Five Quick Takes

Five Quick Takes March 21, 2023


As it’s the twentieth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, a lot of people on Twitter have been looking back on said invasion. I reflected on it a little myself this morning. I was fifteen at the time, still an evangelical (increasingly curious about Catholicism but still very far from converting), in the middle of high school; the invasion was a major contributor to my growing cynicism about American Christianity.

It wasn’t just that the US had entered an unjust war—in itself, that didn’t unsettle my faith at all; America had never held a special place in my religious ideas. It was that both at my church and in my school, I was the only person I knew who was against it. One of my classmates even wrote a paper arguing that preemptive strikes were compatible with just war theory; I thought it was painfully obvious that the criterion of last resort excluded preemptive strikes. And when I began hearing lifelong Christians start to defend even torture—the rage, the disgust, the shock that I felt … words fail me.

Even as emotionally bottled up as I was at the time, I knew I was angry. What I’m not sure I realized until this morning, maybe, was how alone all of this made me feel. Given how ready I was (and still am in some ways) to accept authority over my gut, I’m surprised I never really doubted my convictions, thought I must be missing something. But the whole thing just seemed as plain as a pikestaff, and I couldn’t pretend to myself that I didn’t see that.

I think it’s this experience that, for me, made certain commonplace sentiments about religion not just unappealing, but incomprehensible. I mean the “faith is about being part of a community” kind, the ones that appeal to “togetherness” and “inclusivity” as if they were ends in themselves. This way of approaching religion is opaque to me. I can certainly understand wanting that from a church. But I can’t fathom finding a community so satisfying, fitting into one so well, that that would feel like the point of church. In a way, I’m grateful for this: I doubt I could have held onto my faith without it; the cruelties of Christians would have been too much. As things stand—well, I wouldn’t wish my own journey on somebody else, but it rescued me from that particular attachment.


I had hoped to publish the final installment in my “Disk Horse” series on trans issues today. However, the point I planned to make in it has been significantly modified, thanks to an exasperating document released by the USCCB today. I’ll need to take a little with it—though given how erratic my posting schedule has been for several months, the actual difference in timing from when it would otherwise have come out may not be that big!


My Lenten project, on the advice of my director (a Dominican, much to my surprise!—I’ve had bad luck with Dominicans) has been simply taking ten minutes twice a week to spend on mental prayer. In this, I’m relying partially on the small book Time for God by one Fr. Jacques Philippe, which has been a very straightforward, God-centered guide. I recommend it; prayer is to faith what breathing is to life, and all too many Christians neglect prayer out of embarrassment or uncertainty.


I’ve been thinking about the rosary lately. It’s one of the few elements in my prayer life that has stuck around pretty much since my conversion. (A friend actually made me mine—it has those little skull-shaped beads, so it’s an excellent memento mori piece and also looks extremely metal, as far more Catholic objects should, in my opinion.)

Something about it always nagged me, though: namely, the fact that the fifth Joyful Mystery—St. Joseph and the Virgin finding Jesus in the temple—is that, rather than the Epiphany, which seems like a far more obvious choice. Earlier in its history, the rosary involved a much wider selection of meditations from the lives of Jesus and Mary, as many as a hundred and fifty, and it’s hard to imagine that the Epiphany didn’t make the list in that form! Why would it have been dropped in favor of the discovery in the temple? What’s more, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange uses the life of Mary as an allegory of the normal stages of the spiritual life, one of which (thanks to St. John of the Cross) is called the dark night of the soul. He points to the loss of Jesus in Jerusalem as the symbol of the dark night—which is exceedingly strange, both because the much weightier Passion of her Son still lies ahead, and because even the Epiphany is swiftly followed by the massacre of the Innocents and the Holy Family’s own sojourn in Egypt. The episode in the temple seemed to possess, or be credited with, a lot more significance than made sense. Why?

No idea if this was the reason why, historically; but something struck me last week. Mary speaks in the New Testament only a very few times, one of them being the passage in Luke where this mystery is recorded. She says (in the King James wording), Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. I forget why, but it came into my mind the parallel that that forms with the text, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? I’m not sure I get what’s going on between these verses, but I feel like there’s definitely something here.


We appear to have well and truly reached allergy season: I just finished a box of 160 kleenexes that I bought yesterday, and my nose feels like it’s been sanded. Unluckily for me, I tend to be under-responsive to antihistamines. (The same seems to go for medications in general—I don’t even bother with painkillers when I have a headache or whatever, not because I’m just that tough but because I might as well eat a cheerio for all the effect it’ll have on me.) The only exception, of course, is benadryl; that does affect me like most people. So my choices are to either tough out the allergies, or render myself nonfunctional by treating them. And when you’re blowing your nose so much you can’t even finish making a one-ingredient sandwich without multiple interruptions, a solution that eliminates the sandwich as much as the nose-blowing becomes more tempting than you might think! So … say a prayer for me?

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