Evolution and What Catholics Should Teach Their Children about Adam and Eve

My name is Sarah Martinez, and I am a Catholic and an evolutionist.  Whew.  That felt good to say.

When I was 17, I found myself in a cultural anthropology college course.   And mostly, I hated it.  My professor was an insufferable woman with a bad dye job who routinely made over-the-shoulder swipes at Christianity, as she wrote about religious tolerance on the whiteboard;  who constructed a midterm so ridiculous, the entire class–the entire class— failed it.  (I spent the next quarter doing every ounce of extra credit listed on the syllabus,  and then wrote a paper summarizing the movie, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and managed to get an A on my transcripts for that class.)

So, I hated that class and to this day,  I will tell you that I prefer sociology out of pure spite.  But I wasn’t asleep through it.  I did learn things.  And what I learned was that evolution, a concept I had seen “debunked” through a handful of documentaries and essays in high school and understood was the very apex of anti-Christian science, made sense.  A lot of sense, actually.  There was physical evidence in bones, genetic evidence in our DNA.  I was fascinated and taken by the way animal physiology (humans included) adapted to its environment.

What I didn’t understand was how this fit in with the Bible, exactly.   Taking the story of Adam and Eve and The Fall at face value, I couldn’t figure out how the pieces fit together.  I was, in a word, confused.  This shift in thinking, along with many other things, pushed me towards the moment when I said to my mom, “I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.”   I still went to church and tried to be good, and said my prayers, but my heart wasn’t in it.   It was awful.  Catholics are taught that the most terrible torment the souls in hell suffer is distance from God.  I believe that 100 percent.

I eventually recovered, though it took moving out of state where there was a church with more regular sacraments, and more available clergy.  I “got rid” of the origin problem by deciding that I would just take God’s word for it,  stop wondering,  and assume that evolution fit in with creation somehow.  Besides, if God created me, did the little details regarding “how” matter?    I put it in the back of my mind, and would content myself to just shift uncomfortably when someone mentioned evolution, unsure whether to agree or not.    But permeating all the time was the shadow of doubt that asked if I could not believe this part of  Scripture, what parts could I believe?  I was feeling perhaps like Lord Byron when he said,  “There is something pagan in me that I cannot shake off.  In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”  I wondered what my Catholic friends would think if they knew I was at the very least an evolutionist “sympathizer.”

Then I read this. 

One article, that had  all the same pieces I had, but had the thing I didn’t: a way to string them together.  With the words of theological BFFs,  St. Thomas of Aquinas and St. Augustine about how Adam and Eve and The Fall fit in with the empirical evidence set forth to support evolution, (long before Darwin, by the way) I finally had a clear, crisp picture of how the Creation of Man really happened.  I read it half a dozen times yesterday and was practically bouncing in my office chair.  It seems silly to attribute so much joy of intellect to a single internet article, but there you go. Read the entire thing.  (I will be checking the stats, people.)

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

But with the joy, came a little bit of disappointment; in fact, a little anger.  Anger at every Catholic teacher I ever had who couldn’t be bothered to do the minimal amount of research to figure out why evolution is a genetic, scientific fact, and either never found, or ignored, the words of two of the most well-quoted Saints of our religion who supported it.  They let me fall into the trap of learning science without the corresponding religion, and religion without the corresponding science, and I became discouraged and befuddled because I learned from neither how to reconcile the two, when they can be so easily reconciled.  I almost lost my faith because of it.  The fact that had I heard the simple arguments laid out in this one article two years ago,  I may have been saved from that brief, though hellish lapse in belief.

To a lesser degree, I once felt similarly aggrieved while reading a Catholic publication.  The well-intended, and surely virtuous articles were poorly written and strewn with logical fallacy.  I have heard sermons where priests throw incorrect dates and information, and don’t worry a whole lot about it because… well, you tell me.  I have sat through homilies cringing, and hoping that there are no newcomers in the room;  the Catholics here will understand, the hopeful agnostic sitting across the aisle from me, waiting for proof that Christians have intellectual reasons behind their faith may not be so impressed.

