St. Elizabeth the Unspecified, pray for us

One of my regrets (and man, I have a million) is that I’m not doing a great job introducing my kids to the saints. We have made a few stabs and this and that, but I’m not hugely devoted to any particular saint myself, so it just doesn’t come naturally.

We had a few saint biography collections when I was growing up, and I did read them repeatedly; but I think they ended up doing more harm than good, and I ended up with a bunch of ideas that were hard to shed. Namely: (a) saints were born that way (“before she even learned to talk, tiny Wiffletrude used to weep at her mother’s breast because it made her think of how Jesus thirsted on the cross.” That kind of thing) and (b) if I did become a saint, it was only a matter of time before the demonic attacks would begin, with bed shaking and foot clawing and stuff, and that did not sound great.

I also worried a lot about how poorly I would do when the Romans gave me one more chance to renounce Christ before cutting my skin off. I did figure that, if, because of my great beauty, I became unwilling but gentle queen of the land, I would definitely be the one who distributed bread to the peasants, like, 24/7.

I ended up with two patron saints: Unspecified Elizabeth and Michael the Archangel. And also a guardian angel. Do I remember that I have these holy ones watching over me? No, I do not. I’m just a lonely loner on a lonely road. Alone.

Terrible religious art also had a lot to answer for. Only very weird kids think, “Oh yeah, I can picture myself holding a palm branch with three fingers, with my eyeballs rolled up and a bunch of wispy roses framing my person at all times. Yep, that’s me. ” The state of religious art is definitely improving, and it’s also immensely helpful to learn about saints who are recent enough to appear in photos. Hagiographies have also gotten much better in recent years. Saints come across much more like actual, specific people, rather than goopy spirituality dolls.

Anyway, this gap in our family’s spirituality always comes into focus when one of my kids is preparing for confirmation. (In our area, they’re transitioning to restored order of sacraments, so confirmation happens when a kid is in his early teens.) They have to choose a confirmation patron saint and write a short essay. IS CATASTROPHE. I make some feeble suggestions which are met with floppiness. I point them toward some books which promptly slither into the couch crack. Wishing to appear hip and cyber, I suggest Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator; then I get distracted by Facebook and forget about the whole thing until the emails from the DRE get really insistent. And that’s what they mean when they say parents are a child’s primary educators.

However! They always end up choosing a bona fide saint with an actual biography attached to them, and no one has chosen a patron who clearly just got called up for the cool name. Not a St. Désirée or St. Gaspar de Bufalo or St. Lawdog in the bunch. Whether any of my kids have formed any kind of meaningful devotion to their patrons, I do not know.

But it occurs to me that, even if they never learned a single real fact about their saint, or said a single prayer to them, much less formed some kind of genuine spiritual friendship or devotion, the patron saint is still devoted to the confirmandi. And the same would be true even if some kid chose a saint purely to annoy their parents or solely so their new initials would spell out F.U.N.K or something. Right? You choose a patron, and they’re in, and that means they’re praying for you for the rest of your life, whether you think about it or not.

I don’t think it’s necessary to believe that you have been somehow spiritually nudged without your knowledge in the direction of the saint that’s just right for you. It’s possible, and I’ve heard plenty of stories where someone chooses something randomly, and it ends up being devastatingly relevant. But in either case, a spiritual friendship is a real thing, even if it comes about by chance and only goes one way; and a saint is, among other things, someone who’s always willing to try to bring someone closer to God.

That’s all I got. Like so many other things in Catholicism, it’s far less about our own efforts and merits than we realize, and it works out to be a pretty good deal for us. Salut! I mean, ora pro nobis.

Pro-life spotlight #1: China Little Flower

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be regularly featuring groups who do the work the president described in his SOTU speech: groups that “work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life“and that “reaffirm a fundamental truth [that] — all children — born and unborn— are made in the holy image of God.”

One of my favorites for many years: China Little Flower. This charity started out with a couple who had met as exchange students in China. They started out simply helping a few orphaned babies, but soon realized there was a great need for a more organized effort. Because China’s culture and legal system is hostile toward children with disabilities, many families simply don’t have the money, the education, or the cultural support to raise a child with complex medical needs.

According to the BBC’s blog on disability:

The most widely used word for disability in Mandarin is canji, which literally means deficient/deformed and diseased.  … [M]any traditional, pejorative terms for disabled people are still in common currency: canfei (crippled and useless), yaba(mute), shazi (idiot) and xiazi (a derogatory term for blind people) can still be heard on the lips of many ordinary citizens of the People’s Republic.

The Chinese government may have relaxed its strict one-child policy, but the culture is not now more welcoming of disabled children. Instead, state propaganda encourages parents to produce healthy children for the good of the country. Women and girls and those considered “useless” are still treated as less than human. According to Leta Hong Fincher in a NYT opinion piece, when China relaxed its brutal one-child policy,

the government was only embarking on another grand experiment in population engineering: This time it was urging women — though only the right sort — to reproduce for China.

[…]

The government has unleashed in recent years a propaganda blitz on women it considers to be gao suzhi, or of “high quality.” “Make sure you don’t miss out on women’s best years for getting pregnant!” warn some headlines in state media. Those years supposedly are between the ages of 24 and 29, according to the government; beyond that, it says, beware birth defects.

Parents who are willing to raise their disabled kids have little cultural or financial support, and little education on how to care for them.

This important clarification from Kelly Mayfield, author of Mine In China: Your comprehensive guide to adopting from China:

“In many cases these parents have made a heartbreaking decision because they can’t afford the medical care the child needs. You can see some images of parents leaving their children at the Guangzhou baby hatch at this link. You have to have cash up front for heart surgery, cancer treatment, etc. There is no legal way to relinquish children in China, so they abandon them in hopes that the child will receive the necessary care when they’re in an orphanage or if they are adopted by another family. Some of the children are left with notes that say ‘Please don’t let my child die. We are poor and can’t afford the surgery.'”

China Little Flower’s mission:

Recognizing the beauty and dignity of each and every individual person, China Little Flower works to build a culture of life by reaching out to those who are rejected, abandoned, deemed as useless, and who have no voice. Whether by direct care, support, or education, we seek to show the value of each human life and build a culture that respects, protects, loves and serves life!

They provide hospice care for orphans, group educational foster care, special care for infants, and long-term care for severely disabled children.

Dew Drops will provide both a long term, enriching home environment for abandoned children, and also  a temporary home for families in need of support and specialized care, while they navigate the health care system. These families will benefit from financial, emotional and medical support in caring for their child during treatment, as well as ongoing support after they return home.  Our primary focus is on children born with complex heart defects.

Our Orphan Care Unit will provide specialized medical care as well as foster healthy emotional development for abandoned children:

  • Children ages 6 month to 5 years old born with complex congenital heart defects
    • Capacity of 30 beds
    • Every child will stay with us until (s)he is adopted
    • Employ full time ‘moms’ who are trained in trauma-informed care practices and who will provide continuous, 24 hour care. This helps abandoned children learn to form attachments and heal from the past trauma they have experienced.

In our Family Care Unit, in addition to specialized care, we also focus on educating families and advocating with them as they seek the best medical treatment for their child:

  • Children from disadvantaged families (targeting rural areas) born with complex heart defects
    • Capacity of up to 5 children/families at a time
    • Children will be accompanied by at least one parent/family member during their stay
You can make a one-time or recurring donation to support their work, and you can also support them through their donor-advised fund.
The founders, Brent and Serena Johnson, live in Beijing with their six children, and they donate their time and efforts to the organization. China Little Flower is a registered non-profit in the USA and received 501(c)(3) status in 2000. You can contact them at info@chinalittleflower.org or

China Little Flower
4388 Steinbeck Way
Ave Maria, FL 34142

Sign up for their monthly newsletter and follow them on Facebook, where they share photos of some the beautiful babies in their care.

chinalittleflower.org
littleflowerprojects.org
dewdropslittleflower.org

***

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “prolife spotlight” in the title.

