never knew anything else in my life.

Not until I was a mom did I figure out what I had been missing.

I had been missing me.

From Tammy Takahashi's post Is Deschooling All that Important?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Want a Greener World? Stop ABC

Check out this news story about the environmental impact of artificial birth control.

Friday, July 25, 2008

30 years of IVF

I missed this news story; it actually was July 24. It was Louise Brown's 30th birthday. Oh, now I don't begrudge the woman her birthday or call it a tragedy, but do you remember her? She was the world's first IVF baby.

I came across an article from five years ago stating that as of that date, nearly 1,000,000 babies have followed her path. Do you realize that that means for all of those live births, there have been many, many more millions of babies who have died, either because of a failed transplant, of being allowed to thaw, or because of purposeful "selection reduction" (i.e. murder) after transplant? There are also innumerable embryos who live, suspended in time in a frozen state.

As an aside, did you know it is becoming commonplace for OBs to declare a pregnancy only when implantation has occurred, and not conception? Scientific hogwash. But do you see what a conscience salve that redefinition becomes? It is almost as if IVF is becoming the paradigm rather than natural conception.

This is a procedure which is widely socially acceptable, even by many who consider themselves pro-life. When is the last time you've seen protests outside a fertility clinic? Even apart from the destruction of embryos which usually, though not always, accompanies IVF, there are numerous problematic aspects to its use, in terms of moral acceptability, the health of the mother and child, the money-making involved for the technology's providers, and last, but not least, the utter neglect of the actual health needs of women and men with fertility challenges. Go to your nearest "fertility specialist" or Reproductive Endocrinologist, and you are likely to be pushed toward IVF without any real work towards getting to the root causes for the lack of conception or of carrying a child to term. The fault cannot all be laid at the feet of the medical folks; of course there are stories of women who simply wish to get pregnant "now" and resort to IVF when they have no particular fertility challenges.

Did you know that embryos have all naturally occurring water extracted from them and are injected with anti-freeze? Read all about the process here.

Christian Slavery

Today's gospel (Mt 20:20-28) is one that my heart comes back to frequently. I'm particularly drawn to the last half of the pericope. Now, Jesus does not require that we desire to be great, or first, or above others. But perhaps he realizes just how naturally this desire arises from the human heart, so he instructs us in what we are to pursue: slavery. If we want to be great we shall be a slave.

So, what is up with this?! Is Jesus really trying to give a backhanded message that we are not to desire greatness? I don't think so. As in all things, I think He calls us to imitate Him. He knew (and knows) ultimate freedom, having perfect communion with His Father. It was, indeed, this perfect communion which drew Him to take on penultimate slavery -- to serve mankind to the point of the surrender of both His physical life and the permanent sharing of His sonship with humans.

I think of the gospel text in John where Jesus washes the disciples' feet (clearly, an act of a slave). John 13:3-4 states: "fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments..." (italics mine). It was Jesus' awareness of who He was that prompted him to act as the slave of his brothers. It seems Jesus calls me to imitate. He does not desire to push my nose into the dirt. He is my glory and the lifter of my head (Ps. 3:3). Because he graces me with dignity, the indignity of serving others who cannot or do not respond positively to me is penultimate.

I am constantly reminded of my earlier life of ingratitude when I serve others now. So for me, service has a great penitential aspect as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

But, the sky actually IS falling (or at least the ceiling)

Here it is, unschooling vacation day, and I learned something anyway. I learned that I get very unsettled when I have something that needs to get taken care of, but it is not taken care of. Like those times when the computer is wonky or we lose our internet connection. I just cannot rest until I get it resolved.

What I currently need to get resolved is this:

We returned from grocery shopping yesterday to discover part of our kitchen ceiling laying on the floor. Apparently some bathroom plumbing had been seeping for who knows how long, and our lovely false ceiling hid the fact, until the whole thing fell in. I used to be able to get in touch with two or three fix-it types very quickly, but I called eight different folks and have only had semi-positive responses from two so far.

It is so unsettling to me to know of a need like this and not know yet how I will get it squared away. It's not nearly as compulsive an unsettled feeling as a computer problem (because I usually see to rectifying those problems myself, so I'm on full-throttle "project" until I get it done. But it is one of those can't-seem-to-concentrate, spacey kind of unsettled feelings.

Perhaps contributing to this is that this week I seem to have lost or damaged my ability to feel tired. I was awake until at least 2 most nights (mornings!) this week. I had to mentally convince myself to go to bed; I didn't feel tired at all. This afternoon I slept for an hour, which is normally impossible for me (daytime sleep). Perhaps I need to experiment with different forms of mental challenge or relaxation during the day so that it is easier for me to shut down at night. Who knows.

Hey, if you are local and know of a good fix it person who is actually available, drop me a comment!

Monday, July 21, 2008

He's Got You and Me, Sister, In His Hands...

