Thursday, April 26, 2007
Feel free to comment on any of the previous posts. I'll happily read them when I return.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Daughter: "Chili's. Do Not Enter. WrongWay."
Daughter: "Mom, if everyone goes the Wrong Way, does it become the Right Way?"
Mom: "Good question."
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I have so much to do (and I'm not doing it right now) that I will refrain from commenting on the article yet, but I hope you will!
Some days I throw myself into the freedoms..sure that the exposure to books, music, films, ideas, and TV shows are harmless and perhaps even beneficial as I strive to understand the culture we live in. On other days there is the "dragging-down" from ideas and images, and it feels like complicity with behaviors and attitudes I feel are unhealthy (and, honestly, wrong). It feels like rationalization.
Like the prayer loop that is an excuse to share gossip, the freedoms to interact with culture and ideas can become, for me, an excuse to neglect myself and avoid self-discipline. It can be a way to avoid the demands of faith on my life.
I still have a self-protective barrier up, to some degree, when it comes to engaging ideas. I know that. I don't always like it, but I still feel it is necessary for one simple reason. I don't know how to evaluate all the information that comes my way. I still believe there really are ideas full of light and truth, and ideas full of rationalizations for avoiding light and truth.
I'd love to think on this further and to develop some of the nebulous thoughts floating around in my head. I don't like what I've written because it doesn't say what I want. I've written and deleted more than I've left, all while fielding questions from various children and watching the clock so I won't be late. My presence is demanded in the life of my house and family...so must go.
I'll leave with this thought- in the past four or five years I've seen new ways to look at life and faith and am better for it. But while I have changed in my approach to many things, fundamentally I am the same. My desire is to be found "in Christ." Evaluations of my "options" in life come down to this: Does it further my goal?
Friday, April 20, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I wanted to add this information about one of the heroic acts yesterday. Greater love has no man:
Liviu Librescu, 76, was a Holocaust survivor, who his son said, will be remembered as a hero. He "blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu told AP. "Students started opening windows and jumping out." The elder Librescu, a professor at Virginia Tech, was recognized internationally for his research in aeronautical engineering, the head of the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department at Virginia Tech told AP. He was born and received his advanced degrees in Romania.
I had a post planned but don't have the heart today. Instead, I'll light a candle and say a prayer for all the grieving family and friends of the VA Tech shooting.
Today, in recognition of the fragility of life, I'm going to show more people I appreciate them, and I'm going to let go of the "small stuff" that stresses me.
Thank you to all who come here and read my blog. You give me joy and a great sense of satisfaction in my life. My life is richer for your time and and your thoughts.
All afternoon I've kept a candle burning in my room next to my olivewood statue of Mary from the Holy Land. Everytime I see the candle I've prayed. Every time I walk in my room, or look up from my computer.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The fact is I still have fairly young children for my age (youngest is 10) and I am definitely attempting to stretch myself too thin. I was wondering today if I'd even be thinking about all these new things if I was 10 years younger with children the same age. I came to the conclusion that I am having a midlife crisis about 10 year too early as far as my kids are concerned! ;-) Although, in 10 years it would be a senior moment instead of a midlife crisis. The point I'm making is that I am still in the big middle of educating and raising children and my time to devote to my "search for self" is a bit limited. Since I don't want to wait another ten years to find myself, I need to adapt to my reality.
When I look at my stack of books I see way too many topics covered:
1. math and physics
2. theology- Catholic
3. theology- other :-)
4. early Christian writing
5. books dealing with life, change, philosophy
6. books about modern culture
7. history- non-fiction and historical fiction
8. books about drawing
9. science (biology texts)
This list doesn't include my usual stack of mystery books. What I realized today is I can't do it all. While reading Sue Monk Kidd's When the Heart Waits, I realized I'd gotten sucked into the idea that I have to make life happen instead of letting life happen. I had this ah-ha moment while brushing my teeth. I need to quit stressing and narrow my focus right now. I can't worry that time will run out. Worrying is addictive and unproductive. I'm not running a race. I'm not proving anything to anyone. I want to enjoy living and learning, have time to reflect and study, as well as time to watch movies with my children, take walks with friends, or veg out with the latest mystery book while sipping a glass of wine.
