Words Matter (a primer on disability language)

Colorado Cousins Trip 603First, I am fully aware that many people are going to look at this as splitting hairs.

I did, until my daughter came along.

How do you refer to a person with a disability? If you are like most people, you slap a label in front of the name: Julianna is a “Downs child” or a “Down syndrome girl.”

The practice encouraged by disability groups now is what we call people-first language. Re the great Wiki:

The basic idea is to impose a sentence structure that names the person first and the condition second, for example “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”, in order to emphasize that “they are people first”. Because English syntax normally places adjectives before nouns, it becomes necessary to insert relative clauses, replacing, e.g., “asthmatic person” with “a person who has asthma.” Furthermore, the use of to be is deprecated in favor of using to have.

The speaker is thus expected to internalize the idea of a disability as a secondary attribute.

Colorado Cousins Trip 436In the case of my girly-girl: she is a child with Down syndrome, not a Down’s child, a Down syndrome daughter, etc.

This is a subtle difference, I’ll grant you, but it’s important. Aside from disabilities, there is no other medical, educational or cultural status in which we refer to the condition first. Doing so makes Down syndrome more important than the person. You don’t go around saying “that cancer guy” or “that four-eyes woman.” In the first case we would consider it insensitive; in the second, insulting. In both cases, it reduces the person to a fraction of his or her true self. So why is it okay for disability–unless we actually do subconsciously think a disability makes a person “less than”?

County Fair 050 smallJulianna’s extra chromosome is an intrinsic part of who she is, one that impacts an awful lot of life–but not all. The basic things that underlie life are the same for her as they are for all the rest of us: eat, sleep, love, learn, live. Her disability is important, but it’s not the most important thing about her. She loves music, hates dogs, loves books and carousels and horses, is terrified of thunder, needs glasses, adores babies, had heart surgery, can read, cannot speak clearly, and is capable of making connections with the crustiest person she meets. To reduce all that to a label that comes first–“Down syndrome child,” “Downs child”–is to deny her the complexity of soul and personality that we grant everyone else.

The most important thing about her is the fact that she is…just like me, you, and everyone else we meet.

Published in: on October 22, 2013 at 7:15 am  Comments (13)  
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Sex, Love, and Women’s Fiction

Love ? I love love love you.

Love ? I love love love you. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction lately, and reading it with a more critical eye than is usual for me. As I contemplate the novel query stage, I’m analyzing how my book fits into what’s already out there. There’s a lot of really good writing out there: great character depth and engrossing storytelling. But one thing I just don’t get is the approach to sex.

That’s not exactly accurate. I’m not an idiot. I’m well aware that my outlook on sex, as an integrated act melding both body and soul, is way, way outside the mainstream. And I know that even after fourteen years of married life I’m still very sheltered. I find things revolting that others think are not shocking at all.

But recently I’ve encountered one character having oral sex (really? what possible attraction can that hold for the woman?), and another who repeatedly has sex with one guy as she’s becoming more convinced that she belongs with another. And Guy #2 knows about it. Eventually, Guy #2 and main character decide they’re perfect for each other, except they aren’t sure they’re “sexually compatible.” So into bed they hop, just to be sure before they get engaged. (Because no one can learn to give another what they need. You’re just s-o-l if you don’t get it right the first try. Puh-leeze.)

Do people actually act this way?

I suppose they do. But if they do, it’s no wonder our level of relational dysfunction is as high as it is.

I suppose it’s not surprising that contemporary literature for women would involve a certain cavalier attitude toward sex, since that is the reality of the culture we live in. And I suppose it’s no surprise that my formation, first as a sheltered Catholic girl and then as a woman who learned intimacy through the lens of an integrated, holistic sexuality that includes both body and soul, stands at odds to that. But frankly, having experienced the latter, I can’t imagine why anybody would find the cultural standard the least bit attractive.

A few years ago someone made a comment on a romance writers’ site that went something like: “And what is wrong with a man and a woman in love showing their love for each other through sex? If you’re honest with yourself, nothing at all.”

