Thursday, August 7, 2014

Please Don't Tell Catholics With Same Sex Attraction That You Will Try to Pray Their Gay Away

I was fortunate enough recently to see a public testimony on a popular Facebook page of a young man who said that he was a homosexual who chose to remain faithful to Catholicism and was thus celibate.

From what I've been told, many Catholics who identify as gay, homosexual, or same sex attracted (SSA) feel as though they are not respected by the LBGT community.  To choose to believe that their attraction is not something they should act upon makes them a spectacle.  To choose their religion over the chance of a lifelong partnership and maybe a family is seen as foreign and completely unreasonable.  If we look at the major cause of the LBGT community right now, same sex marriage, it is obvious that the gay community is looking for a chance to not feel so alone in the world.  To know that they have the chance at a lifelong partnership.  The idea of anyone, even clergy, deciding to be celibate for God is extremely counter-cultural.  We all fear loneliness.  We all want intimacy.  Many of us cannot see how this is possible without a romantic relationship.  While homosexuals who embrace their homosexuality have the acceptance of the LBGT community, SSA Catholics who embrace celibacy tend to be the odd people out for their choice.  I can understand given the current push for same sex marriage why this happens in the LBGT community, but, I cannot for the life of me figure out why heterosexual Catholics also tend to make our own feel like they are not wanted by us just as they are.

You see, after I saw the brave testimony of the young man on that page, I saw a comment towards him that filled me with uneasiness.  You see, even though the commenter commended him for choosing Catholicism, she then went on to tell him that she prayed that God would take his homosexuality away so that he could have the joy in his life of a marriage and family.

Listen, I know that these sorts of comments are made with the best intentions.  Many of us are very adverse to any sort of suffering, and we want to help others not to suffer, we just cannot take away every burden and every cross of every human.  As Catholics, we especially believe this.  We have no guarantee of an easy life, even if we do everything God asks of us.  Given the amount of martyrs we honor in our faith, I think it should be pretty obvious that comfort and pleasure in our earthly lives is not our reward for being "good."  Catholics believe that the sin of Adam and Eve (Original Sin) brought suffering into this world, and it (and the tendency to sin), is not something that we can escape.  According to the Catechism,

405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

Beyond the fact that it is theologically inaccurate to say that God will reward us for our devotion with a removal of our deepest earthly suffering, there are also some very harsh implications made when we say that we are going to try pray that someone changes so that they can get married.  Since when is marriage the only way to live a fulfilling and happy life according to Catholics?  We have celibate clergy and religious, and we also have singles who are consecrated virgins.  Marriage is only one way to live our lives and only one choice of vocation that God can have planned for us.  Surely we believe the single, heterosexual Catholics who choose to remain celibate can have a fulfilling life by living out their vocation and an intimacy with God.  Why can't we believe that single, homosexual Catholics can have just as fulfilling a life and intimacy?  Isn't part of Catholicism acknowledging that sex, while a beautiful part of God's plan, is far from the only source of happiness in life?  When we act as though a person with SSA can't possibly have a happy and fulfilling life without becoming a heterosexual and getting married, we immediately undermine their decision to remain celibate.  Family is wonderful, but an intimate connection with God is the first priority of all of our lives. 

Essentially, we all have our crosses to bear.  Some of them bring us great spiritual fruits.  To suggest that God should reward a SSA Catholic with the removal of their cross is to undermine the cross and the sacrifice of their celibacy.  Further down in the comment box of that conversation where the prayer was offered to remove someone's SSA, another Catholic with SSA chimed in and said,
"Instead of praying for someone's same-sex attraction to go away, please just pray for God's will to be done in their life. We all have a cross. For some of us, that cross is same-sex attraction. Some people have that taken away -- but many, many do not. Ask God to do His work in us. Don't tell Him what to do.

Pope Francis rather famously said in an interview, "Who am I to judge?"  Now, if you are a stickler for reading quotes in context like I am, then you know that he was talking about celibate priests who have SSA who are faithful to their vows.  He expressed in very simple language that he wasn't going to try to change them, and that he didn't see anything inherently wrong with them.  He dismissed the paranoia of there being a "gay lobby" at the Vatican.  He affirmed their personhood.  He acknowledged that we have no reason to judge or try to change them.  Please remember the words of the Holy Father when you deal with celibate homosexual Catholics.  Remember not to feel pity for them.  Remember not to act as though their life is "less" because of their particular cross.  They are not less.  They are whole and made in the image and likeness of God.  Just as we shouldn't pray that a nun's vocation changes to marriage, nor should we suppose we know what would make a Catholic with SSA fulfill God's plan for them and express a wish to change them.  Some SSA Catholics do make the choice to enter into mixed-orientation marriages, but, honestly, that's between them and God, and not something we should impose upon them.

In many ways, our society makes homosexuals feel like they are the outsider, the "other."  Our Catechism teaches us against doing this, but many people of other faiths and backgrounds still do it, unfortunately, as do many Catholics.  From the pulpit, preachers will talk about "the gay agenda," not realizing that people struggling with SSA are in their audience.  Homosexuals are people, and the assumptions made about them separates us and makes evangelization and, honestly, any civil conversation, nearly impossible.  Compassion for the fact that they have felt unaffirmed their whole lives, probably at least partially due to bad theology like the assertion that we will not suffer if we follow God, must be felt.  Empathy and understanding, while staying true to our faith, is imperative.  I fear, however, that we are so used to treating homosexuals as outsiders that, even when they are orthodox members of our religion, we still treat them that way.  We should try to be more like Pope Francis and take them as they are.  We shouldn't treat them like they need fixing any more than the rest of us do.  The truth is, we all have a spiritual disorder thanks to the fall.  Please remember that, if we treat them as outsiders, we run the risk of pushing them away from God.  They really deserve our love and our respect, and we must make sure that, given the conversation of current culture, that we are excessively careful in every word we use towards them. 

Remember the context of, "Who am I to judge?" and please, please, please, try to live it.  Be the community that our celibate SSA Catholics desire.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Radical Feminist?

Yesterday, a man I've never met or spoken to before told me that I've advocated for radical feminism before.

Now, between my adamant stances against women's ordination, abortion, and the LWCR nuns, I'm not really sure where this impression came from.  I'm here to clarify a few things.

First of all, I have nothing against a patriarchal structure in our society.  I am a housewife in a traditional family structure.  I make sure my husband is the respected head of our household.  I do not want to be his boss, but rather, his partner.  We are equal in dignity, but not the same.  He excels in a different role than I do.  I trust him enough to defer to him when he feels strongly about a problem we are facing together.  I look to him for his love and protection.  I need him.  I need this man.

Women, however, well, I've always had a hard time trusting women, due to the experiences in my life.  I understand men better, so I have always more easily made friends with men rather than women.  Most of my readers are male, probably because I of this natural ease that I have with the opposite gender.  Anyway, my hesitancy with women is so deep, it affects even my faith; I even have to struggle to form a relationship with Mary.

I by no means think the world would be a better place if women were the ones in charge.  I have no delusions that all the problems of the world are caused by male oppression.  I simply want the unique and complimentary relationship between male and female to be more fully realized.  (Ex: Saying that men cannot control their sexual urges is bad for both sexes and their relationship.)  I also notice that, with the way we present chastity and "purity," we are driving women away from God.  I know from experience the pain of failing to remain a virgin until married and feeling like there was nothing I could do to get my purity or God's love back.  As much as I don't naturally get along with other women, I also don't want well meaning Christians to accidentally turn women away by unintentionally making them feel worthless and dirty.  Left and right, women are being told that we aren't beautiful enough, smart enough, make enough money, thrifty enough, crafty enough, etc...  God is the One Who affirms our dignity.  I want that to be known to all women.  I don't want the message to get lost lost with all of the noise of everything else we don't do right.

