Monday, August 28, 2017

Caelum et terra

Whether you believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis or are the staunchest atheist, the story of our origin is the same.  We are made of stardust.

Religion was a mixed bag for me growing up.  The first church that I remember attending was a very small Assembly of God church housed in an old restaurant and I remember only goodness and peace there.  When I was a little older, we began to attend a United Methodist Church that was more intellectual, but also filled with light, love and plenty of "the good donuts".  I attended a non-denominational Christian school for Kindergarten through Twelfth grade that even then, always felt decidedly denominational.  At that time, the administration came from what I now understand to be a fairly far-right Evangelical church.  I don't remember any message other than the need for salvation ever being presented to us.  I brought all of these things home in the form of constant worry about eternal damnation, fear that I might die without having confessed the smallest of sins and a certainty that I would never be quite good enough.  My parents, always moderate, always level-headed, and far more laid-back than me,  tried in vain to assure me that I was just fine and I should probably chill out a little.

Time, life, a college education and the Catholic church have mellowed me.  My Catholic friends think it is just hilarious when I say that what I love about Catholicism is its laid-back approach to Christianity.  But compared to Evangelicalism, that is exactly what it is, a peaceful spirituality.  Over the last several months, I have watched people that I have known since childhood promote and support ideas about environmental policy and social justice that confound me.  At first, I found their viewpoints shocking and I wondered how they could have changed so much in the twenty years that have passed.   But, when I really think back to my Christian school days, when I really remember what we were taught, I find myself less surprised.

I remember, very distinctly, being taught that any sort of great love of the earth, the environment or nature was dabbling dangerously close to new-age thinking and opened the door to paganism.  It was OK to like flowers and trees and animals -but not too much. We weren't allowed to even think on fairies, gnomes, myth, mysticism or even angels.  I was the only kid in my class that was allowed to watch The Smurfs and I am sure that my classmates prayed for my soul.  

As an adult, I began to feel drawn to nature and almost felt a sense of guilt because of it, as if I was somehow thumbing my nose at my true Creator. Yet it never seemed quite right because I felt the fullness of God in the green cathedral of Mill Creek Park far more than I felt him in any brick and mortar church or school.  The wind, the grass and trees all gave a peace that passes all understanding.  Something that no condemnation-shouting evangelical pastor had ever accomplished and they had more 520 chances before I graduated.

I also remember being taught that globalism was evil.  That a new world order with muddied borders signaled the end times.  World-wide connectedness, global currency, and international agencies were just steps along the path to Armageddon.  I remember being confused by this.  If this earth was temporary and Heaven was the real goal, then who cares?  Why stand in the way of it?  Let it come.  I still think of that now when I see people staunchly defend America First policies as if they can somehow stave off the end times by isolating nations.  Why?  Isn't the apocalypse your end game anyway?

When I first read Wendell Berry's essays and Gene Stratton Porter's fiction, I remember being profoundly struck by the idea that one could love God and still love and treasure the earth.  But, in truth, early environmentalists were men and women of faith.  Farmers were men and women of faith. Scientists were men and women of faith.  Missionaries that crossed borders every day were men and women of faith.  Pre-Christian pagan ritual is literally a celebration of the connection between earth and spirit.  The Christian Bible is filled to overflowing with a celebration of God's creation.  

Psalm 96:11-12
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!  Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy...

So why were we taught something so very different?  Why did we learn that a love for nature was a threat to our soul?  Environmental awareness was growing as we were growing.  My husband and I were talking just the other day about the TV ad campaigns of our youth.  When we were growing up, someone still had to tell us not to throw our trash in a river, or off a boat, or out of a car window.  My children think it is astounding that we didn't just KNOW this!?!  

I also remember being taught that we were all God's children -sort of.  God made us.  God loves us.  But, he also really doesn't want us to mix together.  He doesn't want us to be led astray.  He doesn't want us to be in the world,  but apart from it.  We should stay away from those different from us, lest they lead us on a path of wickedness.  What was the real agenda there?

