Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Update: Is old-school a compliment or an insult? I said insult, Sciencegirl says compliment. Sound off in the box.

When Seraphic Singles was finally in my eager little hands, I didn't bother reading the blurb on the back. I had already proof-read a blurb for the back, so I didn't think about it. But then one day, I read it and my eye fell upon this startling line:

"Dorothy's perspective is old-school Catholic, but it offers lessons for everyone."

"Old-school?" I shrieked. "Old-school?"

In my mind's eye I saw potential buyers, anyone over 45, melting away like ice-cream. I do not know who wrote that line, and I don't remember reading it in the proofs. Maybe I did read it, and that this was a bizarre backhanded swipe at the author's perspective just did not occur to me. So the fault could definitely be mine.

But who says "BUT" on an advertising blurb?

"Crest Toothpaste is old-school dentifrice, but it will clean the teeth of all."

"Pears Soap is old-school cleanser, but it is suitable for all skin types."

If there is something that makes me dance with rage, it's the idea that my Catholicism is in some way odd or stale or out of date. I was born in ninteen-seventy-one; I am a full generation younger than the hippies who wrote "Day by Day".

I sat through the Baby Boom's idea of what good post-Vatican II catechesis was, and by Grade 8 it was cutting symbols out of felt to glue on my Confirmation stole. And I was starting to panic because here was Confirmation looming up, and I knew that there had to be more to Catholicism than I had been taught. It was like not having moved past "The cat sat on the mat" in reading classes. The religious part of my brain was starving to death. I wanted a loaf of bread, and my religion teachers were giving me stones--and felt.

Fortunately, my school was half a block from the parish church, so we all went to First Friday Mass, which I suppose some would consider "old-school". I went to First Friday Mass from September to June for eight years without ever being told that there was a devotion called the Nine Fridays and that there was an indulgence attached. I thought an indulgence was cookies from my grandma or being allowed to eat candy any time between Christmas and Hallowe'en.

Some ancient visiting priest enrolled my entire class in the Brown Scapular. And all the priests at that parish were, miraculously, good solid men until my grade 8 graduation, so I heard a lot of serious, solemn homilies, many a lot more adult than ones I've heard in adult life. They might be why I am still a Catholic.

As far as I can recall, the most religious of my elementary school teachers was a Communist supply teacher who lectured us all on how fantastic the Soviet Union was and how children there were trained to excel what they were best at. She was just as stern and strongminded as our priests. Really, an awesome figure. I wonder how long she got away with going from Catholic school to Catholic school proseltyzing for the USSR.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that there was no New School Catholicism replacing the Old School Catholicism. Yes, the school choir was taught all the new hymns (and any boy with musical talent was whisked away to the Cathedral Choir School to be taught the old good stuff) and we drew pictures of Jesus My Friend, but basically we got scraps of doctrine in pastry of puff. Scraps.

When I was studying for my M.Div., some lecturer mentioned the Baltimore Catechism, and a group of white-haired Boomers whooped with laughter and began to recite it. And I was amazed. They had the basics of the faith memorized. Memorized. Somebody had actually taught them the tough stuff, the strong meat, when they were children, and they still knew it! And, bizarrely, they thought it was funny. Old-school.

If to know and expound the teachings of the Roman Catholic Faith is old-school, then to be Catholic at all is to be old-school. There is no new-school Catholic. There was nothing Catholic to replace the whistling gaps in our religious education after Vatican II. Thomas Merton hared after Buddhism; countless others hared after Gaia. But I don't think Catholicism is old-school. I think it is true.

What is old-school, and by old-school I mean funny and out of date, is Catholicism that tries not to be Catholic. It's been over forty years since Catholic catechesis was turned upside down, inside out and divested of three-quarters of its riches. Those of us who still managed to make it to adulthood as believing Catholics are now onto that dodge. Some of us were taught the fullness of the faith, so carefully hidden from us, by converts, especially refugees from the Anglican communion, who introduced us to G.K. Chesterton and other great modern apologists.

However, I hadn't met any of these missionaries when I was writing the blog that became my book. I had had 15 years of the same Catholic school system as my lapsed Catholic Ontario peers, 5 years in a mainstream Catholic college, an early failed marriage, three years at what some say is a "liberal" theology school and one mind-shattering year at a school known as "barely Catholic" for (A) the mores of the student body (B) the beliefs held by its theological faculty. In short, I should have been as "progressive" as any assistant professor of theology at any Jesuit college in the United States which, indeed, is what I would probably be today, were I not, in fact as well as in name, a Catholic (or, to be honest, a lot tougher-minded). But I wasn't.

