Crunchy Cons and (Anti?-)Consumerist Posturing

Ok, so here’s a sincere question: If we spend more time acquiring goods locally and ethically, doesn’t this mean we are becoming more materialistic, not less? We are definitely thinking more about stuff and probably spending more money, to boot. This is a question that’s been bothering me on and off since AP Environmental Science in twelfth grade, and most especially since a Dorothy Day-inspired private lecture on distributism got me thinking about consumer ethics again in a special way.

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Breaking Up with Facebook

I got my Facebook account in 2005. What this means is I have never been a grownup without Facebook, save the occasional stretch of a couple weeks at a time at Lent or in Uganda with limited internet access. Some good things have come out of it: renewing and deepening friendships when geography or life stage brings us into proximity, selling my kids’ old stuff to only semi-strangers, having a rich and mildly embarrassing collection of internet-hosted photos from the last 13 years at my fingertips at all times.

But mostly I waste a lot of time.

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Dorothy Day’s Little Way of Motherhood

So, last month I finished On Pilgrimagethe first book I’ve read by Dorothy Day. If you’ve read it, you know it’s a weird experience — like if I printed out a year’s worth of blog posts, interspersed them with my diary entries, stapled it together, and called it a book. But only if I was as insanely interesting as Day, even at her most scattered.

One page struck me especially. We have a new tradition of mother’s blessings here, where we gather to pray for and encourage a friend as her pregnancy comes to its end, and maybe that’s why this passage struck me particularly.

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A Kristin Lavransdatter Baptism


If Kristin Lavransdatter is any indication, in the history of Christendom, baptism was a Pretty Big Deal, and not for the heirloom gown or the pastel cupcakes. Instead, I was struck when reading it with how 14th century Norway Catholics took baptism really, deeply seriously. Like, don’t take your baby out of the house until he’s baptized seriously. Seriously.

Pippin’s baptism was not that way. It took awhile for us to decide for sure we’d baptize him Catholic (vs Anglican — we were a house divided at the time), and then to break the news to family who we thought might not be thrilled (they were, because they’re great). And then all the family wanted to be there, and our insanely generous former Anglican priest, which is wonderful, and suddenly, he was ten months old and too fat for the family baptism gown.

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What would Kristin say?

Next up was Scout. She was born four weeks early, throwing our plans off and making us miss the mandatory baptism class, but we fared better: we managed to get her baptized when she was about seven weeks old. (And the party wasn’t too shabby, either.)

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Warning: If you do a baptism this fast, YOU might be the one too fat for any appropriately baptismal gown.
But we want to take baptism as the solemn gift it is, as Kristin and her contemporaries did. I love the lacy gowns and (honestly, all) cupcakes, and I will cheerfully attend your kid’s baptism at any age, but even as late as my father’s childhood in the 1960s, the Church was instructing young catechists on how to perform emergency baptisms just in case of roadside accidents. This made me wonder if there was maybe new post-Vatican II teachings that supported why our parish priests had felt so unrushed in baptizing Pippin, and why we kept encountering a lot of resistance to scheduling in our current church.

Spoiler: There isn’t.

Instead, I talked to people far smarter than I am, and this is the sort of thing we found.

From the Catechism:

250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

But maybe the Church has revised its teaching on the ultimate destination of the unbaptized? Maybe there’s a general shift toward greater reliance on God’s mercy? we wondered. And after all, infant mortality rates are way down from KL’s day. But elsewhere we’ve got this line:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” 64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Canon Law reinforces this idea:

Can.  867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.

In talking to a wide range of American Catholics, I’ve found there’s a huge spectrum in how determined clergy and administration are to making that “first few weeks” thing happen — our church tries to schedule on only one Saturday a month and generally refuses to baptize Thanksgiving weekend, Advent or Lent. (Sometimes the argument is that these are penitential times, but baptism is, to my mind, penitential!) It seems like Tridentine churches often get on the ball sooner; big churches like ours seem to struggle most.

But it seems like a practice worth pushing back against. So we informed ourselves and got to politely advocating for a speedy baptism.

Roo’s big day came on her one week birthday. A scramble!
Here’s how we made it happen:

  1. Introduce extended family to your plan early. We have loved having our whole families attend previous baptisms but including them when they live so far away has contributed to a lag. Explain your reasons for baptizing promptly well before your due date so no one feels snubbed.
  2. Get godparents on board. You’ll need flexibility in their schedule or a willingness on their part to let you use proxies (which we did for Scout’s semi-prompt baptism). Roo’s godparents let the priest know she was born the next day and started trying to schedule right away on our behalf.
  3. Meet all parish guidelines in advance.
  4. Gather family heirlooms. I realized at 32 weeks we didn’t have the family baptismal gown here — it was still with my mother-in-law. Since my last baby was a 36-weeker, I made sure to ask my MIL right away if she’d be willing to mail the gown.
  5. Don’t worry much about a reception or party. We got the official time for the baptism less than 24 hours in advance, and promptly sent out text invites to everyone who had fed us and cared for us during that long, long pregnancy. We decided to do pizza and my mom made brownies and salad — other friends offered to bring cake and bread and Prosecco. We didn’t even worry about a final head count until after the sacrament, at which point we counted and called in an order of pizza. And you know what? It was fine.

