Posts filed under culture

Why I Don't Swear Online {or Anywhere}

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away (okay, about 20 years ago or so), I had a potty mouth. Unashamed and completely habituated to vulgar and stupid speech, I spewed garbage like a trucker... or... like a typical secular youth. 

I was 10 years old the first time I intentionally swore and tried out my new edgy style on some young friends during a family visit. They had always known me to be quiet, shy, and well-behaved so they were a bit shocked; which, of course, was the intended affect.

My bad language progressed from an occasional and purposeful dart thrown at the unsuspecting, to normal, habitual use which too easily replaced decent descriptive language. It was an easy transition to make; first, because it was easier than using more intelligent language and second, because my peer culture was awash in filth and indecency. My choice of words went hand in hand with a descent into the moral decay of secular American youth. 

Fast forward to my young adult metanoia when I gave my mind, body, and soul to Jesus Christ. It was the first time in my life that I really understood, believed, and lived my Catholic faith. I felt free for the first time, alive, and completely consumed by Christ-fire. As the scales fell from my eyes and my heart burned with a convert's passion, I began to throw off the old to put on the new.

In that honeymoon stage of new faith, I was blessed with the gift of clarity about where in my life I had offended God and harmed myself and others. The Holy Spirit acted powerfully on my starving heart and busted open the door as soon as I gave my tiny yes. I went to bed hungry for that Divine Love and rose in the morning alive to His presence. The grace of conversion is powerful! And so, the scales and filth and worldly weights began to fall away quickly...

My defense of abortion fell.
My hatred of the Church fell.
My habitual lying fell.
My blindness to mortal sin fell.
My worldly view of myself and others fell.

I often wish I could go back to that convert honeymoon because it was intensely beautiful... like seeing the sun for the very first time after years underground. Painful yet exquisite. I am grateful to still have a recollection of that time to inspire me to keep my eye on the prize of heaven. True freedom, peace, and joy wait for me there.

But it was a daily struggle to chop away at the old habits and chains and to uncover who I was really made to be. One area that was obviously a problem was my speech habits. No one said "You have to do this to be a good Catholic." It was just something that I knew I had to do for Christ and for my own soul. I became more attentive to my words around my new Christian friends and realized that my crass habits did not match the change that was happening inside. I wanted to honor God, myself, and those who had to politely listen to me. 

‘But now lay you also all away: anger, indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy talk out of your mouth.’
— Colossians 3:8

So my tongue got a scrubbing...

First, no more OMG.
I no longer dropped God's name into a conversation as if it were a meaningless exclamation point. I kicked this careless phrase to the curb even before I stopped using profanity because it made immediate sense. Besides the super obvious 3rd Commandment, I was falling in love with Him. That relationship made me sensitive to the living beauty His name. At the same time, a holy priest taught me to pray in reparation each time I heard the name of God used carelessly by anyone (including myself): "Lord, have mercy." I was able to replace a bad habit with a good one and that made the transition much easier. (Read more here: Stopping OMG)

Next, no more filthy mouth.
Did my speech reflect what was going on in my soul? How did it impact my witness to others? How did it express my love of Christ? There was no question for me that this change needed to happen but it was one of the hardest daily changes to make. I had trained myself to use those words. They were as common as "hello," "goodbye," and "Taco Bell" on my youthful tongue. I had thought them, whispered them, wrote them, laughed them, screamed them for many years. And after all that, I fought sentence by sentence to purge it all and reclaim my speech for Christ.

Not at all easy. 

Language continues to be a struggle for me. In my stressful moments, certain words march to my tongue like a rebellious mob. I don't get anxious about it... I don't think I'm going to get struck down by a lightening bolt for a misstep... but I am careful to keep them reigned in. On the whole, I have conquered the tendency to slip into that aspect of my old life... into vulgarity that simply isn't consistent with the freedom and joy to which Christ has called me. But it will probably be a lifelong battle.

‘A dispersed and dissipated intellect given to frivolous talk and foul language produces many vices and sins.’
— St. John Damascene

Fortunately, the written word is far easier to control than the spoken word. I have time before I hit publish or send to make a better choice. I have not always taken that moment but I almost always have, and I take care to nourish the desire that keeps me in the fight. 

