“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Catholic Sex

In his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned that the widespread use and acceptance of contraceptives would lead to:

  1. General lowering of moral standards
  2. A rise in infidelity and illegitimacy
  3. The reduction of women to objects used to satisfy men
  4. Government coercion in reproductive matters

That was 44 years ago, let’s see how the world measures up.

Decline in moral standards:  It’s hard to judge how far societal morals have dropped when there isn’t really a common standard to measure it by.  With the general acceptance of subjective truth (if it’s right for me, what right have you to say otherwise?) a common standard of morality is no longer possible.  Logically speaking (which I’ve discovered is a huge no-no in good society), living according to subjective truth and morality alone means that anything is permissible.  Seriously, ANYthing.  Think about the repercussions for a minute, shudder, then move on.

My “favorite” example of the extreme consequences of subjective morality comes from a conversation I had with a couple I met about six years ago in a hostel in Florence.  They had met on the plane to Europe and after a couple passionate nights together decided to tour the continent together, eventually settling in Madrid where they would learn Spanish, find jobs and live a simple, Bohemian life.  They were not shy about their relationship, nor were they afraid to state some fairly radical ideas about life and love.  We were discussing truth, absolute vs. subjective, and the example of the World Trade Centers came up.  The couple stated, with absolute certainty, that the hijackers had not committed any wrong because they had acted on their personal convictions.  Because they believed they were doing good they were not morally responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people that day.

Now, this particular example isn’t necessarily a direct result of the sexual revolution, but I bring it up because this is the same radical logic necessary to keep the sexual revolution going strong.  In order to ensure that women are allowed absolute freedom over their bodies, their “rights” must be upheld regardless of the consequences.  So what if many oral contraceptives are abortifacient?  Who cares if they are linked a higher risk of breast cancer?  Are increases in promiscuity, infidelity, illegitimacy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, objectification and the general dissolution of family life worth it?  Apparently so.  As for abortion, how many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t agree with it personally, but I’m not going to stop someone else from having one, that’s their choice.”  In other words, “yeah, I think it’s the murder of an innocent child, but who am I to get in the way of their personal (and legal) right?”

Rise in infidelity and illegitimacy:  “By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.” –George Akerloff

In the preview for the movie How Do You Know (2010) Owen Wilson asks his fellow baseballers, how do you know when you’re in love?  The answer, when you wear a condom with the rest of the girls.  An easy laugh, until you think about how that statement actually plays out in real life.  Sex is now seen as a major component, if not the foundation, of most relationships, marriage optional.  When sex no longer demands love, respect or commitment (see below) fidelity becomes optional as well.  An all too common attitude, which is even heard written into wedding vows, is “I will love you and be true to you until it gets rough and I find something better.”  Love is understood as a positive emotion, no action required.  When the emotion fades, the assumption is that love has faded as well and must either be rekindled (which takes effort) or abandoned in search of something that feels better.  Sex is key in keeping that glow alive and burning so if someone other than your partner is offering better sex (and thus a brighter glow), isn’t it natural to make a switch?  How often in the movies does the significant other say, “I slept with someone else but our relationship was on the rocks anyway so I had a good excuse.”  This attitude extends far beyond Hollywood.

On to illegitimacy.  As one of my favorite posters declares, “sex doesn’t make you an adult, but it might make you a baby.”  There is not a single artificial contraceptive that is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.  The simple fact is, if you have sex you risk getting pregnant, even when it’s really inconvenient. 

If a woman is not in a committed, loving relationship (aka marriage), the idea of getting pregnant is really scary.  Very few women start out with single motherhood as the ultimate goal.  Talk about consequences and responsibility!  For a man who is not looking for an immediate, life-long commitment (aka fatherhood), the risk of knocking up his girlfriend is a bit intimidating.  But, with contraceptives and abortion so readily available, couples begin to think that sex no longer has consequences.  Women aren’t afraid of pregnancy and men don’t have to worry about the responsibility that comes with having children.  If pregnancy was really no longer a factor, the record numbers of single moms and children born out of wedlock need some serious explanation.  Contraception fails, way more often than society likes to admit.  Pregnancy is the result, and lots of little babies show up nine months later.  Suddenly, responsibility rushes back into the picture and widespread consternation ensues.