At the same time that we were growing up, American conservatism in its modern form was developing.  The leaders of the American evangelical church were decidedly conservative and definitely not on the side of the environmentalists and social crusaders.  Did they teach us these things because they believed them or did they teach us these things because it promoted their political agenda?  It's easy to strip mine a mountain or run a pipeline through a town if you teach your people that their knee-jerk environmental concerns are a sign that they have their earthly and heavenly priorities out of order.  It's easy to drop bombs on another country or deny aid to refugees, if you can convince your critics that these heathens would have separated you from God anyway. Regardless of their motives, most of these leaders turned out to disappointing at best and massive frauds at worst.

I know that many of my childhood friends feel the way that I do now.  I also know that many others grew up to believe everything we were taught and are now teaching their children likewise and voting accordingly.  I hope that if you are in the latter group, that you take the time to reflect on what you believe and why.  Don't be afraid to dig into our history.  I have.

I believe that scientific inquiry is a gift from God as is the wisdom of Solomon.  I believe in biological evolution.  I also believe that Christians, Jews, Muslims and every other person on the face of the earth is a beloved  child of God.  I have knelt in the chapel of Villa Marie and felt the light God radiate through my very pores.  Even if I never experience it again, the memory of the presence of God in that moment was so profound and so undeniable that it will sustain me throughout the rest of my life. There is room for science and God.  There is room for a love of humanity and a love of God.  Neither diminishes the other. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


This morning, a friend and I were discussing yesterday's conversation about transgender youth.  We talked about the fact that most of the commentary around this issue, at least in our area, centered around this question:  "Why should I (or my child) have to accommodate someone else if it makes me uncomfortable?"

It seems like that is the same question we ask generation after generation... Catholics and Protestants, Immigrants, Blacks, Women, Gays, Muslims, Transgender, Mentally Ill, Drug-Addicted, Poor... our country repeats itself over and over.  "Why should I have to accommodate YOU when I have been taught that you are less than?"  It also seems like the people who hold this sentiment the most seem to do so in the name of God.

WHY?  Jesus loved the outcast, the minority, the one percent.  He loved them most especially so in the face of the self-righteous.  He regularly broke religious laws of the time to make a point that legalistic religion was no match for God's love.  He didn't waste time trying to figure out "why" they were outcasts or if this was some sort of punishment from above.  He loved them where they were.  He had no problem correcting Old Testament teachings that were out of line with a new way of thinking.  Over and over he said some version of "It has been said that... BUT I SAY THIS...".  He was an outcast and crucified as such by people who were so certain that they were acting righteously.

That's the reason that Catholicism, for me, has been a good fit.  It is CERTAINLY not without its share of controversy.  But what it IS, is dirty, messy, boots on the ground Christianity to the disenfranchised.  I love the stories of nuns and priests choosing to boldly go where none would follow to minister to people living in unimaginable poverty and degradation.  That is a far cry from the evangelical teachings of my youth that we should guard our hearts above all else and keep away from a world bent on our destruction.  Jesus taught by example that we were here to do precisely that... love the outcasts, serve the poor.

One woman from yesterday's conversation said she felt like surely she must be living in... California?? Snort.  Another declared righteously that this was JUST like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.   I'd said she was dead right...

Ezekiel 16:49-50 (ESV)
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom:  she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did an abomination before me.  So I removed them, when I saw it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Ill-Equipped Defender of Transgender Youth

This afternoon was strange.  Very strange.  The kids were finishing up their school work and I was poking around on Facebook.  A posting in one of my Homeschool Groups popped up with the title, "Parents THIS is wrong, very wrong!" along with the admonition, "Parents PLEASE read."  It seemed like it must be something rather important to warrant this sort of attention.

AND... it was just another crappy, inflammatory, sort-of-factual, but wildly misleading article about the MDE's very low-key attempt to establish guidelines for gender identity in schools.