"If He let go of my hand, I would weep so loudly, I would petition with all my might, I would cause so much trouble that I bet God would come to His senses and never do that again." Meister Eckhart

I nabbed this quote and image from my friend Patty's blog, Abba's Little Girl.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Justice: Right Relationship

I must share yet another homily, and my sense of amazement. I feel like a new light source has suddenly appeared in my life. No, gradually -- no, I need a new word that morphs a sudden gradualness... How about "surprisingly"?

I will confess that I was daydreaming during the gospel reading and I can't even tell you what it was from memory. But Fr. Dan Pattee once again offered a homily that was such a total gift, just perfectly put into a word package this gigantic ... thing... that I've been trying to capture for this blog all week. And he made his key point over and over so many times that there is no way I could forget it or get it confused. Like I said, perfect!!

And the point is this: Justice, as Jesus presents it, differs from the "tit for tat" justice that is the general cultural understanding. X deserves y, x gets y, the world is balanced. No, justice for Jesus means being in right relationship with God. And we come in to right relationship with God through right relationship with created goods, especially other people, especially with the poor.

This sums up so, so well what I have been gleaning through reading Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards. I realize that Kohn (who I don't know to be a Christian) really gets what Jesus is saying, and is concerned with calling parents, educators and business people to live it. (Non-oddly enough, he makes the passing comment that sometimes a certain religious outlook can be the very reason why some people resist the findings of his research!) Now, I haven't finished the book yet, so I'm really only speaking in reference to the first half of it or so, but as the book is based on research studies, I don't expect to later see him espousing goofy personal views.

The "right relationship" that Kohn encourages between people, and which I think we must see mirrored in the relationship between Christ and the Father, is one that does not rely on the control mechanisms of pop behaviorism. Kohn addresses the near-sighted view of using rewards (trinkets, goodies, money, symbolic value items like grades, or staples like love and attention) to motivate behavior. He also discusses how the use of rewards affects intrinsic motivation, creativity, desire -- in a word, freedom. And he discusses the affect on relationships, whether parent/child, teacher/student or employer/employee when rewards for behavior are used.

So, "right relationship with created goods" here means that those goods are given to us by their Creator. Receiving them with humility, we do not turn around and use things or people to control other people, but to serve needs, because that is how we receive them from our Father's hand. I constantly come back to this gospel passage:

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Lk. 22:24-26)
Service and control just intuitively feel so different, even as I just think of the words.

Several times I have nodded in agreement with my whole body as I read Kohn's descriptions of how students can become dependent on symbolic affirmations of good grades or the actual "reward" of being able to interact with other humans about matters of importance (for me, sharing ideas, but it just as easily could be approval, praise, or tangible rewards like scholarships, on which self-esteem is propped). Only to have the whole house of cards fall in when that external mechanism is no more. I can tell this as a longer story, but to be brief, I became enamored with writing in high school and flourished under small doses of positive reaction from an English teacher. After graduation, however, I became deeply depressed and despondent because, even though I attempted to employ my ability, I had no relationship with the world to make it meaningful. I had a skill, but no personal maturity, no "right relationship" to give me direction ahead.

This is all very palpable in my own parenting. My son teaches me all I really need to know, if I'm able to take it in. And I see that he, not unlike myself, despises being controlled. If I relate to him as a person, we are great. If I try to control him, or manipulate him, we are at war. It has taken me a long time to realize that parenting is not about controlling children as one might control a dog on a leash. If we are in right relationship, love flows, and it is beautiful, because it is impossible to force someone to love. You must keep giving love, trust, and wait for it to be reciprocated. Perhaps, a long time.

So, my big realization: controlling others has got to go out the window. Really, that's so easy to say. The trick is to discern when one is controlling. Perhaps my big realization, better put, is that this surprising light has made it easier for me to discern it.

See, another beautiful thing at Mass today was that instead of mentally scrambling to try to remember what I wanted to blog about (!), I found myself thanking God for the gift He was giving to me. I realized this is a gift, and it is given. It is not some creation of mine that is going to fade like a mist in a hot July breeze. I don't have to scurry to keep it. It is given. Immediately I thought of Fr. Carron saying that we start with what God is doing among us. It is about a reality that I do not make.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Woven Thoughts During Mass Today

A thought occurred to me during Mass about the parable of the seed and the sower. When the soil is not prepared, "sewing the seed" essentially feeds the devil, because Jesus compares the birds who snatch away the seed to the devil. Well, not to push the image too much (poor birds) ... let's just say the hard soil means work is needed before there will be receptivity. So we need to pay attention to preparing the soil. Should the farmer avoid planting on hard soil to avoid keeping the birds around? They're going to be around regardless, right? But I think the point is the need for attention to the soil. I wonder what the farmers hearing Jesus thought about it?

And then, the homily. (The parable was not even referenced, it just popped into my mind.) It was all about how Jesus' call to love. What was Jesus' criterion for who should eat the special law-regulated bread in special, law-regulated conditions? Those who were hungry! Human need! Instead, the Pharisees were all about the regulations, not the person, not the need. They were all about the "beautiful box" as Fr. Richard put it -- the beautiful box into which they had stuffed God. The rules, the do's, the don'ts, the clothing regulations, the prayers, the offerings. The Beautiful Box. I couldn't help but snicker to myself as I thought of those homeschool curricula that come, literally, in a beautiful box. Instead, Father said, we live in a dynamic, changing, growing relationship with God who is Mystery, not the Boxed One.

