Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How I Feel About The Paparazzi

I also think of them as the "stalkerazzi."  And I guess that pretty much tells you how I feel about them.

Some of you may not know who the paparazzi are.  Basically, they are photographers who get paid for skulking about, sneaking up on famous people -- such as actors, directors, models, politicians -- and taking "candid" pictures of them.  Some of these paparazzi individuals have even been known to climb fences or trees in order to take pictures of celebrities through the windows of their own homes.  More often, though, the pictures are taken in public places -- like restaurants, night clubs, shopping malls, sidewalks, parking lots, grocery stores, and beaches -- as the famous people attempt to go about their daily lives.  And, frequently, these photographers seem to delight in showing us images of these people when they are at less than their best.  A beautiful actress might be photographed wearing a rather unflattering outfit, with her hair a bit askew, her face devoid of make-up.  In short, the beautiful woman might be caught looking like me.  But, nobody is taking pictures of me.  Thanks be to God.  And it's not only the women who are preyed upon by the paparazzi.  Men are targets just as frequently.

We are all exposed to these images.  They are, basically, inescapable.  They confront us when we are in line at the grocery store, when we are in the waiting room at our dentist's office, when we go online, even when we read the newspaper.  I think most of us have come to just accept these pictures as a fact of life.  We don't think about them very much.  We might even figure that being photographed by the paparazzi is just something celebrities need to accept with at least a certain amount of grace.  "The price of fame" and all that.  And it is true that these "stalkers of the rich and famous" aren't going to go away any time soon.

Lately, though, I have been thinking a little more about these images.  Why?  Well, sometimes, I see a paparazzi-taken picture of a celebrity I might happen to like, who seems like a good soul.  And in the paparazzi-taken photo, that individual is looking pretty annoyed.  It is clear that he or she has seen the photographer and is not happy about it.  The celebrity is wearing a facial expression which, if he or she were to look at me that way, would pretty much cause me to sink into the ground and die.  You know the old saying -- "if looks could kill."  And I think to myself, "Even though it is apparently legal for that photographer to be taking these types of pictures, is it really ethical or respectful?"  I also ask myself, "Should I even be looking at these pictures?  In looking at these pictures, am I actually contributing to the whole 'paparazzi phenomenon'?"

Does this mean that I am never again going to look at "People Magazine" while I am sitting under the dryer at the salon?  Probably not.  But, I am going to pause and think a little more before I look at certain images that may be floating about the internet or other types of media.  I might ask myself if the subject of the photo was actually a willing subject.  I will wonder if the lovely actress captured on film while she happened to be wearing a rather ill-fitting swimsuit would have her picture removed from that newspaper if she legally could.

(Note.  I know that there is no 'film' anymore.  It is just an expression.)

I mean, you can think of it this way.  There are plenty of "official" events where celebrities of all different varieties are knowingly and willingly photographed.  They come prepared -- showered, teeth brushed, hair styled, make-up done, dressed "to the nines."  They smile and laugh and good-naturedly share themselves with us.  Plenty of pictures get taken, which we can all enjoy, while knowing that nobody has had his or her privacy invaded.  It's a win-win.  We get to see photos of dazzling movie stars as they ham it up for the cameras at a charity ball.  And, the next day, maybe we should allow these same movie stars to get their grocery shopping done unmolested by unwanted and ethically questionable stalkers armed with expensive camera gear.   

Monday, August 26, 2013

Who In The Hell Am I, Anyway -- Part 3

Anyway, my youngest son went off to college in August of 2011.  This gave me a bit more time for reflection.  I thought about my own childhood and young adulthood, my life as a wife and mom.  I had also been deeply distressed by my experience of the 2008 presidential campaign, especially by some of the rhetoric employed by the Republican side.  Yes, I know that plenty of criticism can be aimed at the Democrats, too.  It's just that the Republican side was "my side," so it affected me more deeply when I saw and heard some of the extremism emanating from the conservatives.  I was disturbed by divisiveness of the Proposition 8 campaign.  I was disturbed by the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and how the "progressive" and "traditional" Catholics have come to (in many ways, at least) view themselves as adversaries. 

As I reflected on all of these things, I had an experience which I suppose you could say was "defining."  Although, that term is a bit dramatic, I guess.  I would like to share it with you.

One day, I had to give someone a ride to a neighborhood in San Diego that is known for being progressive.  A lot of gay people live there, too.  This person had an appointment, which took about an hour.  There was a coffee shop near the location of my friend's appointment.  So, I got a cup of coffee, and passed the time sitting at one of the little tables on the sidewalk outside of the establishment.  (The coffee was OUTSTANDING, by the way.)  As I sat, I watched the people come and go.  As I had never really spent any time in this neighborhood, I looked around and soaked in the atmosphere of the place.  It reminded me a lot of my college experience.  There were many people -- a great DIVERSITY of people.  And, within and among this great diversity of people, nobody seemed to mind anybody else.  Everyone was pleasant.  They interacted cordially.  They left each to his or her own business.  It was very relaxing.  Actually, I had not felt so relaxed in quite a while.  And it came to my mind that all the hostility we harbor toward one another and the fear we have of each other and the "culture war" mentality that is so pervasive in our country are, basically, idiotic.  Sorry if I'm stepping on your toes here.  I'm not saying there aren't discussions we need to have in our society.  There are important issues that we need to work out amongst ourselves.  But, as we are discussing pressing matters and working out our issues, I think we can really drop the fear and the hostility.  And I hope we do, because there are some lovely people "on the other side of the fence."  Even if you feel that it is your duty to disagree with their "lifestyles" and their "choices," there is really no need for -- or any excuse for -- fear or hostility or hatred.  I think we can work things out, without all the negativity.  If we have the will to do so, anyway.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Who In The Hell Am I, Anyway? -- Part 2

It is true that I have always enjoyed being around different types of people.  I don't have that hard of a time seeing things from different points of view.  This can actually cause a problem for me, because people I interact with tend to think I agree with them about everything.  I am not trying to be misleading.  It's just that I can easily "stand in someone's shoes."  Although, at other times -- especially with people in my family or very close friends -- I can be argumentative.  So, when I see President Obama get bashed for seemingly changing his opinion depending on what group he's talking to, I wonder if he is actually like me.  And I imagine that if I ever run for office, I will be accused of the same thing.  This thought stresses me out quite a bit.  Not that I want to run for office.  I don't.  It's just something that enters my very active imagination, and then I get anxious.  I have a rather ridiculous imagination. :-/

So, you may be wondering why I am a conservative.  A lot of it has to do with growing up during the trials and tribulations of the 1970's and then experiencing the "Reagan Revolution."  Some people hate Reagan, and I'm not saying he was perfect, but this is the thing.  The morale of the country was pretty awful at the end of the Carter era.  Reagan was full of hope and optimism.  He made us young people -- at least a lot of us young people -- feel positive about our country and about our futures.  The way he made us feel is very similar to the way Obama gave (and still gives) many people hope.  Obama came into office at a time of great difficulty for our nation.  He was upbeat and seemed resolute in his attitude that we could pull our country out of its difficulties.  That was the way Reagan made a lot of people feel when he was elected.  Of course, many people couldn't stand Reagan, the way many people can't stand Obama today.  They feared that he was a nutty, out-of-touch-with-reality old coot who was going to start a nuclear war at the drop of a hat.  I never thought that.  Frankly, I never thought we would have a nuclear war.  It's not something I worried about in the least.  I just couldn't believe that anyone in our country, or in the U.S.S.R., was actually crazy enough to start one.  Maybe I was crazy for having that attitude, but that's how I felt about it.

Another factor which influenced my conservatism was the feminism of my day.  I think modern feminists are better.  They seem to realize the value and fun in being wives and moms -- even stay-at-home moms (SAMS, as they are nick-named nowadays).  When I was a young woman, the "career" of motherhood was often spoken of in a derogatory way.  And when I shared with other young women -- especially more feminist-minded young women -- that I really hoped to be a mom at home one day, I was scoffed at, most of the time.  I was told by many young women that I would be wasting my education, that I would be bored, that I would be putting my economic future at the mercy of some probably unreliable male.  This made me sad.  My own mother stayed home with my sisters and I, and I always appreciated it.  We had wonderful times together.  Of course, not all young women were critical of the idea of moms being at home with their kids.  Some feminist women I knew were even supportive of the concept.  But, by and large, the young women who felt the way I did were conservative, politically and religiously.  Those were the people who ended up being my closest friends.  I liked the more liberal women, but they often made me feel like they were laughing at me.  Maybe that's not entirely accurate, but in my early 20's, that's what it felt like.  So, when I got married, I married a man who supported me in my desire to stay home with our kids.  He is a good man, and I've always known I can rely on him to uphold "his end of the deal."  And I have striven to hold up mine.

