Sunshine, buttercups, and rainbow flags

I understand the idea of incrementalism. I understand accepting people where they are, accompanying them, and praying with them as they gradually become more open to the fullness of the truth, whether they’re deeply invested in a homosexual relationship or deeply invested in a contraceptive relationship. You can’t accompany someone unless they decide walk through the door, so you want that door to look as welcoming as possible. Plant flowers. Put a fresh coat of paint. Hang a rainbow flag. It is our job to be loving first, so as to make it possible for people to receive the law and then identify it as the same thing as love. I understand this.

But where do we draw the line between accompaniment and bait and switch?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by BookMama via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Coming up: radio spot, FB live chat, and conference in Burlington, VT

Busy busy! Tomorrow at 1:30 eastern, I’ll be on America This Week (Sirius XM Catholic Channel) talking with Fr. Paddy Gilger, Fr. Eric Sundrup and America Senior Editor J.D. Long-Garcia about my July cover article, How the church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages.

What priests say to women in abusive relationships can be life-changing.

Many women in abusive marriages struggle to share their experiences with anyone. Women of faith turn to priests who often do not know how to advise them. What options are left for women in these situations? How can the church be more helpful?

In this week’s Behind the Story, Senior Editor J.D. Long-García speaks with Simcha Fisher, author of “How the church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages,” from our July 9th issue. They’ll be happy to address your questions during the conversation. Please comment below, send us a Direct Message or if you’d rather remain anonymous, please email behindthestory@americamedia.org.

No one wants to admit they are in an abusive marriage, but there are options available for those who are ready.

Thursday at 12:30 eastern, I’ll be on Facebook Live to discuss the topic again, and you can participate in this chat by commenting on this Facebook thread or emailing behindthestory@americamedia.org. You can click on the link to get a reminder for the live chat.

 

Finally, I’ll be at the Year of the Family Conference in Burlington, VT, on August 25. I’ll be giving the afternoon keynote address: The Family as Icon, and also an interactive breakout session: Supporting couples who use NFP: How to help, and what to avoid. The breakout session is intended for those directly involved in teaching and supporting the use of NFP. There are ten breakout sessions, and attendees may choose two. Register here ($30).

My kids have been busy, too. Here is what they did yesterday. My only contribution was to say, “No, you may not use caramel sauce and red food coloring for blood.”

If You Haven’t Read Humanae Vitae, What Are You Waiting For?

You may imagine it’s a stern and solemn doctrinal harangue, fusty with misogyny, larded with theological jargon, cluttered with impractical, abstract ideals. In short, something you’d write if you’ve never had sex and have no idea what marriage is really like.

But Humanae Vitae is not like that.

Humanae Vitae, which is Latin for “On Human Life,” doesn’t bring the authoritarian fist of the Church crashing down on individual, authentic human lives. Instead, it invites us to recall two things . . .

Read the rest of my latest for Parable Magazine.

 

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Seeking sponsors for Clearblue fertility monitor giveaway!

NFP Awareness Week is coming up, tra la la. Here on my blog, I like to go beyond awareness to doingsomethingaboutitness when possible. I don’t have money, but I do have this platform, and I know I have some very generous readers. And I love Marquette NFP.

So, who’s in to sponsor a Clearblue Fertility Monitor to be given away, preferably to couples who can’t afford to buy one?

Monitors are currently about $110 on Amazon. If you or your organization would like to sponsor a monitor to give away, I’ll give you a day of space here on my blog to promote your organization, company, charity, or to honor someone, or whatever you like, with text and two images during the week starting July 22.

I’ll share the post with your content twice on my personal Facebook page and twice on my professional Facebook page, twice on Twitter and once on Google+ and once on Tumblr; and I’ll give extra raffle entries to readers who share on social media.

I reserve the right to refuse any sponsor who wants to promote something I consider inappropriate!

