In praise of Mike Mulligan

My friends on social media often share excerpts from books they are reading: Illuminating passages from encyclicals, breathtaking ideas found in scholarly books about design and sociology.

I, on the other hand, post a little bit of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel:

I shared this after reading it aloud for maybe the eight thousandth time the other day. I was admiring once again the perfectly-crafted rhythm of the story. You would have to work really hard to read it wrong. In the page I shared, you can hear the building, busy excitement as more and more people get caught up in the action:

“Now the girl who answers the telephone called up the next towns of BANGerville and BOPperville and KIPperville and KOPperville and TOLD them what was HAPpening in POPperville.

“All the people came over to see if Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel could dig the cellar in . . . ”

and the sentence ends in three, flat, one-syllable words that land with incredulity:

“just. one. day.”

The author, Virgina Lee Burton, would read her books aloud to her own two sons and to neighbor children, to make sure they liked it. She said:

My first book, Jonnifer Lint, was about a piece of dust. I and my friends thought it was very clever but thirteen publishers disagreed with us and when I finally got the manuscript back and read it to Aris, age three and a half, he went to sleep before I could even finish it. That taught me a lesson and from then on I worked with and for my audience, my own children. I would tell them the story over and over, watching their reaction and adjusting to their interest or lack of interest . . . the same with the drawings. Children are very frank critics.

This is about the story, characters, and pictures, but also about the sound of the writing itself. When you’re reading aloud, a book is only as good as how well it can be read. An awful lot of modern children’s books have all the elements that people think kids want: zaniness, lots of frenetic action, lots of repetition; but they require the reader to make constant adjustments so the lines come out right. 

The execrable Skippyjon Jones books come to mind. They are hugely difficult to read aloud, because the words stutter and start and pile up, but rather than building excitement, they’re formless and aimless, littered with dreary puns that kids won’t get, lacking any purpose or arc. They always remind me of this clown, Cheryl, who used to turn up at children’s events. Her entire repertoire was screaming at the kids, because she heard kids like screaming, so here is some screaming. Cheryl was exhausting.

Anyway, about the story of Mike Mulligan. I was astonished to find that some people think it’s depressing. To paraphrase what several people said: He messes up one little job, and now he has to be a janitor forever! Mary Anne is interred in a basement for the rest of her life! I guess if I read the book for the first time as an adult — especially, perhaps, as a young housewife feeling overlooked and trapped — I might read it that way. 

But I did grow up loving the book, and so I’m predisposed to seeing more in it. It’s a John Henry story (“He always said that she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week but he had never been quite sure that this was true”);  except instead of a glorious death in the end, Mrs. McGillicuddy takes them nice hot apple pies. The end of the story is no dark tomb; sunlight pours into the basement, a sort of Elysian Fields for heroes who have earned their rest. 

Several of Burton’s books deal with the idea that progress is good, until it stops being good. (Her excellent The Little House is a more stark and melancholy story with the same theme.) Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne are a victim of their own success. In their prime, they did all the works of progress: They dug the great canals, they cut through the high mountains, they lowered the hills and straightened the curves.

They were literally on the cutting edge of industry and progress; and that means they were destined to be surpassed. 

What are they to do? In a briefly grim passage, Mike has a vision of Gehenna:

It’s intolerable. But where else can you go, when you’ve come to the end?

But in Virginia Lee Burton books, there is always a way out; always a little bit of paradise still reserved for the worthy. So the two heroes set off for greener pastures

and Mike finally has the chance to find out if he and Mary Anne can really dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week. 

The busy pressure of their past life of industry is recreated in one final, intense day of crisis: He and Mary Anne are fighting against time. The era is coming to an end; the sun is going down. The only way to survive is to do what they are made to do, faster and faster.

And they win! They beat the sun. But in their victory, they have literally dug a hole for themselves that they can’t get out of.

And here is the brilliance of the book. How are they going to get out? It’s not just about this specific job; it’s about retaining their dignity and identity in a changing world. They’ve come to the end. What can be next?

It would make no sense for them to find more and more digging to do. They’re no longer wanted in the city, but they also can’t despoil the green and sunny world that saved their lives. So instead, rather than finding a way out, they find a way to stay in . . . but without defeat.

Mary Anne’s engine keeps working, but now she warms up the meetings at the new town hall. It’s the end of an era, and this is inescapable; but that doesn’t mean anyone is consigned to the netherworld. They lay down their hammer, but they do not die.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mike and Mary Anne’s virtues are transformed into warmth, rather than mere industry. (They always worked better and faster when people are watching, after all.)

And through their ordeal, Henry B. Swap, with small town scheming ways, is also transformed; and after Mike triumphs, “he spends most of his time in the cellar of the new town hall listening to the stories that Mike Mulligan has to tell and smiling in a way that isn’t mean at all.” So it turns out it’s all about people, in the end.

There are other children’s books that look back fondly on the past, but I’ve never found another book that deals with inevitable change in such a satisfying way.

But it’s not a lesson book, a wholesome moral disguised as a story; and that’s another of Burton’s virtues. My four-year-old doesn’t hear a Fin de siècle rumination on identity, mortality, and the mixed blessing of productivity. She hears an exciting story about digging, and billowing clouds of dust, and hurry hurry hurry, and Kipperville and Kopperville and Bangerville and Bopperville, and hot apple pies, and that’s what makes it a good book. 

So I guess I’m okay with being the one who gets all excited about children’s books, enough to share passages that I find illuminating. I know full well that some people see my kind of life as interred in a basement, endlessly changing diapers and wiping up crumbs instead of using my mind and my college degree and making constant progress. What can I say? I’m using the engine I have, and I feel like I’m making some warmth.

