The ‘Right to be Comfortable’: Sloping Toward a Stepford Society

Lately I keep coming across stories asking whether we plugged-in, 21st-century folks can handle boredom anymore. Now that we have the internet at our fingertips 24/7, what incentive do we have to stare into space while we sit in a waiting room? What might we be losing as we fill up every spare moment of our day with ever more information, communication, and entertainment?

It’s a good question. And for someone who is as guilty of this fill ‘er up mentality as I am, it’s worth thinking on.

But the question I’ve really been thinking about lately is this: Can we plugged-in, 21st-century folks handle discomfort anymore? Can we handle being annoyed or offended? Now that we’re able to customize our shopping orders, our viewing line-up, and our social interactions with just a few taps of the screen, what incentive do we have to allow ourselves to be exposed to ideas that make us uncomfortable?

What might we be losing as we trim away the things that annoy or offend us?

What might we be losing as we increasingly shape the world we’re presented with to fit our opinion of how it should be?


Thoughts on this topic have crossed my mind for some time, but they really gelled this past fall when I read Brendan O’Neill’s “Free speech is so last century. Today’s students want the ‘right to be comfortable’” in the UK’s The Spectator.

In the article, Mr. O’Neill describes an experience he’d recently had:

On Tuesday, I was supposed to take part in a debate about abortion at Christ Church, Oxford. I was invited by the Oxford Students for Life to put the pro-choice argument against the journalist Timothy Stanley, who is pro-life. But apparently it is forbidden for men to talk about abortion. A mob of furious feministic Oxford students, all robotically uttering the same stuff about feeling offended, set up a Facebook page littered with expletives and demands for the debate to be called off.

Believe it or not, the University actually capitulated to the protestors’ demands. As Mr. O’Neill characterized the decision:

So at one of the highest seats of learning on Earth, the democratic principle of free and open debate, of allowing differing opinions to slog it out in full view of discerning citizens, has been violated, and students have been rebranded as fragile creatures, overgrown children who need to be guarded against any idea that might prick their souls or challenge their prejudices.

On the abortion debate and on other issues, “Stepford Students,” as Mr. O’Neill calls them, have said it outright: “We have the right to feel comfortable.”

He observes:

We seem to have nurtured a new generation that believes its self-esteem is more important than everyone else’s liberty.

This is what those censorious Cambridgers meant when they kept saying they have the ‘right to be comfortable’. They weren’t talking about the freedom to lay down on a chaise longue — they meant the right never to be challenged by disturbing ideas or mind-battered by offensiveness.

You might think that in bringing up this topic, I mean to swing back to Charlie Hebdo. I don’t.

(I am indeed of the liberal – little ‘l’ – opinion that the right to free speech should be almost absolute. But in the wake of that horrible attack, I never could bring myself to proclaim, “Je suis Charlie.” I couldn’t express solidarity with a publication that routinely set out to offend. I think such a course only cheapens the notion of free speech. Offense should never be an end in itself; it should be a by-product, an unfortunate side-effect of messy, imperfect searches for the truth.)

No, I mean to swing back to vaccines.

In the few weeks since the measles began its march outward from Disneyland, the issue has surged in prominence. We’re hearing about it in the news (over 100 people have come down with the disease so far) and on social media; we’re talking about it at schools and extracurricular activities and doctors’ offices. The debate has roared back into life, tempers have flared, and feelings have been hurt.

And so we’re beginning to hear protestations akin to those of the ‘Stepford Students”: “Stop it with all the vaccine talk!” “I’ll block anyone who posts about vaccines!” “No one should be making anybody feel badly about their parenting choices!” It all boils down to the same thing: We have the right to feel comfortable.

Of course we don’t. There are as many definitions of what is comfortable as there are people on this planet. One simply can’t cater to them all. One can’t even cater to a small fraction of them without severely limiting the subjects on which it is acceptable to opine.

And anyway, freedom is more important than comfort.

On the flip side of the issue, we also don’t have the right to have our views represented in anybody else’s Facebook feed. So I’m not about to bleat that the discomfort-averse are infringing on others’ rights to free speech.

But I do (very firmly) believe that it is in the best interest of society to nurture a spirit of free and open debate. And I am made nervous by what I see as people’s increasing willingness to cut it off.

