Gender Stereotyping is the Hot New Thing

File:Justus van Egmont - King Louis XIV of France.jpg

I was raised on the kind of feminism that was about rejecting false stereotypes.  Your hobbies, your tastes, your talents — none of these are what defines you as “male” or “female.”  You can be a girl who likes sports (curiously, both my grandmothers played high school sports in the 1930’s — but that was Catholic schools, so it was different than normal, I guess) and woodworking and car repair, and that doesn’t make you less of a girl.

Boys were likewise accorded the complementary rights, though admittedly there was a little more hesitation in that regard.  A female engineer was just an “engineer” long before men got to shed the title “male nurse.”

This was the dogma I grew up with, and yes, people got carried away trying to pass on the dogma. In a desperate attempt to prove the point, girls were shunted into “boy” things just-because, and sometimes there was a scent of disappointment at girls who were perfectly happy with the traditional “girl” things.  It was an imperfect process, and often tainted by other terribly mistaken notions, but at its heart it was a good one.  I reached adulthood fully confident I could pursue whatever interests I liked, with no threat to my femininity perceived or feared.

I thus had to give serious thought to my reflection on the word “women” in the Word by Word Hail Mary, because I knew that so many of the typecasts assigned to femininity rang hollow.   There are indeed general, average, differences between men and women concerning size and strength and the distribution of this or that talent, but none of the exceptions to those “rules” are non-men or non-women.

Being a man or a woman simply is not about how well you stack up to a particular gender “ideal.”  It’s not even about how well your anatomical parts function — you can be infertile, impotent, or missing whole components of your genitalia altogether, and your femininity or masculinity is in no way compromised.  Devastating illness or injury can take away a part of your body you loved dearly, but it can’t take away the reality that you are a man or a woman.

These are facts.  This ideal I grew up with, however imperfectly transmitted, is a true ideal.

***

The current craze for gender-switching is a rejection of that ideal.  The reason is simple: It depends entirely on perpetuating the stereotypes we were supposedly trying to eliminate.

When a man claims to be a “woman,” the only way he can make that case is to don as many outer symbols of “womanhood” as he can.  Get himself some high heels and some fake breasts, slather on the lipstick, and try to convince people to buy the veneer.  The trouble is that pretty shoes and a nice figure and good make-up aren’t what make you a woman.  You can be utterly frumpy in every detail, and if you’re a woman, you’re still a woman.

When a woman claims to be a “man,” the only way she can float that claim is to try to downplay any outward sign of her femininity and adopt as many “masculine” habits as she can.   It creates a mockery of men — who are much more than flannel-clad testicle-bearers gathered around a football game.

Gender stereotypes are essential to the transgender effort because without them, you just have a regular person.  People might wonder on first acquaintance, if you have a sufficiently ambiguous outward appearance, whether you are a man or a woman. But, having established my credentials as a bona fide woman, it doesn’t matter how un-feminine I look, I still get to use the ladies’ room.

The OB-GYN will still drop a postcard in the mail reminding me to come in for the annual pap smear.  I don’t have to dress up special to persuade the nurse I’m not what I seem to be.  If people mistake me for a man because of my haircut and my work boots and my penchant for dockers, I even get the right to take offense: How dare you doubt my femininity just because I don’t look the way you think I should!

Pop culture is in a bind; we want our truth and our impossibilities too.  It’s no wonder Glamour magazine has chosen a man for its “woman” of the year.  The publication exists to sell the idea that your femininity isn’t a birthright at all, but something that can only be purchased by following the latest fads in the magazine.  When you’re in the stereotype business, your ideal spokesman is someone who wears nothing other than your product.

File:François Le Moyne (French - Head of King Louis XV - Google Art Project.jpg

Artwork:

  • Justus van Egmont – King Louis XIV of France [Public Domain] via Wikimedia
  • François Le Moyne – Head of King Louis XV [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

Whenever you’re feeling caught up in gender stereotypes, search Wikimedia on “King Louis.”

