With God Under the Bed: Darwin’s immediate book meme

Speaking of books, let’s do this thing about what we’re reading! (I can’t remember why I wrote “speaking of books,” but apparently I was when I started writing this. Well, there are worse things to speak of.)

1. What book are you reading right now?

Meh. I’m in the middle of a bunch of books and not happy about any of them. 

Whisper My Name by Ernest Hebert

is a sequel to a book I loved, The Dogs of March. The series takes place in Darby, a fictional version of the exact spot in NH where I live, and boy does he understand what it’s like here. Dogs of Winter was like Faulkner meets Hemingway. Whisper My Name is veering a little bit into Walker Percy-style “man meets troubled girl, and va va voom” territory and it’s making me itchy, but I guess I’ll keep going. 

Also re-reading Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, about terrible people in Academia,

which is making me laugh out loud but feel bad about it. I just finished scene where he makes several choices about how to deal with the fact that he set his boss’ wife’s guest bed on fire and it just about murdered me. The protagonist has a habit of swiftly and privately making grotesque faces that express how he feels about people he encounters, and that reminds me, it may be okay that we’re supposed to start wearing masks again. 

Also re-reading Morgan’s Passing by Anne Tyler.

If you haven’t read an Anne Tyler novel (and there are about 700 of them), I would recommend Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant, where I think she was at her full powers — the least prone to precious quirky self-indulgence, and the most fearless and tender toward people doing dreadful things for understandable reasons. (Homesick Restaurant has scenes of child abuse.) Morgan’s Passing is pretty good, but I think she’s a little too patient with Morgan and his midlife problems. I just want to kick his ass.

1a. Readaloud

Just finished The Princess and Curdie.

The kids had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it, as is appropriate for George MacDonald. I know I’ve complained before about the profoundly Victorian unreadability of some of his sentences, and I’ll do it again. Just say it, man! 

But the Curdie books are probably the most accessible of his, except for The Light Princess, which is the easiest to read and also the most coherent and straightforward story. The Princess and Curdie is a sequel that’s better than the first book (The Princess and the Goblin), which we also read aloud. It has such good images in it: Young Curdie and his aged father meeting each other halfway up a hill, and if you saw them from a distance, you wouldn’t immediately know who was climbing and who was descending. This idea is carried forward when Curdie is given the power to identify what it is that people are becoming by touching their hands. Some hands feel human, but others feel like the paws or hooves or tentacles of animals. And the reverse is also true: There are fabulous avenging monsters in the story, who are apparently working out their salvation and becoming human again.

You can see how MacDonald’s great admirer C.S. Lewis was influenced by (or at least agreed with) this idea that, by the way we live, we carry heaven or hell within us even before we die. This idea is in The Great Divorce and The Last Battle and probably several others. 

Anyway, between that and the imagery of the great princess purifying her beloved children by heaping burning roses on them, and weeping as she does it, I’m glad we read it. BUT THE ENDING. If I had remembered it ended that way, I would simply have skipped the final page. I was reading the book to the six-year-old and the ten-year-old, and some of the teens were listening in. The ending is basically: The young princess grows up and marries the hero and the kingdom is wonderful. But they don’t have children and then die, and then there’s a bad king, and things get worse and worse until he literally undermines the kingdom and it all crashes down and everyone dies, and then no one even remembers it existed. Well, goodbye!  Generally, I respect authors to do what they want with their stories but there was no preparation for this happening, other than a general feeling that the story was a broad analogy for humanity in general. Truly unnecessary and the kids were rightly horrified. Boo.

Up next: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Tolkein.

The Green Knight movie comes out soon and it looks absolutely swell.

I read the Sir Gawain by Marie Borroff to the kids many years ago (that’s the one we read in college), in our last year of homeschooling, and they were spellbound. I remember skipping all the other lessons for the day because they wanted me to keep reading to the end.  But [sighs until dead] it was a lot easier to spellbind them in those days.

Here’s how the Tolkein begins:

When the siege and the assault had ceased at Troy,
and the fortress fell in flame to firebrands and ashes,
the traitor who the contrivance of treason there fashioned
was tried for his treachery, and the most true upon earth–
it was Aeneas the noble and his renowned kindred
who then laid under them lands, and lords became
of well-nigh all the wealth in the Western Isles. 

More fun to read aloud than ol’ George MacD, anyway! Heck, maybe I’ll pay the kids to give the first few chapters a fair shot. And then buy them movie tickets. Those poor children, how they suffer. 

