Tuesday, August 24

Chesteron versus Rand

It's taken me most of the year to read it, but I'm finally wrapping up Chesteron's What's Wrong with the World? (which was a Lenten read). At the same time, I've started reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The differences in their view of mankind is pretty stark.

Chesterton holds great hope for Man, and I think a lot has to do with his faith. He sees possibilities for Man to straighten out his act, to get right with what he was created for, which is to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.

Rand, on the other hand, has such a skewed view of Man that it's frightening. Even her protagonists are frightening. Everyone is selfish, including the great capitalists she sees as heroic. Everyone is also extreme: there are no middle-of-the-road people, no one who sees Chesterton's middle ground between unfettered business and unfettered government. To Ayn Rand, people are either in favor of business being allowed to run any way it pleases or they are "looters": fleas on the backs of the poor dogs who work for everything while they suck the lifeblood from productive members of society.

While I can definitely see Rand's point about government interfering too much with business (and who couldn't, looking at the events of the last two years?), she's too extreme in her views. Her definition of depravity in Atlas Shrugged is put forth as this:

"The most depraved type of human being ... (is) the man without a purpose."

But the sexual encounters in the book are pure rape fantasy. Talk about mixed-up ideas! By the way she wrote in this book, I get the distinct idea that she hated women - a lot. The only "good" women are those who shun emotion as much as possible (though it's also a quality in the "good" men, as well), attach love to nothing but what they can do or produce, and pretty much act like men. But not men as authentic Catholic teaching might show as an example to follow - men who honor family and commitment to family, who sacrifice for the good of others, who see benefit in both this world and the next in charity. Rand sees good men as those who put their production and business above all else. What else is there but to be productive in this life? Man who sees his purpose in serving others is weak.

But as I read this book (and I'll say now that I'm only just into part II, so please don't give me spoilers), I see Rearden as a weak man, a selfish man, someone who is lost. I see Dagny as someone who is denying her created beauty in order to be more like a man. And I see an author who yearned for beauty but did not know where to find it. Her idea of morals was quite messed up, as you can see from these quotes:

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." (appendix to 'Atlas Shrugged')

"[T]he only real moral crime that one man can commit against another is the attempt to create, by his words or actions, an impression of the contradictory, the impossible, the irrational, and thus shake the concept of rationality in his victim."

She rejected Communism, and yet these ideas about Man's only real moral achievement being what he can produce is an idea embraced by Communists (and other extreme parties like the National Socialist Party of Germany). Unproductive members of society are immoral? They aren't worth helping or having about?

I'm certainly not saying that it's just fine for an able-bodied person to be a mooch. If you're able to do something, then by all means, please try to do it! There is a difference in the man who seeks, but cannot find, work who collects unemployment and the man who does not seek work and is happy to collect his unemployment rather than look for work.

Again, Rand's characters are all extremes. No one can even comprehend the others' point of view, let alone see anyone as decent on the "other side" of things. And no one holds a combination of beliefs. It causes plenty of conflict, which I suppose is a good thing in a novel, but it also creates a situation that doesn't mirror real life.

I could get into the government portion of it, which, sadly, is starting to look less fantastic and more like what goes on in Washington these days, but I'll try to leave that for the Soccer Mom blog (which is where I try to keep politics, generally).

Chesterton, though, sees business as something else. Consider this quote:

  • "There have been household gods and household saints and household fairies. I am not sure that there have yet been any factory gods or factory saints or factory fairies. I may be wrong, as I am no commericial expert, but I have not heard of them as yet." - ILN Dec 18, 1926

As far as views on religion, Chesterton blows away Rand's idea that reason and religion are incompatible. (Not that he was the first ... I have to wonder if Rand ever heard of St. Thomas Aquinas!)

