Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All This Hoo-Ha About The Pill....

....and why it sort of makes me ill.

First of all, let me say that I support the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception.

With that out of the way, I have a bone to pick.

The Church's teaching against contraception is rooted in theological and philosophical reasoning.  The idea is that sexual intercourse's dual roles of uniting a couple in love and procreation should not be de-linked.  This idea would hold whether or not Natural Family Planning had been discovered and whether or not hormonal contraceptives were healthy for women.

So, let's talk about all the hoo-ha going on concerning The Pill.

Within the Catholic Church these days, there is much interest in educating people about contraception.  With the advent of more effective methods of Natural Family Planning and Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Catholic clergy and educators around the globe are making a renewed effort to tell people about the beautiful ideas embodied in the Church's philosophy of sexuality.  And this is lovely.

But, the issue I have is this.  In their great enthusiasm for supporting the Church's teaching, many Catholic people have been speaking a lot about the dangers of birth control pills, especially the breast cancer risk associated with them.  Now, I have been doing a little research, and I have discovered some thought-provoking things.

For example, on the website of the National Cancer Institute (at the National Institutes of Health), various studies on the cancer risks of The Pill are discussed.  Here are a few interesting points (all emphases mine):
     1.  A number of studies suggest that the use of oral contraceptives appears to SLIGHTLY increase the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women.  However, the risk level goes back to normal 10 years or more after discontinuing oral contraceptive use.  In addition, in one study, breast cancers that were diagnosed in women who had stopped using oral contraceptives for 10 or more years were LESS advanced than breast cancers diagnosed in women who had NEVER used oral contraceptives.  And a more recent study showed a SLIGHT increase in the breast cancer risk in women who almost all took a SPECIFIC TYPE of birth control pill -- called the triphasic pill (so, apparently, the cancer risk is not equal for all types of contraceptive pills).
     2.  Women who use oral contraceptives have REDUCED risks of ovarian and endometrial cancer.  This protective effect actually increases with the length of time oral contraceptives are used. 
     3.  Oral contraceptive use is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.  But, this may be because sexually active women have a higher risk of being infected with the human papillomavirus, which causes virtually all cervical cancers.

What is my point here?  My point is that some people who have influence in the Catholic world seem to be exaggerating the dangers of oral contraceptive use in order to entice people to be more open to the Church's teachings.  And I don't think this is either fair or effective.  Catholic thought can stand on its own -- as Catholic thought.  We are just undermining it if we misrepresent scientific studies to support our position.  Also, in the end, if people do their own research, they may just feel that they have been misled by the Church, causing them to throw the proverbial baby out with the proverbial bath water.

If you are a Catholic, and if you agree with the Church's position on contraception, good for you.  I am here to support you.  And in supporting you, I am not going to tell you that practicing this teaching is going to be easy.  At times, it may be very difficult -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.  As my sister said recently:  "If life didn't involve suffering, Jesus would have just skipped over the cross and gone directly to the resurrection."

One other concern I have is this.  There may be valid health reasons (not contraceptive reasons) for a woman to take The Pill for a period of time.  And frightening her with misleading information may cause her to make decisions which undermine her well-being.  I will give an example from my own life.  After the birth of my third child, I suffered terrible hormonal problems, which caused me to feel sick most of the time -- physically, as well as mentally.  I told my very wise doctor how I was feeling -- about 9 months out from my child's birth -- and he told me that he was going to put me on The Pill for a while, because that would level out my hormones and get rid of my icky symptoms.  Did it work?  You bet it did.  Within a month, I was feeling good again and my ability to take proper care of my family was restored.  I didn't take The Pill for that long, but when I did go off of it, my cycle and my overall health were restored.

So, when we talk about the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, let's talk about it in its purity.  What the teaching really is, the wisdom of it theologically and philosophically.  There is no need to misrepresent or exaggerate scientific studies.  Because the Church's teaching will probably remain the same, even if some totally perfect, totally healthy contraceptive is discovered or invented. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

But on the other hand....'ve got to know when to draw the line. 

Yesterday, I spoke of empathizing with young adults.  Being our "young selves" in order to see things through their eyes -- making it easier to both enjoy them and guide them along.

There are times, though, when we probably should just put our foot down.  These times are, hopefully, rare.  But, they can and do present themselves.

Here is a story from my own life that may demonstrate what I mean by this.

I was engaged to be married when I was 21 years old.  But, as the date for the wedding approached, the situation with my fiance became, shall we say, "problematic."  I am not going to go into all the details here.  It is really not necessary to do this.  Let's just say he was not entirely forthcoming about everything, and my mother was the one who figured it all out.  My mother is a clever and persistent person.  Those of you who know her can attest to this.

So, when my mother figured out what was going on with this guy, she basically cornered him, me, and a few other friends and relatives who were in the immediate vicinity.  She looked him in the eye and boldly announced what she had deduced about his situation.  Then she looked me in the eye and said, "You can't marry him." 

Now, a lot of mothers would not have done this.  A lot of mothers would have figured that I was an "adult," that I should be left to make the decision without any interference.  A lot of mothers also would have considered the facts (at least somewhat) that the nuptials were in exactly one week's time, all the arrangements for the celebration had been made, and guests were due to come flying in within the next few days.  Did my mother consider these wedding logistics?  Did she consider the money she was probably going to lose (and she did not have much of the green stuff at that time)?  Not in the least...  My mother put my welfare first.  She believed that if I married this guy, I would screw up my life.  And she was right.  And she was strong enough to put her foot down to me -- in the face of my heartbreak, my anger, and my 21-year-old "adult" status.

Now, my mother was taking a big gamble here.  I really loved this guy, and I was quite old enough to run off with him.  And I did consider this.  But, in the end, I knew she was right.  I knew it in my very bones. 

About a year later, I met the man who is now my husband.  He is, and always has been, quite popular with my mother.  When she first met him, she told me that he "has good skin and teeth."  These two things are quite important to my mother.  But, more importantly, she recognized his maturity and excellent character.  And he has been a wonderful husband and daddy.  I could not be more fortunate.

And why did my mother's bold move work out?  Why did I listen and follow her advice, although 95% of me did not want to?  I think it was because of what I reflected on in yesterday's blog post.  Most of the time, she was pretty hands-off, leaving me to make my own decisions.  Therefore, she had some rounds chambered, which she had available to her at a critical moment.  Doesn't the Bible say it?  "Parents, don't nag your children, lest they lose heart."  And if we follow this sage advice, maybe our children -- however old they are -- will hear us when everything is truly on the line.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Being Young With The Young

"....a child's deep longing to know that they are known, that the old were once young, once saw the world large, that for that one evening hour, a story bridge spans the wide river of decades and for a spell, we are one, children together." -- Ann Voskamp

I love Ann Voskamp -- blogger, author, farmer's wife, mother of many.  And these words of hers, which I read today, really made me reflect on motherhood, on fatherhood, on what helps our children grow into good adults. Now these words are part of a larger article, in which she speaks of how much her children enjoy hearing the stories of her own childhood, and how it is so important for our children to understand how we relate to them, how we remember, how we understand because we have been in their shoes.