Prolife spotlight: St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

Cubby LaHood used the term “D-day” for the day parents first hear their unborn child has a severe or fatal birth defect.  

“The baby is the same baby they conceived and were joyful about, but … the baby can become a stranger,” she said in a 2013 40 Days for Life address.

LaHood, who died in 2015, suffered the same crushing shock herself, when her baby Francis got a likely fatal prenatal diagnosis. Everyone offered the couple abortion — doctors, clergy, family, and friends. But she and her husband Dan decided that they would love and carry their son Francis as long as he lived.

 
The LaHoods firmly believed unborn children with severe or fatal diagnoses deserve to live. But they also came to understand that carrying such children to term, rather than resorting to abortion, can bring healing, strength, and even joy to the parents and family, and even to the rest of the community, whether the child dies before he is born, or if he goes on to live for several years. 
 
“Hope led to grace, grace led to faith, and faith led to peace,” she said. 
 
Cubby and Dan LaHood went on to found two organizations based in Maryland, to offer encouragement, resources, and tangible support to people with disabilities and their families. Isaiah’s House, founded in 1995, offers personal support for families carrying to term after a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis.
 
“In seemingly the most hopeless and difficult of circumstances surrounding the birth of a child, a simple ‘yes’ to life reveals the presence of God, and the presence of love,” she said in a video called “Destined to Live Forever.”  
 
They believe that even a very short life has meaning and power. “[These parents] conceived a miracle, and that miracle deserves all the support that you can give it. It’s about more than you,” LaHood said. 
 
Pro-lifers are frequently accused of being merely pro-birth, of counseling parents to reject abortion, but then abandoning them after the delivery. The LaHoods’ mission refutes this accusation. The other organization they founded, St. Joseph’s House, offers daycare, summer camp, and after-school programs, and respite programs for families of children with disabilities.
This effort, too, sprung out of a personal experience. When Cubby LaHood was pregnant with her first child, she wanted to stay at home, so she decided to open a daycare. The first client she found had a disability, and word quickly spread that LaHood was willing to care for disabled children. 
The family soon made it their mission to make a true home for these children, and to counter “the eugenic impulse” of the world that wants to reject anyone deemed imperfect or useless. St. Joseph’s House is now run by the LaHood’s daughter, Natalie. 
 
Cubby LaHood didn’t believe her family was special. “We all have the capacity to give love,” said LaHood. “It can be done without support — we did it without support — but there’s no reason for it to be done that way.”
 
 The LaHoods do not minimize or sentimentalize the difficulty of carrying and caring for a child with disabilities.
 

“Nobody wants to go through the Passion,” said Dan LaHood “No one wants to go through the Garden of Gethsemane. But once you go through it, you find there’s the spirit of God. There’s resurrection. Not only there’s life, but it’s eternal, and it’s more than you could ever imagine; and you can experience it now.”

None of the hundreds of couples they’ve walked with have regretted their choice, the LaHoods said. 

“Even in this worst, most darkened, most rejected place, God is. Love is.”

***

 

Image from this video:

Destined to Live Forever from Lumen Catechetical Consultants on Vimeo.

St. Joseph’s House

​Saintjosephshouse1983@gmail.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephshouse/

Isaiah’s Promise

info@isaiahspromise.net

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IsaiahsPromise4915/

St. Joseph’s Place also runs Cafe St. Joe in , “part job skills training, part community builder, and part fundraiser.” The Cafe offers a specialty blend of coffee made by a roaster that employs adults with disabilities, and half the proceeds to go the cafe

***

Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

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 “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Today I’m on The Catholic Podcast . . .

talking with Joe Heschmeyer and Chloe Langr about Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, for their series on the way of the cross. This episode, #57, is called “The Women of the Way,” and includes passages by the great Josef Ratzinger.

You can hear and download the episode here.

I talk about how I came to understand why and how Mary truly understands our suffering; and about the sensation of helplessness that so often comes along with motherhood and with love in general, and how that sensation can either tear us away from God or help us meet him more intimately. (This conversation was the impetus for my essay, Mary who stays.)

Their other guest is Deacon Brad Sloan who works with women who’ve been caught up in sex trafficking in the midwest. He says so many of them have never experienced what it means to be loved, by anyone else and certainly not by their maker.

The podcast isn’t just discussion; it’s intended to help you meditate on various themes in the stations of the cross. The goal is to help us understand that we’re not alone in our suffering, and to give us the courage to confront evil in our lives. 

The Catholic Podcast homepage is here and feed is here; and you can follow them on Facebook @TheCatholicPodcast.

Image: Station of the cross, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 4thstation : Jesus and his mother. Photo by Pethrus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

What’s for supper? Vol. 166: Everything is awesome

Raise your hand if this was your favorite week ever. Yeah, I thought so. Oh well, at least we have food. Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese; chips; string beans

Just another busy Saturday. You can see I made another stellar shopping list, too.

Grilled ham and provolone on sourdough bread with a little mayo on the outside, fried in butter.

Sometimes we slip thin slices of Granny Smith apples inside these sandwiches before frying, but not this week.

The string beans are finally looking less wretched, though, so we had just washed and trimmed them and ate them raw. Dreaming of the garden, if the snow ever leaves.

SUNDAY
Porchetta pork roast, farro salad, garlic bread

This was most certainly a bright spot. Best porchetta pork roast in the world. A few weeks ago, the Herreid clan was in the area for a wedding, and John stopped by with a bounty of leftover food. The Herreids are all, as far as I can tell, food geniuses. Ben is the chef at Wildflour artisan pasta restaurant in Leavanworth, WA, and this porchetta is one of his dishes. If you’re ever in the area, I highly highly recommend going to Wildflour. I’ve had the chance to taste Ben’s dishes a few times, and they are outstanding.

