THIS IS NOT THE YEAR: A 2020 Advent song for people with good taste

As I walked out one evening
In the dark December air,
I saw my neighbors hanging lights
On trees and everywhere.
My first thought was to chide them
Because Advent’s barely here
But a passing angel thwapped my head
And whispered in my ear…

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Small steps to avoid destroying the very thing you’re fighting for

Long before election day, I gave up trying to change anybody’s mind about politics. I jumped into conversations about it from time to time, but I always jumped right back out again before the muck on the bottom could rise up and envelop my ankles.

It wasn’t just that political wrangling is unpleasant, and it wasn’t just because I didn’t want to lose friendships, although both of those things are true. I have been thinking about a quote that I thought was by Winston Churchill. Someone allegedly asked Churchill about cutting arts funding to pay for the war effort, and he responded, “Then what are we fighting for?”

It turns out Churchill probably never said this; but the point stands. If you sacrifice everything to win, then what have you won? You cross the finish line in triumph, and you turn around and, oh dear, there’s nothing left in your wake but a wasteland.

This is what the political arm of the American pro-life movement did when they championed a man who clearly despises the weak and who has no understanding of the inherent dignity of human life: They hollowed themselves out. They made it abundantly clear to the world that it was victory they craved, and nothing more.

Some in the pro-life movement backed Trump cynically, calculating that they could enrich themselves this way; and many others did it out of fear, thinking there was no other way open to them. I think of a scene I saw once in a TV crime show: A terrified mother crouches under the table, hiding from her abuser. She’s so afraid her precious baby will cry out and betray them that she holds him tighter and tighter — and she ends up crushing him to death.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

For some reason, the link above is not working for some people! Sorry about that. Here is the correct link to the full essay:

Simcha Fisher: When fighting a war, don’t destroy what you’re defending

Image: Detail of sculpture from Frogner Park, Oslo via Needpix

In which a real American explains the election to Australians

[Note: I wrote and submitted this essay on Nov. 12, which explains why it is, even for an essay by me, unusually obnoxious. Read at your own peril.]

When The Catholic Weekly hired me a few years ago, they made a few things clear: We’re really Catholic; we’re not terribly uptight; we spell things weird sometimes; and most of all, we do not want to hear about American politics. All of this was fine with me, especially that last part. Even in those innocent days of 2016, American politics was already just about intolerable, and I didn’t want to hear about it, either.

But here we are in 2020, and I’m getting a steady stream of Australian friends and readers helpfully giving me the inside scoop about what goes on in these United States. So either you’re all a bunch of masochists deliberately exposing yourself to our political system as some kind of elaborate form of penance, or else there is some part of you that can’t look away.

So be it. I will indulge your unholy fascination with this ominously pulsating egg sac we’re calling an election season. You want to hear about American politics? Hold onto your butts.

The short version is, Trump repeatedly promised his followers that, if they elected him, they would get tired of winning. And so it has come to pass! They are so tired of winning that they, in fact, lost.

Really, that is what happened. I know it hurts some of you to hear this, for some reason, but he lost. Lllllllooooosssssssttttt, lost, lah-lah-lah-lost, L.O.S.T., as in “lost the election,” as in “did not win the election,” as in “failed to secure victory in the election,” as in “you can take those ridiculous flappy flags off your boat now, you weirdo.” He lost because, even though a shamefully high number of people did vote for him, one cannot win an election simply by being shameful. No, not even with the help of the [haunted house music] electoral college.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: by Jericho on Deviant Art Creative Commons

 

Things I hope my family is doing while I’m in quarantine

It’s usually infuriating to be “overtaken by events” — i.e., to have the news cycle rush ahead without you, so the timely article you’ve written becomes irrelevant before you have a chance to publish. Today, though, I’m thrilled to announce that my COVID test came back negative before I was able to submit the essay I wrote while waiting in quarantine.

But this means I can’t even lean on your sympathetic instincts and plead that you should read it anyway out of pity because I have COVID, because, uh, I don’t. So just do me a favor and pretend the time difference between Australia and the United States is even longer than 14 hours, and here you go.

So HERE I AM IN QUARANTINE [let’s say], and I’m lucky enough to have a house bursting with able-bodied adults who can easily handle everything I normally do, and who aren’t allowed to leave. Still, it’s hard for a mother to give over the reins of control, and I can’t help thinking about what’s going on beyond my bedroom door. I’m doing my best to keep busy with soothing, productive, restorative activities (shut up, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is too productive. It produces feelings of awesomeness), but part of my brain is keeping up a little list of things I hope they are doing while I’m in quarantine.