Most of all, though, I want to learn to be still. Not to fill every moment with "happenings." I want to learn to enjoy silence and to enjoy my own, solitary company. To allow God to speak, or not speak. To stop trying to escape my life but to embrace it, messiness and all. To seek strength to endure when needed, and a grateful heart to enjoy my many blessings. I want to stop comparing myself to others, too. I want to stop being fearful of the future.
This all might mean a little narrowing of focus right now. I'm not prepared to change my family to organic and whole foods right now, so scratch that off my list of things to read about. I'll make the best food choices I can within my sphere and leave it at that. I can't take math, science, Spanish, philosophy, and drawing classes next year, so I'll pick one thing. I'm enjoying my foray into contemporary culture, reading books like The Paradox of Choice, Blink, and Mediated, so I'll keep doing that. I'll plan to spend more time on my homeschooling with the youngest two while I send the next oldest to high school and the other two to college. I'll either only teach one science class for homeschoolers, or perhaps none at all. I'll keep readying about theology, but I may narrow my focus there, too, sticking mainly with Catholic writings for now. I'm going to make time to serve others.
This might seems simple to most of you. I wouldn't be surprised if someone was thinking..Duh, Carrie! But for me it hasn't been clear. I thought I needed to do everything at once and instead ended up paralyzed and doing nothing; just watching TV and searching for things online to keep me busy. My life had started suffocating me, but it was my own immobility that was doing it. I was paralyzed with too much to do, so I did nothing, but I still believed I was doing too much. How weird is that? Even an extra trip to Target had started looking like an insurmountable project because I believed myself too busy to accomplish it. But the reality is I was doing very little.
But now I'm going to follow the advice in The Paradox of Choice and limit my choices. So let the midlife crisis come. I'm not going to let it scare me into the very thing I'm fearing...and that is to waste my life.
What do you think constitutes a "life well-lived"? What should our lives be? What gives your life purpose and meaning? Are there any "shoulds" and "oughts" when it comes to how we live and how we treat others? Do you believe in eternal consequences, or does the here and now matter more? Or are both important equally? Are labels helpful or hurtful when interacting with others (self-identifying as a Christian, agnostic, conservative, minority, etc.)? What does it mean to live for others? How can we be Christ to others? Or if we don't self-identify as "Christian," what does it mean to sacrifice for others?
Does it make sense to live for others if this life is all there is? Is it understandable that some feel like living for oneself is the way to live? How can we encourage self-sacrificing behavior, love for fellow man, and justice for all, especially the poor and defenseless. Does democracy work?
Do you think people are basically good? Do you think it is a natural phenomenon for people to love and serve others? Why do some people oppress and take advantage of others?
I'm not looking for anyone to defend their thoughts. I am on an information finding mission. Please feel free to answer any or all of the questions, or to think up a new question!! I may ask for clarification, but I am not setting anyone up to have to defend themselves.
Myriad events in my life are prompting the questions, from recent blog discussions to looking at the Catholic Church. Like I'm trying to understand how and why people think differently.
Thanks in advance for any contributions!
Friday, April 13, 2007
Saturday, April 7, 2007
I've moved a lot in my life, which might be why I feel confident of the above senario. Until I was 41 I had never lived in the same house for longer than 4 years, and most of them no more than 2 or 3 years. And even though my closets stayed cleaner, each move was wrenching in its own way. After a while you know. Even as you tell yourself and others that you'll "keep in touch" you know. For most of the people involved, without the bonds of common encounters, there will be a gradual lessening of contact until it is a card at Christmas and a recap of each other's year.
Thankfully there will be a few who hang on. A few who have such a shared history that it is impossible to leave them behind. But these people are fewer than one might think. For most people there needs to be a "meeting place," a point of connection, a regular area of contact. That place can't depend on the actions of one or the other person. It usually needs to be something set from outside. A church service, a book club, a forum, a workplace.
If the place is not there, then we are like Yeats's falcon:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
In our culture, the center has collapsed. We are isolated units driving miles to find an artificial community for our children in sports and activites. In exhaustion we seek to maintain connections that once came naturally with community, neighborhood, and family. Our support base is not secure, our networks are incomplete, our center hasn't held. We have sped off in ever widening circles, sometimes through no fault of our own, and we cannot hear our companions anymore.
