Rod Dreher

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A Victim of our Cultural Politics

Drag comedian Miss Coco Peru 
lev radin / Shutterstock.com
Drag comedian Miss Coco Peru lev radin / Shutterstock.com

A reader writes:

I want to tell you about my youngest brother and the struggle he (with my family) is going through right now.

But first, a little background to understand the story: I am one of the older children from a large family. When I was a teenager, and when my youngest brother was still a toddler, my parents adopted several foster children, almost doubling the number of kids in our family. We loved our new siblings, but they came with a lot of challenges.

One of my new adopted brothers, aged about nine, began sexually abusing my youngest brother. It was a while before my parents found out, and as you can imagine it kicked off years of difficulty in our family. My youngest brother was so young, had years of therapy, but has always had a difficult life. He is quiet and shy; has struggled with depression, anxiety, and loneliness; and has generally felt “lost” for much of his life.

About six months ago this brother (now 18) announced that he was leaving our family religion. Fair enough: some of my other siblings have also become atheist/agnostic, so this was not a huge shock, but I think rather than making my youngest brother happier, it only contributed to his feeling of being lost.

I bring up all that background not to necessarily say “this” led to “that,” or to link any two events, just to help you understand the overall situation.

Yesterday afternoon a relative was visiting us and accidentally let slip that my youngest brother has quietly announced to a few people that he is planning to transition to be a woman. We were shocked: nothing has alluded to this, ever.

Apparently it happened like this: a few months ago my brother took an online quiz meant to tell you if you are transgender or not. He took the quiz, and it told him that he was. My brother took this result seriously and found some doctors who are supportive of transgendered people. One of the doctors (an OB-GYN — ah, the irony) encouraged him to immediately start a medical transition, telling him (an 18-year-old!) that “the sooner he begins the better, so make the change more authentic. He has already begun hormone therapy (which is making him sick and causing him to vomit), without tellinganyone, and is preparing a full transition.

I can’t tell you how frustrated I am with these doctors. Rather than urging caution, or a “let’s-see-how-you-feel-in-six-months” approach, they immediately jumped to the obvious conclusion that my brother is really a woman, that aggressive hormone therapy to override his genetics is obviously the right decision. And that he should start now, because if he waits to think about it the hormones may not work as well.

My whole family is at a loss of what to do. Even my secular family members are very worried about him. To us it seems a classic case of a young man struggling to find an identity, something to hold on to, with unscrupulous (biased?) doctors urging him to do something foolish.

But what can we do? If we even bring up our concern we risk being labeled “bigots” who “aren’t supportive” — and we all know that being “not supportive” is basically the same as child abuse. We’re very worried, but the world has shifted underneath us. We can no longer say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t such a great idea. Maybe you’re not a woman, maybe you’re just depressed.” But the doctors are the “experts,” right?

All we can do right now is pray.

What happens when this poor young man finds that his transition has not solved his problem with loneliness, with feeling lost, with the emotional and psychological trauma from childhood sexual abuse? If, God forbid, he should commit suicide — transgender people kill themselves at an unusually high rate — we will all be told that it was the fault of the world of bigots for not being “supportive”.

What a horrible situation. I feel so bad for this family. How can you even begin to fight this tidal wave?

The insanity the overculture demands that we all accept is getting to be too much. In Iowa, the head of a gay rights group is denouncing as “disgusting” a move by parents to keep their kids from being sent back to a so-called “anti-bullying” seminar. Who could object to their kids being taught not to bully gay kids? People who realize from the experience at the last such conference that it’s being used to introduce students to perversion. Here’s a report about what happened at that conference; it’s so sexually explicit that I’m not going to quote it here. You may note that the TV reports about it don’t actually talk about what was allegedly said that has some parents so upset. The only explicit reports about the conference come from local conservative media. Isn’t the mainstream media in Iowa interested in finding out what was actually said at the event?

This is not a new thing, at all. Fifteen years ago, I wrote about the same thing happening in Boston. A couple of parents who tape-recorded the publicly-funded, public “safe schools” event, blew the whistle, as I wrote in the Weekly Standard. Excerpt:

Frustrated by official indifference, Whiteman secretly took his tape recorder along to the 10th annual conference of the Boston chapter of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, at Tufts University on March 25. GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”) is a national organization whose purpose is to train teachers and students and develop programs to, in the words of its Boston chapter leader, “challenge the anti-gay, hetero-centric culture that still prevails in our schools.”

The state-sanctioned conference, which was open to the public but attended chiefly by students, administrators, and teachers, undercut the official GLSEN line–that their work is aimed only at making schools safer by teaching tolerance and respect.