  • "If there were no God, there would be no atheists." - Where All Roads Lead, 1922

  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." - Chapter 5, What's Wrong With The World, 1910
  • "The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man." -Introduction to the Book of Job, 1907

And I love that Chesterton had no patience for big government OR big business:

  • "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists." - The Uses of Diversity, 1921

  • "[Capitalism is] that commercial system in which supply immediately answers to demand, and in which everybody seems to be thoroughly dissatisfied and unable to get anything he wants." - "How to Write a Detective Story." The Spice of Life
  • "Business, especially big business, is now organized like an army. It is, as some would say, a sort of mild militarism without bloodshed; as I say, a militarism without the military virtues." - The Thing

I'm finally into a part of the book where I seem to be seeing less of the character development (which, hopefully, means fewer of the dreadful sex scenes) and more of the search for a way out of the increasing control of the government, which is taking control of more and more by decrees and orders and quickly-passed laws that no one seems to know the meaning or consequences of. So perhaps I'll finally see more of a reason to root for our protagonists, and be able to put behind me their dreadfully cold personalities. (Rand seems to extoll the idea that making one's self devoid of emotions is a worthy goal in life.)

“He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another's personality, marking vulnerable points.”

The idea that emotions are nothing but a liability is a pretty sad one. I wonder what she was like, Ayn Rand. Was she as unhappy as her writing seems to suggest? What I keep seeing is someone who had all the longing for God that we Catholics know we're made for, but who denied that it was Him that she longed for. She denied His existence! How sad for her. I pray that she was able to find Him and accept God before the end of her life, even if it was private and in the last moments of life.

Wednesday, August 18

The Face of Love

Pioneer Woman is having a photo contest in which the theme is "love." I already shared one entry I made to the contest, but I thought I'd share the two other submissions I've made so far. All of my submissions are from 35mm (not digital) cameras! LOL! I just really thought of these pictures when I was choosing my first submissions.

To see other submissions (and a funny bit about that second picture of my grandparents) click through to my Flickr page.

Monday, August 16

Pioneer Woman's Newest Photography Contest

I've entered myself in PW's latest photography contest/assignment. The theme this time is "love," and I immediately thought of this picture. It's from when Big Girl was brand-new and Travel Man took a night feeding for me. When he didn't come back to bed, I went looking for him and found him asleep on the daybed next to the crib. I snapped this picture (and managed not to wake them!), but didn't know how it turned out until the film came back from developing. (Remember those days?)

Took this with my old Minolta Freedom camera. It's a point-and-shoot with an auto-flash, which I covered with my hand when I snapped the picture.

I also have several pictures at the ready for entering on the other days of the contest. I specialize in taking pictures of "love," since I take so many pictures of my family.

Wednesday, August 11

Perfect Intellect and the Blessed Virgin Mary

Our family prayed the Rosary last night, and while meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries, I tried to ask God to help me develop certain qualities - ones that would help me be a better imitator of our Lord and His Blessed Mother.

I was meditating on the Agony in the Garden, and I thought about how I need to learn to submit to God's Will in my life. I need to be less selfish - less of a control freak - and trust God. This is what Jesus did during His Agony; He submitted Himself to the Will and the Plan of the Father.

As I meditated more, I thought of His Blessed Mother's submission to the Will of God. Her assent - her fiat - was perfect. Her will was in union with God's. Submission was a pleasure for her, and this was helped by the fact that her soul did not carry the scars of Original Sin. For an explanation of this important doctrine of the Catholic Church (called the Immaculate Conception), Catholic Answers offers, in part, the following:

The Immaculate Conception
It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain. The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature. Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings.
When discussing the Immaculate Conception, an implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary.
The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." Mary was indeed a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that (and it never mentions the word for "daughter"). The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence. ...

(For the exact definition, broken down bit-by-bit with explanations, see the Catholic Encyclopedia at the New Advent site.)

Because Mary was conceived without Original Sin, she was in a better position to accept God's Divine Will and to align her own desires with His. Instead of her judgement being clouded by the aftereffects of The Fall, she was able to remain without sin throughout her life.

Which led me to ponder further...

