Wednesday, 30 July 2014

August 1--Day of Prayer for Christians of the Middle East

Don't forget that August 1 is the Day of Penance and Prayer for Christians in Iraq for everyone served by the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter) apostolate. If you have never been to Mass in the Extraordinary Form and there is an FSSP church or chapel near you, this might be a good opportunity to attend one. You don't really need a missal--although if you don't have one, I do recommend reading ahead so you don't feel lost and helpless--you can go there and just prayerfully be.

The one in Edinburgh will be at 6:15 PM in St. Cuthbert's Chapel. St. Cuthbert's Chapel is tiny; on some occasions, worshippers spill out into the hall.

This Australian blogpost has some ideas for what you can do to help the Christians of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. (WARNING: photos of crucified men.) I like them all. But I have another idea about the "N" sign; I think we should wear buttons, too. That way our support for the Middle Eastern Christians would be visible to complete strangers, not just our Facebook friends. If you think that is too "in your face" and scary, reflect that you are probably wearing a cross or crucifix around your neck right now. (I wear a cross myself; I chose it years ago in a fit of anti-triumphalist ecumenism.) But, um, does anyone one know where you go to have buttons made?

Meanwhile, please pray, offer a Mass, fast, and--perhaps most painful of all for cash-strapped single girls and housewives--donate money on behalf of the Christians driven from Mosul (i.e. Nineveh). Apparently what they need most right now is money because when they were forced to leave behind all their property, they were also forced to leave their jobs and businesses (naturally). If you fast all day--drink water and I recommend tea and coffee to keep you going--it would be extra-meaningful if you donate the money saved. If you make the buttons, you could sell them for a dollar/pound/Euro and give the money to a charity directly helping the Mosul Christians.

Another thing you can do, of course, is get online and blog about the crisis. Comment on newspaper columns about Christians in the Middle East , and if you have the time and patience, feel free to get into arguments. The more comments a column generates, the more attention editors are likely to pay. If you are that kind of person, call up newspaper editors and say thanks for the coverage or demand "Where is the coverage?"
Western Christian Problem Update: None of our guests found my lost emerald in the soup, thank heavens, nor do they think they have swallowed it. I am still hoping it is in the new vacuum cleaner. However, I am not looking forward to sifting through the dust and dead moth bits to see.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ringzilla Loses An Eye

Oh, sorrow. Today's piece of advice is to never do heavy housework while wearing your engagement ring, if you have one or if you get one. It turns out that there is no particular blessing protecting engagement rings--at least not Ringzilla. This morning Ringzilla twinkled at me with seven eyes (four green), and late this afternoon when I cast aside my cleaning clothes and reached for the sunscreen, he glared at me with six (three green).

I do hope I find the emerald in the vacuum bag and that it has not fallen in the soup. Unfortunately it is the same size as a diced bit of cucumber and the soup is made with yogurt. Everyone pray to St. Anthony and St. Martha (whose feast day it is by the old calendar) that it has not fallen in the soup and will not be swallowed by any of the evening's guests, especially not the priest.


Monday, 28 July 2014

Housewifery sleepy...zzzzz

Today's plan was to finish the Monday chores by noon, and then sit down to work very hard at writing. Why then does the left-hand bottom corner of my computer screen read 18:21?

I am sure the novelty well wear off, but today I tidied the bedroom and the library, vacuumed them, put jackets back on books, put books back on shelves, vacuumed stuffed chairs, sorted through a bag of rubbish, squashed three moth with my bare fingers and organized the memory box, i.e. sorted all the paper souvenirs and greeting cards for the past six years, e.g. all cards from Fr B, all cards and letters from Berenike, all cards and letters from Der Guter.

Zzzzz. Meanwhile I washed four loads of laundry, and the washing-machine is three floors down, in what used to be Servants' Hall.

Zzzzz. And I went to Tesco (about a mile away) with my shopping trolley, in gym clothes. Actual gym clothes. But not sweatpants.

Zzzz. And then I came home and put all the groceries away, made an ornate potato salad for dinner and washed the dishes.