I’m also looking for a name for this feature! Pro-life Spotlight is okay, but it could be better. Suggestions welcome.

I’m done letting anger separate me from pro-life work.

I made a mistake.

When I realized the GOP was going to nominate and elect Trump, I became so disgusted by that conspiracy of gullibility and corruption, I allowed myself to become distanced from pro-life work.

I still donated to pro-life organizations; I still prayed every night for the protection of unborn babies; and I still agonized over my moral responsibility at each and every election. But, while I still challenged readers not to accept the horror of abortion, I wrote less frequently about explicitly pro-life causes. Because of my anger, I stopped engaging with and promoting explicitly pro-life work.

I’m still angry, and justifiably so. I’m angry that there is abortion in the world. I’m angry that it feels necessary to so many people. I’m angry that born and unborn babies, pregnant mothers, and all women aren’t cherished and protected. There is no bond like the bond between mother and child, and it tears me apart when they are dehumanized and brutalized by anyone. Sometimes I’m so angry, I can hardly breathe.

But that was my mistake. Moloch doesn’t care who you’re angry at, as long as your anger keeps you from fighting for innocent lives. So I’m taking a breath. If you’re as angry as I am, I’m inviting you to take a fresh start with me, and see what good we can do.

Last night, at the State of the Union speech, President Trump said some good words:

Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.

And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth — all children — born and unborn— are made in the holy image of God.

His speechwriter is absolutely correct. This is what we must work for.

How? For a quick and easy way to push back against laws that would allow for late-term abortions and infanticide, you can use this form to urge your senators to co-sponsor and vote for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This is a good and possibly even a useful thing to do, and I’ll do it today. But it’s not enough, especially when I know the pro-life politicians are only pro-some-lives. Voting for them feels like planting a victory flag in quicksand.

Not everyone feels this way. If you think the Trump presidency has been good for the pro-life movement and has made the world better and safer for babies and their mothers, this post isn’t for you. I know I won’t change your mind, and I’m no longer trying to. I can’t seem talk about it without getting angry and losing focus. So right now, I just want to write about groups doing genuine pro-life work.

One such organization is Immigrant Families Together.

Who do they help? They help innocent life made in the holy image of God. One example (a real person, whose name is protected for her privacy):

A seventeen-year-old girl in Guatemala who was sold to a gang leader. He raped her and got her pregnant, then beat her so badly, the baby died. Then she got pregnant again.

This time, she decided to get out. So she began to walk, with her innocent unborn child inside of her. She crossed a thousand miles to present herself and her unborn baby at a legal port of entry at the U.S. She broke no laws; she followed the protocol. She just wanted to live, and she wanted her baby to live.

But you know what happens when people present themselves at our borders. They are not cherished. They are not treated as if they are made in the holy image of God. They are caught up in our political wrangling, and they suffer, and their children suffer.

Families are still being separated as a matter of course; children are being thrust into foster care and lost track of permanently. Pregnant mothers are miscarrying while they languish in custody. Mothers who wanted life for their children are having their children taken away. They have not done anything immoral by looking for help. They simply want to live, and they want their children to live. Helping them find each other again and live together in peace is pro-life work.

Immigrant Families Together goes right to the people caught in that tangle and helps them in immediate, tangible ways. They are currently helping that Guatemalan woman through her complex legal process so she doesn’t lose another child.

The first woman they helped was Yeni Gonzalez Garcia, whose story is here.  Through the work of IFT, Gonzalez-Garcia has been reunited with her children.

Here is a summary of their work:

  • Raising of bond funds through coordinated crowdfunding and individual giving in order to post bond for parents separated from their children at the US/Mexico Border.
  • Paying bonds and providing pro bono legal representation to fulfill all legal responsibilities while awaiting trial so that they may be with their children.
  • Arranging safe transportation from state of detention to the city where children are currently in foster care.
  • When needed, finding longterm housing in the destination city while they await trial.
  • Connecting parents in cities with resources in order to sustain them during the process of being unified with their children.
  • Working with local organizations and government to expedite the process of achieving full custody of their children while they await trial.
  • We have expanded our services to also include a legal referral services,  AYUDAS and have rapid response response teams to assist recently released detainees and families.

You can donate through their site, or find a Facebook page that’s more local, such as Immigrant Families Together MidwestImmigrant Families Together – CaliforniaImmigrant Families Together East Coast, Immigrant Families Together South.

I would like to routinely highlight the work of organizations doing pro-life work like this. If you work with or know of a group doing this kind of work, drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com.

Anger is only good when it propels you to do good works. Let’s take a breath and start again.

In which I answer anything, Vol. 3!

January got me down. So I did an “ask me anything” on Facebook. I skipped a few hard ones, but here’s most of my answers:

Are you pregnant?!

I am pregnant with ennui and will soon give birth to a red-faced, squalling bundle of . . . I dunno, more ennui or whatever.

Are you sick of people asking if you’re pregnant?

Only if they’re asking because I’m fat. If they’re asking because they can’t bear the thought of going through 2019 with only the twelve extant Fishers, we can talk. Bring tacos.

What did you do about your teens and phones?

We yell at the older ones for not reading more books, and have decided not to let the younger ones have them until they get much older. Also we have family screen-free time from 7-9, if we haven’t fallen off the wagon (which we currently have). We talk to them about pornography and why it wrecks lives. We take them to confession whenever they ask to go, no questions asked. It’s not great, but we’re patching things together as we go. I hate it, and I’m the worst offender for phone overuse.

 

What did Corrie put up her nose today?

Nothing, thanks be to Proboscitron, minor god of nostril-sized objects, mucus membranes, and mothers who can’t even.

What’s your philosophy about home decor? I mean, you have one, right?

There needs to be a crucifix somewhere public. You should have some clue that this is a Catholic house. And everything that’s hanging up should be there for a reason, even if that reason is “I want this kid to know I’m thinking about him.” I’m pretty vehemently opposed to decor that looks like displays, rather than decoration. Everyone lives laughs and loves, so shut up about that. Light is more important than anything else. Paint walls colors that will help you through the gray winter. Clutter has no moral significance unless it’s unhygienic or dangerous. Someone needs to do something about that cup of milk. Just go ahead and buy a new rug sometimes.

 

How do you broach sexuality with your children and continue to teach them the church’s position as they encounter the world’s message?

With the youngest kids, we talk about how babies are made, framed in terms of “God wants us to do it this way when we are married, because if we do it when we’re not married, you can still make a baby and babies are good, but it makes life much harder for everyone.” As they get older, we have frank but awkward (and too infrequent) conversations as they seem relevant, about contraception, love, marriage, homosexuality, transgender issues, etc. It’s a mess. I’m really hoping the example of a respectful and affectionate marriage carries a lot of weight.

What’s the most disappointing internet exchange you’ve had? And what’s the best?

Most disappointing? When a bunch of people I thought of as friends stood by and let another women who used to be my friend tell outrageous lies about me. It was really hard to recover from that. It was personally hurtful, and also very discouraging to realize how acceptable it’s become to viciously oust someone based purely on your desire to feel . . . something.

The best, most interesting, challenging, and fruitful internet exchanges I have these days are in small, private groups. I can’t remember the last time I participated in a fruitful public conversation. Everyone is just too much of an asshole, including me. The irony is that I wouldn’t have met any of these friends if it weren’t for the internet. The internet giveth and the internet mucketh everything up.

How does one go about potty training when there’s a baby who has to be sequestered in a quiet, dark room in order to take a nap at least once, usually twice per day, with usually only one person over the age of 5 and that person is putting the baby to sleep because that person has the milk (and also has hit the age of reason, unlike everyone else in the house)?