Most of the homeschool groups, at least around here, are pretty conservative.  There are MANY things I read that I disagree with wholeheartedly but just move along.  For some reason, today, I found that enough was enough.  I am SO TIRED of the fear-mongering, misinformation and hatred that these articles bring about.  Within just a few seconds of posting, the first comment regarding boys trying to get into the girls' locker room popped up.

Really?  Really?  We are STILL thinking that middle school and high school boys will choose to falsely identify themselves as transgender to gain access to the girl's locker room?  REALLY?

This was my response:

I feel like this is a religious and political issue. Not a homeschooling issue. Things like this in this group and others makes me sad. The term was changed to dysphoria in an attempt to describe it as something that was not, in fact, a disorder. Are you concerned that your own children will have the opportunity to express a different gender once they aren't around you? That's not how it works. Are you concerned that your children will be around children expressing the opposite gender? Can't you just teach them what you believe and then move along?

That was all I planned to say.  I don't usually say anything because I tell myself that you can't change someone's mind on Facebook.  But that's not really the truth.  If I'm being honest, I don't usually say anything because I don't want a confrontation.  I don't want to be the odd man out and I often know these people in real life.  But something has to change.  How long are we going to be so barbaric and cruel to those who suffer the most in our world?  I have EVERYTHING in life I could ever need or want.  I am equipped to defend the weak.  It is my duty to speak out against intolerance.  I have lots of friends so I can afford to lose some along the way.

I was prepared for stupidity.  There was, of course, the person who described herself as a tomboy who was just certain that today she would be forced to transition or, at the very least, be declared gay.  Oh the horror.  There were people who figured that boys would declare themselves transgender for the day in exchange for a free pass to the girl's locker room.

What I wasn't prepared for was the UTTER COLDNESS.  I went on to share what little knowledge I did have about suicide rates in transgender youth, what I felt was the MDE's intent behind the guidelines and the changes in the DSM V to remove the stigma and connotations of mental illness.  When I could see that I was getting nowhere with anyone, I said this:

Clearly, I am the odd man out here. I would just ask that you take the time to learn about people that may be very different from yourselves. Please don't let fear of the unknown guide you. These people will lead an unimaginably difficult life and any grace and support that you or your children can offer can literally mean the difference between life and death.

I felt that it seemed like a simple enough request, especially to a group of people who build their lives around the example of Christ.  This was the response I got in return from the article's author:

This is NOT about fear for either side. But a moral issue of what is right and wrong. We all lead difficult lives in one way or another. I had six kids. Most hotels would NOT accommodate us. We had to get two hotel rooms whenever wewent anywhere. That was expensive and very inconvenient. I do NOT demand that the hotel provide us a single room at the same cost simply because we chose to have a large family. Some deicsions have costs and consequences. When a boy/girl self identfies as the other based on feelings, we should not be forced to accomodate them.

Yeah, because being forced to pony up for a suite on vacation to accommodate your large family is EXACTLY the same kind of torment that transgender and transexual youth endure.

And that my friends, is what we fight against.  I know that so many of us can't even get our minds around all that is happening in our communities right now.  We question HOW ON EARTH could someone treat another person so poorly, look down on them so assuredly, speak and act with such utter cruelty.  In the Facebook post above I was THE ONLY PERSON who felt the way that I felt.  EVERY OTHER person in that group was on the other side of the argument.  It literally boggles my mind and yet there it is...  in a group of people who have come together for the sole purpose of supporting one another in an endeavor that is far outside of our society's norms and expectations, we can't figure out how to support other people outside of those same norms and expectations.

It breaks my heart.  It makes me angry.  It makes me sad for the people I have known and loved who died by their own hands because we wouldn't love them.  We wouldn't accept them.  We wouldn't let them use the fucking bathroom of their choice because we were so damn worried about our own small concerns.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Random thoughts on a Thursday

"Good artists are people who can stick things together so that they stay stuck.  They know how to gather things into formal arrangements that are intelligible, memorable, and lasting.  Good forms confer health upon the things that they gather together.  Farms, families, and communities are forms of art just as are poems, paintings, and symphonies.  None of these things would exist if we did not make them.  We can make them either well or poorly; this choice is another thing we make." 

-Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle

I never realized how lucky I was to grow up surrounded by people that intrinsically knew this.  My family, friends and community were  artists daily.  The people of Youngstown are still there creating a beautiful life that is perfectly tangible.  Every time we go home, I feel that community, that hope, that peace that comes from the familiar, that comes from what is known, that comes from a sense of place.  The people in Farmington are doing all those things, too.  I just can't feel it... yet.

If you know us at all in real life or read my blog, then you know that we have homeschooled our kids since my oldest was in preschool.  It became clear to us very early that traditional school was not a good fit for our family.  I didn't necessarily know the "why" of it at first, only that it felt very wrong for us.

We follow a "Classical" model of education at home.  It's based on the classical pattern of the trivium, a three-part process for training the mind.  You can read more about it here if you're interested.  We spend the first four years in the "grammar" stage, learning the building blocks for all subjects.  In fifth grade, we'll begin the "logic" stage where memorization and fact-finding is replaced by more analytical thinking.  Then, in ninth grade, we'll begin the "rhetoric" stage where we'll attempt to apply the logic practices from stage two to the information from stage one and form our own conclusions expressed through language.  Right now, we are just absorbing all the language that came before us:  fiction, histories, criticism, poetry.  That is what I see missing in public education.  I don't want my children reading some mediocre writer's interpretation of what someone great once said or did.  I want them to have access to the first hand account.  Classical education does that beautifully.

I am not an enemy of public school or compulsory schooling in general.  For most people it works fine.  I am, however, adamantly opposed to current education standards, or "the common core".  This is not because the math is "hard".  In fact, we use Singapore Math already.  It's not because I'm afraid that the government is recording my child's key strokes and filing them away in some vault, though I have no doubt they are, and they are already thinking that we spend way too much time watching Russians evaluate new kitchen gadgets on Youtube.  It's not because there is too much testing that tests nothing at all, even though there is... way too much.

My issue is with the great devaluing of all that is beautiful and mysterious in the world.  I can't understand how one size fits all is ever a good thing.  We are who we are because of our community.  Every community is different and has different needs.  Setting up schools as systems of production makes for poor schools and unhappy populations.  Teaching what is only necessary for one person's definition of "success" is a recipe for disaster.  I just finished reading a great book by Wendell Berry in which he states that, "We should banish from our speech and writing any use of the word 'machine' as an explanation or definition of anything that is not a machine. Our understanding of creatures and our use of them are not improved by calling them machines."  Public schools in Prussia and then the  U.S. were built on the idea that they were there to homogenize a population and produce workers.  And yet, even the public school of a hundred years ago would be appalled at what we feel is unimportant for students to learn today.

It makes me sad when I see people devaluing any way of looking at the world that isn't scientific.  My husband has listened to me go on and on many times about how much I dislike Bill Nye, the Science Guy... and I'm probably the only one who feels this way.  But to me, his snark at all things "less than science" that people have used to learn about their world from the beginning of time has spilled over into pop culture.  Anyone who looks at the world with a view that is anything other than scientific is fair game for ridicule.  Science isn't the only way to "know" something. The idea that learning about the world scientifically as an end game is a losing proposition.  

Nonfiction isn't the only way to learn about the world.  The lack of time and access that students, especially high school students, have to classical literature, poetry, music and art is a great failing in our time.  No matter what your child grows up to be,  portrait painter or house painter, they deserve access to the very best humanity has ever produced.  We shouldn't be the ones deciding what they need to know and what is irrelevant.  All the knowledge in the world without the ability to DO something with it, create something with it, or just think about it, is useless.