And now it is 18:29 and I am feeling pretty tired. I think I will put my feet up and have a glass of zubrowka.

At any rate I hope to work very hard on my writing tomorrow.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Custody of the Eyes

I don't know if I am being terrible romantic about my youth, but I don't remember being particularly attracted to men just because they had no shirts on. For one thing, men didn't go around without shirts a lot, except at the beach or by the swimming pool, or when mowing their lawns, and no-one looks his best mowing a lawn. Equally, I thought young women who squealed, "Look at his a**!", were not merely crude but weird. I mean, what is the symbolic value of buttocks for young women? Honestly. For older women, I suppose they might be an indicator of virile youth versus flat or saggy old age. As a young women, I personally was all about clothes and animated faces. [Long and embarrassing reminiscence edited.] Where was I?

Oh yes. Shirtlessness. So the other day I was walking along the beach with my friend and her new baby. It was a warm, windy day, one of those rare warm Edinburgh days when the beach is crowded with families and naked white babies and fourteen year olds in bikinis and gangs of youths. Almost nobody ventures into the actual Forth to swim because no matter how warm the sand is, the Forth is COLD. And often dirty. So I was surprised to see a gang of shirtless youths in bathing trunks swaggering towards us. Were they perhaps going to the swimming baths?

And then a funny thing happened. The swaggering youths no longer had heads. They were all naked chests. A vast magnetic smorgasbord of naked human torsos, without personality. In a panic, I forced my eyes away, and the torsos sauntered by. I looked back and they had their heads again. Goodness knows how old they were. Nineteen? I hope nineteen. They were pretty hairless.

It was a bit unnerving, but I put it out of my head until the next day when I was on the Rough Bus and teenage girls in incredibly skimpy clothing got on at the suburban shopping mall. The coltish girl in front was wearing a tiny halter shop and short snorts and actually looked very good in her outfit, if also seriously unsupervised, unlike her chubbier (but not actually fat) friends. I gloomy composed the aphorism "If you look great in a bikini, you're probably too young to wear it."

Then it occurred to me that the contrast of my reaction to mostly naked boy teengers was completely different from my reaction to these mostly naked girl teenagers: grudging admiration and pity for the later, and I don't know WHAT for the former. Feeling attracted, completely against my will, to multiple bare chested swaggering guys who could have been anybody felt super-creepy, and I didn't like it. So I told B.A. all about it.

B.A. was sitting under the portico of the Historical House with a beer and the Times Literary Supplement. He was wearing a shirt.

"Yes, well, now you know what men go through," said B.A. cheerfully. "We get used to it."

"UGH!" I said. "BLAH! I don't like it. Maybe it's because I'm growing old. Testosterone is kicking in! WAAAAHHHH!"

Friday, 25 July 2014

Love is Kind

I must preface this by saying this is most probably not a good analogy, but I hope I get my point across anyway.


If I were to die in the next few months, my friend Calvinist Cath would not come to my funeral Mass. Maybe she would take the train north to Haymarket Station, walk to the church and stand outside the door. For some reason, in the image I have in my mind, it is pouring rain. I hope Mr Cath is there, too. So a big old black umbrella for Mr and Mrs Cath, patiently standing outside the door in the pouring rain. Bless them. Out comes my coffin--sniff, sniff--and off we all go to Portobello Cemetery when I am laid down for my very long nap in the kind Scottish earth and everyone else, including the Caths, chucks some dirt in and zips off for a cup of tea gin and tonic and sandwiches.

Nothing would make Mr and Mrs Cath come into the church while Mass was going on because as yet--(I have to put in the as yet, dear Cath, to be consistently Catholic)--Cath has not been convinced the Mass is not a wicked blasphemy.

Now I love the Mass. I am extremely unhappy if, when travelling or when ill, I cannot get to one. And going to the Extraordinary Form has made me fonder than I was of the Ordinary Form, believe it or not. If it is consistent with Cath's conscience, I hope she has a look at an EF over youtube. But I guess she'd have to steel herself against the visual representations of Christ, for her ecclesial community thinks they are idolatrous. Naturally, I don't.

