Don’t Turn Away: Attempt the Politics You Really Want

(Everyday Bravery, Day 12)

I understand why people want to be done with this thing.

I understand why I’m seeing person after person complain on-line and in-person that they wish people would just stop talking about it. They want their Facebook newsfeeds to return to kids and puppy dogs. They want politics to stop encroaching on their neighborly conversations.

I get it.

But honestly, I don’t think we deserve that. I think we deserve to feel uncomfortable right now.

I don’t mean that as some sort of a punishment, some sort of Catholic guilt thing. (And I should probably find a better word for what I mean than “deserve.”) I just think that we should be present. We should inhabit the time in which we live. We should be attuned to the reality of our day, and today’s reality is uncomfortable.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the twelfth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Arguing Well on Facebook – Even About Politics

Well, friends, we are deep into that most wonderful of seasons, aren’t we? Election season. And we know what that means: half of our Facebook friends are volunteering their political opinions to the world while the other half are signing off until mid-November.

I kid a little, of course. It’s not as clear as all that. While some people are vociferous in their political opinions, others are completely mum on the subject. Some are cranky, some (few this year, it seems) are inspired, some (many?) are despondent. Some people seem to be unable to handle the heat and so have decided to get out of the kitchen. Some argue their points well; others have little to show for their efforts but annoyed or offended friends and family.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s okay for someone to be annoyed with me because they don’t like my politics. What’s not okay is for someone to be annoyed or offended or hurt by the way I’ve discussed my political opinions with them.

So I try really hard, especially during election season, to make sure I argue my points well. Here are thirteen (what a lucky number!) ways I do that:

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

The Space Between - Arguing Well on Facebook Even About Politics

The Unexpected Blessing of Social Media

Can I say something that most people don’t seem to want to these days? I really kind of love social media. I know we’re supposed to be skeptical of it, nervous about it, burdened by it, bored with it – and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to get involved in it in the first place. But now? I’m so grateful for its place in my life.

So often social media is presented as a barrier to “real” relationships with people – as if people choose to stay home with their laptops and smartphones rather than go out into the world to be physically present to the people in their lives. Maybe that’s how it works for some. But for me, social media has been more boon than barrier.

Facebook allows me to connect with “IRL” family and friends better than pretty much anything else I can imagine, save a utopian walking community in which everyone’s backyards abut each other. My family is big and busy and mostly spread from one end of a sprawling metropolitan area to the other. Even if we saw each other more frequently than we do (and we see each other pretty frequently by most families’ standards), there’s only so much in-person catching up I could do with my 70-odd closest relatives (not exaggerating – I counted) given my responsibility for keeping track of these four relatives:

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And then there are the family members who live great distances from us. Because of Facebook, I know that my two little cousins in Maine are learning the art of beekeeping. I know that they’ve resumed their riding lessons and that they just swam in the lake for the first time this season. I get to cheer my cousin and his wife in San Diego as they run their (very intimidating and impressive to me) marathons and half-marathons. I get to watch my teenage and twenty-something cousins in St. Louis and Chicago and Nashville go off to proms and colleges and fall in love.

I get to know new friends more quickly and I get to know old friends better. I get to enjoy playdates where my girlfriends and I don’t feel like strangers from postponing a half-dozen times because somebody is always getting sick.

Social media also enables me to be “myself” better than any situation I can imagine. (Even my fantasy utopian communities have their limitations.) Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I do limit it to the three) allow me to indulge in a custom mix of my favorite interests, values, and personalities – a cocktail of politics and history and faith, of smart/witty/wise/idealistic/self-deprecating Catholic writers, of home-making and child-rearing and beauty found in the ordinary.

They allow me to connect with people who share those interests and values, to make friendships that transcend geography.

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Social media gives me opportunities to understand people and to love them.

On a daily basis, it presents me with more diversity and a wider range of experiences and ideas than I would ever bump up against in my physical community. It helps me put myself in someone else’s shoes; it makes obvious to me the common threads that run through families and communities that seem so different.

Social media allows me to nurture a fondness, a tenderness, not just for my family and friends, but also for the loved ones of those I’ve loved somewhere along the way. (You should see the piercing blue eyes of my college roommate’s little girl and the deep brown eyes of my high school friend’s little boy. You should read the hilarious kid quotes. You should hear how beautifully my friends love their spouses, their siblings, their children, their parents.)

