Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some Thoughts After Teaching College Freshmen

Baby Marcelle Roulin by Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Where did July go? It seemed to disappear as I taught a very fast paced 100-level course to mostly college freshman at a four-year university. I have been teaching this same course in a community college for over five years. It was an interesting and perhaps even an enlightening experience.

I would first like to say that about a third of my class was a joy to teach. They came to class well prepared. They were attentive, inquisitive, diligent, and motivated. They give me hope for the coming years. I am sure they will do great things in the future.

I am really not sure about another third of the class. They never came to lecture. I saw them on testing days but that is about it.

Another third came to class but never really seemed engaged. They were always looking for a shortcut. Their most frequent question was, "Do we have to know all of that?"

Since this was a summer course the students had various motivations for attending. Some, I think, were hoping a summer course would be less intense than a semester-long course. Wrong! We cover the same amount of material but you have less time to absorb it. One day in summer is the equivalent of a week during the regular semester. One week during the summer session is the equivalent of a month during the regular semester. If the regular semester was trying to drink from a fire hose, summer is trying to drink from Niagara Falls!

Some of these students really resent having to take a summer course and cannot believe I expect them to study during their summer vacation. I received questions like, "Do you really think we should read the textbook?"

I am left wondering if the experience of so much standardized testing during their primary and secondary school years has perverted their understanding of what it means to learn. For so many years the focus has been on teaching to the test. Their purpose for learning information was to perform well on the SAT, AP exam, or some other metric. Now they are in college and I am asking them to learn a subject matter. I am not teaching to a test but trying to give them the foundational knowledge they need to apply when they take advanced courses in nursing, physical therapy, or medical school and ultimately engage in their future occupations. Yet for every one time someone asks me to clarify a fact I am asked at least six times, "Is that going to be on the test?" They are very annoyed when I teach them something and then do not include it on the test. How dare I waste their time with non-testable information!

I also have a sense that too many of these students have never faced the consequences of their actions. They have never been allowed to fail. Someone always bailed them out. I received multiple emails from students saying "I need to get at least a B to get in to program XYZ. This is not happening. You need to do something so that my grade improves."  I spent hours outside of class helping students who requested help or needed tips for studying the material. I offered study guides for each chapter. It was clear that some students felt this was insufficient and I should provide test questions ahead of time so they could simply regurgitate the answers on an exam. But this is college. You have to learn a body of knowledge and show you can apply that knowledge.

Which brings me back to my community college students. I teach them the same material and use the same sort of study guides and exam questions. While not everyone excels in my community college classes there is far less wailing and gnashing of teeth and far better performance on the exams. Most of these students have faced hardships of one kind or another and they know their choices have consequences. Performance matters. Failure is a real possibility.

I do not think we are doing our children any favors when we are constantly cushioning their falls. At some point the safety net goes away. Wanting to do well is not enough. There has to be enough drive to make the sacrifices of time and energy to study and learn. And not every student has the aptitude to get an A or B in every class. Grades are not participation trophies. They are earned. The sooner students understand that, the sooner they will be mature enough to realistically evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and select a path that leads to success.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wherein I get a bit radical

Wedding Procession by Maurice Denis, 1892

My latest piece is published over on Catholic Stand.  The Obergefell decision is now the law of the land. There are lots of Protestant sects falling all over themselves to embrace it and include same-sex marriage as part of their religious doctrine on marriage. So be it.

I am not sure that the Catholic Church can or should focus on turning back the clock to a time when the legal definition of marriage matched the Church view. In my article I argue that now that civil marriage as well as marriages in numerous Protestant churches includes same-sex couples, it is clear that the underlying view of marriage in these settings is incompatible with the Catholic view. Therefore, we need to stop assuming or pretending that they are the same thing. Actually, they have not been the same thing for decades. When marriage is viewed as a union that can be easily dissolved because one or the other party no longer finds the union personally satisfying that union was never a marriage in the Catholic sense.

My proposal is that we own up to this difference and act accordingly. Please head on over to Catholic Stand and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

For the Supreme Court It is All About the L-U-V

Marriage at Cana, 1304, Giotto

Like the free-love advocates of the 1960's, the Supreme Court has declared that marriage is just a piece of paper. There is nothing unique or transcendent about this union. What is really important is all the happy-clappy, rainbow-filled "luv".