Getting a monitor made a huge difference in our experience of NFP. HUGE. (Exhibit A: Corrie is almost three-and-a-half, and she is still our youngest.) We found the method easier (after a rather steep learning curve), more objective, less labor intensive, and it gave us more predictable results and more available days; and, for whatever reason, the culture around Marquette seems less cluttered with weird attitudes toward women and sex. I wish we had started on Marquette years ago, but we simply didn’t have the money.

If you want to be a superstar, you could sponsor a monitor and a box of 30 test strips, which can last a woman in regular cycles three months or more.

Interested? I love you! Contact me at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “I’d like to sponsor a monitor” in the subject heading, and we’ll get started.

 

Venting is healthy, but the cross purifies

Social media, for all its benefits, has made it all too easy to find a group of people who will take your lowest impulses and hoist them on high, praising and burnishing them until they look like something fine and heroic. As you form relationships in the group and come to know and trust your new friends, and as the group members reward each other for holding fast to its ideals, the thing that used to make you feel a little uneasy about yourself slowly becomes your identity, the thing that fills you with pride.

This is how alt-right groups function. This is how terrorist groups function. This is how abusively rigid traditionalist groups function. And this is how dissenting groups function. Dissent comes to feel normal, even heroic. The subject matter in each group is different, but the psychological dynamics are the same.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine here.

Image by faungg’s photos via Flickr . (Creative Commons)

Very inside basketball

The most amazing Twitter thread just happened. If you’re not familiar with NFP, probably just keep walking. Here’s how it happened:

First, Lauren the Great drives down the court:

with me giving a somewhat competent assist:

but no, it’s a block shot from Tommy Tighe!

It’s savage out there. No one can trash talk like Billings. And now Advent Friday sets a screen:

but then Sugar PLUM Jenny brings down the house with a dunk for the ages:

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

The privilege of saying “no thanks” to NFP

One Catholic blogger says she doesn’t use NFP because, for her, it’s just easier to go ahead and have babies. (This was years ago, but I only saw it recently.)
 
Most of the response was cheers, congratulations, and admiration. Only a single reader pointed out that it’s easy to feel that way when you’re rich, you have a huge house, your husband supports you easily on his secure, lucrative job, and you have daily hired help (none of which she had mentioned in her essay).
 
The blogger responded, “I would happily give up absolutely any comfort or convenience to have my children. I’d eat beans and rice in a trailer with them in a heartbeat.”
 

More hosannas. And that’s where I stopped reading neutrally and started breathing heavily. Ain’t no privilege like the privilege of ignorance.

First, nobody’s talking about trading in any of your kids in exchange for a cushy lifestyle. That’s not how it works. When you decide to use NFP to avoid pregnancy, you’re not saying, “I have kids, but they’re not so great; so now I choose to devote my life to a pursuit of filet mignon.”

Second: oh my dear. Poverty isn’t beans and rice and and a sweet little hut.
Poverty is dirty needles in your kid’s play space. It’s lead poisoning and cockroach-induced asthma. It’s windows you never open, even though it’s sweltering hot and you can’t afford AC, because your drunk neighbors are screaming obscenities at each other and you don’t want that to be your children’s lullaby at night. Poverty means you never have silence, ever, because someone’s always blasting their bass so hard your walls shake, shrieking, endlessly revving their engines, or beating the crap out of each other. 
Poverty means you’d like to bake your own bread, but the oven doesn’t work, the landlord doesn’t care, and the corner bodega doesn’t sell yeast anyway; so you end up getting the dollar loaf of white bread, because you do have a dollar. Poverty means you’d like to sew your own clothes, but you can’t afford a sewing machine, and you don’t have an extra six hours to throw together a simple sundress for the baby because you’re working at Taco Bell; so your kids wear pilled t-shirts from the free pile. Poverty means you’d like to grow your own fresh herbs and vegetables, but the tiny patch of green in front of your apartment is full of broken glass and used condoms, and the meth head who lives upstairs let his rottweiler poop there anyway.