When we think of how to be good parents, many things come to mind.  There is so much to be provided for -- physically, mentally, spiritually.  And we want to be good examples to our children, we want to teach them right from wrong, we want to keep them out of trouble, we want them to have bright futures.  All very good things; but, sometimes, it is hard to know how to do this.  And there are points, as our children get older, when we might not like what we see.  And when we don't like what we see, we might feel sad, angry, despairing.  We might yell or preach or punish.  And we hope we will be successful in our efforts to correct what we think needs correcting.

But, Ann Voskamp reminds me of something that, in my opinion, might be the most important thing in helping our children "turn out" well.  And that is -- letting them know, as each and every year goes by, that we can see things through their eyes and feel things through their hearts because we have been there.  We should let them know how we have been there.  We should tell them our stories.  And we can also "be there" with them in the present tense.  We can share their experiences with them by allowing ourselves to "be" in our youthful minds and hearts.  If we allow ourselves to be our "young selves," we can more authentically understand them.  And if we truly understand them, maybe we can guide them in a way that doesn't make them feel quite so much like we are obstacles in the way of their freedom.

How do we do this?  Here are a couple of my ideas -- for whatever they're worth.

TV shows.  These can often be a bone of contention between parents and children, especially as the children start to get older and aren't really "children" anymore.  There might be themes in popular TV shows that young adults like to watch which are problematic for some parents -- sexual situations, LGBT issues, violence, story lines that question our political system or traditional family values.  I am speaking of such shows as "Glee," "Modern Family," "The O.C.," "Angel," "Bones," and "SouthLAnd."  The characters and plot-lines in these shows do, at times, "push the envelope" a bit.  So, what are we parents to do?  My favorite approach is to watch the shows with my kids and -- while not totally losing my adult persona in a way which would be undignified -- to see them through young eyes, to see them as a young adult would see them.  Now, I admit, this is not hard for me.  I am not easily offended by "Hollywood" and I really do enjoy a lot of these shows.  Actually, I enjoy "SouthLAnd" MUCH more than my kids do.  But, the benefit I have found in this approach is that my kids will actually talk to me about what they like and dislike about these shows.  If they see that I am not offended by the characters and stories, if they see that I am actually enjoying and appreciating them, they will share with me what they enjoy and appreciate, how they are touched by these works.  This helps me understand them a little more; it helps me to be more empathetic.  And if I feel a little guidance is called for, our discussion doesn't become a battle, because they know that they are free, when all is said and done, to have and express their own ideas.  At least, this is my goal.  Things aren't always so easy, but this is what I work toward.  I want them to know that they are free to make their own choices; but, I hope that they are at least willing to entertain some of my opinions, knowing that I want their happiness.  And it is just simply a lot of fun to enjoy watching a TV show with my kids, without having them worry about me judging it, or judging them for liking it.  They see me just being a person, rather than an "authority figure" -- and this can go a long way in helping my relationship with them be a positive one.

Now, onto something a bit more difficult -- Young Love And Relationships.  I am 49.  I have seen and experienced a lot, in terms of love and relationships.  I have seen many young (and not-so-young) people be hurt by being with the "wrong" person, by being in the "wrong" relationship, by reacting the "wrong" way in a romantic situation.  I myself have been hurt by these things.  So, when I see my young adult kids begin to wade into these waters, I sometimes have the overwhelming urge, because of my "great maturity" (ha-ha) to turn myself into a "life preserver."  And they really do not appreciate this too much.  And I don't blame them.  So, again, I try to reside in my youthful heart.  I try to see things through my youthful eyes.  Because my youthful heart and my youthful eyes are not dead.  They might be buried under a lot of debris, but they are not dead.  And when I let my youthful self live and breathe again, I remember that I wanted my own parents to respect my need for independence in the area of romantic relationships.  And I remember that I survived my bad experiences.  I survived my heartbreaks.  And it is in the experiencing and surviving that I earned whatever maturity and understanding I now possess.  So, maybe I need to let my kids have their own experiences, while showing them that I trust that they, too, will survive -- and flourish, even.  If I protect them too much, maybe I am just communicating a lack of trust in their judgment and resilience.  Definitely not what they need.  So, perhaps, remembering my own youth, I need to step back a little and just make sure that I am ready with a listening ear and a good supply of chocolate in the cupboard.

It is hard to be a young adult.  It is hard to be the parent of a young adult -- to know when and how much to hold on, when and how much to let go.  An art, definitely.  When we see our kids hurting, we want to fix it.  When we see them making mistakes, we want to stop them.  When they tell us their "wrong" opinions, we want to make corrections.  So, as I reflect on this, as I reflect on my own reactions to my own kids, the more I am drawn to remembering my own young adult self, to letting that young adult self live again -- and allowing her to be with, listen to, and speak with those kids a little bit.

Friday, September 21, 2012

To Gray Or Not To Gray? -- That Is The Question

I don't know if you are at all involved with the Catholic Mom Blog-O-World.  But, if you are, you may have noticed that there is some controversy there surrounding the idea of "covering your gray."  Should nice, Catholic, middle-aged ladies highlight their hair, color their locks, hide that gray that is starting to appear (or which may have taken over completely)? 

So, again, I will throw my iron into the fire.

Now, sometimes, it seems to me, ladies who color their hair are looked upon by "traditional, conservative, Christian" women as being snobs, as not willing to accept the natural aging process which God has ordained for them.  You may think this is unfair or a total exaggeration, but I have seen it.  And do you know what?  What I have seen is a type of reverse snobbery going on here.  An attitude of:  "I will lord my gray hair over you -- you shallow, vain women who color your hair (or get manicures, pedicures, a bikini wax, wear make-up or fashionable clothes and accessories, who shop at Banana Republic, etc. etc. etc.)."  I have seen women sporting silver braids and shapeless denim jumpers really lay into their sisters in blond highlights and skinny jeans.  And I don't think this is a very charitable attitude.

My opinion (and as you may have noticed, I have a lot of opinions -- many of them probably wrong) is that a woman needs to have the sort of style with which she is comfortable.  She needs to arrange her personal appearance -- hair, outfits, shoes, jewelry -- in a way that makes her feel attractive.  And she needs to do this without judging what other women are doing.  You may be comfortable wearing a knee-length skirt and button-down blouse, but let's give credit to Diane Farr ( 41-year-old, married mother of three little ones) for pulling off that half-shirt beautifully.   And if you don't know who Diane Farr is, then Google her, read her books, and watch her in "Numb3rs" -- she is epic!!!

So, if you are comfortable with the silver fox look, good for you!  It is a beautiful look and it doesn't mean you are an "old lady."  You have earned those gray hairs -- every one of them.

But, if covering your gray makes you feel better -- like eating well and exercising make you feel better -- then go ahead and do it.  Don't let other women, or anyone else, guilt trip you into feeling like you are being a shallow person.  You can be just as kind and charitable with highlights in your hair as another woman might be while jauntily sporting her gray locks.

And that's what it comes right down to, isn't it?  Being a kind, loving, warm, charitable person.  And you can do that no matter what your "look" might be.  Heck, you can even do that with tattoos.  Does anybody want to get a tattoo?  Sometimes I do. Like maybe a little butterfly on my shoulder.... ;-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To My Girls

Dear Andrea and Bridget,

I know you already know these things.  But, I thought I'd just write them down, for whatever they're worth.  Please don't feel naggety-nagged.  This little exercise is perhaps more for my own benefit than for yours.

