Friday, October 13, 2017

Let's talk.

I wrote about birth control. I had enormous reservations about sharing my story. I was worried that my story would read as permission to ignore true doctrine when it's uncomfortable. 

God doesn't promise comfort. All our favorite saints embrace discomfort. Dying for the church started in scripture and it hasn't stopped yet. That a thing is hard does not, in fact, mean that it's wrong. 

So here's the thing: I think that the teaching is, at it's core, true & eternal. But I also think that it shouldn't be an impediment marriage. That's not the heart of the teaching at all! 

The heart of the thing is that your unique and beautiful self joins with your unique and beautiful spouse in matrimony, forming a unique and beautiful union. That relationship is sacred. Two become one. That's not fussy language, it's a reality. The oneness is physically emphasized in a unique physical relationship. 

You give fully. You receive fully. All of you. All of him. You are one in a very real and completely mind-blowing way. 

If you or he hold back, that changes the thing. It undermines the oneness, whether the holding back is physical or emotional or whatever. You get married and you are fully in. When you aren't you undermine the oneness. 

The two become one and the very interaction between them, their love itself, is creative. That's a uniqueness in the marital relationship. If there are no kids, that doesn't change the uniqueness, which is in potential. But what if the couple actively prevents kids? The prevention itself is a fundamental change to the nature of the relationship. 

The teaching is sound. It's rich and in my opinion very beautiful. But the heart of the thing is a selfless, unitive love which becomes creative. 

I want to tread lightly here, but the question is, what if the procreative function is itself an impediment to the unitive, self-giving, surrender? 

That is hard because our culture wants a complete separation. The culture wants sex and procreation to be entirely separate and that is a fundamental challenge. That idea, if we embrace it, doesn't just make chaste living anachronistic prudery. That idea undermines the nature of the sacrament. Love,  selfless and unitive, becomes. Creates. We participate in Creation though an act of love. We become creators. The physical expression of unity communicated between a husband and wife is a participation in God's speaking being. 

If you can set aside the culture which insists that sex is an impotent carnal delight, and you keep the relationship within the doctrinal comprehension, I think the question is legitimate. So again, what if the procreative function is itself an impediment to the unitive, self-giving, surrender? We have to be careful because people are listening for us to say that the Church was wrong all along. I'm not saying that at all. 

I'm saying that prioritizing the sacrament of marriage over children is theologically sound, though perhaps shocking. I'm saying that the teaching about birth control never was supposed to be an impediment. I'm saying that the spirit of the law is oneness in marriage. The spirit is the law is to protect the sanctity of that holy and precious union. Don't hold back. Give your whole self. Receive. Unity and love. 

And to be very clear: I'm not offering an answer. I don't have one. Separating the unitive function from sex reduces it. We are not test tubes. We are participants in God's beautiful plan for Creation. In fact, I'd argue that it reduces sex in a very similar way to the more often discussed separating of sex and procreation. 

My story is my story, but it isn't as uncommon as you might think. Edited to a few sentences, my story is that my health precludes pregnancy. My treatment involves hormones, among other medications and the other medications also preclude pregnancy. NFP is not a real option for me. Am I supposed to be celibate? 

If you are looking for permission to write off the church there are a lot of places to find that, but this isn't one of them. My intent is to look at the teaching with the same regard as scripture and Creation and every other way God communicates his truth. How does this truth apply to me and my life? What is the truth communicated? 

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, right? But let's not make excuses. Let's talk. 

P.S. I have gotten all kinds of responses to my last post. All of them, so far, have been really kind and respectful- even and maybe especially those who disagree. I'm enormously grateful.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Oh. Are we talking about nfp?

When I got married I wanted a million kids. I didn't think I'd want to think about nfp unless I couldn't conceive. I wasn't particularly pro or anti. It's just a tool which some people like and some people need.

I've always been irregular, but again, unless I had difficulty conceiving I didn't think it was important beyond a passing mention in regular gyno visits. (Ok, once when I went for a few months with nothing and then had nearly back to back periods. That seemed worth a special trip to the gyno. But nothing came of it except a note in my medical file.)

My first child was born less than two years after I got married. So, not immediately, but no difficulty.

My second was born when my first was three. My third was born when my second was two.