Damien recreated the porchetta this week, with a few minor adjustments. I’ll put a card at the end (probably later today. I can’t seem to ever finish this post!).

I was working while Damien cooked, and didn’t get a lot of pics of the pork, so here are some from John Herreid, when he made the same recipe at his house:




Eh? Eh? Have mercy; it’s the food of the gods.

I couldn’t find a nice big roast so we could roll and tie it like you’re supposed to, so we just had some sort of slabs to fold in half; and I couldn’t find white pepper, so he used black pepper and a little red pepper. I always think I don’t like fennel, but when it hangs around with the right flavors, it’s heavenly. So this was fennel root with onions, sweetened with apricot preserves and golden raisins, and heated with the peppers, along with sausage, white wine, coriander and garlic. Amazing. The smell alone will absolutely murder you, in the fun way.

He prepped the meat the day before, and then started it cooking in a 185 around 8 a.m. on Sunday and cooked it until about 5:30, turning it up to 500 for the last 20 minutes. Then you blast the heat and the end and crackle up the fat until it’s ready to melt under the crust. Hot damn.

For a side, I made this farro salad which was good, but not really the right accompaniment to this particular porchetta. They both had very strong flavors which didn’t complement each other as I hoped. The porchetta was more dusky and autumnal, I guess, and the farro more piquant and summery, or something. Anyway, next time I’ll probably just serve plain bread and asparagus or spinach or string beans with the porchetta, and save the farro salad for steak or grilled chicken or something with less complex flavors.

The farro salad was gorgeous, anyway, and really fed my hunger for color. Check out the vegetables:

and check out the dressing:

I do love farro. It’s like if barley and pasta got married and had a kid, and everyone’s like, “Whoa, look who got all the best genes!”

Overall an excellent meal.

I say the combination wasn’t ideal, but yet I also ate a lot of it. A LOT.

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, fries

Monday got eaten up by the locusts, so we had some late, hurried frozen chicken burgers. Which are actually pretty tasty.

TUESDAY
Calzones, banana splits, fried cheese balls

Tuesday was Irene’s birthday, and she asked for calzones. Recipe card at the end. I made some plain, some pepperoni, and some olive. I had a lot of help from my kitchen buddy.

I made sixteen calzoni, using four balls of readymade pizza dough cut into fourths. Sheesh, I love calzoni. Is there any friendlier food?

Then you brush a little egg wash on top and they are so plump and shiny.

Notice those little balls on the plate. I had a bunch of cheese filling left over, so I added a few beaten eggs and some panko bread crumbs to it, rolled them into balls the size of ping pong balls, and rolled them in bread crumbs again.

Then I chilled them a few hours and deep fried those suckers.

They were good! I wasn’t sure if they would hold together, since they were mostly ricotta, and I wasn’t sure if the crust would be thick enough, since I didn’t bother dipping them in egg; but they turned out really nicely. I think the small size and the chilling helped them hold together.

They were very light and tender, as tasty as fried mozzarella sticks but not so heavy. We dipped them in hot marinara sauce.

The only down side was that they were absolutely overkill as a side dish for calzones! It was like going to see a Shakespeare play and then stopping off for some sonnets on the way home. I would make these again as a side dish to something that wasn’t already mainly hot cheese, and maybe stick a little pancetta or basil or something in them.


WEDNESDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, peas

Benny asked for this dish very ardently.

I think mainly because I found some Wooly Willy dishes at a thrift store. I went looking for an Amazon link out of habit, and this is what I found:

Decorative use only, you guys. You’ve been warned.

The only useful advice I have about ham is this: if you buy a pre-cooked one, you can slice it up and then heat it, and it heats up much faster. You don’t want to know how long it took me to figure that out.

THURSDAY
Beer brats, smoked wings

Damien made this outside on the grill. Very delicious. He used his sugar rub for the wings and let them sit for several hours before grilling. He boils the brats in beer and onions before grilling. I’ll put recipe cards at the end at some point today.

I feel like we had an assortment of chips. It was only yesterday, but my memory is foggy. I blame the locusts. You can see the lengths we went to to prepare an attractive table, too. Ehh, the meat was good.

FRIDAY
Waffles, eggs, home fries

That’s what it says on the blackboard, anyway. Looking back, this week’s menu was designed to kill us quick, but here we still be.

And now I find out if the formatting is completely screwed up. I updated my blogging system and now everything takes an extra four steps and sometimes doesn’t work! It’s awesome. Everything is awesome.

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you’d like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point – pepperoni, olives, etc. – if you haven’t already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

Ben Herreid’s Porchetta pork roast

Ingredients

  • 1 deboned pork shoulder
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages, removed from casings
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced like the onion
  • 2/3 cup apricot preserves or quince paste
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • kosher salt

spice rub (makes a little less than a cup)

  • scant 1/2 cup ground fennel
  • 1/4 cup ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp ground white pepper OR black pepper with some red pepper flakes thrown in

Instructions

  1. Directions:

    Cut open pork shoulder so that it can be rolled up. It should be cut sort of like a tri-fold brochure, keeping the fat as the outside layer. Season liberally on both sides with spice rub and kosher salt.

    Make filling by sautéing fennel, onion, sausage, garlic. Once sausage is browned and both fennel and onion is soft, set aside and let cool. Mix in golden raisins and apricot preserves. Season with salt.

    Put fennel/sausage mix inside pork shoulder and roll tightly. It will be messy. Tie with baking twine as you would a roast. Transfer to a covered roasting pan.