The internet has contributed to finding wider community and support on one hand, while at the same time making the connections all the more fragile. It's like every time someone turns off their computer they have moved away again. It's easier than ever to leave, to drift away, to shut down, to disconnect.
I'm loyal by nature and can't easily say good-bye. But times they are a'changing, and I fear more slow good-byes are in my future. More changes, more wondering why it takes Herculean effort to establish a history with others and then keep it going.
The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
On my way out the door I at least remembered to snatch up my iPod and, after a little roaring, found the headphones one of the kids borrowed and hadn't put back. As I looked through my menu, I stopped at Emmylou Harris and selected her live album Spyboy (also the name of the band playing with her). I hadn't listened to this album in years and I'd forgotten how much I liked it. It defies classification, considering Emmylou has deep bluegrass roots and Spyboy is a funky, heavily rock-influenced country band (more rock than country, at least on this album). Yet somehow they pull off a bluegrass/rock fusion that works perfectly with Emmylou's unique, barely enunciated singing style.
As I walked today, I marveled at how many of the songs had biblical/ faith references. Not really surprising considering the bluegrass influence. They either sang about sin or salvation, it seems. But still, as I went along today, I found I was listening closely to the intertwining of pain and sorrow with hope and faith. And it moved me to tears at times (perhaps not that hard when I'm already so emotional).
It starts with the second verse of Songbird:
O lord, when your jeweler's eye
Peers into my soul
O lord, I am overcome with shame
Take me lord and purify
Heal me with a word
Lord, I beg a gift I dare not claim
The lyrics don't seem to go with the rest of the song, which is about a songbird who would love freedom, but is kept caged so the singer can hear the song.
Then there were the words of the old song, Green Pastures:
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore
I'll include all the lyrics for Prayer in Open D:
There's a valley of sorrow in my soul
Where every night I hear the thunder roll
Like the sound of a distant gun
Over all the damage I have done
And the shadows filling up this land
Are the ones I built with my own hand
There is no comfort from the cold
Of this valley of sorrow in my soul
There's a river of darkness in my blood
And through every vein I feel the flood
I can find no bridge for me to cross
No way to bring back what is lost
Into the night it soon will sweep
Down where all my grievances I keep
But it won't wash away the years
Or one single hard and bitter tear
And the rock of ages I have known
Is a weariness down in the bone
I use to ride it like a rolling stone
Now just carry it alone
There's a highway risin' from my dreams
Deep in the heart I know it gleams
For I have seen it stretching wide
Clear across to the other side
Beyond the river and the flood
And the valley where for so long I've stood
With the rock of ages in my bones
Someday I know it will lead me home
I was perhaps struck the most today by the words of Calling My Children Home. The words alone sound a little corny, but Emmylou's voice makes the song anything but. Here are the last two verses:
I gave my all for my dear children,
Their problems still with love I share,
I'd brave life's storm, defy the tempest
To bring them home from anywhere.
I lived my life my love I gave them,
to guide them through this world of strife,
I hope and pray we'll live together,
In that great glad here after life.
The album ends with All My Tears, a song about the certainly of going someplace better when we die, and The Maker. I hadn't remembered that words being so powerful. I'm still trying to work out their meaning.
Oh, oh deep water, black and cold like the night
I stand with arms wide open
I've run a twisted line
I'm a stranger in the eyes of the Maker
I could not see for the fog in my eyes
I could not feel for the fear in my life
From across the great divide, In the distance I saw a light
Of Jean Baptiste's he's walking to me with the Maker
My body my body is bent and broken by long and dangerous sleep
I can't work the fields of Abraham and turn my head away
I'm not a stranger in the hands of the Maker
Brother John, have you seen the homeless daughters
Standing there with broken wings
I have seen the flaming swords
There over east of eden
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Oh, river rise from your sleep
I know this is long and rambling, and if you've made it this far, I thank you. It was a good time for me to be reminded of hardship and faith, sorrow and joy, mystery and hope. These were good words to walk by today.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
I buy mounds of books and watch hours of TV.
I fuss loudly at the kids about their computer time while sitting at my computer.
One day I want the kids to be more structured in their schoolwork and chores, the next day I'm online defending the relaxed approach to parenting and homeschooling.