 

Old Poverty in the New Economy

Kat Fernandez recently shared her perennial post on poverty-nagging.  What caught my attention was the blouse incident:

He didn’t have to say yes, he’d help me, but he did.

He also didn’t have to comment that I needed to learn to save money or note that I was wearing a new blouse, but he did.

Never mind the “new” blouse was actually a hand me down or the idea of a savings was laughable making barely over minimum wage. He was in a position to help me, which entitled him to lecture me for being poor.

And so what if I was wearing a new blouse? Would he have appreciated it more if I showed up to work looking homeless?

What people overlook is that our society is now so wealthy, in the aggregate, that we’re swimming in clothes.  That a person could be both poor and well-dressed is a stroke of good luck — not everyone has the hand-me-downs flowing in just the right mix — but it’s not a sign of lavish living.

Televisions are another hot topic.  Look at those poor people with their shiny big TV’s.  Try to give your old television away.  Everyone already has one as good as yours, and is only interested in a space- and electricity-hogging machine if it counts as an upgrade.  Hitting the hand-me-down TV lottery isn’t all that difficult.

If you were to try to sell any of these gifts to fund your rent or health insurance habit, you might be able to net a few dollars, but not enough to make a dent in your actual bills.   The hand-me-downs are far more valuable for the benefits they supply directly (work clothes, free news and entertainment) than they are for their cash value.

These realities reflect structural changes in our economy.  For millennia, clothing was hard to come by.  It was valuable even second-hand.  Fifty years ago, electronics were luxuries, not mass-merchandise.   The world has changed, and the outer shell of poverty has changed with it.  What is impossibly out of reach for many Americans today is not food or clothing, but a frugal home in a safe neighborhood with a decent school.  These things simply cannot be had.  They are not on offer.

Meanwhile: Smart phones.  Poor people have smart phones for good reason.  If you own one, you don’t have to have a landline or internet or a computer.  You can use it to apply for jobs and check your kids’ grades, and if you can’t afford a data plan you can walk down to the public library and use their free wifi.  A decent recent-vintage but not cutting-edge smart phone can be had off the shelf for a fraction of the cost of the freshly-minted iDevice that outrage-porn rhetoric imagines are issued with WIC cards.

***

This doesn’t make poor people saints, and it doesn’t make poor people masters of frugal living.  Some are, some aren’t.  If we look closely, we can find faults in all our friends and most of our enemies, so the poor are just as easy a target for criticism as anyone else.  If not their bad budgeting than their lousy taste in classical music.  We can be confident the poor must surely be doing something wrong, because everybody’s doing something wrong.

Furthermore, by the very nature of the problem, we know that some of the people who struggle to make ends meet have that problem because they really, really stink at making money decisions.  It’s true of the U.S. Congress, it’s true of corporate executives, and it’s true of poor people.  Financial disaster is sometimes not your fault, but sometimes it is.

***

There is, therefore, a place for both old-fashioned financial advice and old-fashioned almsgiving.  Knowing which are needed and in what proportions is a delicate art.   But we can say with certainty that if your poverty-shaming demonstrates that you have no working knowledge of the economic changes that have taken place in your own lifetime in your own neighborhood, you should hush up and just listen for a bit.

File:Kotsis Last belongings.jpg

Aleksander Kotsis (1836–1877), The Last Belongings, 1870 [Public Domain], via Wikimedia.

Is SC Really Having a 1000-Year Flood? I don’t think so. #scflood

Statesmen have a right to poetry in their oratory, and I give Governor Haley every allowance for referring to the flooding in South Carolina as something that happens “once in a thousand years.”  The point she wishes to make is that the present events were utterly unexpected, and I agree with her.  There are countless cases where you can glance at the land and the forecast and be utterly unsurprised by a bit of flooding; the recent disaster in the Midlands is not one of those events.

All the same, I’m going to hazard that if we look at some snatches of recent history — and by “recent” I mean less than a century — the picture is a bit different.

How much water does this place get?