The event, backed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, included such workshops as “Ask the Transsexuals,” “Early Childhood Educators: How to Decide Whether to Come Out at Work or Not,” “The Struggles and Triumphs of Including Homosexuality in a Middle School Curriculum” (with suggestions for including gay issues when teaching the Holocaust), “From Lesbos to Stonewall: Incorporating Sexuality into a World History Curriculum,” and “Creating a Safe and Inclusive Community in Elementary Schools,” in which the “Rationale for integrating glbt [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender] issues in the early elementary years will be presented.”

Whiteman sat in on a “youth only, ages 14-21″ workshop called “What They Didn’t Tell You About Queer Sex & Sexuality in Health Class.” If “they” didn’t tell you about this stuff, it’s probably because “they” worried they’d be sent to jail.

The raucous session was led by Massachusetts Department of Education employees Margot Abels and Julie Netherland, and Michael Gaucher,an AIDS educator from the Massachusetts public health agency. Gaucher opened the session by asking the teens how they know whether or not they’ve had sex. Someone asked whether oral sex was really sex.

“If that’s not sex, then the number of times I’ve had sex has dramatically decreased, from a mountain to a valley, baby!” squealed Gaucher. He then coaxed a reluctant young participant to talk about which orifices need to be filled for sex to have occurred: “Don’t be shy, honey, you can do it.”

Later, the three adults took written questions from the kids. One inquired about “fisting,” a sex practice in which one inserts his hand and forearm into the rectum of his partner. The helpful and enthusiastic Gaucher demonstrated the proper hand position for this act. Abels described fisting as “an experience of letting somebody into your body that you want to be that close and intimate with,” and praised it for putting one “into an exploratory mode.”

Gaucher urged the teens to consult their “really hip” Gay/Straight Alliance adviser for hints on how to come on to a potential sex partner. The trio went on to explain that lesbians could indeed experience sexual bliss through rubbing their clitorises together, and Gaucher told the kids that male ejaculate is rumored to taste “sweeter if people eat celery.” On and on like this the session went.

Camenker and Whiteman transcribed the tape and wrote a lengthy report for Massachusetts News, a conservative monthly. Then they announced that copies of the recorded sessions would be made available to state legislators and the local media. GLSEN threatened to sue them for violating Massachusetts’ wiretap laws and invading the privacy of the minors present at one workshop.

The tapes went out anyway and became a talk radio sensation. On May 19, state education chief David Driscoll canned Abels and Netherland and terminated Gaucher’s contract. But Driscoll also insisted that the controversial workshop was an aberration that shouldn’t be allowed to derail the entire program. Abels fumed to the press that the education department had known perfectly well what she had been doing for years and hadn’t cared until the tapes had surfaced. Camenker, ironically, agreed.

That same weekend, a day after the Boston Globe editorial page editorialized against Camenker and Whiteman, thousands of New England homosexual youths marched on the Massachusetts State House in a scheduled “pride” rally. David LaFontaine, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, denounced Camenker and Whiteman: “The hatred we’ve heard on the radio and smeared across the TV in the last week … is the prejudice that simmers beneath the surface [which] has now bubbled up into the open in all of its ugliness.”

The Boston media and legal communities closed ranks against the whistleblowers. They did not deny the content of the conference — indeed, they could not, because the parents had it all on tape. So they barraged the critics with accusations of bigotry and hatred, and attacked the parents for recording the event surreptitiously.

All this happened a decade and a half ago, when the culture overall was far, far less accepting of this so-called “anti-bullying” education. The point is that gay rights activists and their allies often use the worthy cause of anti-bullying to push a far different agenda. I am 100 percent behind anti-bullying initiatives. There should be no quarter given to bullying ANY kids — gay, religious, minority, whatever. But parents need to understand that these events are not always what they claim to be. You don’t need to teach the Catholic Catechism to instruct non-Catholic children not to bully Catholic kids. Nor do you need to teach school children about techniques of gay sex, including oral-anal contact (yes, this reportedly happened in Iowa), to tell them not to mistreat gay kids.

It’s starting much younger too. Here’s a Washington Post op-ed celebrating “the way four-year-olds talk about love and marriage” today, written by a nursery school teacher in Chicago. Excerpt:

Of course, there are many resources to help initiate conversations and help frame our students’ thinking. For example, we read And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. This charming picture book is based on a true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo. A zookeeper provides them with an egg to raise into a chick after he recognizes that they are mates and “in love.”

As I was reading the story, a handful of kids chimed in that they knew two boys who loved each other or two girls who loved each other. Again the conversation turned to marriage. Some kids were insistent that boys could marry boys and girls could marry girls, others were sure that could not happen, and still others listened without sharing their ideas. The country’s debate on gay marriage had reached the 4- and 5-year-olds in my class. The book prompted a conversation about an issue that kids were actively working to understand.