Please don't think that I disapprove of women in the workforce.  I don't.  I believe each woman needs to make the choice that seems right for her and her family.  Secondly, when I say that most of my friends were more conservative religiously, you must understand that "religious conservatism" back in the 1980's was much different than it is today, at least in the area of the country where I lived --  namely, the San Francisco Bay Area.  In my opinion, the "religious right" has morphed into something with which I am extremely uncomfortable.  I see a lot of plain old meanness going on in this school of thought, along with strange conspiracy theories, a very unhealthy level of distrust of anything that has to do with the government, and very odd ideas about such things as economics and science.  You may see things differently, but this is my opinion.

My kids started out their educations by going to our neighborhood public schools, which were very nice.  We did end up homeschooling them, though.  Many people, when I would tell them that we homeschooled, would assume interesting things about me and my family.  They assumed we were religious extremists, that we disapproved of public (and even private) schools, that our kids didn't have any friends or activities, and that they would never be able to go to college.  A lot of people assumed that I was just plain weird.  The fact of the matter is that I am weird.  ;-)  The actual story, though, is that my kids had friends who homeschooled, and they ended up asking me if I would homeschool them.  Being that I had been a teacher, I decided that we could give it a try.  There was a caveat  -- they had to do what I told them to do without any complaining, otherwise it was back to school they would go.  And, I have to say, all three of them were delightfully cooperative (most of the time).  Homeschooling was a very positive experience for us.  We had a lot of fun together.  And my kids learned well.  I did make sure that I gave them a solid course of study, and I was careful to monitor their progress.  I tried to adapt the curriculum to their particular learning needs and styles.  Lo and behold, they also had friends and activities in which they were involved.  And they all went to college.  My oldest two have graduated; my son is a junior.  They have all done fine academically and socially in college.  Yes, as we homeschooled, there were bumps in the road.  Yes, there were some panicky moments.  But, I have asked all of my children, within the past year, if they are happy that they were homeschooled, and they answered me, "yes."  So, I suppose it all worked out.  Homeschooling is definitely not for everybody, and I feel that nobody should feel pressured into it.  And I have seen mothers putting pressure on other mothers to homeschool.  I have even experienced Catholic mothers telling other Catholic mothers that their kids' souls are at stake.  I think this is a terrible and inexcusable thing for one mom to say to another.

(Note:  You may think I am unqualified to homeschool based on the grievous grammatical errors you see in this blog.  But, it is my blog, so I just do what I want.)

Here is a funny story, though, that does demonstrate how I did, at times, look like a rather weird homeschooler:

The kids in our "homeschool group" had what my younger daughter describes as their "homeschool uniform."  This came about because of the concern most homeschoolers have about dressing their daughters modestly, combined with the need of children to play in an active manner.  This "uniform" -- for the girls, anyway -- consisted of a rather loosely fitting t-shirt with some kind of Catholic symbol or clever Catholic motto imprinted onto it, combined with a knee-length to mid-calf length cotton skirt with an elastic waistband.  Shorts could be worn under the skirt, so that after Mass the girls could take off their skirts to play.  Most of the skirts were sewn by the girls' mothers.  I do not know how to sew.  Never have.  Never will.  No interest here.  But, there is a home-based business run by a sweet Menonite family that makes these types of skirts.  So, we procured the desired garments from this business.  This little business also makes other types of modest garments for women, including modest dresses.  One year, my girls and I decided (in a fit of what can only be called insanity) to purchase some of these dresses.  Please don't think I am making fun of the Menonites.  I'm not.  It's just that their fashions are a little bit out-of-place in urban and suburban Southern California. The dress I ordered had a loosely-fitted bodice, as the Menonites don't believe clothes should be too form-fitting.  The full skirt flared out from the waist and hit me mid-calf.  The sleeves were puffy and came down to my elbows.  There was a rather large collar on the dress, and big blue buttons that went down the front.  The dress was made of a couple different types of fabric.  The bodice and skirt were blue with slim white stripes.  The sleeves and collar were made of a blue and pink flowered material.  And, yes, I actually wore this out in public, especially on days when I was tired and didn't feel well.  It was an incredibly comfortable dress, and I didn't need to wear a bra under it, because it was so loose.  (The Menonites probably wouldn't approve of that whole bra-less thing.  I hate bras, though.  I HATE them.  If I can get away with it at all, I will not wear one.  Sorry if this is TMI.)  It was okay if I wore the dress to homeschool functions, because it fit in well with the fashions being sported by the other moms at these affairs.  But, I wore it other places, too.  One day, I wore it to Mass at our very middle-of-the-road, normal, suburban parish.  At this particular Mass, I was required to get up in front of the congregation, in order to hand out some certificates to the people who were going to receive Sacraments at Easter.  I kind of forgot what I was wearing, but I noticed that many people were looking at me rather oddly.  I had no idea why.  Until I went home and caught my reflection in the mirror.  Let's just say that was the last time I wore that dress.  It was a beautifully crafted piece of art, though.  Truly.

My career as a homeschool mom came to an end in June of 2012, as my youngest child graduated from high school.  In many ways, it was a relief to be done.  But, I was also sad.  It had been a great ride.

Let me tell you, though, there is nothing quite like the anxiety a homeschool mom feels as she sends her kids off to college.  I used to spend sleepless nights the first semester each of them was away from home (and they all did go away to school) nervously thinking about everything I could have done better.  I felt that if they didn't succeed at their chosen institutions of higher education, it would pretty much be all my fault.  Every struggle they experienced weighed heavily on me.  I waited with bated breath for those first report cards to arrive.  So far -- thanks be to God -- all has been well.

Next time, I'll talk about what has been up for me since my youngest went off to college, and how all the events of my life have influenced the way I think about things now.  Not that I'm claiming that the way I think about things is correct.  But, "it is what it is." ;-)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Who In The Hell Am I, Anyway? -- Part I

There are some people who are kind enough to read this blog.  Some of you know me personally.  Some of you don't.  You may be wondering who I think I am, anyway, spouting off all of these opinions at y'all.

I am not really anybody.  I am just a wife and a mom.  I happen to know how to type, and I have a computer that's connected to the internet.  These things have allowed me to be set loose upon you innocent people.

I thought I'd tell you a little bit about myself, though, not to be all self-absorbed, but so that you will understand the soil from which all of these sometimes outlandish, or, at least, outlandishly stated, opinions of mine have sprung.

I am 50 years old, the oldest of three girls.  My parents were Catholic, working-class people.  They got married in Redwood City, CA, when they were 23 years old.  My mother worked as a bookkeeper and teller at Bank of America before I was born.  I was born when she was 29 years old; and before she had me, she gave birth to a still-born baby boy and suffered at least one miscarriage.  My father also worked for Bank of America.  He actually met my mother when they bowled in the company league.  She said that she winked at him and he asked her out for a drink.  It was Ash Wednesday, though, so she declined.  He said this impressed him, so he asked her out for dinner soon thereafter.  They got married about a year later, I think.  After working for BofA for 16 years, my father went into business for himself as a general contractor.  He had one partner in the company, and never desired to grow it.  He enjoyed doing the work himself, and didn't want to manage a bunch of people.  He did, of course, hire sub-contractors for such things as plumbing and electrical work.  He knew all the best sub-contractors in town, and his customers always loved him.  His work ethic was second-to-none, and that's what he attempted to instill in his kids.  He always told us that working was important, no matter what kind of job it was, as long as it was an honest job.  And he told us that we should work hard and do our best at whatever tasks happened to be our responsibility.