Because guess what? You and I and the people we interact with – we’re what make up society. When you and I begin to stop people from expressing ideas that we don’t like (or stop ourselves from seeing evidence that such ideas exist) – that’s when we step onto a slope that descends into a society that is not free, that does not think. That’s when we move towards becoming a ‘Stepford Society’, if you will.

So I say post about vaccines all you want. Maintain that everyone should have their children vaccinated. Protest that vaccines are unhealthy or immoral.

Talk about politics. Talk about religion. Talk about abortion and climate change and gay marriage. Support the ideas you agree with. Argue against those you disagree with. Or don’t.

Just don’t insist that no one offer those ideas in the first place.

Yes, I Worry About Religious Freedom

This past Sunday at mass, our priest told the story of a conversation he once had with a taxi driver. The man had noticed Father’s clothing and collar. “You’re a priest. I am a believer too.” Father expressed his approval and the man went on, “My faith is very dear to me, for it was handed down by blood.”

The man continued, “When my child tells me he doesn’t want to go to church, I tell him he will go, for his faith was won for him through the blood of his grandparents and great-grandparents. They paid with their lives, and here is my child in a place where he is free to worship. So he will go.”

Father went on to recount recent stories of Christians attacked, murdered – hacked to death, even – on account of their faith. Iraq, Pakistan, India, Nigeria – the examples go on and on. Yet, as Father noted, our eyes are dry. We look away. We do not mourn.

We should be feeling such atrocities acutely. Both for the sake of the people involved and because such crimes strike at the heart of what it means to be a free, thinking, feeling human. Our right to live in accord with our faith is as, if not more, fundamental to our freedom as our right to free speech. When I am able to speak freely, my mind is free. When I am able to worship freely, my heart and soul are free too.

When you look at the totality of the world’s population, true religious freedom is almost an anomaly. Billions of people live in countries where one is legally required to adhere to a certain faith, or permitted to belong only to select, approved sects, or, though legally free to worship as one chooses, restricted in practice by violence or intimidation.

Millions more live in Western societies that are increasingly, insidiously, hostile to religious practice. They look down on religious speech in public forums or prohibit religious garb in public spaces or compel religious people to act in conflict with their faith-informed ethical principles. They give notice that faith is only appropriate within the four walls of a church. And they maintain that a particular set of public values is somehow more valid and important than the individual’s right to determine his own way, in accord with his own mind, heart, and soul.

I’m no Chicken Little. I don’t think the United States is a modern-day Roman Empire teetering on the brink of collapse. I don’t think our government is two steps away from nailing “CONDEMNED” signs to all the church doors and requiring citizens to profess adherence to modern, secular liberalism.

But I do think we should be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge that this thing can be messed up. This accident, this anomaly in human history – this brief period and narrow place in which we have been free to think and speak and pray and do as we like, without fear of legal or violent reprisal – this can, and probably will, pass away.

If our society can entertain the notion that climate change will eventually cause oceans to rise and landscapes to be altered, it should also consider the possibility that creeping infringements on our rights will eventually cause us to lose them altogether.

Because yes, that’s what we’re experiencing: creeping infringements on our rights. (Our real, most fundamental rights, that is – not our popularly-claimed, pseudo-rights to free contraception and abortion.) And yes, that’s what HHS did when it told Hobby Lobby’s owners that, despite their deeply-held and religiously-founded belief that human life is precious and worthy of protection, even from the moment of conception, they must pay for their employees to receive forms of “contraception” that can end real, precious, human lives – in the humble form of embryos – almost (not before) they have begun.

(Please note that Hobby Lobby already provides coverage for most types of contraceptives. Its owners have objected to four particular “contraceptive” methods because they can act not as true contraceptives – that is, by preventing conception – but rather as abortifacients, preventing an embryo from implanting in its mother’s uterus and thereby killing it.)

Many Americans seem to think that religious freedom is an issue for the history books. You’re given a blank stare if you express your concern for religious freedom abroad and you’re viewed as an alarmist or a zealot if you’re concerned that it’s under threat at home.

Nobody’s bombing churches here, right? The government doesn’t support a Church of America with our tax dollars and require all citizens to be its adherents, does it? So what is there to worry about?