    Roast at low temp (185) in covered pan with three cups of dry white wine for 7-10 hours, or until the pork is fork tender. Drain the drippings and set aside.

    Uncover and roast at 500 for 20 minutes or so, rotating the pan midway through. You want to crisp the exterior up and render the outside fat.

    Slice and serve.

    If you like, reduce the drippings to add back in on top of the pork.

5 stories I will not write

Today seems like as good a time as any to talk about how I choose stories, and how I decide to walk away from stories.

People send me (and my husband, if we’re working together) tips pretty frequently. Sometimes we look into them and decide to pursue them. Sometimes we look into them a bit, and decide they’re not for us. Sometimes we spend weeks or months looking into them, and then decide they’re not for us.

I don’t cover stories the same way a newspaper reporter with a regular beat or territory would. Since I run my own site, I have the luxury of deciding that a story may be newsworthy, but I simply don’t want to cover it.

What kind of stories will I decide not to write?

1.Stories I believe are true and important, but which I cannot document to my satisfaction. We don’t have a legal team to defend us if we get sued. I’m not a coward and I don’t mind getting yelled at, but I don’t want to lose my house.

2. Stories which are well-documented and important and impart information that it would be useful for people to have, but which would cause a disproportionate amount of distress if made public. If it’s going to hurt someone for the information to be public, I need to have a damn good reason to make it public.

3. Stories that lots of other people are already covering. I’m not a news outlet. People don’t come here for headlines.

4. Stories that will make some injustice public when there are other, reliable, established means of bringing about justice. If you come to me with information about a crime, I will tell you to go to the police, etc.

5. Stories that just give me a weird feeling and I don’t know why.

Stories I will write:

Stories that will piss people off. Don’t care.

Stories that people may misinterpret. Unavoidable.

Stories that are not the exhaustive, final word encapsulating every possible aspect that could be mentioned about the topic. Somehow I sleep at night.

Stories that criticize the actions of people or organizations that also do a lot of good. Dat’s my job. If it’s people or organizations I care about, then I’m the perfect one to write a critique, since I am more motivated to be fair than someone who doesn’t care about them.

Before I write a story, I always ask myself why it’s important, what larger thing it signifies, and what will likely happen if I write it. If the only motivation is “it will get me clicks,” then I probably won’t write it.

And now you know! I encourage you to send me tips at simchafisher@gmail.com if you have a story that may or may not fall into these categories. I’m always happy to look into it, and if you tell me something in confidence, I will keep it confidential, even if we don’t write about it (unless of course it’s something I’m obligated to report to police).

Unplanned and QAnon: What’s the connection, and who planned it?

UPDATE: I’m talking to the movie’s social media coordinator and will write a follow-up piece soon.

***

Abby Johnson’s breakout pro-life movie Unplanned, based on her memoir of the same name, climbed to #4 at the box office today, just days after its premier. Reviewers say the graphic movie is forcing them to rethink their pro-choice views; and pro-lifers are calling it a triumph — or at least, according to Catholic film critic Steve Greydanus, “among the better constructed faith-based films.”

But a new controversy now surrounds the movie, and it has nothing to do with abortion.  Three days after the movie’s premier, the official Unplanned account on Twitter tagged a tweet with QAnon slogans:

“United Not Divided” and “WWG1WGA” (which stands for “When we go one we go all”) are both QAnon slogans frequently used on social media and at pro-Trump rallies.

The tweet, which has been deleted, refers to an incident in which the Unplanned Twitter account was briefly suspended, then reinstated.

According to a screenshot posted on Facebook by Dank Pro-Life Memes, Johnson said the account was suspended because it gained so many followers so quickly, which triggered an automatic temporary suspension:

Dank Pro-Life Memes, which has 23K followers on Facebook, cautioned its readers not to assume there was some deliberate censorship at work. A March 31 post calls this theory “sensationalist nonsense” and “fake news,” urging pro-lifers to “do better,” and it shared the screenshot where Johnson attributes the suspension to a spike in traffic.

But the Unplanned tweet, which has since been deleted, implies that there is likely to be another Twitter suspension.
When a Twitter user with the handle CJ Phillips responded, “Welp I’m out. Promoting a conspiracy theory website is NOT promoting truth,” @UnplannedMovie responded one minute later with “Come on be honest CJ You were never in.”

 

I confirmed with @cjphillips66 that he has no history with anyone involved with the movie, and he was baffled as to why the official movie account would attack him personally for criticizing promotion of a fringe conspiracy theory group. He told me:

“I’ve never had any contact with anyone associated with the movie, nor anyone associated with Ms. Johnson. I’m just your average evangelical pro-life American. I have to admit I was kind of stunned by the reply, since whoever runs that account doesn’t know me from Adam, as they say.  Honestly though, in hindsight, if one buys into conspiracy theories, then it kind of explains the response…accusing me of some kind conspiracy and not being pro-life.”

He said he wants to see the movie succeed.

“I was just motivated by trying not to get such an awesome movie (by everything I’ve read & seeing it did well over the weekend) not get a conspiracy theory website attached to its reputation. I was really trying to help it succeed. I REALLY want it to be embraced for the truth, and a conspiracy theory website gives people reason to pause and discount it as truth.”

But another Twitter user believes the movie account’s suspension was deliberate and malicious — and self-inflicted.

A Twitter user who goes by the handle @notwokieleaks believes someone promoting the movie deliberately deactivated and then reactivated the Unplanned account to create the impression among its fans that there is a conspiracy against its success.