We just don’t count on naps. It’s horrible and unjust, but naps just aren’t something I ever counted on. It’s a hard, hard season, but it does pass. I’m sorry.

Whats the temperature outside?

2. Just regular winter. It’s not our turn to have frozen hell right now. Although I did leave a seltzer can in the car overnight like a freaking rookie, and now I have blobs of frozen foam all over the dashboard.

Will you write an endorsement for my book? 😀 (I was just about to send you an email, lol.)

I will email you, but I pre-recommend that everyone read JoAnna Wahlund’s book! She’s good.

Shawarma recipe please

ABSOSHAWARMALUTELY!

Will you be my valentine

ABSOSHAWARMALUTELY!!!!!!

For Catholics with bits of Jewish genes but without much context, where would you recommend looking for resources on Jewish practices, prayers, story, etc to better understand?

I would start at the Association of Hebrew Catholics, which was formed exactly for this purpose. They also have a Facebook group which is fairly quiet but full of neat people.

What are your favorite boots for winter warmth and comfort.

Keens. They are pricey, but they are on sale at this time of year.

What makes you roll your eyes every time you read/hear it?

Everything. Just everything, right now. I’m looking more to music and art, because everything everyone says is terrible.

What’s the story behind your Jewish roots and becoming Catholic?

As Corrie said when Clara asked her how she got candy up her nose, “It’s a long story, man.” My mother wrote up some of her/our story in Honey From the Rock.

what was the poem you read 2 podcasts ago? (not the last one but the one before) Thanks!

“The Snow Is Deep On the Ground” by Kenneth Patchen

Underwire or wire-free?

Peasant ancestry says: Underwire every day! By the way, I highly recommend using the bra fitting technique in this reddit thread.

What would you say to one of your children if they told you they were gay?

It would depend which kid, I guess, and how old. It’s hard to imagine I’d be surprised, so mostly I would thank the kid for entrusting me with the information, and I would assure them we loved them and would always be their parents, and then we’d go from there.

When does it get cold outside enough to freeze a dragon’s breath?

Is this an Excalibur question? Because I won’t answer Excalibur questions.

What do people most often wrongly assume about you?

That I hate the Latin Mass. I actually love and miss it. Now that the St. Benedict Center isn’t having Mass, I believe the Bishop has arranged for a TLM once a month at St. Stanislaus in Winchester, so I’m hoping to get there sometime soon.

What is your secret to…

You lay a knife flat against the clove and smash it before trying to peel.

Have you ever been to an Eastern Christian Holy Week service?

No! But I want to!

Have you ever been to Mass/Divine Liturgy/Holy Mysteries in another rite? Which one, and did it “do” anything for you or was it just Mass is Mass is Mass?

My mother used to go to Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox church in town, and eventually had to stop, because it was too hard to go back to the regular novus ordo-My Little Pony-in communion with Rome-Mass on Sunday. I suspect it would have the same effect on me to visit another rite. We went to the Museum of Icons in Clinton, MA, and I just about turned into soup. We sometimes talk about going to the Melkite church in Manchester, but we haven’t managed it yet.

how are your parents doing?

Okay, thanks. My mother isn’t consumed with nervous anxiety and has put on some weight. My father is getting by, and visits her every day.

How do you examine your conscience before confession? Like, is there a good way to do this? I always do a bad job in the car on the way there, which isn’t exactly helpful.

Mostly, I do a quickie run-through on the way in the car, usually based on the seven deadly sins, and then we almost always have to wait in line, so I ask the Holy Spirit to show me the one big thing He wants me to know about myself, and sometime He obliges.

Who is your favourite saint and which saint do you find it hardest to warm to?

I feel really bad about how much I don’t know about saints. St. Clare always strikes a chord with me. She was so practical and fearless.

Which child is your favorite child

The one who doesn’t make barfing sounds when I say what’s for supper.

When/why did you get comfortable calling yourself a feminist? Or wait, do you?

I grew up thinking that women had already made all the gains that were necessary, and anyone who still pushed for feminist principles just wanted women to be like men. Then I got some real-life experiences that showed me how complicated life can be, how sad and useless are so many gender stereotypes, and how much of my world view was predicated on sort of quietly accepting that women are stupid, emotional, feeble, and untrustworthy. So I saw that we still have plenty of work to do. It’s especially egregious when misogyny is presented as part of Catholicism, so that’s the kind of misogyny I most often argue against. Because Catholics ought to know better.

How do you feed and raise 10 kids and a husband and some animals, maintain a house, write amazing beautiful things, perform some self-care activities, and not poop out? And (I ask as someone who also suffers with anxiety and has imposter syndrome) how do you forgive yourself when you do not do those things to your own standards?

I dunno. I’m not doing so great right now, probably mostly because it’s January and I haven’t been running in six weeks. My life isn’t harder than other people’s lives. In a lot of ways, it’s easier. The best thing I can say is that everyone makes compromises, and the best policy is to choose your compromises deliberately, and to make a conscious effort to listen to and believe people who say you’re doing all right.

Have any of your children decided they don’t believe/don’t want to go to Mass? How did/would you deal with it? (Assuming the child was under 18)
This is not something we’ve had to deal with. I didn’t want to go when I was a teenager, and my parents did require me to go, so I just stood in back alone. I’m glad they made me do it, although I hated it at the time. I wish they had gotten me help with mental health and been less confrontational, but other than that, it seemed like a reasonable way to manage it. I know they prayed for me and still do.
What would you say to encourage other Catholics dealing with mental illness and discerning starting (or growing) a family?
I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this. I do know that people with mental illnesses can be good parents and have strong families, and also that mental illness is real illness, and shouldn’t be shunted aside as something that you can just muscle through. God wants you to be whole and well, so someone struggling with mental illness should work with a therapist and, if possible, a spiritual director to help work through these choices.
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

What are your favorite dishes to cook or bake?

I really enjoy making soup. It’s just so satisfying to start with the oil and spices, add vegetables, build it up little by little. Love it.

How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
Hmm. Do they all need their own carseats, or what?
HOW DO YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF, WOMAN???
I’m locked into a long-term lease, but as soon as it’s up, I’m outa here.
What brand hair dye would you recommend for a kid under 12 who wants purple hair (from dark blonde) but a mom who prefers not to bleach first?
I haven’t found one product that works well for all kids. My kids have very different hair, and how well the color adheres is unpredictable. We had pretty good luck with  Ion Color Brilliance, which we got at Sally.  Don’t wash too often, and if you do, mix some dye in with the conditioner.
Who will play you (and the rest of your family) in the sure-to-be-a-blockbuster hit, The Simcha Fisher Story?
Abe Vigoda in all the parts, including the cat.
Who are you?
Public, like a frog.
Which character on the masked singer is Donnie Wahlberg?
I don’t know what this is. I don’t say this in an elitist, braggy way. I just don’t, just like I don’t know what the Korean War was about and I don’t understand how magnetic eyelashes work.
How can I get on the Soros payroll and get a duct tape ottoman? 
Enrollment closed in mid-January. If you would like to get on the waiting list before the next period, simply submit your twelve-point plan for infiltrating the Church written in the blood of a gentile, obvs with a self addressed stamped envelope and you should receive your duct tape within 6-8 weeks.
How do you raise middle schoolers?
Notice everything, ignore most, remedy a little.
You alluded to a long-term goal of removing carbs-as-a-side from family dinners. How has having a child with type 1 diabetes changed your view of carbs?
A little? I guess I had to reorganize some categories of what was healthy food and what was less healthy. I just get tired of potatoes, that’s all.
 Do you have secret cancer?
Always and everywhere.
Paper, plastic, or?
I like to bring a crumpled Aldi bags with sour milk stuck in the creases and some random spoons, peanuts, and legos and whatnot in the bottom. I enjoy it.
Is intersectional critical theory satanic?
I read this as “interclitoral,” so possibly you don’t want any further of my thoughts on the matter.

