The new special World Birth Day is the purest of drama, drawing on the real-life miracle of life.
The two-hour special, premiering at 9 p.m. Tuesday on TLC, took one calendar day -- July 5, 2001 -- and tracked 11 different families as they welcomed a new child into the world.
Those families were in nine countries -- the United States, Ethiopia, Germany, India, China, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil and England -- and from varying economic backgrounds. That lets the show examine cultural, religious and political attitudes toward childbirth as well as presenting the personal stories of the different families.
Sunday, December 30
The new special World Birth Day is the purest of drama, drawing on the real-life miracle of life.
In other words, all the learned and conscientious objections, as well as all the silly or sinister ones, boil down to this: Nothing will make us fight against an evil if that fight forces us to go to the same corner as our own government. (The words "our own" should of course be appropriately ironized, with the necessary quotation marks.) To do so would be a betrayal of the Cherokees.
Ah yes - what the good bishop has written this time is a piece in Beliefnet entitled "The Theistic God is dead. In the piece, Spong ruminates on the necessary questions raised by the attacks of September 11, and emerges with totally unoriginal answers that fail twice: because they're unoriginal, bland and owe everything to Paul Tillich, and secondly, because they raise more questions than they answer:
God is not an external, supernatural entity, ruling the world from above the sky. God is rather the Source of Life, the Source of Love, the Ground of Being. It is a non-theistic definition. Life has taught us that theism is dead. There is no supernatural God directing the affairs of history. Atheism, however, is not the only other viable conclusion. Supernatural theism is nothing but a human definition of God. We need not despair when our human definitions of God die. We use that death to force open our eyes to new possibilities, to see God as the wind that animates humanity; as the love that expands humanity, and as the rock that is the ground of humanity's being.
One has to wonder if Spong has read any post-Holocaust Jewish theological reflection - he writes as though September 11 were the most profound challenge to theism ever grown by human beings. It's not. The attempted obliteration of God's Chosen People trumps it by a mile, in my opinion, and Jewish theologians have spent decades meditating on the problem, with various answers, not all, I hasten to assure Bishop Spong, affirming that "Theism is dead."
Saturday, December 29
Friday, December 28
Update: The one Catholic figure who has done a good job with media, Mother Angelica, is in the hospital in critical condition
Thursday, December 27
There are also several good pieces on Islam and an overview of the work of a writer I'm often asked to discuss, but never have because a) I have no interest in her work and b)I'm pretty confident I wouldn't like it, and that's not what the people who want me to discuss it would like to hear. It's Jan Karon, author of the folksy Mitford novels.
Wednesday, December 26
Tuesday, December 25
Ah, yes. A Merry Christmastide to all of you!
Friday, December 21
Wednesday, December 19
Oh, yes. The only other problem with getting the carpet cleaned was the carpet cleaner backed his van into a pillar holding up part of the roof that hangs over our front door. Why can't anything be uncomplicated?
Now I have to stand up and say, along with this columnist, I don't need PBS for another reason: I already get the Home Shopping Network. I thought PBS couldn't go lower than Yanni. I was apparently mistaken.
But while he might have switched allegiance from the gods of hip-hop to the God of Islam, there is something common to both of his quests: making a graven image, a false idol, out of authenticity. Just as he’d pledge allegiance to the hardest of hard-core hip-hop to fashion a simulacrum of authenticity, so he had to seek out the most extreme, most puritanical sects of Islam, confusing authenticity with purity. A confusion evident in the mistaken assumption that authenticity must always be found not just in Otherness, but Oppositeness.
Tuesday, December 18
Now he's counting the hours.
Much to my relief, his anticipation won't be in vain, either. The reviews are coming, and they're consistently ecstatic:
If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Sergei Prokofyev.
I was born in the late 19th century and was a child prodigy, composing at a very young age. I kept this talent up, earning myself quite a name and fully exploiting the bragging rights. I was disliked by Stalin, however, and I died the same day he did. My most famous work is "Peter and the Wolf."
Who would you be? Dead Russian Composer Personality Test
Here's the funny thing: Prokofyev probably is my favorite Dead Russian Composer. Love that Fifth Symphony. Especially the second movement
(Actually), there's a good chance the tree will be covered with ornaments by 8am if Katie has her way.