Seasonal fluctuations in water levels are normal, and so are variations from year to year. Sometimes summers are wet and winters are dry, sometimes it runs the other way around.  We are used to the rivers and creeks doing their thing, going up and down.  It entertains.  In recent memory, however, there has been nothing like the overwhelmingly massive flooding we are seeing now.  The evidence, unfortunately, is that this is because we are forgetful.

The Lake Murray Dam was completed in 1930, and one of its purposes was flood control.  If you look at river flow records on the Congaree, you’ll notice some very high-water years prior to the building of the dam.  But note: This year’s record high during the floods at 155,000 cfs was exceeded by a long shot in 1936 at 231,000 cfs.  Take a look at the data — there were yet other big-flood years since the dam was built.

For data from this year’s flood, check out the feed at the Congaree Riverkeepers Facebook page.  Side note: The Gervais Street Bridge was completed in 1928, which means it’s already survived 300,000+ cfs.  Don’t fail us now, little bridge!

The geography of the city underscores this point.  In the past twenty years there has a been a flurry of development along the river, as if someone suddenly noticed there was a major scenic area right there in the middle of everything.  But if you had shown up in 1990, here’s what you would have found on the riverfront: A chicken factory (still there), a couple of water treatment plants (ditto), and a prison.  The scenic Vista tourist area just up the hill from the river (around the recently-built Columbia Convention center) was all industrial property — factories and industrial-supply houses.

(In 1990 there were two pioneering apartment complexes — but nothing at all like what you see today.)

Part of this was due to the river’s history as a transportation pipeline and as a power source for mills.  Likewise, there’s obvious logic to laying out the state capital farther up on the more buildable flat lands at the top of the hill.  But if you look at the siting of the mill villages on either side of the river, you’ll notice that all the historic development leaves plenty of elbow room for flooding.  Not only is the obvious floodplain kept clear, but there’s a bit of extra cushion before you reach the historic structures.

We who are living in 2015 are surprised by so much rain and what it does to a river or creek.  Someone building in 1915?  Either they knew to expect massive floodwaters, or else the evidence of their ignorance has since washed away.

Just how old is this place, anyway?

The City of Columbia has been around for ages, but what we overlook in thinking about the present floods is just how new most of the residential areas are.  Forest Acres, on the eastern side of the city where the most disastrous flooding is occurring, was only developed into neighborhoods from the 1950’s forward.

What did 1950’s southern suburbia look like? My great aunt, who bought a brand new home on the other side of the river in the avenues of Cayce (West Columbia), explained how Knox Abbot drive — one of the major arteries feeding the city — was then a dirt road.  Urbanization as we know it is new.  Very new.

We think of sixty-five years as being a long time ago, but in terms of weather cycles and flooding probabilities, it simply isn’t.  Unless you mean your city to be disposable, it has to be built for the weather you can reasonably expect during the lifespan of the homes and neighborhoods you hope to keep.

What place for dam-protected neighborhoods?

The pond-dam system of flood control is what makes large portions of creekside land in central South Carolina arable and habitable.  Without the dams in Forest Acres, the neighborhoods as we know them could not function — so they will almost certainly be rebuilt.  Alongside a wild creek is not a good place to put a tame neighborhood.

Something to understand before asking petulant questions about why the dams in Forest Acres and farther afield weren’t made to handle more water is that there is much more room for error in a rural, undeveloped setting — which is where most dams were situated, for lack of urbanization, until only very recently in South Carolina history.

Dirt roads are prone to erosion, which is why asphalt is so popular.  But when you have a dirt road, you can see the dirt wash away.  In contrast, the terrifying sudden collapse of paved roads happens because the dirt below has eroded, and the pavement gives way only when it is no longer supported.  In other words: Until recently, the roads that got washed out by the odd dam-failure didn’t necessarily do so in a way that took anyone by surprise.

Likewise, in a rural area there’s more room for absorbing floodwaters.  Build your home on higher ground, and if the dam goes you’ll lose some crops, but it isn’t, if you do it right, your entire life’s everything.  The Forest Acres floods have been so catastrophic because pavement serves as a channel and funnel for water, not a sponge.

How do you build a disaster? Put your history on backwards.

