Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Attention Petrina Fadel!

The whole point of this post is to take a conversation from the comments thread of another blog over here. So, Petrina Fadel, if you'd care to extend our earlier exchange, I'll do my best to keep up. (I think you're probably able to post more than I am at the moment, judging from Amy's blog thread, so bear with me. It's a stressful time for me, work-wise, as you can guess from how often I've posted in October.)

In the interests of full disclosure (and perhaps risking my sons' privacy) we didn't have our boys circumcised. However, I'm not a Jew, so God didn't command for MY people to be circumcised. So there's that, for one.

But also, if I understand you correctly, you suggest that it is against official Catholic teaching to have one's children circumcised. I disagree. I think it's something about which Catholics are allowed to disagree. You've made a case - based on the fact that a Pope spoke negatively about circumcision at the Council of Florence (which I didn't know, so thank you); on the fact that the Catechism includes a proscription of gratuitous amputations and the AAP calls circumcision an "amputation; and on the fact that Paul says certain negative things about circumcision. I'm not saying that your case is bad, I'm just pointing out that its pertinence to the issue of whether contemporary Catholics should circumcise rests on interpretive leaps made by you.

Which is fine. Other people could argue other things -- and have, in (among other places) Catholic Answers, hardly a bastion of liberal cafeteria Catholicism. They could point to the fact that it makes no sense to believe that God commanded the chosen people to do something that was intrinsically a mutilation, let alone a violation of moral or natural law. Over at the other blog, another commenter and I both mentioned Paul's socio-cultural reasons for saying what he did about circumcision. And I could point to things that popes have said, especially post V2, about the dangers of supersessionism.

We could arrive at different conclusions, is what I'm saying. But my contention is that it's not (excuse the unfortunate pun) cut-and-dried, the way you initially seemed to make it out to be.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Regrettfully-Heteronormative and Heavyhanded Fable About Christian Masculinity

Once upon a time, there was a village in which the men married themselves.

Oh, of course, a wedding would include a bride. But the bride was not the groom's beloved, nor did anyone expect her to be loved. The groom's beloved was a future version of the groom himself -- the man that marriage would make him into. Who was more worthy of love than that man?


And here is how the weddings would go:

The priest would hand the groom a mirror and ask: "Do you promise to be true to the husband you will be? To love him more than anything? Will you work to make sure that when anyone looks at you, they see him?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Then the priest would hand the groom a sword and ask: "Will you use the best parts of yourself to wage battle against the worst parts of yourself?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Then the priest would hand the groom a brick and say: "Will you build walls to keep out enemies, and levees to hold back the raging sea?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Finally, the priest would hand the groom a spade, and say: "Will you devote yourself to the relentless cultivation of your own virtue?"

To which the groom would say: "For the love of him, I promise."

And the priest would say, "I now pronounce you a husband." And the gathered assembly would praise the husband for his selflessness.


Then the priest would turn to the bride and say, "Don't you agree that the man we've just described -- selfless, heroic, virtuous, self-giving, and self-contained -- is worthy of praise?"

And the bride would agree that such a man would be praiseworthy indeed. And she'd be pronounced a wife.

And the husband and wife would move toward each other to embrace, only to find that the husband's arms were too full. For he was still holding the mirror, sword, brick, and spade.


Marriage in this village had a curious effect on brides' bodies.

After the wedding, a wife would follow her husband home as a solid creature, with a distinct shape, distinct features and textures that were her own. But gradually, as her husband became the the diamond-hard man he'd promised himself to be, and as her own body stretched and gave way to the children his love had begotten, she would lose this solidity.

And here is how the disappearance would go:

One morning she would wake up, begin getting dressed, and stop in fear.

Looking herself over, she would discover that it had all gone blurry: the arm that he'd stroked, the face that he'd kissed, the hand that he'd held tenderly. Blurry, and unrecognizable. For example, her birthmark might be gone, or in a different place. The bemused glint that would appear in her eyes sometimes -- also gone. In fact, her whole face was no longer recognizably hers; it was just a vague quantity of Face. And her whole body was just a vague quantity of Wife.

She would rub her eyes, and wonder if her vision was failing. But then she would look over at her husband, and find that she could still see him clearly.

It would continue in this way. As time went by, she would find she was only barely-there, floating through her own home like she was half vapor. The hazy outline of herself would get fainter and fainter. In a moment that nobody could pinpoint or predict, the lingering definition and shapeliness would be gone. She would evaporate, joining the indistinct vapor of all the wives before her.


Generations passed this way, faint outlines of wives disappearing every day.

The husbands thought them gone, if they gave them any thought at all. Meanwhile, their marriages to themselves were strong.

But the vapor wasn't gone. It hung heavy over the town.

What the husbands didn't know, and what the wives didn't know, was that this vapor was volatile, highly-combustible.

One day (and who knows what ignited it?) it all caught fire. And the fire burned for days. The vapor fed the fire, and fed it, and fed it, until it had all been entirely consumed. The whole village was consumed by it. There were no survivors -- not husbands, not wives, not brides, not grooms, not children, not priests.

But there is a happy ending.

For this fire, though huge, did not burn very hot, as fires go.

It was not as hot as the glassblowers' fires out of which had come the glass for the grooms' mirrors. It was not as hot as the ovens that baked the clay for the grooms' bricks. It was not as hot as the smiths' fires that refined the steel for the grooms' swords, and the iron for their spades.

So those artifacts survived -- unchanging testaments to the husbands' constant virtue, a legacy for the ages.

Centuries later, these artifacts were preserved in glass cases in museums. Observers would file by, regard them reverently, and exclaim, "How strong their men must have been!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yeah, it's economic armageddon, but have you ever noticed...

...that "somatoform disorder" looks a lot like "tomatoform disorder"?

...and then pondered what a "tomatoform disorder" might be?

...and then thought to yourself, "Well, according to Wikipedia, one of the somatoform disorders is hypochondriasis. Maybe tomatoform disorder is where you fake an injury using ketchup as pretend blood"?




Sorry so silent. Have been: stressing about the economy, stressing about being on the academic job market during a downturn in the economy, stressing about the fact that if I am lucky enough to get a job it means selling our house in a few months which right now sounds only slightly more difficult than getting an academic job during an economic downturn, writing cover letters like mad, being kind of pissy to my family members, and not sleeping as much as I ought.

On the upside, we this evening had an impromptu pumpkin party with friend. The Undersea Explorer was supposed to go on a field trip this morning -- his first-ever field trip of preschool -- and it got canceled due to rain. So the much-anticipated field trip was a bust (and the much-anticipated rain didn't happen, either.) He was SO crushed; not in a tantrummy way, but just in a "WHY, cruel world? WHY do you hate me so, that you would raise my hopes and then dash them as though they matter not?" kind of way. So, to cheer him up, we had another family over for dinner (beef stew served from a pumpkin), bread, cider, pumpkin ale for grownups, and a cookie-cake with a frosting pumpkin on it. I made the stew, bread, and orange frosting but everything else was store-bought. It was a success, I think. But now I think I'm coming down with a chest cold. Which hopefully may explain the stream-of-consciousness reporting style of this post; I just don't have it in me for another self-reflective or politically analytic post tonight.

Spouse just asked me why I was making agitated noises, so I think that's a sign that I should sign off...