@notwokieleaks, who criticizes both left and right, tweeted on March 31:

This is the biggest goddamn fucking scam ever. This is the expected behavior for a recently deactivated and reactivated account. It’s in the damn Twitter FAQ. Everyone “trying this out” by clicking follow will be following this account within 48 hours. You are being lied to.
@notwokieleaks noted that, after the Unplanned account was reinstated, it quickly regained large numbers of followers.
It’s already back at 41.3K followers. Do you think those were all new followers at 11pm on a Sunday? It’s just rebuilding and re-syncing the followers network. This is a huge calculation used to order replies and show followers you know.
To test the theory, @notwokieleaks unfollowed the account, and within 48 hours was automatically reinstated as a follower. @notwokeileaks concludes:

This may have been strident but if you read the thread it was all but proven to be correct. VPN proved servers were out of sync after an account reactivation. Everyone who was “forced unfollowed,” including myself, was later following the account once the sync finished.

In another set of tweets that have since been deleted, the Unplanned page wrote: “We would like to thank the people who maliciously and falsely reported UnplannedMovie to @Twitter. Notice followers before and after. Your move…”  One user responds “BOOM” with a graphic of a flaming Q; and Unplanned responds: “BOOM.”

QAnon is a group of far right conspiracy theorists which began on the anonymous fringe group 4Chan. QAnon anonymously distributes cryptic and truncated clues allegedly exposing top secret information, including the idea that Donald Trump became president at the urging of the military so he might lead a “deep state” mission to usher in a new world order; that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta and others have been found guilty of running murder and sex trafficking rings, and have been put in ankle bracelets by the Trump administration; and that Trump manufactured the accusation that he colluded with Russia, in an effort to protect his ally, Robert Mueller, who is working undercover to take down the global elite. Notable adherents of QAnon theories are Roseanne Barr and Curt Schilling. QAnon also believes Miley Cyrus is a plot to undermine America.

As I reported in April of 2018, this is not the first time Abby Johnson’s name has been associated with far right fringe groups. When Kristen Hatten, formerly vice president of New Wave Feminists, emerged as a white nationalist, Abby Johnson defended her. I wrote:

Abby Johnson, one of the most well-known faces of the American pro-life movement, publicly defended Hatten. As is her habit, she deleted her comments after they were challenged, but she said repeatedly that Hatten is not racist. Hatten herself has said repeatedly that she does not mind being called “racist.” She calls herself an “ethno nationalist.”   Johnson repeatedly chided scandalized pro-lifers for talking about Hatten instead of to her; but when several people explained that theyhad talked to her in private, and that Hatten affirmed her alt right views, Johnson had no response.

After I wrote that piece, Johnson contacted me and repeatedly accused me of trying to “crucify” her. “You are all about crucifying me” she said. “You love to sow division” and “I know you enjoy vilifying me.” In fact, before the Hatten debacle, I had written more than one article praising Johnson’s work and Johnson personally, and even praised her work in the very article she described as “crucifying” and “vilifying” her.

While there is significant overlap between conspiracy theorists and Abby Johnson fans, it’s not clear that Johnson herself was involved with linking QAnon and the movie.

I contacted Johnson on the evening of April 1 to ask why the official movie account was using QAnon slogans, she responded, “I don’t even know what that means. I have zero idea what QAnon means.” She said, “”I have never heard of QAnon until I received your email.”

When asked who tweets for the official movie account, she responded, “I have no idea. I have nothing to do with any social media surrounding the film.”

I quoted her words blaming a traffic spike for the movie’s Twitter suspension, and asked, “Do you think there is any effort from Twitter or other entities to try to suppress or silence the promotion of the movie?”

She said, “We are hearing multiple reports from Twitter. They have told us that it’s because of hits on the trailer, because of ads we wanted to run, because of a ‘glitch.’ I’m not one that jumps on board with conspiracy theories surrounding social media, but the constant ‘glitches’ does make one raise an eyebrow.”

I asked how she could have no involvement with the social media promotion of the film, but also hear multiple reports from Twitter about why the film’s account was suspended. She said that she was hearing reports about social media indirectly.

Why we can’t have baptisms during Lent

Did you just have a baby?  Did you call the rectory to schedule a baptism? Did they tell you you’ll have to wait, because they don’t do baptisms during Lent?

At first, this may not make sense to you, but I assure you, there is a very good reason for this policy.  You see . . .

Lent is all about acknowledging our fallen nature and appealing to the Holy Spirit for help in conquering sin. Lent is about remembering that sin has wounded and weakened us, and that we are in desperate need of God’s grace and salvation. We can gain this grace by engaging in ancient practices which engage both the body and the spirit, and we emerge refreshed and reunited with God, humbly giving thanks for His mercy and salvation.

Baptism, on the other hand, is all about acknowledging our fallen nature and appealing to the Holy Spirit for help in conquering sin. Baptism is about remembering that sin has wounded and weakened us, and that we are in desperate need of God’s grace and salvation. We can gain this grace by engaging in ancient practices which engage both the body and the spirit, and we emerge refreshed and reunited with God, humbly giving thanks for His mercy and salvation.

So that’s why we can’t have baptisms during Lent. It just wouldn’t make sense.

In defense of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

Nobody:
Me: Sure, as a Jewish Catholic who has a reputation for resisting pop Catholic trends, I’d love to tell you what I think about The Passion of the Christ.

Here, I will focus on two criticisms: Its ultra violence, and its antisemitism; and why I think it’s worth watching. I don’t know, I felt like getting yelled at.

It it gratuitously violent?

Yes and no. No doubt some viewers reveled in the sadistic violence and graphic gore; but I’m also quite sure others came for the gore and saw more than they bargained for. But I don’t think the violence was just a hook to trick gore-happy viewers into an edifying movie. It was also a way to express how unanswerably outrageous the crucifixion, the murder of God, really was.