So, to understand where I am now, you have to understand all of that. Because my second was medically complicated. For four years she was in near constant emergency. I could not turn off. Being psychologically in crisis mode for four years changed my brain chemistry. When she became more stable, I couldn't. My brain couldn't handle not being in crisis. Or something. I have caregiver PTSD. So, I was depressed and anxious. I don't mean sad and scared. I mean I have a debilitating disease which made me incapable of getting out of bed for a few weeks. There were prior incidents, but that was the one which made me face this thing medically. It wasn't until I was in treatment that I realized how bad things had gotten.

Medicine made breathing easier. I could breathe. No weight on my chest. I could sleep; no nightmares about every imaginable horrible thing. I could interact with people. I could answer the phone. No more out of body experiences. I could go on, but suffice it to say, it was dramatic.

So, in treatment, I have several different medications. I have one regular med. I have one which I take when my regular med might need a boost. And I have one to take for breakthrough episodes.

I've been telling myself not to feel guilty about any of these, but I still do.

About once a month, but with quite a bit of flexibility, my anxiety gets really bad. It shouldn't have taken me a year to sort it out, but asking someone who is in a state of panic to figure something out is just not fruitful. When I am suffering from PMS my anxiety and my depression come back. They come back swinging. Hormones going crazy makes mommy go crazy. This is useful information. I cope, currently, by taking my booster med every day starting as soon as I notice and stopping when my period begins.

And what does any of this have to do with NFP? Well. This: None of these meds which I need are safe for pregnancy. None. There are meds which are, but changing medication isn't like swapping a lightbulb. It takes weeks for any new med to begin to work and some just don't work. There is not a better medication than the one I have for breakthrough episodes.

So, maybe I can risk pregnancy anyway? Is that what you're thinking? What's two or three awful weeks?

Let me tell you. I went on an antibiotic several months ago. I didn't stop taking my meds, but I didn't know that they wouldn't absorb as well while I was on antibiotics. So, my brain acted like I stopped. It was awful. Terrifying. Unbelievably. After that incident, I faced the fact that I don't think my body can handle pregnancy. Because, among other things, I've been pregnant before. It was wonderful in all the fanciful ways people discuss, but it's a hormonal nightmare.

A hormonal nightmare exactly when my medication wouldn't be an option. Not the regular. Not the booster. And definitely not the breakthrough treatment.

I thought about nfp. I looked into it. Everyone who loves it talked about resources. Resources which cost time or money or both. I had neither. Get a teacher. Get an app. Get an ovulation kit. Get get get. I wasn't going to. So I tried just reading and learning. The bottom line, for me, was that without significant help, I was very likely to get pregnant due to my irregular cycle. I know. I can hear you objecting. But symptoms. Got it. You know symptoms vary, right? It isn't as obvious for everyone. I tried to know and I couldn't. If you want more details I think you're rude.

So, I talked to my psychiatrist. Changing meds? My doctor really didn't want to do that. We could, but it would be hard. Did I want more babies now? (Will I be damned for answering? Honestly?) I don't want more babies. I want to want them. But I'm completely overwhelmed. Life is hard. Babies are a lot of work and they're physically draining. I want to want them. Oh, I love babies so much. And I love being a mom. And I love my kids. But no. No I don't want more, if the choice is mine. Is the choice mine? Is it a choice?

Isn't there a medical exception for birth control, she asked? She was very respectful of my faith and I was very open with her. There is. Kind of. But it isn't cut and dry.

I could talk to someone, but here's the thing: I already knew what any of the people I might ask would say before I asked. I knew who to ask if I wanted to hear yes and who to ask if I wanted a no. But I didn't know myself!

I prayed. I talked about it with my husband. I racked myself spiritually. I went to my good Catholic doctor. (I didn't know what he'd say. I knew he would give me whatever medical advice I needed, but spiritual stuff?) He didn't duck. He said, "God understands." That's all.

I'm using artificial birth control. I hope it's ok, but I'm sure God understands. We talk about it. We go way back and we're not afraid to scold each other.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kaepernick is a Hero

This article is excellent. One of the best I've read on the subject. But I think that skipping the Nate Boyer interaction does a disservice to the story and to Kaepernick himself.

