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.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

War on Procrastination

To continue the housekeeping theme, I will report that I have done 2.75 hours of housework today, albeit without a hoover. I broke the hoover on Thursday. Fortunately B.A. was sanguine about this loss, as he had got the device free and second-hand years ago. And we have ordered a new one, a 3-in-1 gadget from VAX, which not only hoovers things, it washes carpets. Yes, this is what married life reduces you to: the same excitement one used to have for a new dress, one now has for a new vacuum cleaner. And to think that I am actually looking forward to washing the carpets. Have I been brainwashed by aliens?

But it turns out that I do not hate housework; I just hated the thought of housework. It's the same with everything difficult, actually: I hate the thought of effort, so I procrastinate like mad, and then when I do it either it's not so bad, or I really enjoy it. I suppose the big exception would be cleaning the cat's litter box, but we don't have a cat, so I'm spared that.

To make myself do necessary tasks that take effort, I need a personal system of bribes and punishments. I also need to get up around 7 or so. And then, because morning is my brainiest time and it seems like a shame to spend the whole thing on housework, I make my coffee and study Polish for an hour. (Lately, though, I have been terribly distracted by the internet, so that hour goes on for quite a long time.) And then, having finished the exercises at the end of the chapter, I get up with relief and a sense of accomplishment and put on my cleaning clothes to tackle the Room of the Day. And only then do I allow myself to set fingers to keyboard, or open a literary work--although sometimes doing even these things involve self-bribery. For one thing, now that I get paid to read books, I should stop feeling so guilty about reading books.

When I ponder my reluctance to do serious housework, right down to the nap of the carpet cleaning, for example, I see not just laziness and procrastination but shame. At some point in the twentieth century, it became shameful for women to do a lot of housework. The idea was that women who stayed at home doing housework were pretty useless (for how long could it take, with all our new labour-saving devices?) and very boring compared to Career Women or, to describe the reality of the work world for the majority, women with jobs. This was a total reversal of my Canadian grandmother's way of life. Her primary profession was housewife, and she had a little part-time job behind the counter of a local store: Charlie's Smoke Shop, I believe. But by the time I was growing up, people (women, mostly) were so nasty about housewives and women so meek about being "just a housewife" that I honestly began to think that there was something seriously wrong with women doing their own housework and it was best left to paid professionals like Hannah Gruen, who ruled the kitchen in Nancy Drew's house. It was not until recently that I realized how much many working mothers long to stay at home and housewife all week instead of just on the weekends. All of a sudden, it's okay, even posh, for middle-class women to stay at home again.

Another situation that changed my attitude towards getting on my hands and knees to scrub is the phenomenon of Polish university students in the UK getting jobs scrubbing floors to pay their living expenses. My mother, who encouraged her children in their part-time jobs behind counters, would never have allowed me to scrub my way through uni. Yet the beauty of the parish gamely scrubbed the stairwells of Edinburgh for 12 pounds an hour, or whatever it was. (To put this into perspective, the pound has roughly the same buying power in the UK as a dollar has in Canada. The UK is hellishly expensive.) That impressed me a lot.

I am not sure what this all has to do with Single life, although naturally we all have an aversion to living in dirt. When I lived alone, I was quite good at keeping on top of housework, in part because I lived either in a bachelor (bedsitter), a one-bedroom flat or a room in a convent. When it is quite obvious that the only person who is going to clean and tidy is you, you just do it. When you have roommates or a husband, then letting things slide is a lot more tempting. But inevitably there will be drama. The preparing for marriage hint I will pass on is that expecting a man to do 50% of the housework is insane, even if you do work the same number of paid hours he does. To say that it is unfair for men to do less housework is like saying gravity is unfair. There seems to be some culture-based masculine enjoyment/toleration/shouldering of outdoor work, especially in the UK where men garden like mad, but honestly I think any indoor housework a man does is a nice bonus, unless it involves hammers.

Monday, 21 July 2014

War on Moths

If you should ever look for a new post on Seraphic Singles and be disappointed, you may safely reflect that I have not written as I am up to my eyebrows in housework. This year the Historical House has been infested with moths, and having engaged in a desultory and mostly defensive battle with them (most nice things having been put for safety into a large insecticidal closet), I am now on the offensive.

Sadly, though, I must report a lost battle. The wretched beasties got B.A.'s pure wool purple pullover, the one I bought him myself. It was kept on the bedroom shelf, which is near enough the bed to rule out the use of insecticide, and when I pulled everything down in today's "Special Cleaning Project", there a horrible moth was, bold as brass, perched on B.A's sweater. Naturally I squashed the horrid thing between my fingers, but when I checked for damage, there it was: nasty telltale little holes.

So now the handsome pullover has been stuffed into a plastic bag sealed shut with cellotape and is sitting by the kitchen rubbish can. But on the plus side, the shelf is tidy and there is one less moth in the world.

Meanwhile, I have hauled from the insecticidal closet 20 years worth of B.A.'s shirts (he throws nothing out) and told him I was taking them to the used clothing store. So he has removed half of them, which he will keep, unworn, for another five years, and then I will smuggle them out of the house. Five years is long enough for wifely piety around the sacrosanctity of a husband's old stuff, imagine ten.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

War on Kitchen

It took me three hours to clean the kitchen today, and that's with only two "special projects." The special projects were cleaning the spice shelf and cleaning one of the cupboards. I found a bunch of lost recipes from home in the cupboard. My mop broke again.

The long-term plan is that one day, the kitchen will be entirely clean, cupboards and all, with no junk anywhere.

As you can see, I am still preoccupied by housework.

Friday, 18 July 2014

War on Dust Mites

I have a new cleaning schedule. It makes so much sense, I don't know why I didn't think of this five years ago. In short, I tidy, dust, sweep or hoover and scrub (if applicable) one room of the flat a day, except Sundays. We have eight rooms (arguably nine, but currently we use the smallest as a closet), so two get done on either Saturday or Monday.

My sudden enthusiasm for cleaning is down to Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. I opened the neglected volume for stain removal advice, and got sucked into the section on dusting. What I read about dust mites frightened me so much, I seized the hoover at once and hoovered the dickens out of the bedroom carpet even though it was Sunday.

We have sand-coloured wall to wall carpeting throughout the flat, which I hate on principle, but it was here before us, and here it will be when we go. Having been roused to unprecedented levels of cleaning activity, I shall sail out this weekend to buy a carpet cleaner.

Now the flat is entirely tidy and dusted, though the recycling has silted up in the kitchen again. Saturday mornings are dedicated to cleaning the kitchen. Incidentally, I have taken to hand cream. Last night I went to bed wearing cheap wool gloves, hands covered in shea butter. My fingernails are a wreck. I am a homemaking martyr.

The psychological boost I get after finishing a room, especially if I get it done by noon, is really amazing. I am hoping it is addictive. So is B.A. Usually he cleans the bathroom out of sheer desperation, poor man, and in five years he complained only once.