There are also many reasons women should be able to be educated and work.  First of all, since there is a vocation to the single life, women need to have the opportunity to support themselves.  Also, we are generally getting married later in life, and sometimes the economy forces us to work even after we are married. Even though I think that a woman staying home with her children is ideal, I don't even for a second presume that I know anything about another mother's situation.  Maybe, for one reason or another, God doesn't think it is ideal for her to stay at home.  Maybe it is not financially or emotionally viable for her.  In any case, I don't presume to know what is actually best for each family in the real world.  Therefore, it is important for women to have the option to have an education and a career.

So, I am no radical feminist.  I actually refused to call myself even remotely close to feminist until very recently.  I've noted a few issues with how the world currently is, and I simply want to bring awareness to these things so that we can better evangelize women.

That's really it.

If Catholic men think that makes me a radical feminist, then maybe we had more problems than I originally thought....

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Win an 8x10 Fine Art Print!

This is my newest work called, "Our Lady of the Green Meadows." Would you like a free 8x10 fine art print of this? If so, then please read on to enter my give away for it. Please read all instructions and follow them exactly, or else your entry(ies) won't count!

First of all, to win, you must "like" my page Facebook page and share this image from it. This will earn you 1 entry.

You can earn one more entry (each) for doing each of the following.

1) Follow me on Pinterest (if you already do, that counts)

2) Pin one of my PINs on Pinterest

3) Follow Me on Twitter (If you already do, that counts)

4) Tweet about this giveaway

5) Invite your friends to like my Facebook page

When you are all done with your entries (up to 6 total), please comment on *this picture* on my  Facebook page with a list of everything you did. Ex:

1) I like your page and I shared the image
2) I started following you on Pinterest
3) I pinned your WIWS post
4) I follow you on Twitter
5) I tweeted about this giveaway
6) I invited 10 friends to like your page

I'm going by the honor system here. Just remember not to cheat or lie! It's a sin!

This is open internationally, it'll just cost me a lot of money to ship the print first to me then to you (lol). Not open to family members (sorry Laura).

I understand that the economy is tough and it is hard to support an artist. I don't want my pieces just sitting around for me to stare at. I'd prefer if at least some fine art prints are out there for others to enjoy.

The original piece was done in oil pastel. It depicts Mary and Jesus relaxing in a field of red poppies. The print will be on a somerset velvet fine art print, professionally printed.

The giveaway goes until Thursday, May 22, 2014 12:00 PM EST. I will announce the winner sometime on Friday. I will be drawing names out of a hat old school style.

Good luck, and I hope you like this piece. I'm going to try to paint the next one with acrylic. Don't expect it to be done for awhile, haha. I do hope to do a give away every month or two if this one is successful, though

Again, good luck!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Am Thankful for the Failed Black Mass Reenactment

Yeah, I know, it sounds strange.  When I heard about the plans of the Satanic Temple to have a Black Mass (first with a consecrated host, then without), I was appalled.  I was extremely unsettled and upset that someone would even pretend to desecrate my Lord for some sort of publicity stunt.  Hearing that the group intending on doing this didn't even believe in God and Satan made it all the more heart-breaking.  I was hurt and furious and disgusted that someone would even for a moment think that this was okay.  I nearly cried.

And I am so, so, so thankful for all that pain.

Confused?  I guess I need to give some background.

I've had a rough year.  Both my grandparents passed away, and I am reeling from it.  I have good days and bad days.  Slowly the good days are starting to outnumber the bad ones.  I am no longer getting pangs of heartbreak when I remember that my grandfather is gone.  Still, though, mourning is difficult, especially with three small children to care for.

Being a mom is also tiring.  I love it, but sometimes I feel like my brain is being wasted by never getting time to write or teach people who don't need assistance with their bodily functions.  Then I remember working outside the home and how I had even less time and emotional ability to create and function outside of my job.  I remind myself to accept that I will never feel like I am fulfilled or living to my fullest potential in this life.  I can't say that I'm always okay with this knowledge.  I honestly usually only am directly after receiving the Eucharist.

Ever since adolescence, I've been a bit of a rebel.  I need to do my own thing.  I hate it when other people copy me.  I value my individuality in a way that borders on unhealthy.  I need to feel that I am expressing myself through clothes, art, and hobbies.  I need to create (more than just children, although, that is fun, too).  As a young adult, I was into alternative fashion.  In the years since then, I've slowly just started wearing hand-me-downs and trying to force myself to not feel like I needed the self-expression.  Truth be told, though, I'm not very good at rules or fitting in.  As much as I love to have others love me, if I change myself to get them to love me, I die a little inside.  I've been trying to just be a sensible, thrifty mother who doesn't care about all those things I used to.

Which leads me to two weeks ago when I had a bit of a mental snap.  Essentially, I've been tired, mourning, and feeling weighed down by too many forces.  I haven't felt enough of my own self.  I've been trying to figure out what in the world to do with my art.  Now I know that it will be hard to discern if I suppress every part of myself.  Anyway, I felt very constricted, and after a discussion on modesty, which felt like more RULES weighing on me, I felt like I could not continue being Catholic.  I just needed room to breathe, and in the sleep-deprived insanity of the moment, it felt just getting rid of some of the rules might finally give me some peace.  I had years of feeling like I'd lost part of myself to the monotony of life just explode in a single afternoon.  Since "Catholic" is the only role I can shed right now, I looked atheism square in the face and gave it a consideration. 

I have many days where I feel like Catholicism is just too wonderful to be true.  How could there be a God that loves someone like me unconditionally?  How could someone want to spend an eternity with me?  Why would someone create me as I am (stubborn, head-strong, impatient, selfish) just to spend eternity with me?  How could someone like me possibly deserve that?

So I cried and felt like I had to just let it go.  I needed to not pretend like I believed something that great could happen.

My husband, after a very long couple days of talking, managed to convince me that we should just take life one day at a time and not abandon our faith, no matter how tired we are.

Then came the news about the Black Mass reenactment at Harvard, and the pain went right through my heart.

How could I, who only finds peace in the Eucharist, who believes fully in the Real Presence, ever not be Catholic, or somehow be an atheist?

And further, I realized...

What atheist would die to keep someone from desecrating the Eucharist?  How insane am I really?  How did I even think for one moment that I don't believe that this is true?

I must be onto what I'm meant to do with my gifts with all these spiritual attacks.  Please pray for me.  Many days it gets very difficult.

In an effort to keep myself from taking out the feeling of being confined on Catholicism, I've started to make small changes in my life.  I'm only wearing clothes that I love.  My cowboy boots from Mother's Day that I put in my last post?  I'm wearing them all the time because they are what I like.  I started carrying my purses instead of a diaper bag (for the first time in over 4.5 years).  I've been making the effort to do my hair every day.  I know it sounds superficial, but I need to remember who I am.  I am almost 30, I can't lose sight of myself in the chaos that is having 3 children.  I also don't know how to be centered enough as an artist to figure out how to serve God with my art if I don't have a solid grasp of who I am and a feeling of a strong identity.  How can I create something with a strong identity if I don't have one myself?  This is, of course, creating even less time for this blog.  I hope you don't mind if I only post once or twice per month with things that I really feel are necessary to say.

So there you have it.  That failed attempt at a Black Mass Reenactment came at a time that felt almost like it was just for me.  I haven't felt so close to God and such a burning in my heart for Him outside of Mass in years.

I think I'm onto something.  I just need time to do it and a bit more direction.

I promise I'll start writing again more someday.  I don't really know how other bloggers with children do it.  I have to say, though, they have my respect for it.

I hope my honesty has touched you in some way.  I suspect I'm not the only one who feels like this.  I hope that, if you ever find yourself feeling like this, then you just remember to meditate on the Eucharist and the wonderful gift He gave us.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What I Wore Sunday

Apparently Catholic bloggers do something called What I Wore Sunday (WIWS).  Even though most of my followers are dudes, I figured I would try it out.