When I'm writing on this blog or on social media, I am often tempted to use those purged words. It would be SO easy... especially when I want to add strong emphasis... or to appeal to the current trend of edgy cool Catholic moms. But I'm not edgy or cool by nature or by conversion and it more consistent with my personal vocation to abstain from low speech.

It's a matter of courtesy which is an extension of charity.
Of femininity and gentleness, which is so rare.
Of respect for God and for others.  
Of disciplining a tongue that easily harms.
All things which I struggled to understand and learn during my conversion and beyond.

I understand the attraction to writers who are "real" and gritty. It is not always easy to connect with those who seem out of touch, too holy, put-together, or seem uptight and we gravitate to those who don't intimidate or frustrate in those ways. But I am not obligated to please readers, only Christ. 

For me, that means I will never drop an F-bomb on this site. Because even though it might pop up unbidden in my mind, my "real" is that I don't want to swear. My "real" is that I am often ugly on the inside but still fight to keep it reigned it. The most authentic thing I can give you right now is this:

Sometimes I want to swear and I choose not to. That's it. That is who I am. 

This is not a judgment against other bloggers or people you know online. I am not the arbiter of who should and shouldn't swear in the context of their public witness. But this small practice has helped me focus on Christ, grow in virtue, and mature in practical ways; and I enthusiastically recommend it to others as a fruitful discipline. 

I feel in many ways that I am less of a Christian than I was those 20 years ago. The fire seems to die as quickly as it is reignited and it seems like I have to fight harder for virtue even in the little things. But it is often these little things which help remind me of where I have been and where I long to be. I am so often tired. I am so often tempted to bitterness. I often feel old-ish and entitled to my worldly habits.

But He calls me back to innocence. And I will try. 

“I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”
— Matthew 18:2
Posted on November 10, 2016 and filed under culture, Faith, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.

Harry Potter: Keeping the Debate Alive

To talk to some Catholics, one would think that the Harry Potter debates are over and that a winner (Harry Potter) has been decisively declared. And to read some online articles, one would think that those who choose to opt out of this particular pop fantasy series are fun-sapping idiots... or at least remarkably close. The purpose of this post is to declare that the debate is alive and well... and that it ought to be. 

I've never written about the Harry Potter phenomena on the blog before, largely because I didn't need to. Opposing viewpoints have been well represented and my voice wasn't (and really still isn't) needed. But I write today because I see that there has been a large Catholic cultural shift over the last 20 years (gaining more speed in the last three or so) and I want to draw some attention to it. I admit disappointment, not so much that people disagree with my particular opinion, but at the widespread idea that Catholic parents ought to unflinchingly embrace trending occult pop fiction simply because it's popular among a large percentage of Catholics. It is alarming to see opposing ideas rejected out of hand with a heavy dose of ad hominem. (You know, because only stupid uptight people restrict their kids' reading like that).  I'm disappointed in that kind of community "dialogue" and I'm hoping for something better.

So what would I like to see?

The ideal Catholic culture is one in which we would all be indifferent to the world of Harry Potter. Not emotionally invested in its promotion. Not emotionally invested in its demise. Just completely detached as we should be to all things of the world. 

That indifference should be reflected in the ideal Catholic dialogue and should follow correct discernment. Good discernment does not cling to preferences but lays them before the foot of the cross saying: "Jesus, this is nothing to me. I let it go. I expect nothing to come of it. My goal is simply You." If careful discernment returns the object of desire to a person's life, it would then be received with the same spirit of detachment; I am grateful to have it but I can still do without. I could lose it again without losing peace. If it is never returned, then the soul remains fixed on Christ. There is no loss. There is no entangled ego. There should be no other investment of energy other than the pursuit of truth... And a faithful and purposeful response to that truth. 

What we find in the case of Harry Potter (or similarly hotly debated cultural pastimes) is that true dialogue has often been shouted down. The desire does not seem to be truth but rather the thing itself.  Secular/pagan fantasy genre proponents too often hold the untenable position that there is no danger posed to any Catholic youth through participation. That it is innocent fun and a great good to the community at large. This is clearly an erroneous position as it disregards what we know to be true about human nature, the psychology of youth, American culture, the real dangers of the occult, and the facts of this particular situation. On the other side, there is the obviously false position that serious harm will absolutely come to all Catholic youth who partake. Neither position is true, although one is more inherently dangerous than the other.