You are both now college graduates, entering the world of work and the adventure known as the "rest of your life."  I know it is exciting, but also scary and confusing and difficult. 

You have both been provided with solid, Catholic higher educations.  This is something both your father and I wanted for you, and we are so happy that you wanted them, too.  You have both truly taken full advantage of the educational opportunities afforded you.  You have achieved the twin goals of majoring in worthy subject areas and learning your faith at an advanced level.  And your faith now permeates all you do, in both your personal and work lives.  I see this every day.  And I am so very happy that your faith is a consolation to you.  It is not a burden.  The Lord should never be a burden.  Always remember that the Lord loves you and is on your side.  Too many people today -- even Catholic people -- seem to view the Lord as a burden.  As someone always waiting for them to trip up, so he can judge and condemn them.  And that is very sad to me.

Which brings me to this.  Your dad and I wanted you to be educated in your faith for your own good, but also for the good of others.  Not so you can go around being preachy and pushy and judgmental.  But, so that you can be a "light of love."   Do you remember in "The O.C.", during the Passover episode in the 1st season, when Sandy Cohen begins the prayer at the Seder dinner?  He prays that their family will be and do good for the world, for the country, for the community.  That their family will care for humanity.  Well, that prayer is a good summary of what your dad and I hope for you.  So, take your educations and go out into the world and meet people Where They Are.  Be compassionate.  Listen to others' points of view, humbly recognizing the truth contained in those points of view.  Don't demonize those who disagree with you.  But, realize that most people are good, and that they want to do the right thing.  And, realizing this, work with all people of good-will for a better world, knowing that you will not always get your way.   Knowing that people need to make their own choices without being coerced or forced or guilt-tripped into things.  Look for the virtue in people.  Look for the fun.  Look for the joy.  And, finding these things, enjoy those other people, even if they are very different from you, and work together toward a more fraternal society. 

Remember, also, that Jesus repeatedly says, "Do not be afraid."  I think he says this so often because we all tend to become easily afraid.  Many of your friends are afraid of what they see going on in our country and in our world.  You have seen what happens when people give into that fear.  People hide, stop speaking to anyone who disagrees with them, only befriend those who are like-minded, see the worst in the motivations of others.  I admit, I have been guilty of this, too.  But, this is not what we are supposed to do as Catholics.  We are supposed to be "in" the world, but not "of" the world.  Being "in" the world means that we are not supposed to run away.  We are supposed to be part of the "grand party" of life, along with all the other people God has created.  And what does it mean to not be "of" the world?  It doesn't mean that we are to look down our noses at people who don't share our perspective.  It does mean that we are to always have hope, no matter what goes on around us.  That we are to realize that no matter what our government or our politicians do, they cannot take away that hope, for it is not grounded in them.  Real faith, and a real life of faith, is not dependent on worldly "leaders."  Accordingly, when you see others losing hope, being not "of" the world means that you will provide a listening ear, some empathy -- whether or not those people share your belief system. 

So, beautiful daughters of mine, I love you so very much.  And, again, I know you already know these things.  It just feels good to write them down.  And, as you find your way through the minefields of life, know that you will step on some of those mines and they will loudly detonate, but you never know what loveliness lies just beyond the smoke and debris.

All my heart,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What Guys Want

....and I am not talking about sex. 

I am 49 years old now.  I have seen a lot of interactions between young men and women, middle-aged men and women, and even older men and women.  I have heard and participated in many conversations with other women about boyfriends and husbands.  Occasionally, a man has spoken to me about his girlfriend or wife.  And this is what I have decided:


Now, I am not saying that some men don't deserve women to be hard on them.  There are some men who are not good to women.  There are some men who are egocentric, abusive, sociopathic.  For the purposes of this conversation, I am not talking about those men.  I am talking about normal men.  Men who are generally well-intentioned, hard-working, good-hearted people.  And women can be pretty brutal to even these types of nice guys.

When women get together -- over coffee, at parks and playgrounds, at our kids' sporting events, at work -- we will sometimes talk about our boyfriends or husbands.  And this talk can often be critical:  He works too much.  He got laid off and isn't trying hard enough to get another job.  He doesn't make enough money, and he really could make more if he tried.  He doesn't help enough with the kids.  He doesn't help enough with the housework.  He doesn't care about the new paint colors for the kitchen.  He forgets to take out the trash.  He is not romantic.  He doesn't bring me flowers or gifts.  He just falls asleep after dinner.  And on and on....  And you can bet we women make sure our men know how we are feeling.  Even if we don't actually say the words, our guys know how we are feeling by means of body language, facial expressions, and lack of emotional and physical affection.

I often have the impression that we women think that our disapproving attitudes will somehow inspire our guys to improve.  Well, uh, no.  That is not going to happen.  At least, I have never seen it happen.  And lest you think that I believe I am some sort of perfect woman here to instruct you, I will tell you right now that I have learned this lesson by experience -- not just by the experience of others, but by my own experience, as well.  I have been, and can be, quite the bitch, if you will.  And it has taught me a few things.  A few things about what guys really want.

Yes, guys want sex.  But, even more than -- or, at least as much as -- sex, guys want actual relationships.  And they want actual relationships with women who care about them.  With women who are warm and affirming.  Do guys really care all that much about our fashionable clothes, the beautiful highlights in our hair, our flawless make-up jobs, even our "power breasts" (courtesy of Victoria's Secret)?   Do guys require us to have perfectly toned bodies with even tans?  Not so much....  I have come to believe that guys want to be with women who value them as human beings, who will truly listen to them, who will have reasonable expectations of them, who will cut them some slack when they aren't perfect, who have a good sense of humor, a ready laugh and smile. And then you will see these guys come through -- really come through -- because they are treasured as people, and not looked upon as a means to an end.

One often hears about how men "objectify" women.  But, women can "objectify" men just as much.  So, next time we are unhappy with our guys, let's do a little soul-searching before we start withholding our approval, our affection, and even our love....

I hope I do not sound too "preachy" here.  I freely admit to being in the proverbial "glass house."  And I know that sometimes relationships just do not work out, in spite of the best efforts of the people involved.  I also do not mean to place all the blame for an unhappy relationship solely on the woman.  These are just lessons I have learned and mistakes I have made along the way; and I hate to see what could be a very happy relationship suffer unnecessary damage.

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Boys And Girls Together"

Dating.  I really don't know much about it, as I didn't do a whole lot of it before I got married.  I went out with a few people once or twice.  And the memory of at least one of those dates makes me want to bury my head in the sand.  I had one serious relationship before I met my husband, which did not end well.  And I met my husband when I was 22.  Therefore, not a lot of experience, compared to others.  Lately, though, my kids and their friends have caused me to reflect on dating, so I will lob my grenade, if you will.

On Saturday, I went out with my girls for shopping and lunch, and we started to talk about guys and relationships.  Many of their friends and acquaintances have been tossing ideas about concerning what a "proper" guy should act like towards a girl, and what a girl should look for in a guy.  Some of these ideas, to me, are a bit harsh toward the poor guys.  It seems as though these young males are being expected to act like some never-before-seen-on-the-face-of-the-planet, hormone-less, perfectly well-mannered, cartoon-character princes.  "Don't you dare call me 'hot,' or I will look down my nose at you forever," some of these girls seem to be saying.  "Put me on a pedestal and chastely gaze upon me, without even daring to let it enter your mind how much fun it might be to make out," is the attitude I am seeing.