My parents were Democrats, because, as they told me, the Democrats "are the party of the working man."  My mother remained a Democrat all her life, although, at times, they annoyed the hell out of her.  When she got especially annoyed, I would ask her why she didn't switch her political affiliation.  She would say, "I was in the party first, before x, y, or z annoying person." (I am using her inspiration to remain a Republican, even though, currently, they are annoying the hell out of me.)  My father became a non-partisan later in life, because, frankly, he couldn't abide by either the Democrats or the Republicans, anymore.  My parents, though, were big JFK people.  They loved JFK and the Kennedy family -- John's siblings, anyway.  Eunice was always a favorite.  They told me that President Kennedy uplifted and unified the nation at a difficult time.  They were heartbroken when he was assassinated.

Even though they were Democrats, my parents did come to feel overwhelmed by certain of the oppressive tax rates -- particularly the property tax rates that were happening in California -- during the 1970's.  They were scared that they would have to sell their house if something wasn't done.  This would have been an especially big deal, since my father had built our house with a garage that enabled him to run his business.  So, not only would they have had to move the family home, they would have had to find and rent another place to house his business.  And, believe me, they weren't rolling in any kind of cash.  We were always pretty poor.  The most money my parents generally ever had when I as growing up was somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three thousand dollars, at the outside.  As a result of feeling such fear over their ever-escalating property taxes, they did vote for the infamous Proposition 13.  And it did provide them much-needed relief.

There was a flip side to the whole Proposition 13 thing, though.  Because we were fairly cash-poor, my mother had always taken advantage of various programs which were provided courtesy of the lovely liberal Democrat ideology of the times.  We had wonderful swimming lessons at the beautifully maintained public high school pool.  There were regular trips to the well-provisioned and aesthetically pleasing public library.  The nearby public school had a wide variety of enriching summer programs.  Local public parks were cared for painstakingly, and provided many hours of fun.  When the fall-out from Proposition 13 hit, these things, which had made my childhood so much richer than it otherwise would have been, were either cut completely or reduced to a mere shadow of their former selves.  Many jobs were also lost.  And the morale of the remaining employees was, often, not what it had been.  I remember sunny, smiling, happy people running all of these programs.  The ones that remained after the cuts were not exactly depressed, but their attitudes had certainly taken a hit.  The whole situation was demoralizing for them.

My educational background is not unusual for a Catholic person of my age group.  I went to kindergarten at the local public school, and then went to a Catholic school through the eighth grade.  In those days, Catholic schools typically did not offer kindergarten.  Why did my parents send my sisters and I to Catholic school?  It was just what Catholic people of their generation did, for the most part.  They sent their kids to Catholic school.  Of course, the tuition was not nearly as prohibitive for working-class people in those days.  When it came time for high school, they found they just couldn't afford the price of a Catholic school, so my sisters and I went to public high school.

As the oldest, I was the first in my family to venture forth into the realm of public secondary education.  (Both of my parents had gone to Catholic high schools, even though their families were not well-off.  Things were different back in the day.)  I went with the dire warnings of my Catholic school teachers and classmates ringing in my ears.  I was told that I would receive a sub-par education and that I would not get any homework.  The part about not getting homework sounded okay to me, although that notion was quickly dispelled when I came home from the first day of high school with two and a half hours of homework.  I was also warned that I would be harmed by the black people at my public high school.  Admittedly, there had been race riots there, which occurred when the school began to be integrated, in the mid-1970's.  Although, as I heard the stories, plenty of white people bore plenty of responsibility for those riots.  I was sternly told, though, by people "in the know," that if I were to go into the bathroom, the black girls would shove my head into the toilet and flush it.  I was advised to never use the bathroom at school, by these people "in the know."  By lunch time on the first day of my high school career, I knew that was never going to work out for me, so I ventured forth into the restroom, my best friend fearing for my life.  As I entered the dreaded facility, there were quite a few black girls, probably around seven, hanging out and smoking.  They looked at me in what might be described as a "shocked" manner.  I smiled and said "hello" and proceeded to do my business.  Then I washed my hands and asked them how they were doing.  They answered that they were just fine, all the while staring at me in disbelief.  No one touched me, though.  No one was in the least bit threatening.  And I was able to pee, thenceforth, for the rest of my high school days, whenever I felt the need.  I actually managed to befriend -- in a casual, high-school type of way -- a few of those girls.

Another story from my integrated public high school experience?  My freshman class was the first to be taught P.E. in a co-ed manner -- meaning that boys and girls were in the same P.E. classes.  This was quite novel at the time, and the teachers tried their best to determine how to work it all out in a satisfactory manner.  So, twice a week, it was decided that all us kids would run -- either around the track or off-campus.  I have a very poor sense of direction, and I am also a pretty slow runner, thus leading to the following situation.  The instructor sent my class on a run through the neighborhood surrounding the school.  He told us to turn right here, turn left there, go around this and that, etc.  This neighborhood was totally unfamiliar to me, and he might as well have been speaking in French, for all the good his directions did me.  So, about halfway through the run, I found myself jogging along with a very tall black boy from what we used to call the "ghetto."  It was just him and me.  Nobody else was in sight.  I was a little intimidated.  Now, don't go thinking I was racist.  I was never racist.  He was just a very different kind of person, from a very different kind of background, than anyone I had ever hung out with before.  And there were all those dire warnings I had been given by my Catholic school peeps running through my head.  I chose to stick with the guy, though, because at least he seemed to know where he was going.  And he was friendly.  As we ran along, he gazed into the yards of the homes we passed.  These yards tended to be large and set on sloping hills, with lots of trees and shrubbery scattered throughout.  The boy said to me, "These yards would be great for growing weed."  "Oh, really?" I asked, a little bit taken aback.  Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before.  "Yeah," he said.  And he followed up with, "Do you smoke weed?"  "Nope," I answered.  "Oh," was his reply.  We ran the rest of the way in silence, arriving back at the school on time for our next class.  And what is the point of these stories?  They are examples of the ways in which my rather narrow worldview began to be shaped and changed a little bit.

Here is one more tale from my high school years, which kind of rounds things out.

My high school class was one of the first to experience "health education."  Part of "health education" -- and only part, for you conservative people who might be reading this -- was "sex education."  The school was required to present "both sides of the issue," regarding all things sexual. So, on one day, a lady from Planned Parenthood came to speak to us.  On another day, a Catholic "pro-life" lady came to speak to us.  Keep in mind now that I am watching this from my 15-year-old Catholic girl perspective.  But, I have always been rebel enough not to be too judgmental about differing points of view, so I was interested in all the things both ladies were going to say.  The Planned Parenthood lady was young and very pretty.  She was mild-mannered and soft-spoken.  She was intelligent.  She told us about all the different kinds of contraception and how to use them.  I found it all fascinating.  I didn't feel that she was encouraging us to go out and start having sex with each other.  I just felt like she believed that some kids were going to have sex, and that they should have all the information.  I, myself, being Catholic, wanted to wait until I was married to have sex.  I also didn't particularly believe in contraception.  But, I found her talk to be quite interesting.   The "pro-life" lady, on the other hand, caused me to have a stomach ache.  She was fairly old.  She was not smiling.  She was kind of grumpy towards the students.  She obviously had it in for the pretty, kind Planned Parenthood lady.  She did not speak in any sort of appealing manner.  She took many of the things I believed in and made them sound quite unattractive.  I was embarrassed.  And that's when I started to be aware of one of the problems that we are still struggling mightily with in our society -- how to communicate respectfully with people of different ideas about important social issues.  And I realized that it's the kids who get stuck in the middle of it all.  And it made me start to think about how I wanted to explain things to my own kids.  And it made me grateful for the way my parents explained things to me.  It also made me grateful that I had parents who knew how to speak to people of varying opinions in a constructive way.  They gave my sisters and I a good example in this area.

After receiving my public high school education, which was not at all sub-par, I went onto San Francisco State University.  I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology and a secondary level teaching credential.  At SF State, I continued to have experiences which influenced me to appreciate, learn from, befriend, and interact with people of varying ideas.  I came to believe that no permanent good would happen in our society if different groups just tried to force each other into their own ways of thinking.

I have written more than enough for right now.  I am surprised if you are still reading at this point.  I'll continue next time.  And next time I will talk about how my conservatism enters into the whole equation.  I will also speak about how my youthful idiocy caused me to not quite live up to my ideals in how to get along with others.





Thursday, August 22, 2013

Watching TV With Your Teens And Young Adult Kids -- A Few More Thoughts

Yesterday, I used "The O.C." as an example of how I watch TV with my kids, who are now 24 (almost 25), 23, and 21 years old.  The older two are girls.  The youngest is a boy.