Social media allows me to feel my role in the Body of Christ, praying for and supporting those in need, working with others to accompany people through their trials.

Are there problems with social media and the role it has come to play in our lives? Of course there are. There are problems with just about every way in which we humans come together. When engaging in social media, we should hold to the same principles we (hopefully) do in other human interactions: be kind, consider where others are coming from, watch what you say, consider your own disposition, recognize that the world is full of people who are like and unlike you in a million important and not-so-important ways. Love. Enjoy the people you encounter. Accept the light they bring to your life and offer a little in return.

These Walls - The Unexpected Blessing of Social Media

Can’t the Answer Just Be That We Mourn?

In the two days since the terrorist attacks in Paris, I’ve seen plenty of expressions of sadness, sympathy, and solidarity for the people of that city on social media. But I’ve also seen a growing number of complaints about those expressions.

“Stop saying you’ll pray.”

“Don’t turn your profile picture red, white, and blue.”

“Where were they when we needed them?”

“Where were you when others were attacked?”

Maybe I’m naïve, but I didn’t see this coming – at least not so soon. Victims of those horrible attacks still wait to be identified, to be claimed, to be buried, and already we’re attacking each other. Why? Why can’t the answer just be that we mourn?

“I pray because I mourn.”

“I show these colors because I mourn.”

“It doesn’t matter where they were; I mourn.”

“Maybe I mourned then, unseen. Maybe I didn’t mourn and I should have. But still, today I mourn.”

I wish we would stop questioning others’ motivations. If there are ever motivations to question, they’re our own: If I say I’m praying, am I actually doing it? If I express solidarity, do I feel it? If I’m riveted by this situation today, will I be paying attention tomorrow? Will I pay attention to the next one? Do I feel that people in some parts of the world are more worthy of my grief than others?

Ask yourself these questions; don’t ask them of others.

If you didn’t read the lengthy Atlantic piece on ISIS months ago, take the time to read it now. It’s not an unquestioned account of the organization and its aims, but I think it makes an important overarching point: ISIS does not operate under the assumptions we’re accustomed to. It does not make the same calculations. It doesn’t seek the kinds of goals we’re used to confronting. It is an organization that is inherently difficult for the West to understand, let alone counter. (Also take the time to read Elizabeth Scalia’s post from a year ago: The West Lacks One Essential Tool to Defeat ISIS.)

All that said, I think we can be reasonably sure that ISIS aims to sow fear, discord, and anger. Why in the world should we help them along by questioning people who are struggling to adequately express their sorrow?

In my own piece on ISIS and evil a year ago, I said:

I’m just trying to call it like it is. When people do such terrible things to one another [i.e. the ISIS attacks against innocent civilians in Iraq], I can’t help but see evil’s mark. I can’t help but envision evil seeping like a deadly, insidious disease from the heart of one man to another. And then another, and another, and another…

Some situations seem ripe for spectacular displays of evil. Evil must find fertile soil, after all, in lands where oppression, poverty, and war have been present for generations. What terrific places to be planting seeds of anger, fear, and hopelessness. What good chances that they’ll grow in individuals’ hearts until they spill over, manifesting themselves in violence and injustice towards others. What likelihood that those fruits will begin the cycle anew.

That’s how I think of the ISIS fighters: as men whose circumstances and life experiences have made them angry and resentful… men who have sought sympathy and camaraderie amongst those who would encourage their indignation… men who feel more powerful and more right the more they work together toward a dramatic goal… men who have so convinced themselves of their righteousness that they view those who are unlike them as less than human… men who start by seeing violence as a necessary tool and end by relishing violence for its own sake. I trace evil’s influence throughout.

But that – that far-away place, in those foreign hearts – is not the only place where evil lurks. Evil would not be content to bear only a few thousand ISIS souls away from God. Evil works on the rest of us too…

Evil tells us that what we have is insufficient, that we will always need more. It encourages us to nourish our anger and resentment. It emphasizes our fears. It helps us divide people into “us” and “them.” It tempts us to seek fleeting satisfactions that harm our bodies and souls. It entices us to take pleasure in media that glamorize violence and disordered relationships. It convinces us that righteous indignation is indeed righteous. It leads us to think we’re alone and unloved.