Speaking of going from Judaism to Catholicism. Were you the only one to convert, or was it a family thing, or are you the second generation? How do you decide which traditions are… acceptable? … to continue and which ones belong to actual practicing Jews? Is Damien a convert from Judaism too? What was it like for him to begin incorporating Jewish traditions if he doesn’t have a Jewish background? 

Oh gosh, I was like four when I was baptized. My parents were raised as cultural Jews, and went through a series of other religions before they became Christian, and it was then that their Jewish heritage took on religious significance. We are still working on ways of integrating Jewish practice with our Catholic faith. Damien is Scots Irish Catholic with a shot of Cherokee, but he has always been enthusiastic about our kids’ Jewish heritage, so we work through it together.
Jeet jet?
No, jew?

The prime directive: Make something beautiful. An interview with Jim Janknegt

One of my favorite living artists is James Janknegt. In 2017, he kindly gave me an interview for Aleteia about his life and work. Janknegt, 66, who lives in Texas, is currently working on a commission for five paintings for a book on the meaning of baptism. You can find more of James Janknegt’s art and purchase his book on Lenten Meditations at bcartfarm.com.

Jim Janknegt via Facebook

Here’s our interview:

You converted to Catholicism in 2005. What led up to that?

James Janknegt: When I was a teenager back in the 70s, there was a nationwide charismatic movement. I was Presbyterian at the time. There was a transdenominational coffee house at University of Texas, with the typical youth band playing Jesus songs. There was a frat house we had taken over. We had 20 people sleeping on the floor; it was crazy. A super intense time.

What kind of art education did you have?

I went to public high school, and they didn’t teach much about art history. I would look at books at book stores, and that was my exposure to art. We had a rinky-dink art museum at University of Texas, not much to speak of. After I had this deepening of my faith as a teenager, and really wanted to follow Jesus 100 percent, I was really questioning whether it was legit to become an artist. I didn’t know any artist who were Christians, or Christians who were artists.

Thumbing through the bookstore, I found Salvador Dali. The book was cracked open at “Christ of St. John of the Cross.”

Wikipedia/fair use

That still, small voice that’s not audible, but you know it’s authentically God speaking to you — it felt affirmed. Yes, go forward to be an artist and be a Christian. Those are not incompatible.

Crucifixion at Barton Creek Mall – James Janknegt

Your pieces move from dark and lonely to radiant after your remarriage and conversion to Catholicism — that shift that you define as going from “diagnostic to celebratory.” But even in the “celebratory” stage, there is drama, even agony, along with ecstasy in your pieces.

Foxes Have Holes/James Janknegt

When I was involved in that youth group, they were very super-spiritual, filled with the Holy Spirit, thinking, “Now we can do everything!”

Summer Still Life/James Janknegt

But we never looked internally to see if there are psychological problems alongside your spiritual life. My dad was bipolar and manic depressive, in and out of mental institutions and jail. I met a woman at that Jesus freak outfit, and we got married. I carried a lot of baggage into my first marriage, that I hadn’t dealt with at all. I went to grad school and my marriage fell apart.

Breakdown/James Janknegt

Getting divorced ripped the lid off. All this stuff I had repressed was all bubbling up and coming to the fore. Questioning not my faith, but my ability to be faithful. Can I hear Him and be obedient to Him and do His will? It was a very dark time.

Jet Station/James Janknegt

When we look at your paintings chronologically, it very obviously mirrors different stages in your life. Is it strange to have your whole life on display?

You take that on when you become an artist. It’s very self-revelatory. It’s part of the deal, if you’re gonna be an artist, to be as honest as you can. I think that’s the downfall of a lot of bad religious art: It’s not technically bad, but it’s just not honest. We live in a fallen world. Bad things happen.

Sudden and Tragic Death/James Janknegt

That’s part of life, and that has to be in your painting. You can’t paint sanitized, Sunday school art.

But you do seem to create art that has very specific meanings in mind. Do you worry about limiting what the viewer can get out of a piece?

There’s a painting I did of Easter morning zinnias. They look like firecrackers; Jonah’s on the vase; in the corner, there’s an airplane.

Easter Morning/James Janknegt

I just needed something in the corner to make your eye move into that corner! People were trying to figure out what it meant, but sometimes an airplane is just an airplane.

To me, the role of art is to make something beautiful. Very simple, that’s the prime directive: Make something beautiful.

James Janknegt – supplied
Bug Tools and Beyond/James Janknegt

It doesn’t have to be figurative or narrative or decorative. But my feeling is: The history of our salvation, starting with Genesis to Revelation, is indeed the greatest story ever told. What’s better? As an artist, why wouldn’t I want to tell that?

James Janknegt – supplied
Nativity Christmas Card/James Janknegt

How does the secular world respond to your works? They are full of parables and Bible stories, but also unfamiliar imagery.

A painting is different from a sentence or a paragraph. Paintings deal with visual symbols. I’m trying to take something that was conceptualized 2,000 years ago in a different culture, keeping the content, in a different context.

James Janknegt – supplied
Two Sons/James Janknegt

It’s almost like translating a language, but with visual symbols.

I have a definite idea of what I’m trying to get across. But you [the viewer] bring with yourself a completely different set of assumptions and experiences, and I have no control over that. I don’t want to.

 

James Janknegt – supplied
Holy Family/James Janknegt

When I look at a painting, it’s a conversation. I’m talking into the painting, and the painting is talking to you.

James Janknegt – supplied
Grain and Weeds/James Janknegt

Part of the problem today is that we do not have the same visual symbolic language. In the Renaissance or the Middle Ages, the culture was homogeneous, and symbols were used for hundreds and hundreds of years. If I put a pelican pecking its breast, no one [today] knows what that means. We’ve lost the language. So it’s challenging.

Are you inventing your own modern symbolic language? I see birds, dogs…

You kind of have to. It’s a balancing act. In art school, they say, “Just express yourself! You’re painting for yourself; it doesn’t matter what everyone else gets out of it.” I’m not doing that. I’m trying to communicate with people.

 

The Wise Bridesmaids/Janknegt – supplied
The Wise Bridesmaids/James Janknegt

Tell me about the state of religious art right now.

People complain about how there’s no good religious art.  But there’s a lot of good art out there; you just have to search for it. I feel like I’m hidden away, in this weird place between two cultures, but they are out there.

Saint John the Evangelist/James Janknegt
Saint John the Evangelist/James Janknegt

In our time, people who collect art aren’t religious, and people who are religious don’t collect art. And for an artist, in the Venn diagram, you’re in the place where it says “no money.”

If you could just find an artist you really like and ask them if you could buy a piece for your home shrine.

The Visitation/James Janknegt-supplied
The Visitation/James Janknegt

If every Catholic could buy a piece of art from a living artist, think how that would impact your life, and the life of the artist. You could give them a living.

James Janknegt-supplied
Divine Mercy/James Janknegt

Your farm is called “Brilliant Corners Art Farm.” Is that name a reference to Thelonious Monk?

It is! But it also has a hidden spiritual meaning. Honesty is the light. If you’ve got brilliant corners, then the whole room is lit up.

I Will Make All Things New/James Janknegt-supplied
I Will Make All Things New/James Janknegt

You can find more of James Janknegt’s art and purchase his Lenten Meditations book of 40 paintings based on the parables of Jesus Lenten Meditations at bcartfarm.com.

Valentine gift guide, 2019!

Pshh, I bet you guys don’t even have your Valentine’s Day trees up yet, do you. Slackers! Here’s our special love tree, as of today:

I just love love, okay?

