Saturday, September 30, 2006

Free Books

Ebooks free for the downloading, along with movies and sheet music. No, you aren't going to find the latest best seller or hot ticket, but you will find old classics and forgotten favorites. usually charges $8.95 per year for access to thier collection, but you can review it for free, and download to your heart's desire, for a month, beginning October 15.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Picking Up Your Cross

Today's Gospel said: He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”

What does it mean to "pick up your cross"? Tonite at mass, Fr. said that it means to accept suffering as a part of life and to look to Jesus to get you through it. That seems to be a common thought, but its one I question. Most suffering in life is not something we choose in any sense of the word. Where is the self-denial in accepting what we cannot change? If I get cancer, is that a cross? How is the way I deal with it any differnt from the way a non-Christian (or even anti-religious) person deals with it? Yes, I turn to God in prayer, but at the same time, I'm doing the same things as the other guy--trying to get rid of the cancer. Personally, I don't think things I have no choice about are crosses.

I think a cross is something that will bring me pain if I choose to pick it up--but which I don't have to choose. It is the choice to remain faithful to the Church's teaching on contraception, even if it is difficult for me. It is the choice to carry a handicapped or fatally ill fetus to term, rather than to do the sensible thing and abort. It is the choice to tell my daughter that she can't wear that, even if all the other kids are, because it is immodest. It is the choice to speak up (and be branded a fanatic or prude) when someone is telling dirty or ethnic jokes. It is making the choice not to tell the Islamic captors that I'll pray to Allah. Most of these choices aren't near so dramatic as His cross, nor so painful--but many of them can be very hard for us to make.

Friday, September 15, 2006

My 9/11 Memories

Where was I that September day? I was sitting in the office of the special ed coordinator at my son's school, trying to get some problems resolved. Someone in the office said they heard there had been a plane crash, but I figured "accident--awful, get on with life" and went in to talk to Mr. B. While we were talking, he got a call from home, and was obviously very upset. By the time I got back out to the main office area, the second plane had crashed. I drove to work and listened to the radio. Either during the drive or shortly after getting to the office, the third crash was known. At the office (I work in a high rise building) everyone was crowded around the TV sets and lots of folks were in tears. The office manager said that anyone who thought s/he have trouble working could leave. I had a lot to do and didn't really see the point, so I stayed. Later that day the news came out that our public schools were going to be closed the next day. They said that the schools have a noticable Muslim population and they thought it would be best for everyone if there was a cooling down day.

When I picked up the kids, they had notes saying that the topic had not been discussed at all in school and we were to deal with it as we thought best. I asked my kids why they were getting the next day off, and my daughter replied "because its my birthday", and then said something about getting ready for open house. At that time my kids were in fourth grade and kindergarten, so I just kept the news off TV and didn't say much.

The next day I took the kids to mass. It was the regular day the Catholic school kids in my parish go to mass, and this was the 8th grader's special mass, kind of like a ring mass, but with some other token. The place was packed with folks who aren't usually at such stuff. I remember going to mass that Sunday and the place being packed. The hymns included America the Beautiful, Amazing Grace and Let There Be Peace on Earth and everyone sang. What a shame it takes something like that to pack the churches and get people to sing.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Too Much Parenting?

I've sometimes wondered if kids today are getting too much parenting, and that is one of the subjects de jour on the alumni listserve for my alma mater, Mississippi University for Women. How much should parents be involved in their kids' lives, particularly older kids? I know I had much more independence as a pre-teen and teen than my kids do. When I was my daughter's age, I walked a mile to school every day, and if I didn't show up one day, the teacher expected a note from my mom the next. My daughter's bus stop is 1/2 mile from the house and about six kids get on there. I drive her over there every morning, and as long as there is a crowd of kids there, I'll leave her--but several of the moms stay, and this is a middle school. It is also a magnet school, and on our way to the bus stop we pass the bus stop for the kids who go to the neighborhood school. There are no moms there--and not a huge number of kids. One of the moms at my daughter's bus stop said that when her older kids attended the neighborhood middle and high school they chose to walk, since they could leave later in the morning.

My son's school has a website on which the teachers post lesson plans (including homework) and grades. Parents are urged to check it weekly. When I was in high school my parent's saw my grades at report card time, unless I chose to show them earlier. Now, all schools I know of have interim reports--sort of like report cards that inform the parents half way through the nine weeks if the student is in danger of failing. Information is a good thing, but can you get too much of it? Where do you draw the line between informing parents and making school into the parents' responsibility rather than the students'? I'll be the first to admit that my son's homework is my responsibility. Now, he is mildly autistic, and with that comes organizational issues and attention issues. I'm not sure how much homework he'd get done if I wasn't right on top of him--and I'm paying too much for this school to let him fail. I'm not really sure what "normal" is. My son gets all that help;  my daughter, who was student of the year at her school last year doesn't, but I'm smart enough to know that neither one of them is normal.

The almuni listserve is discussing "helicopter parents"--those who hover over their children, even when those children are in college. I went off to college to be on my own. I loved my parents dearly but I was ready for independence. The college administrators on the listserve talk about college kids still leashed to their parents by cell phones--who still expect their parents to solve their problems. I want to raise kids who can think on their feet and solve their own problems. I love my kids, but I want to put myself out of a job one day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My Driving Tour

If you come to New Orleans, you can go on a bus tour that highlights the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. As I've noted in previous posts, in the western suburb in which I live, life has just about returned to normal. The last hurdle is waiting for FEMA to pick up those trailers people waited so long to acquire. My daily life takes me around this suburb and into the city--but only to the "sliver by the river" that didn't flood. While I periodically have excuse to drive into the more damaged areas of town, they are few and far between, basically because there is nothing going on there. Well, yesterday. Labor Day, I decided to do a driving tour. I drove out West End Blvd. to Robert E. Lee, passing the modular home that was in Saturday's paper. It had a long line of people waiting to tour it. I must say, the house looked like it belonged in Lakeview and in New Orleans. If I was one of those people who had to replace my house, I think modular would be the way to go. The paper said they could have you in your house by Christmas. Considering how much fun I've had getting repair men out here, I think that's almost a miracle. I drove down Robert E. Lee to Paris Avenue, with a few short detours onto the "bird" streets of Lake Vista. That's an area that has levees that protected it from the other levee breaks, so for the most part it didn't flood, or at least not to the extent that the neighboring areas did.