2. What book did you just finish?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

At first this struck me as a rather heavy handed “Have you ever seen such cruelty” kind of book, ala Isabelle Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea or Tracy Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue, but it grew on me, and I was impressed at how the author brought two stories together. It follows the lives of two girls in Afghanistan, one born in the late sixties and one in the late seventies. The prose is a bit movie storyboard-y at times, but it’s very sincere and creates a strong mental image of the setting. A painful and beautiful read. As far as I know, it’s a faithful rendition of the history, and fleshed out my skimpy understanding of the era before 9/11 (but it definitely reads like a novel, not a sneaky history lesson). The reading level seems aimed at smart middle school or high school age, but it includes fairly graphic scenes of rape and violence, so reader beware. 

I also recently finished The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken.

This one is a YA book, but Joan Aiken always uses her whole butt and doesn’t talk down to younger readers. Really never read a dud by her. The Shadow Guests is a weird, compelling story about Cosmo, a teenage boy who’s sent to live in the countryside with his great aunt after his mother and older brother apparently killed themselves to avoid succumbing to a family curse. But the past isn’t done with his family, and Cosmo becomes entangled with previous generations. It sounds dark and awful, but it’s very entertaining and funny in parts, and the dialogue and characters are so skillfully and realistically done even as the plot itself is outrageous. We recently read Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase out loud, and it was just as good as I remember. Aiken’s male teenage characters are the most appealing people you’ll ever meet. 

3. What do you plan to read next?

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I started it several years ago and didn’t get very far, but I hope to keep going this time. Damien’s been recommending it for years.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

ANY BOOK. I have almost completely ruined my brain with social media, so if I could finish anything at all, I’ll be pleased. 

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

With God In Russia by Walter Ciszek

I’m a bad Catholic reader and I should feel bad. I have now officially lost this book under the bed twice, once under the old bed and now once under the new bed. With God under the bed, I guess. 

6. What is your current reading trend? 

See (4.) 

That’s about it! Check out Darwin Catholic for the source of this meme, and let me know if you have any recommendations or dire warnings!

Does it matter if a priest makes up his own sermon?

Would it bother you if your priest delivered ready-made sermons, written by someone else? A lot of Catholics say they wouldn’t mind in the slightest — especially if the alternative is sermons that are bland and uninspired, or rambling and incoherent, or heretical, or just plain weird.

I always felt sorry for parish priests who must, in addition to their insanely busy schedule, set aside time to come up with a sermon that is coherent, likely to speak to the congregation as he knows them, and is also tied into the readings we just heard or the day on the liturgical calendar. And some priests have great ideas to impart, but they’re just not good writers or speakers; and some aren’t fluent in the language their congregation speaks.

There are services and publications designed to solve this very problem, either offering full-blown homilies or helpful prompts; and there are public priests whose sermons are available online, making it easy for less-famous priests to borrow liberally or simply repeat the whole thing. It seems like a no-brainer: If you’re a priest who’s already pulled in a thousand directions and running dry creatively, it just makes sense to take this one thing off your plate.

That’s why I was a little surprised to learn how many priests have a visceral aversion to delivering a sermon written by someone else (even with attribution). When I asked on Twitter whether priests ever do this, only a few said they did… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image source

 

I threw out half my books and I’m okay

It’s trendy to talk about your hopelessly neurotic relationship with books. People love to share memes about how they just can’t stop buying more books even though they haven’t read the last books they have. It’s not my favorite schtick, but at least it’s better than the people who, to prove their love of books, share photos of the intricate diorama they made by cutting an actual book into little bits. They just love books soooooo much, that’s what they did to a book!

If that’s how you show love, remind me not to let you babysit.

Anyway, I could tell you a thing or two about what it looks like when book collecting gets truly neurotic. I grew up in that kind of house. My parents weren’t hoarders, but they accumulated books in a way that can’t be completely explained by their love of reading and their thirst for knowledge (which were considerable). My father once bought an entire dumpster full of books, which the seller delivered to our house at an excellent price. The only catch with these particular books was that they had been on fire, and most of them were blackened and crumbling, and wet and moldy. But books! For such a good price, that would otherwise get dumped! And it was such a deal . . . . and it would be such a waste to let books get thrown out.

That’s the thing that catches me up now: It would be such a waste to let them go. You can’t just let books go. Collecting books isn’t like collecting anything else, because they’re not just things. Books are especially important. They hold a special place in our minds and command a certain category of respect. You can’t just let them go!