Evil finds success in such “small” things all the time, all over the world. I can’t help but wonder whether, when evil has become sufficiently emboldened by its quiet successes, perhaps that’s when it taunts us, leers at us, with acts so glaringly evil that we’re stopped short.

We have a role here.  We are part of this story. And we have a say in how we play our part.

Will we respond to terrorism by despairing? By accusing? By stoking self-righteous anger? By questioning the sincerity of those who are supposedly our friends? I don’t think we should.

I think we ought to take people’s expressions of mourning at face value.

I think we ought to pray — for the victims of terrorism in Paris and elsewhere, for those in harm’s way, for those who are tempted to do harm, for each other.

I think we ought to pay attention to events across the world and extend our sympathy to victims of violence wherever they’re found.

I think we ought to act against terrorism and fear and hate and evil however we’re able.

I think we should all feel free, when the situation calls for it, to simply… mourn.

Can't the Answer Just Be That We Mourn

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 7)

— 1 —

Today is the little guy’s big 2nd birthday! When I went to get the boys out of bed this morning, they were standing up, waving around stuffed animals, and cheerfully yelling. I said, “Good morning, boys!” and then: “Happy birthday, Jude!” True to form, the child dropped his eyes, scowled, and flung himself face-down onto his mattress. He is the cuddliest little thing, but he does not like being the center of attention. I think his motto should be: “Love me, but don’t look at me.”

More motherly mush to follow in a later post, but for now, here’s a glimpse of yesterday’s birthday party:

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Oh, and by the way: he successfully made it through his “Happy Birthday” serenade without screaming. He did, however, squeeze his eyes shut the whole time, likely thinking that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him.

— 2 —

In last week’s Quick Takes, I announced my new Facebook page for the blog… but I forgot to include a link. That’s brilliance for you.

So here you go! If you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, I hope you’ll stop on by!

— 3 —

Living in the greater DC metropolitan area, just about everybody I know has some relative who works for the government. Most of my closest friends have at least one income earner who is employed by the federal government or a government contractor. So what’s everybody worried about right now? That’s right: a potential government shutdown! I don’t know, it might not be big news in the rest of the country, but it sure is here. I’m saying a couple of prayers today that someway, somehow, people find a way to work together to avoid this thing.

— 4 —

Okay, I’m going to fit in just one more thing to round out this very quick little Monday Morning Miscellany and then we’re off to continue our birthday celebrations.

Mass tips. That is, tips on how to get your children to make it through mass without anyone going crazy. A couple of weeks ago, Rosie (who has four small children, including infant twins) at A Blog For My Mom posted a list of helpful tips and encouraged readers to weigh in with more. If you’re trying to figure out how to get your little ones through church, stop on over to Rosie’s to check out what everyone had to say. I really loved that there was such a variety of strategies: a perfect illustration of the differences amongst children (and parents too).

Two sort of foundational tips from me first, though. (Part of which Rosie alluded to. And Auntie Leila writes about frequently.) Unless you were given the most naturally docile children in the world (Ha!), I think you have to have at least two things in order for any of those tips and strategies to make a difference. (1) Your children have to have some regular practice in sitting in one place (note that I don’t say sitting still). If they can’t sit in one place for the course of a 30-minute meal, they’re not going to be able to make it through a 60-minute mass. (2) There has to be a given expectation that your children will obey you. If they’re not expected to obey your (sometimes loud? Mine are often loud!) directions at home, they’re not going to obey your whispered directions in a crowd of hundreds of strangers.

So, work on (1) and (2), and then be creative about what little things will help your particular children to make it through your particular church service quietly enough to (a) not embarrass you, (b) not distract your fellow parishioners, and (c) eventually learn to get something out of it. Because that last one is really the point, isn’t it?

Just my two cents!

Have a great week, everyone!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 16)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

You see this cute little stinker?

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He’s turning TWO in a few days. (Which, I have to admit, I’ll be kind of relieved to say. Just like his older brother, the kiddo looks about a year older than he is. I always feel a little awkward admitting to people that the child they took as three isn’t even two yet. You should see their eyes bulge when I point to my older son and say, “That one’s three.”)