Harry Potter was first released in 1997, the same year that my first child was born. My motherhood was formed during the years when hot debates were first happening on the internet (dial-up, of course) and Catholic mothers demanded meetings with the school board and asked that Catholic schools remove Harry Potter from libraries... and Catholic schools clung to them tenaciously because of their entanglement with the thoroughly secular Scholastic Books which had/has the monopoly on direct sales and marketing to school kids. I had the great privilege of listening to and participating in the debate among intelligent, faithful, dynamic Catholics. It was healthy and invigorating and yes, sometimes got pretty heated, after which we all hugged or shook hands and went home in peace. I learned a tremendous amount about the impact of literature on the human person and had the opportunity to thoughtfully engage decisions regarding the direction of the intellectual life of our family.

My husband and I considered the arguments of both positions and decided that Harry Potter would not have a place in our home. After 18 years, we have not found a compelling reason to change that position. There are two primary reasons for this:

1) Any benefits of the books do not outweigh the spiritual dangers and moral flaws. 

2) It is not good literature (in the true sense, not the "fun" sense). If the Harry Potter books had not reached the level of popularity that they had (in particularly, finding favor with the ubiquitous and anti-Christian business called Scholastic Books), we never would have noticed them nor considered them for our home. 

“Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.”
— Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Vatican Exorcist (2006)

So what are the spiritual risks? To put it simply... an engaging, youth oriented, pagan fantasy series that glorifies magic is likely to provide a gateway to the occult for some kids. No parent should be shamed or bullied into foregoing serious discernment over those risks. I have had enough personal experience with the occult to have a healthy fear of the dangers. Spiritual warfare is real and frightening. When I first read from the Harry Potter books, I did not find them captivating, I found them alarming. It was quite clear to me how children (even well-formed Catholic kids) could easily be drawn to the dangerous elements. I know it because I lived it and it formed me. It was a high price to pay for the knowledge I bring to Harry Potter discernment. I have also noticed that many of those who oppose Harry Potter are also those who have lived through occult experiences. The risky side of occult "fun" is perhaps a bit too close to reality for them... and as such, not so fun. As Toni Collins puts it: "Of the commentators I read who loved the Harry Potter books, virtually none of them had ever experienced the occult. To them this was a delightful fantasy in the same genre as J.R.R. Tolken and C.S. Lewis. In contrast, almost every commentator I read who had experience with the occult found the books disturbing."  

Those who have lived side by side with demonic influence know one important truth about toying with occult spiritualism: The demonic can manifest and enter children and homes even if you're Christian and even if you think it's all in "fun." And if someone claims that Harry Potter doesn't contain strong elements of real occult practices, then they either do not know much about the occult or about Harry Potter. 

“studies conducted by the Barna research group revealed a twelve percent increase in occult activities among Christian students in the U.S.A. after reading the Potter series, and which the students themselves attributed to the books.”
— Michael O'Brien, Catholic author

 I know you wouldn't choose Harry Potter for your kids if you thought it was dangerous. I'm not judging your motivations and I trust that a loving, Christian home is a strong defense against any dangerous or immoral influence. But I freely share my serious concerns when asked (and sometimes when I'm not)... because I don't think there are many things more important to Catholic parents than the souls of their children. And to be frank, I'm tired of my family being made to feel like extremists for what is a healthy decision within the bounds of reasonable, loving parental authority and consistent with our call to live a Christ-centered life.

2117 “All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion.”
— Catechism of the Catholic Church

I'm not concerned about what people think of my parenting choices, but I grieve over what I see as a pronounced and unfortunate trend to fight to win instead of to seek truth... And to make aggressive definitive statements (expressed more strongly than just personal opinions) about a work of pagan occult fiction. I don't think Catholic kids are the winner in that scenario. It has been many years since I have seen truly excellent dialogue about Harry Potter floating around the internet. Perhaps it is because younger adult Catholics think that the issue as been decided... and that only a few fanatics still espouse the idea that a popular fantasy series could possibly have a negative impact on anyone. So I bring it up again, because not all of you have had the benefit of the best arguments against that position. And many seem to believe that this sort of debate is ridiculous or undesirable. I couldn't disagree more. 