I drove down Paris Avenue through what was a middle class African-American neigbhorhood (Lakeview and Lake Vista are primarily upper class White. It was spooky. There were few trailers, and a lot of the yards were not kept up. Houses were open to the elements. After a year of that, in some ways they looked worse than they did a year ago. No businesses were open. The large Catholic church and school were shuttered, the parishoners have been "clustered" at the parish in Lake Vista. The archbishop did not dissolve many parishes, but clustered quite a few, saying that as the recovery continues needed parishes will be reopened. I suspect Katrina kept the Archbishop from having to make a lot of the kind of decisions that have had to be made in many old Catholic cities--decisions to close inner city churches that once serve large immigrant populations, churches that many people still carry a sentimental attachment to, but churches that serve a fraction of the number of people they were build to serve.

From there I headed "down to Deh Parish" or to use standard English, to St.Bernard Parish, where many of the houses had water up to and over the rooftops. To get there I had to drive through the Ninth Ward, which was the site of one of the levee breaks. The Ninth Ward, I learned through a couple of lawsuits I worked on before Katrina, was a neighborhood of working class folks, mostly African Americans. About 50% of the homes were owner-occupied, often by people who had inherited them. Sometimes those same folks owned a rental or two in the neighborhood. Because these people were not wealthy and because these buildings were not mortgaged, many of them did not have insurance. Most of these houses were nothing to write home about before the storm, now they are in even worse shape. There were some trailers, but some parts of the neighborhood don't have utilities even now.

One thing I have to say is that those folks in St. Bernard have spunk. It is a White blue collar community. In the 1960's and 70's they moved from the Ninth Ward to St. Bernard. Family members lived in close proximity to each other. Everything down there was covered with water for weeks. Most people lost anything they didn't take with them. Yet, I saw more signs of hope there than I did in parts of the city. Many yards had trailers in them. There were several trailer parks full of FEMA (travel) trailers and even a few with real trailers. Home Depot was bustling and some businesses had reopened. Last year their school superintendent said that without schools the people couldn't come back so she was going to reopen the schools whether she had the money to do so or not. They were able to use portable classrooms and the second floor of a high school to open an all-grades school even before Christmas, and before New Orleans managed to open even their undamaged schools. I think St. Bernard will be back, but I'm not so sure about some of the city.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Catholics Don't Do That

We went to mass tonite and our Hispanic deacon gave the homily. He said that not long ago he was visiting a place of business during the course of his busy day. He heard some commotion, some of it in Spanish. By way of background, since Hurricane Katrina about a year ago there has been a large influx of Hispanic workers into the area. Some have regular jobs but a lot do day labor, hanging out in the parking lots of Home Depot or Lowes or at certain gas stations that have come to be known as the place to hire someone for the day. As he speaks both Spanish and English, the deacon thought perhaps he could be of assistance--even though he had a busy schedule that day. The deacon was told that the business was indeed hiring, but all applicants had to go through the agency a couple of miles away. When he told this to the Hispanic man, his wife, who was with him, burst into tears. When the deacon asked what the problem was the couple told him that they didn't have a car and had walked several miles to that business that morning. I guess hearing that they had to walk another few miles to the agency and then, hopefully, back to the business, was just too much for her. The deacon admitted he hesitated, as he had a lot on his schedule that day, but then offered to take them to the agency. The woman thanked him and said "You must be a Christian". He told her than he was and that he was a Catholic deacon. She said "You can't be, Catholics don't do things like that". He said that stung, but admitted that he had considered just going on with his business.

That story got me thinking about the faith-based responses to Katrina. First the Catholic good. The archdiocese did its best to get schools up and running ASAP and welcomed all kids, without regard to ability to pay. Considering that no public schools opened in New Orleans until after Christmas, those schools offered some kids the only way to go to school in their own community. Lots of parishes in other places sent crews down here to gut houses and do other grunt work. Collections were taken up in many places--I know the parish we attended in Atlanta collected over $20,000 one week, and planned to take up another collection the next week. I know that my parents' parish, whose church and school were destroyed by Katrina, have received a lot of out-of-state help. I know that the Catholic social service agencies have provided a lot of help for a lot of people.

Shortly after the storm I read an article about faith-based responses to crises. The article said that typically what happens is that the Baptists and Mormans come in first in small crews with chain saws, brooms shovels etc--things that small local-oriented organizations can handle. Then the mainline Protestant churches come in and set up food kitchens and supply yards--things that take more people and money to coordinate. Last of all, the Catholics come in and set up and run long-term more professional services like agencies dedicated to counseling, home ownership, and the like. We have organization and staying power, but the response, perhaps like our Church, seems more institutional than personal. That couple my deacon met needed a ride then and there, not a subsidized bus system that will last into the future-even though such a bus system would in the long run probably help more people.

Obviously, individual Catholics do much that doesn't involve the Church--the Church didn't know that those people needed a ride; our deacon did, and despite hesitation, responded. Still, I'd say that while our strength is our ability to act collectively, our weakness is our tendency to allow the collective to take over our responsibility to act individually.

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