When Adam and Eve were created, they had an enlightened intellect. In other words, they had innate knowledge of God and His Will. They could freely choose to accept or reject this (and we all know how that ended up), but they knew full well what that Will was. It was the sin of Pride that led to the Fall, hence "Pride comes before the Fall." But, make no mistake, they were smart enough to know what they were doing. Our intellects are not clear, they are not complete. Our intellects are like broken bones that are not quite healed properly. We are weak, our souls are weak, and our wills are weak. Anyone who thinks they are different is wrong, for even Saint Paul lamented that he was unable to avoid sinning (Romans 7:15).

But Mary - she was preserved from Original Sin, pre-emptively given the very Salvation that Christ Jesus would offer to us all. This is a basic belief that the Church has held since the earliest days of Christianity. Catholic Answers points to St. Irenaeus' writings in the Second Century:

"Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith" (Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]).
"The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten" (ibid., 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).

So if the Blessed Virgin Mary was without sin - and without the broken-ness that comes from being born with Original Sin on one's soul, does this mean that she, too, had a perfect intellect, as Eve did before the Fall?

If you know, please, point me towards some information on this. It's fascinating to me that Mary might have had the same perfect intellect that our First Parents had!

Wordless Wednesday: Ingalls Homestead

Tuesday, August 10

Anniversaries and Times and Seasons and Prayers

This Saturday is our anniversary: 17 years! My sweet husband likes to add, "16 of them happy," with a wink, making a reference to my two agonizing pregnancies.

It's hard to believe we've really been married for 17 years now. December will mark 20 years of being together as a couple. That is half my life.

Time is a funny thing. When we're young, it crawls by so slowly, you wish for Superman to come along and speed things up a bit. A school year to a first grader is an eternity. And that's not surprising since one year is 1/5 of his life! As a child in elementary school, going from Christmas to Christmas takes forever (especially when the purple and pink candles come out - it's doubly slow then!), but as adults, it seems to sneak up on us a little faster each year. My anniversary seems to be just a few weeks back, but here it is, mid-August again!

If we think back on our lives as children, we see how hard it was to wait for anything we
wanted. We looked forward to being older, getting to do more things, and those years of waiting were dreadfully long. Big Girl, for example, is one of the few children in her age group at church who doesn't have a cell phone. She's been asking again and again when she can get one. Now this is a topic Travel Man and I talked about when we first started seeing teens with cell phones. We had decided that until the girls are working, they don't need one. Scratch that. Make it this: Until they are DRIVING, they don't need one. Period. And even then, maybe they only need to borrow it sometimes.

So our answer was this, "When you turn 16, we'll start talking about it." (Notice that independent clause: start talking about it.)

This elicited the following reaction:

"WHAT????!!!!????" (Please imagine it starting at a high pitch and rising as the one-syllable word becomes something more like a long note sung.)

See, Big Girl is nearly 12, and four years before the discussion even starts is 1/4 of her life. To us, it seems like it's just around the corner. To her, it's NEVER GOING TO GET HERE.

About the only way that helps me understand this idea of time when I'm dealing with little girls - or, really, not-so-little girls - is to think about being with my husband.

It's been 20 years since we started dating. Half my life. And, frankly, I barely remember what it was like without him. A little bit, but not a lot.

Basically, it's like ... forever. It's as though he's never not been such an intregal part of my life.

Imagine how much more our little annoyances with waiting amuse God, who is Eternal. No beginning, no end. A day is like a thousand years. How He must chuckle at our indignant answer when He tells us to wait before He answers a prayer.


I'm sure that Him asking us to wait for something is in our best interest, but we are like children: we can't see it.

