How to live in terrible times

The news is terrible lately. Maybe news always is bad. Many eras bristle with horror, and knowing some history gives us perspective. But it seems so bad now, Christians beheaded in Libya and more fleeing to Egypt, Christians kidnapped in Syria, ancient artifacts smashed in Iraq, jihadis uncovered in Brooklyn. What can hinder comprehension of [Read More...]

New Year, Old You

Many of us already have bound ourselves to resolutions this year.  After fitness the most popular ones include resolutions to learn something. Pick up a new language, Rosetta Stone ads implore.  The Teaching Company touts Latin 101 as its top-rated course. Resolutions to better the body may have obvious appeal (or not: this husk is [Read More...]

Embryos Unbound

April’s First Things boasts not one but two worthy articles on embryos.  I agree with much in each.  One, “The Ancients on Abortion” by Sarah Klitenic Wear, gives a history lesson on ancient embryology to observe that Greeks then—not unlike Americans now—debated whether souls were present before or after birth.  The other, Jennifer Lahl and [Read More...]

Blessing upon Childbirth–Royal and Otherwise

The imminent birth of an heir—Prince William and Duchess Kate’s baby due within a few weeks—recalls the potential of royals to (re) set expectations about birth. When anesthesia was pioneered in the nineteenth century, its appeal in obstetrics was obvious.  Chloroform, applied to a cloth and held over the nose and mouth of the laboring [Read More...]

“No Purely Feminine Woman”

Margaret Fuller

“While women sometimes wished to be men in order to partake of their freedoms and opportunities, ‘men never.’”   This statement appears in Megan Marshall’s new biography of  Margaret Fuller (1810-1850).   The quotation continues: men never “in any extreme of despair, wished to be women,” Marshall summarizes, since there was nothing enviable in women’s lot, [Read More...]

Discovering Saints and Sisters

In 2005 some visitors to a German museum accidentally found themselves in an exhibit called “Crown and Veil,” a dazzling collection of art and artifacts from women’s monastic houses.  Perhaps guessing the title would hold out to them something glamorous and familiar—princesses? wedding dresses?—the guests expressed their dismay upon discovering what it held: “Oh dear, [Read More...]


That children should do chores might seem so obvious as to be unworthy of mention.  I considered the question in a recent Boston Globe article.  No suspense: I do think children should do chores.  But revisiting an important book about the Reformation, of all things, strengthened that conviction. Considering “The Religious Beliefs of Teenagers” in [Read More...]

Are you a None? NPR on Losing our Religion

This past week NPR ran a five-day series on the “Nones,” the increasing number of religiously unaffiliated Americans.  The title comes from a Pew study released last fall noting an uptick in those who described their religious affiliation as “none.”  About a fifth of American adults, and a third of Americans under 30, classify themselves [Read More...]

Beechers in the Backyard

We are still in the thick of Civil War commemorations— perhaps Americans never are far from  them–and entering a fresh phase with the release of Lincoln on the big screen.  For Georgetown, Massachusetts, where my family lives, Civil War memory has two primary foci: the Massachusetts 50th Volunteer regiment, Company K, a fellowship of town [Read More...]

Poverty, Chastity, and Delivery

A mother expecting her twenty-fifth baby is just one of the shocks that greet young midwife Jenny, main character of the new PBS series Call The Midwife.  Imported from the BBC, the show is adapted from a book of the same title by Jennifer Worth, midwife, nurse, and musician, who died in 2011. This is [Read More...]