I tend to get along pretty well with my kids.  Sometimes, they think I am too strict.  Sometimes, I think they are too strict.  Don't go thinking that they don't get on me about stuff.  Like, for instance, my cage dancing fantasy.

But, anyway.

When I spoke about watching "The O.C." with my children, I related how I used the characters and happenings in the show as "teachable moments."  We would discuss issues the show presented and how the characters handled various situations they encountered.  I hoped that these discussions would help my kids to become a little wiser about the ways of the world.

As I thought more about my blog post, I realized I kind of made it sound like I'm always and everywhere trying to teach my kids valuable lessons when we watch TV and movies.  Frankly, if that were the case, I don't think my kids would want to watch ANYTHING with me, at all.  I would just be a ball and chain around their entertainment-loving young selves.

So, I guess, most of the time, I just sit with my kids and we enjoy television shows and movies together.  No comments, no judging, no discussion.  Just fun and genuine, spur-of-the-moment reactions to the stories being told.  Maybe some snacks thrown in.  I mean, after all, my kids are older now.  If they don't know the values I wanted them to grow up with by this time, I have pretty much failed.  Although, I also took this more silent approach -- at least most of the time -- when they were teenagers.  And I think it has value.

Why do I think it has value?

People are a generally rebellious lot.  We don't like to get told what to do so very much.  We like to make up our own minds.  And, frankly, most kids know what their parents' opinions are by the time they are teenagers.  That's why, when you see them rebelling, they are doing the opposite of what their parents would suggest.  They have obviously figured out their parents way of thinking.  And they are testing that way of thinking.

As you may know by now (ha-ha), I am a rather rebellious person.  But -- and this may surprise you -- I never engaged in any so-called "high-risk" behaviors as a teen or young adult.  Why?  Certainly not because of my own common sense.  I attribute this to my parents -- especially my dad -- who knew how to tread gently.  He knew not to back me into a corner.  This doesn't mean we didn't have some pretty "spirited discussions" -- a.k.a. "fights."  But, in the end, my dad would look at me calmly and say, "Well, it's your life.  Do what you want."  Then, most of the time, whatever common sense I did possess would kick in and I would realize that I didn't want to do whatever that lame-ass thing was that I had been so vehemently demanding to do a few minutes before.  Why didn't I want to do it?  Because there was no more contest of wills going on.  I didn't have to do that lame-ass thing in order to prove to my father that I couldn't be forced into things, by him or anyone else.

And that brings me back to the idea of just watching TV shows and movies with my kids with no commentary, simply with the goal of enjoying (or, perhaps, being shocked or terrified by) a story.  Especially if it is a television program or movie of their choosing.  I'm not going to turn this form of entertainment into an opportunity for rebellion.  I am, rather, going to use it as an opportunity for bonding.  After all, having a good time together watching Sammy and Ben run around is one ingredient that can lead to a very positive mother-daughter relationship.  At least, in my experience.  SouthLAnd.  Forever. ;-)

Disclaimer:  I am assuming, of course, that your kids aren't bringing home "films" from the Adult Store.  That is a whole different issue.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The O.C. -- A Case Study In Watching TV With Young People

This post is related to my last post, which was a rather long, boring, and preachy post.  Maybe this one will be more fun, while also serving as an example of what I was talking about in my last rather long, boring, and preachy post.  Maybe it will serve as a bit of a clarification, if you will.

Some of you reading this may have never heard of the TV show entitled "The O.C."  It was enormously popular from 2003-2007.  In spite of its enormous popularity, the first time I heard about it was last spring when I was engrossed in watching another TV show -- "SouthLAnd" -- which I also didn't hear about until late in the game, as in the middle of Season 4.  "SouthLAnd" has an amazingly talented ensemble cast.  I had seen most of the principal actors from "SouthLAnd" in other TV shows and movies, with the exception of one, whose name is Ben McKenzie.  So, being that I had never heard of him, I decided to look up his IMdB to see if he had done any other work.  Lo and behold, he had done a lot of other work, including a TV show called "The O.C."  I googled "The O.C." and discovered that it had been quite a hit.  It was billed as a teen soap opera, which normally I don't watch, but because Mr. McKenzie had impressed me so much with his work on "SouthLAnd," I decided to give it a try.  So, I ordered the DVD's and proceeded to watch it, along with my two daughters, who are in their early 20's.  They, too, had never before heard of or seen "The O.C."  They had, though, been wrangled (by me) into watching "SouthLAnd."

"The O.C." is the tale of a young man from the "wrong side of the tracks" named Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), who -- through the actions of Providence and some extremely creative storytellers -- ends up being adopted into a wealthy family in Orange County, California.  Admittedly, "The O.C." has many soap-opera elements to it.  What drew me into the story, though, is its touching portrayal of such things as family life, friendship, forgiveness, and hope.  The writing is also clever and sprinkled with ample bits of humor.  And Mr. McKenzie does an absolutely superb job of making his character relatable.  Ryan -- from the very first scene of the very first episode -- is someone for whom you deeply care, someone for whom you want only the best.  He is also damn hot.  He wears white wife beaters, which show off the fact that Mr. McKenzie probably works out constantly.  He sports uber-cool leather accessories, and his expressive face and off-putting manner caused my younger daughter to wonder "if Ben got away with lots of things while he was growing up."  So, of course, since Ryan Atwood is the way Ryan Atwood is, there are going to be sexual situations.

As a parent, I had a couple of alternatives.  I could decide that we were not going to watch this show in my house, with all its "objectionable" content.  Or, I could decide to take advantage of all the teachable moments it presented.  If I chose the first alternative, we would have missed out on what turned out to be an absolutely delightful story.  I would have also annoyed my daughters.  And I wanted to watch the show myself, so there's that.  Therefore, I chose the second option.  I didn't turn out lecture after lecture on sexual morality for my kids, based on "The O.C."  But, I did use situations presented in the show and the questions my kids had as an opportunities for the tossing about of ideas.

Here is an example:

Bridget and I were at a Mexican restaurant one night, having a little mom-daughter dinner, because the rest of the family was otherwise engaged.  She said to me, "What would you say if I brought Ryan Atwood home?"

I laughed and replied, "I would high-five you and shout, 'Score!!!'"  I then said, "I have never, in all my life, known a guy like Ryan Atwood.  And I have known a fair number of guys.  But, if you did happen to find him, there are a lot of good things about Ryan.  He's a good person.  He's good to people.  He's kind.  He works hard.  And, yeah, who doesn't want a hot boyfriend?"  But, I also told her, "I wouldn't go locking yourself in any pool house with him, though.  The chances of ending up pregnant would be pretty high.  And even if you didn't end up getting pregnant, if you slept with him and then broke up, it would break your heart even more than it would if you hadn't slept with him.  That's been my experience in life, anyway."  To throw some good humor into the whole thing, I ended with, "If you did hang out in the pool house with him, I'd make you keep all the blinds open.  And I'd walk back and forth every five minutes and wave at you guys."

What were my goals in this conversation?  I wanted Bridget to know that I perfectly understand the appeal of Ryan Atwood.  He's great.  But, I wanted to sort the fantasy from the reality.  I also wanted her to know that I am -- always -- on her side.  I wanted to speak to her in a way that let her know that she can come to me with anything, any time.  And I wanted her to know that I have a sense of humor and a sense of fun about things youthfully romantic.  After all, it's just a plain old good time talking with and laughing with a daughter about "The O.C."

Young People And Sexual Issues

Today, a very lovely young woman posted an article to Facebook.  It dealt with the topic of Christian young people and the sexual issues they face -- regarding such things as sexual development, sexual identity, sexual activity, and pornography.  The article encouraged parents not to be fools, not to be in denial about the possibility of their own kids struggling in these areas. 

There are times when I think that Catholic/Christian young people have it harder than more secular young people when it comes to growing up and dealing with issues of sexuality.  After all, if you are a Catholic/Christian teen or young adult, and you are going to church and are active in church-organized youth activities, it is expected that you are "holy" and "wholesome."  People often assume that you aren't sexually active in any way, shape, or form.  And you can be ashamed if you realize that you aren't meeting these often unfair and, possibly, unreasonably high expectations.  This shame will most likely cause you to not communicate about these issues honestly with your parents, for example.  So, it is the parents' job to be aware of the fact that their kids are sexual beings, in the midst of becoming sexual adults, and they might need an ear, some understanding, and some help.