Now, I am not suggesting that manners and chivalry are unimportant.  And I do realize that a relationship, in order to be healthy and lasting, needs to develop in a way that facilitates those things.  A healthy, lasting relationship needs to be developed on the basis of friendship, mutual respect, a true concern for the well- being of the other, tenderness, compassion.  And true love comes about only when the other person is as important to you as you are to yourself, implying a certain mode of behavior toward that other person.

Let's be real, though.  When a guy (or a gal) chooses someone to date and perhaps to marry, he is going to choose someone who is physically attractive to him.  He is going to be sexually interested.  He is going to think she is "hot."  And you should not smack him down for this.  Just be flattered.  Because a guy can think you are admirable, smart, funny, interesting, virtuous, and "hot" all at the same time.  These are not mutually exclusive qualities.  And there is a lot to be said for a guy who just acts "normal" about women.  A guy who neither treats women as mere sex-objects nor puts them on pedestals.  A guy who, on a Saturday night date, might enjoy intelligent conversation, a Van Halen concert, and a great kiss good-night.  A guy who, the following morning, might accompany you to church (followed, of course, by brunch).  Sounds like a good weekend to me.

This brings me back to the conversation I had with my daughters while we were on our little outing a couple of days ago.  I told them that the first things I noticed about their dad was that he was very handsome ("hot," you might say) and that he had this awesome little red car, which he drove maybe a little bit too fast.  Those were the things that sparked my interest.  Those were the things that made me want to talk to him.  But, upon talking to him, I discovered a person who was kind, compassionate, intelligent, funny, and deeply spiritual.  I also discovered a person who loved rock-n-roll.  (He can tell you which Van Halen songs belong to which Van Halen albums.  He knows all the lyrics, too.  At least for the first several albums.)  And rock-n-roll is very important for the long-term health of a relationship.  Because any healthy relationship, aside from all the other qualities already mentioned, requires not just a little bit of fun... ;-)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Free To Be You And Me"

The Pope -- he can be so cool.  And sometimes he says such wise, delightful, and, perhaps, unexpected things.

I have just been reading that he is over in Beirut.  And he told the people:  "I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity."  He said that it was urgent for all people of good-will in the Middle East to serve "justice and peace," to build "a fraternal society," to build "fellowship."  And then he stated that Jesus is a "Messiah who serves, and not some triumphant political savior."

Thinking about these words, I believe they apply not only to the Middle East, but also to our own country.  And if the Pope trusts that the very, very different groups of people in the Middle East can accomplish this building of a fraternal society, with respect for all, I know that he would expect the same of us.  We have a lot less obstacles in our path here in the U.S.A. than do the peoples of the Middle East.  At least, it seems so to me.

So, I am going to dare to put together these words of the Pope with some of my own thoughts on how we can build this more "fraternal" society.  And I am going to emphasize the importance of the Pope's words that Jesus is not some "triumphant political savior." 

My father, back in the 1980's, used to get a little annoyed with the U.S. bishops.  He respected them, but he felt that they often got "too political."  He would tell me that the world would be a lot better if Catholics were taught Catholic teaching at Mass by the priests and the bishops.  He felt that the "flock" was often abandoned in the pews while the "shepherds" were out running around and making statements in the public/political realm.  The result of this, in his opinion, was a bunch of Catholics who didn't know anything about Catholic teaching, and a bunch of non-Catholics who felt like the Church was trying to run the country.  And he thought that if the Catholic laity were actually taught their faith, that would naturally result in a better society, a more compassionate society, a society where there was less suffering.  Looking at how things have unfolded, I must say he probably had a very good point.

Currently, I also see many efforts by the Catholic bishops to influence things in the political realm.  And I think much of what they say is true and good.  And I believe most of their efforts come from a concern for religious freedom.  They do not want to see Catholics, or people of any faith, forced to act against their consciences in order to obey civil law.  But, I do have a few worries about how they are handling things.

First of all, the Catholic Church likes to see civil law be aligned with what is viewed as the Natural Law.  Natural Law, in short and as I understand it, is what you can logically see to be true, based on how nature is set up.  For example, when you look at the biology of a man and the biology of a woman, that leads to certain conclusions about marriage.  But, not everybody in our society believes in the Natural Law, just like everybody in the Middle East does not agree on the proper division of Jerusalem.  Understanding this, there has got to be a way for religious freedom to be protected, while at the same time acknowledging that not everybody in our country agrees on what should be the basis for civil law.  And, this is just my opinion, but I think the Catholic bishops sometimes miss this.  It seems to me that in their defense of the Natural Law, they are giving people of other faiths and people of no faith the impression that the Church wants everyone to live according to its ideology.  I don't think this is actually the case, but the bishops do need to be careful about the picture they are painting.

Therefore, this is what I would like to see, based on what the Pope said in Lebanon today.  I would like to see people of even radically differing opinions assume the good-will of The Other, unless and until proven otherwise.  And I would like to see some real give-and-take between these people of good-will.  For example, it is important for me to be able to live my faith, teach my children about my faith, and speak about my faith without having to worry about being labelled a bigot.  At the same time, I am quite willing to acknowledge and respect the different opinions and lifestyles of others.  I understand that we all want to be able to live as we choose.  After all, Catholics believe in human dignity, and free will is a necessary part of that human dignity.  So, if the Pope expects that the people of the Middle East can learn to respect each other and live in peace with each other, maybe he would expect that of us, too.  And rightfully so.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hell, No -- I Really Don't Know

Do I know what makes a relationship work?  Hell, no... 

I have been married for 25 years to a really great guy.  We have had our ups, downs, and in-betweens.  We have had smooth sailing, and sometimes we have hung on for dear life.  Catholic talking heads, like the kind you see on EWTN, would say that we have stayed together because of:  our shared faith, the Grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony, our embrace of the teachings of the Church in sexual (and other) matters, and our regular participation in Mass and the Sacraments.  In short, certain Catholic talking heads would attribute our marital success to our Catholic-ness.  They would probably have a good point. 

I have been reflecting on relationships lately, though.  And just this morning, I had a lovely exchange with my husband that has inspired me to write about this topic, and its seeming complexity.  Because things aren't always as cut-and-dried as they may seem to be.  Thank the Good Lord.

(Back Story:  On Sunday, a couple of men who I really like and admire were criticizing modern Church music.  These men really do not like modern Church music.  At least that's the impression they give.  And they were describing how certain lyrics of certain songs promote the "gay agenda".  Now, I have been singing these particular songs for years.  And it has never entered my mind that the lyrics promote the "gay agenda" in any way, shape, or form.  In fact, I have found these lyrics to be a balm to my soul at certain points in my life.  Now, I don't know for sure the intentions of the composers of these songs.  But, I do know that things can be taken in many different ways, and I have always felt that you should not attribute bad motives to others unless you are absolutely sure and it is absolutely necessary.  Sort of like that "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" song.  There is more than one way to look at it.  And even if the lyrics are, in fact, promoting the "gay agenda", is that necessarily a bad thing?  Because, as far as I can tell, the words are simply a baring of the true self to God, with faith in God's love and mercy.  And if you actually read the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning gay people, you will see that God has much love for them, right where they are.  So, when these men were voicing their opinions about these songs, I went and opened my big mouth and told them the opinion that I just stated for you.  They seemed to be a little taken aback, and one of them was very apologetic.)