I worry that we take too much for granted. That we vaguely recall a story about pilgrims… something, something… Church of England… something, something… and we think that concerns about religious freedom belong to another time.

I worry when so many of my friends and fellow Americans hear that the government aims to force people to do things that violate their deeply held religious beliefs and they… don’t care. Or worse, they fly to the defense of the government and demonize those targeted by it because the things that are to be done involve those most sacred of secular cows, contraception and abortion.

The fact is, there are slippery slopes all over the place. It’s quite fashionable to be concerned about government overreach insofar as it applies to email and phone records. But what about government overreach concerning what we believe and how our everyday lives reflect those beliefs?

I worry that we might not realize we’re on a slope until we’ve already slipped.


“Reason recognizes that religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity, that of seeking the truth and adhering to it, and recognizing it as an indispensable condition for realizing all his potential. Religious freedom is not simply freedom of thought or private worship. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly, consequent to the truth one has found.” (Pope Francis, June 20, 2014)

The Religious Climate In My Here And Now

I was happy to see that Jen of Conversion Diary was revisiting her “religious climate” questions again this year. I always find the variety of answers she gets to be fascinating. (I’ve just realized that I always italicize the word “fascinating.” It doesn’t seem to work for me any other way.)

I’m not sure how fascinating my answers will be to anyone, as I live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. just like the majority of Jen’s readers, but I thought I’d tackle them nonetheless. Because I really like pondering questions of how religion and society interact.

First, let me (1) characterize my own little corner of the world, and (2) emphasize that this characterization, and all of the answers below, simply reflect my sense of my corner. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of my neighbors or relatives reacted to it with, “Where the heck are you? It’s not like that where I live!”

Just like so much of the United States, my State is distinctly divided along cultural/political lines. We have some very liberal areas and some very conservative areas. We have urban areas and rural ones. We have great wealth and real poverty. We have wealthy/intellectual liberal, urban/poor liberal, rural/suburban conservative. And the factions don’t always mix very well.

Too often, they quite purposefully don’t mix at all. Or if they mix in one sphere (say, the workplace), they feel like they have to keep their political/cultural/religious sides to themselves. It’s quite possible for the conversation in #3, below, to be very comfortable and friendly in one setting and extremely uncomfortable – maybe even laughable – in another. Same place; different mix of people; very different outcomes.



In the greater Washington, D.C. area.


There are lots of churches. Catholic churches in suburban areas seem to be full. Most of the parishes I’ve attended have been standing-room only for the main Sunday mass(es), less full at Saturday and early-Sunday-morning masses. They’ve had anywhere from 3 to 12 masses per weekend and their sanctuaries have probably averaged 500 seats. That adds up to lots of people.

That said, Christmas and Easter masses seem to draw at least three times as many attendees as “regular” Sundays. They necessitate additions to the mass schedule and/or the addition of an improvised worship space (i.e. a school gym). Which tells me that if all the Catholics in my area actually attended mass on a weekly basis, we’d need to get very busy building churches.

In short, Catholic churches seem full, but for every active Catholic, there must be several more who rarely or never attend mass.

Mainline Protestant churches seem smaller and (from my limited experience) emptier. Evangelical churches seem to have bigger, fuller parking lots, so I’d guess they do better in the attendance department. We also have some (not lots) of “mega-churches,” of which I know little.

We also have a fair number of houses of worship for people of faiths other than Christianity. Our region has so many people from other parts of the world, we’ve got members of just about any faith you can imagine.


Per the above, it depends. It would probably always be minimally acceptable. In some parts it would be accepted and encouraged; in others it would seem strange or even inappropriate.


We have politicians of different faiths. Most would claim some faith; few would claim none. But even those who claim a faith in common with their constituents would be unlikely to talk about it too widely.


Two to three children is considered normal; four is still mostly “acceptable.” Any number over that – or even three/four if they’re spaced closely together – is usually viewed as strange.


My sense is that 50 years ago my area was more culturally and religiously conservative, if not politically. People were likely more church-going than they are now. There were far fewer religious minorities, but there was still a good mix of Catholic and Protestant Christians.