And I don't mean by this that if you catch your kid masturbating that you should drag him (or her) off to Confession and never let him (or her) close his (or her) bedroom door again, figuring that you have solved the problem. 

Okay.  Now a bunch of you are probably mad at me.  I don't mean to belittle the proper use of Confession.  Confession -- especially with the help of a kind, understanding, and wise priest (like Father Cornelius Buckley) -- is a comforting and wonderful thing.  But, I have seen -- at least at times -- Catholics and other Christians oversimplifying the whole issue of sexual development in young people.  It's not that I feel that I'm all-wise and all-knowing in this area.  But, these are just some of the things I have figured out along the way, starting from my experiences as the tutor for the Human Sexuality class in college and continuing on through my experiences as a young single woman, a young married woman, a mom, an older married woman, and a friend of people who are single/married/straight/gay/etc.  I am not speaking for the Church here.  These are only my opinions and what has worked for me.  Take it or leave it, as you will.

First of all, I have seen a movement in certain Catholic/Christian circles that basically attempts to ban all possibility of "errant" sexual activity amongst young people by not allowing any dating until it is for the sole purpose of marriage -- and then calling it courting, with a bunch of strict rules in place.  This movement also  discourages most (if not all) physical affection between "courting" couples.  (Some young people are even encouraged to refrain from kissing until their wedding day.  Frankly, if I had to go from not even kissing a guy to full-on sexual intercourse in one day, I would have been totally freaked out and overwhelmed.  But, that's just me.)  Some religious groups are also telling young women that they must be totally chaste -- in mind, body, and spirit -- in all of their relationships with young men, telling them that they are the sexual standard-bearers of society.  These young ladies are given the message that they are failing if they think of men in a sexual way, thus perhaps tempting these poor, weak guys who aren't expected to have any sexual self-control of their own.  Until, of course, these young women get married.  Then they are expected to figure out how to chastely satisfy the sexual needs of their husbands.  I have read articles by some of the young women who have been raised in this manner -- women who love God very much and who want to be good Christians -- and they explain how this, essentially, "screwed them up."

Now a bunch more of you are probably mad at me.  That's cool.  Also, I admit, there are happy young people who have been raised in this very strict way.  I am also not trying to say -- in any way, shape, or form -- that young people should be encouraged or allowed to just "have at it" with each others' bodies.  And that is another extreme which some schools of thought seem to favor.

So, what do I actually think is helpful to young people who are trying to become mature adults -- sexually, as well as in all other ways?

I think it is our responsibility, as parents, to help our kids create well-rounded and satisfying lives, beginning in early childhood.  How can we help our kids succeed academically, develop their areas of interest (such as athletics or the arts), and have happy social lives?  How can we make our homes and families places where our kids feel loved, supported, and nurtured?  If we pay attention to these things, it will probably help to forestall many potential problems our kids might face -- not only in the area of sexuality, but in other areas, as well.

I think we must also accept that a certain amount of sexual curiosity and exploration are normal for teenagers and young adults.  My friend and I used to find and read all the "sexy parts" in our moms' "bodice-ripper novels."  My sister and her friends found somebody's hidden stash of "Playboy" magazines and looked through them.  None of us went on to develop a pornography addiction.  Why?  Because when we told our mothers about our little "discoveries," they did not over-react.  They reacted calmly, with good humor.  They also gave us good examples of how to be as women by how they actually behaved as wives and in their relationships with men.  In short, they helped us keep these things in perspective.  I suppose one of the thing my own mother did which I found especially helpful was how she talked to us about the sex in movies, TV, and books.  Because, frankly, as much as some people protest, these things aren't going to go away.  My mother made it a point to talk to us about "real-life" sex, and how it compared to and contrasted with the sex onscreen and in print.  She gave us a view of sex which was real, without coming down on us for having normal, girlish imaginations. 

And what if you do happen to catch your teenager in some sexual situation to which you object?  First of all, stay calm.  If you lose it, you'll probably just make things worse.  Give your child the time and space to disengage himself from the activity with dignity.  Before talking to your child, ask yourself, "Is this activity within the realm of normal sexual development for a person of this age group?"  After asking yourself this question, speak with your teen.  But, don't humiliate your child.  Treat him or her with dignity and understanding.  And -- this is just my opinion -- do not, under any circumstances, scare your child with threats of going to hell.  Hell is a pretty serious thing, reserved for those who commit grievous actions with full knowledge and consent.  Teenagers and young adults have a lot of stuff going on developmentally, so even if you believe what your kid was doing was a big sin, there is a good possibility that the conditions for full culpability did not exist.  And, in any case, I have not usually found threats of hell all that effective in the raising of kids.  I have never done it myself, but I have seen it done, often with poor outcomes.  A quiet manner, a listening ear, and an understanding heart are usually much more helpful.

I know this has been very rambling and long.  If you have stuck it out, I appreciate your time.  If I lost you along the way, that is perfectly understandable.  Again, these are just my thoughts.  I don't claim to be any kind of font of wisdom.  Pax.    


Tuesday, August 20, 2013


... It goes both ways.

And it needs to stop.  Because it hurts us all.  It hurts the hated, the hater, and our whole society.

Here are two stories, which were told to me by two very reliable, very good, very compassionate people.

1.  The first story was told to me by a close friend from the San Francisco Bay Area.  This man has a friend who is a lesbian.  She is married to a lady and they have a child.  For quite a while, they lived in San Francisco, and all was well.  They then moved, in order to be closer to their places of employment.  Since they have lived in their new neighborhood, their tires have been slashed, because of their sexual orientation and their non-traditional family.

2.  The second story was told to me by a close friend from Southern California.  During the Proposition 8 campaign, there was a family who lived in an area that is considered to be rather progressive.  This family had a sign in their front yard, supporting Proposition 8.  And they had their tires slashed. 

Now, I know I am old.  I know I am non-confrontational.  I also like everybody, whatever their opinions may be, as long as they are good people.  What is a good person?  To me, a good person is someone of good-will, someone who is honest and trustworthy.  A good person is someone who treats others well, no matter what the color, creed, sexual orientation, or political perspective of those "others" might be.  A good person has humility.  A good person is compassionate and charitable, striving to overcome the innate selfishness that most of us possess.  I like to be surrounded by these types of people, and I have found them amongst both conservatives and progressives.

And it seems that there are also "haters" amongst both conservatives and progressives.  This just makes me sad.  The thing is, though, there always have been and always will be "haters."  So, what can the rest of us "non-haters" do, in order to overcome this hatred, in order to minimize its impact on our culture?

One thing we can do is learn how to have a discussion.  Please know that I am not claiming to be an expert in having discussions.  But, there are things I have learned along the way to being 50 years old.  Many of these things I learned in the five years I spent at San Francisco State University.  You can learn a lot from going to a school where most of the people are different than you are in their religious/political ideas.  It was quite a beneficial experience for me.  One of the most important lessons I learned was that I didn't have to be afraid of those who were different than I.  I was treated very well and with respect in my interactions with people, even people with whom I had disagreements about various issues.  I also found that most people, on both sides of the fence and everywhere in-between, were interested in achieving the same goals -- goals rooted in the idea of human dignity.  Most of the differences of opinion arose in how to achieve those goals.

So, for whatever it's worth, these are things I have learned about having a discussion.  Do I, myself, always remember to abide by these guidelines?  No.  I misstep plenty of times.  But, I do find that things generally work out better when I follow these principles.  And, no, these ideas probably won't work with true "haters" -- but, I hope most people don't fall into that category.

First of all, in a discussion, assume that the other person is someone of good-will, someone who actually wants to see authentically good things happen in our world, in our country, in our communities, and in our families.

Secondly, don't look at the other person as your "enemy," but rather as a fellow human being, worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.

Third.  Listen.  Really and truly listen to the opinions of the other person.  Try to understand those opinions and where they come from.  Try to find areas of agreement, instead of automatically "jumping on" areas of disagreement.

Fourth. When speaking, don't only give your own opinion, but tell the other person what you like about his/her opinion.  And speak gently.

Fifth.  Be sincere.  You are not there to "shine the other person on," so that he/she will come around to your "correct" way of thinking. 