Today I learned that 7-month-olds and veils don't get along, which is sad because I really love this eternity veil that I made from the lace leftover from my wedding gown.  It also just makes a really pretty scarf.

Here is a full view without the veil.  I am wearing my new boots (Shada by Ariat), which are my Mother's Day present (Happy Mother's Day!)

With the veil up.

And then a few more (featuring our trash can and training potty) to show y'all how vain and desperately in need of prayers I am:

Oh, and here is the braid I put in my hair this morning:

I promise to have a real blog post soon.  Spring is busy here.  I also am planning a drawing and a Give Away soon, so bear with me, please!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Searching for Fulfillment

The whole controversy over Kirsten Dunst's recent interview has had me thinking a lot about feminism and its goals and also humanity in general.

I need to start out by saying that I am very thankful for the feminist movement.  It is awesome that I can vote.  I am grateful that, if something happened to my husband, I could go out and get a career to support myself.  I am not at the mercy of my husband and father to survive.  I can own property.  I can get an education.  These are all wonderful things that we really shouldn't take for granted.

I can't help but wondering, however, if some of the motivation behind the feminist movement is a bit naive.  There seems to be some sort of idea that somehow, someway, we humans can find true fulfillment in this lifetime through things like an education and a career.  There is no doubt that these things are good and worthy to achieve, but hoping to find rest in your soul and true peace from a career is something that I believe to be wishful thinking.

Okay, Maria, so you're a housewife.  Do you think that a woman staying home with her kids will be able to find that peace and fulfillment?  No, actually, I don't.  I think that this restlessness in our souls for something more is constant in this life, no matter what our vocation, career, socioeconomic status, etc... is.

Everyone has a cross to bear of some sort.  We seek money to eliminate our suffering, but even the wealthy have trials, and wealth brings its own challenges.  We try new jobs when our old ones don't fulfill us, and, yes, we may find something that makes us feel more accomplished, or less stressed, but deeply fulfilled and at peace?  I don't think so.

I paint and draw.  I pursue the arts.  Do I think I'll find fulfillment there?  I find enjoyment, it makes me feel accomplished, it is worth doing, but no, the restlessness in my soul will still be there, no matter how much I achieve or how high I strive.  I have a wonderful marriage.  I'm married to the boy I've loved since I was 14 years old.  He is everything that a man and a husband should be.  Does he take away my restlessness?  No.  I have a house, beautiful children, a good life, yet I still find myself looking for something that is just out of my reach.

I don't think I'm alone with this restlessness in my soul.

I only find relief for a few blissful moments each week during Mass after receiving the Eucharist while I am intimately united with my God.  If I can't get to Mass one week, well, let's just say that you wouldn't want to be around me, as I become fairly unbearable to be around without that weekly union with my Savior.

I think that feminism in a lot of ways is a worthy cause, at least when it comes to equality for both of the sexes (as evidenced by some of the content of this blog), but I think that this idea that somehow women were kept from finding fulfillment when we weren't able to pursue careers while men were able to find deep fulfillment in theirs denies human nature.  To get upset with Kirsten Dunst for alluding to the imperfect pursuit merely of careers seems to me to be ignoring the big picture.  Humanity is always searching for purpose and for meaning in all of the wrong places, and devaluing housewives and acting like they have "nothing" because they decided to stay home is to deny that none of us truly feel fulfilled, no matter what our career is or pursuits are.

CCC27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

The sooner we recognize that we can't find what we are looking for in this lifetime through travel, marriage, career, etc... the sooner we will come to terms with the longing in our hearts.  I also don't think that becoming Catholic automatically removes our restless hearts.  To go to religion hoping to find permanent peace while you are still alive is just as much of a folly as looking for it in a career, relationship, or hobby.  I don't think that I will find true peace until at the end when I am hopefully resting in my Father's arm.  The restlessness will not go away until I am intimately united with Him.

So let's not argue about gender theory and what specifically women need to be "happy" in this world.  Let's instead as Catholics focus on our human condition and help others understand that the peace they seek won't be found in any worldly endeavor, but only in our Savior.  Remember this deeply while you go through our Lord's passion.  Remember that He longs for you just as much as you long for Him, so much so that He died brutally for you.

Have a blessed Holy Week.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is Disney Controlling Your Children's Minds?

Is Disney controlling your children's minds?  No?  Well, the way you all talk about Disney movies, especially since Frozen came out, you sure could have fooled me.

First of all, I should emphasize that I love Disney movies and characters very dearly, and this is by no means a "Save your children from the evil Disney!" post.

This is my daughter.  We love Disney around here, maybe even a bit too much!

Everyone, I know this might sound like I'm overreacting, but can we please stop reading so much into Disney movies and acting like Disney has a major role in raising our children?  I understand that there is joy in finding themes you relate to in movies, and if a movie is devoid of things we relate to we generally don't like them, but there is a line that shouldn't be crossed; we shouldn't expect a movies to 100% reflect our values and impart these values to our kids for us.

Recently, it's felt to me like every cartoon is being analyzed on how well it prepares our children for life instead of how entertaining and fun it is.  Now, I agree that we should be wary of showing our children movies with inappropriate themes for them, but I'm kind of surprised that suddenly everyone seems to think that every movie that comes out for children is either theologically perfect and will teach little girls and boys the "right things" and save our society from a horrible and inevitable downfall, or morally repugnant and will send our culture past the point of no return because of immorality and indecency (sometimes people split in these feelings about the same movie!).

Hey, guys, they're movies.  They're fun!  Yes, they have morals that we can take and use to help teach our children about life, and sometimes the messages are a bit questionable, but they are mostly meant to entertain us, not completely shape our children!  Children learn mostly from the example of the adults around them.  Your relationship with your spouse is going to be the love story they are most familiar with, so I think it is safe to say that your relationship is the one that they will learn the most from, not Disney movies.

We have the power to try to model what we want our children to look for if they get married.  We have the power to talk to our kids about what is realistic about a movie romance and what isn't.  We have a good amount of control left in this, it isn't completely out of our hands and left to the mercy of how Disney wants to portray marriages to our children.  They aren't using mind control here.  The thing that I've felt most confused about recently is I don't understand why people get so down on Disney Princesses and their marriages. The general opinion seems to be that little girls are like lemurs who see Disney princesses getting married, and they thus all run off of a cliff looking for Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet without any work, and there is absolutely nothing we can do in our power to stop this, unless if Disney changes its evil ways and shows better female role-models for them.

Okay, so some of the Disney princesses end up marrying men who they didn't know very long.  So what?  Explain to your children that these stories took place a long time ago when marriages were different.  Explain the political position that princes and princesses were in and the responsibilities that their heritage and wealth brought them.  Explain how women weren't as free as they are now to pursue careers and educations, so they were dependent on men and needed to get married to be provided for and how the world is different now.  Take the good from the movies your kids enjoy and make it work for you, and explain anything that isn't realistic to them.  Children love stories. Humans have used stories to teach lessons for as long as we figured out how to speak.  Every Disney film is based on a long-loved story of some kind, whether it be a fairy tale, book, or legend.  It's not like Disney just makes these stories up completely.  They have stood the test of time for a reason; they have messages that are good to teach the next generation.  To just throw them away and act like they are worthless because they don't contain an accurate portrayal of marriage in the modern age is simply lunacy.

I wanted to be a princess as a child.  Desperately.  I was one every year for Halloween.  I now regret this, especially since my friend, Patty, who I would go Trick-or-Treating with, was always awesome things like a tube of Colgate Toothpaste, but I don't regret all the stories that I grew up with and the lessons I took from them.

Cinderella taught me that jealousy and trying to hold another person back gets you absolutely nothing in the end.  Snow White did as well.  Also, both Cinderella and Snow White taught me that being kind and gentle is always the right thing to do, and to work hard, even when faced with adversity and hardship.

