My kids were astonished to hear that I love Lizzo. But how could you not? The woman radiates joy. Generosity of spirit flows from all her limbs, and her face shines with happiness. Happiness! When’s the last time you saw someone on stage who looks happy?
But I was kidding when I said, “How could you not love Lizzo?” The internet is flooded with people who find it very easy not to love her. The other day, I mentioned offhand that I wish my mother had lived to see her perform, and I was informed that Lizzo is disgusting, that she’s perverted, she has no self-respect, that she’s degrading the culture, and of course that she celebrates obesity, which, in case you haven’t heard, is unhealthy. Such courage, coming out and taking a public stand against fat people!
Part of me understands the discomfort. Lizzo is a lot. Her lyrics are smart and funny and clever but also sometimes fairly raunchy. Her outfits are sometimes gorgeous and elegant, sometimes deliberately outrageously revealing. I watched her strut onto a jet wearing jeans that had a window instead of a rear end. And of course, horror of horrors, she twerks.
But the thing about Lizzo is she does not seem to be doing any of this to turn you on. She is incontrovertibly provocative, but I am not sure it is lust she is trying to provoke. Instead, she is provoking people to simply…deal with her. And she is provoking people to deal with themselves, as they are. In a post-Christian world, for an audience of people who are radically alienated from any idea of the inherent goodness of creation, it is the closest thing to theology of the body I have seen.
Let’s be clear: This is not some coy argument that she is secretly Catholic. She absolutely is not. She’s a pro-choice, sex positive and plenty of things a Catholic really should not be. Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking series of 129 scholarly lectures regarding the spiritual meaning of the human body and sexuality makes very specific claims, and they are about much more than just liking yourself and being upbeat.
But so is Lizzo. I encourage everyone to read her recent interview in Vanity Fair magazine, for some truly refreshing, occasionally moving insights into the mind of a thoughtful, intentional, hilarious young woman who is so much more than the raunchy provocateur some folks make her out to be.
I haven’t ever seen the movie, but have heard that the movie and book are both good, but quite different. I’m enjoying the book a lot. It’s weird and entertaining, and reads aloud very well. It’s easy to get the tone of voice right in dialogue without having to read ahead, and there is plenty of variety in the sentence structure, which I always appreciate when reading aloud. It gives some clues to the characters’ interior lives, without overexplaining; and the storytelling is so deft, it helps you accept some really outlandish situations without blinking. My only quibble is that the chapters are different lengths, which can be frustrating when we only have a certain amount of time allotted to read.
Also reading Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners to the middle kids (ages 12, 14, 16, and 17).
I wouldn’t say they’re enjoying it, exactly, but I chose it so at least we would have some kind of common vocabulary, and then if they want to disagree with me (or if I want to disagree with West, which I’m not ruling out), at least we could have somewhere to start. I don’t know. The world has gotten very strange very quickly and I have no idea what to do about it. I know there are issues with Christopher West, but it’s pretty solid so far, and the kids have moved from snarky to reluctantly interested. I just don’t want them to grow up thinking that the Church’s main teaching is “Adam and Eve, sex bad, be careful, marriage, the end.”
This is what we are doing, by the way, rather than the parish whole-family religious education program. (We also send them to Dead Theologian’s Society, but we’ve been skipping because it includes a meal, and it omicron time.) Between covid and who knows what else, our parish stopped doing individual religious education classes and started this thing where I guess the whole family goes in together, and then you have to go home and teach your own kids anyway? Which sounds like the worst of both worlds. So we’re just doing this, and also:
Damien is reading St. Patrick’s Summer by Marigold Hunt to the younger kids (Benny did her first confession, first communion, and confirmation last year, but Corrie hasn’t done any of that yet).
I read this to the older kids when they were younger and remember liking it a lot — it’s a catechism told through a story, where a couple of 20th century kids meet St. Patrick and some other spiritual figures — but Damien says the content is good, but he’s finding the style hard to read. I think we were homeschooling when we read it, and probably just had a wider tolerance for weird books. Anyway, I recommend it for people who are looking for a solid catechism but maybe don’t want to go the Baltimore Catechism route for whatever reason. It has really good stuff about doctrine, like the trinity, etc., that many adults probably missed learning. I remember it as being fairly winsome in tone, definitely not preachy, but surprisingly natural in the way it conveyed doctrine through dialogue.
It’s wonderful to read a book that’s been written so deliberately. I’m constantly astonished at how carelessly so many popular books are written. Like, the story is interesting and the characters are fine, but the author doesn’t seem to have gone to any trouble over the writing itself? Even though they are an author?? I don’t think we should put up with this.