Gibson is far from the first to depict the passion and death of Jesus in grotesquely heightened terms, because if we have a hard time grasping the spiritual horror of what happened, we can at least feel the corporeal horror, and go from there. It’s not necessary to depict the crucifixion this graphically, but it’s not illegitimate or inherently inappropriate; and it does have a purpose other than to feed viewer’s blood lust.

For instance: After the notorious interminable scourging scene comes a heart-stopping aerial view of Jesus’ blood splattered all over the courtyard. An impossible amount of blood. Pilate’s wife comes out with a stack of fresh linens and tremblingly offers them to Mary and Mary Magdalene, and the two climb down on their knees and begin to carefully mop up every drop. An impossible task. That scene is responsible for a permanent change in my thinking, transforming the phrase “precious blood” from a pious nicety into a central reality that changed how I approach the Eucharist.

The violence may simply be too much for many viewers. But I didn’t see any violence that was there simply for the sake of showing violence. It was an ordeal to watch, and it was supposed to be.

Is the movie antisemitic? 

I mean? No, but actually yes. Yes and no. Mostly. . . . (heaven help me) no.

Mel Gibson assuredly is antisemitic. After an outcry, he did cut a “blood oath” scene from the original version; but declined to meet with the ADL, basically saying: Look, I hope you get over this not-being-Catholic thing someday. Newsflash: The man is an asshole. But my policy is to evaluate works of art on their own merits as much as I can.

Most accusations of antisemitism in the movie seem to fall into two categories: Things that were probably intentional, but which the average viewer (which I am) wouldn’t pick up on; and things which you can interpret according to your own baggage.

In the first category, intentional but missable, includes details like the sign on the cross. Sr. Rose Pacatte at NRO says:

That Gibson was making a conscious choice to reject and negate Judaism is indisputable when we see the sign on the cross. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is written only in ecclesial Latin and Aramaic. He rejects the Greek as detailed in John 19:20, and Greek was the common language of the Roman Empire at that time. Thus, according to Adlerstein, Gibson creates “a tension between Aramaic/Hebrew; he does not create a bond but severs it.”

and

One [viewer] mentioned the tear that fell from the cross and the earthquake, which is significant because the scene shows the destruction of the temple at the time of Jesus’ death, but the destruction did not happen until A.D. 70. According to Gomez, this scene points to a “replacement theology,” upholding the mistaken medieval idea that Christianity (Ecclesia) has replaced Judaism (Synagoga). The brokenness visible in the temple evokes the brokenness of Synagoga. In other words, it’s a “dig” at Judaism that does not appear to be there by accident.

I just plain didn’t notice the historical discrepancies, so if these details were attempts at antisemitism, they failed.

It’s harder to deny that Gibson portrays the Jews using offensive stereotypes, and shows the apostles as some sort of “high Jews” or “white Jews” by portraying them as separate from the others.

But . . . the Jews who crucified Jesus were the bad guys, and the ones who didn’t betray him did make themselves separate. I understand the dangers of feeding stereotypes, but how is a moviemaker supposed to portray evil without signaling to the viewer that it is evil? You tell me. The High Priests were concerned mainly with retaining power; Judas did sell out Jesus for money; the Jews who insisted on Jesus’ execution did reduce their faith to a bunch of ritualistic formalities which were threatened by his new commandment. These evils portrayed are what Jesus came to get rid of. To refuse to depict them would be to refuse to depict what actually happened. There isn’t a lot of nuance in character among the Jews who condemned Jesus because it’s not that kind of movie. The good guys don’t show a lot of nuance, either.

The question is, does the movie say “These men did something evil” or “These Jews did evil Jew things”? This is why I say it depends what you bring to the movie. If you’re an antisemite and you want to know why Jesus had to die, you’ll see that the Jews killed him because Jews are bad. If you’re not an antisemite and you want to know why Jesus had to die, you’ll see what kind of people rejected Jesus: Those who want power. Those who want money. Those who value order over truth. Those who are cowards. Those who are cruel.

So Mel Gibson and his pals may be saying, “This is what Jews are like,” but I don’t think that’s what the movie is saying, unless you’re specifically looking to hear that message. It’s the same with the Gospels themselves. If you read the Gospels shallowly, you’ll think they’re a story about how the Jews betrayed Christ. God knows many have read the Gospels this way! But if you read the Gospels with an open heart, you’ll see it’s a story about how we all betrayed Christ. So the movie gives you what you’re ready to get from it. It would be easy to watch the movie in 2019 and recognize, for instance, the College of Cardinals among the crowd of grasping, preening, vicious high priests willing to sacrifice an innocent victim to retain their power.

It’s also hard to make the case that the movie blames only the Jews for Jesus’ suffering, when the gleeful sadism on display is clearly a Roman thing. When Caiphas sees the scourging, he winces and turns away.

However, it’s weirdly pro-Pontius Pilate, which bothers me a lot. Pilate is a cultivated man who’s been assigned to a fractious backwater, and he has Jesus tortured and executed with great reluctance, to keep the mob at bay. That’s in the Gospel, as far as it goes. But the movie adds a scene where Pilate basically tells Jesus, “Look, I feel really bad about this” and Jesus basically says, “Hey, I see who you’re working with here. Don’t worry about it.” That scene is inexcusable, and makes the biggest case that the movie is antisemitic.

So, with these issues, why watch it?

It’s so freaking interesting. So outlandish and bold, but somehow never heavy-handed. Do you know how difficult it is to make a movie with a scene like the scourging scene and have people remember other scenes besides that one?