Belle taught me to sacrifice my dreams for the safety of my family and loved ones.  She taught me to look beyond the exterior, to forgive, and that a love of reading is a wonderful thing.  She also taught me that caring for a sick parent is more important than a budding romance.

Jasmine taught me that women are not pieces of meat for men to use or commodities.  She also showed me the difficulties that came with wealth and royalty as a woman, and that being a princess doesn't guarantee a happy life due to those difficulties.

Now that I am grown and have daughters of my own, I'm enjoying watching Rapunzel teach my eldest that true love means being willing to sacrifice yourself, Giselle teach her to find the joy in life and not be cynical, and Esmeralda teach her to care for others, even at great personal expense to yourself.  Yes, I am also enjoying her love for the princesses I grew up with, but I'm not planning on just leaving her alone to figure it out herself.

It is our job to teach our children about life and morals, not Disney's.  Disney's job is to entertain us. Pay Disney to come up with likable characters that your child falls in love with and then milk it for all it's worth.  For example, Cinderella is currently one of my daughter's favorite characters.  Last night I made up this age appropriate story (she's 3) using Cinderella to teach her a little about marriage:

Once upon a Time, there was a princess named Cinderella.  She was married to Prince Charming. Cinderella loved to read, sing, and dance.  One day, Prince Charming went on a trip and left Cinderella at home.  Cinderella was very happy and danced all day until dinner time, when she knew Prince Charming would be coming home to eat a yummy dinner with her.  When she realized that he was very late, she decided to go look for him, even though she was very hungry and wanted to get back to dancing.  She left on her horse and found the Prince on the ground.  He'd fallen off the horse and gotten a boo-boo!  Since Cinderella was very strong from all of the dancing, she picked him up and put him on her horse and walked him home.  She sent for a doctor who bandaged his boo-boo and told Cinderella to take care of him while he was sick in bed.  Cinderella wanted to dance, read, and sing, but, she wanted Prince Charming to get better more, so she took care of him instead.  When he woke up, they read and sang their favorite songs together, and, when he was all better, he danced with her.  He was very happy he had Cinderella to take care of him and he thanked his wife for being so helpful.  Then they both had a yummy dinner and cake, and were very happy.  The end.

See, it isn't so hard.  Just pick a theme you want to teach your kids and make it up.  It doesn't even have to be a really good story when they are very little.  It might not work 100% of the time, but persistence and repetition should help, and, hey, you can even use Disney characters to make little stories about things as simple as sharing.  It doesn't have to be very deep, just remember that these beloved characters are meant to be a tool for entertainment and learning that are at your disposal. Well, I guess, so long as you don't try to use the characters to make money!  (Don't do that.)

Ever since Frozen came out, the Catholic blogosphere has exploded with opinions about it, most of which have been overwhelmingly positive and praising the movie for being so theologically accurate because, to put it simply, Anna don't need no man.  Past Disney princesses have been scorned and treated like they are awful role-models. Kristoff is being held up as Disney's first authentically masculine "Prince."  I'm over here scratching my head wondering if anyone's actually watched the same Disney movies I have with the characters I love.  It feels like there is this whole mythology about what Disney princesses are like, with all of them obsessed with a dopey prince, without any depth of character.  Now, the only princess I can think of who is obsessed with her Prince without even knowing him is Ariel.  I've never been the biggest fan of her.  I'll give Prince Eric a little credit, though, as he did risk his life battling Ursula to save Ariel and Ursula is terrifying.  Ariel is really the exception rather than the rule, though.  Yes, Snow White sings about her Prince coming, but that movie is mostly about being kind and graceful in the face of adversity and that jealousy gets you nothing.  Aurora couldn't help that Maleficent cursed her.  Cinderella was kind and industrious, and she only wanted to go to a ball for some fun, not to get married.  Belle was smart and sacrificed herself and her freedom for the love of her father.  I could go on and on with examples.  So what if the timing of their engagements wouldn't work in today's world?  That isn't the point of their stories.

I'm also unsure why any Christian would be upset by a prince saving the heroine of a story and risking his life for her.  Ephesians 5:25 anyone?
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her
Men are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and what was the ultimate way that Christ loved His Church?  He died for us.  Having a man willing to lay down his life for the woman he wants to marry is a very Christian theme.  I just don't understand why suddenly this is seen in such a bad light.  Yes, I know women aren't helpless and are perfectly capable of saving themselves and, when the time comes, other people, including men, but to act like there is anything anti-Christianity in a prince doing something like risking his life fighting Maleficent's Dragon form to save Aurora is silly.

Prince Philip needs to get some credit.  Maleficent still haunts my nightmares O_O

The truth is, there is nothing written anywhere that a couple can't get engaged without dating for a certain period of time in Christianity.  Yes, in our modern times where divorce is rampant, it is good to know the person you are marrying, and the Church rightfully has couples go through Pre-cana to make sure that they have a strong foundation to start with because divorce isn't allowed, but to make as though this is a moral law is to deny history and all the valid, arranged, Catholic marriages that have occurred in the past.

Children need a strong foundation for their beliefs.  So much of this comes from their parents and guardians.  If we want any of our beliefs to go to our children, we have to work hard and find creative ways to teach it to them, like creating a Catholic culture in our homes and teaching them about the faith outside of their religious ed classes.  If you are doing this already, have some faith that your kids aren't going to completely disregard you because of what they saw in a Disney movie.  If you're worried about other people's kids, remember that your children will influence their friends way more than the movies their friends see.

Watching a movie isn't going to be what makes your Catholic child discern that their vocation is marriage.  If they are meant for marriage, it will be written on their hearts.  The single Catholic men I know long for a wife just as much as the single Catholic women I know long for a husband.  The truth is, since marriage is a vocation, it WILL be a huge defining factor of who both spouses are.  This is not a bad thing.  Teach your pre-teens and teenagers to prayerfully discern if a person is the one they are meant to marry.  With the grace of God, it will be one of the most challenging and beautiful things they ever do.  We shouldn't be upset by any movie that ends with the hero and heroine getting married, even if the love story isn't perfect.  Marriage is good, created by God in the Beginning.  There is no reason to mourn that a story that takes place in a past society with different marital norms reflects those marital norms.  Give your children more credit.  They will be smart enough to understand that our modern world has it's own unique set of challenges that they will have face in their marriages if marriage is their vocation.

Beyond that, I don't think that Disney movies are an effective way to teach theology on their own.  As a teen, I had attempts made in my faith formation to use Disney movies to teach me about God, and I can tell you, it was obvious that the other teenagers couldn't have cared less about it.  It was too dumbed down and too simplistic.  There was no depth to it without a strong foundation of the complexities and beautiful Truths of our faith being taught at home.  Even though I was given more instruction at home than most, all the Disney movies did for me was to annoy me as I felt they weren't doing our faith justice.  It's okay to use them to break the ice for conversations about theology, but don't make them the main focus.  Our children can rise up and learn more than we give them credit for.  Let's not bog ourselves down in what Disney is doing and, instead, focus on what we can do.

It's okay to like movies and stories that aren't 100% in line with our morals.  It's okay to find themes that you like in movies.  It's not okay to be expecting a movie studio to be doing your work for you and teaching your kids every single lesson about life in one movie!  Disney does not have control of our kids!

I'm by no means an expert in parenting, and I'm not sure if my technique will create children who grow to live their faith, but it's the best I can think of to do in this world and certainly more productive than expecting the world to change to accommodate me and my needs for my kids.  Besides, our parental role is laid out in the Catechism:
1632 ...The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special form of this preparation. The role of pastors and of the Christian community as the "family of God" is indispensable for the transmission of the human and Christian values of marriage and family, and much more so in our era when many young people experience broken homes which no longer sufficiently assure this initiation: It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own.
It's the job of parents, families, and priests, not Disney.