A Light in the Stable from Emmylou Harris is a classic. Joseph particularly likes to groove to "Christmas Time's a'Comin'". Really.
Good News from Kathy Mattea is really a fine album. She was, I believe, the first to record a wonderful song which is gradually becoming a standard (someone played it at Katie's piano recital last night), Mary, Did You Know?
And, of course, there's Dwight Yoakam. Come on Christmas which has its ups and downs, but can't be matched for Dwight's great version of Santa Claus is Back in Town and the truly bizarre Santa Can't Stay.
Monday, December 17
Sunday, December 16
"Gee, it just doesn't feel like Christmas, does it?"
Well...I'd have to say, snow or no snow, 40 degrees feels like Christmas. Try 75 degrees and palm trees, if you want to know what "doesn't feel like Christmas" really feels like!
A recent headline reads like the plot of one of those mysteries, but tragically, this one isn't fiction:
Another story highlights some other bizarre (and unrelated) incidents that have occurred in this town in the past:
the modern method comes down essentially to this: given a work or given a text, how do we proceed to know it? Let us start by ignoring the text; above all let us be careful not to pick up the text or even to look at it, that would come at the end, if it were ever to happen. Let us begin at the beginning or rather because we must be complete, let us begin by the beginning of the beginning; the beginning of the beginning is to find in the vast, moving, universal, total reality, the exact vantage point which, though bearing some relation to the text, is the farthest removed from the text
Another good quote:
It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.Chew on that for a while. I can certainly relate. In my early twenties I was certainly pro-life, but reluctant to actually do anything about my convictions. Why? Because I didn't want to be even faintly associated with "those" people - you know, the big-haired, culturally retrograde, misogynist creature that the media and popular opinion likes to say is the typical pro-lifer. And then I got brave, went to a meeting, and found my stereotypes shattered. And then I found Feminists for Life and was even more humbled.
Peguy was absolutely correct, wasn't he? Why are we like that?
Friday, December 14
Okay. You want more? Well, he's perfected pulling up on stuff and is starting to stare thoughtfully as he stands there, clearly trying to figure out how he can get from here to there without having to resort to the humiliation of crawling. He's gone from despising and screaming through his baths (from birth to three months) to enduring them quietly (three months to eight months) to going absolutely nutso in them: splashing every limb, screaming with delight, soaking me...
He talks non-stop, and in the great tradition of family members over-interpreting their baby's sounds, we are certain that when he sees Katie, he says "Ka-ka" and he seems to say "Da-da-da" much more often when Michael's around.
He eats toast, pancakes (plain, of course, but pretty much perfect baby food), Cheerios, baby cereal, fruit, and, if we have chicken, some of that ground up with whatever starch and vegetable we're having, all done with great ease with my little miracle baby food grinder, which I think cost $7.99 at BabiesRUs.
Oh, and sometimes he sleeps.
Bin Laden grasps for concrete signs of success. One tangible benefit of the attack — people wanting to learn more about Islam. "In Holland," he says, "at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last eleven years." Eleven times the usual number? I'm guessing that they were starting from a very low base. And if the impending Dutch jihad is the best thing bin Laden has to show for his efforts, it is hardly a prudent trade-off considering that over 300 million people in the strongest country in the world want his head.
I have received word that a particular principal of a particular high school in the Gwinnett County system has notified the student council that there are to be no more references in the school yearbook to “students most likely to succeed”, “most popular student”, or similar references. The reason? Some of the students left off the list might have their feelings hurt.
Now, I have no great attachment to Senior Superlatives, as they're called - I myself was voted Most Likely to Succeed, and look at me. At the time, I was just deeply relieved not to have been voted Most Studious - no one really wanted that one, since it seemed to imply something else besides intelligence.
For all of our school's protestations of seeking "excellence," stories like this indicate how hollow those words really are. Teaching is a hard job, and its difficulty, particularly in an anti-intellectual culture such as ours, is rarely understood by those who've not ever tried their hand at it themselves. Nonetheless, teachers and school administrators continually undermine their own stated "missions" and goals by wrong-headed moves like this.
When we lived in Florida, the Catholic school which my daughter attended had strict library policies. As a first-grader, Katie was reading on about a fourth-grade level, but she was not allowed to check out "chapter books." Why? Well, the policy was that students could check out only picture books until second grade, no exceptions, and couldn't even wander over to the older kids' section. Even more laughably, the next year, an announcement was made that the label on these picture books now had a different meaning. The "E" on the spine had previously signified "easy." Well -- that was making some kids feel bad. So they changed the meaning of the "E" to "everybody."