Gibson doesn’t take the easy way out in any scene. It’s a long movie, but the pacing is great (the scenes that feel long are meant to feel long). Herod is crazy, and weird, and sad. Judas devolving is so terrifying. Veronica is so appealing. The moment with Simon of Cyrene is gripping. Satan is scary as shit. Some people think it was just dropped in for spooky-ookiness, but Steve Greydanus says:

At certain points this androgynous figure is depicted in opposition to the Virgin Mary — but never more arrestingly so than before the pillar, where there is a kind of anti-Marian vision that I will not describe, except to say that it is so bizarre and grotesque, yet ultimately meaningless, that it seems to come straight from hell.

Works for me. I have never seen a depiction of Satan that works better.

Filming it in foreign languages was brilliant. Brilliant. When you’ve been a christian for a long time, it is so very hard to hear the familiar words of the Gospel as new. And it is so very ticklish to figure out what accent you should speak in when you’re playing Jesus! The solution? Put it in words that almost no one understands, and let subtitles, with their layer of psychological remove, work their magic. Or just let the visuals speak for themselves.

Best of all is Mary. Her face and the way she carries herself, and the way everyone keeps coming to her for help. This Mary was a major revelation for me, and helped me see a warmth and strength that’s missing from . . . really most depictions of Mary in art of any kind.  When Jesus is in prison and she comes to find him, you’re so glad they have each other.

And then the resurrection scene. (I had a little larf to myself when IMDB sequestered a plot synopsis that described this scene, warning that it included a spoiler. Boo!) It’s not corny. It’s not lame. It’s glorious, and terrifying, and it redeems everything you have endured during the rest of the movie.

Must you see this movie? Of course not. There is no movie a Catholic must see. If we’re not required to believe in Fatima, not required to pray the rosary, not even required to be literate to be practicing Catholics with a genuine relationship with God, then we can certainly make our way to heaven without having seen The Passion of the Christ (or Unplanned, or Fireproof, or God’s Not Dead, or Here Be Dragons, etc. etc. etc.). Movies are just movies, and you don’t have to come up with some particular reason to dispense yourself from seeing them.

But Passion is different from other movies that Catholics tend to guilt each other into watching. It doesn’t just carry a Positive Message that We Should Support; it’s a great work of art, and because of this, it at least can be tremendously powerful spiritually. Good for Lent; good for a Lenten retreat.

If you’re going to show it to anyone, know your audience. As described above, it could fuel antisemitism in those susceptible to antisemitism. But it doesn’t automatically deliver that message; and it could genuinely spur true spiritual growth.

It’s not for kids, for goodness’ sake. It’s not for people who can’t endure violent movies. Don’t make anyone watch it. But if you can stand some gore, and if you are yearning to feel more engaged in a story that has become stale with retelling, then don’t be scared away from this movie, thinking it’s just torture porn or propaganda. It is an ordeal, but a worthwhile one; and as a work of art, it’s a great.

***

P.S.
I deliberately didn’t read Steve Greydanus’ reviews of the movie until after I finished writing. I don’t always agree with Greydanus, but he gives lots of illuminating analysis here.

Who wants a discount code for the FemCatholic speeches?

You do! Because they are awesome.

Today’s the feast of the Annunciation, and it happens that my speech “When Women Say Yes: Consent and Control In Sex and Love” focuses on that moment when the angel came to Mary and . . . asked? Or told? It is called “the annunciation,” not “the invitation” or “the proposal.”And if God didn’t give the queen of heaven and earth a real choice about what would happen to her body and her life, then what chance do the rest of us have?

My speech is about how I worked through my distress over women’s apparent low standing in the eyes of God, and how I came out the other side understanding what consent really means, why it’s so important, how Mary basically invented it, and what the rest of us can hope for, including and beyond consent.

My speech is just one of ten, and if you use the code SIMCHA, you’ll get a 20% discount. Go to this Vimeo page  to order these ten excellent speeches:

1. How the Church Beats Feminism at its own Game – Erika Bachiochi, J.D.
2. Woman and Man: Genius and Mission – Dr. Deborah Savage
3. Was Jesus a Feminist? – Claire Swinarski
4. Suffering and Holiness in a Modern World – Leticia Ochoa Adams
5. Am I Good? Life, Love & Same Sex Desires – Shannon Ochoa
6. When Women Say Yes: Consent in Sex and Love – Simcha Fisher
7. Love in the Ruins: The Prophetic Examples of Dorothy Day and Caryll Houslander – Mary FioRito, J.D.
8. Informed Choice: Reclaiming Women’s Health – Gabrielle Jastrebski
9. Learning to Love the F-word: Embracing Prolife Feminism – Aimee Murphy
10. The Wild Diversity of Catholic Femininity – Meg Hunter-Kilmer

What’s for supper? Vol. 164: Nailed it!

Hey, great, it’s snowing. It’s okay. It’s fine. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Pizza and birthday cake
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Poor Elijah. He keeps having his birthday during Lent. Some people put dry peas in their shoes, some subsist on nothing but dewdrops collected off the tombstone of St. Nicholas of Myra. Elijah gets terrible birthday cakes, and he’s a really good sport about it. He asked for Dragonball Z balls.