Anyway, little guy’s birthday is approaching, so I’m entertaining all sorts of mushy thoughts about the swiftness of time’s passage, etc. Don’t worry – I’ll spare you.

Instead I’ll tell you that the kid’s been eating like a little piggy these days. (The last three times I served hot dogs, the child ate two and would’ve gone for a third if I’d let him. Yes, hot dogs. Yes, two. Go ahead and judge.) And I’ll tell you that I think there’s at least a little growth spurt of the brain going on, because he’s spurted out a bunch of new vocabulary in the past couple of days. My favorites have been “Chee Chee Boom Boom!” as in a request for the book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.” And also “eddy” (empty), as in: (While shaking his sippy cup) “My cup is empty! Get me some more milk, Mom!” or (while slapping his own little bottom) “No, I don’t have a poopy diaper! It’s empty!”

Genius, that kid is.

— 2 —

While I’m on the subject of my boys, I’ve got to share how pleased I am at some new signs of camaraderie around here. As much as toddlers tend to think first and foremost (only?) of themselves, these boys seem to increasingly see themselves as part of a two-man unit.

There’s all the whimpering and sulking from the little guy when we drop his big brother at school. There’s his delight when we return to pick up the big guy. And there seems to be a lot “we” in the three-year-old’s conversations lately. Last night when I asked the boys if they would like an apple, he answered, “We was sinkin’ about dat.” (sinkin’ = thinking)

The other day the little one came to me, held up his leg, and said, “Ot!” I had no idea what he was talking about. “Are you hurt?” I asked. He shook his head. “Are you hot?” No. “Are you sure your leg isn’t hurt?” No.

I was stumped. So my three-year-old came to my aid. He looked over nonchalantly and said, “He wants you to take his socks off.” The little one nodded vigorously.

“Do you understand everything your brother says?” I asked the big guy. “Umm… Yeah,” he said with a little shrug, as if to add, “Of course I do, Mom. Isn’t it obvious?”

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Does this look like camaraderie to you?

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— 3 —

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have this sitting before me:

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Yes, a little ol’ cup of coffee. I love coffee, especially my husband’s freshly-roasted-at-home-every-other-day variety. (Seriously, once you’ve gotten used to home roasted, there’s no going back.) However, with this pregnancy, just like my first, I have had a strong aversion to the stuff. One day I’m savoring my morning cup, the next day the sight of it makes me want to be sick.

Unfortunately, the aversion eventually extended to my standard second: black tea with lots of lovely milk and sugar. And even hot cocoa wasn’t cutting it. Starbucks’ chai lattes were an acceptable replacement until yesterday, when I could no longer stomach even them.

But! All of a sudden, at precisely 12 weeks, coffee started to look more appealing to me. Thank you, 12 weeks! I’ve never had a pregnancy aversion expire with the first trimester, but this one seems to be (hopefully!) doing so. Wahoo! Off to the store to buy some half-and-half. I am so much happier with a warm cup of something in the morning.

— 4 —

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The other day my three-year-old pointed up into these trees and said with delight, “Wook! Dare are fwowers in dose twees!” He’d noticed the uppermost leaves starting to turn. I smiled and shared in his delight and explained to him about leaves changing colors and falling to the ground. It was such a sweet moment.

Later that same day, I listened to this interview with Richard Dawkins on The Diane Rehm Show regarding his new memoir, “An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.” Now, I’m no fan of Mr. Dawkins, but the interview was mostly very interesting and pleasurable to listen to. (I have no problem listening to the ideas and experiences of people who rub me the wrong way. Most ideas interest me to some degree, even if I disagree with them. It’s a certain tone – i.e. hysterics or yelling – that I can’t stand and avoid whenever possible.)

Anyway, the interview included some interesting discussion on wonder, as you might guess from the book’s title. One caller suggested that children have heaps of it, but that adults have none at all, because they’ve been taught to repress it. Or something like that. I’ve heard lots of similar statements before and I’ve always been bewildered by them. Do the people who claim that adults are incapable of wonder really feel no wonder in their own lives? Do they not feel wonder when they stare at their newborn child? Do they not feel it when they take a drive into the mountains? When they see the ocean?