So, you can see, as I point out with great regularity, that the silliness isn't confined to government schools. It runs unchecked there, certainly, but it has a firm foothold in our Catholic schools, as well.
In an eerie pre-echo of the world to come, progressive opinion came down on the side of the shark. The New York Times said that we should bear in mind all the sharks we humans kill, and fretted that the uncle’s retaliation might have been disproportionate. The experts agreed that we needed to look at the ‘root causes’, to understand ‘why they hate us’; just blundering into their territory in ever larger numbers was only going to provoke them into even bolder assaults on our shores. Above all, we should resist any hysterical over-reaction to the many non-violent members of the shark community. Substitute ‘Muslims’ for ‘sharks’ and you’d have a dandy post-11 September editorial thumbsucker. Go on, try it. Here’s the NYT back in July:
Knowing something about the biology, behaviour and world status of sharks [Muslims] does not mitigate the terror.... Even knowledge cannot alter some emotions. But many people now understand that an incident like the Arbogast attack [World Trade Center attack] is not the result of malevolence or a taste for human blood on the shark’s part [Islam’s part].... Inevitably, an incident like this one reinforces a nearly pleasurable cultural hysteria about sharks [Islam] when ...what it should really do is remind us yet again how much we have to learn about them and their waters [them and their extraordinarily rich culture]...’
Thursday, December 13
The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger
There are stories of others with similar desires who, once Christianity was legal, weren't martyred for their refusal to marry, but in order to avoid it, resorted to rather dramatic measures: St. Oda of Hainault left her own wedding ceremony, announced that she would "not have this man, nor any other mortal man for her husband, since she had already chosen her heavenly spouse." She returned home, withdrew to her mother's bedroom, got a sword, and sliced off her own nose.
On another level entirely are the actions of many groups of nuns during the brutal days of the Dark and Middle Ages who, in response to threats from marauding attackers, would, en masse disfigure themselves before they had a chance to be assaulted. Most well-known is St. Ebba and her nuns of Coldingham.
....the abbess, with an heroic spirit, affording to all the holy sisters an example of chastity profitable only to themselves, but to be embraced by all succeeding virgins for ever, took a razor, and with it cut off her nose, together with her upper lip unto the teeth, presenting herself a horrible spectacle to those who stood by. Filled with admiration at this admirable deed, the whole assembly followed her maternal example, and severally did the like to themselves...
It sort of worked. The Danish invaders were, indeed horrified at the spectacle of the blood-covered, facially disfigured sisters, and set aside any plans they had to assault the women, but they burned the place down anyway, and the sisters perished as martyrs.
By the way, I quoted these stories from Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, 500-1100, an excellent study which moved Christopher to ask, when he saw me reading it a couple of years ago: "What - did they get amnesia or something?"
Wednesday, December 12
The posture of victimhood may be exploited in the West, but consider for a moment what things might be like if the shoe were on the other foot. If Israel were a Palestinian state, complete with superior firepower and all the privileges of internationally recognized statehood, and the West Bank were a Palestinian occupied Jewish enclave, do you really suppose there would be any Jews left to protest?
What's more, do you imagine that Palestine, like the vast majority of the rest of the Arab world, would be anything other than a repressive dictatorship bent on crushing its God-given enemies? Would it be any different from, say, Egypt, where vicious anti-Semitic rants, and fabricated conspiracy theories routinely run unchallenged on the Op-Ed pages of major newspapers? Would it really be any different from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gassed hordes of his own people, simply for the crime of being Kurds? Or would it more resemble Pakistan and Afghanistan, where vigilante mobs beat and murder neutral journalists just as remorselessly as they burn their detested white devil in effigy? And all in the name of Allah....
Finally, would Jews, and for that matter Christians and Hindus and Buddhists, if left alive, be allowed to practice their religion freely under what would more than likely be an Islamist regime? Well, of course, we know the answer already. Look at Sudan, where Muslims in the north murder and enslave Christians in the south, taking children from their families and banishing them to lives of servitude. Look at Iran, where Muslims, let alone persons of other faiths, fear to transgress strict religious provisos, or Saudi Arabia, home of the perfidious mutawain (religious police), and birthplace of Wahabism, the worst of fundamentalist Islam's factions.