And my final point, which is related to what I just said, is:  Don't have it as your goal to "win."  It should not be your goal to show that you are right and that the other person is wrong.  It should not be your goal to change the other person's mind.  Your goal should be to make a respectful connection with another person, a connection that might yield some good fruits in our culture.

Now, you may be thinking, "This sounds nice, but it won't actually get anything concrete accomplished.  It's just all touchy-feely, nicey-nicey, hippie thinking."  Perhaps.  But, unless we can start with this, how can we ever come to answers that will yield a better society.  Force probably won't work, even the force of law.  Because if most (and I mean way more than 52% of people) don't believe in an idea, they probably won't respect a law which strives to enforce said idea.  Snarky comments, rude jokes, and name-calling aren't going to yield any concrete solutions, either.  They may feel good, but they usually aren't very effective in building a civil society -- one that is truly based on equality, freedom, and justice for all.

Oh.  One final thought about discussions.  Try to keep a sense of humor, especially -- most especially -- about yourself, your opinions, and your "side."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Standing With Rosie

I think it's okay to talk about this on my blog, as people have been spreading the word and asking for prayers and positive thoughts and love.

My daughter Bridget, who is 23 years old, graduated a little over a year ago from Thomas Aquinas College (a.k.a. TAC) in California.  If you ever visit TAC, you will be impressed by its beauty and peace and the kindness of the faculty, staff, and students.  Sir Anthony Hopkins just happened to pop by one day, because he saw the bell tower of the chapel from the main road that passes by the school, and was intrigued.  One of the students saw him walking around the chapel, recognized him, and showed him around the college.  A couple of days later, he came back to give an informal talk to the students about his life and work.  Bridget said he was an utterly delightful man -- incredibly kind and personable in visiting with all of the kids.  He also told her that she has beautiful eyes, thus endearing him to her forevermore.

Anyway, Bridget has many dear friends from this lovely school, one of whom is an incredible young lady by the name of Rosie.  And this is a little story about Rosie which I think illustrates her spunk and her spirit.  At TAC, the curriculum is set up in such a way that if you fail even one class during one semester, you have to leave the school and not return until the corresponding semester of the following year, at which time you have to re-take ALL of the classes from that semester, even the ones you didn't fail.  This is because there is only one course of study at TAC, which is taken by 100% of the student body, so all the classes for each year are taught only once during that year, and you have to take all of them in sequence.  So, if you are taking junior level literature, science, math, philosophy, theology, and music during the spring semester, and you fail even one of those classes, you cannot return to the school until the following spring semester, at which time you must repeat all of those classes and pass them before you are allowed to continue.  So, during the spring semester of her junior year, Bridget was really worried about passing math.  This was shocking to me, because math has always been Bridget's favorite subject.  I guess it was a very tough class, though, and she was quite stressed out over it.  I happened to be at the school one day, visiting with Bridget and Rosie.  Bridget told Rosie of her worry about passing math and not being able to return for the fall semester.  Rosie was two years ahead of Bridget, so she had already graduated, and she told Bridget, quite joyfully, "Well, that's okay.  If you fail out, we'll just go to Europe together during the fall.  Europe is lovely during the fall, and we'll have such a good time."  Bridget looked at her in a rather stunned fashion, and I commented that I thought that would be a grand plan.  As it turns out, Bridget got an "A" in the math class, so she didn't get to go to Europe.  Sort of a bummer, actually.

Now, I am so heartsick to have to tell you, Rosie needs all of us.  She needs us to stand with her, because she has been struggling with a serious form of cancer for quite a while.  Through it all, she has remained upbeat and strong.  She has fought hard.  We were told yesterday, though, that it looks like Rosie's fight may be coming to an end.  The cancer has spread throughout her body, in spite of the treatments she has been given.  The doctors have told her and her family that she could pass away sometime over the next couple of weeks.  She is going to try some additional therapy, even though she was informed that her type of cancer does not usually respond well to it.  But Rosie, being the fighter that she is, is going to give it a shot. 

As you may have surmised, Rosie is Catholic.  She has a very deep and sincere faith.  It is not a pushy, judgmental, in-your-face kind of faith.  It is the kind of faith that lifts you up when you are around her.  A joyful faith.  Her family also has this type of faith.  Her family is one of the most special families that I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  She has several brothers and sisters, who are all on their way to be by her side.  And they have all asked if you would please join in praying for Rosie, so that she will be at peace and comfortable at this time.  They have also said that Rosie's spirits are good and that she is actually encouraging others (which does not surprise me, at all).

So, if you would all join Rosie's family, loved ones, and friends in praying for her, it would be so appreciated.  And if you are not comfortable with praying, if you could just surround Rosie with loving thoughts and well-wishes, that would be so kind.

May God bless and Mary keep you.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Error Correction -- Ann Richards

I am so very sorry. I have been informed by a kind -- and very intelligent -- reader of this blog that Ann Richards was, in fact, a Democrat.

I am extremely humbled, as this is a pretty inexcusable error.  If I were actually being paid to write this blog, I would be fired by whoever was paying me. And I would deserve it.

My fact checking will, in the future, be better. I wish I could blame a summer intern. But, alas, I have no one to blame but myself.

Thank-you for your forbearance.  And for actually taking the time to read what I write.  I know most of it is pretty much lamesauce rambling.

Amber Alerts, Our Phones, and Our Politics

Many of us had an Amber Alert delivered to our phones recently.  Two children had been abducted; and authorities wanted the help of citizens to locate them.  A car description and license number were issued with the Amber Alert, so that we could all be on the lookout.

When this occurred, somebody said to me, "Well, that's a little bit like 'Big Brother.'"

Frankly, I saw red.

I replied, "If it was my child, I'd sure want everybody's phone going off.  And I bet you would, too."  The person didn't argue.

The next day, I was getting my hair done.  The subject of this Amber Alert came up in the conversation that was taking place in the salon.  A lady commented that her husband had said, "It's the government."  Implication being?  The "bad" government, taking over the privacy of our phones.

Again, I saw red, but managed to contain myself.

Both of the people who made these comments are pretty right-leaning in their political opinions.  They probably read a lot of right-leaning websites, listen to a lot of right-leaning radio, watch some right-leaning TV.

Now, I am a pretty conservative person.  Outwardly, anyway.  Inside, I've got a lot of hippie going on.  So, I really don't completely fit in anywhere.  And I kind of annoy some people.  That's cool with me, though.  I have a lot of nice friends who accept me as I am.  I have an interesting life, full of a diversity of interesting things.  And part of why it's so interesting is that I don't hang with just one type of person or group.  I try to get around.

One thing I have noticed, though, in the course of getting around, is that there is a lot of suspicion going on out there, particularly suspicion of the government by right-leaning people.  I'm not saying we should just accept everything the government says and does in a passive, idiotic way.  I'm just saying that this suspicion seems to be getting a bit out of hand, as is illustrated by the reactions to this Amber Alert.

Because, hello people.  Children were abducted by a very bad man.  A mother and another child had been found dead.  And, like it or not, we are a society -- a community of people.  That implies that we have some responsibility for each other.  That implies our government has some responsibility for us, and us for our government.  A government is supposed to be concerned with The Common Good, as are its citizens.  And, to me, finding kidnapped children comes under the umbrella of The Common Good.  So, when the police get together with "the government" to devise a system that will quickly and efficiently notify the citizens that a child has been abducted, I say, "Rock on, Big Brother."  Because, in my opinion, that's an example of government being at the service of the citizens, which is exactly what government is supposed to do.  I'll happily pay a few taxes for that.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Little Reflection

This is just a little reflection about something that I have been... well... reflecting on lately.

There is a wonderful priest at our parish.  He is older, and full of wisdom and life experience.  I love his homilies.  They always leave me feeling peaceful.  A few weeks ago he said (I was so impressed that I wrote it down in my checkbook register during his homily), "Sin is that which causes enmity between people."  And then he said, "War is rooted in sin."

This started me thinking about the wars of the current century, including the so-called "Culture War."  And I wondered if, in this "Culture War," the "issues" that we are all so concerned about are not the things which are of primary importance to us, either as Christians or as people of good will who do not call themselves "Christians."  It hit me that, perhaps, what we need to be concerned about most is the enmity that has arisen in our country among people of differing viewpoints.  Maybe what we need to really pay attention to is the way our opinions -- even about important things -- cause us to view one another and treat one another.  So, if your neighbor -- and I am speaking of "neighbor" in the sense that Jesus did -- is a Democrat and you are a Republican, you need to treat that neighbor with respect and charity.  You need to treat his or her opinions -- which he or she holds as dear as you hold yours -- with respect and charity.  Because, at least according to the wonderful priest who gave this inspiring homily, our sin can be looked upon as having its beginnings in our lack of loving kindness in our attitudes, words, and actions towards others.  Because it is this lack of loving kindness that leads to enmity between people.  It is this lack of loving kindness that leads to war, including "Culture War."