My context for all of this: I just joined a new unschooling email list, with its broad spectrum of members. It has been awhile since I've been on anything but UnschoolingCatholics, which is such a warm, accepting place. I was on a slew of lists a few years ago and felt chewed up and spit out, but that, I felt, was pretty much all behind me. I jumped in, almost right away, in response to someone's post about what unschooling is, by sharing my post about freedom and unschooling. Some seemed to respond favorably without grasping the point, because someone else's summary of my post included the word "God". (Good theists trying to stick up for each other, I suppose.) From others I perceived (real, or not?) a curt reception. So, is it better that I not share something I found to be a helpful perspective, albeit a "spiritual" one? I made great effort not to be "religious" in my comments, in the sense of putting forth my preferred "ism". It really made me notice how people in these types of discussions (it was a new list so everyone is doing introductions) tend to put forth their ideologies as identifiers, or is it barricades? And it makes me really think through what I have of value to share that isn't just setting up a barricade, or a fort. Unschoolers are a very funny lot. I've never seen so many folks supposedly drawn together by something in common who disagree about so much.

I decided I'm just there to learn, to share, to discuss, to love, and learn some more.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When Thinking Spoils Love

So, here's something that I realized at School of Community this morning: thinking about loving is very stressful to me, but the reality of loving is a much different matter. And I have frequently gotten the two mixed up in my mind, which is my primary residence.

We were discussing this portion of Is It Possible to Live this Way, which led to a discussion of love as the primary need in our lives. I launched into a pontification about love being unnatural, or supernatural, before I realized that what I really needed to talk about was my experience of love, of how demonstrating love is not something that comes naturally to me. This assertion was quickly challenged by someone recalling the whole parental love thing, bringing me into a little tumble of wondering what was I actually meaning when I said these things.

So, as we talked, I realized that when I think about other people, my approach is not (generally) an emotional one, but an analytical one. I don't primarily "feel" about people, I think about them, in the way that I tend to think about food or genealogical information or groundhogs. Oh, I have emotional reactions, but they generally come after I start thinking.

For this reason, as I shared with the group, I realize that I trouble myself about thinking about people (myself included) and seeing excesses or deficiencies -- deviations from the ideal -- as if I were at a fruit market and noticing bruises on apples. This tendency has given me a strong suspicion that I am not a loving person, at least as I imaginatively compare myself with others. One person shared a beautiful Christlike example of reaction to a family member's cohabitation that took solidly into account that person's spiritual state and understanding of what is good, as well as objective truth of Christianity. It fit perfectly with Deacon Scott's post which I recently blogged about. It was a response to a person, not merely an "objective" analysis of a situation.

In my mind, as I shared, it would be very hard for me to plan a reaction of this type. Another example: if someone were diagnosed with lung cancer and had been a smoker, my first reaction wouldn't, honestly, be one of compassion for his pain, but of a mental connection between the lung cancer and the smoking. (And I am not even all that scientifically educated, which makes this all the more frightening to me.) I would get around to the compassionate response, but I'm not one of the people who is gushing out "oh how awful -- the poor man! what can I do for him?!" when such news breaks.

But then I began to realize that mental processes, which have a lot to do with personality, are not the same thing as the action of loving a person who is in front of me. When I can imagine, or when I have, a flesh and blood person standing right before me, compassion can flow from me. With my children, who have been my primary trainers (with my husband) in how to love, their needs are my call -- it's just obvious to me. And indeed generally when someone outside my household shares a need, my heart is right there with her.

However, there are people in my life, generally those I have known longest, whom I've had years and years to think about, with whom I often fear all is lost in our relationship, just because of how I think. How much better would it be to just focus on loving those who are with me, rather than thinking about them, analyzing the relationship, their mind and soul (as if I could analyze their mind or soul!!). Thinking my thoughts is helpful to the extent that it helps me come to understandings within myself, and to the extent that it is prayer, open to Reality in response to my thoughts. But living needs to be about the here and now.

Perhaps what I need to think about is the fact that I am in the presence of other persons who need my action, and my mental freedom to launch into action.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Six Quirks

So, Deacon Scott at his blog

Καθολικός διάκονος

which I am guessing means "Catholic deacon" tagged me for the six quirks meme. Here's how it is supposed to work:

1. Link the person(s) who tagged me
2. Mention the rules on my blog
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of mine
4. Tag 6 fellow bloggers by linking them
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged

Now, I am very not sure what qualifies a quirk either as such, or particularly as unspectacular. I'll take that stipulation with a grain of salt, then I think we'll be ok.

Quirk one: I have strabismus. What this means in practical terms is that sometimes I see double. It rarely presents a problem to me, except during vision exams. My right eye could fall out of my head and get crushed underfoot and my brain would barely notice. My left eye rules the day. And to the great surprise of one optometrist, I have perfect depth perception nonetheless.