Off I toddle to Mass every Sunday, with an ex-Protestant, mind you, taking the bus, which means I am complicit in someone else's Sunday labour, which Cath doesn't like either. In fact, I guess I do a lot of stuff she doesn't like, and incidentally she condemns Christmas once a year and had some sharp remarks to make about Pope Benedict's visit, which I think was the one time we came close to quarreling.

And I think she is fantastic. I love her to death. She reminds me of my grandmother stubbornly not setting foot in church, not even for any of our baptisms, but otherwise not saying anything about it at all. Cath belongs, and my grandmother belonged, to a Scottish faith tradition that absolutely despised Catholicism and, in an institutional/cultural way, made the lives of the Scottish Catholic minority difficult up until about 1980. But I don't really care about all that (and to be honest it is now much more difficult to be a Free Presbyterian than a Catholic in urban Scotland). I'm much more worried about the situation of Catholics in Iraq and Egypt, let me tell you. I get that the Free Presbyterians have serious doctrinal issues with Catholics, and I get that they have a tradition of automatic anti-Catholic rhetoric ("the Errors of Rome"), and I do not think they should have to go to Catholic Masses for any reason whatsoever, including their own children's weddings or their friends' funerals. Standing outside the door is respect enough. In fact, I know a wonderful Catholic man who stood outside the door during his daughter's wedding in a Protestant church.

Love is kind. Love does not demand that absolutely everyone else should be forced to bend the knee to one's own loves. Love does not throw a tantrum or engage in mockery because someone has a serious reservation. Love covers up the erotic photography when the priest, the granny, the virgin or the child comes to visit. Love is patient. Love does not boast, which is why there will never ever be a male-female "kiss in" to protest laws and regulations demanding that Christians bow the knee to homosexuality.

At my Canadian theology school I discussed the tension between "being inclusive" and "being faithful." At my American theology school, being faithful was chucked out the window the day a certain professor asked my PhD seminar how we could convince the Archbishop of Boston to disobey Rome and bless the adoption of Catholic children by two men or two women living together in an arrangement they called "being a couple", not that he put it in that clunky way. As far as I recall, I think that was the very worst piece of spiritual arm-twisting I ever saw in my short career at BC, and I am ashamed to say that although there were priests and nuns in the room the only person who spoke up against his attitude was me. (That said, we were all in a terribly vulnerable position. NB to all grad students in Catholic theology programs in the USA: keep your mouth shut, trust no-one, do your work, get the degree, get out.)

Being faithful can be HARD, especially when people tell you that by being faithful you are a mean cruel uncaring bigot. And, indeed, when being faithful comes into conflict with being friendly, many of us search our consciences for how we can be inclusive without being unfaithful. We are friendly to people of other religions, including the Religion of Pride, and we see them first of all as human beings, not as cartoons, even if they sometimes present themselves as cartoons, as adherents to the Religion of Pride, by which I do not mean all people with SSA, sometimes do. However, there are some things we cannot do and some things we cannot agree with or tolerate or participate in without being unfaithful. For example, I do not think a faithful Catholic can participate in a public parade involving nudity or lascivious dancing, which means no faithful Catholic, be definition, can participate in the Pride festival.

And I am writing all this today because I am shocked, as many Canadian Catholics are shocked, by the 180 of an influential Catholic journalist on the subject of inclusiveness and fidelity and his vilification of those who disagree with him. As yet it is a mystery as to what exactly he has changed his mind about; it looks more like an unthinking "change of teams" which I would not have believed possible of such an erudite man. It seems that now he is no longer going to say nasty things about people who identify with their SSA (and if that was his habit, it was indeed wrong) but about Catholics--even Catholic friends--who object to homosexual acts. In the journalist's view gays do not often engage in one rather definitive homosexual act, which I think will come as a great surprise to condom manufacturers, and that Catholics are real sickos if we mention it.