Anyway, Piranesi is wonderfully engaging and fascinating and I have no idea whatsoever what is going to happen, and I can’t wait to find out.
Joan Aiken is always worth reading. Never writes down to kids, but knows what kinds of things are important to kids. This is not actually one of my favorites — there are too many characters, and I’m finding the action a tiny bit confusing — but it’s got lots of adventure, appealing characters, pathos, comedy, an excellent sense of place, and a bit of social conscience, all of which are Aiken trademarks.
This one is about a young lonely teenage boy growing up lonely in a decrepit mansion as the ward of a titan of industry. He longs for a friend and is dismayed to find himself instead put in charge of a little French girl. The two of them get swept up in an intrigue in the streets of the Industrial Revolution slums of the hellish city of Blastburn. The book includes a lot of peril and the death of children, so may not be appropriate for sensitive young readers.
Lately we’ve been watching:
The Book of Boba Fett on Disney+
I’ve been hearing a lot of belly-aching about this show, and the arguments against never strike me as critiques of the actual work, but more that the show didn’t fulfill the particular desires that happened to reside in that particular viewer’s psyche. It’s possible I just have the right combination of fondness for Star Wars and ignorance of the lore minutiae, but I’m finding it to be the most entertaining thing I’ve watched in ages. I do think it stands up on its own as a cinematic spectacle and on its own narrative integrity. It’s not groundbreaking, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s well-known that the original Star Wars trilogy was a space western. The Mandalorian and now Boba Fett really bring that out of the realm of suggestion and right up to the surface. It may as well be a John Ford movie, just transplanted. I just about lost my mind when the train showed up in episode 2. So beautifully shot, and thrilling! People said it was boring, and I just don’t understand what they were watching. It’s exciting! It’s beautiful! It has monsters! And trains! And a good-bad man that you come to understand more and more as the show goes on. I’ll watch that story again, why not. It doesn’t hurt that my kids keep shrieking with joy as little obscure references and inside jokes keep turning up (and going over my head).
One essay complained about the exploitation of the story of the Tusken Raiders. It said that, while previous Star Wars movies were clearly written by the victors, portraying the tribe as witless savages, Boba Fett gives them the space to be revealed as a true culture with a backstory and a grievance which explains why they’re so aggressive — but then it obliterates them offscreen once they perform the service of giving Boba Fett some character development. And that’s true! But I’m not sure why it’s a problem! This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in a John Ford western, and I think people just need to watch more of them. Start with The Searchers and relax your ass.
We’re also watching I, Claudius again. The 1976 BBC series based on the historical novels by Robert Graves.
I did read the book a long time ago, but I really don’t remember it, so I can’t say how faithful the series is, but it has won numerous awards. It’s rather dated and very British in some ways, but once you get going, it’s gripping. I mean how could it not be! It’s told from the point of view of the emperor Claudius at the end of his life, putting together his autobiography and his horrible family history. Lots of poisoning, orgies, and intrigue, betrayal, heartbreak, oracles, and people deciding just how many compromises they can stand to make. I’m not great at following all the ins and outs of the politics, but it doesn’t really matter. You just have to understand which people will do anything for power, and see everyone else eventually get squished. Lots of great acting, spectacular costumes, so sad and funny and terrifying. (Tony Soprano’s mother Livia is clearly a nod to the uber-ambitious wife of emperor Augustus.) I recall it has some very grim and gory stuff further on with Caligula, so viewer beware.
And, for something totally different, we’re watching The Great British Baking Show, season 9, on Netflix.
We’re only about three or four episodes in, so please don’t tell me who wins! We finished up the previous season, and it was just delightful. Stressful! Always surprisingly stressful. But overall a lovely show, structured very differently from any American reality show.
It starts out with 12 amateur (but extremely good) bakers who have to produce a series of pastries and other baked goods. Sometimes they have a chance to practice and develop their recipe ahead of time; sometimes the assignment is a complete surprise, they’ve never heard of it, and the recipes are vague and unhelpful. Sometimes they have to make a dozen, identical pieces of some relatively simple sweet; sometimes they’re expected to produce outlandish, elaborate edible projects like chandeliers or childhood toys that you can really play with. One baker is eliminated each week, so you really get to know them over the course of the show, and they each bring in their own traditions, ethnic backgrounds, aesthetic preferences, and neurosis. They do a great job of choosing a variety of contestants with different strengths and weaknesses and different kinds of appeal. They encourage and sometimes even help each other, and although the judges are sometimes stern and the pressure is intense, this isn’t a cruel show. We save it for Sundays, because it’s so pleasant and I don’t want to wear it out.