Maybe you see where this is headed… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

Some ethical questions about The Pillar’s Grindr exposé

Yesterday, The Pillar reported that Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill was using Grindr to meet gay sex partners while he was general secretary for the USCCB.

The Pillar reports:

“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities.”

The smartest response I saw to the article was a priest reminding Twitter that it’s okay to not be sure what to think about it all. That’s where I still land: I’m not quite sure. But I have a lot of questions.

People are alarmed and disgusted that someone’s phone data would be tracked and used against them. I don’t like it either, but I’m not prepared to say it’s unethical to use it, if you have a good reason, and if you’re sure you understand what the data signifies. At very least, it’s a great reminder that the best way to defend yourself against this kind of thing is, you know, don’t be gross.

Here are the questions I do have (and Damien doesn’t agree with me on all counts):

Was it necessary to make this public?

Something people ask me every single time I write about ugly stuff. There are a few reasons to make wrongdoing public: One is if the person is prominent enough and the wrongdoing is significant enough; and two is if it’s the only way to protect vulnerable people.

It was right for Burrill to lose his job. Any priest who’s soliciting sex with strangers, whether he’s a sinner struggling with a compulsion or a hypocrite unrepentantly pursing gratification, has grievously betrayed his vows. He is supposed to be a spiritual guide, and he is unfit for his office. Yes, we do hold priests to higher standards, and he held a fairly high office. (The Pillar says he “was charged with helping to coordinate the U.S. bishops’ response to the Church’s 2018 sexual abuse and coercion scandals,” but it’s not clear what that entails.)

I also believe that the fact that he was using Grindr is a problem in itself because of what Grindr is. As I understand it, the app wouldn’t be profitable if it excluded predatory relationships. This isn’t like drinking a can of Pepsi even though Pepsi is Frito and Frito in Kansas has bad labor practices; it’s more like subscribing to Playboy, but just for the articles. There are some things you just can’t separate.

At the same time, I am uncomfortable with the way the Pillar heavily implied that there was a good chance he’s a pedophile, because it’s likely that pedophiles use the app. So this is an “everyone sucks here” situation: Burrill was sleazy for using a site that facilitates predation, and The Pillar is sleazy for helping people assume, without evidence, that he’s probably a predator. 

So those are reasons that it makes sense for Burrill to lose his job. But was he prominent enough for it to be important to expose his sins? I mean … I’ve never heard of the guy before, have you? This part is iffy. 

As for protecting the vulnerable, this is not a clear cut “stop the bad man to protect the vulnerable” situation, as it would be if he had been meeting people in confession, or using the power of his office to prey on people (quite the opposite: He apparently though he could remain anonymous). So I don’t think it was necessary to make this story public to protect anyone Burrill was directly in contact with. 

What about the power of the press to exert pressure on institutions to do the right thing? 

I know very well that the Church will often not act unless it’s forced into it, and public exposure is an effective tool. Apparently, The Pillar approached the USCCB and let them know the story was in the works. The USCCB agreed to meet, got rid of the guy, and then told the Pillar, “You know what, we’ll talk some other time.” The Pillar then published the story. So in effect, this is a story about someone making a report of wrongdoing, and the USCCB responding appropriately. If the goal was to remove an unfit cleric from office (either for the sake of justice, or to protect themselves from blackmail), I’m hard pressed to say why it was necessary to go ahead with publishing, since they already accomplished what was presumably their goal. 

Or, if that wasn’t their goal, what was it? Are they going to publish stories every time someone who works for the church is caught in sin? Where is the line? I am not sure myself, and I am very curious about what the Pillar’s line is. 

And this leads us to the second main question I have: 

Did the USCCB know? The sex abuse scandal in the Church has two main components: The abuse itself, and the institutional cover-up of abuse. If it weren’t for the cover-up, the abuse wouldn’t be able to flourish. That’s why the McCarrick exposé was so especially crushing: Not only did he prey on so many people, but so many people knew he was doing it, and didn’t do anything. 

Experience tells us that someone, maybe lots of people, probably knew what Burrill was up to. If so, that was wrong, and possibly-to-probably worth writing about. But The Pillar presents no evidence that anyone at the USCCB was aware that this was happening. As they reported it, there was a sinful man doing sinful things while he was at work. The story, as reported, does not actually reveal or demonstrate any malfeasance on the part of the Church. That’s significant. It changes what kind of story it is, and it vastly changes how newsworthy it is.  

My third question is about journalistic ethics more generally, and doesn’t have to do with the nature of the sin or even the content of the story:

Who paid for it, and why does that matter?