At this point, I felt a twinge of unease about potential parent responses. As I thought later about my nervousness, I realized I have never run into a parent who asked me not to talk about heterosexual marriage with their child. Why not? Heterosexual marriage is an acceptable part of dominant culture and is therefore not considered taboo. So it is seen as nonthreatening. Parents trust that, as a teacher, I can talk about heterosexual marriage without the conversation being dominated by sexuality. Heterosexual marriage is viewed through the lens of love. Same-sex marriage does not feel quite as benign because it is viewed by its opponents through the lens of sex. Gay sex, to be exact, which is perceived as inappropriate subject matter for young children. Based on religious beliefs about the immorality of “homosexual behavior,” there are people who would rather that discussion of gay relationships be omitted entirely from their children’s school experiences.

Some parents say they want to “save sensitive conversations for the home.” Although I can understand a parent’s desire to pass along their ideas and values to their children, the hope that those conversations will happen exclusively in the home is unrealistic.

More:

As this deeply layered conversation moved on, many points of view were stated, more questions were posed, and the children were able to articulate what they thought. I made a mental note to myself about topics to revisit, including finding a way to talk about inherited traits and Jane’s ideas about the dangers of incest. There’s always a new challenge!

Yeah, I bet there is.

At the ridiculous end of things, the mass confusion all of this brings about ends up with this editor’s note appended to an op-ed in the online version of the UCLA Daily Bruin calling on the government to — wait for it — subsidize tampons,, for the sake of fighting “gender inequality.” The editor’s note is priceless:

Editor’s note: This blog post refers to individuals who menstruate as women because the author wanted to highlight gender inequality in health care. We acknowledge that not all individuals who menstruate identify as women and that not all individuals who identify as women menstruate, but feel this generalization is appropriate considering the gendered nature of most health care policies.

That’s funny. On the opposite end, you get the tragedy of the reader’s baby brother, ruining his life at the encouragement of doctors and popular culture.

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Planned Parenthood & Willful Blindness

Unborn child at 10 weeks gestation (Suparna Sinha/Flickr)
Unborn child at 10 weeks gestation (Suparna Sinha/Flickr)

Ross Douthat, in one of his best columns ever, considers what the Planned Parenthood videos tell us about the kind of people we are. He opens by talking about an anecdote from a 1976 essay by a physician, Richard Selzer, who wrote of stumbling upon body parts from aborted babies on the street. There had been an accident with a disposal truck, the kind of thing that almost never happens. But it did happen, and Selzer writes about not being able to un-see what he had seen — and not being able to avoid the judgment the sight of that horror forced him to make about the society of which he was a part. More, from Douthat, about the videos of the Planned Parenthood doctors casually chatting about dismembering unborn human beings in such a way as to make their body parts more valuable on the flesh market:

It’s a very specific disgust, informed by reason and experience — the reasoning that notes that it’s precisely a fetus’s humanity that makes its organs valuable, and the experience of recognizing one’s own children, on the ultrasound monitor and after, as something more than just “products of conception” or tissue for the knife.

That’s why Planned Parenthood’s apologists have fallen back on complaints about “deceptive editing” (though full videos were released in both cases), or else simply asked people to look away. And it’s why many of my colleagues in the press seem uncomfortable reporting on the actual content of the videos.

Because dwelling on that content gets you uncomfortably close to Selzer’s tipping point — that moment when you start pondering the possibility that an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism.

That’s a hard thing to accept. It’s part of why so many people hover in the conflicted borderlands of the pro-choice side. They don’t like abortion, they think its critics have a point … but to actively join our side would require passing too comprehensive a judgment on their coalition, their country, their friends, their very selves.

This reluctance is a human universal. It’s why white Southerners long preferred Lost Cause mythology to slaveholding realities. It’s why patriotic Americans rarely want to dwell too long on My Lai or Manzanar or Nagasaki. It’s why, like many conservatives, I was loath to engage with the reality of torture in Bush-era interrogation programs.

But the reluctance to look closely doesn’t change the truth of what there is to see. Those were dead human beings on Richard Selzer’s street 40 years ago, and these are dead human beings being discussed on video today: Human beings that the nice, idealistic medical personnel at Planned Parenthood have spent their careers crushing, evacuating, and carving up for parts.

Read the whole thing.

One small thing that makes this column so effective is Douthat’s concession that the need to look away to preserve our innocence, and to preserve our friendships, our convictions, our allies, is all too human, and caught him up as well. There is not one of us — not one — who has never been guilty of this. We see it all the time, across political, religious, and racial boundaries. The logic goes like this:

1. [Our side] is accused of doing/supporting/enabling this horrible thing.