I suppose that’s a true statement, if it’s real love. But real love is revealed over time. You can’t front-load a relationship with sex and just call it love because you have an overpowering emotion. That overpowering emotion is not love. Love must be tested and proven.

It is a commitment made through choices over the long term. Yes, I know that’s really fuddy duddy, but anyone whose marriage has actually lasted would say the same. The sex is a response to and an intensification of a mind-and-soul unity that came first. Not a gateway to unity.

I don’t understand how women can not feel that this most intimate act loses value if you just pass it around to everyone you like. Frankly, it gives me the heebie jeebies to think about having sex with anyone other than my husband, whom I knew, long before we were intimate, has always had my best interests at heart.

And then there’s this question: If you know Person You’re Attracted To has just been sleeping with someone else, would you really want to be intimate with them? Isn’t there a huge “ewww” factor in that?

I just don’t get it.

But I think I have a totally different vocabulary surrounding this subject. To me, sex is a gift, and it’s intrinsically tied to personhood. It’s not something you can classify as “casual.” Sex has …well, consequences, for lack of a better word, although that has a negative connotation which is not what I mean. How can it be satisfying if it’s not experienced in the context of a 100%, no-holds-barred commitment? Which presupposes that the commitment came first?

Love and marriage is the central theme of my novel: when you grow up believing marriage is forever, and then you realize you made a big mistake, what do you do? How far do you go to salvage it? How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice?

I worry sometimes that my view of the world is so outside the mainstream that it won’t resonate at all. But words are the tool I’ve been given to try to make the world a better place. So I have to try. Novel query stage: bring it on.

Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 7:34 am  Comments (14)  
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An Epic, Blog-Worthy Doctor Visit

Photo by jdsmith 1021, via Flickr

Over the summer, I have been to the doctor with my kids eight times, plus Michael’s tubes and four visits to have Julianna’s glasses fixed after Michael got hold of them.

It’s always tiresome and chaotic, but nothing compares to yesterday’s ENT visit.

Let’s back up a week, to Julianna’s well child check, the visit at which I promised both her and Alex that there would not be any shots. Well, guess what? There were. Not only that, but we haven’t had her thyroid checked in four years and we’ve never seen an ENT. Since thyroid imbalance and sleep apnea are extremely common in people with Down syndrome, we needed to address both those things.

Thus it was that on a day I promised Julianna no shots, she had not only a HepA shot but also a blood draw.

It took four people to get that vial of blood–three to hold her and one to wield the needle.

So yesterday, Julianna was not happy about going to the doctor, and she was not about to believe me when I said there wouldn’t be any owies. (Heck, I wouldn’t believe me, either!)

Enter present tense narrative.

We come down the hallway of the ENT office, Nicholas leading the expedition with the confidence of one who’s been here half a dozen times. The nurses look at us, look at each other, and one says to the other, “Move that other family to a different examining room. This one needs the big room.”

Things are fine until Doctor A (resident?) comes in. The kids grow steadily more restless as we talk. Michael climbs up, down, and over me without pause. When Dr. A asks, “So what symptoms of sleep apnea does she have?” and I answer, “None,” I can see it in his face: Then what on earth are you doing here?

About this time Nicholas thrusts his head in my face: “IT’S MY TURN FOR THE IPAD!”

“Alex, give him the iPad.” They switch and I resume being used as a human junglegym while talking with the doctor, but I can see that on the floor by my feet, Alex is butting into Nicholas’ game, as he frequently does, and Nicholas is getting mad. “Alex! Back off! It’s his turn! So, doctor, you’re saying…”

We’re discussing stridor breathing when the wrestling match begins, accompanied by screams from Nicholas and clenched-jaw growling from Alex. “Hey!” I grab the iPad before it gets clobbered. “That’s it! YOU go over THERE and YOU go over THERE! No more iPad for either of you! Sit down and I don’t want to hear one word out of either one of you!”

Alex flings himself into the corner. Nicholas sits down for a minute, but then notices there’s a more comfortable chair right next to Mommy. I spend five minutes challenging the doctor on the need for a laryngoscopy while wrestling Nicholas to force him to abide by his time out.