To go back to my analogy--and now you can see how flawed it is--it is not loving to vilify people for following their consciences. Indeed, it is loving to love people for following their consciences, even if we think their conscience is to misinformed, when it is quite clear that those consciences are guided by REASON and SCRIPTURE, not by the passions and sensual delights. If I snuff it, and Cath hangs outside the church door, it's because she's faithful to her conscience, and that's great. (And for the record, I don't think it's super-wonderful-aren't-we-great that there was no Catholic objection to me sitting in her wedding service. I would have happily stood outside the door so as to her in her wedding finery because...yeah... bride...dress...) We can love Mass without getting mad that others think its an abomination. We don't need to shout "Bigot! Bigot!" (In fact, this would be extremely wicked.) And why? Because it isn't, and we know it.

Meanwhile, I would be so upset if anyone I knew took part in a Pride Parade, because I really do feel that they are against human dignity. (And incidentally, do see Hilary White's excellent column about the difficulties of getting out of a free love lifestyle.) As I wrote in the Catholic Register, love has never been illegal; interior disposition (e.g. racial hate) has only lately become under legal review. Blessed John Henry Newman deeply loved his best friend Father Ambrose St. John, and insisted on being buried beside him. But Blessed John Henry Newman would never have sinned against Father St. John's dignity or purity, whatever the provocation, not only because he loved him, but because he loved Christ and His Church. Deep male and deep female friendships are one thing--a very good and great thing--perhaps even a rare thing!--but sexual acts and redefining marriage and parenthood and legally bludgeoning those who disagree something else entirely.

Anyway, back to the tension between fidelity and inclusivity, and my funeral. I suppose Mr and Mrs Cath might feel awkward standing out there in the rain. Their feet are likely to get wet, and they don't pray for the dead anyway, so keeping their minds occupied may be a struggle, and people might shoot them weird looks, and some older, crankier Catholics might loudly sniff on their way in, and for all they know (God forbid) Catholics by definition don't go to heaven, so (God forbid) I am soul toast. But I can tell you one thing--my loved ones would love them for being there, in accordance with their consciences, and identify with them risking looking "judgemental" and foolish and old-fashioned in their desire to put God first.

Update: I realize that this is a Canadian, indeed a Toronto, Church squabble, but I thought I would just say that one of the facets of the scandal to which I allude is that it is still unclear as to what exactly the Catholic journalist is apologizing for. He has written at least two bestselling apologetic works, so his writing "I was wrong" and that his views "are evolving", has shocked and saddened many Catholics who looked up to him as a talented, courageous apologist well respected (and well read) outside the Catholic ghetto. So what happens when your apologist apologizes for....what? His apologetics? Explaining what "disordered" means? Unfortunately, he has indeed written that he won't use the word "disordered" anymore, which seems to me a linguistic capitulation to people who don't understand the word or don't want to.

"Disordered" has never meant "freakish"; my overuse of the internet is very likely disordered. Eating chocolate cake until you throw up is disordered; drinking until you pass out is disordered. And really this fight is not about people who define themselves by their SSA at all: it is the journalist vs fellow Catholics over what a Catholic can say about sin and creation and still be considered (A) a Catholic apologist or (B) a decent, loving human being.

And now I'm going to bed, so the combox moderation is going on.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Reminder

"Welcome to Seraphic Singles, a blog for Catholic Single women and other Single women of Good Will! Completely anonymous comments may be deleted and abusive comments will certainly be deleted.

The internet is an angry, crazy place. Seraphic Singles is meant to be an oasis of good chat and good manners, so that Single women of all nationalities and religions can feel comfortable here. Keep that in mind as you speak your mind."

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The War on Christians

B.A. and I watched the BBC News channel at 11 PM to see the latest updates on the genocidal Islamist persecution of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. We watched in vain. Not a mention.