Worth the rush

Taking — Not Giving — Old Stuff Is Charity

In the wake of all the fire hurricane devastation in recent weeks, a friend posted a piece called, “Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything But Relief” and it got me thinking about the nature of American generosity to the less fortunate.

The piece reports on the tremendous waste of disaster response, often costing the donors fruitlessly, and sometimes even costing disaster responders who must then deal with the sheer volume of inappropriate stuff flooding in, on top of everything else in the crisis. It’s well meant, no doubt, but ultimately ends up falling somewhere between useless and destructive.

We are not wrong, of course, especially as Christians but also as decent humans, to want to aid people near and far who are hurting, or even just lacking, as we live in such prosperity. Many Catholics have heard and heeded the words of St. Basil — a distinctly Gospel message that when we hoard things others could use, we are essentially stealing.

But there’s a more helpful way to look at this issue, now that material goods are often very cheap in comparison to previous eras. I ran across it first in a book called Money, Possessions and Eternity (which was pretty long and mostly not especially interesting, but read it if you want). Author Randy Alcorn suggested seeing the work of thrift shops and charity shops and rummage sales as a service provided to you, not a work of charity you’re performing by donating — regardless of how their slogans make you feel generous and virtuous. There will be exceptions to this, of course — when you give away the peacoat you really love because you just can’t justify two; when you loan beloved baby things you know you might not get back — but on the whole, we are a culture burdened with stuff, and this concept crystallized for me something I had been thinking about for awhile.

See, while we were in Uganda almost a decade ago (!), we saw all the weirdo donations of Americans right there in the field, in all their ludicrous glory: a woman carrying an empty laptop bag on her head; big stacks of American textbooks that cost a fortune to ship and can’t be used in the nationally mandated curriculum; stacks of second-hand Western clothes for sale in markets, edging out traditional dressmakers. A lot of money and well-meaning “thoughts and prayers” went into these donations, but nothing really helps. We were only in Uganda six months, and certainly don’t have all the answers, but these were the things we observed East Africans really needed from us: medical equipment and training; assistance in establishing robust computer systems; money for their own initiatives. In the meantime, local charity shops can take and resell our used, unwanted stuff, or we can do the extra legwork of matching our surplus with local need through Facebook, Craigslist, and our neighborhood and church communities.

These questions will continue to become more relevant as we face downsizing baby boomers with houses full of unwanted junk, a projected new fad of Swedish death cleaning, and a world of hurt we feel powerless to remedy. But we have a responsibility to the unsexy work of researching reputable organizations and causes and giving where we can, even if it’s just boring cash donations.

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Part of my Ugandan wardrobe

 

Hurricane Thoughts

I’m a native Floridian. I’m also a professional worrier, so my mind last week was on Irma a lot, praying for friends and family in its path.

And coming after Hurricane Harvey, which probably elicited a Hail Mary or two from me, or the fires out West, which pretty much flew under my radar, I’m feeling some guilt about my completely arbitrary distribution of compassion.

I was talking about this with a friend recently, who at the time was fretting about what Hurricane Irma might do to her Outer Banks vacation, and of course feeling guilty about that, when so much greater suffering is occurring as a result. After all, while a hurricane might obligingly spin out to sea and leave everyone untouched, generally, if you’re praying for the safety of one set of people, you’re sort of sacrificing other sets who will end up in the storm’s path instead.

While we were talking, though, over breakfast in our church’s basement, she pointed to a poster with the photos of current seminarians in our diocese. She admitted that each year, as she comforted unruly babies during Mass, she’d pick, at random, one of the seminarians and pray for him over the course of the year. (I love this idea, don’t you?)

And suddenly, the arbitrary allotment of prayer didn’t seem so selfish. We are human; we are finite. (News fatigue is a thing, after all.) We form a connection, as deep as the third-generation Florida blood that runs in my veins or as serendipitous as a face chosen at random off a poster, and we devote our efforts deeply, if not broadly.