Nate Boyer, veteran Green Beret, saw a protest before the media uproar. Kaepernick wasn't ashamed but he wasn't aggressive either. He wasn't apologetic or flimsy. It was a clear, strong backed protest. This nation is mistreating her sons. It isn't just a conflicted history, though that is certainly there too. It's happening now. I agree with this author. Do not blunt the message. Do not water it down.

Still, the taking a knee thing? That matters a lot. That is about communication. That is about listening respectfully and adjusting. Kaepernick is a hero for our time. He's the hero we've been looking for and we're missing it.

He was sitting for the anthem. It was a protest but not an in your face protest. Few noticed, but one of the few who noticed was Nathan Boyer. He responded by writing an open letter. And I don't think we should underplay that either. The letter was a criticism before conversation.

Kapernick, citing his Christian values, responded gently. He didn't get angry. That would be merited, right? Another white guy who doesn't get it is trying to tell him that he should respect the flag of a country which does not respect him. But it isn't what he did. He didn't get angry; he invited Boyer to talk.

That is such a big deal. I don't understand why it isn't at the heart of all the coverage. Protest, criticism, dialogue? It's stunning. It's rare. It's exactly what we need.

Green Beret veteran Boyer also had a right to anger. The protest was literally saying that the country he'd risked death to defend is not worthy of even a moment's respect. The values he defended are shadows. False promises. But he didn't respond to the request for dialogue with anger either. He agreed. Let's do this thing.

And they did. The men met and talked. Each explained their position and each tried to understand the other. Can we take a minute to focus on how awesome that was?

During that conversation, Boyer suggested kneeling. Kneeling is how veterans respect their fallen brothers. I don't know if he had it in mind, but in the context of what was being protested, that seems singularly appropriate. Kaepernick is honoring his fallen brothers.

Kaepernick agreed and asked if Boyer would kneel with him. Boyer said he couldn't, but he'd stand next to him. And he did.

The men walked away in mutual respect and the protest, now getting notice, was changed. Kaepernick heard Boyer and adjusted. Boyer respected it and stood by him.

The story is about race and violence and protest. It is about patriotism and the flag. But it's also about progress with dialogue. Skipping that is foolish and disrespectful. Kaepernick is the hero we need.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Jesus in the shadows

"Is that Jesus?"

She whispered softly. She was pointing up generally in the direction of the crucifix and the altar.

My initial impulse was to just say yes. Yes. The priest represents our Lord and it's ok to see him as Jesus when he's lifting the chalice. Yes. The statue represents Jesus. Yes. The Eucharist is, really and truly, our blessed Lord. Whatever you're pointing at, the answer is almost certainly yes.

But you hear stories about confused kids thinking the priest is Jesus or that Jesus is a statue. I probably worry too much. Three year olds are very literal people. We should probably take the time, even now in the middle of Mass, to understand where she's pointing.

"Do you mean the priest?"
"No, silly. That's Father K."
"Right. Do you mean on the cross?"
"Up there? Mom. That's just a statue."
"Ok. Well. Do you mean the cross?"
"?!" No words. Mom is clearly not very clever.

"Mom. No. Behind the statues. Is Jesus there?"

What on Earth? Is she imagining a man behind the curtains. The great and powerful Oz-christ?

"I don't know what you mean, sweetheart. There is not a person behind the statues."
"Mom. I know. There's shadows. See? Is Jesus there?"
"In the shadows?"
"Yeah."
"?"
"He's everywhere, right? But I can't see very well in the shadows. I think he's there. I think that's Jesus in the shadows."

I think she might be on to something.

When you are struggling, He's there. When you can't see, him or anything else, He's there.

Faith means believing when it isn't obvious. When good things happen we call them blessings. We see God in the good. Ah-ha! The medication kicked in! Praise God! Oh! We had a snow day when I needed sleep! TBTG! It's easy to see God when things are working out. We don't always thank God for our blessings. We don't even always notice our blessings. But when good things happen, it is easy to see God if you care to look.

But what about when things are not good?

The hardest part for me about having anxiety isn't the fear. The debilitating, painful, unfounded and unfocused fear. That's awful, but worse is that I can't control my mind. It's running off in a million directions.