Quirk two: This is my quirk because I figured it out. My parents were related to each other very distantly by marriage. My father's second cousin once removed, Leon, was married to Vera, whose first cousin Katherine was married to my mother's great-uncle, David. Ok, so it is not that my parents are actually related to each other, but there are two bridges, so to speak, that cross the two family lines together.

Quirk three: I love to put salt on food.

Quirk four: I created (I think!) the word "uniquity" as a short form of saying "a specific way in which something is unique." My husband likes the word.

Quirk five: I have not worn polish on my fingernails since I was 16.

Quirk six: My hair is far thicker on the left side of my head. Somehow the right side of my body got short changed (see quirk one). I am right handed, though.

Now, who shall I tag? Oh my... How about

Ladybug Mommy Maria at Living on Adrenaline
Shauna at Fruitful Joy
Rachel at Between Stupid and Clever
Cindy at Puppy Kisses
Beate and Sabine at Fides Spes et Caritas
Stacy at Being Refined.

Text Message from WYD

Today's text message from Pope Benedict XVI to participants at World Youth Day.

"The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles & gives u the power boldly 2 proclaim that Christ is risen! - BXVI"

(Lifted from Intentional Disciples. Love that blog; love this Pope!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Moralism and Love: Conversion of the Korrekt

I have been awash in "naru hodo" moments lately. (You know, those times when things suddenly converge in your mind and you say "Oh! Ok, now I get it.")

I'm going to share just one right now, and hopefully others later on.

Deacon Scott's post Deus caritas est and our little chat in the combox gave me eyes to see my personal journey of conversion in a drastic and simple new light: the journey from korrekt Christian to person of love. Even before I had realized that Deacon Scott had written about this topic elsewhere, and that he was making a specific literary reference, I intuitively gathered that to be korrekt, one must adhere strongly to an ideology that dictates certain patterns of behavior. The idea of korrektness is not to fall in love with Christ, not to be enlivened by His Church, but to shape one's life around a standard of behavior. Rules. I see that my personal journey of conversion has been spiritual warfare: God's fiery love vs. a raging moralism that I clung to out of tremendous insecurity, nurtured by dwelling in loveless wastelands. This explains to me now the cause of several moments of pain in my past.

During Lent this year, I wrote a chronology of the events in my personal journey of conversion, so I spent a lot of time thinking about those events that shaped my faith life. There was a time up through my mid-teens when Christianity was for me something that helped me feel righteous. It was a platform on which I could stand apart from other people and feel safe and superior. At the same time, I was (whether I always was feeling it or not) all shredded up in my heart and soul due to loneliness and isolation, compounded by the trauma of my parents' divorce and my father's alcoholism. A Christian faith such as mine (which was real, despite being very moralistic) gave me a sense of control in my world. It was a helpful tool at the time, but only like the barrel of a pen is a helpful tool for breathing if there is nothing else on hand during an emergency tracheotomy.

Now I can see how the series of events in my life that brought such great light and hope to me stood out -- they were events of God's love breaking through, breathing real life into me. I've written about two of the major events a couple of times.

Then there was the most upsetting show-down of all: when I was called to enter the Catholic Church. It was part of my moralistic identity that Catholicism was more or less a religion from hell. If I had to identify Catholics as anything in my pre-Catholic days, it would have been people who followed a religious form and religious rules without any personal relationship with Christ and no knowledge of the Divine. They were stupid, duped religious idolaters. I was sure of it. I was sure of it with a tinge of sadness for them, of course (how could I not be, you know, being a Christian and all). I started the habit very young to read the newspaper obituaries, and I always grieved to read of Catholics dying, because I figured there was a very high likelihood that they were in hell. Yes, I was pretty hard-core.

But a funny dissatisfaction crept into my spiritual life even while I was healing and thriving in my charismatic fellowship. I began to sense an oppressive sense of what I thought of as "religiosity" (I throw in the term to amuse my CL friends) and prayed for freedom from it. What I wanted to be rid of was this sense of following a form, following ritual, following "a religion" instead of following Christ. I had absolutely no idea what Christ was about to do in response to my prayer!

To tell a long story briefly, friends of mine who entered the Church before me required me to come to grapple with the reality of the Catholic Church. It took some time before I realized that in all my formal instruction about Catholicism (yes, I had plenty from my Lutheran schooling and even my missionary training at my fellowship), I had never read one scrap of anything written by a Catholic. I came to the logical conclusion that Catholics had a self-understanding so different from my understanding of them, which allowed them to believe doctrines that were, well so obviously stupid and wrong. I realized that the only way I would be able to see with this (wrong, ugly) Catholic paradigm was to study Catholic documents. I did (reading first the documents of Vatican II), and was blown away by the intense Scriptural and evangelical heart of Catholic teaching. After months of reading, I attended Mass. And there was Jesus. He was calling me, as if to leap from the trashed, burning building of my moralistic religious life, into His waiting arms. Would you believe that I hesitated for about 48 hours. But I jumped. It felt like jumping into a black abyss, with no certainty, no identity, no companionship but the cross. (When is the cross not enough certainty, identity and companionship?)