Similarly, I spent one post crying on virtual shoulders over the lack of motivation in my children, bemoaning the fact that they don't "knuckle down" and work, only to write a piece the next week on how children need to find their own way, to "own their education" without control-freak parents.
I get angry that they don't do what I want them to do, while at the same time giving lip-service to letting them make their own decisions.
I want to quit teaching the home school classes, but I also want the strokes that go with it.
I want to home school, but I don't want the kids to interfere to much in my day.
I want to learn new things, but I watch hours of TV. (Did I already say that?)
I want to be healthy but I spend hours a day doing anything besides exercising.
I want to weigh less but still eat too many snacks.
I want my kids at home, but I want them all to leave (at least occasionally).
I want to watch challenging movies, but literally sit there with them in the DVD player and can't push the "start" button.
I want to read the classic works of literature, and can't make myself finish the books.
I'm a yo-yo. I can't make up my mind what I want and what I want to want. I want to be someone I may not be; I'm tired of being who I am; I'm not motivated enough to change.
I know people with as many kids as I have (or not), who home school (or not) and yet are accomplishing great things- owning businesses, going back to school, writing books or articles, doing volunteer work, getting involved in politics and social causes...sometimes a combination of several of these things! Part of me wants to do something I will be proud of, while part of me fears another failure.
So what am I writing about? I haven't the faintest idea anymore. I'm not even sure this makes sense. I've probably changed topics in here somewhere. It's probably not a very consistent post.
Monday, April 2, 2007
|America (americamagazine.org), Vol. 196 No. 11, March 26, 2007|
The Lesser Evil
|By James T. Bretzke|
|In a Dilbert cartoon, “Mike the Vegan” takes pride in claiming that he uses “no animal products whatsoever.” Dilbert reminds him, though, that his clothing was made on sewing machines that use electricity produced from fossil fuels. The last panel shows Mike walking down the street in his birthday suit, ruminating on the need to start making exceptions! Exceptions must be made, because we live in an imperfect world. Utopia is a conceptual world without evil, but the literal meaning of the Greek name, “No place,” reveals how real it is. Here on this side of God’s kingdom-yet-to-come, we live with evil, sometimes tolerating evil, compromising with evil and, in rare cases, even doing the “lesser” of two evils. |
Catholic moral tradition elaborates four basic principles that help us navigate a morally complex world. Each of these principles involves varying degrees of cooperation with evil. The principles are (1) double effect, in which a single action has two foreseen effects—one “good” and intended, the other “evil” and tolerated, such as the removal of the fetus in an ectopic pregnancy to save the life of the mother; (2) tolerance, in which we judge, following the Gospel principle of the wheat and the tares, that certain evils must be endured for the time being lest a greater evil ensue from our efforts to weed out the malefactors, such as tolerating legal abortion even if we disagree that this should be the case; (3) compromise, in which we in some way actively participate in actions or sinful social structures that have a clear morally evil component, such as purchasing goods made under exploitative labor conditions in foreign sweatshops; and (4) the lesser of two evils, such as counseling the use of clean needles among drug addicts.
The first two principles are fairly well understood and accepted by most people, but the last two occasion much debate and misunderstanding, since each seems to suggest either participating actively in moral evil or at least giving up the commitment to avoid evil at all costs.
Moralists themselves differ in their approach to these, as can be seen in a recent widely circulated address, “The Physician’s Relationship With Morality,” by José María Simón, M.D., president of the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations. In speaking of the general notion of collaboration with evil, Dr. Simón averred that “with the current state of the world, we often have to consider whether to avoid collaborating with those people and structures which go against the dignity of the human being. Although they may find others who will collaborate with evil, they will not find us.”
How might Simón, or others who stress avoiding evil, respond to the counterposition expressed by Pope John Paul II, who wrote, “when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality” (Evangelium Vitae, No. 73).
Much of our daily life involves both compromise and cooperation with evil. John Paul II went on to explain in the same encyclical that such action “does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”
Applying the Principle of ‘the Lesser Evil’
In making legitimate exceptions, we can use Catholic moral tradition’s four principles as a guide. But what about that last principle? Is one morally permitted to commit evil, even if it is “lesser”? Some moralists think not and argue that the theory applies not to doing evil but rather to tolerating it. There is a distinction between tolerance and active moral agency, yet Catholic moral tradition has held that in some circumstances not only could one counsel the lesser evil, but could help someone to carry it out.