That said, I cannot for the life of me see what in my book anyone who regards themself as Catholic would see as out-of-date. It recognizes the existence and omnipotence of God. It assumes it is better to stay celibate than to settle for concubinage. It assumes people would prefer to marry people who agree with them about religion. It decides that, crime rates not withstanding, men are for the most part decent chaps, and some of them are mouth-wateringly tasty-looking. It sees going to Mass not only as a sacred duty and balm for the soul, but as an opportunity to meet cute single men.

I mean, come on. The author sizes up even seminarians. She doesn't reprove a pal for wanting to make out for a stranger. She even leaves open the question of birth control. My sins are scarlet; let the book be read.

Update: Do you get St. Anthony Messenger magazine? There's an interview with me in the very latest issue. Tell me if you see it.


Belfry Bat said...

For what it's worth, I've heard the phrase "Old-School" used (not to mention used it myself) appreciatively, even as a compliment; for instance, an "Old-School" letter-to-the-editor is one that might have been written by St. Jerome, like that note against the fellow who dared doubt the perpetual virginity of the Most Holy Theotokos; "this rough boor ..." --- <sigh>.

I totally get what you mean about blurbers "but"ing their way to our confusion. That's kinda weird. (happily, I didn't need to read the blurb)

sciencegirl said...

Old-school is a compliment. People say it of themselves with pride and of others with admiration.

It doesn't mean "outdated" it means its the original, the authentic, the pre-sellout, pre-marketing-hype, real deal. The icon of old-school is not an old lady on her porch but a tough black rapper from the 80s, entertaining but a bit scary, speaking the truth that no one wanted to hear, pre-bling, pre-top 40. Kickin' it old-school is a decidedly good thing.

The 60's Catholic vogue is outdated, but it is NOT old-school. Old school means having a certain dignity and standard. An old-school professor gives tough lectures, acts tough questions, grades tough and doesn't need the students to be his friend. But they learn, so they call him old-school, instead of just a bad, confusing prof. An old-school Catholic is one who actually believes the hard-core stuff like chastity and the Catechism & isn't scared of a little Latin.

You keep rebelling against these conservative and old-school labels, and I understand, but I laugh at you every time. I too would like our attitude toward the faith to be just the norm, generating no surprise in anyone. But it isn't, so deal. Should the light of the world complain that people say its shiny instead of dark and spooky? We *are* old-school & should school the sellouts and posers.

Julie said...

God bless you, I want to print this out and nail it to a Cathedral door or something. The hippy dippy campus Catholic center at my college drove me crazy with its self-congratulating progressivism, but as everything around me said I was wrong to use words like "magisterium" and supposedly the place was generally considered very successful, I mostly kept it to myself. Now, quite aside from my own personal spiritual journey, I can look at the various people who were most involved, the students who were leading lights there, and I would say less than half still even attend a Catholic Mass, to say nothing of their private convictions, and we're not more than five years out of school. Very few things make me angry but this is one of them; this is also one of the very few areas in which I have not the slightest feeling of "I was right all along".

Seraphic said...

Without irony, I enjoy when my long-term readers tell me they occasionally laugh at me. I feel like a beloved old aunt.

And I love the expression "Kickin' it old-school," so I will stop complaining about "old-school". (Can I still complain about the "but"?)

Despite being occasionally mistaken for black (yes I know, but it happens), I have never thought of myself as a 1980s black rapper, so thank you, sciencegirl, for a startling image and a giggle.

Julie, I wonder if we should demand surveys. How many 14 year old confirmands are still going to Mass at 30? That might be the litmus test of religious education.
Surely going to Mass is the bare minimum expected of a Roman Catholic even now.

We might also do a survey of graduates from Catholic colleges. We could compare how many were going to Mass at age 22, and how many are still going to Mass at age 30?

I read in high school (circa 1990) that there was often a drop off after university, but then the drop-outs go back once they've married and had a baby.

Mark said...

I often get a copy, sometimes I get two. I shall keep my eyes peeled for your interview!

theobromophile said...

I like "old-school"; perhaps that's because I drive a car that I recently saw listed as vintage (VINTAGE?!?) and like music that was made before I was born.

Perhaps, "Dorothy's wit, warmth, and old-school Catholic perspective offer lessons for everyone" would be an improvement.

Magdalena said...

During my confirmation preparation classes, I was desperate because I really asked myself “what is the Holy Spirit”? And nobody could tell me (instead, we painted pictures of Jesus My Friend and walked barefoot from our village to the next town). I was extremely unhappy about not understanding this! I really longed for the theological loaf of bread to “chew through”!

Old-school catholic sounds very positive for me :-)! But the “but” should be replaced by “therefore”!

Meredith said...

According to Urban Dictionary, old school means:

"Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really."

Example submitted by a user:

Guy: Damn, Super Mario Bros. The gameplay is old school.

Kid: These graphics suck. Where is the life meter?