2. We are not the kind of people who would do/support/enable that sort of thing.

3. Therefore we are not guilty.

Or it goes like this:

1. Our side is accused, etc.

2. But the people making the accusation are bad.

3. If they are right, bad people win.

4. Therefore, they are wrong.

Or like this:

1. Our side is accused, etc.

2. If the accusers are right, then we will have to stop doing what we’re doing.

3. The cost of that would be too high.

4. Therefore, the accusers are wrong.

I did this in the march up to the Iraq War. I don’t recall precisely, but chances are I was slow because of this to recognize the moral horror of the torture regime the US imposed on its captives. A whole lot of people were very, very slow to recognize the moral horror of the clerical sex abuse scandal because of some version of this dynamic. There are many on the left who will not recognize inconvenient truths about their own sacred cows; the cows are different on the right, but no less sacred. The list is endless.

The issue in this case, though, is the dismemberment of human beings, and the profits made by flesh brokers. The issue here is the rationalizations these killers and their apologists are deploying to mask the horror of their deeds. This is what our country permits. We abstract our consciences into numbness.

Wendell Berry once wrote, “The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do.” He was talking about environmental abuse, but the principle applies widely.

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The Genocide of Christians

The Arabic character for 'N', or 'Nazarene," the ISIS slur for 'Christian' (Wink Images/Shutterstock)
The Arabic character for 'N', or 'Nazarene," the ISIS slur for 'Christian' (Wink Images/Shutterstock)

After 2,000 years, this may well be the end of Christianity in the Middle East, reports The New York Times. A view from the catastrophe:

On a recent Saturday, 50 of these refugees gathered for a funeral at the Assyrian Church of the East in Beirut, which sits on the steep slope of Mount Lebanon, not far from a BMW-Mini Cooper dealership and a Miss Virgin Jeans shop. The priest, the Rev. Sargon Zoumaya, buttoned his black cassock over a blue clerical shirt as he prepared to officiate over the burial of Benjamin Ishaya, who arrived just months before, displaced from one of the villages ISIS attacked. (He had died of complications following a head wound inflicted by a jihadist.)

‘‘We’re afraid our whole society will vanish,’’ said Zoumaya, who left his Khabur River village more than a decade ago to study in Lebanon. He picked up his prayer book and headed downstairs to the parish house. The church was helping to care for 1,500 Syrian families. ‘‘It’s too much pressure on us, more than we can handle,’’ he said. The families didn’t want to live in the notoriously overcrowded Lebanese refugee camps that had filled with one-and-a-half million Syrians fleeing the civil war. They no longer wanted to live among Muslims. Instead they crammed into apartments with exorbitant rents that the church subsidized as best it could.

Inside the church, men and women sat in two separate circles. A young woman passed out Turkish coffee in paper cups. Waves of keening rose from the ring of women, led by Ishaya’s widow. Wearing an olive green suit, she sat at the head of the open coffin, weeping, as women touched her husband’s body. Nearby, her son, Bassam Ishaya, nursed two broken feet. He’d been trying to support his family by repairing couches until one dropped on him. The Ishaya family left Syria with nothing. ISIS, Bassam said, told them they ‘‘either had to pay the jizya, convert or be killed.’’ He pointed to a blue crucifix tattoo on his right arm. ‘‘Because of this, I had to wear long sleeves,’’ he said.

To escape, the Ishayas were airlifted from Al-Hasakah, a town in northeastern Syria, which had been under the joint control of the Assad government and the Kurds but has since largely fallen to ISIS, and flown 400 miles to Damascus. From there, they drove to the Lebanese border. Syrian Air charged $180 for the flights; Assad’s government charged $50 a person, the refugees at the funeral said.

Since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Assad has allowed Christians to leave the country. Nearly a third of Syria’s Christians, about 600,000, have found themselves with no choice but to flee the country, driven out by extremist groups like the Nusra Front and now ISIS. ‘‘As president, he made the sheep and the wolf walk together,’’ Bassam said. ‘‘We don’t care if he stays or goes, we just want security.’’ Assad has used the rise of ISIS to solidify his own support among those who remain, sowing the same fear among them that he tries to spread in the West: that he is the only thing standing in the way of an ISIS takeover. This argument has been largely effective. As Samy Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb party in Lebanon, said: ‘‘When Christians saw Christians being beheaded, those who saw Assad as the enemy chose the lesser of two evils. Assad was the diet version of ISIS.’’

Like most of the refugees in the parish house, Bassam wasn’t planning on returning to Syria. He was searching for a way to the West. His brother Yussef moved to Chicago two years earlier. He didn’t have a job yet, but his wife worked at Walmart. Maybe they would help. He wanted to leave like everyone else, although it would hasten the end of Christianity in Syria. No one would go home after what ISIS had done. ‘‘Christians will all leave,’’ he said. ‘‘What can I do? I have four kids, I can’t leave them here to die.’’