Recently, many church leaders, including Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger of Paris and the longtime papal theologian Cardinal Georges Cottier, O.P., have argued that one could counsel a person with H.I.V./AIDS who would not likely abstain from sexual relations (an important qualifier) to do everything else to protect the health (and the life) of his or her non-infected partner, including the use of condoms.
What about going beyond giving damage-control advice and participating in a program to reduce venereal diseases that, among other things, distributes clean needles to drug users or condoms to at-risk populations? Would this be sharing in the intent to commit a morally evil action and therefore be ipso facto sinful? Because millions of people are infected with H.I.V., such questions are being intensely debated within and outside the church.
The Case of Tom, Dick and Harry
In evaluating how the principle of the lesser evil might shed light on needle exchange or condom distribution, consider the following textbook example.
Tom, Dick and Harry are neighbors. Tom and Dick have a longstanding grudge that boils over into a murderous rage one day when Dick inadvertently drives over part of Tom’s lawn while navigating around a bicycle left in the driveway. Tom confides in Harry that this is the last straw and that when Dick returns home shortly from his errand he’ll be met by Tom’s shotgun. Harry tries his best to dissuade Tom from his homicidal intent, but without success, and off in the distance he sees Dick’s S.U.V. approaching. Thinking quickly, Harry says to Tom that if Dick is killed he’ll certainly be dead, but that would be the end of it, whereas if Tom were to decimate Dick’s prize rose bushes, Dick would suffer their loss daily. Tom hesitates for a moment and begins to waver. Seeing this, Harry says, “Let’s get those bushes now!” Whereupon Tom drops his gun and joins Harry in whacking the bushes.
What is going on here morally? To an observer, it might look as though Tom and Harry are engaged in identical evil actions, but the two actions actually differ in one critical element: intention. While Tom is giving vent to his sinful anger, Harry is trying to protect Dick’s life—albeit at the expense of the roses. While Harry could stand piously by and do absolutely nothing (avoiding all evil), Thomas Aquinas would probably not judge abstaining from such a diversionary act to be a good use of practical reason—using our moral acumen in a concrete situation. The key difference between Tom and Harry is not in what their hands and feet are doing, but in their heads and hearts, which give meaning to these movements. Tom is consumed by anger, but Harry is cleverly channeling that anger down a less destructive path. Harry’s action is safeguarding Dick’s life; Tom’s action is sinful.
In the moral tradition, an act with a moral character includes three elements: the act itself, the intention of the agent and the circumstances. When the church deems certain actions to be “intrinsically evil,” it takes into account all three. For example, although death is the result in both homicide and murder, moralists would not say that every homicide is sinful, but that every murder is. What’s the difference? Murder by definition includes an intent to kill. Since the intention and/or the circumstances can change the nature of the action itself, one cannot get at the moral meaning of the act in itself without paying sufficient attention to the intention and circumstances. In the case of Tom, Dick and Harry, Tom is intending to harm Dick while Harry is intending to save Dick’s life. While in these circumstances Tom could easily forgo his unrighteous anger, the same circumstances do not allow Harry many effective options to save Dick’s life.
Are there moral risks involved when using the principle of the lesser evil? Certainly. Chief among them may be the temptation to think up some evil that would be “greater” and then argue that one is somehow justified in performing the “lesser evil.” Sometimes the choices are murky and it is not clear what constitutes morally acceptable or unacceptable cooperation in either causing or allowing evil. Thomas Aquinas described the complexities of moral reasoning in his famed treatise on the natural law: “As to the proper conclusions of the practical reason, neither is the truth or rectitude the same for all, nor, where it is the same, is it equally known by all” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4). What we can discern, though, is that even in some circumstances in which there is clearly an “evil,” it may be morally incumbent on us to cooperate with it in order to avoid something far worse. Ultimately, it is only God who delivers us from evil. Until the kingdom comes we must do as we judge best, according to the right reason God has given us.
James T. Bretzke, S.J., is professor and co-chair of the department of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology and Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary (both from Liturgical Press). Copyright © 2007 by America Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved. For information about America, go to www.americamagazine.org. To subscribe to America, call 1-800-627-9533, or subscribe online at https://www.kable.com/pub/amer/subDom.asp