My advice is to join me and make up little fairy tales with morals you want to teach them when they are little, give them a strong faith foundation, have honest discussions with them about life as they grow older, and finally, pray a whole lot that you are getting your message across and it is accepted. That is the best we can do, but we certainly aren't helpless.  We have the greatest love story of all time at our disposal.  Jesus' passion can teach us more about life and our purpose than anything else. The Bible and the Catechism are full of wisdom.  Expose your children to these things and try to ground their lives in it.  Beyond that, they will have to live in this world and be able to discern for themselves what messages are good and what aren't.  They will be human and they will sin, so it won't be perfect, but we have to have trust in God and remember to pray for them.

(By the way, the original story of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson is extremely Christian and involves a little girl saving a little boy from the Snow Queen.  You might want to check it out.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

St Bernadette

This is my latest.  A portrait of St. Bernadette.  I hope you like it!

Based on this photo:

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Sinner's Guide to NFP - A Review

I recently bit the bullet and picked up a copy of Simcha Fisher's book, The Sinners Guide to Natural Family Planning.  My husband and I have managed to come to terms with the cross that we have to bear when we are abstaining during NFP, but I still found the honest and candid advice and support in this book to be very beneficial.

From what I understand, I live in one of, if not the most, secular state in the United States.  However, I am fortunate enough to have a really great support network for NFP here, mostly through a phenomenal teaching couple who are down to earth and kind.  I am also a member of the Couple to Couple League, so I receive their magazine, which is full of support and advice.  I've found through my contact with other Catholic couples who live in far more Catholic areas than I do that this support network isn't available to everyone.  For this very reason, I suggest that every Catholic couple planning to use NFP get this book.  The first chapter is, essentially, something very similar to what I read in my CCLI magazines regarding in what circumstances the Church allows NFP to be used.  The discussion of the individual circumstances of each couple's situation in this first chapter is really vital for every couple to read so that they know for certain that their sacrifice with abstinence isn't out of line with orthodoxy.  This confidence is really vital to having peace of mind when practicing NFP.  I can tell you that, when my husband and I were first struggling to figure out our marriage while using NFP, we were told we were using it with a contraceptive mindset by a random internet "theologian" because our circumstances and reasons for postponing pregnancy weren't life or death.  At the time, we were abstaining for approximately three weeks at a time and it was painful.  I cried to my husband that it would be so much easier to just throw caution to the wind and get pregnant despite our reasons to postpone pregnancy, and I sobbed over not understanding why on earth we would be making the sacrifice that we were making if it was putting us in mortal sin.  When I turned to our wonderful teaching couple regarding my sadness, she sent me a copy of the magazine we get that had precisely the same type of content as the first chapter of Simcha's book in it, and it helped us tremendously.  I suggest getting this book even if it is only to have a reminder that your sacrifice is not in vain and that there are people out there who support you.

Beyond that, the book is really honest about what it takes to have a healthy marriage, whether you are using NFP or not.  There is a lot of great advice on how to show love to one another without being physical.  Simcha is nonjudgmental and understanding.  She gives her advice with obviously nothing but the desire to help other couples with what she's learned.  NFP is wonderful, it brings many graces to a marriage, but, the honest truth is, you have to work for it.  This book is a great guide on how to do that work.

I also can attest to Simcha's advice to remember that couples who use contraception also have problems in their marriages and with their sex lives.  Why, I can even attest to this with first-hand knowledge because I have used contraception.  Simcha's descriptions of the pitfalls contraceptive sex brings with it are accurate and a great reminder as to why NFP is superior.

I did find the book a little disjointed, but, in fairness, that isn't necessarily bad.  It reads more like a conversation over coffee with your best friend about NFP than it does a theology textbook, which fits well with the content of the book.  Simcha feels like your friend when you read it.  I really did like that aspect of the book, so it was worth having it be a bit disjointed.

I have to warn women who have very supportive husbands that they might not want to read this while they are in their fertile phase.  A lot of Simcha's advice for men is about doing nice things for their wives and making sure they feel courted outside of the bedroom.  Since my husband does this, I kept reading Simcha's words and being reminded of all the nice things he does, and, well, I was very glad we weren't abstaining at the time I was reading it.  (I just wanted to point that out in the spirit of helping and supporting each other in the struggles that NFP does bring up.)

All in all, I'm really glad this book exists.  I do think there is a need to be honest with people regarding what practicing NFP is like.  There should be more books that dive into this subject matter.  I know that the rosy picture we generally paint about NFP tends to feed into the attitude that people use it in a contraceptive manner.  I mean, if it's so easy to do, it must be easy to do it with a contraceptive mentality, right?  The conversation about NFP needs to be honest and open without scaring people away.  I think Simcha's book does a good job in starting this.  I give the book 4/5 stars.

To Mr. Brett Shoemaker

Dear Brett,

I read your blog post to your future wife.  First of all, I have to say, you have an awesome name.  Secondly, your heart really seems to be in the right place.  You are well on your way to becoming a man of conviction with a whole lot of respect for women, so, kudos to you.  I am a bit older than you are and already someone's wife, so I had a few comments and constructive criticisms for you that I thought you might find useful. 

I have to say that I absolutely loved how you described beauty as being more than skin deep.  You are right!  We are beautiful because we are made in the image and likeness of God!  Too often women are told we are worthless because we don't look a certain way.  Thank you for standing up and speaking out against that.  However, your beautiful points here were undermined by saying that you would like for her to keep "her goodies" covered.  Calling a woman's body "her goodies" kind of indicates that a woman's body is meant to only be something pleasurable for a man to look at and use.  Also, comparing her body to a car makes her sound like an item to be used.  I know this wasn't your intention, but, with all of the messages out there towards women about how we need to act, dress, behave, etc... to attract a man, you really have to be careful in how you phrase things so that you don't add to this.  Also, inferring that she needs to stay covered strictly for your benefit makes it sound like her body is only worthwhile in how it relates to you.  In the future, I suggest emphasizing that you will also be making sure that you are dressing modestly to make sure that you are working equally as hard to keep your body veiled and saved for her.  Purity and modesty aren't just for women.  I suggest changing your wording to something like,"I would prefer if you veiled the holiness of your body, and I will do the same and wait to share it only with you."  That emphasizes that you are looking for a woman who is true to herself and also holding yourself accountable.

I think you should also be ready for a wife who never wanted to be a princess.  She may have grown up with only brothers and desperately wanted to be a superhero who saves other people.  She might not want to be rescued from anything.  Speaking from experience, she may rescue you just as much as you rescue her.  Also speaking from experience, she might pursue you.  Hey, she might already be pursuing you!  My life didn't go anywhere near like I expected it to.  Life is messy and full of surprises.  Be open to what God has in store for you, even if it isn't the Fairy Tale you imagine.

The part of the letter about how things won't always be good but you will get through with prayer and the grace of God was beautiful.  I also can't commend you enough for your comments about how you won't hold her past against her.  That shows a true maturity and desire to love someone unconditionally.  Kudos to you.

I hope that you find my comments useful and will use them to help make sure that women aren't marginalized or ever made to feel like their value comes from how a man, even her husband, perceives her.  I will say a few prayers for you and your future wife, and I wish you luck in finding her and on your future vocation.  Marriage is more wonderful than I can even describe, especially if you enter it with the maturity and respect you've alluded to in your letter.  May you continue to grow in faith and be the husband you obviously wish to be.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Importance of Creating a Catholic Culture in Your Home

I am very passionate about bringing my Catholic faith into my home and teaching it to my children.  Our faith is not just something that our family does for an hour on Sunday; we try to bring it into every aspect of our lives.

We have many reasons for this.  The big one is that we want to show our children how important God and Catholicism are.  Children learn from their parents what is important mostly by what we show with our actions is important to us.  We are hoping that, with the Bible reading, the praying, the activities, and the Catechism lessons that we are setting our children up for a life of strong faith.  Although I plan to send my children to public school, this year I'm homeschooling them.  I chose the preschool program from Seton Homeschool Study, and I've been very pleased with the religious subject matter.  It's helped me figure out ways to explain our complex religion to toddlers.  If you know of anywhere else with great resources for teaching Catholicism to children, I'd love to hear your comments.  Anyway, I'm happy to say that my work is paying off.  My children are imitating me.  Here is my daughter praying at our altar.
Complete with my Totally 80s scarf to cover her head while praying!