But that “mix” would have been in the broad sense. I’m under the impression that people of different faiths are much more comfortable with each other now than they used to be. I think the Catholic and Protestant communities were much more distinct and divided 50 years ago. My (Catholic) grandmother still vividly remembers a terrible experience from her childhood, when her (public) elementary school teacher in a predominantly Protestant rural area went on an anti-Catholic rant in class.

Per my answer in #2, there is much religious diversity. Still, Catholic and Protestant Christianity predominate.


Given the current political stalemate in Washington and how dependent our local economy is on the government (many friends are furloughed right now), people don’t seem too happy at the moment. More broadly, I still sense a general unhappiness/sadness/frustration. Even if one’s own family has survived the economic (and political) crises just fine, they’re likely to have friends or family who haven’t.

Thanks for the great questions, Jen! I look forward to seeing what everyone’s got to say!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 4)

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— 1 —

This has been one of those weeks when I feel like I’m behind on every front: My house is a mess; piles of (possibly damp and smelly) dirty laundry and baskets of unfolded, clean (yet probably still smelly) laundry seem to be taunting me; a rotating collection of dirty dishes has been occupying my kitchen counters; I owe a long list of emails and phone calls; I’ve been getting to bed too late and my boys have been waking up during the night (usually with their sheets soaked – seven crib sheets in three days!); and my list of interesting-looking articles to read has been growing and growing…

I guess I feel like I should be caught up on something. Like, if I’m going to neglect my house, at least my mind should be stimulated with interesting reads. Or if I’m not responding to people’s emails, it should be because I was busy eliminating the mountains of laundry and dishes.

— 2 —

Also, someone has vomited every day this week. As anybody who is friends with me on Facebook knows, my boys are prolific vomiters. Some parents deal with children who won’t sleep through the night, or are picky eaters, or throw major tantrums. Ours vomit. All the time. And it’s not because they’re sick – we’ve never been so unfortunate as to have a stomach virus visit us. (I say with trepidation, because you know that once I say it, we’ll get one.) The boys are gaggers. We have to go to ridiculous lengths to feed them food in such a way that they won’t gag and vomit. And when we get a respiratory bug with phlegm and coughing: Watch Out.

Anyway, last week I made the stupid mistake of saying to my husband, “Can you believe that we’ve gone almost a month without anybody throwing up? Maybe the boys have finally outgrown it! And even if they’ve haven’t entirely, at least #2 knows to lean over the side of his booster seat so he doesn’t get it on his clothes anymore and #1 runs to get a bowl to catch it! Win, win! I barely even have a mess to clean up anymore!”

Yeah. So on Sunday, the little one throws up on his Grandpa. (Sorry, Dad!) On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, he throws up all over himself. On Wednesday, the big one gets carsick and throws up all over himself and his car seat. Once again, I have a load of vomity clothes to deal with. And a car seat to clean.

— 3 —

But. Yesterday when I came up the driveway, I saw this:


Isn’t it lovely? And have you ever seen a hydrangea with both blue and pink blooms? When I saw the bush after a long day out with the boys, I had kind of a funny response:

Wow, that’s beautiful. I love hydrangeas. I should cut some to put in vases around the house. That little white pitcher would look really nice filled with hydrangeas and placed on the kitchen mantle. But it’s covered with junk right now. What’s the use of going through the effort of cutting and arranging flowers when the house is so messy? I should clean. Really clean. I should do a big push and get the house in great shape and put hydrangeas everywhere.

Makes sense, right? That a five-second glance at a flowering shrub would turn into enthusiasm for cleaning my house? Whatever; I don’t care where the enthusiasm came from. After a week of vomit and no sleep and peed-on sheets, I’ll take whatever enthusiasm I can get. So let’s see what I can do today: Dishes and laundry and junk, here I come! Hydrangeas, don’t fail me!

— 4 —

I have to admit that part of the reason (besides the rough recovery from a full weekend and the boys not sleeping and the vomiting) that I’ve been in a funk this week (and btw, Grace Patton had a good post this week on being in a funk) is that I spent a couple of nights staying up waaay too late writing blog posts.