They include short bits where the judges horse around with each other and do stupid little gimmicky jokes, and these are lame, but not too intrusive, and they focus mainly on the bakers and the baking. It’s all done outdoors under a giant tent, and the setting is breathtakingly lovely. (And yes, one of the hosts is the guy who plays Richmond on The IT Crowd.)
I’m not listening to anything! I have nothing. I’m listening to the dog making glorping noises with his stupid loose face and I’m going to lose my mind. What are you listening to?
This year, I took the plunge and volunteered to teach faith formation at my parish. I got grade 2, which is preparation for first confession. I took a short online course about child safety and had a background check done, and I assume I was approved by the pastor, who knows me. I was given materials for the class (Alive in Christ from OSV and Rooted from Ruah Woods), but what I cover is more or less up to me; but I am required to do one class about safety.
A few people asked me to share my lesson outline, so here it is. I thought it went pretty well, but who the heck knows? I hope to continue teaching this class next year, so I’d be grateful to know what you think and what improvements you would suggest. I try to have a lot of variety, to get them to answer and offer ideas, to read a memorable, engaging book, to get the kids to engage their bodies when possible, to do visual things whenever possible. Kids this age are very eager to absorb rules and facts, but I also want to make sure I’m conveying how beautiful and welcoming Jesus is. I’m just trying to remember that I’m showing up for the Holy Spirit to use.
This is the only class completely dedicated to bodily safety. I’ll be returning to the topic later in the context of other lessons (for instance, the idea that the seal of confession is for the priest to keep, and a child has no obligation to keep things that happen in confession secret). The class is one hour long and includes kids who are well-catechized and kids who know very little about their faith. I’m well aware that this one class isn’t adequate to keep kids safe, but at least they will have heard an adult talk about it, and they will know it’s okay to talk or think about.
PRAYER. We began with a prayer, remembering to make the sign of the cross carefully and respectfully. Prayer: “Jesus, we are here to learn about you. Please help us to hear good things so we can come closer to you. Amen.”
REVIEW. Sign of the cross. The cross is everywhere, not just in church but all over the world, in buildings, in nature, etc., even in our own bodies. (Recall places we have seen crosses, which they were supposed to hunt for during the week.) If we stand up and stretch out our arms, our own bodies make a cross. God puts the cross everywhere to remind us that Jesus is always with us.
REVIEW: The Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix. (We read this last week, and the kids were enthralled.) Remember how the paralyzed man’s friends opened up the roof and lowered their friend down, because they knew that, if they brought him to Jesus, Jesus would help him. We can’t open up the roof, but we can always bring our friends to Jesus and ask Jesus to help them. [Name friends and relatives we want to bring to Jesus and ask Jesus to help. Kids agreed that they would like this to be a recurring feature of the class. Ended up naming mostly pets.]
READ ALOUD. Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. [This is a book about physical safety and having a partner who helps you. It was provided by the parish, so I went with it. It’s not a perfect match, but it’s a cute and funny book that the kids like, and it was a good intro to talking about keeping your body safe with the help of other people.]
DISCUSS: Who made our bodies? God made our bodies for us. God even came down from Heaven and got a body, too, so we know that bodies are very important. They are a good gift for us, and it’s our job to try to take care of them. God wants our bodies to stay safe. Here are four things you need to know about keeping your body safe:
HUGGING AND KISSING. Sometimes someone asks us for a hug or a kiss, and we don’t want to do it. This is okay! We don’t have to hug or kiss if we don’t want to. What are some things we can do instead of hug or kiss? Get suggestions from kids, then fill in: Shake hands, blow a kiss, fist bump, high five. I picked kids to stand up and we practiced acting it out: “How about a kiss?” – “No thanks! How about a high five?”
SECRETS. Sometimes people tell us something that makes us feel bad or uncomfortable or creepy or weird, or they ask us to do something that makes us feel bad or uncomfortable or creepy or weird, and they tell us we have to keep it a secret. Do you think you should keep it a secret? No! What if it’s an adult who tells us to keep it a secret? Still no! You’re just kids, and it’s not your job to keep secrets that make you feel bad or weird or creepy or uncomfortable. Kids don’t have to keep bad secrets. If someone wants me to keep a secret that makes me feel bad, I should tell an adult in my safety network right away.