*side note: it is a huge pet peeve of mine that most women are completely clueless as to how their bodies naturally function.  A woman’s hormonal cycle is built around her fertility and the ebb and flow of hormones is a huge part of what makes us who we are.  Understanding this cycle means understanding, not just our moods and physical state, but also how we relate to other people.  As our hormones fluctuate, so does our perception of the world around us.  A little bit of research will show you that hormones play huge roles in the formation and development of relationships and hormonal contraceptives mess with the natural state of things. 
Where a man’s hormones flow like cross-country skiing, a woman’s can be anywhere from a black diamond to a bunny hill.  Directly related to this, while a man is always fertile, a woman is not.  Super simplified, the average woman’s cycle is about four weeks and she can only get pregnant during one of those weeks.  If women took a little time to learn the slopes they wouldn’t risk wiping out quite so often.*

Where sex used to mean love, commitment, intimacy and children, it is now primarily equated with pleasure.  Sex is intimate by nature and children happen despite our best efforts, but love and commitment are now optional, and so is responsibility.  Just as tragically, respect often flies out the window as well.  Which leads us to #3:

Objectification of women for pleasure:  The most common example of objectification is pornography.  Articles and studies on porn and its effects on individuals, couples, and society are published regularly and resources for addiction are readily available.  The statistics for pornography use show that it spans all ages and both genders, with the percent of female viewers rising steadily.  I have to wonder if rise in female viewership has to do with the increasing demand for real-life porn.  A common answer to women who don’t know what to do with their porn-addicted husbands/boyfriends is now, watch it with him, take notes on what really gets him going, and then take time to experiment together.  Get comfortable with the fact that he’s going to want in the bedroom what he sees on the screen.  If that doesn’t solve your relationship problems, try a subscription to Cosmo.

It doesn’t take a late-night Google search to find clear examples of objectification.  Just watch a little MTV, read a couple tabloid headlines in the checkout lane, turn on the radio and actually listen to the words.  “101 sex tricks to keep your guy hooked.”  “Just say yes, ‘cause I’m weak and I know you are too.”  “C’mon baby, you know you want it!”

Relationships take effort.  They require trust, vulnerability, honesty, communication, affection, and a whole lot more.  Thanks to the sexual revolution, however, commitment and responsibility are optional and effort is over-rated.

I am going to leave it at 3.  There is plenty going on in America to prove #4, just Google Catholic civil disobedience and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Color of Life

"Green is the prime color of life, and that from which its loveliness arises"
  ~ Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Garden Paradox

When I was about fourteen my little brother Peter came running into our house, excited and out of breath, to announce that he had just acquired a pet slug.  He turned to our oldest sister, Charissa, and asked, “what do slugs eat?”  Without hesitation she replied, “salt.”

I have never been a fan of slugs, but as a nanny for two very young boys, I try to foster an appreciation for nature, including all things creepy-crawly, no matter how gross I think they are.  Still, when I ran across a small colony of slugs in my nanny-family’s garden, my first impulse was to run for the salt-shaker.  I refrained, and instead called Daniel over to see the “cool slugs I found.”  I showed him how they slowly scooted around, leaving a slimy trail behind them, and how they would shrink into a little ball if poked with a stick.  Having the typical attention span of a three year old, Daniel’s interest only lasted about two minutes and he ran back to the hole he was digging in a flower bed.  I, however, found myself genuinely intrigued by these odd little creatures.  What possible purpose could they have?  Everything in nature serves some sort of purpose, even if it’s only to be the lowest level of the food chain.  But what would want to eat a slug?  Nasty.

I flipped a little slug over and began to examine its slimy foot.  It didn’t put up much of a fight as I gently poked it, carefully studying its anatomy.  A little vein, running along the underside, pumping some sort of dark liquid.  Blood?  A tiny hole in the right side of its head, opening and closing like an aortic valve.  I flipped the slug back over.  Was the knuckle-looking thing on top a sort of shell?  As I studied my slug, the goofy little antennae shrank back under its ‘knuckle’ until the slug finally resigned itself to being poked around, peeped its head back out and decided to keep trudging along despite my persistent prodding.  I decided to give my poor slug a break as I sat back and wondered, where exactly does a slug trudge to?

I decided to do some research.  Name? Gastropod Mollusc.  Kind of an imperial name for a slug; I decided to nickname mine Molly.  Purpose?  Although their slimy exterior keeps most predators away, apparently there are several animals, from frogs to hedgehogs, that are not turned off by the taste of slug-slime.  So my little Molly is indeed part of the food chain.  Slugs can do a great deal of damage to plants and many gardeners would love to see them all destroyed.  However, the disappearance of any organism in the food chain would eventually negatively affect all of its members, including humans, and so if Molly and her kin were all terminated we would actually be worse off in the long run.  Also, slugs serve an important function in the decomposition of organic organisms, releasing the unused nutrients and thereby benefiting the living beings growing around them.  So maybe Molly’s trudging isn’t as pointless as I had first assumed.