For me, the hardest part of the anxiety attacks is that I don't know how to pray. I don't know how to attend.

So while my mind is running in a million terrible directions and I can't help but recall every awful thing I know, I don't know how to ask Jesus to calm the storm.

Doubt doubles down. Doubt grabs the swirling fears. What if it is all meaningless. What if I'm wrong. What if God isn't real.

Dear Lord, help. Quiet the storm. "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."

And there, in the terrifying darkness, with my unfocused pleading. In the shadows. God is there.

It isn't a magic trick. I'm still scared. I'm still lost. I'm still confused. I'm still unfocused. But he's there.

"No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to this rock I'm clinging!"

I love the song, but that line in particular. What is calm clinging? It doesn't make sense. Not just holding on. Not just standing firm. Clinging. When the storm is knocking everything about, this rock is firm. Unmoving.

Cold. Scared. Clinging.

Close your eyes and hang on tight.

When you can't see your hand in front of your face, cling. Hang on with everything you've got. He's there. In the darkness. In the shadows. In the fear. When you need Him most. He's there.

The inmost calm is quieter than the noise of the storm. But it doesn't shake.

Becca is probably right. In some ways, Jesus in the shadows is more real than the statues.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

To my Trump supporting friends

This is my hope. 

I hope I am wrong. I hope you get to laugh at me and say I told you so. I'll take it gladly. I'll laugh too. I'd rather be an idiot than right. 

I hope that I'm overreacting and seeing things that just aren't there. 

I hope you're right. That I'm confused by a grand media distortion. 

I hope my family remains protected by the protections in the ACA. 

I hope my Muslim friends aren't more marginalized and endangered. I hope that my friend's mosque burning was an isolated event. 

I hope that the racism I see is getting better, not worse. 

I hope that when you yearn for yesterday, you mean you miss your ignorance of violence against homosexuals, and not that you miss the violence. 

I hope first amendment rights are not sacrificed at the altar of the second amendment. 

I hope first amendment rights aren't quietly crushed under the weight of fear. 

I hope that that intended list of criminal immigrants is not, as it seems to me, a tactic to create a scapegoat. Using fear as a tool of hate.

I hope you're right. 

Dear God, I really hope I am wrong. 

I hope that replace is as important to you as repeal. I'm not unsympathetic to the current problems. I hope you don't try to solve them by going back to the old problems. 

I hope that freedom of religion is as important to you as you say it is. 

More than any of that, I dearly hope that if I'm right you're ready to stand with me. 

You will not watch mosques burn. You will not watch bullies and bigots. 

You will not be shaped by fear. 

You will not watch a eugenicist agenda roll back decades of tiny progresses for people with disabilities. You will stand up. 

I hope that since you believed it when you said, "but he'll never," if he does you'll flip on him as fast as he flipped on you. 

I hope you're ready to scream, "Black Lives Matter," because they do. And you know it. And the only reason you're not screaming now is that you don't see what I see. 

I hope you're ready to register Muslim if they want to register Muslims. Allahu Akbar. 

I hope you'll let yourself see, if I'm right. 

I won't say I told you so. If I'm right we're going to need you. We're going to need each other. 

If we have to stand in the way of a steamroller, better to do it locked arms and many. And, I hope I'm wrong, but I see a damn steamroller. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

March for Women

This weekend was a hell of a weekend. Obama is out. Trump is in. Women marched all over the world. Crowd sizes are in dispute, but not really.

And the world suddenly knows that pro-life feminists exist. We are here! We are here! We are here! We are here! YOP! 

I have been sorting through my thoughts and emotions with respect to the march with a tinge of regret. This was a great moment in history unfolding relatively close to me, geographically. I did not go. 

I was considering attendance, but waffling about feasibility when all the sudden this crazy thing happened: an openly pro-life organization was granted partnership. The New Wave Feminists are an adorably quirky bunch. I would feel like the class nerd hanging out with them. And besides, our politics do not match up very well. They are Texas libertarians who are apparently also anti-abortion and feminist. But the fact that they were included officially was exciting! This march was all set to be show real unity across a slew of diverse opinions on diverse issues. Whatever you believe politically, we can agree that women deserve better. 