[Here I meant to make a distinction between keeping something a secret, and not giving away a surprise, but I forgot.]
SAFETY NETWORK. What is a safety network? It’s an adult who will listen to you and who will help you. Everyone gets a piece of paper and traces their hand, then writes the names of five adults in their safety network. They can bring it home and hang it up so they will remember who their safety network is. They can finish it at home if they can’t think of five names right now.
PRIVATE PARTS. At this point the kids got pretty antsy, so I had them all stand up and stretch. We stretched our arms way up high, way in front of us, way down, and way in back of us. Then I talked about how all the places we stretched to is places we should feel safe.
Imagine going swimming, and think about how we’re covered by our swim suits. The parts of our bodies that are covered by swim suits are private parts. Sometimes we need adults like our parents or doctors to help us with our bodies, like if we are sick or hurt, but we need to know that most of the time, no one gets to touch our private parts. If a doctor is doing it, we should have someone from their safety network, like a parent, with us. If anyone does anything with our private parts that makes us feel weird, we should tell an adult in our safety network right away.
I also meant to say, but I forgot: No one can make a kid touch their private parts. No one should show a kid pictures of private parts. If any of these things happen, I should tell an adult from my safety network right away.
A few times, the kids started to veer into territory that I thought wasn’t appropriate for me to discuss in a class, so I gently told them that would be something they should talk to their parents about.
SING. I wanted to change the mood a bit, so we learned “Jesus loves me.”
Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; We are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.
A few of the kids already knew it, and I accidentally stumbled on the brilliant pedagogical method of repeatedly mixing up the words, so they had to correct me, which they enjoyed. We sang it a few times and then I handed out coloring pages and crayons. All I had was a Celtic cross, so I asked them what else they would like me to bring in next time. (Here are some links to free coloring pages you can print, many courtesy of my friend Cindy Coleman, a very experienced catechist):
We did some more singing while they colored and waited for their parents to show up. We were supposed to end with a prayer, but I forgot.
I sent out a email to the parents, outlining what we would discuss in class. They had the option to opt out if they didn’t want their kids in this class, and I let them know I’d be telling the kids to ask them if they had questions I didn’t think were appropriate for class.
Image: detail from an illustration from The Miracle Man
It is stunning that the Bishops are talking about sex! As long as you are the kind of person who wakes up stunned to see the sun rise, stunned to find that you have feet at the end of your legs, stunned to discover that the floor under those feet is still made out of wood, just like it has been for decades and decades.
I’ve very graciously been invited to lead a Theology on Tap discussion this Tuesday in Keene, NH. Here’s the event description:
Think “Fifty Shades of Grey” is shocking? We’ll see your fifty and raise you 5 years and 129 talks–that’s what it took for Blessed John Paul II to outline his “Theology of the Body”, in which he explained the relationship between sex and spirituality. We’re so often taught in church that sex is a black-and-white, “do it” or “don’t do it” issue, but Theology of the Body teaches that there are so many shades of grey–we have to ask “why?” and “to what end?”, not just “can I?”
Join us as we split the ladies …and gents for separate discussions about Theology of the Body, sex, spirituality, and the practical application of the connection between the two!
The ladies’ conversation, led by author and blogger Simcha Fisher, will cover the basic ideas of ToB and how it impacts our relationships with men and our own bodies. Meet at Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant on Main Street!
The gents’ conversation will be led by Deacon Arnold Gustafson and will meet at Ramunto’s Pizzeria, also on Main Street!
Both groups will meet in private rooms at the venues so as to assure privacy when talking about this delicate topic. See you there!
Local women, I would absolutely love to see you there! Whether you can make it or not, I need your help.
What questions do you have? What topics would you like to see addressed? There is SO much here, and it’s just one night, so I’d like to focus the discussion on things that people really want to hear about.
I’ve got a Catholic friend who is sorely in need of some good reading materials on the main concepts in Theology of the Body. She buys into very secular views of contraception, abortion, marriage, and sex in general, and has admitted a total lack of education regarding the Catholic teaching on the subjects, as well as a (reluctant) interest in obtaining said education.
I’m looking for something that’s intelligent, readable, down to earth, doesn’t assume that you already agree with the Church teaching, and hits all the main points without an angry polemical vibe. I checked out some stuff by Christopher West, but didn’t like it too much.
Any suggestions, smarties? If you have something to recommend, it would be very helpful if you could say a few things about why you liked it, or what kind of audience it would be appropriate for.