So, this morning, my husband said to me, as he was getting ready for work:  I was really proud of you on Sunday, for standing up to so-and-so and such-and-such about the song lyrics and the gay people.  I agree with you.  And I was really proud of you.


Now, my husband is a very traditional Catholic.  He accepts all the teachings of the Church on faith and morals.  Sometimes, we have had heated debates over these things, when I have had a harder time accepting some of them.  So, on Sunday, I was not sure what he thought about what I said.  He stayed pretty quiet throughout the "conversation" I had with the two dudes.  But, he was proud of me.  And he told me so.  It made me think he was very sexy.

So, what makes a relationship work?  Grace.  All is Grace.  But, sometimes Grace is not where or what or how we expect it to be.  I have met people who think that if you follow the "right" Catholic formula, all will be well with their marriage.  And I have seen this not turn out to be the case.  I have seen people pronounce that those who have pre-marital sex or who live together before marriage will have bad marriages.  And I have seen this not turn out to be the case.  I have heard it proclaimed that using contraception will wreck your relationship with your spouse.  And I have seen this not turn out to be the case.  Alternatively, I have been told that if a couple practices Natural Family Planning and shuns all contraceptives that they will have a good marriage.  Again, I have seen this not turn out to be the case.  I have also heard it said that a person who "leaves" the Church and marries a person not of the True Faith is dooming that relationship to ultimate failure.  Yep -- not always the case.  In fact, the people I know who have done this have very happy, very successful, marriages and families.  They are leading outstanding lives.

Now, I am not proposing that Catholic people leave the Church, throw away Humanae Vitae, and do whatever they please.  That is not at all what I am suggesting.  I am simply suggesting this:  God and His Grace are a lot more complicated than we think they are.  The factors that affect a relationship are not so simple.  So, perhaps we should not be too quick to judge how another couple's relationship might go.  Perhaps we have no right to judge another couple's relationship at all.  And, maybe, we should not take the success of our own marriages for granted, even if we are doing all the "right" things.

So, what makes a relationship work?  I really don't have a definitive answer.  I have seen too many unexpected things in my life.  But, there are a few things I do know, which were brought home to me today when my husband told me how proud he was of me.  If you want to be loved, you've got to love.  If you want to be cherished, you've got to cherish.  Even if you don't feel like it all the time.  You've got to let the other person know that he or she is valued, that his or her thoughts and opinions matter to you, even if you don't agree with all of them.  You've got to let the other person know that you're in his or her corner.  That you are together in this adventure called "life".

And if we see the ship of another couple's relationship hit the rocks and shatter, let's not jump to conclusions, let's not judge.  Because it might have been our relationships hitting those rocks.  Heck, it might someday be our relationships hitting those rocks.  Even if we do everything "right".  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

That Whole "Fifty Shades Of Gray" Thing

I am going to do some serious stepping in it today.

I am not speaking as a philosopher or a theologian or a therapist.  Just a middle-aged, mostly Italian lady, who had a really down-to-earth nana.

There has been much cyber-space mud-slinging by nice Catholic ladies lately.  Over what?  These "Fifty Shades Of Gray" books.  (I know you are supposed to underline titles of books; but I don't know how to do that on a word processor, and none of my kids are home to help me.)

I admit that I have not read these books.  I did read a couple excerpts online, but the online store did not allow me to read the truly "juicy" parts.  I was allowed to read about the first kiss the dude gives to the lady, though.  Not really the way I roll.  Much hair pulling, head yanking, and artless tongue thrusting, as I recall. Ewwwww.  The writing style was also not what I would describe as "literary".

Anyway, my understanding is that after you get through the first several pages, the books are mainly about rather kinky, rather uncomfortable sex.  And it is also my understanding that a lot of Catholic and Christian mommies, middle-aged and otherwise, are really enjoying these stories.  This is leading to a lot of outrage on the part of some of the friends and acquaintances of these mommies.  They are basically taking to the internet to loudly denounce their wayward sisters. 

Now, lest you misunderstand me, I am not asserting that these books are a good thing.  I am also not saying they are a particularly bad thing, as I usually do not make judgements like that about books I haven't actually read.  And I really do not care to read them, at least not at this point in my life.  Maybe when I am in the rest home in 25 years, they will be a nice diversion....  Tee-Hee....

But, what I want to say is this.  Denouncing your friends on the internet is not kind.  It is not helpful, either.  If you are concerned about your friend, for whatever reason, a quiet, polite, personal conversation is the way to go.  When Christian ladies denounce other women in the realm of cyber-space, it brings to mind the image of that prohibition lady -- what was her name, anyway? -- taking her axe to the barrel of booze.  Not very attractive.  Not very sexy.  If you want to convince your friends that these books are not the way to be a sexy wife, you'd better be a good example of a sexy wife yourself. ;-)

And don't get yourself bent into a pretzel shape if your friend tells you that reading these books helped her sex life.  I am no therapist, as I said, but maybe you can think of it this way.  After 20 or more years of  breastfeeding, changing diapers, wiping butts, cooking meals, doing dishes, driving the soccer carpool, falling into bed exhausted at the end of most days, maybe she forgot that sex used to actually be fun, instead of something for which she has to stay awake an extra half an hour.  Because, after all, she does love her husband.  Maybe these books reactivated that part of her brain, brought back some nice memories of when she couldn't wait to get that guy into bed.  I'm not saying your friend wants to be handcuffed, or whatever.  And I'm not saying she doesn't want sex to be a warm, loving act.  But, according to actual therapists, a little fantasy can be a positive thing for a woman.  As long as it doesn't get out-of-hand.  As long as it's not masking relationship issues.  I know some of you will strongly disagree with this, and that's fine.  My point is, it might be best to stay out of the sex lives of your friends.  MYOB, in other words.  Or, at least listen carefully before jumping to conclusions.  Then, if you have any advice to give, give it gently and charitably.  And not over Facebook, for Heaven's sake.

Oh, yeah.  I just remembered.  That prohibition lady?  Her name was Carrie Nation.  And you know what happened with all that.  "Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it."

Monday, September 10, 2012

How Being The Sex Tutor Brought Me To The Bar Mitzvah -- Reflections For Today

Lots of accusations being hurled about right now.  "You want to take away my religious freedom."  "You want to force me to have children when I am not ready."  "You want to remove all consideration of God from public life."  "You want to keep me from having someone to love."  And on and on....

One thing that concerns me about all this?  The idea of MOTIVATIONS.  It seems to me that people, on both sides of the important issues being discussed in our society right now, are quick to assume the worst possible motives on the part of those who disagree with them.  I was talking to my husband about this on Saturday night, and he told me that there is a Catholic idea which holds that you should always assume that others have the best possible motives.  Seems wise to me....