But the media go wind of this interesting alliance. Then Twitter. A twittering mob decried the inclusion. Pro-lifers do not belong. Pro-lifers are not us. And to my chagrin, the leadership caved to pressure and disinvited the New Wave Feminists. 

To be honest, at that point I still didn't see any good reason not to go. I mean, so what if the leadership is pro-choice? That shocks exactly no one. But it got worse. The leaders of the march pandered to their largest partners. Of course the pro-lifers shouldn't be here. Pro-lifers aren't real feminists. If they decide to march they should march with the knowledge that they are marching for a woman's right to choose. They're so stupid they might just do that. “If you want to come to the march you are coming with the understanding that you respect a woman’s right to choose,” said parade organizer Linda Sarsour.

The media was watching. This was a huge progressive event. It was international. And now the story includes me, explicitly. Pro-life feminists were interviewed by many major media. The New York Times cited a statistic that one in six of the women who voted for Hillary oppose abortion. People were talking about us. The pro-life right was angry. They think they own the issue. They know that without a perception of ownership they will lose elections. The pro-choice left, I think, was mostly confused. Some were angry, to be sure. But most just seemed surprised. 

If I went to the march, I'd feel dishonest. I could go with a sign which made my anti-abortion views clear, but that would feel like a counter-protest. I didn't think I could find the right balance. I do not want to be perceived as protesting a protest which I support. I do not want to be counted as pro-choice America. I was so angry. Pro-life women belong at that rally! But no in opposition. We should stand shoulder to shoulder opposing misogyny and bigotry. We are watching, Mr. President. We will not be quiet. 

In the lead up, a friend asked me if I would let Planned Parenthood march in the March for Life. My initial reaction was of course. Of course they should be allowed to march in opposition to abortion if they want to. They wouldn't want to, but if they did I wouldn't just allow it, I'd cheer! 

I still think that. But I would worry. What is their motivation? Is it an alliance or an infiltration? Would they be joining to join or to change the agenda? Liz lead me by the nose to the realization that the exclusion wasn't crazy, even though it stung. Even though by the numbers it is inarguable that democrats would do better if they didn't shut us out. Even though I wanted to be there. The pro-life movement has a nice long history of secret videos, infiltration, spying, and to our great shame even violence. 

Pro-lifers did go. They grouped in several contingents. Life Matters Journal showed up with a few dozen signs which, to my mind, tried to balance support for the march with opposition to abortion. And to the surprise of no one except the pro-life right, they were received kindly. People were glad they came. Building bridges, one incredible feminist to another. 

Students for Life did not aim for balance. They chose to rally in what can only be described as a counter-protest. They positioned themselves at the front of the march for maximum exposure and unfurled a huge sign which read, "Abortion Betrays Women." That is exactly what I did not want. They were absolutely not marching with the rest of the women. They did not join the march; they attempted to hijack it. Which is exactly what the people calling for their exclusion said they would do. Which is why they were excluded. And incredibly, they were not well received. People were angry. People even yelled at them, if you can imagine. Burn them bridges! They took to social media to tell the world how awful the feminists were. Awful. Just hateful. I mean, we picked a fight and they fought back! Jerks. Burn those bridges!

Real talk: I wanted to be there, but I didn't want to go. I hate crowds. I hate the metro. I was afraid I would have a panic attack and no where to go to calm down. Everywhere was going to be packed. I was afraid. Was the hullabaloo it a reason not to go? Was it only an excuse? Excuse or reason, I decided to stay home. And though I am sure I will have pangs of regret for years, I think it was the right choice for me. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Musical preaching

I love music. There are a few genres I do not understand or appreciate and pretty much everything out of the 80's has some negative association and so I cannot judge it fairly. But my music taste are pretty diverse.

I like the greats. Palestrina and Josquin. Mozart. I like folk. I like some pop and some country. I like some metal. I like to unwind with loud music turned up (and the curtains closed,) singing and dancing and cooking alone in my kitchen.

One of my pet peeves is when people tell me they like to listen to classical music because it is relaxing. Some of it is, of course. But some of it is wild and chaotic. Some of it is angry or dark. Some of it is sweetly romantic. Some of it is seductive. If I can listen to it while I am going to sleep, it is not good music. Or anyway, it is not to my taste.