And when the "bad guy downstairs" sees us fighting, full of impatience and intolerance and anger and hate, I bet he is laughing his ugly little ass off.  Because we are playing right into his ugly little hands.  Even when -- and maybe especially if -- we are convinced that our opinions are the morally correct ones.

So, let's pray a little bit for peace.  Peace in our own hearts and minds.  Peace with our neighbor -- whatever his or her religious or political ideology might be.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Governor Wendy Davis?

As you may or may not know, even though I am a Republican, I am a fan of the grassroots Democratic group known as Battleground Texas.  I love their spirit, their energy, their idealism, their compassion, their positive attitude.  They uplift my sometimes cynical, stick-in-the-mud conservative heart.  I don't agree with every single one of their positions entirely, being that I'm a Republican and all.  But, I do believe they are striving to make the grand state of Texas, and our country, better places to be.

This morning I learned that Battleground Texas is encouraging Wendy Davis (remember the filibustering lady in the pink shoes?) to run for governor.  And if she does run for governor, and if she does win, I don't want to hear any whining from my fellow Republicans.  Because it will pretty much be all their own fault.

And I think Ms. Davis has a pretty good chance of winning, if she does decide to run for governor.  I had a little chat with my husband recently, and I told him this.  He disagreed.  He said that it would be too much of a long shot.  He also thinks that it's extremely unlikely that Battleground Texas will manage to turn Texas blue.  I disagreed.  I have learned a little bit about this group, and they are nothing if not determined, intelligent, and organized.  They know what they are up against, and they are preparing themselves to fight it out over the long haul.  And if they back Ms. Davis, with all of their determined, intelligent organization, I think she has a pretty good shot at winning the Texas governorship.  Especially because she is pretty determined, intelligent, and organized, herself.  I mean, have you read this woman's bio?  She is quite formidable.

Now, as I have mentioned before, my hubby also didn't believe me when I told him that Obama was going to win the presidency in 2008.  Or 2012.  So, I think if Wendy wins the governorship, he should bring me out for a nice dinner.  (And if she doesn't win, I'll bring him out to dinner.  It's a win-win for me, baby.)  And if Battleground Texas does manage to turn Texas blue, I think he should bring me to Hawaii or on a nice cruise.  (Are you feeling sorry for him yet?  You probably should.)

To get back on topic, I believe "Governor Wendy Davis of Texas" might be a pretty cool thing to see.  Sort of like Ann Richards, but the opposite political party.  You might scoff at this.  You might not have liked Ann Richards.  If you don't know who Ann Richards is, she was the Republican governor of Texas when I was younger.  I have to admit that I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to her politics, but I did think she was pretty awesome with her Texas accent and her tough Texan attitude and her power wardrobe.  She was something to see.  And if Wendy Davis wins the race for this public office, she will be something to see, too.

CORRECTION:  Ann Richards was a Democrat.  NOT a Republican.  Mea Culpa.  I have also been told, by a very intelligent reader of this blog, that she was not a very good governor. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Being "Called"

In the Catholic social circles in which I often find myself, there is a lot of talk about being "called."

Being called to a religious vocation.

Being called to marriage and/or parenthood.

Being called to the single life.

Being called to homeschooling.

Being called to a certain career.

Being called to a certain place to live.

Being called to start a school -- whether that be on the elementary, secondary, or college/university level.

And, yes, I think God does call people to things.  But, if we believe we are being called to something, or if we are living a certain lifestyle to which we believe we have been called, humility is very important.

Because, sometimes, it might be easy to confuse our own desires or tastes or psychological dispositions with being "called."  For example, some people say that God places certain desires in our hearts because He wants us to carry them out.  At times, this may be true.  But, this belief could also lead to some dangerous things -- depending on the state of our mental health, among other factors.

So, back to humility.

And I am thinking today of one certain type or aspect of humility -- the humility of listening to other people, even (and maybe especially) if they are critical of us.

If we can't thoughtfully listen to someone's criticisms of and probing questions about our important life decisions -- the things to which we believe we have been "called" -- maybe this is an indication that we are acting more out of our own will than God's.  I'm not saying it is pleasant to be criticized or questioned.  I am not saying that others will treat us in a respectful way when they wonder what in the heck we are thinking when we want to homeschool or start a university or whatever.  And if the person questioning us is not of our faith -- or any faith at all -- it might be very easy to dismiss him or her.  The thing is, though, God does send us other people to help us along the way, even people who are atheists or who are making certain choices that some might view as morally objectionable.  So, it might be a good idea to quiet our hearts and listen to these people, to give them thoughtful answers to their questions, to prayerfully ponder their criticisms in our hearts.  Because, at least in my own life, I have found that people who have been critical of me have often had good points -- points which, sometimes to my regret, I do not fully appreciate until it is too late to avert a negative consequence.  Listening to those who are not fully approving of us has another benefit.  It may not cause us to change our plans, but it might help us to enact those plans in a way that is wiser.

Having humility in the face of others' seemingly critical questioning is also helpful as we live out the lives or decisions to which we believe we have been "called."  For, even if we have made a generally good decision about the direction of our life, it is very easy to stumble along the way, to get off-track.  And there is a special danger if we have the idea that we have been called to something by God.  Having this belief can cause us to become a bit proud, a bit arrogant, a bit conceited.  We might start looking at our critics as being tools of the "dark side," sent to throw us off of the "path of righteousness."  We might start looking at natural obstacles as supernatural, causing us to make poor decisions, leading us to throw good people "under the bus," as we forge ahead in the doing of "God's work."

To tell you the truth, I have become increasingly skeptical about people telling me that they are "called" to something by the Lord, except in the case of a religious vocation.  But, even in the case of such a vocation, I am more comfortable with being told by a person, "I believe God may be calling me to the priesthood/religious life.  I am going to prayerfully explore the possibility," rather than someone boldly stating, "I am being called to the priesthood/religious life," with no doubt or hesitancy, whatsoever.  Because, to me, the doubt or hesitancy is what belies the attitude of humility -- the realization that it might not be God, but the person himself, who has a certain desire.

And as far as other things go -- other life choices which do not involve actual religious vocations -- it is my opinion that God offers us a choice out of many legitimate possibilities.  I don't think He's up in Heaven going, "Out of all these hundred choices, I want you to make choice number three."  Or, "You picked Sam instead of Matt?  You've got to be kidding Me.  Matt is the one I intended for you."  I really don't believe that's the way God works.  So, whether you homeschool or send your kids to school (public or private), whether you attend that Catholic college or San Diego State University, whether you marry Sam or Matt or nobody at all, whether you have one child or three or ten, whether you are an administrative assistant or a movie producer, have a little confidence that God can be pleased with you in any of these things.  Just love Him.  And know He loves you.  And do the best you can.  #pax



Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pope Francis "The Upstart"

In my family, we have been talking a bit about the new Pope.  He has been doing and saying some interesting things -- things that piss some people off, that make others happy, that mystify many.  He seems to be going in some new directions.  For example, he washed the feet of women when he was first elected, breaking with tradition.  He spoke of how atheists can go to Heaven.  He said that gay people must not be marginalized, and even seemed to accept the idea of gay men being ordained to the priesthood.  And these things make a lot of folks wonder what he is up to.

This is what I think.

First of all, I don't think he is doing anything that is out-of-step with Church teaching, if you really read the Catechism (and the New Testament).