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I thought, “Ah, those gourmet lollipops would be perfect!” And they would have, but I couldn’t find any. So instead he got this:

They are made of rice krispie treats dipped in candy melt, and a lot of them fell apart when I dipped them, and the candy melt solidified faster than I expected. The kids helped by shrieking “NAILED IT!!!!”  Anyway, a cake was had, along with a multitude of pizzas, and the dragonblobs did have the right number of starblobs on them.
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SUNDAY
Boiled dinner
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Every year, I pretend I hate this meal, but I really love it. Well, this year, I changed things up by pretending to hate it, and then actually hating it. I blame the Irish.
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In other years, we’ve tried making other, more authentically Irish meals, and somehow we always return to boiling carrots.
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MONDAY
Egg, cheese, sausage bagel sandwiches
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I have no memory of Monday. Oh wait, yes I do! We had dozens and dozens of eggs in the house for weeks and weeks, so I didn’t buy eggs. Then Monday came along, and we had four eggs left. So Damien ran out to the gas station, and they had these lovely ones from a nearby farm:

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Fresh eggs are wonderful. Look at that yolk!
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Not gonna start keeping chickens, though. I’ve seen what happens.
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TUESDAY
Grilled chicken parmesan sandwiches, risotto, zeppolle
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Benny was in a play. She was an owl.

An owl who remembered all her lines! She discovered she likes talking into a microphone. That’s my girl.

Damien made a nice simple tomato sauce, and I roasted up a bunch of chicken breasts, which I sliced and served on rolls with fresh basil, provolone, and a good scoop of sauce.
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I also made some risotto, and man, it did not turn out great. I don’t even want to say why, but it was my fault and it was pretty stupid.
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HOWEVER, in the morning we made zeppole for the first time, for St. Joseph’s feast day, using this reasonably simply recipe. It’s important to dress correctly for this project.
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We’re pretty big St. Joseph fans around here. We started out piping the dough with a star tip, until it fell out.
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Then we just squirted it out of a bag; then we just went with spoonfuls. The last method actually turned out best. I had a feeling I’d be pushing my luck to make the cream custard filling from scratch, so I just got a bunch of instant vanilla pudding and piped that into the zeppole, then dusted it with powdered sugar.
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It was fun. We had fun. I ate a lot of zeppole. Yay St. Joseph!
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WEDNESDAY
Deli meat sandwich bake, asparagus
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Corrie and I worked together to roll out and stretch the dough over the pan for the bottom crust.


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We had a few friendly disputes over how to distribute the ham, but the cheeses and the salami and whatnot went fairly well. Then it came time to put the top crust on. She wanted to do it herself. As an awesome mom, I was willing to let her try, but I did want to start it off in the right spot. No go. She went immediately to “I NEVER WANT YOU TO BE MY MUDDER ANYMORE” and “THIS DOUGH IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME.”  I made a few repair attempts, suggesting cooperation and taking turns and not being an insanely ridiculous person for once, but I just got more screeching and gurgling and drama. So I stepped away, thinking I’d just let her burn herself out.
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Which she did! I did some work on my computer, and before long she climbed down off the stool and trotted away to the next room, where I soon heard her singing Moana songs to herself– something about her wish to be the puhfect daughter. Well pleased, I turned back to the pan to finish spreading out the dough.
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And . . . it was gone. She was sitting at the table with the entire ball of dough in her hand, just eating it.
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So the dough was not in great shape. But I tucked some leftover basil leaves in with the meat
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and I thought it was pretty, pretty good. You brush some beaten egg over the top and then sprinkle on poppy seeds or onion or whatever you have on hand (in my case, nothing), then bake covered, then uncovered, for about 35 minutes.
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You slice it into strips or squares, and it makes a nice yummy brunchy thing. We also had the first asparagus of the season, which I just sautéed in a little olive oil.
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THURSDAY
I dunno

Thursday, I took #1 son to the orgal surgeon. I actually meant “oral surgeon,” of course, but there is a certain poetry to that typo. The orgal surgeon is a strange, strange man, as they always are. He has a southern accent which I can’t quite shake the feeling is fake, and he makes the exact same jokes every time (we have a lot of teeth out). I don’t blame him for that, but they are pretty strange jokes to begin with. Anyway, I had gotten four hours of sleep, and then I was hanging out at the orgal surgeon, and I suddenly realized I was supposed to turn in a book review for a book that I . . . look, I was almost done reading it. I’m not on trial here! So what I’m trying to say is that, no matter what the menu board says, this was no time to whip up a new kind of marinade with hoisin sauce and shred stuff and make lettuce wraps with rice noodles. So Damien just broiled the chicken breasts, cooked up some fries, and washed off a bunch of snap peas. I heated up the leftover deli sandwich bakey thingy, and it was a perfectly good supper for the likes of us.
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FRIDAY
I guess pasta?
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Umph, just two recipe cards this week! Whatcha gonna do. I am feeling pretty okay because, as of this minute, I have nothing due. No articles, no blog posts, no reviews, no interviews, no speeches I’m supposed to be working on. Just the regular old existential dread, but that’s a long term project. Oh, and we haven’t done a podcast in such a long time. There it is, I guess. Also, it is snowing.

 

5 from 1 vote
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Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque.

  3. Press "cancel," open the lid, and add the broth and wine, and stir.


  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 8 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 

5 from 1 vote
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Deli brunch sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 6 8-oz. tubes crescent rolls
  • 3/4 lb sliced ham
  • 1/2 lb sliced Genoa salami
  • 3 oz Serrano (dry cured) ham
  • 33 slices Swiss cheese
  • any other meats and cheese that seem yummy
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 2 tsp garlic powder, minced onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.

Unroll 3 of the tubes of crescent rolls without separating the triangles, and fit the dough to cover an 11 x 25-inch pan.

  1. Layer the meat and cheese, making it go all the way to the edges of the pan. This part is subject to any kind of variation you like. 

  2. Unroll the remaining 3 tubes of crescent rolls and spread the dough to cover the meat and cheese. It's okay if you have to stretch and piece it together. 

Beat 2-3 eggs and brush it over the top of the dough, and sprinkle with garlic powder, onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc.

  1. Cover pan loosely and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until dough is slightly browned and egg is completely cooked.