It should never be our own opinion which becomes the end goal of debate. Debate among Christians should always be oriented toward pursuit of truth. If it is your goal in writing to smack down families like mine who have made a careful, studied, prayerful decision, consistent with the Church's teaching related to our role as Catholic parents... or even to defend your own decisions... then you write and argue for the wrong reasons. You also betray a deep ignorance of priorities in Christian charity. If Harry Potter is important to you to a degree that you must attack those who have concerns, then it is too important to you. 

I'm not writing this to make anyone wrong (that is not within my personal power anyway). I'm writing because the conversation is still relevant and its flame needs a little fanning. It should not be allowed to die as long as Harry Potter remains a cultural force. If you allow Harry Potter in your home, you should be constantly discerning its place there. Life does change. Cultural context does change. Understanding does change. Children have different and changing sensitivities and weaknesses. Even within one family, one child may be secure and another more susceptible to negative influence. Charity demands the kind of care and courtesy that never stops assessing those changing and personal elements and visiting the question again and again. It also demands humility... and acknowledgment of the weaknesses of our positions even while we hold them. 

“It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly”
— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (2003)

The truth is that the Harry Potter series can and does act as a gateway to the occult for some children... even Christian children. It is also true that it won't affect all children that way. Although a parent knows a child and his or her general personalities and sensitivities, there are regions of their autonomous souls which we can not access. We cannot enter into the interior life of the child where imagination and and the spiritual life are engaged. We must aggressively evaluate the influences in our home through the lens of Christian truth so that each child can develop their interior disposition in safety. The overall debate is really not about us or our preferences... but a seeking of truth for the greatest good of our children and the glory of God. Whether or not we think there are some good elements included in Harry Potter does not reduce our obligation to make sure that souls in formation are protected from the dangerous elements.

Although Harry Potter won't draw most kids into the occult, it seems clear that it does desensitize many families and has lowered their guard against occult dangers. I see it when Catholic parents allow their kids to dress up like Harry Potter characters and permit them to pretend to cast spells. Maybe if they really knew the hellish end of witchcraft and the swiftness with which the demonic responds to an open door (even opened in ignorance), they would not think such imitation is cute or harmless. I saw it recently in the comment box of a popular pro-Harry article. The commenter described how her homeschool Latin class was enhanced by creating a book of spells, both copying Rowling's and the student's own spells. I sat in horrified wonder at the naivete with which some approach the dark arts. And all I can say is I am confident in their good intentions and that they don't know where it can lead... or else they wouldn't tinker. They certainly wouldn't let their kids tinker. 

My kids have access to thousands of books in our home, including works of fantasy such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. There is almost no similarity between Narnia and Harry Potter since Narnia is very clearly and intentionally Christian allegory (even Rowling rejects comparisons). But between Tolkien and Rowling? The similarities are only superficial. 

“The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

I could write an entire series on the substantive differences between the Tolkien's work and Rowling's since they are plentiful. My husband and I do not dismiss out of hand the element of magic in Lord of the Rings, but examine each work on its own merit; its content, authorship, and context. You might say that we have an affinity for the written word. But among our copious volumes, you will not find Harry Potter. The series never made the cut as we made literature choices for our household.

My kids will survive. They might even thrive. And I hope they can grow up without continuing to be ridiculed by other Christians for not reading literature which has NO actual bearing on health, happiness, intelligence, or salvation. 

Finally, it is not my aim here to make you agree with me... simply to reignite some healthy and important conversation within Catholic homes. My husband and I still spend hours debating these important topics and probably awakened the neighborhood as we walked the street and passionately discussed these very subjects last night. As long as we live, we will never be done discerning.  It may feel a little uncomfortable to have the heat of real truth-seeking action warming us... but if approached with charity and a Christ focus, only good will come of it.

Comments of all respectful kinds are welcome below. Name-calling is not. I am not attacking you, I am discussing ideas... so I would also appreciate a discussion of ideas and not people. And please, if you are inclined to comment, make sure that you have read (not skimmed) my post. That simple effort would save a boatload of strife in comboxes everywhere. It would also benefit the conversation tremendously if you took advantage of the links included at the bottom for a fuller understanding of an anti-Potter position. Also, I know very little about the movies and they don't factor into this discussion at all. If your only experience is with the film version of any works discussed, then there may be obstacles to understanding between us. 