After his father’s coffin was sealed, Bassam and the rest of the male mourners filed out. As the women looked on, the men filled waiting cars and drove, past a cement factory, to a nearby graveyard. Zoumaya swung a censer of frankincense along the narrow pathway. But neither the smoke nor the wilting rose bushes could mask the reek of corpses. Behind the priest, Bassam hobbled on crutches. The mourners lifted the coffin into a wall of doors, which resembled the shelving units in a morgue. This was a pauper’s grave. Since the family couldn’t afford the fee, the church paid $500 to place the coffin here. In a few months, the body would be quietly burned, although cremation is anathema to Eastern Christian doctrine. The ashes would take up less space in this overcrowded city of the dead.

‘‘We ran from the war only to die in the street,’’ one mourner said.

Read it all. Pay attention to this:

Although the airstrikes were effective, since October 2013, the United States has given just $416 million in humanitarian aid, which falls far short of what is needed. ‘‘Americans and the West were telling us they came to bring democracy, freedom and prosperity,’’ Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon who addressed the Security Council, wrote to me in a recent email. ‘‘What we are living is anarchy, war, death and the plight of three million refugees.’’

And pay attention to what the report says about the cowardice (my word) of both the Bush and Obama administrations in dealing with the suffering of Christians that’s the direct result of US policy and actions. Also, this:

Eshoo, the Democratic congresswoman, is working to establish priority refugee status for minorities who want to leave Iraq. ‘‘It’s a hair ball,’’ she says. ‘‘The average time for admittance to the United States is more than 16 months, and that’s too long. Many will die.’’ But it can be difficult to rally widespread support. The Middle East’s Christians often favor Palestine over Israel. And because support of Israel is central to the Christian Right — Israel must be occupied by the Jews before Jesus can return — this stance distances Eastern Christians from a powerful lobby that might otherwise champion their cause. Recently, Ted Cruz admonished an audience of Middle Eastern Christians at an In Defense of Christians event in Washington, telling them that Christians ‘‘have no better ally than the Jewish state.’’ Cruz was booed.

Why do we not open the door to the United States to these poor people? They are Christians, which would make assimilation much easier. We destabilized their region with the war we waged on Iraq. Don’t we owe them something? What is wrong with Christian churches of the Ted Cruz sort who are ignoring them? The plight of Middle Eastern Christians is a disgrace to our country, and brings shame to us.

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Baby Sister

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Yesterday the three Harrington children were able to go to the hospital to meet their new baby sister, Irene. Above, Arsenios Harrington holds Irene for the first time.

The GoFundMe account for the Harringtons is over $47,000 now, thanks to your generosity. I noticed at church today that at least four checks had come in from readers all over the country, to help cover the family’s expenses. I cannot express how much this kindness from you all is needed — every penny of it — and is appreciated. Father Matthew said to us in church today, “Where there is grace, there is struggle, and where there is struggle, there is grace.”

There is lots of struggle in this family right now. But also lots of grace. Thank you again, and please keep praying.

UPDATE: I posted this yesterday, but took it down shortly thereafter because I realized that the photo came from Mat. Anna’s Facebook feed, and that she didn’t necessarily want to put it in the general public. This morning I see that she has written an update for the GoFundMe page, with the photo. Here is the text she added:

I just thought I would reach out and give you an update. I’m starting to feel a lot better and if all goes well it looks like I can come home tomorrow. This is bittersweet as we still don’t know how long our sweet girl will be residing in the NICU. First off I wanted to thank you privately for your efforts in a very tender situation and then in some way try to express the amount of gratitude to the many who have reached out, prayed for us,cried for us and helped in so many ways. There is no one way to say thank you. All I can say is Glory be to God for all these things and all these people. It is hard for Father and I to be on the receiving end, not out of pride or arrogance but out of a feeling that there are so many who could use the help that are in much more difficult situations than we are. Having said that…we have had this week to wrap our minds around how scary this turned out to be, that God is so merciful for His reasons that we have a full family today. I’m still having some trouble processing this and it will take some time but I am sober minded about it and feel so fortunate.

So UPDATE– today was a good day! I may go home tomorrow. Cautious was the word for the week and extra days in ICU were needed but I’m really feeling a lot better. Some follow up appointments for me and post op procedures but all in all we are all amazed that my recovery is going so well!

Irene is still eating from a tube. We are awaiting some review and info about meeting with a craniofacial team about her condition. She has been unable to suck or eat from a bottle just yet as she was born with only one side of her nose (one nostril) and it does take some corridination to get that process working if you think about it. So possibly one more week in the NICU to learn how to do this if we get the ok to pursue it…or we wait for some reconstruction and she possibly goes home with a feeding tube… we don’t know at this point. Other than that major obsticle we don’t know if her vision in her good eye is affected or her hearing so we just have to wait. She is doing so very well otherwise. No oxygen and no IV’s; she will be seeing quite a few specialists in her future but we were prepared for that.