We have a disastrous paradox going on in the Midlands:

  • Portions of our pond-and-dam systems are built as if water levels we’ve experienced historically aren’t going to come around again.
  • Our infrastructure, which radically affects how floodwaters impact our lives, is the thing that has radically changed. A mostly-paved city experiences water runoff in a fundamentally different way than farm and forestland does.

Essentially we’ve pretended to control the thing we can’t change, and have failed to account for the thing we can and have changed.

It’s an error, and hopefully it’s a once-in-a-thousand-years error.  But if we do not correct ourselves, we will see this again.

File:Gervais Street Bridge, Gervais Street spanning Congaree River, Columbia (Richland County, South Carolina).jpg

Photo: Jack Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Inside Our Homeschool – What We’re Doing This Year

What I’ve been doing instead of blogging lately is getting ready for school — organizing the house, buying books, writing up the calendar.  No, this is not one of those posts where I explain that this is the very best method and your children will rot if they do something else.

–> FYI If you’re also posting your non-hubris-laden plans and I don’t regularly read your blog (or I fail to read it this one time), you can tweet it to me @JenFitz_Reads.

If you don’t want to read about every single book we’re using, skip down to the math story at the bottom.  People who homeschool will especially appreciate the magnitude of the pending Saul-on-his-way-to-Tarsus thing that happened.

The Boy, 10th Grade

Core Classes

He’s enrolled in Kolbe Academy’s online school for everything core-academics except science. To my pleasant surprise he asked to take Latin I, so he’s switching languages (last year was French I).  We’re super happy with the decision to go with Kolbe for him, it’s a good fit.  For science this year he’s going to take some computer programming courses, per his goal of getting some IT certifications under his belt.  He’ll pick back up with the lab sciences at Kolbe or the local community college for junior and senior years.

The Fabulous Exciting Economics Class

We’re doing a 1-semester-credit economics course with some friends, meeting once a week over the course of the year.  It’ll cover personal finance (Dave Ramsey version), then traditional Econ 101 via Compass Media’s Basic Economics.  Neither of those programs are themselves Catholic, but you can count on me to insert necessary commentary to adjust as needed.  We’ll wrap up with a survey of what I think are the big encyclicals you need a working familiarity with (starting with Rerum and ending with Laudato, big surprise).

Going along with that is a debate-club portion of the class.  Kids will start by working through The Fallacy Detective and warming up their arguing skills that way.  Second half of the year they’ll prepare a couple of debate pieces.  Some of the debaters aren’t in the econ class, but for those who are, they can use their debate topics as research reports for a component of the economics class.

I’m so stinking excited about this class.  More fun than anyone should be allowed to have on a Friday.

Electives

The boy’s continuing with piano and classical choral for fine arts, and a combination of outdoor sports (mountain biking, hiking, general fitness) for PE.  We don’t count shooting sports in PE, but that’s just so that administrators don’t faint when they see it on the transcript.  Auto Upkeep is on his to-do list as a parent-mandated prerequisite for a driver’s license, but the parents have no required time frame, so it might not be this year.

The Girls, 8th, 6th, and 4th Grades

Language Arts

All three girls are using Language of God from CHC for their grammar and composition.  We used this last year, and the workbook format is very handy for me for recordkeeping.  I like the way CHC’s textbooks integrate the faith: Catholicism-as-normal-life. (The old Voyages in English had the same merit — I liked that one, too, no complaints, we just needed to transition to workbooks for ease of use.)

6th and 4th graders are using My Catholic Speller from CHC, which wins points with me for including words like “monstrance” and “transubstantiation” on the spelling lists.  In the older grades the spelling words are written in cursive, which is either good practice or the bane of your existence, depending on whether your child can read that stuff.  I vote “good practice.”

They are also both doing MCP Plaid Phonics, which has been a longtime winner around here. I like the way it takes words apart in 7,000 different directions.  Word Surgery is a subject, in my book.