The Pillar says “According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities.” It says “The data was obtained from a data vendor and authenticated by an independent data consulting firm contracted by The Pillar.”

Our first impression upon reading the article was that someone bought the incriminating data and offered it to The Pillar. This assessment was shored up by an article we read later, which says that CNA, former employer of The Pillar’s JD Flynn, had been approached starting in 2018 by someone who had been shopping around incriminating data about clerics. CNA cited ethical concerns in the story, and didn’t accept the data. It clearly knew by some means that The Pillar intended to publish its exposé, and published its own story a few days before. 

It is possible that The Pillar wasn’t working with this same individual (and it’s possible CNA was trying to erroneously create the impression that they were), and it’s possible The Pillar independently purchased and analyzed the data. But if that were the case, why it would say it “obtained” the “commercially available” data, rather than clarifying that it bought it itself? 

Why does it matter? Reporters get tips all the time, right? Well, if The Pillar got a tip that Msgr. Burrill was up to no good, and decided to narrow in on him and buy some data to verify it, that would be slightly sketchy but possibly legitimate, depending on the significance of what they found (see my questions, above, about their goal and their mission).

But if, as seems likely, someone came to them with an already-purchased bundle of red hot data about how Burrill spent his weekend, and The Pillar simply verified it and wrote it up, that’s not actual investigative journalism. That’s performing a service for the person who spent the money to make the story happen. This is a huge ethical problem, and I’m alarmed that more people don’t realize it.

The Pillar has been presenting itself as a watchdog journalism site. But if someone else is buying information and feeding it to them, they cannot be considered objective journalists, but instead something more like partners with their source. 

Is this what happened? We don’t know, because they don’t say! Which is a problem in itself! They do not name their source, and that’s reasonable. But they don’t make it clear whether they actually even have a source, and if so, what kind of relationship the source has with the story. This is very shaky ethical ground. 

We recall that, when he was editor at CNA, JD Flynn defended running a story that devoted an astonishing eight paragraphs to the funding allegedly behind a story in The National Catholic Reporter, creating out of whole cloth the impression that journalist Jenn Morson was attacking Franciscan University at the behest of George Soros. It was complete garbage journalism, but at the time, Flynn thought it was important. So you tell me. Does funding matter? Does it affect which stories are covered and how? Perhaps Flynn’s perspective has evolved now that his work is subscriber-based. 

None of this is black and white. Despite all the hot takes on social media, it’s not a clear case of either “hooray for The Pillar for uncovering this important story” or “shame on The Pillar for engaging in this obvious sleaze.” Nothing I’ve mentioned above is a clear reason why they should or shouldn’t have written it.

But I will say this: When Damien and I are working on a story and we keep bumping up against more and more and more questions about the ethical way to approach it, we look at each other, sigh, and just walk away. A high number of questions around a story is a red flag in itself, and this story has an awful lot of questions.

hello, I must be going

just a quick note to say that someone stepped on my computer. The six-year-old, whose knee is the exact size and shape of the new indentation on my screen, reports that it was “probably the cat.” I’m borrowing a kid’s computer, but I’ll be more scarce than usual until my own machine gets fixed! I know there have been some lively conversations in the combox, and I haven’t been moderating them — or in some cases, some innocent comments have been auto-flagged and not published. Sorry about that! I’ll weed through it now, but I will probably fall behind again, as it’s difficult to do on my phone. Thanks for your patience. 

Image by Zaneology via Flicker (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 259: Totus Foodus

It’s Totus Tuus week! We haven’t been for a few years, so we were delighted to sign up again for this Catholic day camp. Well, I was delighted. The kids were jerky about it in that very specific way that signals to parents that it’s actually a good thing, but they don’t want you to feel like you’ve done something right. 

The only catch is that the church is 35 minutes away, and we have kids in the day and evening programs, so that makes . . . a lot of driving. That means it’s week for easy peasy meals. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Steak sandwiches, fries, watermelon

Well, this was before camp week started, so Damien grilled some steaks and sliced them up, and we had the meat on toasted rolls with mayo, provolone, and roasted red peppers. Mighty tasty. 

I love sandwiches that look like they’ve been tucked into bed with a blanket of cheese, and also I don’t really understand why all my pants are tight. In this essay I will explain

SUNDAY
Vermonter sandwiches

A favorite cold sandwich, great for prepping ahead of time. I usually use ciabatta rolls, but had sourdough bread this time. Cold chicken, bacon, thick slices of cheddar and green apple, and honey mustard. I took a picture of the fixins

But not the sandwich. Here is a Vermonter of ages past:

Shoutout to everyone who’s recently accused me of journalistic sloppiness, when in fact I’m the kind of person who feels the need to disclose that the sandwich pictured above is a previous sandwich and varies slightly from the current one. 