I am someone who is very easily distracted; I can’t concentrate well when there’s commotion around me. (Rachel Balducci had a good post this week about needing quiet in order to write.) So starting a blog with two toddler boys in the house was a great idea, wasn’t it? With my days full of monster roars and “pwetend kitty-cats” mewing at my feet and boys who like to act, alternately, like rock stars or members of a marching band, the quiet of a late-night, everybody-is-asleep-but-me house is oh so enticing. Enter one, two, or ahem three o’clock bedtimes. With 3:30 wake-up calls from a soaking wet 20-month-old. Yes, sometimes I am brilliant.

I’m nearly a month into the blog now and I’m trying to figure out how best to fit it into my life. Right now I feel like I’m in the trying-it-on phase. I’m hoping (hoping!) that once I’ve done it for a little while and examined its impact on the rest of my life, I can find the right balance of writing time to housework time to time with the boys. In the past year or so, I’ve done a pretty decent job of establishing some general guidelines for running my home and schedule to minimize my stress. Soon I’ll need to recalculate them to account for the blog.

— 5 —

In particular, I want to make space in my schedule to take on some meaty subjects. I was decently well-pleased with how these longer, more serious posts on my background, immigration, and parental love turned out. And I’ve done a few shorter ones that fall into the same mold. But I feel like most of what I’ve been writing so far has been light and focused on my home life. And though there’s nothing wrong with that (and I very much enjoy reading such things from other bloggers!), I’d like to keep a steady pace of at least one or two more meaty posts a week.

Like I said when I started the blog, I want this space to become a comfortable place for readers to dialog on some societal/religious/political issues. I don’t have in mind a certain number of visitors I want to attract; I only hope it’s enough to generate some good discussion in the comments section. So, (hint, hint!) speak up if you have something to say! For my part, I’ll try to keep up that steady pace.

Here are a few topics I’m thinking about right now, and on which I plan to write once I’ve read up on some of those interesting articles I mentioned in #1: The worth of the individual, religious freedom, Pope Francis and the liberal/conservative split, and global poverty. I hope you’ll come back to weigh in!

— 6 —

I spent a long time Wednesday night cooking a very complicated meal for my husband. On the one hand, doing so made me feel like a very good wife, because it took FOUR hours and like a million steps and it involved a couple of his favorite dishes: Spaghetti Bolognese (as in the real deal, with carrots and mushrooms, veal/pork/beef, wine, etc.) and a dark chocolate tart with a gingersnap crust (which, to be honest, sounds fancy and tastes divine, but isn’t all that hard to make).

Father's Day Dinner, 2013But on the other hand, Wednesday night made me feel like a bad wife, because (1) dinner wasn’t ready until 10pm, which (2) meant that the boys got their standard hot dogs instead of partaking in the deliciousness, (3) the whole reason we had a fancy dinner on Wednesday was to celebrate a belated Father’s Day because I wasn’t prepared on Sunday. (I’m blaming that one on our family reunion and the celebration of our son’s birthday, both this past weekend.) And (4) one of our gifts for my husband was the oh-so-thoughtful catalog in a gift bag, so he could pick out which item he wanted. (Though I was thoughtful about which catalog it was: The Great Courses, because we’re the kind of nerds who like to listen to recordings of university lectures.)

J Coloring Card

Working on a Father’s Day card for his grandpa — also belated.

— 7 —

I’ll sweeten the end of this mildly negative Quick Takes by leaving you with some of the cute/funny/stinkerish/sweet things our big 3-year-old boy said this week:

“I’m havin’ a bad, wough day!”

After being put into time-out for yelling a nasty “No, Mommy!” at me:
“I sorry for sayin’ a bad no to you, Mommy.”

“Dere’s a bug in my back! Es eatin’ me!”
(There actually was a bug under the back of his shirt; it was not eating him.)

“Yiyons and mans and bears, oh my!”

Lunging and dancing while singing into his new toy microphone:
“I yike a wock sar!”

Pointing out the sunset:
“Yook! A boo-ful sy!”

Just after I walked away from him and his little brother, who was pretending to be a cat. I’d heard the little one scream and marched back into the room, asking big brother what he’d done.
Him: “I hit da cat.”
Me: “Do you mean you hit your brother?”
Him: “No. I hit da cat.”
Me: “Did you hit the cat that is your brother?”
Him: “Yes.”