And then it’s time for the examination.

Julianna tolerates the first ear pretty well, but steadfastly refuses to turn her head for the second. By now I have Michael in arms, and he’s tired and cranky, which means the only way to keep him from fussing is to play physical games with him: upside down, tickle, dance. We attempt to sing “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad to get Julianna to look the right direction, but she’s having none of it. I put cranky child on the floor and grab her head and hold it still so Doc A can look.

And now comes the mouth. Julianna sees the tongue depressor and shrieks, then claps both hands over her mouth, elbows at right angles to her body. I spend three minute cajoling her, sticking my tongue out so the doctor can look at me, but she’s not buying. At length, I cup her head into my shoulder and hold her still so Doc A can force her mouth open. She gags mightily but turns her head, so after all that he still doesn’t have what he needs. “No wike eee!” she shrieks (No like it), and he evidently decides it’s not worth the trauma.

He exits to get Doctor B (attending).

While I’ve been thus occupied, Alex and Nicholas have made up and noticed that there are not one, but TWO rollaround chairs in this room. Now they are chasing each other in circles, coming ever closer to the Wall Of Expensive Equipment. “Stop that!” I snap.

“But WWWWHYYYYYY?” they wail.

“Because you already popped my exercise ball with a scissors today, and the last thing I need is you demolishing half a million dollars’ worth of medical equipment!”

Doctors A and B enter the room, and we rehash the laryngoscopy question again when I realize the boys are still chasing each other. “Alex! Nicholas! I told you to stop! Are you disobeying me?”

Doctors B can see that his office building is imminent danger. He says we can take an X ray instead and makes good his exit.

And now we go to X ray.

Perhaps you’ve identified my problem: I have two boys fighting, a patient who makes the word “uncooperative” look like a day off, and Michael Mayhem, who needs a nap. Thank God, this is a children’s hospital. They call in support staff to supervise the boys while the tech and I wrestle with Julianna.

I do not see how they could possibly be getting any kind of useful picture–she’s flailing and shaking and screaming “toilet! toilet!” (which is her way of getting out of everything unpleasant, like clearing the table) and employing muscle tone that never surfaces any other time while two of us in lead aprons try in vain to keep her still and centered in front of the + sign. Surely the X rays must be blurred. But the tech takes them to the doctor and they pass muster, so we make good our escape.

And about this same moment, on the other side of town, Christian’s boss is telling him how precious our children are.


Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 7:26 am  Comments (6)  
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We aren’t losing people because of worship. We’re losing them because we’re hypocrites.

And you gave me to Drink

And you gave me to Drink (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

There’s a blog post making the rounds right now about the dismal record of churches, both mega- and traditional, to retain their youth into adulthood. The author and all the commenters have their pet theories about why this is–the age-old argument between “worship isn’t relevant” (i.e. it’s too traditional) and “the worship is too contemporary” (i.e. it’s too contemporary) seem to be the focus of discussion.

Although I’m a liturgist, and I have impassioned opinions on the question of musical style in worship, I actually don’t believe the style of worship has all that much to do with this question at all.

We are losing the youth–and everyone else who’s leaving organized religion–because they think it’s a bunch of B.S. A conspiracy made to pacify the ignorant and keep the masses in line. And why do they think this?

Because we call ourselves Christians, and we don’t act like Christ. We say we believe, but then refuse to act like believing changes everything. We talk big and then we talk trash about others. We act as if the aesthetics and the personal preferences are what it’s all about.

In simple language, we’re losing people because we’re hypocrites. Even, and sometimes especially, those of us who are the most involved in our churches.

In every Catholic discussion, Vatican II seems to be the lightning rod. Someone always says that whatever problem we were facing was caused by V2 because it didn’t exist before that, and if only we went back to the way things were fifty years ago, all our problems would go away. As if somehow people were intrinsically holier then, instead of simply doing what was culturally expected. Fifty years ago, people went to church whether or not they really wanted to, not because they were better Catholics, but because that’s what everyone did.