I am not happy with this development, but I am also not surprised. Perhaps now those of us who believe that marriage is something more than the legal recognition of the mutual affection of consenting adults will awaken from our delusion that the state ever shared our view of marriage.

It has been decades since legal marriage has been more than a partnership that impacts taxation and property ownership. With the onset of no-fault divorce it became easier to dissolve a marriage than to dissolve many business relationships. While the words of the ceremony may say, "until death do us part", the state view of marriage is "until it is no longer fun for one of the parties".

In my latest article at the HLI Truth and Charity Forum I talk about the appropriate response to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Just as Roe v Wade was a call to evangelize and educate on the sanctity of all human life, this ruling is a call to evangelize and educate on the unique nature and grace of Holy Matrimony.

Matrimony is more than a self-serving pleasure experience. It is vocational, self-giving, and sacrificial. It is about the joining of one man and one woman to serve God together and to cooperate with the creation and nurturing of new life, if that is God's will for them. Matrimony is intrinsically and inseparably linked to procreation.

The secular world wants its luv-fest. They call it marriage. We need to speak of matrimony.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When life gives you beets...Make chocolate cake!

Cake City by Ivan Bilibin, 1912

Today's produce  box from the farm co-op arrived today. I unpacked lettuce, green beans, squash, blueberries, cherries, peaches, eggs, and beets. About those beets... I am just not a fan. I have tried. I roasted them. I boiled them. So what else can I do with beets? I can make chocolate cake!

With the help of Google I found this recipe for chocolate-beet cake. As far as I am concerned, chocolate covers a multitude of sins and this was a wonderfully moist, fudge-like chocolate cake. The recipe called for topping it with creme fraiche and poppy seeds, but I just made a sauce from a few of the fresh cherries I had. It was lovely!

I feel a little guilty about using my vegetable to make chocolate cake. But I did use cherries to make a salsa to serve with grilled chicken so I guess it evens out. In any case, I think everyone in my household is now looking forward to finding beets in our farm co-op box if it means chocolate cake is on the menu.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Eat your vegetables!

Market Woman at a Vegetable Stand by Pieter Aertsen, 1567
Pope Francis asked us to receive his encyclical, Laudato Si', with an open mind.  We need humility to accept God is the Creator and we are the created. We need enlightenment to see all life is a gift but human life is uniquely made in the image of God. Because of our exceptionalism we need wisdom to be good stewards of life on earth.

The entire encyclical is a call to conversion which means each of us needs to take an honest look at our lives and lifestyle to see where our relationships with God, with other people, and with nature need improvement. This evaluation must be based on reason, not emotions. For example, many of us want to do our part and recycle and we feel good when we throw our paper, glass and plastics into the  big blue recycling bin. Yet, this article in the Washington Post shows how our emotional need to do something and be "green" may lead us to misguided efforts that accomplish little and may actually harm the environment. Pope Francis points out in Laudato Si'  our efforts to be good stewards must be based on science that is truly free from ideological and political biases.

One area that I have been working on for the last several years is to make my eating habits more ecologically friendly. Now, I must say that I chuckle every time I see an environmentalist rallying around meatless Mondays as if abstaining from meat one day a week is new innovation. We Catholics have been going meatless at least one day a week for centuries. We just do it on Friday as an act of penance to join our sacrifice with that of Christ. But there are some new considerations for planning my family meals that I think make our meal times more environmentally friendly.

I have become a huge fan of shopping for locally grown meat, dairy, and produce. When we insist on eating strawberries in December, we end up with bland pale orbs that offer but a subtle reminder of what strawberries are supposed to taste like but cannot compare to the freshly picked juicy red berry that shows up in the farmers markets in spring. In addition to offering second-rate flavor, the out-of-season strawberry shows up in our grocery stores only after great expenditures of energy to transport them hundreds or even thousands of miles.

In addition to making our lives more energy efficient, eating what is in season and locally grown makes our lives richer as we celebrate the arrival of our favorite fruits and vegetables. We rediscover the rhythms of nature. In Germany, the arrival of asparagus is the cause of grand celebrations and festivals. Here in Virginia I savor the berries of spring followed by the corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash of summer followed by the apples, pears, pumpkins, and other squash of autumn. I am becoming more adept at freezing and canning produce when it is in season so I can still enjoy it when it is not.