For handwriting my 6th grader is finishing up Cheerful Cursive (I liked this very much), and then following with CHC’s Handwriting Level 4, which doubles as my consolation for the fact that the girls won’t have any formal Latin going on this year.  (They get their share at Mass, though, so their brains won’t completely melt in one year.)  4th grader is doing an intro to cursive with CHC’s Handwriting Level 3.  What sold me on switching first-year cursive programs was that CHC’s book has goofy riddles in them.

Social Studies

All three girls are continuing with Faith and Life. Of course.  The younger two are doing the sadly out-of-print Bible Story Workbook which is just plain fun and pleasant, and Map Skills for geography.

8th grader is using MTF’s The History of the Church for her history book.  True story: We had decided to keep working through The Catholic Textbook Project’s history series, which we like very much, but when I went to file my paperwork I completely forgot we had agreed on that.  We already owned the MTF book so it was in front of my face, and I’d been thinking she really needed a good Church History course, so I wrote it down on the forms.  She’s resumed speaking to me, so it’s okay.

The two younger girls are unschooling literature, because I have trouble with them reading all the “literature” selections ahead of time.  Good problems.  8th Grader is doing CHC’s The Secret Code of Poetry.  It looks promising.  We have an attitude problem at our house concerning poetry, and I’m hoping this can be the year we fix that.

Science

8th Grader is continuing with CHC’s middle school Life Science text, which we did half of last year (she had some other science things going on to, get up off your fainting couch).  We’ve had good luck with getting together with friends to do the labs, so I’ve got two lab-weeks penciled in, one for fall, one for spring.

Because our science-friends have a 6th grader doing Behold and See 6, our 6th grader is doing it too.  That’s the reason.  But it’s a beautiful book and I do like it.  The book is divided into three units, and we’re doing them out of order.  We’ll start with Unit 1, physical science, then skip ahead to Unit 3, astronomy, because it’s easier to do astronomy labs when it’s winter and it gets dark early.  Then we’ll go back to Unit 2 (habitats-n-animals-n-stuff) in the spring, which is when it’s nicer to go to the zoo.

4th grader has a co-op science class, and I think we have a couple science books she hasn’t read yet.  This is why God ordained that there should be libraries, because one science book a year is not enough, she says.  Give me another one, she says.

Also: Everybody Always Does a Science Project That Is The Law.  SuperHusband has made no firm dictate on this year’s plans, but he’s eminently predictable, so I say February sees us studying Physical Science, again.  Life Science projects take too long, we need things that can be studied in exactly six hours on a Saturday before the Science Fair on Tuesday.  I should start looking around now for deals on double-sided tape for Mad Monday, when all the displays get made.

Other Stuff, Not Counting Math

All three girls are in strings (violin, viola, cello), eldest does classical choir too.  (So again, not entirely Latin-deprived).  Older girls’ co-op is going to include some assorted fine arts, a book club, and I forget what else. Good fun things.

They are all participating in varying amounts of volleyball; the youngest has also taken to going on a bike ride with me every day, and she’s going to have PE in her weekly co-op, too.  Hiking kicks in wherever volleyball doesn’t.

I’m going to have to suppress the craft factory so we can get school done (my children have a bad habit of sneaking away from their books in order to pursue their PhD’s in Pinterestology.)  But in the meantime, the knock-off American-Girl-Sized dolls are getting school uniforms, new backpacks, and textbooks with calico covers.

Math.  Oh Math.

Okay so this really crazy thing happened about math.  I’ve been perfectly happy with Math-U-See for many years.  I like the way it teaches concepts, I like the scope and sequence, I like the materials.  I had every intention of continuing with it.

Then I was ordering my books, and MUS’s server was malfunctioning. So I was delayed in placing my order.

Meanwhile, we’d already planned to hire a Math Assistant, because this is our weakest subject.  It’s the area where kids have the most resistance and parents have the least enthusiasm (see a pattern there?), and we’d determined that an Outside Force would be crucial to meeting our goals for the year.  Our fantabulous find was a willing homeschool mom (kids now grown) who was game for some part-time work.

She’d done Saxon with her kids, but we both agreed that math is math so it didn’t matter all that much.

