We’ve Been Warned

After a papal visit that provided a welcome rest from the cynicism of our hyper-political culture, coverage of the Pope has devolved into the familiar stories of spin and political speculation. It’s a let-down, all this anxious squabbling over whom the Pope truly represents, but it probably gives us a clue as to what is ahead. Pope Francis seems to have a particular gift for pushing boundaries in a way that elicits confusion and discomfort, as did Jesus.

Someone should draw this comic strip: Two kids are fighting over a pope doll. One says, “He’s my pope!” and the other, “No! He’s MY pope!” In the next frame, Jesus walks in and says, “No, He’s my pope.” Adopted younger siblings can be so annoying.

As annoying as it is, though, the squabbling over the Pope is also comforting. The ill-founded hopes that Pope Francis will give his blessing to the various redefinitions of the married state reveal a shared human longing for genuine and merciful moral authority and the failure of the language of civil rights and the approval of the courts to replace that authority. Sheep who resist the shepherding of traditional authorities nevertheless long for a good shepherd.

Continue reading at First Thingshttp://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/10/weve-been-warned

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The Pope’s Visit

During his wonderful visit, Pope Francis made it possible to step away from our hyper-politicized and divided public culture, and man, did that feel good. How nice to turn on NPR or pick up the paper and find so many people, Catholic and non-Catholic, talking about the Pope together with joy, mutual trust, and honesty. The fog of cynicism and fear we’ve been living in cleared enough to remember what it might be like to live without it.

More than anything else, the Pope’s visit made me realize how so very tired I am of political wrangling and posturing. I’m tired of political considerations, worries, disappointments, and even political hopes being such a large part of the experience of Christian life. Yes, we live in a messed up culture. The horribleness of it is always around us, and it’s easy to get lost in pondering the exact roots of its messed-upedness, imagining what exactly one could say or write to cut through the confusion and the lies and regain precious ground for Truth. The problem is that focusing on the culture like this makes me feel like God and the Church are on the defense. It feels like our team is losing and it’s up to people like me to come up with the perfect play.

Pope Francis’s example has helped me to realize the ridiculous smallness and absurdity of this way of thinking. God is not losing, and the Church is not a team. These are the categories of sport and politics, the twin American past-times. They have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. We are the Body of Christ, not the Jesus Team.

I have to admit, I was slow to warm up to Pope Francis. I love his focus on the poor, but I can’t connect easily with the often vague, lofty way he speaks of social justice, which tends to remind me of uninspiring and uninspired secular bureaucracies rather than the Gospel. Sometimes I, like so many Catholic conservatives, yearn for him to lay it out there straight, in clear biblical language, for all to hear.

But if I am yearning for the Pope to speak a truth that I already know to the powerful, perhaps I am not yearning for the truth so much as I am yearning for the Pope to signal that he’s fighting for my team.

Today I taught second graders the story of the prodigal son, and I saw something of myself in the older son, the one who resents his father’s mercy toward his profligate younger brother. “Here I’ve been, the whole time,” he complains, “working in your fields, the very picture of obedience, and you didn’t so much as give me a goat, but here he comes back and you slaughter a calf?” Jesus gives us repeated warnings about the spiritual dangers of feeling like God owes the faithful, observant, and obedient something more that shouldn’t be offered to others. We want to feel like we are on God’s team, but there is no such thing. The battle is over and is won. Anyone who seeks finds the same treasure, which we did not win and which we could never deserve.

Pope Francis doesn’t waste a second maintaining the self-concept of the older brothers among us. He astutely avoids making politics a stumbling block between his audience and the love of God. Instead of diagnosing our cultural ills, he brings Jesus directly to the sick.

There is freedom in his example. Pope Francis told the bishops that “the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain.” When I associate faith too closely to cultural politics, I can forget that I serve people, not ideas. I can forget that God doesn’t ever call me to defend Him against sinners, but to be brave and faithful enough to love my fellow sinners with the love of Christ, which is more powerful and transformative than I know.

Thank you, Pope Francis.

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In Loco Politicus

There is much talk lately of an over-parenting crisis. In her book How to Raise an AdultJulie Lythcott-Haims, a dean at Stanford University, tells horror stories about parents who speak for, plan for, and advocate for their college-aged children, afraid to let go lest their precious charges experience failure or rejection. She reports that over-parented young adults remain dependent upon their parents to do what they should do for themselves—things like registering for classes, doing laundry, resolving interpersonal problems, and planning their future.

In a recent Atlantic article, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt report that college professors and university administrations continue the coddling, at least when it comes to the emotional and intellectual lives of students. Under pressure from hyper-sensitive students or anxious administrators, or simply because they don’t want to needlessly upset anyone, professors have begun issuing “trigger warnings” before exposing students to potentially disturbing readings or lectures. Meanwhile, campus leaders complain about “microaggressions”—comments that may not be intentionally offensive, but that are full of latent aggression in their racial or political insensitivity. An example: “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.” (The millennial version: Everyone can get a trophy in this society, if they show up.)