After I gave a quick kiss to his injured thumb:
“No, not a pwetend kiss! I want a weal kiss yike diss.”
(He demonstrates.)

“I’m a man washin’ my hands.”

Him: “Mommy! Da table is waffin’ at me!”
Me: “The table is laughing at you? Why?”
Him: “Because, es funny! I bedder take a nap.”
(He lays his head down on the table.)

Dark Chocolate Tart

“Dis is a tart.”

At the playground as I was pushing him on the swings:
“You’re good. You’re a nice mommy. Sank you pushing me SO fast.”

Now be sure to go vist Jen and all the rest of the Quick Take’ers!

Full Disclosure

As I plan to write about some political and religious issues on this blog, I thought it would be useful to provide a little background on the evolution of my outlook in these areas. (I have all these country songs running through my head as I write this: “Where I Come From,” “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” etc.)

I thought this little ‘disclosure of my biases,’ as I think of it, would be useful for a few reasons: (1) Political and religious subjects can be pretty touchy. (No surprise there.) (2) Our opinions on them usually have a strong basis in our own life experiences. (3) I aim to be as fair, open, and even-handed on this blog as I can be. And (4) I personally prefer news and commentary sources that either (a) represent both sides of an issue equally well or (b) openly disclose their opinions and make no pretense of impartiality. So I kind of thought I’d cover all my bases.

But before I go any further, let me say that this post makes me nervous and I had a hard time writing it. (Which is part of the reason I wrote so few posts this past week. I was trying to take this one in a different direction and it stumped me.) The words below represent my past and my thought processes and my faith, family, and friends, and it’s all very personal. It’s also probably a big ol’ case of TMI. But I felt like I needed to get all this out there before I proceed with a bunch of other posts I have lined up in my head.


I was raised Catholic in that I regularly attended mass with my mother and I was provided with a religious education through our parish. But my father is not Catholic and there was little mention of faith in our (very happy) home. These days when I read blogs that mention a devotion to this saint, or a fondness for that novena, or a special attachment to such-and-such prayer, or a thousand little ways to live out the liturgical seasons, I feel kind of lost. Like I don’t fully fit into a community that should be my own. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I love Christ, I am devoted to His Church, and faithful to its teachings. But no, I’m not familiar with all the trappings of my Faith.

While there wasn’t much discussion of religion in my family, there was a lot about politics. My grandfather was a local elected official, so I was exposed to campaigns and political chatter from a young age. Various family members worked on Granddad’s campaigns and we all helped on Election Day (which was just about my favorite day of the year when I was a child). My family was (and remains) very Republican in a very Democratic state, so I was instilled with a strong attachment to conservative ideals, but no illusion that these ideals were universal. (Rather, I understood that they were uncommon and needed to be defended.)

In my (public) high school I had a great group of smart, articulate, and religiously/politically diverse friends. And we liked a good debate. As the sole practicing Catholic and one of the only conservatives, I became the defender of all things Catholic and some things conservative. Just as my family’s experience as members of a minority party had prodded my attachment to conservatism, so my lunch-table debate experience bonded me to my Faith. Not that I understood it very well: eight years of Sunday school and one year of confirmation class do not a well-informed Catholic make. But my own little role as Defender of the Faith prompted me to research, ask questions, contemplate, and pray.

This all set the stage nicely for my next step: a political science major at a Catholic college. More lunch table discussions, this time with classmates and seminarians who had been raised in devoutly Catholic families, gave me glimpses of the depth and beauty awaiting me in the Church. Philosophy and theology classes helped me to better understand it. And my political science courses, not to mention informal discussions with friends and professors, gave me an appreciation for the broader context in which we live out our religious ideals. I had always been interested in the convergence of differing ideas; in college I became particularly interested in the convergence of politics and religion.

I wrote my senior thesis on “The American Catholic and the Two Political Parties,” which explored the poor fit between the Church’s teachings on matters of public policy and the ideological break-out of today’s American political parties. I also completed an internship with a Catholic organization that advocated on behalf of the Church’s public policy interests. Several years later, after a stint with the federal government, I returned to the organization to work as a lobbyist for the Church.