Now let’s get to the good stuff. Here are some lovely gift ideas for your love. Order now and get flowers when the day gets closer. Trust me.

(Etsy links are affiliate links)

Honest and for True, a Valentine’s day romantic comedy by Jane Lebak

Have I read this book? No, I have not! But the author is funny and smart and interesting, so chances are good her writing is, too.

29-year-old Lee has a Park Slope apartment with easy access to Manhattan, loves her job as an auto mechanic, and can see her guardian angel (a wisecracker with a fascination for the Rumours album.) That’s kind of a full life for a kid in the world’s biggest playground. Despite what everyone thinks, she doesn’t need, or want, a romantic relationship.

Far more comfortable in blue jeans and flannel than in heels and satin, Lee finds herself lying to every man she dates. To the physical trainer, she’s a preschool teacher; to the guy at the bowling alley, she’s a secretary. The lies keep romance at arm’s length even as they drive the angel to distraction until the day she realizes she’s fallen for a straight-laced accountant who’s exploring his dark side through bizarre foods (please note: sea cucumber is not a vegetable). But now he thinks she’s someone she’s not.

Now she’s got to turn those mechanic skills on herself to diagnose and repair the most important relationships in her life. And just think, she used to find it tough repairing a transmission!

Long-time comedy writer and novelist Jane Lebak serves up a hilarious comedy with angels and spare tires and a recipe for the best omelets you’ve ever tasted. Also what may be the most romantic toilet-fixing scene in the English language. But there really isn’t an award for that, so we’ll never know.

MORSE CODE NECKLACES from APPLE AND AZALEA

Guys, I will tell you a secret: Women love secret marriage stuff. If you have a romantic in-joke or something sweet that only you and she know about, a morse code necklace is a very good bet, because it’s romantic but not lady-generic.

Theresa at Apple and Azalea makes Morse Code necklaces for men and women. While there are always some great choices in stock in her Etsy shop, necklaces can by customized by color, phrase or even length of necklace. Popular ideas are nicknames and pet names, children’s initials for a parent, or personal sentiments like “all my love,” or “to the moon and back.”

Here’s a few other designs:

Contact her by Feb 5th to get a custom design made and shipped in time for Valentine’s Day. In stock items need to be ordered by Feb 8 to guarantee they will ship in time.

CHAINMAIL JEWELRY FROM IRON LACE DESIGN

Never will I tire of reminding you to shop around Kyra’s amazing chainmail jewelry store. Never, I say! I’m breathlessly awaiting my latest order. These incomparable pieces would not be out of place in a gallery, but you can have one for your very own.

The Time Lord’s Companion

This stunning steampunk choker combines elegant Victorian filigree with authentic Japanese chainmail, carefully linked by hand. It finishes with an astonishing one-of-a-kind pendant, made of authentic vintage watch gears that have genuine movement with sparkling inlaid ruby bearings. This truly magical piece is nineteen inches long, and closes with a lobster clasp.

Named in honor of the perennial classic show Doctor Who, this tiny time machine is a magical piece that promises to be your companion–not just for occasional cosplay wear, at which it excels, but also for everyday enjoyment. Let its beguiling marriage of lace with steel, and the radiance of its ruby bearings, be a reminder to you that fantastic things are possible, and that making magic is worth your time.

Tesseract earrings

“There IS such a thing as a tesseract.”, said Mrs Whatsit. These are lovingly dedicated to Meg Murry, who learned how to tesser and kythe.

Handmade of steel chainmail and Swarovski crystal, these earrings measure approximately 1 1/2in and are hung from sterling silver hooks.

The Selene necklace

The Selene Lace, like the rest of the popular Byzantine line, embodies the Iron Lace ideal of knitting with steel, combining spun moonbeam elegance with lasting strength.

A made-to-order variation on my popular Byzantine-style choker, and the heavier version of the Byzantine chainmail choker, this handmade stainless steel necklace is elegant enough for a formal evening dancing in the moonlight, but tough enough to withstand swimming in a pool or ocean tides. The Byzantine line is designed to make you feel like an everyday empress.

[Kyra’s in Canada, so order by February 5 to get your jewelry before Valentine’s Day. Six-day shipping is possible, but let’s not be silly!]

HOLY MARRIAGE POCKET ROSARY FROM GROTTO ROSARIES

Isn’t this lovely? Tender and dignified. This is one of several pocket rosaries available.

One-decade “tenners” or pocket rosaries are elegant gifts for your sweetheart.  Perfectly portable to keep in the pocket or under the pillow, Grotto pocket rosaries feature stunning bronze medals cast in the USA that will remind your beloved of a special saint, occasion, or intention.  (Pictured: Holy Marriage in the Garden set with Aqua Terra jasper).

All pocket rosaries feature 8mm gemstone Ave beads and a 10 mm Pater bead set between czech fire-polished and bronze, giving them just the right amount of sparkle while not overwhelming the natural beauty of the gemstones.

Artfully packaged with organza gift bag and jewelry box.  Handmade in upstate Central New York.

And finally . . .

MORE LOVELY GEEKINESS FROM THE ONE AND ONLY ELISA LOW OF DOOR NUMBER NINE

Catholic Pickup Lines Card Set

Have you Lent someone your heart and want to ash them out? Do you think you’ve met a special someone, and you wish your guardian angel could intercede? Door Number 9 is here to be your wingman!

Here are the classic Catholic pick-up lines, now printed on 2.5×4 inch cards. Carry them with you inside the included slide-top metal tin so you can smoothly operate the top and slide out one of sixteen suggestions, including: “Confess here often?”; “Your eyes are so [Marian blue, Carmelite brown, or Ordinary Time green]”; and “Do you attend the Latin Mass? Because your form is Extraordinary.”

Don’t just watch that special someone pray the rosary when you could be spending decades with them. Open your heart (and your pick-up cards) and act now!

Grumpy St. Valentine Mug

Get back to the Catholic roots of SAINT Valentine’s day with this icon mug:

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
I was beaten stoned and beheaded,
These flowers and chocolates
Are for you.

.

What’s for supper? Vol. 157: Banh mi, banh you (uh-hunhhhhh)

My father kept telling me time will speed up when you get older, and he was right. Sorry I’ve been a bit scarce on the blog lately. I have a bunch of big projects I’m working on, and they’re kicking my butt. Here’s what we apparently ate this week, in a blur:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese on sourdough, broccoli, chips

I put out the sandwiches and broccoli, waited ten minutes, and then admitted there were also chips. It was worth a shot. (It didn’t work.)

SUNDAY
Pork banh mi with pickled vegetables

Fabulous. Just so ridiculously tasty. Sometimes I leave the cucumbers unpickled, and have plain mayo instead of sriracha, and skip the jalapeños, but this time I went for the full heat. Grrrrrr.

You can make this with steak, but I actually prefer pork, because it takes on more of the marinade flavor (FISH SAUCE). I pickled the cukes and carrots and sliced and marinated the meat when we got home from Mass, and then almost the whole family went out to see Into the Spiderverse, and wow, it was great! I loved every minute of it. Parts of it were too scary and overwhelming for Corrie, but she got through them and enjoyed the rest. If you only rarely see movies in the theater, this is one to splurge on.

We got back very late and I was so glad all I had to do was cook the meat. I spread it in pans and broiled it up. I also decided to grill the bread on on iron skillet with a little olive oil, and I liked that; but toasting in the oven works fine, too. The ideal bread for this sandwich is a crusty split baguette, but the generic sub rolls we had were fine.

Banh mi and pickled veg recipe cards at the end.