Poverty means everything takes longer, works out worse, has less margin for error, and doesn’t ever give you a break. Poverty means that you build your day around trying to assemble paperwork for some government office to prove that you really are poor, only to find that they arbitrarily changed the guidelines, and you’ve now already missed the deadline and are back on the bottom of the list, and the person who denied your claim doesn’t work there anymore and you have no recourse, because you’re just another poor person, and there forty more on hold ahead of you.

Poverty is endlessly telling your children “no,” you can’t have extras, you can’t have treats, you can’t have lessons, you can’t have trips, you can’t have musical instruments, you can’t have art supplies, you can’t have pets, you can’t have a ride on the merry-go-round. Very soon, kids stop even asking.
Everything you own is rickety; everything you own is ugly. Nothing you own is what you would have chosen.
Poverty is hard on marriage, hard on your kids, and hard on your mental health. Poverty is not sweet. Not simple. Not beautiful. Just ugly and grinding and unjust. Not beans and rice. Bedlam and ashes and mold.

We deserve no credit for saying we’re willing to live a life we don’t even halfway understand. It’s not wrong to be rich or secure; but it is wildly offensive to assume that poverty is just like wealth, minus some perks, as if you could continue to live inside the walls of your privilege, but just shop at Pottery Barn less. That poverty is something you can take in stride if you just love your kids enough. 

No, poverty (especially generational poverty) invades every corner of your life, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual, and it invades every corner of your children’s lives. If you think it would be different with you, I only pray you never find out how wrong you are.

I’ll stop now, because I know poverty is my particular bugbear. But I’ll tell you something else about NFP and privilege.


It is always a privilege to be able to say “no thanks” to NFP. Yes, even if you’ve made some sacrifices in making that choice. 

It is a privilege that comes from having wealth, having security, having a supportive, cooperative, patient husband — or from having enough stability and peace of mind that the sacrifices you make don’t wreck your life.

It is a privilege that comes from having enough physical and emotional and mental wherewithal to care for your other children sufficiently while you are pregnant.

It is a privilege that comes from having a healthy body that produces healthy babies. Some people can’t say “no thanks” to NFP because they desperately want a huge family, but then the babies they conceive so easily keep dying, no matter how much progesterone their NaPro doc crams up in there.

And I could go on. There are more kinds of poverty than financial poverty. Some couples endure poverties you, with your privilege, cannot imagine, and that’s why they use NFP to avoid pregnancy. Not because they refuse to make sacrifices, but because they simply cannot have what you take for granted.
 

When we talk about NFP, it’s important only to talk about our own choices, and to avoid making judgments about other people. But if we allows ourselves to be seen as a role model, even keeping it personal isn’t really good enough. We must include the context of our choices. We must acknowledge the privilege that makes those choices possible. If we choose to use our lives as an illustration, we can’t crop out the details.

 

Hear me, public Catholics: If you’re in a position to say “no thanks” to NFP, then get on your knees and thank God for your dozens of life-changing privileges. They, and not your virtue, your generosity, or your free spirit, are what makes it possible to say “no thanks” so blithely. Yes, even if you’ve made sacrifices to say “no thanks.”

Acknowledge those privileges, be grateful for them, and confirm that not everyone is as lucky as you. Believe me, it’s important. So many women accuse themselves so harshly for things that are beyond their control. If you don’t acknowledge your privilege, you are telling a dangerous lie.

Protected: Podcast 28: The beast with one back

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Not the target audience

The scene: Bubbe’s tenement apartment on the lower east side.
The phone rings. A cultured voice whinnies, “Good afternoon, madam. This is Wilberforce, the butler. I’m terribly sorry to inform madam that Mrs. Rockefeller and Mrs. Vanderbilt cannot come today for tea.”
And the old lady yells out, “Oy, mister! Have you got the wrong number!”

That line goes through my head sometimes, especially as I shop. Here’s some products that turn me into incredulous Bubbe.

Table scatter

Every ten days or so, I have to go shopping for a birthday party. Balloons, okay. Streamers, sometimes. Candles, fine. But then I keep coming across little sparkly packets of something called “table scatter.” My kids asked what it is, and I don’t know what to say. I channel Amelia Bedelia. Table scatter? To scatter on the table, so there are more things scattered on your table, to make the table look better? At our house, when we’re really puttin’ on the dog, we de-scatter the table.