And what can I say of my path since coming into the Church (which happened some 16 months later)? I definitely did not drop all the scales of being a korrekt Christian at my Confirmation! There were some barnacles so deeply embedded that special years of surgery were required. I had pretty firm (and completely irrational) rules for myself about how I related to people, especially the opposite gender, and the role "being religious" played in my life. Let me just say this paradigm makes complete sense out of why I have felt my early Catholic years were a time of moral failure. They were, in many ways! I needed that failure, so that I could become more fully human. I needed to come to my senses.

Then, about two years ago, I met Fr. Giussani in CL who actually gives language to these realities I have lived. It is an amazing, astounding thing, and hardly an accident.

And here I am. Far from being a finished product, it is better to say that I am just beginning, just barely beginning to truly say "naru hodo" on this one.

Reason #954304 to be Thankful

We were home, and up early when the refrigerator's filtered water line sprung a leak. Oh, and I knew where to find the shut off valve. (That one is #954305.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Giussani, Freedom and Unschooling

In reading the latest section of Is It Possible to Live This Way? I was struck by a few passages that come very close to describing, in my mind, the aim and motivation we have as Catholic unschoolers. (And by "we," I mean, our family, not every unschooling or every Catholic unschooling family.)

Giussani is discussing freedom -- what it is, and how it relates to our experience of satisfaction. Earlier, he speaks of freedom as it relates to "perfection" in the sense of the telos, the end for which we are made. He says that when our desire (which, according to our creation, is for infinity) is satisfied, this is freedom. Then he describes someone who supposes a trip to the Caribbean will bring lasting satisfaction, but discovers it doesn't.

If this satisfaction, this perfection, isn't total, if it isn't totalizing, if it has some hole that water leaks out from, if it has a crack of some sort, if something is left open, there's no freedom. It's sadness, the hole is the sadness. As Dante said: "Everyone vaguely pictures in his mind/ A good the heart may rest on, and is driven/ By his desire to seek it and to find." That's how the heart of man is made. "

Now, I suppose this could describe several endeavors. But to me it strikes at the heart of why we unschool, at least from a philosophical perspective. We experience life as it occurs, as it appeals, as it attracts. We honor what attracts the child (and the parent!). There really is no other teacher but the attraction. And the reality spoken of above. There are parents, to be sure. I want to exist to my children not as policeman or judge but, by the grace of God, as model, as a musician who plays a tune that inspires something -- either a harmony, or a painting, a dance, or a good critical music review. I want my children to discover who they are, who God has made them, and then to run in it. I don't want to impose twelve years worth of cultural and peer baggage (any thicker than what is inevitable living among a family of sinners) that will make the running a plodding, or a tripping.

I think what I have loved about Fr. Giussani, but have had a hard time finding the words for, is this concept put forth in the quote above. The heart is an engine, and we know when something is "totalizing" for the heart and when the heart experiences sadness. We are made not only for learning (a basic tenet of unschooling) but we are made to seek infinity, and to discern that which "totalizes" us. (What a weird, true, Giussani word!) It is such an amazing, challenging, sometimes frightening gift to walk this way as Catholic unschoolers!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More on Appeals

I've still been pondering on the post I wrote last week (wrote it a few days before I posted it, actually) called Appeals to Love. And today at Mass, a new perspective jumped out at me.

Well, ok, not a "new" perspective, but one I just wasn't thinking of when I wrote the other post.

When I contemplate my interactions with "people," you know, the "they" who are the ones somehow appealing to my love, I think of "them" as a breed that has nothing in particular to do with me. I mean, "they" are not "me." The appeals I get are rarely people who are standing in front of me, directing their words to me, and asking me to do something. The appeals I speak of are people that I see going about their lives in their unique ways. Or people who write of various ideas. Here's an example: I sometimes visit a blog of a woman who writes about modest, feminine clothing for women. Inspired by her example, and perhaps even her advocacy, for a time I decided I would only wear skirts. (For the record, that wasn't the extent of her particular choice, but given my life situation, I thought it would be a nice thing for me to do, and something I was keen on after having spent the latter part of my pregnancy wearing the same few pair of polyester pants. I could not WAIT to wear a skirt again. What I now know I really wanted was maternity dresses, but that's another post.) Ok, so I took this woman's appeal to love to heart, tried it, and eventually fitzed out. It was nice, it was ok, but it wasn't a conviction, it was just sort of a passing fancy in my life. It probably is much more to her, and more power to her. I feel no inner compulsion that I am being immodest in my current shorts and t-shirt outfit.

Something in today's gospel prompted me to try the appeal shoe on the other foot, so to speak. Jesus tells the disciples to go out and make a proclamation: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."

So I thought to myself, what appeals do I make? What appeals to others' love should I be making? Jesus gave the disciples a script. Oh, he also tacked on "cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. And by the way, don't take any extra cash along." In other words, Jesus told the disciples to go out and do exactly what they had seen Him doing.