Anyway. Such a pleasant combination of sweet and savory, and all kinds of textures. 

MONDAY
Chicken caesar wraps

I forget who suggested this on Facebook, but thank you, genius! Really trying to use up leftovers, rather than throw them away. We had chicken left over from the Vermonter sandwiches and from whatever chicken dish we had last week, as well as some freshly-grated parmesan cheese from the pasta on Friday, so I just bought a bunch of pita bread, romaine lettuce, bottled dressing, and cherry tomatoes, and it went very nicely together, very pretty. 

I know tomatoes don’t go on caesar salad, but it was a very good addition to this wrap, which just about everyone liked. It turns out almost no one in the family likes the kind of flatbread they sell around here, but they do like pita. You hear that, pita?

It’s funny, I’ve been making all these salads that are modified versions of full, carbier meals, and now lately I’ve been reverting them back into sandwiches. It’s the circle of salad (ingonyama nengw’ enamabala).

TUESDAY
Burgers, veg and dip

Nothing to report. Lots of vegetable action happening around here lately.

This is the proper amount of ketchup and mustard, by the way. I am a professional and I should know.  

WEDNESDAY
Domino’s pizza

I know it’s not exquisite, but I like Domino’s pizza. I like how pillowy soft it is, and I like the salty, somewhat gritty crust. There is far better pizzas in the world, and I like them too, but Domino’s pleases me. 

Also, Damien discovered that, if you order it online, it’s $12 a pizza, but if you call up the local store, it’s $7. We did the math and it turns out we’re not quite willing to pay $20 for the privilege of not talking to anybody. But there was a struggle. 

THURSDAY
Whatever you want from the fancy part of the supermarket.

Listen, Biden just paid us to be lazy, and I’m not made of stone. On the way home home from camp session one, I turned them loose in the supermarket and we came home with an assortment sushi, pizza rolls, chicken tenders, pizza, and misc.

Then Damien and I both dropped off the older kids at session two and got Chinese food while we sat back and waited for a couple of seminarians to secure our children’s spiritual future. 

This particular restaurant mayyyy be a grandparent restaurant. They don’t give you chopsticks, and everything is sweet, sweet, sweet, and we’re pretty sure the music they were playing was a jazzy synth version of “How can I keep from singing?” for some reason; but the food was hot and delicious and nobody yelled at me. That has been my standard for an excellent experience lately: Did anybody yell at me? No? Then A+. I had some kind of prawn and vegetable thing that was very tasty, and it did not yell at me.

Then we killed some time at a sort of rural Walmart store called Runnings, which featured some unsettling taxidermy and the biggest frying pan I’ve ever seen. You’ll have to imagine it, because I do have a photo, but while we were out yesterday, someone, reportedly “maybe the cat” knelt on my computer and now it doesn’t work. It’s under warranty, and Lena’s graciously letting me use her computer for now. I don’t know any of my own passwords and I don’t know how to do anything and am suffering greatly. Anyway the upshot is that if I have to process one more photo on an unfamiliar laptop, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. 

FRIDAY
Spaghetti? I don’t know.  Maybe I will just put out all the extra snacks and lunch treats I bought while suffering from inappropriate guilt over making them go to fun camp for five days! How about that! How about that!

On being less zen about suffering

I forget what it was I was offering up, but I told the Lord, “I’m offering this up to you, and I’ll try to be zen about it.”

Then I heard what I said. So what? So I hadn’t had any coffee yet, and I momentarily forgot what religion I am. I only wish it were the dumbest thing He’s ever heard me say.

It made me stop and think, though, and I realized I had to do a little recalibrating of what I meant by “offering it up.” It’s fairly easy to start thinking of it in pop psychology terms: Something is bothering me and weighing me down, so I’m going to just mentally release it. Imagine it like a bright red balloon that sails up, up, up into the sky until it’s just a little pinpoint, and now — poof! — it’s gone, and no longer my problem.

This is . . . okay. It may very well be the most emotionally healthy thing to do at some particular moment. But it’s not precisely offering it up to God, for a couple of reasons. For one reason, God is not the wide blue sky. He is not an amorphous, impersonal, placid largeness whose function is to swallow up small things until they don’t matter anymore. (That’s not even what the sky is, either, but never mind that now.)