Who am I fooling? Half the time, we have to de-scat the table.

You may consider it revolting, and you may be very right, but this is a small house and there are not a lot of flat surfaces to work on. Crafts? Dining room table. Rolling out cookies? Dining room table again. Homework? Dining room table it is. Changing hamster litter? Oh yes, you bet that would be dining room table. When I say de-scat, I mean de-scat. Now just direct me toward the undusting powder is, and I’ll make you a lemon meringue pie to knock your socks off.

100% organic anything

The other week, we bought a sectional off Craigslist. $100, great deal. Of course that meant that the next six hours were utterly consumed by a horrible, cuteness-free reenactment of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

If you find a sectional at a good price, you’re going to want to save even more money on truck rental, so you’re going to have to take the seats out of the van.
If you take the seats out of the van, you’re going to face up to the thing you’ve been pretending you don’t know: namely, that you have children who think they are too good to throw away their old lunches, when in fact, far from being too good, they are very, very bad children indeed.
Reaming out the trash-strewn van with a rake until you can see the floor again like fancy people will make you reluctant to put those hideous old, crusty seats back in, so you’re going to clean them off, too.
Cleaning off the van seats, which you accomplish with a trowel, a wire brush, and a heart full of rage, will remind you that the car seat straps are getting tighter and tighter, not because the kids are growing, but because they’re sitting atop a steadily growing heap of relentlessly organic cement-like compote formed from beleaguered french fries, fossilized string cheese, denaturized candy corn, compressed pear and apple cores, pulverized goldfish and fig newtons, and about eleven quarts of graham cracker crumbs, garnished with a chiffonade of flossers from our tragically optimistic dentist.

This kind is only driven out with a metal spatula.

Three hours into this 100% organic project, you turn around to discover that your husband has already attempted to cram the sectional in through all possible doors of the house, and the only option left is to take the back door off the hinges, remove the washing machine outlet pipe that sticks out a fraction of an inch too far, shift a file cabinet or two, disassemble the shelves that hold your world class collection of water bottles with no tops, and of course move the computer desk. And guess what turns out to be under that?

Another cubic yard of graham cracker crumbs mixed into the tangled nest of electrical cords, plus every styrofoam meat tray you threw away over the last six months and the dog dragged out of the garbage and lavished with his sweet, sweet loving, and then hid under the computer desk. And candy corn. And some used baby wipes that the dog also thought were worth retrieving and then filing away from later. And CORN ON THE COB.

But gosh, here I am shopping for school lunches, and for only a extra three dollars, I can choose these fruit snacks that are made of 100% organic ingredients? Oh, may I???

PASS.

And finally, a slightly more complicated issue, having to do with FDA regulations and off-market adaptations. Behold, the top shelf in my very own bathroom:

It’s . . . it’s not what it sounds like! It’s not what you think! It’s on my list of things to put away before guests come! But does that always get done? No, it does not.

Well, let ’em think what they want to think. Maybe the Rockefellers live here after all.

Does God get off on seeing us suffer?

A Facebook friend posted this status:

Rule of thumb: Use NFP as often as you must forgo Sunday Mass.

His point was this: Just as we have to have serious reasons to miss Sunday Mass without sinning, we should have serious reasons to postpone pregnancy.

First, the obligatory clarification: When he said “use NFP,” he meant “use NFP to avoid pregnancy.” In fact, infertile couples trying to get pregnant may also “use NFP,” and even abstinent women use may “use NFP” to diagnose and treat a whole host of health issues.

That being said, the statement he made is technically true, but disastrously misleading. Here’s what I mean:

We have an obligation to go to Mass on Sundays unless there’s a serious reason not to do so. The catechism says:

2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

We go because we are obligated to go; and we are obligated to go because it’s good for us to be there. Okay.