She also got to meet some very special little people today! The kids were SO excited to meet her for the very first time. They love her unconditionally no matter what little anomolies she may have or how different she may look…they didn’t even seem to care, they just adore her smile.

I must give credit to the wonderful staff and incredible Doctors at Women’s Hospital that came together had conferences before my surgery and sent out memos; everyone, unbeknownst to me, was on alert and knew it was going to be a big deal.

AND …it was! It was long and complicated and they all were amazing! I will probably be able to say more in time…all I can say is that almost a week ago we came knowing it was going to be a really risky day, and although I understood the gravitiy of the situation and I was scared, I felt calm and at peace and which could only have been the prayers of so many all over far and wide… Glory to God for all things.

I can’t really put into words the gratitude, neither Fr and I know exactly how to say thank you. To doctors , family, friends, down to local people who just love us for no good reason and bring our kids happy meals while their mama is in the hospital. Nights where friends stood in to care for you kids while you had to go be admitted. That was rough. Everyone’s concern just helped to float us through this and knowing we are loved and cared for in EVERY way that was needed. Our spiritual Father’s Presvytera who is so very dear came across the country to take care of our kids while all of this was happening and thats not all…great incredible human beings shining God’s love through their actions and prayers. We stand in awe of all of it. From sharing our situation, supporting us financially, to donating blood in our name to give back the SO many units that were not planned to be used. All the way to meals in my freezer, people purchasing baby items and household items for us, for parents and family loving us and being concerned . Best friends, clergy, our spiritual father who guided us through much of this and those who pleaded out in prayers with tears. Undeserving as we are, we have a full family and for that I am eternally grateful. A very very sober thank you.

Blessings and love. We will keep you updated. I’m feeling so much better but big transitions on the horizon with home comings smile emoticon We are ready!

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The End of Westboro Baptist?

I have not commented on the horrific shootings in the Lafayette movie theater. What is there to say? True, the usual suspects are using the incident to argue for their positions on gun control, but to me, the particularly terrifying aspect of the Lafayette case is its randomness. The shooter had no connection to the area, and no apparent reason for doing what he did. He seems to have aimlessly drifted into that town, into that movie theater, into that showing on that night, and unleashed his demons on the crowd.

When I heard, though, that the ghouls of the Westboro Baptist Church are planning to picket the funerals of the two local women killed by that devil, I thought, “Oh, oh, oh, they have NO IDEA what they’re messing with.” You do not want to do that to Cajuns. You just don’t.

If you want to see a miracle, look for the Westboro trash to escape Acadiana without getting their butts whipped. A Facebook movement has arisen down here to get volunteers to form a human shield between Westboro’s squad and mourners of the dead women. So far, they have nearly 5,000 volunteers. I seriously wouldn’t doubt that Westboro is going to find more trouble down here than they anticipate. And I seriously wouldn’t mind it if they did. Some people just have it coming to them.

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BenOp in WSJ

Statue of St. Benedict, in the town square of Norcia, his birthplace
Statue of St. Benedict, in the town square of Norcia, his birthplace

Greetings from the beach. We are packing up to head home today. It’s going to rain late this afternoon, and the kids are worn out, so we’re going to beat the traffic by going home a day early. There’s a lot of catch-up Benedict Option stuff to do next week, including two or three critical pieces I want to respond to, but I’ve put all that off this week so I could enjoy my vacation.

I do want to point you to today’s Houses of Worship column in the Wall Street Journal. It’s by David Skeel, and it concerns the Benedict Option. The piece, which is behind a subscriber paywall, is unfortunately headlined “Now Isn’t The Time to Flee the Public Square.” It’s unfortunate because it doesn’t fairly reflect what Skeel wrote, and because it perpetuates the wrong idea, one I’ve worked to counter, that I mean for the Benedict Option to be a complete neo-Amish withdrawal from political and cultural engagement. This is the straw man so many Ben Op critics keep insisting on. Skeel, a Penn law professor and author of True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, understands this, it appears, even if the headline writer does not:

Mr. Dreher says critics miss his point. He isn’t calling on Christians to check into monasteries, and nothing prevents the new Benedicts from continuing to engage in public debate. The Benedict Option, he says, does recommend a pullback from contemporary culture and politics, but not a “neo-Amish withdrawal from the world.”

It isn’t clear what effect the Benedict Option would have on American political life. Even if one envisions the Benedict Option as “strategic attentiveness” to the cultivation of virtue, rather than “strategic retreat,” as Alan Jacobs, another prominent Christian writer has advocated, the Benedict Option implies a reduced engagement in the messy business of politics. At a time when religious freedom is viewed by many as expendable, and appears in scare quotes or their equivalent in major U.S. newspapers for the first time in American history, the practical consequences of reduced engagement could be considerable.