What do we mean when we say “offer it up?” Sometimes people will distort the concept, and use the phrase as shorthand for “suck it up” or “shut up.” People will say “offer it up” when what they really mean is, “I’m going to remind you that the spiritual thing to do is to quit whining about your stupid problems.”

That, as they say, ain’t it. We have the option to offer suffering up to God precisely because even our small suffering IS real suffering, and God knows this, and even (in a way that makes more or less sense to me at various times) suffers along with us. It’s not that we’re not supposed to minimize our troubles. It’s that suffering doesn’t have to be a dead end. It doesn’t have to stay entirely with us.

People sometimes say that Catholics are obsessed with suffering, or that we have an unhealthy fascination with death and pain. And sure, anything can be overdone or twisted or made unhealthy. But Catholics (when they’re not being crazy) don’t seek out suffering; they just do a good job of acknowledging that it exists. And they offer at least the possibility of a plan for what to do with it.

At its core, the Catholic understanding of suffering has two components… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Mary Magdalen at the foot of the cross, 1420 – 1430, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

Some vaccine incentives that would work on me

Here in the US, more than half the population is fully vaccinated against Covid.  In my state, it’s even higher. But in some regions, people are resisting getting the vaccine for a variety of reasons that range from understandable to supremely bogus.

I’ve read a few chin-stroking articles dedicated to teaching people how to overcome vaccine resistance, but a few state governments are cutting out the middle man and appealing to that most American of traits: Naked greed. It goes beyond the odd free donut here and car wash discount there. One state, for instance, is entering all vaccinated citizens into a lottery with a cash prize of a million dollars.

But these are strange times, and so many of our old values have been upended. Why not roll with that? If I hadn’t already signed up to get vaccinated within minutes of the announcement that I could, here are a few things that might get me off my keister and into the clinic line:

Flash your vaccine card, people have to wink at you. I may be the only one who would value this particular incentive, but I think winking is hilarious. It’s such an unnatural thing for most people to do with their faces, and it would keep me entertained through the darkest day.

The opportunity to access local birth records and fix the spelling of my kids’ friends’ names. I’m sorry. I know it’s insensitive and elitist. Blame the 5G chip. But still, phonics exists. Letters have meaning. It would benefit the entire community if no one was ever exposed to a Caedynne or a Jessieighkah every again.  Or a Rachael. I said what I said… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image: Tim Chambers, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 258: There’s always enough food. What if there’s not enough food?

I have an overwhelming desire to talk about cheese! Who’s with me?

Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Pizza

I took myself by the scruff of the neck and bought a mere four balls of pizza dough, with which to make a paltry four pizzas for our diminished little miniature family of eleven. We just can’t eat six pizzas anymore. There’s so much left over, it’s ridiculous. We are ridiculous with food. 

We had one olive pizza, one pepperoni, one cheese, and one with red and yellow peppers, salami and pepperoni, and fresh mozzarella. Made me want more salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella in my life. I would eat that on a sandwich, wouldn’t you?

SUNDAY
July 4th cookout!

We didn’t get to have this party last year because of covid. Cancelling it was especially hard, not just because it’s much-anticipated annual family reunion, but because it was supposed to be the party in lieu of a wake for my dad, which we also couldn’t have because of covid. So, this year, we did it! Almost all my siblings were there, many of their children, and also a dear friend from college that I haven’t seen in something like ten years. It was a wonderful, wonderful day.

Plenty of food, great weather, tons of sparklers and kind of a lot of fireworks, and poppers and glow sticks and tiki torches, temporary patriotic tattoos, candy, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and everything. 

The only thing approaching a disappointment was that my brother’s dog didn’t like our dog. Our dog was too dumb to realize this, though, so he, at least, was spared the disappointment. I did make frozen ham balls for both of them (you put ham and various dog treats in a bowl or bag of water and freeze it, and licking it it keeps them entertained and cool at outdoor events), but that wasn’t enough to forge a friendship over. 

We do a basic American cookout food, no fancy tricks with fish sauce or shallots or bechamel anything. Hamburgers, hot dogs, brats and sausages, veggie burgers and dogs, and smoked chicken thighs. Damien also made some clams in white wine and lemon juice just for fun, and we had pasta salad, and potato salad, veggies and hummus, chips and dip, and watermelon, and more store brand soda than you could shake a stick at (oh yes, there was Dr. Perky and Mountain Lion), and cheap domestic beer, and dark and stormies. For dessert, we had ice cream cups, chocolate and vanilla pudding cups, and red and blue jello cups with whipped cream. U.S.A!. U.S.A! It was a good, good party. Nobody even got burned or drowned.