These days, church is not what everyone does, so people don’t do it. And that’s not a change caused by Vatican II. That happened in the context of a larger world. All matters of faith are lived in and influenced by the context of the larger world, and that is as it should be. We aren’t “of” the world, but we do live “in” it. We can’t possibly hope to leaven the world if we stand apart and wag our finger at it. You have to dive in.

I know that’s scary. Each of us has a vision for the way the world should be, and it’s pretty cut and dried. But the world isn’t black and white. It’s a complex, interwoven mess. You tug on one string and every other one is affected. There are no simple solutions to any of the issues we face.

The world is messy, and the more you get down in the muck, the more you realize your pat answers don’t–can’t–stand unassailable in the face of the real world. You find yourself forced to reconsider, to shift your dearly-held philosophies to make room for circumstances that don’t fit neatly into the box you’ve made.

Nobody likes having to do that. But if you just keep confirming yourself in your own rightness, it pretty soon becomes self-righteousness, and self-delusion. And then your faith, strong as you think it is, ends up ringing very false to others. They might not know why, but they’ll sense the underlying conflict.

And then they figure, if this is what faith is, I don’t want any part of it.

We can’t ever stop seeking deeper truth. And that search is exercise for the soul. Like physical exercise, it hurts, because it begins with breaking down the boundaries of the muscle in order to make room for expansion.

photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales), via Flickr

But at its basic level, that spiritual exercise begins because we go out and we do something with our faith. It’s in the doing that we experience the things that challenge our presumptions and assumptions. Don’t tell me all the reasons it can’t be done. Do something about it. You may not succeed, you may fall flat on your face, but do something.

This is what Pope Francis keeps saying over and over. Sure, worship is important, but worship is not the most important thing; worship is the spiritual food for doing the real work of Christianity. Do something.

If all of us who call ourselves Christians heeded his call, it would be a game changer.

Related Posts:

A Ministry Manifesto

Published in: on August 13, 2013 at 7:15 am  Comments (31)  
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Thomas Merton on Politics

Deutsch: Zeichen 283 StVO, sog. "Absolute...

Deutsch: Zeichen 283 StVO, sog. “Absolutes Halteverbot”, fotografiert in Heidelberg (Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some words of wisdom from Thomas Merton for your Wednesday. I put these quotes together from two different chapters of “New Seeds of Contemplation,” in which he is addressing “The Moral Theology of the Devil” and “The Root of War is Fear.” His context for the latter is the Cold War, but all of these paragraphs seemed to me to speak eloquently to the political and social dysfunction in our own time.

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. … There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.

Hatred tries to cure disunion by annihilating those who are not united with us. It seeks peace by the elimination of everybody else but ourselves. But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.

…Another characteristic of the devil’s moral theology is the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another to find the truth. On the contrary, in the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everyone wants to be absolutely right himself or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness, they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong. Those who are wrong, in turn, convinced that they are right…etc.

We never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.

…Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political ideals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practicability in the political ideals of our enemies–which may, of course, be in many ways even more illusory and dishonest than our own. We will never get anywhere unless we can accept the fact that politics is an inextricable tangle of good and evil motives…

I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together.

(Emphasis mine.)

IQ and EQ

I’ve never had my IQ measured. Have you? I’m not going to ask people to share results, but I’m curious as to how many of us have been tested. How about a quick poll?

Everybody knows what IQ is: a measure of how smart you are. We use it to measure both ends of the spectrum: genius starts at 130 or 140; mental retardation starts at 70 and goes down from there.

K and J bumper carJulianna’s IQ is 60, as measured last year. It can change a bit in the first few years of elementary school, so she’ll be tested again, but for now that’s the number we use.

But have you ever heard of Emotional Quotient? It’s a self-reported test, so it’s not scientific, but if you’re interested, you can take a survey here to see how you measure.

People with Down syndrome are often really emotionally intelligent. When I’m asked to talk about Julianna, one thing that always comes up is her ability to connect with people. She’s all heart, both good and bad–when it’s bad, the world is ending, even if it’s just a scraped knee. But oh, how she loves. And loves complete strangers as well as loved ones and friends.