MONDAY
Southwest chicken salad

This was not as popular as I thought it would be. The idea was mixed greens, spicy grilled chicken, corn with red pepper, black beans, avocado slices, grape tomatoes, and spicy, crunchy tortilla strips, with lime wedges. I even bought some kind of name brand Chipotle Ranch Dressing in one of those bottles designed to be upside down like millionaires have.

I got a resounding “meh” from the family. True, I accidentally bought frozen rice with corn in it, rather than frozen corn with peppers in it, but I don’t think the success of this meal was entirely riding on the corn aspect of it. I dunno. I thought it was okay! Oh well.

To make the tortilla strips, I (you’ll never guess) cut tortillas into strips, then tossed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with plenty of chili lime powder. Then I spread them in a shallow pan and baked them at 300 for maybe half an hour, stirring occasionally, until they were crunchy.

I actually burned the first batch and started all over again; that’s how dedicated I was. Anyway, these tortilla strips would make a good topping for all kinds of salads or soups.

TUESDAY
Chicken spinach-walnut pesto pasta salad and garlic knots

The kids have been asking for this dish, which I used to make a lot. I like it, although it seems like more of a side dish to me; but it’s labor-intensive enough that I definitely don’t want to make a main course in addition. So I forged ahead.

I can’t decide if I can really even call what I made “pesto” or not. I usually make this dish with just basil, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan, because pine nuts are expensive. But I did have tons of walnuts in the house from when I was still telling myself I’d just have to go ahead and bake after Christmas. (I did not.)

So I fed about two cups of walnuts into the food processor until they were pretty crumbed. I had a giant bunch of basil, but it had been pushed to the back of the fridge, where it froze. I figured it was going to be pulverized anyway, so maybe it didn’t matter? So that went in, too. But it looked way too nutty, so I says, “Spinach is a leaf, just like basil!” But all I had was a box of mixed greens including spinach, and I sure didn’t feel like sorting leaves. So I just shoved a few big handfuls of mixed greens in, and then about a cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of kosher salt, tons of minced garlic, and an entire jar (I guess 8 oz?) of shredded parmesan cheese. Corrie was helping me at this point, so. We just kept shoving stuff in and pressing the button.

The end result actually tasted nice. Definitely walnutty, but not in a bad way, especially with all that cheese. I think it may have come out more spreadable if I had toasted the walnuts, but I didn’t think of that.

The basil held its own against the spinach and whatnot. I wasn’t crazy about the texture — it was very pasty. But it was definitely too late to turn back, so I pressure cooked some chicken thighs and broke them into bits, and boiled up some farfalle, and just shlorped the whole thing together.

They liked it! I liked it. I guess I will go ahead and make a recipe card. Definitely cheaper than pure pesto. Hard to get a decent picture of it, though. It doesn’t look like a heap of garbage in real life.

For the garlic knots, I just cut balls of pre-made pizza dough into eight lumps, rolled them into snakes, tied them in knots, and topped each one with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of kosher salt, garlic powder, and parmesan. They get baked in a 400 oven on a greased, floured (or better, corn mealed) pan for 12-15 minutes, if I recall.

I made enough for everyone to have two. Corrie had four.

I love these inordinately. Something about how nicely they come apart and how steamy hot their tender insides are. I am not actually a bird of prey, despite how I sound here.

WEDNESDAY
Pizza

Five of them.

I took this picture because I heard myself saying, “Ugh, it’s after noon and I haven’t gotten anything done today!” Then I realized I had taken the kids to school, conducted a phone interview, written a 900-word essay, and made five pizzas, or, as I like to call it, “getting nothing done.” This is what Damien calls having a head full of bullshit, and it may never clear, but at least I can challenge it. Those were fine pizzas.

THURSDAY
Chicken enchiladas

Dora made Pioneer Woman’s chicken enchiladas, may her name be praised. Eighteen red and eighteen green.  Yadda-dadda-dadda-dadda-dai-dai-dai!  I didn’t get an enchilada photo because I wrote through dinner time and didn’t eat until 8:30 or so, and couldn’t spare a second. Here’s something, though:

And there it is.

FRIDAY
Fish taco rice bowls

A new dish I’ll be trying today. I got the idea from Damn Delicious, but I have no energy to make the pico de gallo, sadly. We’ll just have rice topped with batter fried frish (I’m gonna leave that typo because it’s funny), shredded red cabbage, sliced avocado, cilantro, salsa, and fresh limes. She includes what looks like a yummy recipe for cilantro lime dressing, which I bought Greek yogurt for, but I just remembered I ate half of it with honey. Should I buy more, or maybe just make a lime crema? I don’t really see any downside with this. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Banh mi with pickled vegetables

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs pork butt (or other boneless cut), trimmed and sliced thinly

10-12 rolls, split and toasted or grilled

  • 1-2 bunches cilantro, chopped coarsely
  • mayo, with or without sriracha stirred in
  • jalapeños, sliced thinly

For the marinade:

  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 18 cloves garlic, minced (8-9 Tpsp)
  • 1/2 medium onion, minced (or a few shallots, minced)
  • 2 tsp ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Mix all sauce ingredients together. Mix up with sliced pork, seal in ziplock bag, and let marinate overnight or for at least five hours. 

  2. Remove meat from marinade and grill over low heat or under broiler.

  3. Spread mayo or sriracha mayo on toasted or grilled bread, lay on meat, add pickled vegetables (see recipe card), jalapeños, and cilantro.

 

Lime Crema

Keyword Budget Bytes, crema, lime, lime crema, sour cream, tacos

Ingredients

  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 3 limes zested and juiced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. 

Recipe Notes

So good on tacos and tortilla chips Looking forward to having it on tortilla soup, enchiladas, MAYBE BAKED POTATOES, I DON'T EVEN KNOW.

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sale, preferably kosher

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

Spinach walnut pesto

You can play with the proportions to get the consistency you like. This version is cheaper than using pine nuts and all basil. Makes 2-3 cups of pesto for adding to pasta or spreading on bruschetta.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cups fresh baby spinach (can include radicchio, etc.)
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 3 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Whir nuts in food processor until crumbed. 
    Add basil and greens, and whir until blended. 
    Slowly add olive oil and blend again.
    Add salt, garlic, and parmesan cheese and blend again until it's the consistency you like. 


How can you be Church militant if you refuse to train to fight?

In light of the academic and cultural debacle playing out at Franciscan U, I’m reposting an essay I wrote in 2014. It addresses only one aspect of the creeping academic cowardice that threatens, once again, to overwhelm the American Church — to turn the Church militant into the Church Ostrich, squawking indignantly at anyone who wants to get up out of the sand and engage the world, the flesh, and the devil.

At FUS, we see this cowardice not creeping, but swarming and wielding pitchforks. Short version of the nonsense: A well-respected FUS professor assigned The Kingdom, a work of fiction imagining the early Church, to a group of five upper-level English majors. The book, which merited a mixed review by the conservative journal First Things, included a blasphemous and graphically profane passage describing the sexual thoughts of one fictional character. As far as I can gather, part of the professor’s goal was to help some select, mature students learn how to evaluate and respond to literature which isn’t specifically designed to edify the sheltered — i.e., most of literature. He wanted, it seems, to train his students for their imminent battles, both intellectual and spiritual.

But the group that calls itself Church Militant somehow got wind of the assignment and organized a mob, allegedly horrified that any Catholic would read such things . . . and also excerpting the most profane and blasphemous portions of the book and disseminating them far and wide. Strange behavior for an organization that believes no one should read such things. But this isn’t about logic, this is about moral panic. The professor has been stripped of his chairmanship, and Church Militant is calling for him to be fired. The school president wrote a craven letter apologizing for the putative offense and promising reparations and tighter oversight of curriculum.

Coincidentally, social media churned up an old and ludicrous Crisis article warning readers away from Flannery O’Connor because ugliness and violence just don’t pair well with religious ideas.