Yet even those of us who are skeptical of the Benedict Option can acknowledge the benefits of cultivating virtue, engaging more fully in our local communities and perhaps turning off the TV more often. Given the sometimes judgmental tendencies of theologically conservative Christians during the culture wars of the recent past, traditional Christians also might do well to focus a little more on showing what Christian morality looks like, and less on how others conduct their lives.

There may even be grounds for optimism for Christians who feel increasingly estranged from American culture. Being out of touch can be clarifying. After all, many of the greatest advances for Christianity have come during periods when Christians seemed most beleaguered. From the early Roman Empire to the Great Awakenings in 18th- and 19th-century America, and to China today, Christianity has tended to flourish anew when the distinctions are clearest between Christian faith and other conceptions of what it means to be human.

That’s a fair description. As I’ve said here, I don’t have all the Benedict Option answers, and I’m really enjoying hearing from sympathizers and constructive critics (again, some of whom I will engage in this space next week). What I think all, or most of us, share a conviction that it cannot be business as usual for small-o orthodox (that is, theologically conservative) Christians, and that if we proceed as if these were normal times, we will not develop the habits, customs, institutions, and thick communal structures that enable us to withstand the corrosive power of secular modernity. Either it’s going to be the Benedict Option, or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which as we know ultimately results in a loss of the faith.

As a Benedictine prior told me last fall when I explained the Benedict Option to him, Christians who don’t take some form of the Benedict Option simply aren’t going to make it through what’s coming.

One more note before I help Julie pack the car: if you want to understand why we need the Benedict Option, read leading church historian Robert Louis Wilken’s 2004 First Things essay “The Church As Culture”. I honestly believe that wherever you stand on the Benedict Option — and I expect to make a detailed case for it in the book I intend to write — this concept will dominate discussion among Christian conservatives about what role we should play publicly and privately in the years to come.

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The Bonds of Community

Baby Irene meets her mother for the first time
Baby Irene meets her mother for the first time
Baby Irene meets her mother for the first time

Baby Irene meets her mother for the first time

UPDATED to highlight a photo Anna Harrington has just posted to Facebook, and which is being shared far and wide. Beautiful. This is what — this is who — you have all been praying for. They are both still in the ICU (NICU for the baby), so please don’t stop your prayers and good wishes.

Father Matthew Harrington writes to us in the congregation:

I wanted to say how important the prayers of the our loved ones have been during this. God has granted us grace to endure and not lose our peace and for that I am so thankful to all the wonderful people who have been praying for us…literally around the world. To be part of the Body of Christ and a community of the faithful means above all else we pray for one another. What good is a life without God and prayer.

I just came home for a quick tune up and will be heading to the Lady of the Lake for a blood contribution and possible set up for a blood wagon to come to St. Francisville in the future. Having been the recipient of life-saving blood for my wife it would be nice if we could make a contribution once a year…and be able to help others who are in need.

Here is a photo one of this blog’s readers in Baton Rouge sent me this afternoon. It’s him at Our Lady of the Lake’s blood donation center, giving blood in Anna Harrington’s name. He’s never even met the Harringtons, but he went in to donate, out of love and solidarity:

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Thank you, reader. And thanks to all of you who have given. The GoFundMe appeal has taken in over $40,000 so far. Please be as generous as you can. Anna is still in ICU, and Baby Irene will be in the NICU for weeks to come, Father reports. The need is tremendous.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that y’all don’t know something important here. The Harringtons have known for a number of months that Baby Irene would have severe birth defects, and that both the pregnancy and the delivery would be life-threatening for Anna. But they told the doctors in no uncertain terms that terminating the pregnancy was not an option, and would not be discussed. This is what it means to be deeply and authentically pro-life. You readers who are pro-life, please do what you can to help this struggling clergy family bear the weight of our shared conviction about the sanctity of life.

 

 

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I, Papaya

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I’m sorry, people, I really am. I’m trying to maintain this blog on this beach vacation, but it’s hard to focus on the world when there’s the sun, and the surf, and kids who want to play in the sun and surf, and blenders brimming with frosty vodka cocktails. I’m finishing a piece for the next print issue of TAC tonight, but mostly I’m out here ripening like a papaya. Some Grushenka of the Redneck Riviera is going to come cart me off to my decadent fate by sundown, ah reckon.

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Vacation Notebook

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1. Yes, I really did bring the Brothers K. to read on the beach. And I really am enjoying it! I think that having been immersed in an Orthodox ethos for the past few years helps. I get the Elder Zosima. Plus, I really understand what a Russian-American friend who studies Southern literature said to me earlier this year: that Russians and Southerners are very much alike.

2. I had been thinking that I was El Máximo Pretentioso for bringing a big Russian novel to read on the beach, but as I was leaving the shore today, I passed a fraternity-looking guy carrying a copy of Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I think I would have gone for the Carl Hiaasen.