There, I was tasked with representing the Church’s positions on social justice matters, which included a wide range of issues related to poverty, housing, health care, and immigration. (Along with a few others.) Most of the positions were what Americans would call “liberal.” Which was a real challenge for me. Coming from a conservative background, I was comfortable with the Church’s teachings on abortion and marriage. I was comfortable promoting school choice. But the Church’s social justice teachings made me uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong; it’s just that they challenged the political ideals under which I was raised and so they caused discomfort.

Oh, what a learning and growing experience it was for me. I read and I talked to people and I prayed.  I began to gain something of an understanding of people who faced challenges that I never had – people who struggled to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, people who came to this country seeking a better life, people whose poor health or poor treatment by others or whose own poor decisions had stymied their chances of making it on their own – and even people who struggled to be able to function in society at all. I was changed and I was humbled.

I was grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these people’s concerns – and also for what I felt was an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ through this work of His Church. I feel like a cheesy ball of mush writing this, but I had so many moving experiences doing this work: I huddled in a group of elderly immigrant women and tried to convey to them (through our language barrier) that their Church was there for them. I spoke to crowds at parishes and pleaded with them to connect their own preferred cause for the “least of these” with another that was more challenging for them. I testified before lawmakers and told them, time and again, that all human life has value, regardless of its age or station.

Perhaps I have digressed. What I’m trying to explain is that, yes, I come from a particular place on the political spectrum. I get the conservative thing. But I have also been emerged in an unfamiliar (liberal) political territory, and I got to know it too. I feel richer for the experience.

When I was a lobbyist, I found that I could lobby more effectively when I put myself in the shoes of my opponents – imagining and even empathizing with their motivations. I think the same holds true when you’re discussing a difficult subject. All too often these days, people seem to regard consideration of and empathy with “the other side” as a sign of weakness, even foolishness. But it is such an asset. Sure, it helps you to build a solid case for your own cause. But more importantly, it helps you to explore your own opinions and motivations and be sure that you’re on the right course.

When you get together a group of people who all bring this kind of consideration to their conversation – well, that kind of discussion moves everyone forward in understanding. That is what I feel my background has prepared me for and that is what I hope to encourage with this blog.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 2)

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— 1 —

When I started this blog (a whole 12 days ago) to take the place of some fantasy of time-spent-in-a-bar-or-coffee-shop-talking-about-interesting-things, I knew that it was going to be challenging to find time to write. (Not as challenging as all that fantasy time away from the house, mind you.)

But, c’mon.

I think I did pretty darned well that first week (six posts!), but this week has been pathetic. And what’s really getting to me is that I haven’t even been overly busy. It would be one thing if I could chalk up my lack of writing opportunities to a bunch of outings or something. But I’ve (mostly) been home! Doing dishes and other boring stuff! It’s just that every time I sit down to write, somebody climbs up into my lap, or has to go pee-pee, or pelts me with questions, or hauls in his toys to play right next to me. Because I am never, ever so interesting as when I am looking at a computer.

(Yes, yes I know that it’s wonderful that they want to be near me, and little children need their mommies, and these years go so fast, and blah, blah, blah… But mommies need breaks, too. This one needs just a little bit of quiet every day, to think and refresh, and feel like I’ve done something productive that won’t be destroyed in the next few hours.)

— 2 —

On a more hopeful note, see this little set-up here? Water table, boys wearing nothing but t-shirts and diapers, BABY GATE to keep said boys out of the fish pond in the background… This is my Hope For The Summer. Really, I’m depending on it way more than I should be. My plan is to stick the boys in here (frequently) and enjoy all sorts of little luxuries while they’re occupied with the water fun: planning interesting new meals, cooking without someone sitting on my feet, folding laundry on the same day it’s washed, gardening, walking some laps around the house, blogging… It’s going to be wonderful. Right? RIGHT?!?

Boy at water table

— 3 —

Sorry if I’m sounding a tad desperate here. It’s just that (as indicated in #1), we’ve had one of those weeks. On Wednesday things were so rough that half-way through I gathered my boys into my lap, wrapped my arms around them, and said, “Let’s make this a better day, boys.” And my (big) little stinker answered that no, he wanted to make the day worse. As in, “Da worst day ever!”