Saxon.  Dreaded Saxon. Fearsome Saxon.  Crazy Saxon.  Everybody Loves/Hates Saxon.

And while I was waiting for MUS’s server to begin behaving, I grabbed a rosary and went for a walk, and ended up with Saxon On My Mind.  I’m not sure whether that counts as a distraction to prayer or the kind of penance you’re only allowed to undertake with a spiritual director’s supervision.

So I came home when it started raining, and surfed around, looking at Saxon.  Disadvantages:

  • Being a crazy curriculum-changer when you’re already happy with existing program.
  • Higher marginal cost, since with MUS I’d only need student workbooks, whereas with Saxon I’d need to also pick up the answer keys and stuff.
  • It’s sorta busy. Manically busy.

Advantages:

  • The intensity of practice and the spiral-approach were well-suited to the particular math goals we had for this year.  Which is to say, This Is The Year of Math, Be Silent You Who Want More Latin!
  • I could get in Saxon’s sadistic idea of “one lesson” the amount and types of practice that we would have been compiling from MUS plus supplements-n-stuff.
  • Our Math Assistant would be on familiar ground.
  • I could order the books from one of several vendors I’ve used happily in the past, since Saxon is sold via distributors.

My children held a flash-mob protest when I said the S-word, because of course they’ve heard all the tales.  They are homeschoolers, they are not sheltered from the dark secrets of the textbook world.  But I managed to quell the seething masses and persuade the opinion leader (8th grader) in time to hit “submit order.”

So it’s done.  We’ll see how it goes when the books get here.

Boy Studying1

Photo of boy studying by Jon Fitz, all rights reserved. 

New Entries for Our French-Redneck Dictionary

So I’ve got four high school students sitting at my kitchen table, and we’re going over the passé composé today, that stalwart French tense that is the bane of first-year students.  I grab a random verb from the list in the textbook, renverser, to spill.  Because they have an evil instructor who gives difficult quizzes at the start of every class session (the better to learn from, my dear) I remind them that a phrase such as j’ai renversé . . .  [insert your own object, or wait five minutes and one of your younger siblings will have done it for you] can be translated variably as:

  • I spilled . . .
  • I did spill . . .
  • I have spilled . . .

And then, since English verbs are just spilling out of my brain, I throw in:

  • I done spilled.

(Alternate usage: I’ve done spilled.  Alternate spelling, which is entirely unnecessary, and if it sorta capture the emphasis, it at times overstates the nuances on the pronunciation and in the process looks hopelessly silly: I dun spilled.)

And of course it could be spilt.  So, so, many variations, and they aren’t interchangeable, non-natives don’t try this in public.  If it isn’t your dialect, you listen politely and reply in your own.  To the educated, it suffices that the variants are mutually comprehensible.

Then, of course, one of the kids wants to know how you say y’all in French.  The answer of course is vous.  I explain that if we hadn’t done away with thou, we wouldn’t need y’all.  But we did, so we do.

***

 

Related: If you tend to get your pants in a wad because your kids’ French teacher is delving into dialect and she means it for serious because it’s not just interesting academically, but at times useful if you mean to be an educated person who can circulate in multiple circles without being snickered at by those possessing a wider understanding of the local culture than your average ill-educated, untraveled, upper-middle-class standard-English-speaking isolationist, maybe a book like this one will help you unwind a little.  Or not. But it’s readable and interesting, so it can’t hurt to try.

File:Catedral de Gniezno, Gniezno, Polonia, 2014-09-20, DD 37-39 HDR.jpg
This photo has nothing to do with French, and only a very tenuous connection to frequently-mocked Southern-American people groups. It just looks cool. Click through for more info.

  Artwork: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Christian Community Renewal for Ordinary Moms

This story is for Melanie Bettinelli, who is far more thoughtful than I am, and her house is in better order.

So just before Thanksgiving this year, me and another mom got an invitation.  We had a new friend who we’d met because our daughters played sports together and liked each other.  And she said, “I’d like to have you over to do a Thanksgiving craft with us.”