Counterpoint:

So it seemed like a good time to remind folks that we’re Catholic, dammit, not cowards. If Catholics can’t muster up the intellectual courage and brainpower to answer the world, then the world is doomed. You can be well-educated without reading The Kingdom, but you can’t win any wars if you keep firing the drill sergeants training your kids for the battle.

We are the Church militant — not the fourth-rate media outrage machine that goes by that name, but the real thing, the part of the communion of saints still on the battlefield. We’re supposed to put ourselves on the front lines. How can we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil if we shrink howling away from any kind of toughening and training? How will you fight if you refuse to meet the enemy? How can you fight the devil if you don’t even have the guts to talk about a book?

It may or may not have been wise for the professor to assign that particular book, but it chills my blood to see yet another Catholic institution knuckle under to the demands of a knothead mob. You parents who want to protect your kids from evil: This is what the evil looks like. It looks like vicious cowardice dressed up as righteous indignation. We’ve seen this before. The ones howling “blasphemy” are always the same one panting for another crucifixion.

***

When I was about eight years old, I decided that, just once, I was going to read a story that turned out the way I wanted it to turn out.  So I wrote it myself. It was about a little girl who went to a fair, and she got to go on all the rides as many times as she wanted, and all the vendors thought she looked like such a neat kid that they gave her tons of food for free, and then she played a bunch of games and she won prizes every single time. Then she went home when she was ready to go home.

Even I knew that this was the worst story ever. Even though the little girl was tired at the end, nothing had happened. The story was devoid of conflict, which is the tension necessary to make the gears of the story mesh. No teeth, no engagement, no movement, no vroom-vroom-vroom.

My own daughter just learned this fact this morning. She was home “sick,” so she and the toddler and the dog were watching My Little Pony, which is actually not terrible. It was the episode where Shining Armor is marrying Princess Cadance (that’s how you spell it. I looked it up, everypony), and in Part II, the bridesmares turn crazy and evil. My daughter says, “How come there always have to be jerks?”

Hooray, something I went to college for! I can answer this one. I explain that when everyone is just nice and friendly and helpful all the time, it’s too boring. It may be fine in real life, but when you’re telling a story, there’s no story there.

“Oh,” she says, “Like in Care Bears.” Yes, exactly. Which is why, even I do not let them watch Care Bears. (Or, I don’t ban it outright, but I encourage a heavy atmosphere of hostility and derision around the entire franchise. This is one of the huge advantages of having a big family: all you have to do is brainwash the older kids, and if you’ve done your job thoroughly, your propaganda takes on a life of its own.)

Audiences are primed to expect conflict in a story. This  makes things more interesting, it gives us a reason to care, and, even for little kids, it makes the story more true to life. For kids, it is perfectly okay to have the mess 100% mopped up by the time the ending credits roll: all the misunderstandings are cleared up, all the misdeeds are apologized for and forgiven, and all the unrepentant characters have their just desserts delivered to them in a tidy little pastry box.

That’s for kids.

Not for adults.

In adult fiction, it is okay for things to be a little messier. There is some middle ground between the sunshine-and-lollipops world of Care Bears, and the muck of unrelenting despair that passes for postmodern fiction. There is a lot of middle ground, in fact, and that is precisely where good, thoughtful, entertaining, thought-provoking fiction sets up camp: where there is a moral universe, but it’s not a tidy one.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a fellow who had been to a Catholic liberal arts college and somehow emerged on the other end with a B.A. and the firm impression that, for a work of fiction to earn the seal of approval from Catholics, the plot must include pretty much everything you’d expect in a My Little Pony episode — especially the parts where all sins are punished and all sinners are either damned or repentant. He said that Catholics ought not to read any book or watch any movie or play where this comeuppance is not reliable and overt. Not only did he advance this point of view in public, under his real name, but he kept it up until three separate people sent me private messages warning me that he would neither eat, nor sleep, nor relieve his bladder until I gave up and admitted he was right.

And I says to myself, I says, Sorry, Shakespeare! Sorry, Homer! Sorry, Flannery O’Connor and Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Faulkner, Melville, Dostoevsky, Chaucer, Joseph Conrad, Dickens, and Thomas “Joyboy” Mann. Sorry to you all, but you have got to go, because I’m fairly sure that on page 243, right where nice little college girls and college boys could read it, someone got in someone else’s pants and didn’t drop dead of the clap before the end of the book. And on the very next page, someone used God’s name in vain and even though a perfectly good crevasse could have plausibly opened up and swallowed him without doing much violence to the dramatic integrity of the work as a whole, IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Is outrage!

I don’t even have to write the last paragraph of this, do I? You’re not going to argue with me are you? Are you?

Yes, ideas have consequences. Yes, the things we read have an effect on us, and if we wallow in filth, it gets deep into our pores and then the next thing you know, we don’t even want to shower. This is a real danger. But it’s just as dangerous to imagine that the Catholic imagination can produce nothing better than a Care Bears episode, a lesson in manners and morals disguised as a story.

Being a Catholic doesn’t mean foreswearing everything you know about humanity. We can recognize the difference between a novel and an instruction manual; and if we can’t, that’s not the sign of some high moral attainment. That’s a sign of a feeble mind and a limp spirit. We’re not little kids at the fair, and we can deal with someone telling us, “You don’t need any more cotton candy right now.”

***
Images: Shrinking Violet by JD Hancock via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Grünewald Crucifixion detail via Wikimedia (Public domain)

 

Cave Pictures is an intriguing new comic publisher with plenty on its mind

Like many parents, I have mixed feelings about comics and graphic novels, especially adaptations. I want my kids (and the rest of civilization) to be able to read through a block of text without pictures to help them along; and I want them to read “the real thing,” not a watered-down version of a classic. But more and more, I see that, while many comics are still lurid and vapid, many are not. We’re firmly in an age of comics with something on their mind. They’re not just colorful, easy-to-digest substitutions for books; they’re something different — or at least they can be. Ben Hatke‘s and Mike Mignola’s work spring to mind.

The other week, I stumbled across an ad for a serialized comic adaptation of The Light Princess. Although I adore the original illustrations by Maurice Sendak, I have always wished someone less wordy than George MacDonald had written his wonderful stories, especially for reading out loud. So I dug around to see what else the publisher, Cave Pictures Publishing, is up to.

It turns out they’re new, and The Light Princess is one of five comic titles debuting this year

— and holy cow, it’s a diverse line-up, to say the least. There’s also “Appalachian Apocalypse” by Billy Tucci (Shi), Ethan Nicolle (Axe Cop), and Ben Gilbert:

and “The Blessed Machine,” a dystopian sci fi series by Jesse Hamm (Batman ’66) and Mark Rodgers

Locked in a city deep within the earth, a courageous few struggle to reach the surface, fighting not only against the minds and flesh of men but against their man-made minders.

Other titles:

THE NO ONES by Jim Krueger with art by Well-Bee

A team of superheroes, blinded by their fame and self-promotion, are forced to reckon with their destructive choices when a twist of fate erases them from both history and present memory.

WYLDE by Daniel Bradford

When a mysterious masked lawman partners with a suspicious sheriff to save his frontier town from an invasion of the undead, the sheriff will learn ancient secrets of the lawman’s past and the power of self-sacrifice. In saving his town, he will save himself.

Okay, sure!

Cave Pictures (tagline: “Great comics for the spiritually inclined”) says it intends to deliver more than mindless, two-dimensional entertainment. They’re not religious, but they hope to engage readers who thirst after spiritual meaning.

My take? I’m intrigued. The artwork and storytelling is skillful and lively, and they do seem dedicated to presenting work that’s layered, but driven primarily by story and art, not message.