Next up, anatomy.  The tiny, squishy slugs’ bodies are carefully crafted and are at least semi-protected from predators by their little shells, the part that looked to me like a small knuckle.  The slime, or mucous, that they secrete is another form of protection, ensuring the moist environment that they need in order to survive.  The funny little antennae are two sets of tentacles, one with eyes which allow them to see both day and night, and the other a pair of feelers which guide them around their little world.  The valve, opening and closing just behind its head, is part of its respiratory system.  In the head itself there is a little tongue to pick up food, and even tiny teeth!  The anatomy of a slug is surprisingly intricate and interesting.  And it was definitely a surprise to me that gross, slimy little Molly could inspire a sense of awe and wonder.

Nature has a way of bringing me closer to God.  As Buddha said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”  Instead of the miracle of a flower, today I saw the miracle of a slug, and it did change me, even if only a little.  For me, Molly is a paradox.  An ugly, slimy pest, she is also a beautiful creation that speaks to me of the Divine.  The Bible speaks of sparrows, the garden speaks of slugs, and I take comfort in both.  A slug is a miniscule nothing in comparison to the majesty of the universe, and yet in its detail and perfection, a single slug becomes a universe in itself.  I may not adopt Molly as a pet, but I won’t be as tempted to feed her salt anymore, either.

*Written in September 2009 for a class on literary non-fiction.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Young Love

Last night was the first of three nights of the annual Church of St Paul's "Living Stations of the Cross," performed by the church youth.  The number of participants has at least doubled since my days in the production, and the props and costumes were far more convincing.

My lovely younger sister, Anna, was honored with the role of Mary this year, and it was her in particular I went to see.  The love of Our Lady for her Son shone through my little sister with true beauty and grace.  It wasn't Anna I saw up on the altar, but a woman whose heart had been pierced, a mother begging God to grant her the strength to accompany her beloved Son along the way to his brutal and undeserved death.  The depth of love and sorrow written across her face moved me to tears throughout the Stations.  The sincerity with which she portrayed the mother of our Lord was beautiful and humbling.

Every year at the end of Stations the audience is invited to come to the altar for prayer and worship before the cross.  This year there were two additional crosses available, with hammers and nails beside them.  At each cross there were also slips of paper, on which each individual was encouraged to write down what in their life was keeping them from living totally for Christ.  As the music began my eyes again filled with tears, again because of the beauty of sincere and innocent love.  This time, however, it was not clothed in the blue robes and mantle of Our Lady, but rather in hip-huggers and Abercrombie.  I watched as dozens of teens came forward, self-conscious but determined.  Soon the altar was full and the sound of hammers began to drown out the music.  The chorus of nails being pounded into the rough wood became its own hymn of worship as these young lives were joined to the new life offered by Christ's sacrifice.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Joys of Solitude

I "stumbled upon" this video a couple weeks ago, and after several frustrating attempts to download it over several days with rotten wireless connections I was finally able to watch the entire video and found it well worth the wait.

How To Be Alone:

It is a poem by poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis, and as the title suggests offers advice on how to learn to appreciate and enjoy solitude, even in public.

It reminded me of my own experiences with solitude, and the lessons that being alone has taught me.  When I was in my teens and very early twenties I was painfully shy, and I hated it.  So I decided to change.  Ultimately it is a life-long process, but the progress I have made over the years has been significant and I have learned to enjoy life all the more because of it.

I found that there were two important steps to overcoming shyness: the first was learning to laugh at myself.  I have discovered the truth of the saying that laughter is the best medicine; a good sense of humor can be both healing and enriching.  The second step is developing confidence, and one of the most effective ways for me was learning to be okay with being alone.  Most importantly, learning to be alone in a crowd.

As Tanya's poem suggests I started taking myself out to eat, working my way from coffee shops to dinner.  It is tempting to bring a book or be constantly checking the phone for texts or emails, but the real test is having the confidence to leave all distractions behind.  It can be awkward at first, but the benefits of an affected confidence can be extremely encouraging.

According to Tanya my next step, and for me the most intimidating so far, is a formal dinner, a real date with myself.  I'm not sure I'm up to taking myself out dancing, but maybe I'll come up with something creative and slightly less daunting.  Time to get out the day planner and find the time to pencil myself in.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fashion Frustration

I just wandered all of Rosedale Mall and I am now sitting in Borders bemoaning the current fashion trends.  Since when is “slouchy” flattering?  Since when is it so difficult to find a simple tank top that doesn’t suction itself onto every curve?  The adorable sundress turned out to be a romper, the beautiful (green!) top was an unjustifiable $70, and pretty much everything else was utterly unappealing.

Stripes, rhinestones, excessive ruffles, more stripes, studs, and countless floral patterns that bring to mind grandma’s bathroom wallpaper.  So many stripes! 

My thoughts exactly.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rose Colored People

How often have we looked at another person and thought to ourselves, what the heck is their problem??  Geez, some people’s children.

But how often do we look at them and wonder, what color is their world?