But wait a second here, Jesus. I'm.... not you! And who are you, anyway, that you do this stuff, and then figure we can, too?

So, lest the disciples get too heady about the message, Jesus assured them it wasn't supposed to be just in words, but in actions. Now I can just hear someone translating these lines in their minds to "smile to people on the street, hand out sandwiches, and play games with children." No, the things Jesus told the disciples to do were not things they could muster in natural power. He sent them out to do humanly impossible, miraculous things. And I agree that sometimes a smile offered is a miracle, but, let's not emasculate Jesus' intent. Jesus wanted them relying 100% on His life working through them, in 100% imitation of Him. As we know from other gospel accounts, sometimes the disciples were effective in ministry, and sometimes they only blew hot air.

Ok, but back to what I am to offer as an appeal. There are lots of things I'd like to tell people to do. Most of them would be with their own good in mind, but most of them would also have this double edge of making me feel powerful, important and validated. Now, I don't think those three things are wrong or bad, but they are pretty dangerous. Pyrotechnicians can safely shoot off fireworks and dynamite, because they have experience and training and they know what they are doing. I wouldn't trust myself with the task. Paul tells us that not many of us should presume to be teachers, because teachers will be judged more severely. Now, I have this constant training I am undergoing about how to tell people what to do, and it is called being married with children. And this tells me that humility is absolutely the beginning of ever effectively saying anything to another human being. I don't have "pure" humility; I journey in its general direction. So I tell my kids (and my husband) to do things sometimes for those dangerous reasons.

So, what of the appeals I make to others outside my family then? On the one hand, I know I'm neither the Holy Spirit nor the Savior. I only repeat the call, follow Christ. I must say this with my life; I should, as it is said, use words when necessary. On the other hand, I wonder to what degree my hesitance to make appeals to others (outside my family) is based on protecting those same dangerous elements (feeling powerful, important, and validated). And I wonder -- what if I had no family where my heart could freely fly. What if I had no family where I felt my stumbles and failings and sins and obnoxiousness would not be at least tolerated, if not accepted as part of the package that is me? Would I not (I should say, did I not, when this was me) be pretty heavily obnoxious to everyone, constantly telling them (or wanting to, but lacking the courage) how their lives could be so much better if they just did what I advised?

So, isn't it really love, people, family, community, the Church -- CHRIST -- who saves us and makes it possible for us to not be obnoxious boars with one another? I think this brings me back full circle to my first post. If someone is appealing to me about something -- I'll be bold and pick a nice controversial something -- wearing a mantilla at Mass. If I see someone wearing one, I think in my heart: she appeals to me to love Jesus in the Eucharist and to be reverent. Beautiful. Thank you. If she comes to me and says: "don't you want to wear a mantilla?" I might say (I really have no idea how I would respond, but I might say) "That's beautiful. Tell me about why you wear it." If she (my apologies in advance, she is a purely fictitious character!) brashly whips out her 1917 copy of canon law and complains that the Novus Ordo Mass is corrupt and that all non-veiled women show too much skin anyway at Mass, and three other assertions that will only dig me in deeper if I characterize them, I must still embrace her with love as my sister in Christ, affirm that reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is beautiful, be completely with her, probably not get in a argument over canon law or history, and then probably go on about my merry way, taking the time to study the issue a bit more closely from a theological and liturgical viewpoint. To honestly weigh and separate the practice from the emotion. I think that's what open hearted love would look like for me.

I think that drastic appeals like the one I've characterized are more of a cry for my love for the person than anything else. What I face is a needy, frightened person who desperately wants more of the precious love of God they have tasted.

At least, that's how I remember it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Trumbull Family Reunion, Of Sorts

Over the holiday weekend I had occasion to open my genealogy database and putter around a bit. Puttering is such a wonderfully relaxing and exciting way to explore something, I find. The only down side is that I often fail to make note of where I've stopped previous putterings, perhaps just on the verge of hitting a rich vein of information.

But the wonderful thing about genealogy is that if I've absentmindedly ignored a line for a few years, important new information may have come to light on line in the meantime.

And that is what last weekend's putterings showed to be the case with my Trumbull ancestors.

So here's the story. All of my maternal ancestors and my paternal grandfather's ancestors were 19th century immigrants from Germany and Denmark, respectively. But my paternal grandmother's ancestors have been kicking around on this side of the Great Puddle since the early 1600s. In this line, I have an ancestress named Harriet Trumbull Slater, who died young after giving birth to two sons and a daughter. Her widower George W. Slater remarried and Harriet's daughter, my great-great-grandmother Almeda, grew up knowing only her step-mother.

I knew that Harriet and George married in Jay, Essex County, New York, and I was told several years ago that Harriet's father was likely Levi Trumbull, who had a large family in Jay. I had even made contact with a woman who had a information from a family Bible. It listed names, dates, and spouses for 7 other children, with a mere name, "Harriet Trumbull," for an eighth, indicating (barely) that she actually had existed.