The first issue of The Light Princess (the only title I previewed) is a little unsettling. For reasons that are not yet clear, they’ve invented some odd backstory for the princess’ parents

but I’m suspending judgment until future issues. The artwork leans fairy-tale-ish, and so far lacks some of the weird, jarring edge inherent in the story; but this may change as the plot progresses (the first issue ends just as the baby first loses her gravity). The overall look is professional and effective, sometimes quite lovely. The lettering occasionally gets overly pictorial and almost too ornate to read in a few places, but not disastrously so;

and the story moves along briskly and keeps the reader’s attention. In short: Not perfect, but intriguing, and definitely a publisher to watch. I’ll be asking my librarian to look into carrying these titles, and I’m more curious now to look into the other stories, which are all original, not adaptations.

Here’s a page from their free comic that frames their mission, retelling Plato’s allegory of the cave:

Earlier this week, I chatted with the president, Mandi Hart, who “manages all the moving parts of Cave.” Hart has a background in filmmaking, but got a law degree to help her manage the legal and logistical aspects of running a creative business. She soon came to realize that investors would be willing to finance a company that published what their children and grandchildren loved, and that meant comics.

Here’s our conversation:
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You quote David Foster Wallace saying “Everybody worships. The only chance we get is what to worship. ” What do you think people worship? 
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It could be any number of things. In our culture today, there’s a lot of self-worship, influenced by entertainment media and also by advertising. It can be very toxic to make yourself the center of the universe. Across all of our titles, we’re trying to incorporate themes like: Is there more to life than yourself, than the material world?
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The key theme in the The Blessed Machine is about whether there is more to the world than the characters inhabit, than what they can see — and more than what the machines they depend on for life are telling them exist.
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Is it possible to live without faith in anything? We all have to exercise faith in something. It’s a question of where: Where are we going to invest that faith?
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The Light Princess
is actually a little more overtly Christian than the even book itself is. Is there some particular faith background from which you’re approaching these titles?
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Across all our titles, we’re not coming from any particular faith background. We like to think of our titles as “faith-acceptable” or “faith-aligned,” not promoting any particular perspective. We’re raising universal questions about meaning and moral responsibility.
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As a Catholic, I often come across creative people of faith who say they want to do just that, but they end up producing preachy, heavy-handed stuff. Does that worry you?
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We definitely try to avoid using the art form a tool. We are really going for stories that have a lot of layers of meaning. One of the primary gatekeepers is the artists we work with. They all have extensive experience and a great reputation; they’ve won awards, and they have developed their own creative content. So that, for us, has been one of the primary mechanisms to use: That we’re hiring writers and illustrators who do really solid work and have been recognized in the industry.
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For The Light Princess, it being an adaptation, George MacDonald already imbued it with so many layers of meaning, so that helped us avoid the least common denominator. For the other stories, on the whole, it’s wholly original content. The creators that came up with those titles originated the ideas, and came at their stories as storytellers, not with a message or an agenda.
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One of our illustrators was talking about his universal approach to his own art. He said it’s much more about raising questions than about providing answers. That’s emblematic of the work we do. We want to start conversations, not feed anyone a particular message.
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The Light Princess is an adaptation, but the rest of the first round of titles are all original stories. Will you do other adaptations of books in the future?
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I can’t disclose which one yet, but we will be doing another George MacDonald adaptation. George MacDonald is in the public domain, but we are open to exploring doing other copyrighted work.
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Of all the titles coming out, which is your personal favorite? 
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They’re all so different. I have a favorite aspect of each of the different titles. In our sci fi title, The Blessed Machine, it’s about a dystopian future, but it’s also a lot of fun. In Appalachian Apocalypse, certain moments in the dialogue and artwork are such a great laugh release, but at the same time, there’s a serious subject matter to be tackled. What are the implications of an army of undead attacking us? In The Light Princess, one of my favorite things is that the artwork is just stunning. It’s been such a pleasure to see how they’ve rendered this story. The use of color, light, and texture has been really beautiful. In the superhero series, what I love most is the setup. Without giving too much away, the six superheroes have been part of a team, but there’s a twist of fate, and they become pitted against each other. They all face a very stark moral choice, kind of a fork in the road, and half go one way, and half go the other. I love the way the author, Jim Krueger, has developed the story and characters for the quandary they find themselves in.
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Each series is on a monthly release. The first issues of Appalachian Apocalypse will be out in late January, The Light Princess in February, and The Blessed Machine in March.

Hart welcomes questions from readers. You can follow Cave Pictures Publications on social media:

NH schismatics, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, can no longer offer sacraments

The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an ultra-traditionalist, schismatic, antisemitic group based in Richmond, NH, has been placed under sanctions by Bishop Peter Libasci after rejecting repeated chances to come back into compliance with Church teaching.

Damien Fisher (who is my husband) reported in the Union Leader that the Slaves can no longer offer the sacraments at their compound and cannot describe themselves as Catholic. These sanctions “could be ratcheted up if the group does not comply with orders by church leaders, especially orders to stop preaching the doctrine that only Catholics go to heaven.”

The Vatican ordered them two years ago to stop teaching a strict, literalist interpretation of the idea that there is no salvation outside the Church.

According to the Union Leader story:

In recent years, Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci has allowed a priest in good standing from another diocese to minister to the Slaves and their congregation, celebrating Mass in the traditional Latin rite, and administering other Catholic sacraments. According to a statement released Monday by the Diocese, the Slaves have used that allowance to imply they were an approved Catholic organization.

They were offered several chances since 2016 to come into compliance to remain in the good graces of the Church, but they persisted in disobeying the diocese, in presenting themselves as an independent congregation, and in teaching false doctrine as Catholic.

The group has been in Richmond since the mid 80’s, and they operate the St. Benedict Center, a school, as well as publications, a radio show, and websites. They are an offshoot of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart in Still River, MA, which was founded by Fr. Leonard Feeney. Fr. Feeney was excommunicated in 1953 after he persisted in teaching that no one can be saved if they are not baptized Catholic; but he made a deathbed conversion and died in communion with the Church. Many of his followers do not acknowledge that he repented of his heretical beliefs, and the Richmond group is one of the most radical splinter groups to form from the original Fenneyites.

The St. Benedict Center in Still River is not affiliated with the Richmond group, and is in full communion with the Church.

In 1958, Feeney wrote that “the Jewish race constitutes a united anti-Christian bloc within Christian society, and is working for the overthrow of that society by every means at its disposal.” 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the leader of the Richmond Group, Louis Villarrubia, who calls himself “Brother Andre Marie,” stated in 2004:

“If anti-Semitism means opposing the Jews on religious matters, opposing the Zionist state in Palestine (as St. Pius X did), or opposing the Jewish tendency to undermine public morals (widely acknowledged by Catholic writers before the present age of PC [political correctness]), then we could rightly be considered such.”

The SPLC has classified the Slaves as a hate group. It says that Richmond Selectman Doug Bersaw, also member of the Slaves, sometimes known as Brother Anthony Mary, is a Holocaust denier. The SPLC quotes Bersaw as saying:

“There’s a lot of controversy among people who study the so-called Holocaust. There’s a misperception that Hitler had a position to kill all the Jews. It’s all a fraud. Six million people… it didn’t occur.”

In 2009, the Slaves were sanctioned by the diocese of Manchester for their antisemitic teachings, and have since made those ideas less prominent.

According to the Union Leader story, the diocese of Manchester released a statement saying:

“Catholics are not permitted, under any circumstances, to receive the sacraments of the church at the Saint Benedict Center, and its associated locations, nor should they participate in any activity provided by this group or school.”

The diocese is eager to provide a spiritual home for the congregation left without sacraments because of their leaders’ rebelliousness. According to the UL:

[T]he diocese is instituting a sanctioned Latin Mass for people to attend at St. Stanislaus Parish in Winchester.

Photo: Damien Fisher