We went to visit my grandmother on the 4th of July, when she was recovering in the nursing home. I remember visiting my great-grandfather in a nursing home when I was about her age. I found it positively terrifying. As we walked in the door, Alex and Nicholas clearly felt the same intimidation. Their body language sucked inward; Nicholas drew very near my side and didn’t venture away as we passed the ring of elderly in their wheelchairs, sitting in the foyer. One man smiled widely and tried to engage us in conversation. The boys shrank.

Julianna, however, made a beeline for him. “Oh, hi gway gee-paw, hi!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. (Great grandpa.) “I be see!” (I be six.) Of course, he had no earthly idea what she had said, but his face lit up. A brief encounter that brightened his day and gave her joy.

More willing than her brothers to brave the cannula on her great grandma.

More willing than her brothers to brave the cannula on her great grandma.

She seems to find the person in any room who most needs a hug, and if you’re crying she comes right over to comfort you. “Doh cwy, Mahk-oh,” she’ll say to Michael, who is less than enthusiastic about her as a comforter; his favorite people in the world are, in order: Mommy, Alex, and Daddy.

It’s hard to measure emotional intelligence by any objective standard, but even considering that, we as a society place little value on this trait. And that’s a shame, because it’s at least as important as the more traditional form of intelligence. Maybe more so. Intelligence is great, but empathy, compassion, kindness–these are the things that make life worth living.

As a society, we pay lip service to the importance of people with intellectual disabilities, but I’m not sure we really mean it. What we value is the high IQ. Everybody wants to meet, shake the hand of, and honor people of high intelligence. People whose contributions can be measured in dollar signs or publicity or glory. The overflowing person-to-person love shown by people with low IQs and high EQs makes us uncomfortable. They don’t always understand and observe the conventions and boundaries the rest of us cling to.

For me as a parent of a child whose love knows no bounds (except dogs. She’s terrified of dogs), I face a daily conflict. I want her to learn that the rules apply to her, too. Yet in some ways I think the boundaries are a little silly, and worse, they force her to dampen that which makes her most valuable to the world.

I suppose my point is that we really ought to rethink the things we prize. High IQ is good. Achievement is good. But neither of those is more important than empathy, kindness, or compassion. We have things we can and should learn from people we label as “retarded,” “simple-minded,” “handicapped” and all other manner of dismissive, derogatory labels. Because a lot of times, they’re way better than we are at the things that matter most.

Published in: on July 17, 2013 at 7:57 am  Comments (10)  
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Should Men Shave….Everything?

Actor Jude Law at the 2007 Toronto Internation...

Actor Jude Law at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As bloggers, sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. We get so caught up in the prettiness of our prose and the profundity of our thoughts, we start to think that the most important thing we do is get site traffic and lots of comments.

Well, yesterday I wrote a very heartfelt post, and your response warmed my heart. But I can’t possibly follow up yesterday’s post with something comparably profound, so here’s my contribution to taking the blogosphere a little less seriously.

So ladies: raise your hands if you have been irritated by the style of men walking around unshaven. I don’t understand this style at all. It looks so gross and sloppy. What is the attraction? Now, from the men’s point of view, yes, I can see the attraction: it would be nice not to have to shave every day. And your face needs a break from the razor once in a while. Got it. No problem. But to wear it as an everyday, all-the-time style? Really?

Ladies, what is attractive about this? You don’t seriously like kissing guys who haven’t shaved, do you? All that scratching making your chin raw and red? Do you really like him walking beside you looking like he just got out of bed, when you spent half an hour (or an hour, or two hours) doing your hair and makeup, and choosing an outfit? Someone please enlighten me!

On the other hand, there’s a counter movement that I find at least as creepy:

Whoa. Ew. Just…ew.

Give me my man clean-shaven on his face and leave the rest alone, thank you very much.

Okay, floor’s open. I know I’m not the only one with opinions on this matter.

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 7:16 am  Comments (24)  
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7 Quick Takes


Alex brought this home from school this week. They had to write a song based on the blues.

Alex Sings The Blues


Julianna’s language can be killingly funny. She tries so hard to tell us something, and we listen, we have her repeat, but we are so lost. So we take a stab at it. “Bacon?”