But what a stroke of luck to discover that in the 1840 census, which must have shortly after Harriet died, two young boys of the right ages were enumerated with Harriet's parents. (The 1840 census only lists names for the heads of household.) In the 1850 census it gets better; Edgar Slater is enumerated with Levi. I've never found another mention of the second son, Egbert, so he likely died during that decade. The 1850 census does not yet indicate relationships among those in a household, but the evidence is very suggestive that Levi Trumbull and his wife Sarah were indeed the grandparents of Edgar and Egbert Slater.

Just as an aside in this rambly post, I had always thought it a bit odd that George W. Slater remarried so quickly. But, considering the culture of the time and that he had a very young daughter to care for, I imagine he felt himself in immediate need of a mother for Almeda, who was born in October of 1836. Harriet died sometime thereafter. George's second wife Jeanette died in September of 1840. George married his third wife a mere seven weeks later. Their first daughter was named Harriet Jeanette. It is fascinating to think about the drama experienced in these lives. And then of course I wonder how it was the two boys ended up back in New York with Grandpa when they had all previously lived in Vermont after the boys were born.

So, I'll cut to the chase here and say that I did some hunting, some census searching, some digging out of old notes and some plain old googling and came up with decent verification to lead me to several brand "new" ancestral lines to research: Trumbull, Harmon, Sheldon, Austin, and Skinner, plus at least six or more others that I haven't verified yet. This makes the English strand of my ancestry all the firmer, although the Trumbull line casts yet another wafting of Scottishness over me. I don't mind digging back 500 years to find a touch more Scottish.

But rock solid proof remains elusive. I know when and where my great-great grandmother Almeda was born, but I don't know when Harriet died and I don't know when George married Jeanette. I have a Slater genealogy which contains information which seems to have been submitted by George himself (I surmise this because of unique wording misused in the text: it states that he "was located," i.e. lived, in such and such a place, when "located," in the lingo of the Methodist Episcopal church in which George was a circuit preacher, means that he retired from active ministry.) This text states that Egbert, Edgar and Almeda were all children of Harriet. However, Almeda herself in census after census states that her mother was born in Vermont, which both George's second and third wives were, but Harriet was born in New York. Even Edgar, George's firstborn, states that his mother was born in Vermont! (From this and other research I've done, it seems that 19th century parents did not often speak to their children of the dead. I wonder if it would be different with Catholic families in the same time period?) So, finding burial information for Harriet and/or marriage information for George and Jeanette would make all of this much tidier.

Here's a little visual aid:

The older woman on the right is Almeda (1836-1917) posing with three generations of her descendants: daughter Emma (1855-1938) (my great-grandfather's sister), granddaughter Ivah (1878-1970), and great-granddaughter Jessie (1901-1990).

Composting Makes Me Happy

Among my other hang-ups, I have issues with wasting food. I often eat my children's scraps because I have a hard time throwing things away. Now, I can respect that for some people the repeated "clean up your plate" parental harangues are just the thing that scarred them for life. I have already installed a dietary boomerang into my son, who like me is a type O. He loves to go to the Eat n' Park buffet and sit down (after a "smile" towards Mama) with a plate full of croutons, crackers, cheddar cheese, sunflower seeds and black olives (yep, all avoids for Type O.) So, I have realized I need to back off telling my children what they need to do regarding food and help them hear what their bodies are telling them. (And in the meantime, I'll count how many years it will take for my missteps to wear off.)

So, I've found something that makes me happy. Composting.

Instead of fretting over how half my son's vegetables end up on the floor after dinner, I can at least entrust them to our little compost heap and let those tiny little nutrients decay beneficially. In time, we may even transform our clay slab, uh, I mean garden, into a great growing area.

So the food can decay, instead of familial relationships.

At least over this issue.

Surprised by Wisdom

This morning I was feeling a touch more than I typically do the pain of having low fertility. I turned to the Lord with a kind of heavy sigh in my heart, and flipped open my Bible.

Now, as a Protestant I got pretty good at never being surprised at anything I found in Scripture, because I spent a lot of time reading (or hearing taught) even the obscure bits. But those good old deuterocanonicals can still catch me off guard. (I recall being among a group of joking fellow converts, speaking of how our Scripture reading habits had gotten "washed away with Baptism" ... ok, work with me on the joke a bit -- "worn off with fading chrism" just doesn't work as well.)

So today I was surprised to read Wisdom 1:16-5:23.*

Check out these verses:

Yes, blessed is she, who, childless and undefiled, knew not transgression of the marriage bed; she shall bear fruit at the visitation of souls ...

For the fruit of noble struggles is a glorious one; and unfailing is the root of understanding.

Better is childlessness with virtue; for immortal is its memory: because both by God is it acknowledged, and by men.

(And if you think those who struggle to conceive are not tempted to the transgression of the marriage bed, think again about what IVF actually is....)

I understood that God's word calls me to have the perspective of eternity on my pains, both momentary and deep. The meaning of our lives goes beyond what we see in this moment. Thank you, Lord.