You think I’m going to say “I hope they are flossing every night!” or “I hope they are dusting behind the antimacassar, or I’ll know the reason why!” But no. This is a different kind of list.

  1. I hope they are crunching all the things…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image:https://www.needpix.com/photo/703020/eat-noodles-children-pasta-spaghetti-italian-food-noodle-dish-plate

The dog and cat situation

It wasn’t that long ago that life in our family was tremendously hard. No one single thing came easy. Housing? Precarious. Employment? Teetering on the brink. Education? A constant rolling boulder of agony. Housekeeping? OH YOU HOLY SAINTS AND ANGELS WHAT DID I JUST STEP IN. And so on. This is what happens when you’re extremely poor and never sleep and have a ton of kids and no idea what the hell you’re doing.

Things are so much easier now. We’re more secure in almost every way, and the daily rhythm of our lives may be up tempo, but it’s not a frantic tarantella. In many ways, our life is almost like a fairy tale, and not in the “here, put on these red hot iron shoes and dance until you die” way, either. Yes, things are stable, predictable, peaceful, and calm.

And that’s intolerable, apparently. We just don’t know how to function when everything is going smoothly and there’s no crisis. So every time things start to feel manageable, we introduce some kind of ridiculous and unnecessary complication into our lives, just so we know what’s going on.

The dog and cat situation, for instance. We’ve always had a lot of pets; fine. Pets are good for kids. They teach them about responsibility and stewardship, and also death, and sex, and cannibalism, and coprophagia, and incest, and other wholesome lessons. Fine. So we have birds, we have a lizard, sometimes we have gerbils and hamsters, sometimes we have fish, fine, normal. Turtle, frog, temporary rat, sure. And sometimes we have a cat; and sometimes we have a dog. This is manageable.

But in the year 2020, things got too quiet, and so we decided we needed to have both a cat and a dog. And lo, our house has been transformed into an absolute cartoon madhouse. Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly

It’s easier to recover from being spoiled than from being abused

One of the toughest, potentially most painful, potentially most rewarding parts of being a parent is sorting through what you experienced yourself as a child. As soon as you start raising a child of your own, you have to figure out which parts of your childhood you want to live out with your own kids, and which parts you want to leave behind forever. Everybody goes through this, whether consciously or not.

The huge, unwieldy question of “How will I discipline my kids?” is especially tough. It strikes at the heart of so many profound issues, and the stakes are so high.

Like most of the really tough things in life, there are perils on both sides. If you’re either too harsh or too lenient in how you discipline your child, it could truly harm them, and that harm can ripple out to affect their relationships with other people and even with God.

So yes, it’s important to get it right. But there’s some comfort in knowing it’s not actually possible to get it completely right. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to be inconsistent, and give mixed messages to your kids. This is just how humans act, and I’ve never seen even really wonderful parents get it exactly right.

But I’m here to tell you this: If you are going to err, it’s far better to err on the side of laxity than on the side of harshness. This is not because being spoiled isn’t bad for kids. It is.

But if your child is going to have to recover from one extreme or the other as an adult, is far easier to recover from spoiling than it is from abuse. And there are all too many parenting philosophies calling themselves “discipline” that are really abuse.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: FeeLoona via Pixabay

On disenfranchisement and community

The question of felony disenfranchisement is in the news again. Depending on what state you’re in, if you commit a certain class of crime, you may be prohibited from voting even after you serve your time, sometimes for the rest of your life.

I won’t go into the particulars of the specific question in the news, because, as is so often the case, the really interesting part is how the law plays out in the life of actual people.

If you had asked me in the past, I’d probably have said that it only seems fair. I would have said that if you don’t want to play by the rules, then you shouldn’t get to be involved in any part of the process of making the rules; and that’s what voting is, I would have said: Getting to choose who makes the rules. That’s what it means to live in a democracy.

I think differently now, about a lot of things. Specifically about felony disenfranchisement, I began to change my mind when I heard a man tell his personal story. He said that when he emerged from prison after a long sentence for a felonious crime, he was a different man.

What he had done in the heat and foolishness of youth, he regretted every day of his life since then. It was right and just that he be punished; he accepted this. But when he emerged from prison in an election year, everyone around him was busily making plans and arguing and getting involved . . . and he was out.