So, I was thinking about an experience I had when I was about 19 years old.  While attending San Francisco State University, I was the student assistant for a class entitled:  Human Sexuality.  As you can imagine, this was a very popular class.  Three to four hundred people usually signed up for it each semester, so it was easily the largest class on campus.  And the teacher was a kind, funny, Jewish man, who was married to a kind, funny, Jewish lady.  The two of them had a kind, funny, Jewish son.  I spent a lot of time with this family, as my job for the class entailed quite a bit of work, which the professor and his wife often helped me with. (Yes.  I just dangled a preposition.  I am such a rule-breaker.)  There were tests to be written, typed, and graded.  Exam scores to be recorded.  Grades to be calculated.  And, sometimes, I even got to help plan and deliver lectures -- something which greatly appealed to the "ham" side of my personality.  And I can be quite a ham.  Around campus, I was often fondly referred to as the "sex tutor", which caused me great amusement.  All in all, not a bad job.

Since I spent much time at the home of this family, I was invited to their son's Bar Mitzvah.   It was a great occasion --  a beautiful ceremony at the Temple and a wonderful party, with traditional Jewish dishes and much music and dancing.  If you have never had the opportunity to attend a Bar Mitzvah, I would recommend immediately making some Jewish friends, as you would not want to miss out on the experience. 

Now, at this lovely party,  I was seated next to a beautiful Jewish woman who was probably in her early 40's.  She was an administrative assistant at the university, and was pretty high up the "totem pole", as far as administrative jobs went.  As we were enjoying our food, she turned to me and asked, "You are Catholic, aren't you?"  To which I replied in the affirmative.  She then said, "Well, then you are probably against abortion rights.  I am for abortion rights."  She then proceeded to tell me all about why she was for abortion rights.  I was a little taken aback that she would bring this topic up on this particular occasion, but I listened to her, as I was interested in what she had to say.  (I was also basically "trapped" in my seat, giving me really no alternative but to listen to her, even if I hadn't been interested.  Divine Providence, I believe.  God is truly at work at Bar Mitzvahs.)

In a nutshell, her reasons for supporting abortion rights were, in many ways, my reasons for not supporting abortion rights.  We were both concerned about upholding the dignity of women.  We were both concerned that children would be loved, cherished, and well-cared-for.  So, when I hear people who are against abortion rights accusing pro-choice people of not caring about women and children, it irritates me.  They do care.  So, let's not assume their motivations are evil, because they are not.  It's not that they believe abortion to be an actual "good".  It's not that they assume everyone with an unplanned pregnancy should have an abortion.  It's that they actually do believe that women should have a real choice.  They believe that the lack of this choice is a type of manipulation of women that undermines their dignity.  And, on the other hand, people who oppose abortion rights should not be labelled as enemies of women.  Most people who oppose abortion rights, especially these days, want to truly help both the woman and her child.  Many of them donate much of their time and resources for women in difficult circumstances.  When I was younger, I admit that there were a lot of "pro-life" people who were basically mean in their attitude towards women who became pregnant in difficult circumstances and who wanted to choose abortion.  I knew people who would accuse these women of being "baby killers" and would condemn them to hell and would not even want to offer them to much help.  "She dug her grave.  Let her lie in it," was an attitude I encountered more than once.  I have come to see, though, that the vast majority of the younger people who are against abortion rights are not this way.  They are truly interested in loving and helping women and children, whatever their circumstances.  They are much more charitable, in general, than those of my generation.

So, as we have this important discussion about reproductive rights in our culture, I hope we can bring ourselves to assume the best possible motivations from The Other.  And we want to remember the women in these very, very difficult circumstances.  We don't want to add more pain and heartache to the pain and heartache they are already suffering.  That is cruelty.  There is no excuse for it.

And in all our discussions about all the important issues of our day -- national defense, the social safety net, gay rights, environmental issues -- let's try to assume the best possible motives from each side, instead of jumping to the worst possible conclusions about those who disagree with us.  It seems to me that charity demands this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Wondrous Sammy Bryant

SouthLAnd.... Yep.  It's Friday, so I'm in a party mood.  Therefore, I will regale you with tales of SouthLAnd and the Wondrous Sammy Bryant.

Do you believe one can learn lessons from fiction?  I do -- because fiction is often a reflection of people's actual experiences, thoughts, and emotions.  And I have learned many lessons from SouthLAnd, its stories and characters, especially because the show is based on actual LAPD events.  Did you know that the show is shot on location in a variety of areas in LA, even "problematic" areas; and that the actors have done many ride-alongs with the LAPD; and that the cops milling about in the scenes are real ones?  Very cool. 

So, as for the Wondrous Sammy Bryant.  Sammy is played, most perfectly, by the epic Shawn Hatosy.  He and his partner, Ben Sherman (played, most perfectly, by the epic Ben McKenzie), have shown me very clearly where I went awry in my public high school teaching career.  Ben Sherman is who I was as a teacher; Sammy Bryant is who I should have been. 

Ben is the younger member of this adorable cop duo.  He was raised in a fairly affluent family, although a troubled one.  He is bright and did well in school.  He is college-educated and very idealistic.  It is brought to our attention, early in the show, that he appreciated the black studies class he experienced as part of his higher education.  And when asked why he became a cop, he replies, "Well, it was either that or Teach for America." 

Sammy, on the other hand, is a bit older than Ben.  When this man is asked why he became a cop, he replies, "I was stoned.  I did it on a dare." And then he grins a great big grin.  He has worked as a detective and has been through the grief of seeing his partner (who was also his dearest friend) murdered.  This experience has led him to return to being a street cop, because he wants to help the younger officers learn to be smart and safe on the job.  Thus, he is paired up with Ben, a P2 "pup", as Sammy calls him.  And Sammy, though he has been through a lot, is able to put things in perspective and keeps a mirthful attitude about him, as you can see by the laugh lines around his eyes and the little smirk he usually wears. 

Now, Sammy and Ben see a lot of what you would call "crap" on the job.  Their territory is basically Gangland, USA, with all that entails.  Drugs.  Gang turf wars, with innocent people caught in the crossfire.  Illegal weapons.  Poverty.  Illegitimate children.  Baby mamas.  Baby daddies.  Prostitution.  And very little, if any, appreciation on the part of the people they are trying to help.

Ben has a very tough time with all of this.  He starts out really wanting to help these people, really caring about them.   But, he is soon rather overwhelmed by all the "crap".  He takes it a bit personally when the people he is trying to assist insult him and are uncooperative.  He gets really angry about what he sees the pimps doing to the prostitutes, especially the very young ones.  He gets so angry, in fact, that I hope his outfit for Season 5 is not an orange jumpsuit.  We see him becoming more than a bit cynical.  He seems caught up in a sort of metaphorical whirlpool of negative emotions because he can't do as a cop what he really thought he could do as a cop.  He really can't change things for the better as he had envisioned himself doing.