I guarantee you will feel ill after reading this report from the Washington Times.
Two middle school students in Rochester, Minn., were disciplined for wearing red and green scarves in a Christmas skit and for ending the skit by saying, "We hope you all have a merry Christmas."
• A teacher in Plymouth, Ill., was warned by her principal not to read a book about Christmas to her second-grade students. The book was in the school's library.
• The county school board in Covington, Ga., deleted the word "Christmas" from the school calendar after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action
As far as I'm concerned, we have two basic options regarding education at this point:
Strip government schools of all responsibilities except teaching basic subject matter. No celebrations of any kind, no parties, no seasonal decorations. Or:
Shut down the government school system completely, give each parent a voucher for $5000 for each child's educational expenses with only minimal restrictions for its use, and let the market rule.
One of the toys to which the director objected was "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots," - the commercials of which were a staple of my childhood. The cry of "You knocked my block off" was as common in the playground as the plaintive lament "You sunk my battleship!" Yet none of us grew up to be mass murderers. John Walker no doubt played with neither the Robots or Battleship, and spent his childhood moaning "You negatively impacted my self-image!" and "You scuttled my Rainbow Warrior!"
Tuesday, December 11
Saint Daniel chose a spot in the neighboring desert mountains towards the Euxine sea, four miles by sea, and seven by land, from Constantinople towards the north. A friend erected him a pillar, which consisted of two pillars fastened together with iron bars; whereon another lesser pillar was placed, on the top of which was fixed by other friends a kind of vessel somewhat like a half-barrel, on which he abode, encompassed by a balustrade
Why sit on a pole? My first response is - why do anything? Why work fourteen hours a day so you can buy a big house that you only sleep in? Why bear children whom you're just going to hand over to others to care for? Why bother to go to a church service when you really don't believe anything is true? In light of all of the ways that people spend their life on earth in selfish, pointless pursuits, sitting on a pole as penance and as a way to get people to sit up and pay attention to the Gospel doesn't seem so crazy. To me at least.
Monday, December 10
So yes, I'll be going. And not unwillingly. I like and appreciate Tolkien's theme, even as I don't give a whit about Elvish grammar, the mythological background or detailed descriptions of Middle-Earth. I'm hoping the film will digest and envision the books in a way that's faithful to Tolkien but gets the whole thing going a little quicker.
Sunday, December 9
What gets you interested in this story is the fact that it concerns a scenario right out of some sort of nightmarish children's book: a little girl keeps saying there's a monster in her room, mom keeps returning telling the child it's okay, honey, don't worry. But then it turns out that the "monster" is real - a thief hiding behind the curtains. Then it gets really strange. Read about the thief who couldn't leave his blue fly swatter behind.
Saturday, December 8
Even on the Internet, MotherLode of information that it is, I couldn't fine much about this or about Tush's short-lived variety show on WTBS in 1980. Here's what I did find:
WTCG...boy, that brings back a memory or two. Before it went on the bird, it was relayed by microwave to a number of cable systems in the Southeast, including the one I subscribed to in Knoxville, TN back in '79. They had a "newscaster" named Bill Tush who was an absolute scream...in the three-minute newsbreaks 'TCG had in the evenings, he'd come on in anything from a jacket and tie to polo shirt to spaceman suit, and just tear the copy apart...and for a while his co-anchor was a German shepherd dog ("Alex"?) that the camera ops would feed peanut butter while Tush read the lines. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. (from a newsgroup.).
And this, from Jump the Shark:
Tush" was a comedy-variety show (like SNL or Fridays) that aired on Superstation WTBS starting in January of 1981. It was hosted by Bill Tush, one of the station's news anchors, and he was surrounded by a large and hilarious supporting cast most of which were getting their start, which included Jan Hooks (one of the funniest and sexiest women alive, who went on to SNL and "Designing Women) and the brother-sister team of Terry and Bonnie Turner (no relation to Ted) who went on to write at SNL and to create, write, and produce "3rd Rock From The Sun" and "That 70's Show". The highlight sketch each week was the "Hour of Inspiration with Tammy Jean", in which Hooks, as Tammy Jean Pickens (Pickett?) is all sweetness, honeyed voice, and inspirational light in front of the camera, and all ballbuster off of it. Terry Turner played Wade (and guitar) in the sketch, and Bonnie Turner played mousy Rona (and the organ). This show was probably the last gasp of local-station madness for the Superstation before Ted Turner got corporate and compartmentalized on us (Bill Tush, who began as a wacky newsman on WTBS, is now a tame reporter for CNN's "Showbiz Today"). "Tush" was also scheduled against "60 Minutes" for much of its run, so it didn't have much of a break. But "Tush" was a minor, very funny classic--better than SNL or "Fridays" of that same period (though that's not saying a lot), and it deserves to be shown again.