When I was a child I wondered what had happened to the first Churches--you know, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Colossians. The only ancient churches we ever heard about outside St. Paul's and St. Peter's Letters were Rome and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem (confusingly) was very rarely mentioned by the media as a city of Christians. A kindly adult--probably my mother--kindly informed me that they had been destroyed by Muslim invaders. Many of those countries we think of as Muslim or Islamic were once Christian. Within living memory, Syria and Lebanon were Christian countries. The indigenous people of Egypt, the descendants of those who worshipped pharaohs, are the Coptic Christians.

And so today. The Church of Mosul has been destroyed. Our churches are burning. Our brothers and sisters have been told by a raggle-taggle band of Islamist marauders to convert, pay a punitive tax or die. Monks are being driven from ancient monasteries; Christians girls and women are being gang-raped. And this means Christ is being driven from His home; Christ is being raped. Christ is being told to convert to a false religion. Christ is being told to cough up money He doesn't have. Christ is being murdered.

I know we have clicked our tongues and shaken our heads over the horrors of the modern world, and felt awful for Hindu girls gang-raped by other Hindus, and for African Muslim (or African Traditional Religion) girls mutilated by African Muslim (or ATR) women. We have been justly furious at those soi-disant Christians in former Yugoslavia who raped other Christian and Muslim women and had the nerve to ask why the Christian West did not take their side. We wring our hands over Israel, and are shocked by the virulent ant-Jewish hatred of what is now called "the Muslim world". We have been told many horrors, but rarely advised what we can actually do about them. So helpless we have been made to feel that it may come as a surprise that British activists actually drove to former Yugoslavia during its civil wars to personally pick up refugees and bring them to safety.

I wish I could drive to Syria. Indeed, I wish I could drive! Because this time it's not about "them"--foreigners, even if foreigners for whom we feel deep sympathy, as Canadians and Europeans felt for Americans on 9/11. It's about us Christians, us Catholics, even. The Chaldean Christians of Iraq are in communion with Rome; they are ours; they are us. So what are we going to do?

I will tell you what I have done so far, not to toot my own horn (which would be disgusting under these circumstances) but to help inspire you to do something yourselves.

So far I have contacted a friend in the media office of the (self-defined as Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, and an acquaintance in media office of the Catholic Church in Scotland. I have written to a Canadian Catholic journalist who has reported on the sufferings of Middle Eastern Christians, and himself been to Syria to speak with Christian refugees, for advice as to what Christians might do in the UK. I have sent a note to my fellow novelist, Fiorella de Maria, who has connections with refugee aid in the UK. I have sent comments of support to Tim Stanley for his excellent op ed in the UK Telegraph. I have changed my Facebook photo to the "Nazarene" symbol being spray-painted on the houses of Christians in Iraq. And I have spread news of a rally to be held in London, England, outside the Parliament buildings, this Saturday.

All that without leaving the house.

Today I will leave the house to meet with a Scottish journalist whose politics are normally the exact opposite of mine. Although he is not a church-attending Christian, he has great sympathy for the Christians of the Middle East, perhaps because he is a true liberal, and objects to any minority being destroyed by religious fanatics--even if that minority is Christian and even if those religious fanatics are a branch of Islam*.

So if this agnostic, left-wing journalist is willing to do something for our brothers and sisters, i.e. us, then what are you willing to do? What can you do?

If you really cannot do anything else, you could go to Mass on August 1. But please thing of something else as well. Talk to your friends. Organize a protest. Write emails to journalists and newspapers. Ask an expert to come to a public meeting in your church hall and then paper the neighbourhood with flyers.

*It appears that what is or is not Islamic is purely subjective and depends entirely upon the person claiming to speak for Islam. And thus there are very nice Muslims who don't see much of a difference between just being a good neighbour and being Muslim, just as there are very nice Christians who also don't see much of a difference between just being a good neighbour and being Christian.

Only if millions of Christians outside the Middle East come together and scream and work on behalf of those of us being persecuted in the Middle East will anything be done. The BBC is too fixated on Palestine, Putin and pedophilia to pay attention to anything else. To get the attention of the non-Christian establishment, we will have to shout together.

Update: I'm reliably informed that the Jesuit Refugee Service makes very good use of donations, and has tons of expertise in helping refugees.