Doh doh doh doh doh!” she says, rapid fire, with deeply tolerant impatience and an exact imitation of Mommy’s inflection when saying “no” repeatedly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well to the blogosphere.

Picnic, playground, Pinnacles 002

Random unrelated cute picture


We went to a (wwwwwwayyyyyy overpriced) Mothers Day buffet on Sunday. Nicholas brought back his first plate. “This,” he said solemnly, holding up a white square, “is squished cheese.”


Michael has another ear infection. So for the first time in our parenting career we are having the tubes discussion.


Michael has also developed a not-so-cute habit of banging his head on things when he’s not happy. It seems a rather self-destructive way to embark on the tantrum stage. Unfortunately, Alex and Nicholas think it’s funny. I’m having to tell them not to laugh at him. I can already see my least favorite stage of parenting; it’s no longer around the bend, it’s just down the stretch a little way. Blech.


Because I’m pathetic, the news story about Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy this week was the last nudge I needed to make a couple of doctor appointments I’ve been procrastinating. One of them is minor, the other not so much: I will be getting tested for BHD next week. It’s a genetic condition that runs in families and impacts 50% of people in any family that has it. Except mine, where every single person who has been tested has been positive. It doesn’t have major everyday implications, but certain conditions will be treated differently if you have it, and there are long-term health risks to be watched. So off I go at last.


I had procrastinated on this decision in part because I didn’t want insurance to have any excuse to deny coverage at any point for anything, with that “pre-existing condition” thing. When I was at my primary care doctor’s office yesterday, we talked about it. “Well,” she said, “the universal health care law took care of that. That’s the best thing about the new health care law–that and free contraceptives.”

I thought: There’s a lot I like about the national health care law, but free contraceptives are on the “what I DON’T like” list. Am I supposed to witness right about now, as to all the practical, non-religious reasons why I think contraceptives are bad for women?

I didn’t. I didn’t have the energy. Or the time. I failed. I know. One of these days I simply must buck up the courage and have the conversation. It’s so weird, the difference between my primary care doctor and my NFP-only OB/gyn. I like my p.c.–I like her a lot, actually. She said “gosh darn” yesterday and I wanted to hug her. But it’s such a different world between her office and his. Hers is fancy, his is…home. Hers, I am always on my guard, because I know my world view is so different and I have to be careful about what I say and what I hear. At his office, I feel completely, totally safe. At home, as I said. It’s just interesting. I know this has got to be a peculiarly “traditional Catholic” kind of difficulty. How do you guys deal with this?

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 217)

Published in: on May 17, 2013 at 7:14 am  Comments (1)  
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Paradox and Contradiction

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness*

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness* (Photo credit: anitakhart)

Call it reversals, call it paradox–Christianity is full of them, and they are a sometimes insurmountable stumbling block for people contemplating religious belief. To destroy yourself in order to find yourself, to die in order to live, to consider yourself blessed when you are mourning, or poor in spirit, or persecuted…to people steeped in the idea that our purpose on earth is the pursuit of the good life, these concepts are foreign and threatening and, well, nonsensical. Why should I deny myself enjoyment and pleasure? Why should I deliberately impose restrictions on myself that are difficult or unpleasant? The more I indulge myself, the happier I’ll be. The rest of it is moral repression imposed by people trying to control the ignorant masses.

Thomas Merton once thought so.

“Here I was, scarcely four years after I had…walked out into the world that I thought I was going to ransack and rob of all its pleasures and satisfactions. I had done what I intended, and now I found that it was I who was emptied and robbed and gutted. What a strange thing! In filling myself, I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear.”


“There is a paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence. It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man’s nature, by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problems. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell.”

(Quotes from The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton)

Notice he didn’t say capital-H Hell, as in a place where Satan torments you for all eternity. He said little-h hell, as in a life full of misery, anger and bitterness.

And he’s right. The 2012 “Better Life Index” found that our country is #1 in terms of personal wealth and #12 in terms of happiness. Out of 36. Another survey, the “Happy Planet Index,” listed the U.S. as 105 out of 187. Ouch.