....The most memorable sketch had to be the visit by Mamma, Enigma Jean and Sonny to the drive through funeral parlor to plan Jennelle's funeral. "You know she retained water," said Mamma. "She retained Twinkies and Old Milwaukee" was the reply....
I remember Bill Tush doing the late night news on WTCG-Atlanta back about 1976 prior to Turner buying the station. Funny, funny stuff. One Easter morning broadcast (about 2:00am), Bill did the entire show dressed in a rabbit outfit.
Jan Hooks was, indeed, hilarious on that show, especially as Tammy Jean. She's a lot more talented that most of her subsequent work has given her a chance to demonstrate (although she had her moments on SNL).
Anyway, so long, Bill. Not that I watched "Show Biz Today" or anything. But I'll always associate him with those early days of cable. My mother and I were big fans of those newscasts, and, I'll admit to you now, somewhere in one of my boxes is an autographed photo of non other than Bill Tush - my father must have gotten for me as a sort of joke, but I don't remember the exact circumstances. I wish someone would dig up those newscasts and make a Tribute to Tush. You'd laugh.
Friday, December 7
You arrive, and you are guided by a Roman centurion to your first stop, which is a nail-maker. Now, I'm thinking they wanted to make some kind of connection between this and the nails of the crucifixion, but if they did, it didn't quite come off, but that's okay. Once enough people gathered around the nail-maker working the metal in his fire, you'd be grouped in a tribe, given a fake gold coin and led on to Bethlehem to pay your taxes. (which didn't make sence, because not all the tribes would have gone to Bethlehem to pay taxes, but again...that's okay.)
Your group (we were Zebulon) was then led past various tableaux - Joseph working wood, the Annunciation, the shepherds (with a couple of real sheep), Mary and Joseph getting ready to set forth (with a real donkey! Joseph (ours) couldn't keep his eyes off that particularly strange creature), and then the nativity itself. After the outdoor part, you went to the church basement to pay your taxes to the emperor - an old guy dressed in purple with olive leaves around his head - and browse around their various stalls of Middle eastern food and handiwork, then upstairs to the church where they had dozens of nativity sets on display.
As I said, it was kind of awkward at times, and all the Mary's in the various tableaux looked to be about 45, but it was rather charming. My absolute favorite part happened when you were walking along the path from the shepherds to the nativity. A wire was strung up alongside the sidewalk, about ten feet up, and hooked on the wire was a big star, which moved along with your group..you were following the star! Get it? I liked it.
They also have a couple of dogs. Two lively little beagles. There's no actual physical fence that separates our properties, but one of those inground electrical fences that keeps the dogs in bounds via sensors on their collars that shock them when they cross.
One of the dogs is content with the arrangement and never tries to escape, but the other regularly does. You can tell this has happened when you hear the animal yelping. It's happening right now. The dog is racing around in our back yard, sniffing and yelping in mild pain. Soon he'll come around the front and then make his way to our next-door neighbor's, yipping and hopping all the while.
Is he stupid or brave? I can't decide. Is he simply so dense that he doesn't even respond to Pavlovian tricks? Doesn't he understand the connection between the pain and the boundary? Or does he just not care? Is his freedom worth the price of a little pain?
What keeps us within our boundaries, properly trained and docile? Are we smart or are we simply cowards?
Feast of St. AmbroseA quite fascinating story and a brilliant saint. St. Ambrose was not even a Christian when the people of Milan acclaimed him as their new bishop. He was a catechumen, to be sure, and probably had been enrolled as such for a while - that was not uncommon in those days, since many, especially those in ruling classes, did not want to make the serious sacrifices that Christianity entailed back then until they were sure they didn't have any more time to enjoy what was being sacrificed.