When I pray, I must remember that there are three answers to my prayers:

  1. Yes. We like this best. It is when we pray for something that is beneficial to us - to our souls, especially - that we get this answer. Of course, being our Father in Heaven, God also likes to give good gifts to His children. Not all "Yes" answers are purely for our spiritual benefit. Some are just because we're getting a nice present from Daddy.
  2. Wait. We like this, but not nearly as much as "Yes." After all, we're like our own children, who when they are told they must wait until Christmas morning to open presents Grandma sent last week (and Christmas is three weeks away), sit and stare longingly at the presents under the tree, occasionally begging again to open it now. But sometimes, the wait is worth it. And sometimes, we aren't really ready for that "Yes." Oh, we think we are. We're very grown-up, you know. But what we are, sometimes, is that 12 year old asking for permission to drive the car. The 12 year old thinks she's a great driver. We happen to know a bit better.
  3. No. This is the answer that so few people like to talk about, and none of us really like. Oh, sure, deep down we understand that God has other things in store for us. Better things. But no child likes being told no. Even if you're asking for a pony and you live in the middle of suburbia. Even if you're asking if you can bring home the baby bear you found rummaging in the trashcan outside your rural mountain home. But God, being a Good Father, knows what's best for us. He has to tell us "No" sometimes.
What's really tough for us, as His children, is seeing the difference between God's "Wait," and His "No." Sometimes we are certain that He's said no. And we whine about it. We cease actually praying for our intention, but instead complain. Now, if it's a "wait," often there is a reason, like Christ perfecting the Samaritan woman's request, testing her motives and faith. As a mother, I do this sometimes, making sure that my children have good intentions behind a request, or even that they really do want the thing they're asking for.

God is the perfect Father! He will do the same for us. However, just as I will know the girls really want what they're asking for by listening to them ask (politely) again, God will also allow us to ask him repeatedly for our intentions.

However, if instead of polite requests I get whining and complaints, I am WAY less inclined to give in. Ever. Can our reaction to our children be that vastly different than God's?

So, I remind myself here that I must approach my petitions to God with reverence. I must always remember to take a good look at my own motivation for asking. Is it for good reasons? Am I asking for something that will be spiritually beneficial, or am I asking for the equivalent of a pet bear cub?

And, when God's answer seems to be "no," I must also re-evaluate and see if my petition is, indeed, appropriate. If I'm asking Jesus for a pony while I'm living in an apartment or for a pet cat that I'm terribly allergic to, I need to accept His "no" and move on. But if it is, I should do as Jesus instructed and persist, purifying my motivations and faith along the way. And I need to remember that just like it's 1/4 of Big Girl's life before we even begin discussing a cell phone, God's time is not my time, and His ways are not my ways. I might have a bit of a wait until I hear "Yes" from my Father in Heaven.

Monday, August 9

Homeschooling and Organization

I used to be an organized homeschooler. I need the organization, but when I worked part-time from home while we worked on our debt snowball, I became a kind of molecular opposite of organized. Our school work started to suffer, and when it came to a breaking point, my husband and I made the decision that I'd quit. That was last year, and October 1 will be the anniversary of Mommy's Freedom Day; however, I never did get reorganized. I seemed to be in so many different places in the girls' school subjects that I made a hodge-podge of the end of the school year. There are subjects we just plain didn't finish. Others subjects became a "read-it-yourself" study.

So I'm a little trepidatious about the new school year. Little Girl will be in fourth grade, which is still not too bad as far as scheduling and work load, but Big Girl is starting seventh grade. Middle school is firmly underway. And I have to help her be ready for high school and beyond.

So I've spent the last few days working on her first quarter lesson plans, and I'm ever so glad I did it this early! She's got some heavy-looking research, a lot of writing, and a need of some science materials I wasn't expecting just yet. (A bunsen burner? A plate balance? Seriously??)

All day today, I've been touching up the girls' lesson plans and making copies of materials they'll need to use all year. I am determined to be better organized and to be a better teacher. My laziness as their teacher has helped make them lazy as students. And I'm not doing them any favors this way!!

Next for me will be looking for movies and books that will help them along. I've got a terrific book by Maureen Wittmann, For the Love of Literature, that will help me locate wonderful books to make the girls' learning more fun. If you're working on a literature-based education, this is a fantastic resource to have.