3. When you cannot take any more Dostoevsky, there is nothing — nothing! — like P.G. Wodehouse (not even Saul Bellow). I cannot get through a page of the man’s novels without laughing out loud.

4. I hate the beach, in theory, but boy, am I having fun here.

5. The blender, vodka, rum, frozen strawberries, and other amenities may have something to do with that.

6. If there’s vodka, rum, and frozen cocktail fixings in the beach house, that wine you brought along probably isn’t going to get consumed.

7. Part of vacation is letting the kids eat whatever junk they want, and being able to just not give a damn.

8. Part of vacation is letting the world do whatever it wants, and as a blogger, forcing yourself to just not give a damn.

9. It is interesting to say your long prayer rule while in the surf, but it is something you only want to do once.

10. When the sunscreen says it’s waterproof, don’t trust it.

11. Did you know that Ore-Ida has made astonishing advances in oven-heated crinkle fry technology? Either that, or my tastes have degraded. Dang, they’re good (see No. 6).

12. In Lyon recently, my friend Sordello told me that the blessing of middle age is that hot young women don’t even see you. Because of that wise insight, I have learned to accept that fact that nobody cares if I trundle obesely down the strand, shirtless. I’m a fat old guy who is invisible to all the hotties. Relax and be free, Pops!

13. Old guy sitting under the umbrella next to mine today: “You know, they say that whenever you’re in the water, you’re never more than 60 yards away from a shark.” They say that, do they? Thanks, man.

14. Somebody needs to whip Fyodor Karamazov’s ass. The dude needs killin’.

15. I miss my dog. I know our house-sitter is taking good care of him, but it’s just not right to go so long without my daily Roscoe.

16. Pay closer attention to the SPF factor of the sunscreen you buy. “Oh, Coppertone,” said I. “The smell of that reminds me of going to Grand Isle when I was a kid. I know Julie’s got sunscreen, but I’ll get this for old times’ sake.” SPF 4. I would have done about as well smearing mayonnaise on my skin.

17. The only memorable meal I’ve eaten here was the shrimp salad I made the second day. That’s why no VFYTs.

18. There’s something about the climate here on the Gulf Coast that does a number on vodka and rum. Astonishing how quickly our supply evaporated. Scientists should look into that. Personally, I blame global warming.

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Anna Harrington Update

The child of God Irene Elizabeth Harrington

The child of God Irene Elizabeth Harrington

This just in from Vladimir at the Go Fund Me site:

Just got off the phone with Father Matthew once more, and have a bit of an update! Matushka Anna’s condition was, in fact, a condition known as placenta percreta, which is much more insidious and threatening. Anna required 31 units of blood, which is an amazing amount, but she is now recovering. That brings me to the next request! I’m calling on our friends to pitch in on that as well. Anna is O Positive, but the Red Cross does arrange for equivalency swap outs on donations. This of us who served in the military are fairly aware of how that works; I still have my Red Cross gallon donor card. Any donations of blood received which are in excess of the required amount we have to replace are, as I understand it, credited to some extent towards the hospital bill. I’m not sure how that works in the areas in which you live, but I’ve found the Red Cross to be pretty cooperative. The hospital which is the direct recipient is Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, and it would be for the benefit of Anna Harrington. Here’s their website if you would like to check it out.

I would appreciate it if you are one of our blood donors, that you would update us on this page so that others can see how much progress we’ve made. I do however underscore, there is no such thing as donating too much blood!

Anna will be subjected to a wide battery of tests today, and we’ll keep you posted. The next update will hopefully have more information on Baby Irene.

Suffice it to say that the hospital staff has commented on both Matushka Anna and Baby Irene that this has been nothing short of miraculous.

Thanks be to God,

and in XC

Vladimir (Vova) Saemmler-Hindrichs

Baton Rouge area readers, please go to OLOL and donate if you can. Julie did it before we left town for vacation. They turned me down as a donor because of my chronic mono. Thirty-one units of blood is a massive amount. She very nearly bled to death, sounds like. I remember last week, they were anticipating significant bleeding during the operation — placenta accreta is when the placenta grows through the uterine wall, and establishes “roots” (blood vessels) throughout the abdomen — so they projected needing four to six units of blood.

It took 31!

Miracle. God bless those surgeons and nurses and all the doctors.

If you haven’t made a financial donation yet, please consider it. The Harringtons have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange, but heaven knows what kind of expenses they are going to face by the time it’s all over. Baby Irene has only one eye, and one nostril, and will need many surgeries.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, friends, for your prayers and generosity!

UPDATE: I posted this photo above because Father Matthew already posted it and others on his Facebook feed.

UPDATE.2: A new photo of Baby Irene. Please remember her and her mother, both in the ICU, in your prayers:

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