It’s the same reason, after all, that since returning from Uganda in 2009, J and I have devoted much of our (admittedly often limited) philanthropy and prayers to Uganda. We only spent six months there, almost ten years ago, but I have a bit of a better context to focus my prayers and guide my financial giving: I know the towns where the people we fund through Kiva live; I know bits of the Lhukonzo our Compassion International child speaks.

I can’t care as deeply for everyone affected by natural disaster as those living in the landscapes in which I’m mostly deeply rooted; I cannot grieve the losses of every child the way I pray for my Compassion child in the loss of his father. That’s not to say I can’t care more, pray more, give more — I have a very long way to go! It’s only to say that you have causes, and I have causes, and if each of us in the world take up a few causes of our own, dear to our hearts, and nourish them well, that might be a good starting place. Breaking the world into small, meaningful chunks and loving those around us as best we can — that seems like a plan we can just about manage.

 

Fumbling Toward a Family Rosary

The beautiful double kneeler John’s brother made for us as a wedding present in our first grad school apartment
Through a confluence of factors, this summer has been our rosary summer. We’ve had friends experience births and losses — something that always brings me back to the slow rhythm of the rosary — and in starting Police Preschool, it’s something I wanted to make a part of our family life.

In addition, some families from our church have been working to get a small group rosary going one Friday evening a month. I love those moments of praying in community: it feels a little like a quilting bee on the frontier, where together we cheerfully make something big and beautiful in no time.

On the other hand, praying the rosary myself — even a decade at a time with a two- and four-year-old — feels as if I were trying to make a quilt by hand, all by myself: snarled and interrupted, often redone, painstakingly slow.

But those corporate Friday rosaries point toward what I might have, someday, if we stretch our spiritual muscles and build up the discipline as a family. There are glimmers even now, a few weeks in: Scout asking for the silicone “rosie” my dad made her; Pippin asking me to explain the mystery we are tackling that day; the old familiarity of my chipped, beautiful cloisonne rosary, given to me by a friend for my 21st birthday, blessed by the sweet monsignor of our college church — or the battered wooden rosary J bought me in Seoul before he was even Catholic — or the sparkly crystal rosary my godmother gave me for my First Communion present. (Rosaries get misplaced with alarming frequency at our house, if you can’t tell.)

The truth is, I don’t think I’ve consistently prayed the rosary since college, when I’d pray every night in that anxious, homesick season to help me fall asleep, more often than not waking when I dropped the rosary mid-prayer. Trying to instate a family rosary now seems crazy, as Pippin swipes through pictures on my phone of today’s mystery, or Scout shouts, as usual, that our decade should be offered for “ME!!!,” and it’s totally unclear if anyone is getting anything out of this practice. But it starts my mornings of Police Preschool right, even when it leaves me flustered: remembering my reliance on God, praying desperately that good intentions and earnest modeling are enough, in the end.

7 Quick Takes: Catholic Minutiae Edition

I’m doing something a bit different this week for Friday and linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum, who I had the pleasure of meeting last Saturday. Also, there’s been virtually no cooking this week because THERE IS STILL NO KITCHEN SINK.

  1. Last weekend I got to attend the Catholic Women Blogger Network conference a couple hours away, which I thoroughly enjoyed even though I have so much trouble remembering the acronym that I spent the day trying not to say it. It was like two-thirds professional conference and one-third retreat, and had a pregnancy-approved number of snacks. Highly recommend.
  2. I’ve been veiling since Ash Wednesday and the best thing, overwhelmingly, is that the Eucharistic minister always has a strong suspicion based on correlation that I’m going to receive on the tongue. So in my awkwardness I somehow get to feel less awkward?
  3. The worst thing is how the veil likes to slither off my head, like all the really cool big Scunchis of the ’90s. Any fellow baby-haired women have tips for making it stay put?
  4. Last weekend we attended the back to school Mass at the college Catholic student union and it was packed to the gills and I could have cried for all these sweet baby college students trying to do the right thing and start their college lives off right. Could have cried, but I was too busy trying to keep the kids from imploding. (What is it about folding chairs that are so tempting for kids in church?!)
  5. Number one piece of advice if you don’t want to hold a wriggling toddler in Mass: Marry the captain of the high school wrestling team. Plan ahead, ladies.
  6. I love our home parish, but a couple weeks ago we attended a different Mass time and there was actually organ and Pip whispered, “Why is there Christmas music?!” So I guess you could say the weekly music isn’t quite to our family’s taste. 
  7. What do you do if one of your kids says he doesn’t like church? When he first lodges a complaint, I calmly acknowledge it, say I didn’t love all the parts of Mass when I was little, talk about how it’s something Jesus asks us to do and we do it because we love him, etc. If he brings it up again on the same day I just don’t acknowledge it and soldier through. Anyone have tips?
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Writer types at the blogging conference, photo credit Rosie Hill