I made a few unexpected changes to our homeschool:

First, I changed Little Girl to Catholic Heritage Curricula. I'd read about it and thought it looked more appropriate for Big Girl, who is a very kinetic learner and needs to be able to make choices within some structure to feel good about school. I've often said that she is probably a prime candidate for a Montessori education, if only I weren't so completely not wired to provide it. (Seriously, I have a degree in education and was taught about the method and how to teach with it. I am not able to wrap my brain around it in any meaningful way.)

I was surprised at the accessibility of the books, and decided to use the same program with Little Girl starting now. We went over her school books today and talked a bit about how things will work, and we're both excited. Whereas Seton focuses very strongly on basic skills to achieve academic success, CHC works a little more organically. Seton is very workbook-intense, while CHC is more project-based. CHC probably leans a little more towards a Whole Language approach, but still has enough basic drills and memorization to make me feel confident that the girls are going to learn things in an organized manner.

Second, I have made a big change in religious education curricula. One of the subjects I've always loved from Seton has been their religious education. I still used it, even when I wasn't using anything else from Seton, for both girls - until this year. I knew I needed to get Big Girl out of the workbooks and into something different. So I decided I wanted to start her in the Faith and Life series this year. My plan was to leave Little Girl in the Seton books until seventh grade, as well. Until I got a good look at the books, that is.

Faith and Life, while still very careful to cover the faith in depth, has a wonderful layout and a flexible structure. It's designed for a classroom in a parochial school, but is easily adapted to home or even Sunday school classes. I am totally sold on it. I've made plans for all kinds of art projects for both girls that tie into the lessons. It's going to be great!

I'm adding something big for Big Girl this year.

We'll be reading Humanae Vitae together. Seriously. I'll let you know how it goes, but it makes me nervous.

The only thing that hasn't gone to the CHC curriculum choices remains math. We're sticking with Math-U-See for as long as I can see right now. The hands-on has been good for both girls. My biggest regret is that we are really badly behind in Math. I have to make a commitment (and stick to it) to cover a lesson every week or so. I think we'll be on a better track with it, and I've got plans for giving them some activities to work on their math. There are a couple of apps on the iPod that I've downloaded for them, and they actually enjoy them! I'm sure I'll discover more as time goes on, but these were not too spendy and they've helped the girls shore up their basic facts knowledge.

So there we are, ready for school to start. Well, ready except for about 100 pages of copies I still need to make. Thank God Sam's Club has boxes of copier paper and I own an all-in-one printer!

Wednesday, August 4

Wordless Wednesday: High Tea at Anne Hathaway's Cottage

While visiting family in South Dakota, we had an opportunity to have High Tea at the Anne Hathaway Cottage in Shakespeare Garden, Wessington Springs, SD.

Even the men attended! (We needed seven of us for the tea, and one of the ladies who volunteers there - and is friends with Travel Man's grandparents - completed our party of eight.)

Tuesday, August 3

In Which I Prove I Cannot be Trusted to be Mature

Okay, so I write this great post about being a good wife and building up your husband, and my follow through is this video, found via this post by Simcha.

I'll also repeat her warning about the video because it's funnier than anything I'd think of writing (just like most of her posts):

(WARNING: video shows a female bare back, and has a bleeped-out swear word. If you are likely to be upset by that, then for the love of mike, please do not click on the link.)

In Which I Have an Off-Site Post

Sarah at Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering asked if anyone wanted to do a guest post. Funny how her request came just after I had been feeling like I had something important I wanted to talk about to someone.

I'm honored to be a guest poster at her fine blog. (Please check her out regularly if you don't already!)

Here's the beginning of my article, but please click on over to her blog for the rest:

Early in my marriage, I heard some advice that I scoffed at (a bit) initially. “Never, EVER say a negative thing about your husband in front of another person!”
“Never?” I thought. “Seriously?”
At the time, we were in network marketing, and some of the women I admired had decided to take this advice to heart. So I decided to try it, too. ...
She's even got some nifty pictures to go along with it!

Who are your heros?


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