But some people believe that you must be at death’s door before you’d even consider foregoing Mass, and it never occurs to them that it’s selfish and wrong to drag your germy, spluttering, sneezing, infectious self into a building full of babies and old people. You shouldn’t skip Mass because you have a slight headache or you’re not in the mood; but you shouldn’t force yourself to go to Mass if your physical presence would be bad for other people. Some of your fellow parishioners are medically fragile, but, unlike you with your flu, they won’t be stronger next week. For their sake, out of respect for their desire to be at Mass, you need to consider staying home for now. If you make a decision in good faith to stay home, then you are not sinning by skipping Mass, even if you could physically survive the hour.

In the same way, choosing to forgo conception is not just about your personal willingness to suffer. You have to take other people’s legitimate needs into account. You may be willing to have another baby now, but is it just and fair to the rest of the people you’re responsible for? If one of your other kids in in crisis and needs attention badly, is there anything holy about deliberately becoming barely functional for several months? Can you ask your already-overburdened husband to unwillingly take up even more slack, and call that “being one flesh?” Or can you ask your already-exhausted wife to unwillingly do even more than she’s already doing, but somehow call it “generosity?”

Sometimes selfishness masquerades as piety. I’m not afraid to suffer! Well, that’s nice for you, but what about the suffering you’re causing to other people as you pat yourself on the back for your selfless heroism?  You don’t live alone in a hermit’s cell. Your choices affect other people, and you’re not allowed to ignore them because it strokes your spiritual pride. You’re not entitled to be generous with other people’s lives. You can ask them to be adaptable (and oftentimes, that’s all that another baby requires: adaptability); but their lives are not yours to sacrifice.

So that’s the first complication to what seems like a tidy little aphorism. It’s true that we need a serious or just reason to postpone pregnancy or to skip Mass, but those reasons are not all about us.

The second problem is that the “Try harder! Suffer more! Lemme see you sweat!” approach has to do with how we perceive God, and goes beyond NFP. The “agony = holiness” approach assumes that God is only truly pleased when we’re in horrible pain all the time, and the only way to tell if we’re following God is if we’re falling apart. If life is tolerable, we must be doing something wrong.

This is, if anything, worse than the first problem. The first problem shows that we don’t have sufficient love for other people. The second problem shows we don’t have sufficient love for God.

The second problem, the “agony = holiness” approach, portrays God as barking, sadistic drill sergeant of a deity, hellbent on whipping us into shape by smacking us down the minute we blink like the sniveling, puling weaklings we are.

God.
Is.
Not.
Like.
That.

He doesn’t despise us. He’s not out to get us. He’s not itching to see us squirm between the screws of the torture device He calls “morality.” I understand that the 21st century is not chock full of Catholics who are too strict with themselves, but neither is it chock full of Catholics who truly look to Christ as the source of love and solace in our sorrow.

God is not a sadist. God doesn’t relish watching us torment ourselves. He sometimes lets us fall into suffering — and make no mistake, pregnancy, or going to Mass, can be a form of suffering!  But when we do fall into dark times, He jumps down into that pit with us, to help us dig our way out, to help us become stronger, and to keep us company while we’re there. He doesn’t stand at the edge looking down, jeering and cheering as we writhe in pain below. He is the Lamb who was slain, not the drill sergeant who gets off on pain.

We must be willing to suffer, but we’re not required to seek suffering out. We’re not required to constantly ratchet up our own pain. 

We are required to seek love out. We are required to constantly ratchet up our desire to see God in everyone and everything.

And guess what? Sometimes God looks like joy. Sometimes God looks like peace. Sometimes God looks like prudence. Sometimes God even looks like contentment.

So be obedient, pray often, and seek God and His love in obedience, rather than focusing on the rules themselves. If God is giving you a way to take care of yourself and take care of others, whether that’s making a spiritual communion while drinking tea at home, or whether that’s looking prayerfully at your family and thanking God for the size it is right now, then you are pleasing the Father who loves you.

Reassess your decisions as necessary. But don’t assume that the thing that appeals to you must automatically disappoint God. Obedience doesn’t always bring agony. Sometimes it brings relief. Be content to be loved.