I’m continuously finding wonder in my own life. I may express my wonder differently than my three-year-old does, but I feel it all the same. I find wonder in nature, in my children, in a good read, in the kindness of strangers. When I encounter it, I ponder it and I say a prayer of thanksgiving. I may not shout, “Wow!” but my wonder counts all the same.

— 5 —

Okay, one more light thing before I get into a couple of serious items: I created a Facebook page for the blog yesterday. Hopefully this will turn out way better than my attempt at opening a Twitter account. Then, I (barely) figured out how to open the account, I got precisely three followers, and then I left town on vacation. I haven’t opened the stupid thing since.

I think this little social media push for the blog is likely to go more smoothly, because I at least understand how Facebook works. I use it, in fact. Like, (I won’t admit just how many) times per day. So if you’re on Facebook, I hope you’ll stop on by to “like” my page. I promise to actually use it.

And I’m sure someday I’ll decide to figure out how to use Twitter too. (My biggest hang-up might be that I don’t understand how to get URL’s to go all tiny-like so they fit into a Tweet. Tips, anybody?)

— 6 —

My friend Mary over at Quite Contrary has a great series going on c-sections right now. It’s called “Under the Knife, Under Control: Recovering From a C-Section.” Tuesday she posted an introduction to the series and a description of what it’s like to undergo the procedure. Thursday she posted on helpful preparations for a c-section. Next week she’ll post on logistics and food. If you’ve had a c-section or you’re about to, you’ll find Mary’s series very interesting and helpful.

I certainly found it very interesting, and I’ve never even had the procedure. (And by the way, a lot of Mary’s advice on preparations would be helpful even to those who expect to have a vaginal delivery. So if you’re pregnant, check that one out! I think I’ll be revisiting it around February or March.)

— 7 —

Nearly two months ago, I wrote a little about Nella, who blogs at Is There McDonald’s in Heaven? Nella discovered she had cancer around the same time she discovered she was pregnant with her sixth child. She underwent testing and treatments throughout her pregnancy and ended up delivering prematurely. Thankfully, the baby now seems to be doing well, but Nella’s treatments have continued and intensified since her delivery, and they seem to be catching up with her. Understandably, Nella is tired. On so many levels. In her most recent post, “Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” Nella asks for readers’ prayers.

So much about Nella’s posts are touching and sobering, but I found the following (in “So It Turns Out I Have Cancer”) to be particularly powerful:

You hear a lot about “battling cancer” and “fighting cancer” and I understand what people mean, but that can be a lot of pressure on a patient.  A lot of the “fighting” and “battling” looks and feels like doing nothing.  It’s hard to reconcile all that brawling everyone’s talking about with laying down and sleeping and watching Downton Abbey reruns and reading blogs but that’s really what it is.  Sometimes the battle is really just the battle to sit down and let someone else do the dishes or pack the lunches.  Sometimes the battle is telling yourself to sit down and accept help graciously.

I had never thought about this before. Do we do cancer patients a disservice when we talk about their “battle” or their “fight”? If I were in her position, I think I’d feel just like Nella. It would be hard for me to accept that I needed help. It would be hard for me to agree to let others inconvenience themselves for my sake. I’d try to do too much; I’d try to live my “battle” even in the mundane responsibilities of my life. I’m glad that it’s finally sunk in for Nella that her role in this “battle” is to rest and let her medicine and her body do its important work. I hope that I’d have the strength to do the same.

Please join me in praying for Nella – and for everyone else who’s engaged in that terrible “battle” with cancer. Let’s ask for their comfort and strength. Let’s ask for their patience and their humility to accept the help and the rest they need to heal. Let’s ask for guidance for their caregivers. And let’s all try to give the best support we possibly can to our own loved ones with cancer.

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That’s enough for this Friday. Please stop on by Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes. Oh, and maybe wish us a little luck for the big two-year-old birthday party this weekend? The little guy is oddly averse to singing and the last couple of times he’s heard the “Happy Birthday” song, he’s completely flipped out. We’ll see how far we get into it on Sunday. It should be… interesting. Have a great weekend, everyone.