I am proud to think of all of my friends that are scientists and all that are artists.  The ones I look up to the most are both.  When it comes time to "save the world" that's who I'm putting my money on.  I don't think science will save us from global catastrophe.  I don't think our own ideas about religion will save us from cultural genocide.  I think the well-read, humble people with a vast knowledge of where they came from and who they came from, will be the ones to bring about lasting social change and environmental protection.  So I will take my kids to science museums and art museums, maker fairs and medieval faires, catholic churches and muslim mosques.    

And while I lack faith in our current school system, I put my trust in our community.  I have seen many homeschoolers toss around the phrase, "I've seen the village and I don't want it raising my children."  And I couldn't possibly disagree more with that sentiment.  I love the village.  The hope for my children lies in the village.  All of you:  the artists, the scientists, factory workers, police officers, accountants, stay-at-home moms and dad, engineers, painters, dancers, actors, grocery checkers, scout leaders, drag queens, historians and everyone else who will look my children in the eye, answer their questions, forgive their occasional impertinence and teach them that the world is immeasurably large and at the same time as tiny and intimate as they could imagine.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Puffy Tuesday


Yesterday, we celebrated Fat Tuesday with some Mardi Gras recipes and activities.  It's the only day of the year that we toss the word "fat" around so carelessly.  We usually go with "puffy", as in, I can't button my jeans today because I'm too puffy from the three Paczski and two slices of King Cake I ate yesterday.

We made these fun "Muffuletta Roll-Ups".  I also made some with just ham and cream cheese that were a bit more kid-friendly.  They were a big hit!

The girls and I colored Mardi Gras masks and pictures of bead necklaces.  Aidan couldn't be convinced to join in.  We found all kinds of great printables on Pinterest.  You can find my Mardi Gras page here.

For dinner, we had Red Beans & Rice and our Muffuletta Roll-Ups, along with some "Alligator Juice" that was just light-colored juice mixed with green food coloring.

For dessert, we had our annual King Cake from Sunflour Bakehaus.  They make awesome cakes and we get one every year!  The baby popped up in Annalise's slice so she's looking forward to a year of good luck!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Posts and Paczkis

My friends have been encouraging me to start blogging again.  In the past, it has taken me a lot of time to try to find something interesting to blog about, photograph nicely, and then write about in some entertaining way.  I have felt that if I couldn't do it frequently and perfectly, then I shouldn't bother.  BUT, I can't really do much of anything frequently and pretty-much NOTHING perfectly, and still I have missed blogging.  So, I'm going to give it a go, infrequently -with whatever happens to be going on... sometimes dull, poorly photographed and probably not all that well-written.  I'm sure you guys are going to REALLY enjoy it!  

We kicked off our Fat Tuesday with some Paczski(s?) early this morning before we got into our school work.  We didn't stand in line in Hamtramck for hours to get the authentic ones.  We just picked some up at the grocery store last night on the way home from church.  Everyone cranked through their work today so that we could make it to the bakery to pick up our King Cake before they closed.  I spent the afternoon working on some Fat Tuesday recipes while the kids played in the snow.  You should check back tomorrow for some recipes, activity ideas, and pics of kids that didn't get "the baby" crying and pouting.  I mean, unless I have quit blogging by then...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rollin' in Dough

I know you probably all thought that we must be starving over here since the "What We're Eating" posts disappeared for a while.  What can I say?  We got a dog, I became a Mary Kay lady and we've had colds, croups and ear infections aplenty.

But... I'm going to try to get back on track updating everyone with all of our comings, goings and eatings.

This week, I thought I would share my favorite Pizza Dough Recipe.  It comes from one of my fav cookbooks, Jamie at Home.  I have been making it since Aidan was a baby (along with several other recipes) and it is my absolute favorite.  It's easy.  It doesn't require anything too weird and it always turns out great.  It also makes a big batch so I can freeze few dough balls for another pizza night?

Just so you know:  I ALWAYS use the mix of high-gluten bread flour and semolina they mention.  But, feel free to throw caution to the wind and go with bread flour all the way!