Granted, it’s not a terrible ranking. And granted, plenty of people who call themselves Christians are also bitter and angry and miserable. But let’s consider the possibility that if all our wealth of TV viewing and video game playing and enrichment activities for kids and wide-screen TVs and smart phones and wall-to-wall carpeting and supersized master bedrooms and sporty cars and vacation homes at the beach and girls’ weekends and football games with the guys–if all those things can’t make us the happiest place on earth, then…maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree altogether.

Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 7:37 am  Comments (8)  
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Kids, Kids, and Everybody Else’s Fault: A 7QT Post


That, incidentally, is a space shuttle tire from the Shuttle Columbia. Co-ol.

That, incidentally, is a space shuttle tire from the Shuttle Columbia. Co-ol.

“Mommy,” Alex said the other day on the way home from piano lessons, and then paused. “Huh. I guess I’m old enough to start calling you ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ now.”

Nicholas, AKA The Parrot, repeated Alex’s words almost word for word. Usually it drives Alex insane and causes a great deal of shouting, but today he ignored it. “I’ve been old enough for a while, I guess,” he went on, “but I like calling you Mommy and Daddy.”

“I do too,” I said. “That’s why I haven’t been in a hurry to tell you to call me Mom.”

Beginning that night, guess who started calling me “Mom” instead of “Mommy?” Here’s a hint. H’s not yet four, and his name begins with N and ends with “icholas.”


And he’s not just calling me “Mom” automatically, without thought. No, he says it over and over. “Mom, I’m gonna use the toilet. Mom. Mom. Mom, I’m gonna use the toilet, Mom!” It’s clear he’s trying very hard to get me to react. So far I’ve managed not to let on that I’ve noticed. I’m hoping if he doesn’t get a rise out of me, he’ll cease & desist.


It’s a busy day today, and a busy weekend. I think everyone in the entire city is having birthday parties. Including us….


The big day itself: last Saturday, sharing a birthday celebration with her great grandmother (after whom she was named!)

The big day itself: last Saturday, sharing a birthday celebration with her great grandmother (after whom she was named!)

Julianna’s having a birthday party tomorrow for her school classmates. You know, when you have a child with special needs, you’re always on tenterhooks, worrying that she’s going to be made fun of or passed over. And when she’s nonverbal–we can’t even have her talking up her own party, or find out from other kids who thinks  they’re coming. So we’re entirely dependent on RSVPs, and if you’ve given a party int he last few years you surely know no one RSVPs anymore. I was really worried that she was going to have a bust of a party, but we actually have six classmates who have responded now, so I’m happy.


Her celebration has extended a full week, with presents and cards arriving late and multiple celebrations. She’s really cute when she sings “Happy birthday,” but I have to admit that on the forty-seventh repetition it’s wearing a bit thin. Just a bit.


On a less cute subject: After Sandy Hook I didn’t really watch the news, but yesterday, in preparation for an article I’ve been assigned, I spent a good hour reading news reports about it. It was horrible. I spent the entire time bawling. And for several hours after, I was a lot more cognizant of what a blessing my kids are.


Speaking of Sandy Hook, and the various bickering going on ever since: does it bother anyone else that no one’s sacred cow could possibly be responsible? Schwarzenegger & Tarantino say don’t blame violent movies. The game makers say it’s not video games’ fault. Gun lobby says it’s not the guns’ fault. Some people want to say a weak ATF is the only problem. Mental health advocates say we can’t warn the public because of those sacred privacy regs. Essentially, everyone says “leave my baby alone, pick on someone else.” If no one and nothing is to blame, then what we’re saying is that we’re completely powerless, we can’t do anything at all, we just have to put up with twenty kids getting killed for no reason at all. Unconscionable, people. News flash: the only solution to a violent culture is one that address everything violent. Everyone is going to have to give a bit, or it’ll all just keep happening. (Read that post, btw. We all have a responsibility in this.)

Well, now that I have that off my chest: have a great weekend!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 206)

Published in: on February 8, 2013 at 8:43 am  Comments (3)  
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