I think we ended up with about 4o people. Damien got a bird’s eye view with his drone. You can see the kids lining up to get their sparklers lit.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0245.JPG

I didn’t get a lot of food photos. The potato salad was potatoes, mayo with cider vinegar and sugar, fresh dill, celery, and salt and pepper. The pasta salad was farfalle, fresh basil and parsley, red onions, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, black olives, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper and oregano, and fresh parmesan. 

MONDAY
Leftover chicken, hot dogs, and brats, and salads

So, maybe we made too much food. Plenty of leftovers.

Oops, I forgot to share the smoked chicken recipe. Here:
Jump to Recipe

TUESDAY
Leftover burgers, chips

Yep, still plenty of leftovers. 

WEDNESDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches, watermelon

Hoping to avoid an insurrection, we threw out the rest of the leftovers and had chicken sandwiches with provolone, tomato, and basil on ciabatta rolls.

There was some leftover watermelon, but I craftily cut it into chunks, rather than serving slices.  They weren’t fooled, though, and I had to eat most of it myself. 

THURSDAY
Steak and blueberry salad with lemon feta crisps; cherry pie

Something completely different. Steak was on sale, so Damien made a sugar-salt rub, grilled them and sliced them, and I served the meat on salad greens with blueberries. 

I wanted to try making cheese crisps, which I have heard are very easy. Well, they were easy, but I would not call them crisp in any way. Cheese disks, I guess. Cheese blips. 

It was probably the type of cheese I used. I crumbled some feta cheese and mixed in some shredded mozzarella and the zest of a few lemons, put the mixture in little piles on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, and baked for 6-7 minutes. I tried 375 and 400, but they really just came out chewy, even after they cooled on a rack for a few hours. The flavor was excellent, though, and really perfect to go with the steak and blueberries. Next time I will try just parmesan and see how that goes. 

We had some guests and I was a tiny bit concerned there wasn’t enough food (even thought there is always always always enough food. There is always too much food), so I decided to make some cherry pies. I was planning a lattice crust, which I usually manage without any trouble, but I was rattled due to trying to make a lattice crust while simultaneously getting embroiled in one of the wildest goose chases I’ve been in in years, involving Facebook marketplace and some wooden pallets, heavy rain, an allegedly disgruntled ex-tenant (not mine), a security camera, LOTS of screenshots, at least two people taking photos of each other’s license plates, and the police force in two different towns; and the kids were playing Dungeons and Dragons very loudly the whole time, which is not to say this was their fault, but it definitely did not help. I may possibly write it up at some point, but the short version is I never did get my pallets. We saw a nice turkey family on the way there, though, and some pretty fawns on the way home. I never got any pie. 

And look! I have a video of Benny showing us how to pit cherries with nothing but a bottle and a chopstick (and a cherry). This must be about a year old, because it’s shortly after Benny’s haircut, but before I painted the kitchen yellow. And it’s cherry season.  

Anyway, I ended up making one pie with a sort of twisted spiral crust

and one rather tacky flower one.

Did I mention I never got any pie? Too embroiled. I hope there is some leftover. (Of course there is some leftover. THERE’S [waves arms like deranged orchestra conductor] ALWAYS ENOUGH FOOD AND THERE’S ALWAYS SOME FOOD LEFT OVER.)

FRIDAY
Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce and pasta, garlic bread

Marcella Hazan to the rescue. 

Jump to Recipe

It’s still raining. I believe we’re having another dinner guest. What if there’s not enough food? Maybe I should run out and get more food. I would hate to not have enough food. 

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • .5 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 20 chicken thighs

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit. 

  2. Light the fire, and let it burn down to coals. Shove the coals over to one side and lay the chicken on the grill. Lower the lid and let the chicken smoke for an hour or two until they are fully cooked. 

Basic pie crust

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, FROZEN
  • 1/4 cup water, with an ice cube

Instructions

  1. Freeze the butter for at least 20 minutes, then shred it on a box grater. Set aside.

  2. Put the water in a cup and throw an ice cube in it. Set aside.

  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Then add the shredded butter and combine with a butter knife or your fingers until there are no piles of loose, dry flour. Try not to work it too hard. It's fine if there are still visible nuggets of butter.

  4. Sprinkle the dough ball with a little iced water at a time until the dough starts to become pliable but not sticky. Use the water to incorporate any remaining dry flour.