For more detailed reading on some of the issues surrounding the Harry Potter series, see below. I have not linked very many because the ones I have included are rather long! It is a good representation of what is out there and a solid jumping off point. I did not include any specifically "pro" Harry Potter positions because those are currently incredibly easy to find (one might say "trending") while the opposing position is not. But I do feel that these authors and speakers give a fair treatment to the relevant topics. 

Posted on November 10, 2015 and filed under Culture, culture, Family Life, homeschooling, parenting.

The Year I Quit the World

It's astonishing the things I find scribbled in notebooks throughout the house. Like little pieces of memory that fell out of my brain and attached themselves to paper, waiting to be recovered again at a later date. I found an old journal entry today that reminded me of some things. Big, big things. Like how powerful the love of a mother is... and how making a Consecration to our Blessed Mother has saved my neck more than once. 

The entry I recently found was dated right before my family "quit the world" and all of the opportunity for fanatical sport-loving families that frenetic American suburbia has to offer. Our minds, bodies, and souls were heavily burdened by the race. My children were staggering under the weight of victory medals and cracking under the pressure of simultaneously maintaining worldly success and Catholic identity. And it didn't matter that we tried to keep praying and believing and storing up the sacramental graces. Sometimes, we have to recognize that we have placed our kids on a battlefield for which they are not equipped. And sometimes, we have to swallow our pride and just quit.

Although I knew deep down that quitting was the answer, I didn't want to do it. I wanted to say no. Instead of saying no, I renewed my Consecration to Mary, knowing that she would move any mountain with that small step of faith. I had forgotten that hard time just a few years ago now and that rediscovered notebook reminded me. Those of you who have followed me through that journey know about the miracle of our eventual yes. You know how we coached and trained and competed and traveled and stretched... and you also know how God rescued us from ourselves through the intercession of Blessed Mother. 

My little journal entry brings it all back to me. The darkness and the struggle. How many years ago now? Three? Four? I don't even know. But this is what I wrote just before the dawn...

This feeling of never being settled. Never realizing my dreams. Always slipping down the fast and furious slope of mediocrity and failure. I am not a plastic saint. I am not even a blood, sweat and tears saint. I am nothing at all like a saint. Just a miserable failure who can't even remember to pray during my despair. I squeak out a little "Lord, have mercy" once in awhile and then just pick up miserably where I left off.

I once wanted to have chickens. And children. I wanted children who raised chickens. Then I just had children who ate chicken shaped into little nuggets before I drove them to a sporting event. I once thought I would sew for my children and wear aprons and paint with them in the glow of the afternoon sun. What came of that dream? Yoga pants and movie nights happened. I wore the yoga pants and went into another room while they watched the movie. For a little comfort. A little silence.

Why have I failed? Why is it so hard to capture a beautiful and slow life in reality? Can it really be done or is it a deception? A movie script that has us questioning why we have missed all the romance while everyone else finds it? 

I've been intentionally quitting the world repeatedly for years but I have never made it for more than a day or so. The world and worldly things have a thorough grip on my heart like a hooked fish. I can try to shake it off but it tears and causes pain. I either swim away, exhausted and shredded, or give up peacefully to be eaten. The world is my home. I am the world. The world is me. What am I willing to give up to find out where it ends and I begin? I'm looking it in the eye and I see what it is thinking: you will fail. Because I always do.

I look straight back and with a sigh of resignation I say: Yes. I believe that you are right. So I suppose I shall lose nothing in trying.

Today is the day that I pick up my Consecration and ask blessed Mother to change my life. She has done it before and I trust she will do it again. My job, as I understand it, is to step aside and let love lead. I'm okay with that today. Let's do this.

And for those of you who don't know the the end of the story... We did. She did. She shook things up. We stepped aside and let her... and quit the world. It was around that time when I changed the name of my blog to Blossoming Joy. It fits. And I've never looked back.

Posted on November 3, 2015 and filed under culture, Family Life, Spiritual Life, parenting.