But Ambrose had done such a smashing job as the procurator of Milan, especially in opposition to Arian heretics, that when the old bishop died, the people of the city called for him to be bishop. He initially declined, of course, but then assented, concluding that God must be making His will known through the people's voice. He received the sacraments of initiation and ordination within the space of a week and then went on to become a great bishop, instrumental in battling the Arian heresy and, of course, in the conversion of Augustine. One of the passages I remember, I think from The Confessions about Ambrose describes a scene in which Augustine spied Ambrose reading a book. He was very impressed. Why? Because Ambrose was reading this book silently - it was still the practice in this late Roman culture to move one's lips and read aloud, even when reading alone.
The story of Ambrose is instructive on countless levels. It reminds us that the history of the church is rich and varied, and that not everything has always been the way it is - the process of the selection of bishops, in this case. Secondly, I think it's a good corrective to those in the church obsessed with process, organization and committees. This net sweeps up a lot of people, no matter where they fall ideologically - the "conservatives" who get hyped up about rubric and canon law as well as the "liberals" who think of their commissions, committees and sacramental preparation programs as the equivalent, not only of Canon Law, but of the Ten Commandments, as well. Memo to All: You can't make a box big enough for me. Signed, God.
Thursday, December 6
This little test insists that if I were a work of art, I would be Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
It has discerned that I am extremely popular and widely known. Although unassuming and unpretentious, my enigmatic smile has charmed millions. I am a mystery, able to be appreciated from afar, but ultimately unknowable and thus intriguing.
Which work of art would you be? The Art Test
And it was so that one, his neighbour, had then three daughters, virgins, and he was a nobleman: but for the poverty of them together, they were constrained, and in very purpose to abandon them to the sin of lechery, so that by the gain and winning of their infamy they might be sustained. And when the holy man Nicholas knew hereof he had great horror of this villainy, and threw by night secretly into the house of the man a mass of gold wrapped in a cloth. And when the man arose in the morning, he found this mass of gold, and rendered to God therefor great thankings, and therewith he married his oldest daughter.
And a little while after this holy servant of God threw in another mass of gold, which the man found, and thanked God, and purposed to wake, for to know him that so had aided him in his poverty. And after a few days Nicholas doubled the mass of gold, and cast it into the house of this man. He awoke by the sound of the gold, and followed Nicholas, which fled from him, and he said to him: Sir, flee not away so but that I may see and know thee. Then he ran after him more hastily, and knew that it was Nicholas; and anon he kneeled down, and would have kissed his feet, but the holy man would not, but required him not to tell nor discover this thing as long as he lived.
In elaborations on the story, St. Nicholas dropped the last bag of gold down the chimney. This version is from The Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of saints' lives.
St. Nicholas came to our house last night. David couldn't be bothered to put out a shoe, which is too bad, since, considering its size, he would have brought in quite a haul. Joseph put his shoe out, and this morning there was a little bag of Cheerios in it!
Wednesday, December 5
Tuesday, December 4
I was struck this time around by a couple of things:
The preponderance of victims-overcoming-adversity and white people-gaining-understanding books. I think most of the novels concerned either the Holocaust or Civil Rights issues. This has been the trend in children's literature since the 1960's, and while it's important that there be a place in children's literature for consideration of such issues, the tone of most of these books is almost unbearably prescriptive and, as a result, predictable and uninteresting to children.
The absence, in this book fair at a Catholic school, of any religion books. Yes, it was sponsored by Scholastic, and, as such, was selling only that imprint, but it still made me wonder. Why have Catholic schools become such sell-outs? It used to be that publishers produced textbooks that were Catholic specific for Catholic schools. I have a small collection of them on the bookshelf behind me. Readers, social studies, and even science textbooks were produced strictly for the Catholic market. When I was in eighth grade (in 1973) in a junior high school in Tennessee, my English teacher (in a public school) used an old Catholic grammar textbook as a supplement in our class. She mainly used it as a resource for sentences for us to diagram. She explained this to us once while dictating a sentence to us that had some religious content - I think it was about the Holy Spirit - briskly noting that she really didn't care if anyone might be offended - it was the best grammar textbook she'd ever seen, and she was going to use it.