  5. If you're ready to roll out the dough, flour a surface, place the dough in the middle, flour a rolling pin, and roll it out from the center.

  6. If you're going to use it later, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. You can keep it in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months, if you wrap it with enough layers. Let it return to room temperature before attempting to roll it out!

  7. If the crust is too crumbly, you can add extra water, but make sure it's at room temp. Sometimes perfect dough is crumbly just because it's too cold, so give it time to warm up.

  8. You can easily patch cracked dough by rolling out a patch and attaching it to the cracked part with a little water. Pinch it together.

Cherry pie filling for TWO pies

Keyword cherries, cherry pie, desserts, fruit desserts, pie

Ingredients

  • 7 cups cherries pitted
  • 2-2/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp butter

Instructions

To pit cherries:

  1. Pull the stem off the cherry and place it, stem-side down, in a bottle with a narrow neck, like a beer bottle. Drive the blunt end of a chopstick down through the cherry, forcing the pit out into the bottle.

To make the filling:

  1. Mix together the pitted cherries, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl and let it sit for ten minutes or so until they get juicy. 

  2. Stir the almond extract into the cherry mixture and heat in a heavy pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, for several minutes. Stir in the butter.

  3. Let the mixture cool a bit, then pour into pie shells. 

Recipe Notes

This would also be fine over ice cream. 

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 onion peeled and cut in half
  • salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

  4. I'm freaking serious, that's it!

Fr. James Altman loses celebret, is barred from preaching until further notice

Fr. James Altman can no longer preach, assist at marriages, or baptize without permission, and he cannot celebrate the Eucharist with anyone else present until further notice from his bishop, according to an excerpt of a decree shared by Rocco Palmo on Twitter today. 

The celebrity priest of LaCrosse, who gained notoriety for the increasingly strident far right views he shared in his sermons and online, was removed as pastor in May. He publicly rejected his bishop’s call to resign, and has now had his celebret removed for an indeterminate time, meaning many of his priestly faculties have been removed by his bishop until further notice.

The decree says that Bishop Callahan is taking this action as part of his duty to “protect the diocese against scandal and any civil lawsuits that could have dramatic financial consequences for the diocese.”

A cleric’s privileges may be restricted by an ordinary if there has been a delict (canonical crime) committed and proved, or alleged; or if the cleric in question is involved in a situation that, if he remains in a particular ministry, threatens the common good of the diocese.

The decree against Altman is the latter sort. Such a decree is issued when it will harm the diocese if the priest continues to act as a priest in public. The priest is not accused of having committed a crime, but his involvement in a particular situation is a threat to the integrity of the diocese, and the bishop judges that he is forced to constrain the priest’s faculties until something changes. 

While the excerpt that has been shared on social media does not specify how Altman’s presence in the diocese threatens to harm its integrity, it does put the onus on him to remedy the harm. It says that if he does not act himself to remedy the situation, it harms the diocese. It says that the restrictions will be imposed “until the cause has ceased to exist” and that “[i]t is primarily the responsibility of Father James Altman to make sure that this cause ceases to exist.” 

The decree bars Altman from leaving the diocese, which his bishop is entitled to do by virtue of the obedience Altman owes to him. It also requires him to go on a thirty day spiritual retreat “to give him the possibility to spiritually heal and recharge and to address the issues that caused the issuance of this decree.” It warns Altman that violations of the decree may result in further restrictions or the imposition of ecclesiastical sanctions. 

It is rare for such decrees to be made public, but Altman has not shied away from making public his inflammatory views or his defiance against his superiors. A Twitter account that claims to share messages from Altman today said, “I will not be silenced by any arbitrary decree, nor will I be cowed by any action against my priestly faculties.” 

Altman has not yet exhausted his chance to appeal the decree, and may now plead his case before the Signatura, the final canonical court of appeals for issues other than marriage nullity. The Father Altman account today has Alman characterizing himself as “a voice of Truth” whom the “corrupt” hierarchy “boldly continues to cancel.”

When Altman was removed as pastor, a group calling itself Caritas in Veritate launched a fundraiser for his legal defense, claiming he was the subject of “diabolical persecution.” As of July 8, over $359K has been raised. The fundraiser page said that Altman would donate any excess funds to the handicap ramp fund at St. James the Lesser, but only if he were allowed to remain pastor there. 

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More related stories at The Deacon’s Bench

Image: Screenshot from video of Fr. James Altman “You Cannot Be Catholic and Democrat. Period.”