An image is emerging of millennial patheticus, a comically thin-skinned creature rendered apoplectic by the harsh realities of daily life and ordinary speech. Over-parented at home, he or she must be handled delicately during college, protected from anything that might disturb or offend. It’s tempting to want to tell parents, college administrators, and faculty to treat these young people as the adults they are and tell them to grow up already.

And yet, compared to college students in the past, millennials are in some ways woefully under-parented….

Read more at First Thingshttp://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/09/in-loco-politicus

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My Poor Daughter

My daughter and I in 2007 at my graduation

According to a recent study out of the Harvard Business School, I’m impoverishing my daughter by raising her myself.

The study’s authors found that women whose moms worked outside the home are more likely to be employed than women whose moms stayed home, and in the United States, they earn 23% more. According to the study’s co-author, Kathleen McGinn, “These women earn more money in the jobs that they do hold. And those women who do work are significantly more likely to hold supervisory responsibility in their jobs. So they earn more money and they’re more powerful at work.”

Oh no. Looks like I’m putting my daughter on the fast train to loser-ville. How could I be so selfish?

Actually, I’m not at all bothered by this study, which tells us something kind of obvious that we should be glad to hear: our daughters emulate us. If I work, my daughter will think that’s normal. If I don’t, she’ll think that’s normal. She will be more comfortable making the same sacrifices I do, whether those are the sacrifices necessary to earn tenure or the sacrifices necessary to be home with her.

Last week she told me, without any prompting, as if she had been pondering the issue, “You know, I want to have a career when I’m older, but when you have kids, one parent needs stay home with them, so I’ll do that for a while. It’s important.”

Did I react to this by saying, “No, no, no, then you’ll make less money, dear! You’ll have less power. You won’t be as famous or as honored. What if you never get hired again after you quit? And have you thought about how you’d be making it harder for other women to succeed?”

No. Truth be told, I would love for my daughter to stay home with her children, even if it means she makes less money when she does return to work. That’s how happy I am with my choice.

I realize that I am privileged to have had the choice not to work full time. It’s a blessing to have had a decision to make, but it was also agony. Deciding to forgo a prestigious full-time job was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. For years I went back and forth, imagining what my life would be like if I took one path or the other, asking friends for advice, and agonizing.

I didn’t want “balance.” I wanted the weight of my life to be squarely on the side of my family. I wanted to be firmly for them, not balanced precariously between work and family. Part-time work sounded perfect, but I was ambivalent about the possibility of a demanding full-time tenure track job, as desirable and prestigious as the work was. Back then, the choice was all or nothing. I did take a full time, tenure-track job that I loved, but ultimately I chose to stay at home.

While I was agonizing, I’d scour the internet looking for wisdom. Most of what I found was along the lines of “What are you thinking, fool? Get to work. You’re too important to take care of messy, little, dependent, barely verbal people all day.” That was the gist of Linda Hirshman’s insultingly-titled book, Get to Work … And Get a Life, Before It’s Too Late, which came out just in time to chime in to my internal debate. From Hirshman (or rather from reviews of Hirshman—I didn’t have time to read outside of work then) I gathered that being a full-time mom is a life of meaningless, pointless tedium compared to all that I could achieve for me and for the cause of gender equality if, like her, I became a professor. She also cautioned me not to bother looking for meaningful volunteer or part-time work. The best I could hope for would be stuffing envelopes for a good cause. I didn’t fully buy all this, but it got to me. It made me feel foolish, short-sighted, and selfish for even thinking of opting out. With the power of hindsight, I now know her advice was crap. Ahhh, hindsight.

When I was searching the internet for wisdom, there were words I longed to hear. In the wake of the Harvard study, I thought I’d write them now, just so that they’re out there to counterbalance the fear-mongering and guilt trips.

To the mom facing a decision to work or not: I don’t know what God is calling you to do. It could be to have a career and be a mom. But if devoting the bulk of your days to your family is what God is calling you to do, listen to Him. He can be trusted. Give your life to Him and in the end, not a single talent or skill you have will be wasted. If you live for Him, you do not need to live in fear of boredom or purposelessness. The life He has planned for you will take everything you have to give. His plans for you are guaranteed to be better than any plans you could make for yourself. Harder, maybe, and less glamorous, but more meaningful, more loving, and more fulfilling. Go for it.

Or to borrow from Linda Hirshman: Say yes to God … and live the life He has planned for you, before it’s too late.

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The Difference a Name Makes

It’s amazing the difference a name makes. On one day this past week, nearly a hundred endangered elephants were killed and around 3,000 abortions were performed in the United States alone, and we were unfazed—but the killing of Cecil the lion broke our hearts. He wasn’t just any random lion. He was Cecil. Mere lions (along with chickens, cows, lambs, and pigs) are killed, but Cecil was murdered. We love the lion that was named Cecil. We feel as though we knew him.

The abortion industry knows very well the difference a name can make. In a recent New Republicarticle, Dr. Jen Gunter informs us that despite all appearances to the contrary, the Center for Medical Progress did not catch Planned Parenthood in the act of selling baby parts. No, not at all: Apparently, the tissue specimens in question are just the “products of conception.” Tissue and products, yes, but never a baby. You see, it’s all fine as long as you use the right words.

Continue reading here, at First Things: The Difference a Name Makes

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