And then he proceeded to give it a good shot. So when my husband came home that evening (blissfully, at an actually very decent hour), I told him I needed to get out of the house for a while. And I did something I hadn’t done in over a year: I went for a walk by myself. I won’t deny that I was inspired, in part, by this post from the marvelous Simcha Fisher.

Field at Evening

Beautiful view, isn’t it? This was the beginning of my walk. I love when I catch the evening light at just the right moment, when the fields and woods have a golden quality to them. And I particularly love it at this time of year, when the temperature is comfortable and the air smells like honeysuckle.

I love most things about a walk, really, it’s just that I almost never make time for them anymore. One summer when I was in college, I took an hour-long walk every evening when I got home from work. That one, simple activity helped me lose 20 pounds and get into the best shape of my life. It also helped to clear my mind and feed my soul. (I did a lot of praying while I walked.) I could use more than a little of all those things in my life right now. Weight loss? More strength? Better health? Clearer mind? Fruitful prayer? Yes, please!

But how am I supposed to fit this into my schedule of morning-to-night childcare responsibilities? My hubby usually doesn’t get home from work until dusk. And the double stroller thing is hard to do when you live in a place with super narrow sidewalks and some seriously steep, hilly streets. Can someone please send me a sweet neighbor girl to babysit a few times a week?

— 4 —

We seem to be in a season of entertaining and weddings. Last night we hosted a small dinner party (so I guess my assessment of our busy-ness this week was a tad understated in #1), two weeks ago we hosted a larger one, a week from now we’ll host the after-party for our weekend-long family reunion, and a couple of weeks after that we’ll host a teenage friend/distant relative from Germany for a few weeks. (More on that one later.) Last weekend we had my aunt’s wedding and two weeks from now we have my uncle’s. Oh, and we also have our little guy’s THIRD birthday party in the mix for June and a family trip to Minnesota in July. I’m not complaining. I enjoy being with people and I love that my husband and I are creating a hospitable home. All the activity delights me at the same time as it makes my head spin.

— 5 —

I would love to get to the point in my time-management skills (I actually have been improving in this area) where I have a few moments before guests arrive to take pictures of the set-up. I love beautiful dishes and linens and I usually make time to display everything nicely. But inevitably, I’m still preparing food (or, ahem, getting myself ready) as guests arrived. Someday I’ll get there.

— 6 —

Speaking of getting ready, lately I’ve been listening to a lovely radio show while I get ready for mass on Sunday mornings. It’s On Being, which, as its website describes, is envisioned as “a program that would draw out the intellectual and spiritual content of religion that should nourish our common life, but that is often obscured precisely when religion enters the news.”

[W]hat we cover as “conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas” drives towards ancient, animating questions at the heart of the great traditions and beyond them: What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to love? How to be of service to each other and to the world? We explore these questions in all the variety, richness, and complexity with which they find expression in contemporary lives. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.

It’s really a beautiful program. I don’t always agree with their interview subjects, but that’s kind of the point of exposing oneself to new ideas, isn’t it? Learning about someone else’s perspective, taking to heart the parts that you recognize as truth, and using the rest to exercise, if you will, your own thought process on the subject.

The tone of the program, if not always the subject matter, reminds me of a Washington Post series of the same name. (Here’s a link, but there doesn’t seem to be any content on the site right now.) It was a series of short videos of individuals who talked about their lives and explored being… whoever they were. I recall a video of a stay-at-home dad and his baby boy, a mother and her son with Down’s Syndrome, a young nun, and oh, lots and lots more. After the interview you’d find out what quality the individuals were representing: On being joyful, On being special, etc. I loved almost every single segment I saw. They were powerful, moving, thought-provoking – all sorts of good things. I wish they were still up so you could see them too!

— 7 —

To close, let me bring it back to the domestic realities that dominated this post with the following beautiful shot:

Messy kitchen

Yes, the post-dinner party dishes. You know what I’ll be doing today! Oh, and I forgot to put the wine away last night. Sigh… While I’m dealing with all that (not to mention the two toddlers who woke up THREE to FOUR hours earlier than usual!), you go check out the other Quick Takes over at Jen’s. I promise you it will be waaaay more fun than what I’ve got going on.