I must confess that I haven't always had a Catholic culture in my home.  You see, I am very anti-clutter and knick-knack.  I just can't stand having a lot of stuff.  (Yes, having children with toys brings me many chances for redemptive suffering!)  I thought that having Catholic things in my home would create a feeling of messiness and wouldn't look nice.  I have since found out how foolish I was being, as I find my home even more beautiful now with tasteful touches of Catholicism around it, which brings me to the secondary reason that I am passionate about having a Catholic culture in my home.

The honest truth is that I have had a serious Dark Night of the Soul over the past few years.  God, Who I never questioned and always felt near to me, became distant and impossible to feel.  I lived with constant anxiety, questioning everything.  All I wanted was to feel Him again.  I pushed and analyzed and tried to force him back into my intellect with no avail.  I researched and studied and still could not make my frozen heart feel His love again.  I prayed.  I asked Him what He wanted from me.  I found brief periods of relief, usually with a surge in orthodoxy and a strengthening of faith, but it never lasted very long.  I started falling into despair.

This led to an epiphany of sorts.  How could I expect to feel God in my life if I didn't invite Him into my home?  If He isn't welcome in my home because of some crazy aesthetic ideal, how in the world could I let Him in my heart?  I made myself a personal altar.  I started finding statues and other Catholic items that would allow God into my home in a way that was beautiful and tasteful.  My mother got me some wonderful gifts as well, including a book about how to create a Catholic home.  I finally bought myself a statue of Our Blessed Mother.  I didn't find complete relief from my Dark Night by doing this, but I felt like I was finally going in the right direction.

A Christmas present from my mother.

I absolutely adore this piece.  John and the Virgin Mary taking Jesus down from the cross.  How beautiful!

I've made a lot of Catholic friends through Facebook, mostly through a Catholic comedy page, if you can believe that.  Most of them are about a decade younger than I am, but interestingly, wiser than I am in matters of faith.  I repeatedly had it recommended to me by many of them to enlist the help of our Holy Mother.  I'm ashamed to say that I failed to listen to these recommendations for a long time.  You see, my overall experience with women hasn't been a positive one, and I have a hard time forming close relationships with women because of this.  Our Blessed Mother many times has scared and intimidated me, even though I love and respect her and believe everything about her that our Church teaches.  A couple months ago, I finally reached my limit and broke down and listened to my wise friends. 

Honestly, I didn't know how to approach and speak to someone as holy as Mary is about my problems, so I did the only thing I could think of.  I drew a self-portrait for her.  I never draw when I am sad, so a stylized portrait with large eyes and an exaggerated crooked nose came out.

I feel nothing but despair when I look at this picture.
I then left it for the day with the Mary statue saying, "I don't know what to say, Mary, but please help me.  This is all I've got left and you are my only hope."

Things started to turn around.  I felt inspired to stop intellectualizing and trying to force myself to feel my faith.  I took time to breathe.  After a couple weeks of just appreciating the Catholic culture I'd created in my home and praying at my altar, taking time to remember how much God loves me at my beautiful crucifix that serves as a reminder of His passion, and, most importantly, having my Mary statue remind me to try to foster a relationship with Our Blessed Mother, I finally felt relief.  Glorious, true relief.

God wanted me to bring Him and Mary into my home and into my heart.  He withheld himself for so long so that I would learn how important she is and also how He is more important than a clutter-free home.

This is why I will offer tips and suggestions on how to bring Catholicism into your daily life.  I think I'm supposed to tell people that, if you don't live your faith, it's easy to lose it.  Also, Mary is our greatest intercessor to her Son.  Let her into your heart, even if you feel like you'll never live up to her.  Gosh, I want to be like her.  If only I were a better mother and wife!  Mother Mary, please pray for me!

How to you create a Catholic culture in your home?  Do you have a similar experience?

Some of My Artwork

I realized I've showcased some of my artwork on Facebook, but I haven't shared it here.  Here are a couple examples of my work.

Byzantine Inspired Virgin Mary

I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them!  Right now I'm experimenting with fine art prints.  I hope to be able to offer some of my work to sell if all goes well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Have An Etsy Store Now

I have multiple Saint Inspired Necklaces available at my Etsy store right now.  Click on the picture or on the Etsy icon to the right if you are interested in looking at my creations.

"The Economics of Sex" A Critique

This cute little animated feature, "The Economics of Sex," has been making its way around social media in recent days.  I really wish I could give you a glowing, positive review of it, but alas, it really did not please me in the way it seems to be pleasing so many Christians.  I'll explain, but first, I'd like to point out what I do like and agree with in the movie.

I agree wholeheartedly that the birth control pill, with it's reliable and easy way of preventing pregnancy has changed how our society views sex.  We've managed to almost completely separate the reproductive act from reproduction.  This has had a profound impact on how we view sex outside of marriage.  Being Catholic, albeit one that was lapsed for awhile and did both, I believe that birth control and premarital sex are both disordered uses of our sexuality, so I give that aspect a thumbs up.  I also enjoyed the positive light put on saving sex for marriage.  It was nice to see a purely secular case made for avoiding premarital sex.  I wish, however, that the message was more effective and better done.  As far as I can see, the major flaws of this movie make it more damaging then beneficial, especially to women. The message that came across to me was, "Women, stop being sluts because you are ruining marriage!" with no responsibility being put on men.  With all the other noise in the world about how women need to keep men from falling into sin, this is just going to feed into the negativity towards female sexuality.

This movie starts with an inherently flawed premise (i.e. that we can reduce sex down to a commodity), which then had statistics and bits of truth shoved into it to feed an agenda to tell women how to behave to be "desirable."  If you don't already know, that kind of bothers me.  First of all, sex is not a commodity, nor can it ever really be.  Sex is so much more than that.  Let's look at what the Catechism says about the marital embrace:
2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." All human generations proceed from this union.
Sex is a way of imitating God's ability to create.  Sex is meant to show us about God and His creation in a way that our puny mortal brains can handle.  As I've said previously, Revelation describes heaven as a "wedding feast of the lamb."  The unity created in the act of sex points us towards the intimate unity we hope to have some day with God in heaven.  Sex by it's very nature cannot and should not be reduced to a mere commodity.  Do so, and you remove all of its meaning and make it no longer special.  Why should anyone who believes that sex is truly just a commodity care to wait until marriage to have it?  The whole premise of this little movie undermines its message right from the beginning. Reducing sex to a commodity cheapens it just as much as, if not more so, than birth control does.
One of the first arguments the creators present us with is that since men are able to divorce romance from sex and generally have higher sex drives, a woman determines when sex occurs in a relationship, therefore, making her the "Gatekeeper."  Before I go further, I have to say that I hope that I am not the only one who can't stop thinking about this whenever I hear the a woman is a "Gatekeeper":

Are you the Key Master?
(I just can't stop laughing over this.  I crack myself up.  Okay, I'm done now.  I promise.)