*By the way, I find it irksome that I cannot find a source from which I can quote this entire text in the NAB. So, I use a Protestant source which has kindly included the Douay-Rheims version.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Appeals to Love

I've been thinking about something that was said at School of Community on Thursday. I can't reconstruct the context well, unfortunately, but the discussion regarded freedom and those who "create extra rules for being Catholic." Now, this post springs more from my subsequent thoughts than our discussion at the time, but we all generally agreed, of course, that we are not to be like Pharisees, tying up extra burdens on each other's backs.

This discussion has stuck with me, and I feel it requires a balancing, at least to keep me safe. It is a fact that the Church "requires" very little of us, and most practicing Catholics regularly go beyond what is strictly required (by receiving Holy Communion more than once a year, for example). I have been straining my memory to come up with a time when I was told, point blank, that such and such is a rule we must follow to truly be a Catholic. Maybe I'm too much of a literalist, but I can't come up with one.

What I have heard lots of is appeals to my love. "Please, show your love for Jesus by x." "Please show your love of the Eucharist by y." "Your Mother loves you so much. Please offer her q."

Perhaps these are far more difficult for us to process than "rules." We who love God want to love God with all our hearts. But appeals, somehow, can make us feel that someone loves my Beloved better than I do, and so I begin comparing. I begin to get insecure in my relationship with my Beloved, worrying that maybe I'm not so dear because I'm not like the other person. Or, I look down on the other person and find a reason to negatively label him or her. I think it was Keith Green who said that "a fanatic" is anyone who shows me he loves more than I do!

But St. Paul appeals to our love, too. "Run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Cor. 9:24). So, am I going to say to St. Paul, "Wait a second there, St. Paul. The Church tells me I only have to x, y, z, and running so as to get the prize is not on that list. Stop impinging on my freedom." Of course not.

What is missing in this silly analysis, I think, is that love can be the only motivator in the Christian life. We can't make laws for ourselves out of other Christians' behavior. Again, St. Paul speaks of this in Galatians, where he says the law serves only until the arrival of Jesus into history: the crucial Event. Through Christ, through encountering Him, through hearing His call, and responding in faith by the Holy Spirit, we call out Abba, Father. The relationship we have with God is transformed by the presence of Christ in our lives. Then, St. Paul tells us, it is for freedom that we are set free. He goes so far as to say that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

So, it is purity of love that we need. If someone proposes a devotion or practice, let's hear their love. Is their love pure? Probably not. But you know what? That's not my problem! I have enough impurities of my own, and I need to be concerned about how I inflict them on others. My problem is, am I open to hearing my Beloved appeal to my heart through them? Am I open loving them and accepting them (and bowing my will always and only to the Holy Spirit)? Can I admire their spiritual path, and know that there are many different colors in a single stained glass window (again I have Keith Green on the brain).

I need people to appeal to my love through all sorts of means, and many times a day. Otherwise I quickly turn cold and blue.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Seen any Fireflies?

The Boston Museum of Science wants to know all about it!

H/T: Love2Learn

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jesus Longs For our Trust

Another perfectly timed message. I read this today immediately after Mass, where I told the Lord, "I see it, I really need to trust you with more abandon..."

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His
call to service.

July 1, 2008


My heart never stops loving and not for a moment does My heart stop craving love in return. I crave love from you, My dear apostle. You love Me, I know. You serve Me with steadiness, I know. 'What is it that Jesus wants from Me that I am not giving', you ask. I will tell you. I want you to show Me that you understand My love for you by trusting Me. I am hurt when you do not trust Me. Look at your time of service. Would you agree that I have provided you with everything you need to see to your part in My plan? Would you agree that I have given you consolation when you were afraid? Have I not guided you when you were unsure? What have I withheld from you? You are growing in holiness and I am answering your prayers for your loved ones with heavenly prudence and steadiness. The part you are called to play in My plan is important and I need your service but I would never ask you to serve to the detriment of your holiness. If you are not increasing in holiness, My dear apostle, it is because you are not
allowing Me to direct you. Perhaps you are increasing but not as quickly as you would like. That is another matter altogether. It is for Me to decide how quickly to advance you. It is for you to cooperate. I am speaking today so that I can urge you forward. My apostles must be willing to benefit from the guidance I am sending. You must sit in silence with Me each day, asking
Me where you can improve in holiness. What habits are you holding on to that you need to relinquish? What new habits should replace them?

Apostles, it is not to stand still that you are called, but to move forward in holiness. This advance is necessary for these times or I would not be calling you to it so seriously. I am looking for you to change. I want you to grow. Many of you are saintly now, walking closely with Me in each
day. I rejoice in you, it is true. You know that I do. And yet, I allow you to remain on earth, to work, yes, but also to become even holier. One of the ways you can become holy in a short time is by trusting Me in everything. A small child does not worry about one meal shortly after she has been fed another. She trusts her parents to provide for her, particularly if she has never gone hungry. You, dear apostles, have never been without My providence so there is no reason for you to fear. You can trust Me. I have proved this to you many times. I desire that you serve in joy and confidence and only through trusting Me will that be possible. Return My great love for you by trusting Me in everything.