No more, of course. The accommodation has gone completely in the other direction now. Catholic schools seek, not excellence and integrity, but acceptance by the educational establishment, and that acceptance has a concrete form: it's called accreditation. Accreditation is the cause of a host of ills ranging from the mind-numbing waste of time called the "in-service" to eviscerated and dumbed-down to course offerings to the capitulation to secular textbook publishers.
Anyway. Back to the book fair. As I said, no religion books - I take that back. On a small table displaying items adults might be interested in for themselves, right next to an Italian cookbook, was a book on Chinese astrology. Pardon me.
Wouldn't a book fair be a fabulous time for a Catholic school to get religious books into the hands of parents and children? Why don't they see it this way? Are there any organizations or companies out there that do Catholic book fairs for Catholic schools? Shouldn't there be? Shouldn't they all prominently feature my books?
A guy with a mob of crazy black hair, short, squat and a little wacked out. I took one class from him. Half a class, rather. It was on 17th and 18th century philosophy - Locke, Hume, and so on. A month into it, I was lost. Totally and absolutely lost. (I was also taking four other classes at the time.) I would read a sentence of one of the primary works, then move on. After reading the next sentence, I would sit and try to understand how the two sentences I had just read were related. I just couldn't do it. And Cohen's lectures were no help. I never had any idea what he was talking about.
I'm not a person who has particularly vivid memories, but this is an exception. I vividly remember lying in my bed in my dorm room, experiencing some of the worst anxiety I'd ever felt over this class. I had never been so clueless in my entire life, and I didn't see how I was going to pass an exam, much less write a paper. Then I realized something. Little Miss Achiever, Little Ms. Only Child Star of the Class figured something out. I didn't have to go on. I could actually drop the class. Sure. I wasn't majoring in philosophy. What did I care? What did anyone care? A little moment of liberation there in Melrose Hall. All thanks to the Inscrutability of Sheldon Cohen.
Monday, December 3
Let me point you in the direction of some good Advent resources: There are lots of online Advent calendars, but I like this one very much: the Artcyclopedia Advent Calendar offers fine art and substantive reflections each day.
More Advent links can be found at the always trustworthy Religious Education Webzine site.
Sunday, December 2
Now I've turned to Jeffrey Hart's Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward a Revival of Higher Education. I think I need to start reading stuff about Oprah Winfrey for an OSV article. I think I should be figuring out what to do for my next OSV book column, due right after Christmas. But today, I just can't really care.
Saturday, December 1
My favorite part of any of the books is from The Middle Moffat, in which Janey, one of the sisters, watches with increasing concern in the weeks before Christmas as her little brother Rufus repeats his determination that he wants a pony for Christmas, and he knows Santa will bring him one. He'd wanted a pony for years, and had been given all variety of toy ponies to meet his desires, but this year, he had been quite specific in his letter to Santa, making clear that what he wanted was a real, live pony. Janey knows this is just not going to happen, but she doesn't want to see Rufus disappointed. So very early on Christmas morning, she creeps downstairs and scribbles a note to put in Rufus' stocking. The note reads: Dear Rufus, All the ponies are at the war. Love, Santy Claus
Of course, the effect is even better than Janey could have realized: Not only is Rufus' lack of a pony reasonably explained to him (World War I is "the war"), but he has the quite exotic honor of having received a note from Santa himself. I love that little tale not only because it's ingenious and moving,but because it points to a truth that I've observed among my own children: Despite the squabbling and the competitiveness, there's a real care and concern that does come out when it's really needed.
This leads me to other thoughts. Books featuring the children of relatively big families sharing adventures used to be standard reading for children. It probably reflects the reality that for much of our history, especially before urbanization, your brothers and sisters were your primary playmates. You don't see many of those books written anymore. Modern children's books tend to feature solitary children, children cut off from family, children who relate the world as individuals, not as part of a group of siblings. (I muse on all of this as an only child, but still....)
So if you've a child looking for reading material try The Moffats. Also good in the same Adventurous Siblings genre are:
the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sidney Taylor, The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, the wonderful Half Magic books by Edward Eager, and Five Children and It and subsequent books by E. Nesbit. All great books and all, in their own ways, better than Harry Potter.
Then comes The Game, plus Katie has a little friend coming over to spend the night. Tomorrow morning we get up, Katie and her friend go to sing in the children's choir, the rest of us go sit in the pews at Mass, and then, maybe, we can do some sabbath resting. Except for me and that pesky article, sadly.
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