Anyway, there is definitely truth in the information about male sex drives and views on sex.  I personally have talked with my husband about this ability to remove some aspects of emotion from sex, and I find it fascinating that he can do this. Men do seem to be better able to think about sex in a purely physical sense than women are.  I have, however, met enough women who can also do this who have extremely strong libidos to know that this generalization is not enough to really prove the point of the movie.  Beyond this, the truth is, I know that men don't have to disassociate sex and romance if they don't want to.  "The Economics of Sex" makes it sound like a given that pretty much all men will remove romance from sex given the chance, and they will go and have sex with any woman who is willing to give it to them. It allows no option for men to just decide that maybe they have standards for their sexual liaisons as well.  It literally says that, even though men separating sex from romance is not necessarily "how it should be" it's "just the way it is."  Okay, so men get a free pass because, "boys will be boys"?  We're not going to try to hold men accountable to this at all?  It's all on women because we can't even fathom that maybe we should ask men to man up and be responsible and in control of themselves?!  I have a better idea, how about if we perhaps advocate men trying to avoid the things that increase a chance of a them learning to disassociate romance and sex like pornography instead of acting like looking at porn is completely okay?  Why don't we stop buying things that objectify women in their advertisements to send a message that we don't want women's bodies to be treated like commodities?  Or advocate for parents to raise their sons to respect a woman's body and not just view them as convenient masturbation tools?  Why must we lay this all at the feet of women?  Men CAN rise up and be better.  They CAN control themselves.  It's not just up to women to make this happen, but men, too.  Fathers and grandfathers and uncles and brothers need to encourage each other to be respectful; to be MEN.  To pretend that men have no control over themselves is complete and utter sexist nonsense.

The movie goes on to say, "Sex is [a woman's] resource."  Okay, so sex is a tool for a woman to get what she wants from men?  The idea that sex is a tool that women can use to manipulate men to get what they want from them is even more horrific than sex being a commodity!  This worldview being presented in this movie is truly terrifying.  In it, essentially, in the eyes of men, women are walking vaginas that they will use to satisfy themselves with whatever one consents to let them. A woman then uses this knowledge to manipulate the man she wants most into marrying her.  The woman therefore becomes a glorified prostitute, and she knows that her husband only puts up with her because she is the only one who will have sex with him.  Heaven knows that lust and manipulation are super strong foundations for a marriage!  Sex, the union of two bodies pointing us towards union with God, should not be used as a bargaining chip to get a ring on your finger.  Also, no woman really wants to marry a man who is only marrying her so that he can have sex with her.  Tell me, how is this movie supposed to be making a good argument for avoiding premarital sex?  Honestly, the marriages implied by this "utopia" of women manipulating men who want to get in their pants sound awful.  The attitudes regarding sexuality and marriage in this movie are setting women up to feel that all they can expect from a marriage is to be their husband's masturbation tool, so they will have their rings and maybe the kids they want, but they shouldn't expect happiness or fulfillment. That's a great way to create a positive change in this world!

The attitudes regarding sexuality in this movie also hurt men and boys.  By perpetuating the myth that men will have sex with whatever willing woman they can find, we set our boys up to be bullied if they dare to say that they aren't ready to have sex yet.  Can't you see it now?  The questions, the harassment? ("Why don't you want to have sex yet?  What is wrong with you?")  Our men and our boys deserve to live in a world where they can also live without being pressured into having sex or treated like there is something biologically wrong with them for wanting to wait to have sex.  A movie showing that men know where to get easy sex with illustrations of motels and claims of women being THE ones to decide when sex happens is not going to give any dignity or help to our young men.  Chastity is a two-way street.  We need to support and encourage both sexes, not shame one side and ignore the other.

To make matters worse, this movie doesn't even make a clear argument for why a marriage is desirable nowadays.  I've noticed increasingly that marriage is being reduced down to health benefits and financial interests.  People get married to get on each other's health insurance and for stronger finances.  As a Catholic, this makes me weep because, to us, the purpose of marriage is to die to your spouse and live in service to him/her and God and to raise children for God.  It is a vocation meant to bring us closer to God through union with our spouse:
2360 Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.
2361 "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death."
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.  The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.
There is such beauty in marriage, yet it is now being seen as less and less desirable.  People fear divorce and commitment.  If you want to increase marriages, you need to make marriage look desirable for everyone again.  Simply asserting that women want to get married without asserting the benefits of marriage will not increase marriages.  Perhaps a movie with the benefits of getting married for men would be a more effective way to increase men looking to get married instead of trying to shame women into taking on the entire burden.

The creators of "The Economics of Sex" also assert that, at some mythical point in history, women supported one another in marriage by keeping the value of sex high and therefore didn't compete for husbands.  Um, hello, since when did women actually support each other and not compete?  Have you guys never read a Jane Austen book?  Do you not know who Lucy Steele is?

Here is a picture of Lucy Steele definitely not trying to compete for Edward Ferrars...
I would really like to see proof of this camaraderie that women supposedly used to share.  Marriages and relationships have always had issues.  People have always competed for mates.  I also think that we need some convincing data showing that increasing the number of marriages will increase overall happiness if we want movies like this one to be effective.  I don't think that rushing to get married so that you can have sex has ever been a good way to guarantee marital happiness.  People have a tendency to idolize the past and long for it, forgetting the bad parts of it and only remembering the good.  Perhaps, instead of encouraging people to get married quickly and young so that they can increase the numbers of marriages, we could encourage chastity in the context of our current lifestyle.  Maybe people should wait until they are older to get married.  Maybe they should get educated.  There is so much more here going on that needs to be addressed and looked at and analyzed.  The explanations in this movie are too simplistic and the solution cannot solve all of the issues we have with the institution of marriage today.

Instead of just increasing the numbers of marriages, shouldn't we want to increase the number of happy, enduring, fulfilling marriages?  Why don't we go for quality over quantity?  We need a truly radical solution to the unique issues facing marriage and family in our country today, not just the same old, "A man won't marry you if he's already getting what he wants from you."  "Women, stop being sluts," is only going to cause more shame over being a woman.  Women constantly have competing messages being bombarded at them that they either need to be sexy so that men will want to be with them and value them, or that they need to be pure so that men with want to be with them and value them.  Everything women hear is essentially how our worth is related to men.  The message in "The Economics of Sex" is just another voice telling women how to act for men.  In the context of how women are already viewed, this just adds to the false notion that our worth is determined by men.  We are worthy because we are made in the image and likeness of God, just like men are.  We shouldn't have to prove it in any other fashion.

It really would.

If we really want to increase the number of quality marriages, we need to show value for our children.  We need family-oriented messages.  We need positive messages about our sexuality.  If we are going to use secular arguments, we need to find compelling statistics that will convince men and women that marriage is something that they want instead of premarital sex. Otherwise, we fall short of a good solution and make movies like this that characterizes women as glorified prostitutes and men as uncontrollable animals. I feel that we would have more success at changing hearts with the Gospel and the Catechism. We can either promote messages like the one in this movie that are flawed and short-sighted, or we can promote Jesus' word and His love.  We can give people Truth and substance.  We can provide a message that can actually stand on its own.  Anything less, in my opinion, just won't be enough to cut it long-term.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Body Image, Purity, and Christianity - This is Why We Fail

(I wrote this to address mostly the issues surrounding women and body image.  I can speak more knowledgeably about this because I am a woman.  Rest assured, though, I know about the very real body image struggles men also face, and this is in no way meant to take away from those struggles.  I am simply just addressing specific issues for my gender.  Hopefully someday I will have a better understanding of the issues men face and will be able to write on that topic.)

When I was in college, I decided to finally pursue my childhood interest in the Fine Arts and take an Introductory Drawing course in order to fulfill my General Education requirement for Art.  One of the exercises in the class was to learn how to draw the human form.  As it is simpler to draw someone without clothing on, nude models were brought to the class so that we could draw nudes from life and essentially learn about how to analyze proportion, shade, etc...  There was nothing sexual about this experience.  However, there were two Christian girls in my class who asked to opt-out of drawing nudes because they felt that it went against their religion to look at the nude models.  What message is the Christian community sending to its youth about nudity if, even seeing a nude model in a context completely free of anything sexual, it is seen by them as sinful?  Do we really want them to think that the human body, a major part of the crowning glory of God's creation, is sinful and dirty in all contexts?  Let's be real here; if we send that message, then it's no surprise that sometimes people who lost their faith partially credit feeling ashamed by their body as reason for their loss.  This is absolutely where the reactionary purity movement to our overly-sexualized culture, although well-intentioned, falls flat of what we really need to effectively teach about the beauty, power, and dignity of our bodies.  Our bodies and our sexual nature are not inherently sinful.  If we truly understand the teachings of the Church, we do not separate the body and the soul, saying the body being an unimportant flesh bag and the soul being the only part of us that matters.  In fact, this is what the Catechism has to say about our bodies:

362 The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that "then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.
363 In Sacred Scripture the term "soul" often refers to human life or the entire human person. But "soul" also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: "soul" signifies the spiritual principle in man.
364 The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.
365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.
367 Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people "wholly", with "spirit and soul and body" kept sound and blameless at the Lord's coming. The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. "Spirit" signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.
368 The spiritual tradition of the Church also emphasizes the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of one's being, where the person decides for or against God.
Did you catch that?  "[S]pirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature." Disparage your body and say it is shameful, and you directly disparage the nature given to you by your creator.