What I think he is doing is reminding us of the true spirit of Christianity, of how Christ actually behaved -- things that some in the Church seem to have forgotten.  Why have they forgotten it?  The last couple of Popes, who I also truly loved, saw a Church that had begun to lose a lot of its tradition -- in the liturgy, in religious orders, in moral and social teachings, for example.  These Popes, of happy memory, reminded us of those things, which was very good.  But, in so doing, a division started to creep into the Church, a division which had probably always been there, but which became exacerbated.  What division?  The division between the more conservative Catholics and the more liberal Catholics.  It is almost like these two groups don't even accept each other as true Catholics; there is a lot of looking down the nose at one group by the other.  My husband, for example, told me that he heard a rather conservative Catholic commentator describe people "who are in the pews, but not in the Church."  EXCUSE ME???  If your fellow baptized Catholic is sitting next to you in the pews, and has not been excommunicated by the Pope, you really shouldn't be talking that way about him.  Or her.  And even if he/she is excommunicated, he/she is still a baptized Catholic.  On the other side of the coin, I once told a more liberal Catholic that I really love the Latin Mass and she acted like I had said the "black mass."  There has also been more and more talk about a "Culture War."  There has been much feeling amongst Catholics who view themselves as following the right path that they cannot work with, socialize with, live in the same neighborhoods as, or even pleasantly get along with people of differing points of view or of different lifestyles, because they are afraid of compromising their faith.  And because they feel uncomfortable around these different types of people.

I think Pope Francis sees these things.  And he sees the way the Church blew it in regard to priestly abuse.  And he sees the other ways in which the Church has made various groups of people -- like women and homosexuals -- feel marginalized.  In short, he sees the many sins and shortcomings of the Church and its clergy and its people.  And he is trying to lead us forward.  If we look at his example, if we truly and prayerfully look at it, I believe that we can begin to heal the rifts in the Church, we can help people to see how Jesus truly does love and accept them right where they are, and we can end the Culture War.  Because even though we need to have societal discussions about many issues, a "war" probably isn't the best way to go about things.  It will just leave the "defeated" feeling rebellious and plotting their uprising, while the "victors" go about gloating and maybe even oppressing.  Which is what victors in a war tend to do, albeit (perhaps) unintentionally. 

Yes, I think Pope Francis, with God's help, can bring many good things about in the Church.  He seems to have great faith, he seems to be a man of genuine humility, and -- last, but not least -- he is the first Pope in a long time that regular people can actually understand. ;-)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Battleground Texas Could Be Good For The Republicans

What is Battleground Texas?  My understanding is that it is a grassroots organization dedicated to turning Texas blue (like a Smurf) by making a sustained and dedicated effort over time.  And Smurfs are cool, so no insult is intended here.  It is only my strange sense of humor at work.  If you don't know what "turning Texas blue" means, it means transforming Texas from a long-time Republican stronghold to a place that will elect Democrats, at the local, state, and national levels.

This is quite an undertaking, if you know anything about Texas politics.  A lot of Texas Republicans are dubious that it will happen.  A lot of them seem to be turning a blind eye to Battleground Texas, expecting it to fade away.  This is foolhardy, in my little old opinion.  And I know my opinion doesn't count for much.

But, this is the thing.  Have you ever read the ancient work entitled "Art Of War" by Sun Tzu?  I have not read the whole thing, but I have read several parts.  And it seems to me that Battleground Texas is doing everything that Sun Tzu says should be done to achieve victory; and the Republicans are displaying all of what Mr. Tzu describes as the attributes of the Losers. Check it out for yourself, if you don't believe me.

As I have stated before, I am a Republican.  My husband is a Non-Partisan, meaning he is not a member of any political party.  I was a Non-Partisan for a while, but it was kind of boring.  By not belonging to a political party, I felt quite left out of the Big Party that is American politics.  And that was just depressing.  My husband, though, is kind of a "political animal."  He is very interested in politics, keeping himself quite informed.  And well before the election of 2008, well before Mr. Obama became the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in that election, I had a discussion with my husband.  I asserted that I believed Mr. Obama had not only a strong chance of winning the nomination, but he also had a very good chance of winning the Presidency.  My husband strongly disagreed.  He told me that Mr. Obama had very little political experience on the national level, and he didn't believe the Democrats would nominate him.  He also asserted that even if the Democrats did give him the nomination, that the American people certainly wouldn't elect such a neophyte to be their president.  I told my husband that, based on what I was hearing from ordinary people, I disagreed.  I felt that if Mr. Obama campaigned in a smart way, in a way that focused on the needs and concerns of regular folks, that he could, indeed, win.  And he did win, because of the type of campaign that he ran.  A grassroots campaign.  A focused and determined campaign.  And the people who were in charge of his campaign (as well as his 2012 campaign) -- many of them, anyway -- are now running Battleground Texas.

You're in for an ass-whupping Texas Republicans, if you don't open your eyes.

And it will be well-deserved.

And I, even though I am a Republican myself, will be glad to see it happen.  I think it will be a good thing for the Republican Party, for Texas, and for the nation.

(Now all the Republicans are heading to my house for a tar-and-feather party.  So, excuse me while I go lock the doors and windows.)

Why do I think it will be a good thing?  Because over the last many years, I have become a bit disturbed by my party.  It is a party dedicated to smaller government, more efficient government, the idea of subsidiarity, the fostering of the spirit of personal responsibility, valuing personal autonomy and ingenuity.  These are all good things.  The Democrats also hold many of these things in high regard.  But, I have witnessed that, since the early 1980's, the "religious right" has come to have a degree of influence in the Republican Party that I have grown to be uncomfortable with.  And along with the influence of the views of these people, perhaps intertwined with them, have come many other extreme ideas that I don't believe are representative of the views of the majority of the American people. I have heard a lot of conservative rhetoric -- embraced by many Republicans -- that I find quite distressing.   I have also witnessed actions by the Republicans that seem foolhardy, uncharitable, and out-of-touch with reality.

I will just give a few examples.

The Tea Party.  It is my opinion that many of their ideas are not grounded in reality and, if actually enacted, would be disastrous.  For instance, I have heard that some of the Tea Partiers believe we should abolish the Department of Education.  The Department of Education has been quite helpful to many families, including my own.  It has assisted us greatly in sending our kids to college, for example.  I also don't think doing away with The Fed is any kind of a good idea.  And giving out vouchers for people to buy health insurance in retirement seems like a fool's game to me.  I could go on and on...   I know we could argue back and forth for days over these things, but based on the research both my husband and I have done, these are my opinions.  Basically, it seems that the Tea Party wants to return things to the way they were back in 1780, or so.  And that is just not going to happen.  And it shouldn't happen.  Our country has grown and changed too much.  So has the world.

SNAP.  Or food assistance for the poor.  No, I don't think we should cut it.  That would be heartless.

And Texas in particular?  What Governor Perry and his cohorts did regarding abortion was just ill-advised.  They seemed like a bunch of cruel bullies.  I don't like abortion.  I wish there were no abortions.  But, you don't just come in and pull the rug out from under women in that manner.  Abortion is legal.  That is the reality.  If you want to reduce it, do it in a manner that is respectful of the intelligence and dignity of women.  Do it in a way that will give rise to cooperation between people of differing viewpoints.  Do it in a way that is thoughtful and charitable and will foster trust between people.  Dear Republicans, it just seemed like all you were doing was trying to impress each other with your conservativeness.  And combined with your actions regarding medicaid and your views on other social safety net issues, you just came across as heartless.  The results?  A LOT of angry women.  Smart, angry women.  And a shitload of ammo for Battleground Texas to use against you.

These are just a few examples of things that some or many of those in the Republican party have endorsed or done that disturb me.  I have also been distressed at hearing Republicans complain about people who "depend" on the government without wanting to be independent.  I have witnessed first-hand how difficult it is for many people to achieve economic independence in today's world, even though they truly hope to.  I have been disappointed that many Republicans fight meaningful gun control.  I have been disturbed at the lack of a charitable attitude towards illegal immigrants.   I also think the Republicans need to allow for higher taxes on very wealthy people, without giving those wealthy people "legal dodges" so that they can avoid paying those taxes.  And I get very, very disturbed when Republicans say and do many of these things while acting as though God is on their side.  I also do not like it at all when certain groups of people are marginalized by the Republican Party, especially when those groups of people don't conform to the religious ideas of many in that party.  I recall that, not so long ago, many conservatives in government wanted to marginalize Catholics.  And there are probably some states where that is still the sentiment.  So, when I hear that someone in the GOP (I believe it was in Texas) expressed the view that the Republicans in that state don't really want black people to vote, I get kinda miffed.

So, this is why I am rooting for Battleground Texas.  The Republican Party in that state -- and on a national level -- needs to be shaken up and renewed.  And that may mean that a little ass-whupping is in order.