We said yes, even though we were not really looking for Thanksgiving crafts, but we knew that friendship and community life is important.

On the appointed day we rearranged schedules as needed and made the time.

It was not a complicated event.  It was not a huge affair.  It was three families spending a few hours together on a weekday afternoon.  There were some snacks, the host mom made the other moms coffee, and the kids did their crafts and then went to play, and the three moms got to know each other better.

That was it.  It was the best thing ever.

I had shown up tired and overwrought and useless for intelligent conversation, and I went home feeling alive and refreshed and full of hope.  A few hours with a couple other moms, talking about things that were important to all of us, in a clean, tranquil house full of happy kids.

***

I don’t really know if my friend had to muster every ounce of bravery in order to extend the invitation, or if she’s one of those people who lives from tea party to tea party.  Probably something in between.  I do know that the Christian community my children are growing up in consists of invitations like this.  I have a friend who puts on an Advent Tea for Girls every year; of course we come.  My in-laws have a few events they host.  There are a few things that are sponsored by our parish as a whole, or by a parish group, or by some apostolate separate from, but working in sync with, the Church.

Likewise, my children’s spiritual formation is a combination of what they learn at home, what they learn participating in formal programs or ministries sponsored by this or that corner of the Church, and small events hosted by fellow families who see a need and act.

An example of the latter: Our local youth groups are stretched to their max doing what they do, which is primarily evangelism and early discipleship.  They do good work, and I’m glad for my children to be involved.  But several of us were looking for an apologetics course — the kind of thing that was more than our local youth groups were in a position to offer just now.  Finally, one of the dads, who is a pro at apologetics, but not able to get into formal ministry work at this time, decided what he could do is open his home a couple nights a month: Come have supper then learn some apologetics.

This is how it’s done.  Each of us offering the little we can, in the times and places we can.  The big vision isn’t being achieved by one massive coordinated effort.  It’s being achieved by countless mini-invitations, some of which we have to decline, others we can gratefully accept, a few we can extend ourselves.

***

I don’t live in Catholic Wonderland.  I live in as typical a corner of American Catholicism as you could hope to make a sitcom about.  Since it’s the Bible Belt, we are helped by a culture of discipleship in the evangelical congregations that surround us — but my children’s Catholic childhood community looks nothing like the typical pattern for evangelical kids.  We may be buoyed by the surrounding evangelical culture, but our reality is distinctively Catholic not just in the decorations, but in the overall rhythm of interaction.

There’s a greater vision we’re working towards, but it’s not something that will ever be fully achieved.  The big vision isn’t an action though, it’s a motivation.  It is the perspective that helps us know that yes, when your friend invites you to come do the craft, you change your schedule to go do the craft.

Just as the Church can only be built one small soul at a time, Christian communal life can only be built one small invitation at a time.

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Artwork: By Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Musée Condé, Chantilly) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Being Someone New for 2015

Two links to my work elsewhere that deserve your attention as we start the new year:

1. At CatholicMom.com earlier this month, I wrote about a Gospel passage I never quite grasped until the events literally happened to me.  And then I got it.  Read the whole thing, and then you’ll know the context for my summing up:

Is there an area of my life where I’m clinging to a past identity? Allowing what I’ve done to define me? To condemn me? What can I do, right now, to become a person who is no longer defined by that past?

When you get to mid-January and your resolutions have already fallen apart, this is what you fall back on.  This is what your efforts are about.  Every minute of your life is a new minute.

2. If you live someplace with people in it, there’s a book you might find helpful. At New Evangelizers I review The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.   It isn’t what you think it is.

My background is in business and in international studies, and over the years I’ve looked in on a number of “diversity”  type presentations.  Usually they boil down to a few funny stories about what your brandname means in Chinese and an admonishment that we all need to get along and celebrate our uniqueness, pass the baklava and let’s sing a Polynesian folk song.  This book is completely different.

Getting along with others isn’t the highest ideal. But it is good for you to try it sometimes.  Take a look at the book.

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Cover image for The Culture Map courtesy of ErinMeyer.com.

 

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