If you are still one of the people who think that body parts and nudity are inherently sinful, then well, I have something to show you:

Virgin of the Green Cushion by Andrea Solari - Mary using her immaculate flesh to feed the nude Messiah.  Your argument is invalid.

Society bombards us with images of bodies and faces Photoshoped to perfection, telling us that our sex appeal is the epitome of our worth, and what is the Christian community's response to this?  Well, we tell folks that our flesh is always sinful, and our value is in our "purity," and thus imply our bodies are something to be ashamed of, especially if we fall.  Well-intentioned as it is to try to help people remain chaste, the method is short-sighted and not helpful in the long-term, nor does it address the actual issue of teaching what the language of our bodies and sexuality is meant to teach us.  Replacing "You are only worthwhile if you are sexy," with, "You are only worthy if you are pure and untouched," is not the answer.  It just makes the purity movement appear to be another tactic in a long line of movements that is used to tell women that they are not good enough and make them feel like they have to fit a certain mold to be worthy and loved.  On top of that, we have the fitness community giving the impression that not having a svelte, perfectly muscled body makes you a lazy glutton, thus adding another layer to the, "Religion is used to make me feel ashamed of my body," that women hear from our society.  How can we really blame some feminists for pointing at us and claiming we are just trying to keep women submissive when our words on female purity do nothing but paint us as people who feel that the epitome of a woman's worth is how much a man will find her attractive?  This is not Christianity.  This is foolishness.

Not all of the Purity/Chastity Movement is bad.  I am being critical of the parts that aren't working so that the parts that do have a much better chance of helping people.  The part of the movement that I'm talking about the is the part that tells women that, should they fall and lose their virginity, men will be less likely to want to marry them or love them.  The part where we talk about how God smiles down on virgins, but don't validate the worthiness and inherent dignity of the unchaste, or share the Good News of God's love with them.  (Why would they love Him and want to please Him if they only hear how much He disapproves of them?)  The part that refers to us as chewed up pieces of gum if we fool around with a boy.  The "modest is hottest" (women are most attractive when they are virginal and cover up their sinful flesh) part of purity culture.  The part directed at women to tell us how to be appealing for men.  How is that empowering?  How is it helpful?  I wasn't always chaste, and I can tell you that the majority of the memes and taglines that come out of this movement make me feel like I am unworthy, unloved, and horribly ashamed of my past, even though I've asked God for His forgiveness and received the sacrament of penance.  I can only imagine how a woman who hasn't reconciled with God feels about Him when she reads these catchy slogans about how much God and men only love "purity" if they even hurt me.  How will she know that God still loves her?  Can you see how worthless that could make her feel"?! 

How does she know He loves her?
You can't replace the feelings of worthlessness because we don't fit society's physical ideal while building up another physical ideal (virginity) that women cannot get back once it is lost and expect it empower any woman.  (News flash, we all sin, God forgives us when we repent, so should our fellow Christians.)  You can't expect treating women like all their self-worth is in making themselves appealing to men in just another fashion to make any long-term positive impact on women and our culture.

One of my favorite examples for what I'm discussing is bikinis.  There is a large backlash against them in the Christian community lately because they are supposedly inherently immodest.  I do agree that, as Christians, we are called to make sure that we aren't purposely trying to cause our brother to fall (or lust after us), but to assume that anyone wearing a bikini is wearing it to cause all the men around her to fall is hardly reasonable.  I'll tell you a secret; women generally dress for other women.  Bathing suit shopping is one of the most frustrating and humiliating experiences we put ourselves through.  We stand in the harsh, unflattering light of a dressing room, trying on bathing suit after bathing suit, seeing all of the things society tells us is wrong with our bodies personified.  Eventually, after feeling completely drained, defeated, and ugly because we aren't Photoshopped to perfection, we find something we feel cute in.  Maybe it's a bikini.  All we know is that our Great Aunt  Matilda won't tell us we look chubby in it.  Finally feeling more confident we buy the suit.  Maybe at some point during this we hope people will think we look pretty in it.  To think that we have a nefarious plot to take all the boys around us down while we wear it is a pretty harsh judgement on us with a lot of assumptions about the intentions of our hearts.  Covering up every inch of our skin isn't what modesty is.  In the Catechism, it states,
 2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.
In our culture, a bathing suit is what is used to swim at the beach.  A bikini is a form of a bathing suit.  Sure, if a bikini is worn in a photo shoot where the woman is positioned in such a fashion as to create a sensation of lust for the viewer of the photo, that's one thing, but swimming at the beach in your bathing suit?  Not immodest, even if someone can see your navel.  In fact, if we helped women be more comfortable with their bodies and didn't act like their flesh were something to be ashamed of, maybe women would have an easier time respecting themselves, seeing their spiritual dignity, and better able to be really, truly modest in the way the Catechism calls us to.  As of right now, asserting that a bikini is inherently immodest because it shows a certain amount of skin without any true, in-depth discussion of modesty just perpetuates the myth that our flesh is inherently shameful.  Instead of complaining about how immodest bikinis are, I suggest we all just remind men and women that we aren't supposed to try to induce lust in others, and then we should also remind everyone that we need to control ourselves no matter what someone else is wearing; while we can't control our feelings and impulses, our actions are our own and truly can't be blamed on other people. Complaining about a certain article of clothing is hardly a solution as it only tells women that showing their flesh, even without intending to incite lust will just imply to them that their flesh is inherently sinful.  No affirmation+No empathy+Criticism/Shame=Hardened and confused hearts

Encouraging chastity is a worthy cause.  Our bodies are beautiful and our sexual nature was given to us by God.  The solution to a culture that inserts sex into everything is not to say that everything is, therefore, sinful, but to instead to take back and make non-sexual situations, like drawing a nude body in an art class.  Encourage your children to look at classic paintings, like the "Birth of Venus," and explain to them the beauty of the human form.  Try not to make appropriate nudity shameful in your home.

"Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli

We should encourage using our sexuality and bodies in the context God created for them, but to disparage someone who is not currently doing that will just push people away.  The better solution is to talk about the beauty our bodies have and the language they speak about God and His creation.  To emphasize that all of us are loved and longed for by our Creator no matter where we are in life. Instead of saying that men want pure women we should emphasize the mercy of God.  I don't want to rewrite the wheel as I think Theology of the Body is a wonderful resource to use for this purpose, but I would like to suggest starting with and emphasizing something like:

Affirmation of our inherent dignity will get far further in this world full of criticism than any disparaging words of our bodies, united with our souls and full of dignity, will.  Confidence in God's love and mercy is more powerful than any purity ring or referenced to tarnished household items and chewed up food. Teaching what Christians actually believe about our bodies will be far more effective than any reactionary attempt to make people feel ashamed of them will do because the Truth is a far better tactic than any knee-jerk reaction.  Let's bring the world what we really believe about our bodies and actually bring something positive and true into this whole mess.  After all, how can we expect the Holy Spirit to change hearts if we aren't even bothering to express the Truth about Him and His love for every part of us, including our bodies?