Sammy, though, because of his experience and mirthful attitude, is able to keep a more balanced perspective on the whole thing.  He treats all the people he serves as a cop with respect and a sense of humor, without judging their situations too harshly.  I love the way he interacts with gang members and baby mamas and the little babies themselves -- casual, friendly, relaxed, with a smile on his face.  He gains a certain amount of cooperation and respect from them because of his manner -- a very smart move on his part.  But, he also says that his old partner, the one who was killed, taught him to view the people of Gangland, USA, as human beings, with lives and loved ones and hearts and souls.  And he realizes that he can only do what he can do, and he is at peace about that.  He is basically the embodiment of the serenity prayer.  Thus, he retains his sanity and is able to "keep on keeping on".  Now, Sammy tries to teach Ben how to have more of this kind of healthy attitude, but Ben is quite stubborn.  We'll see how things play out in the coming season.

As I came to know the characters of Ben and Sammy, it caused me to reflect on my rather brief, 2-year stint teaching high school.  The school at which I taught had many students who were bused in from rather problematic neighborhoods.  The average reading level of these kids, as I recall,  was 3rd grade -- yes, 3rd grade.  Makes any type of high school curriculum pretty difficult.  Combined with this lack of scholarly preparation, there were many social problems -- gang membership, drug dealing and using, teen sex and pregnancy, absent fathers, broken homes.  Coming into this situation as a lily-white 23-year-old, I really wanted to help these kids.  I really cared about them.  But, I soon came to realize that most of them didn't actually want my help and they could be....well, pretty expressing this sentiment.  I was soon caught up in a whirlpool of negative emotions, much like Ben's, and I didn't know how to get out of it.  And, though I hate to admit it, I got pretty angry.  Thankfully for me, and also for my students, I had my first baby and decided to be a stay-at-home mom.  But, I have often fretted over the years about the job I did and how I could have actually done it well.  And that's where Sammy teaches me a good lesson.  If I had been more like him in my attitude toward and expectations of my more "challenging" students, things probably would have gone a lot better.  I should have done what I could do, accepted peacefully what I couldn't change, and let a few laugh lines develop around my eyes. 

Let's hope Ben learns some of these things from Sammy, too.  Before he ends up in the orange jumpsuit.

We'll see what happens in 2013! ;-)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Wisdom Of Father Buckley

Everyone has an idea of truth -- from their religions, from their families, from their friends, from their cultures.  And if your idea of truth comes from your religion, well that can be pretty powerful.  If you are convinced through faith, and also through reason, that your idea of truth is....well....true.... how do you make room for the ideas of others?  How do you make room in your life for those with differing views?

When my husband was in college, he had a wonderful priest as both a teacher and mentor.  This priest presided at our wedding and has kept in touch with us over the years.  And he is now a chaplain at the college from which my younger daughter graduated this past May.  His name is Fr. Buckley -- or, Fr. B.

As a student, my husband wrote papers for Fr. B.  Now, my husband is a very intelligent person, with a very high IQ, and this gives him some confidence (deservedly so).  He told me the following anecdote when we were dating, and we have discussed it at key points in our married life over these past 25 years.  He explained to me how he was taken aback one day when Fr. B. returned one of his papers to him -- a paper of which he was quite proud.  Not only did he get a "B" on said paper (a grade he was not used to receiving), but Fr. B. had written the following comment next to the disappointing grade:  "You should always leave some room, in a discussion, for the other person to be right."  Wow....  And I think this is one of the most important lessons my husband learned in college, as he will admit.  My dear spouse loves to discuss and debate different issues, and he always has his position backed up by copious facts, making him very convincing.  But, this old advice from Fr. B. reminds him to be a bit gentle on the other or others involved in the discussion, listening openly and respectfully to their opinions.

I hope it does not sound like I am disrespectfully telling stories on my spouse.  That is not my intention.  And I will be the first to admit that I, too, need to very often remember Fr. B.'s advice.  I can be quite headstrong and stubborn in a discussion, even if I don't have very many actual facts to back up my position.  Sometimes, I just shoot from the hip. 

So, in this season of The Election of 2012, perhaps those of us with strong religious convictions -- those of us who firmly believe that our faith instructs us correctly in the area of morality -- can reflect on and apply Fr. B.'s wisdom in our lives and interactions.  After all, there are many different kinds of people in this great country.  And I believe most of them to be of good-will, wanting what is truly best for all, actually interested in the common good.  So, let's be a little humble in our discussions, leaving some room for The Other to be right.  Maybe then we can actually "advance the plot." (fabulous expression per Summer of "O.C." fame)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Topless Lady In The River -- Or, More Lessons From My Dad

When my two sisters and I were teens, our mom and dad took us to Yosemite National Park for a family vacation.  We stayed in these cute little "tents" -- made of canvas with wood floors.  It was summertime and it was hot, so we were all thankful for the presence of a nearby river.  It was there that my father, whose wisdom I have spoken of before, taught me something very important, which I hope I am managing to pass onto my own kids.

One very warm afternoon during this lovely vacation, my father, my sisters, and I strolled down to the river to swim.  Upon our arrival, we encountered a beautiful, young French couple frolicking in the water.  Not sexually frolicking, mind you, just splashing around.  And the lady half of the French couple was wearing the bottom part of her bikini, but the top part was missing.  My sisters and I had never seen such a thing, and we were a bit taken aback. My dad, never one to miss a teachable moment, saw our discomfort and spoke quietly to us about what we were witnessing.  Having been in the army, he spent some time in France, so he knew something about French culture.  He told us that French women did not consider swimming topless to be immodest.  He also explained that, culturally, European women were generally more casual and comfortable about a certain amount of bodily exposure than American women.  He encouraged us to just take this young couple in stride, and it was apparent to me that he was able to do so.  He did not appear uncomfortable.  He was neither gawking nor obviously trying to avert his gaze.  He was behaving just as he would behave if she were completely covered in shorts and a t-shirt.

Over the years, hearing many discussions among friends concerning the topic of modesty and appropriate female dress, I have reflected on this incident.  A couple of things stand out to me.  Firstly, you cannot make everyone in the world dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable.  It is impossible, and even if it were possible, it would not be the thing to do.  It would actually be inappropriately controlling and perhaps even abusive.  So, it is really best to learn how to control your own reactions to things, to learn to view someone as a whole person (body, mind, spirit), no matter how that person is dressed -- or undressed.  Second, you should not feel guilty for being attracted to a person physically.  This is a natural thing.  The thing that matters is what you do with that attraction.  And you can teach yourself to react to people, whatever they are wearing, in a way that is kind, warm-hearted, and dignified.  A little bit of a sense of humor about yourself, and others, can go a long way here. 

I hope I am passing these lessons from my dad onto my kids.  It does make me happy when I see my 20-year-old son, when interacting with a beautiful young woman in a darling outfit, looking her in the eye, talking and joking with her in a relaxed fashion.  He hopes to be a military officer someday, and that job will take him all over the country and the world, where there are many different people dressed in many different ways.  So, he had better develop the skills he needs to treat all these people with the respect they deserve.  And if he ever encounters a lovely topless lady in a river, I hope he is able to treat her in the same dignified fashion that his grandfather did.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Portrait Of The Progressive Woman -- For Whatever It's Worth

My middle child and youngest daughter received what may be called a Liberal Education at a very fine college.  It was a traditional Liberal Education, in that the Great Books of Western Civilization comprised the course of study, and the primary teaching method was the seminar.  One thing I have learned from this daughter of mine is that one must define one's terms in a discussion, in order that any good fruit may come from said discussion.  So, when pondering a couple of the responses to my last post, I have decided to reflect today on:  What do I mean when I say "Progressive Woman"? -- and -- What can a relatively conservative housewife and mom like me learn from such a woman?