Guy: What you say boy? *five across the eye*


"A positive appellation referring to when things weren't flashy but empty of substance, were done by hard work, didn't pander to the lowest common denominator, and required real skill. Labour-saving devices, shortcuts that reduce quality and quitting before the task is done are not characteristics of "old school."

In reference to computer games, refers to a game that had substantial playability without flashy graphics or eye candy. Old school gamers appreciate difficult maneuvers, careful planning, and scorched earth policies."

I've always heard it used as a compliment! The 'but' is annoying, though. Come on, people. Learn to blurb.

cath said...

Compliment! Or at least definitely not synonymous with old-fashioned.

healthily sanguine said...

Dude, being Catholic is old-school! ;)

FrB said...

Old-school is definitely groovy, Auntie Ess!

Madame Lefty said...

It depends on the context in which the phrase, "old school," is being used.

"Old school" could be a compliment as to the revival of an old trend, way of being, tradition that was enjoyable and has long been missed. It would be a timely thing to bring this "old school" practice back into being.

"Old school," becomes offensive when you're saying that your ideas are antiquated and you are not changing with the world around you.

As to whether they were implying anything negative...I just think the person who wrote the "but" was trying to reach and warn a secular audience. Yes, you may sell your book among Catholic readers, but the ideal would be to sell it to a broader audience. (I'm speaking from a publishing POV.) If the people responsible thought that your book would turn off a mainstream demographic, they will explain it away as the interesting/weird/fascinating bit that the secular readers were not expecting. "It's a good book, BUT it's about Catholic way of life. It's worth the read, though."

I don't think the blurb was meant to question your Catholic views and practices, but more as a promotional strategy. The publishing business is a business and marketing will do what it believes it has to do to ensure that the book does well.

Though, I agree it's bad wording on their part.

Hope that helped!

Claire Christina said...

I'm glad everyone's in agreement. Old school is definitely a compliment, colloquially used (in my experience) to describe something that's fantastic in a way that contemporary culture no longer produces (e.g., any of numerous awesome prayers in the TLM).

sciencegirl said...

I thought the "but" was a reference to the Catholicism, not the old-school attitude, and it is an awkwardly phrased but understandable bid for the attention of non-Catholics. Glad you like your new image! I still like your avatar best though.

Sheila said...

I join my voice to the general clamor: old-school is understood to be awesome and retro, as opposed to modern-day, watered-down, copycat versions of the same thing.

Shiraz said...

I imagine 'old school' was supposed to add to the impression of your auntly qualities. As in, the aunt who tells you like it is, in a no-nonsense sort of fashion. Unsquidgily. (Yes, I know I probably just made that word up, but you know what I mean.)

Incidentally, in about mushy religious education, is it just me or is that simply a part of a general lowering of expectations on kids regarding how much intellectually rigorous instruction they can take? I remember having to do a bunch of stuff on 'self-esteem' at about 12 (at a public school, so this wasn't religious ed or anything), which was presented in extremely simplistic terms ... and I wonder if reading some 'old-school' philosophers, literature and even a spot of actual psychology might have been a better idea and done a better job of explaining some of that 'how people tick' and 'why it sometimes feels crap to be a teenager' stuff. But I have a feeling the education authorities though that would be too hard. So mind maps it was.

That's just one example. I think what sums it up is that I was part of the generation to which GRAMMAR was not taught. Ha!

Elspeth (kickin' the rhetoric old school) said...

"clean and classic, but hip"

"a sophisticated, but trendy look"

"a subtle, but daring feel"

"Le Meridien Bangkok: Contemporary, understated, but brilliant"

Anonymous said...

I know a 30 something priest who is "old school". I know some older ones who are also "old school" Catholics, but then they should be. They were strong enough to resist the liberal watering down of the Catholic faith, and some suffered for it.

Oh, and I never read any blurbs anyway. I flip through the book or check it out online for reviews or excerpts. If I decide I want it, I couldn't care less who thinks what about it.

Maybe another example - I have some of the same tastes in recreational reading you've blogged on. Georgette Heyer is "old school"; she has copycat writers for those who don't appreciate her dry wit.

Breathe . . . My guess is that most of your target market would consider it a compliment.

Isabella of the North

Kate P said...

I have to tell you--yesterday I asked my mom if she still got St. Anthony Messenger, and she said no because they "got too liberal" for her. I thought, "Oh my gosh, but they interviewed Seraphic!?"

Seraphic said...

They can't be THAT conservative because they called me up to make sure my annullment was a real, Catholic annullment and not just a government one!

Kate P said...

Is it's possible it's not the same one, that there are different ones with the same name?

Seraphic said...

Maybe there are different versions for different countries?

I have no idea. I haven't seen an issue yet.

Mark said...

I think there are at least two editions, FWIW.