I am very emotional about music. I let it affect me. What I want in music is to be taken in. I want to feel. I want to be engaged. Music reaches emotions which are hard to express. Sicut Cervus was not the first piece of music I loved, but it was the first time I gave thought to why I loved it so much. "As the deer longs for water, so my soul longs for you, my God." You can hear all of it. The deer and the water. And the longing. Such a longing. Especially in those opening tenor notes. It is stunning. Palestrina is a genius.

But all my favorites are affective. Bach can make piety exciting. Some pieces, like The Trout by Schubert, give me the same sense of calm as enjoying alone time in nature. Pete Seeger and his proteges stroke my inner social justice warrior. Irish music is fun; rollicking along, but with glimpses of a painful story and an incredible storyteller.

"When you sing, you pray twice."

When it comes to Church music, I have very strong opinions. Liturgical Music can be risky. If we agree that music inspires and elicits something real but hard to grab, we open it up to criticism. Is it emotional? Is the emotion appropriate? What should we be feeling during Mass? Or is it simply enough that the words be theologically sound?

Mass is a sacrifice, but it is a celebration! You are in the presence of the Lord and King, who taught you to pray by calling him Father. It is sacred, but it is also home. What should you be feeling? Awe? Comfort? Sorrow? Joy? Wonder? Liturgical music has the tall task of inspiring what is appropriate even when what is appropriate is paradoxical.

Music shouldn't just carry words, it should inform them. Elevate them. Give them a story or a perspective. Chant, echoing down the halls of history but endlessly present and always appropriate, preaches about inerrant theology. The swinging lilt of a traditional Irish hymn setting is warm and welcoming and very real. An early American march with a rigid building block time signature focuses fellowship and structure; this is who we are and this is what we are doing. The words and the sound echo and reinforce each other.

I am not a snob. I like it all. I like the organ at the shrine and the guitars at the teen mass. So long as the music brings something to the table, I like it. I think that most criticism of contemporary music are strange. What makes a three hundred year old song better than a thirty year old song? In the context of a two thousand year history, the three hundred year old song can't even claim age.

There is a lot of criticism of contemporary Christian music. Critics hear emotionalism or protestantism or happyhappyjoyjoy saccharine. They hear a bounce, empty of theology and covered with syrupy prosperity creed. It is more than an aesthetic preference. It is an aesthetic judgment. Mass is not a pop concert. It is not a sentimental appeal. If you are moved to tap your foot, is the music inappropriate? I hear the frustration, but I don't know where to draw lines.

One of the deepest musical experiences I've had was when an African American choir visited our parish. It was incredible. The layered rhythms and harmonies pushed back against overt and lingering dissonances. It preached pain, but joy too. That music explained joy in sacrificial suffering in a way no words possibly could. I was moved. If you are ever struggling with the concept of celebrating a sacrifice, I cannot recommend this experience highly enough.

Toe tapping is not the problem. Maybe entertainment is. That criticism can apply to any type of music. The job of the cantor is to lead a prayer, not to amuse you during the boring bits, which is good since we cannot all be amused by the same things. Does that mean that if you are entertained the cantor has done something terrible? That seems silly and also makes a hard task impossible.

If sentimental music is not the problem, maybe sentimentality is. The Mass is divine, but it is also human. We are the body. The Church. The people. Through the sacraments, our Lord comes to us, truly, physically and spiritually. We need that. The humanness. He designed us that way. Feelings are part of who we are and not a bad part. We shouldn't shut out out feelings, but we shouldn't let them lead either. They are unreliable and moveable. Appeals to feelings primarily can be misleading. A good artist can make you feel all kinds of emotions. Emotions can wrap untruth in the most delightful packaging.

What we need in liturgical music is pretty straightforward.

Music should be is interesting, but singable. It should be either very old or very new or possibly somewhere in between, but it must not be antiquated or voguish. It should be beautiful, but not entertaining. Well lead, but not performed. Appropriate to the mood of the Mass which is conflicting. It has to be culturally appropriate to a universal church. It should be theologically sound, even the moody bits which can't easily be parsed. We want it to sound good whether or not there is participation from the congregation, but we don't want the congregation drowned out by a blaring sound system. It should elevate, not overshadow. Why can't the music leaders get it right? It seems easy enough.