I suppose I generally think of the Progressive Woman as today's version of the Women's Libber from my youth, but with Power Breasts and an expanded field of interest.  When I was young, the Liberated Woman was the Bra-less Woman.  Bonfires were being set in all areas of the country, fueled by these detestable undergarments.  Of course, I was a little girl when this was happening and too young to own a bra which could be burned, but I do remember this phenomenon and I found it to be quite fascinating.  Today, though, the modern Progressive Woman seems to shop at places such as Victoria's Secret and revels in demonstrating her sexual confidence by allowing bits (or more than bits) of her lacy, satiny bra to peek out from around or under her outerwear.  These modern bras also defy gravity in a dramatic fashion.  "Oppose these Power Breasts at your own risk!" seems to be the message of the modern Progressive Woman in her modern lingerie.  And I say:  You go, girl!!! 

Now, if I have not totally pissed you off with my strange sense of humor, let us explore together the more serious side of the Progressive Woman.  My view of this type of woman is that she espouses the modern idea of women's rights:  access to educational and career opportunities and advancement, sexual freedom (viewing women's sexual desire and the fulfillment of that desire as equally important to that of men), access to contraception, and abortion rights.  Beyond that, though, I believe that the Progressive Woman supports "gay rights" (by that I mean the right to have jobs, housing, marriage, and family life free from discrimination). She is also probably "anti-war"; supports some form of government healthcare for all; is in favor of government support for the poor; and is an advocate for caring for the needs of the illegal immigrant.  Support for public education, from elementary school through university, is also probably high on her list.

This is my definition of the Progressive Woman.  It may not be entirely accurate, but it is the portrait from which my discussion proceeds.

Now, as I said, I am a relatively conservative housewife and mom.  I am a Catholic, and I believe in the teachings of my Church (many of which are misunderstood and misrepresented, but that is another post).   I also believe that there is a lot to be gained by having relationships and even friendships with Progressive women.  After all, even though there is a lot we may disagree on, there is also a lot of common ground.  Traditional Catholic women and Progressive women both believe that women have an inherent dignity; we both believe in the dignity of the poor and the immigrant, and that the poor and the immigrant must be aided; we both believe that war is a very undesirable thing; we both believe all human beings (including gay human beings) have the right to live life unmolested; we both treasure education; and we both believe children have a right to be raised in a loving, caring fashion.  Our views as to how these aims should be achieved may differ, but we could start by at least defining and acknowledging our common values.  And, though our views on solutions do differ, we could start by trying to understand and have compassion for the position of The Other, even if we don't agree with that position.  Let us try walking in "the other lady's moccasins", at least a little bit.

One last point I would like to discuss is this.  Some feel that the Progressive Woman, because she seems to be angry with men, or because she may not be married (at least to a man), or because she might be gay, or because she may not want children (at least not more than a couple of them or at least not right now) is not a feminine person, is in denial of her true motherly nature, and may lack compassion.  Now, I am no philosopher or theologian -- just ask my husband or daughter.  But, these accusations do not really seem fair to me.  I have known Progressive women, and I have known them to be feminine, nurturing, and compassionate people.  And I am pretty sure that when one group of women starts accusing another group of women of unpleasant things, no good will come of it.  So, let us be charitable in our attitudes and our remarks -- at least if we want to move forward and have peace in our pluralistic society.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Should Have Just Shut Up And Eaten The Damn Chocolate Chips

Sometimes, I really do not know when to keep my mouth shut.  A real failing on my part.  Although, this failing can lead to some interesting interpersonal exchanges.

The other night, many people were tweeting about the Republican Convention.  I was really not paying that much attention; but, there is a lovely, rather conservative lady who retweeted a remark by another lovely, rather conservative lady.  And the remark was this:  "angry, shouting progressive women make me so sad.  Such utter discontentment with life.  Thankful for my call as a wife and mother."

Upon reading this remark, my eyes kind of crossed and my brow kind of furrowed and I kind of choked on my chocolate chips.  (Yeah.  I love to eat chocolate chips straight out of the bag.  Who needs the damn cookie, anyway?)  This is where I should have continued eating chocolate chips and kept my big mouth shut, but I didn't.  So I replied, "I am a Republican.  I am a wife and mom.  And this statement seems very unfair and unhelpful."  I then proceeded to put the whole thing out of my mind, while watching "Bones" with my daughter.  Don't you just LOVE "Bones"?

At bedtime, though, I looked again at my twitter feed, and I saw that the contented wife and mother graced me with a reply. Two replies, actually.  "are you shouting and angry?  That's what I'm getting at.  Tired of angry women spouting off about everything being 'fair'." -and- "Honestly I don't care if you're a republican.  Are you happy with the call on your life or are you angry about it?  That's my beef."

My first reaction was to have hurt feelings that she didn't care about our common bond as fellow members of the GOP.  So mean and insensitive of her, right?  It reminded me of when my son, a rather conservative young fellow, told me that he generally found liberal people to be kinder and more sensitive to him in his times of need than conservative people.  But, then I said to myself, "Get over yourself.  This is not about you."  I then replied in approximately the following words:  "I am happy. And I have many progressive women friends who are happy, too."  And I went to bed.  After a few minutes, though, I decided that this was a rather fruitless exchange and I wanted to end it.  So, I got up and deleted my reply.  A chicken or a peacemaker?  You decide. 

Anyway, I spent the next couple of days feeling a sort of soul pain over this little exchange.  But, I couldn't quite put my finger on the exact reason for that soul pain.

In comes Peggy Noonan.  I really like Peggy Noonan.  She is a Catholic, a conservative (but, a reasonable one), a woman, a mom, and she has a CAREER.  I think she is divorced, too.  Really breaking down those stereotypes and crossing those ideological lines.  And she says this in her column in Saturday's edition of the WSJ:  "A convention is supposed to be full of humans and hustle and bustle, and PROTESTERS, TOO [emphasis mine], because this is America and protesters are part of the crazy zest of a great party convening." 

Note:  In my opinion, both parties have their own kind of greatness.  Because, as Peggy said, "This is America."

Upon reading Peggy's words, I had one of those "Ah-Hah" moments.  It is not the place of one woman to tell another woman how to feel.  It is not the place of one woman to tell another woman to just shut up and stop complaining and be content.  Human psyches and human hearts and human souls do not work that way.  Our government recognizes this.  It is called Free Speech.  It is in the Constitution.  If you wish, you get to be angry and you get to protest about your anger publicly.  Yes, there are reasonable rules to follow when protesting, so that everybody stays safe and so that everybody's civil rights are safeguarded.  But, we should be happy when we see protesters, whether we agree with them or not.  We should be grateful that they are out there and not having their asses hauled off to prison by the authorities of a repressive regime (as we so often see in certain other countries).  And, when people are angry, maybe it's also a good idea to try to understand that anger and have some compassion for it.  Understanding and compassion may lead to fruitful dialogue, and perhaps even to some actual solutions to some of the problems in our society.

So, let's hear it for those protesters -- on whichever side of the fence they may be.