It wasn’t just that this was unpleasant. It struck him to the heart. He felt that he was being placed outside the realm of human activity, and it changed how he thought of himself as a human. He was being told that no one expected him to act like a regular citizen. And so he didn’t. He began to fall back into petty crime, mugging and robbing and fighting.

A complex story, to be sure. No one thing is ever to blame for the actions of a human being with free will. But I was struck in a brand new way by how wounded was his sense of self by being excluded from this right, and how directly his sense of self affected his sense of self as part of the community. If you’re not part of a group, why should you act as if you are? You’d look like a fool.

There was a law that said he didn’t have a stake who represented him, and he took that to heart, and began once again to treat his fellow man as if they were not connected — and everyone suffered. He took it personally, and he acted out personally.

And in a way, it was reasonable to do so, because living in a community is a personal thing, which means that being made to feel like you’re not part of the community is also a personal thing.

These past few months, the daily news has been an absolute firehose of larger-than-life events. Topics of life and death importance; issues that strike at the very heart of what it means to be a citizen, a Christian, a human.

When I sit down to write, I am overwhelmed with helplessness at what one can possibly say, when everything that’s going on is so huge. And at the same time, the misunderstandings and dishonest discourse about these issues have also been huge, and hugely alienating.

People do not wish to understand each other; they only wish to rule over each other. And as someone who doesn’t wish to triumph or be triumphed over, I feel like I have nothing to say.

I have been feeling alienated from my own country, from my own democratic process, in a way that feels disastrous, like something I can’t recover from. I feel like huge machines are whirling away at their processes entirely without me. I feel like I don’t recognize the place anymore. I’m not literally disenfranchised; I can vote. But I’m having a hard time feeling like I should.

I don’t even feel like I can talk to anybody about important things, because the vast, violent processes of American politics are excluding me so definitively.

But there was one night when I didn’t feel that way…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

A few things I’ve learned about teens, conflict, and discipline

I like teenagers. Good thing, too, as we currently have five teenaged kids living in our house (as well as two kids who have graduated to full-blown adulthood). They’re so much nicer to be around than when I was that age. They’re fun to talk to (well, sometimes); they’re funny (well, sometimes); they’re creative and interesting and helpful (well, sometimes). I like teenagers.

Well, sometimes. A lot of the time.

But still, there is conflict.  A teenager’s body grows in fits and starts, and not always in graceful proportions; and their psyches are doing the same thing. Even when they’re not suffering from hormonal tumult, they’re trying to make what is truly an excruciating transition from childhood to adulthood. It can get ugly. And no, I’m not always patient and understanding. But I’m also not always the raging volcano of injustice and retribution I was afraid I would be.

Conflict, and the need to impose discipline, are pretty much inevitable when you’re raising a teenager; but unless there are serious mental health problems and/or your teen is doing something massively dangerous or destructive like using hard drugs or running away from home, it should be possible to have a relationship that includes things besides conflict and discipline.

Here are a general principles I’ve learned…

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Image: by daveynin via Flickr –  Creative Commons

Dealing with Trolls: listen to “This Catholic Life” with me and Damien as guests

Damien and I were so pleased to be guests on the This Catholic Life podcast with our friends Peter Holmes and Renée Köhler-Ryan! The topic was “dealing with trolls,” including what to do after you blew it and dealt badly with trolls. Give a listen! 


 If the embedded player doesn’t work, here is the link.

You can also catch the podcast on iTunes. and a number of other platforms.

Omnipotent, ineffable, unmeme-able

Have you seen the memes showing Jesus and Satan as musclebound arm wrestlers? Sometimes people share it sincerely and sometimes as a joke, but either way, it’s pretty popular. The two of them are locked in a pitched battle, biceps bulging, veins popping, sweat pouring down their faces as they struggle to gain the advantage.

Even when we share this image ironically, it’s a little too easy to unintentionally internalize the idea that this is what spiritual battle is like: God vs. the devil, two equally matched, opposite forces locked in combat. Even Catholics who should know better fall into yin-yang thinking, imagining the universe as a battle ground where two immense, abstract forces are held in eternal tension.

This is actually a heresy, or part of several popular heresies, including manicheism and some forms of gnosticism. Let’s call it “dualistic cosmology”. Whatever you call it, it’s baloney. You’re giving Satan way too much credit, and understanding far too little about God.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: A canvas wall art rendition of Jesus and Satan arm wrestling, available through Amazon