I joined a farm co-op and get a weekly box of produce straight from the growers. I am learning to cook vegetables that I would never have tried otherwise. I found out I really like both turnips and collard greens. I have also learned that while produce can make a beautiful still-life paining, fruits and vegetables do not have to be picture perfect to be both healthy and tasty. I was appalled to learn how much of our food supply is plowed under because it is not pretty enough to sell. Being willing to eat "ugly" produce prevents the waste of both perfectly edible food and the resources required to grow it.

Buying local food does not have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Here in Virginia I will never have locally grown bananas, avocados, and mangos so I will still rely on imported produce. But if there is a local alternative, I will try to wait for the season and celebrate the bounty of home.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si'

I have finished my first, albeit quick, reading of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. My first thought is no one should draw any conclusions about this encyclical unless you read it yourself. There are enough phrases and ideas that can be cherry picked to support diametrically opposed ideologies and media news outlets are already doing so. This encyclical is not wed to any ideology. This is not an encyclical about climate change though climate change is discussed. It is a statement about the reality of Man and his place in the world. Such truth transcends politics.

The overarching  theme is that as human beings we are in a relationship with God, in a relationship with each other, and in a relationship with the natural world. These relationships are intrinsically interconnected and any distortion of one of these relationships will distort the others. They cannot be addressed in isolation from each other.

The Pope reminds us we are called to be good stewards of creation. A consumerist-focused culture that does not take into account the larger impact of more production of consumer goods is disordered. We cannot expect to have wealthy segments of the world population generating large amounts of waste at the expense of the environment for the poorer, less technologically developed societies.

At numerous points in the Encyclical, Pope Francis goes to great lengths to state that genuine concern for the environment must be accompanied by a genuine respect for all human life. He pointedly states that concern for endangered species is meaningless if such concern is not also extended to the most vulnerable humans including the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

The Pope is not anti-technology but he states over and over again that technology must be our tool and not our master. The one paragraph that I would like to quote right now seems strange to do so on this digital platform of communication but perhaps because my work requires me to have such an extensive presence on the internet it strongly resonated with me:

 Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. (47)
There is a great deal of wisdom in this Encyclical but many will miss it because they insist on reading it through the lens of politics and power.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Saga of Anna's Promise

I am going to admit that I sometimes buy a bottle of wine because I like the cutesy name or the clever label or the pretty bottle. Likewise, I am a sucker for roses named for people or places or ideas that are special to me. Which is why I bought the rose pictures above. This is Anna's Promise, named for one of my favorite Downton Abbey characters. 

The fact that I am now seeing my first blossom on this rose seems like a miracle. I am not sure naming a rose after a character who always seems to be facing a traumatic experience is a good idea. I ordered the roes online and it arrived as a seemingly healthy bare-root rose with no leaves but several very thorny canes. I promptly planted it in a large pot with quality soil and gave it a good feeding. Alas, Virginia had an exceptionally long winter which subjected this poor rose to multiple snowfalls and numerous freezing nights.

I waited and waited for signs of life after the temperatures warmed. All of my other roses were sprouting leaves and buds within a month or so of our last frost. Not Anna's Promise. Months passed. Thorns fell off the canes. Green canes turned black. I kept wondering if I should just throw it out since it looked much more like it was dying than growing. I just couldn't give up on it. I scratched at the base and there was still a bit of green, evidence of a living plant. I just kept cutting away the black dried canes. 

Then one day I saw it. A small sprout. And before I knew it sprouts were coming up everywhere. Buds formed and I anxiously awaited the first blossom. But this is Anna's rose. The first bud on the top looked like it would be a gorgeous long-stemmed flower when an inadvertent bump against the plant chopped the bud off. It didn't kill the plant, but I was going to have to wait a bit longer to see my first flower.

Then there are the pests. I have a love-hate relationship with roses.  I absolutely love the flowers but they require so much attention. They are the fragile needy residents of my garden. One day as I checked on Anna I found the telltale evidence of sawfly larvae. Leaves were spotted with the brown webbed chewed lesions. I picked off and squished the small worms that I found and then gave Anna a good spraying with a natural insecticide.

Success! I now have a thriving lovely rosebush offering me this beautiful flower whose color reminds me of the sunrise. I am sure there is a life lesson somewhere in there if I think about it enough. But right now I think I shall just pour my morning coffee and enjoy gazing at Anna's Promise.