The problem, I have felt for a long time is this:  Most Catholics in authority to instruct, do not take their role as teacher seriously.   For all their warnings of the world’s dangers, they do not seem to truly understand that lay people are barraged daily by a world that wants them to doubt;  that wants to kill God and smite religion. And that the world will use science, of which God Himself is the author,  and our rational minds, which He gave us to understand it, to do so. They still make modern science an enemy, just as modern science makes religion the enemy.  As if you cannot be both an evolutionist and also believe that an Almighty God created the means for the world to evolve.

I’m going to link to another Marc Barnes post again on Catholics using their talents to be the best, and where he quotes C.S. Lewis,

“‘Great works’ (of art) and “good works” (of charity) had better also be Good Work. Let choirs sing well or not at all…”

I’ll even link Marc a second time where he advises us to “Be Awesome.

Am I saying you have to be a good writer to write? No! Am I saying that God is only appreciative of well-written work? No! Am I saying that if you are writing for a Catholic publication you should realize that you are, in a very real sense, an ambassador for the Church, and that as such it your duty to excel in your craft, to make it the best that it can be so that the truth and beauty of Church’s teaching will be revealed through it, not hindered by it? Yes.

Here’s another great article on why it is necessary for Christians to believe in evolution.

Anyway,  when I have children,  I’ll read them Genesis, and they’ll have picture books with Adam and Eve in a paradise, and a little snake in a tree for the sake of illustration.   But then I’ll bring out a stack of works by Aquinas and Augustine and a modern science book, and explain what all of it really means.

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The Wealth of the Church

 Marc Barnes, author of my new favorite Catholic blog, Bad Catholic, explains, through a conversation with someone he knows, why beautiful cathedrals rise up out of the Church’s holy poverty.  The following text is my 2 cents. 

One time a non-Catholic friend and I visited a church where she saw a nonthreatening basket of donation envelopes on a table in the back of the chapel, pointed to them and said, “*That* is why I don’t go to church.”

Really?  Because if you put on your Critical Thinking Cap, you’ll see why that is a really stupid reason to not be Catholic, if that is indeed your only reason.

A Catholic Church functions on free will donations.  We don’t sell tickets to Mass, or have a membership fee.   We’re not even allowed to sell religious goods once they’ve been blessed.

People donate to the Church, firstly because they want to glorify God.   Consider what our churches house.  God Himself, the Creator of all beings,  Who died to save us from our sins, physically sits in our tabernacles.   Even if you do not share this belief, surely you have enough imagination that it isn’t a strain to understand why we, who do believe that, would want a beautiful place for Him to live.

That, and we want lights to read our missals by,  and food to ensure that our priests do not collapse from undernourishment during the homily.  We want them to have reliable cars to get them to mission parishes and sick calls, and for our nuns to have books with which they can teach catechism. Them things cost money, honey.

Nonprofit organizations are so called because they don’t make a profit and rely on donations.  PETA, The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, public television…  I wish I had writing skills to further expound on what I can only summarize as “Duh.”

Speaking of which, did you know that the NonProfit Times names Catholic Charities USA as #2 in the list of top 100 nonprofit organizations?   The Church has long supported and started charitable causes, in public and in private.   The clergy of my church have, in the past, paid rent and mortgages and various other bills for not only its members, but people who I have seen all but once– when they knocked on the door of the rectory to pick up the check.   I wonder why it is that when people need help, they look to a Catholic church, if not because the Church has a long history of generosity.  Lay Catholics are strongly encouraged to do volunteer work, and many practicing ones do.

Yes, there is a Precept of the Church that dictates that you must contribute to the support of the Church.   Most people tithe, but for those who cannot, “contributing to the support of the Church” can come in the form of volunteering your time,  or participating in things like choir, or altar serving. (I quit my job and donated half a year of my time to my church last year.  Can you rack up credit points for that sort of thing? My mom says no. [I kid, people.])

This is my favorite part of Marc’s article:

I: […] Your entire argument rests on the arrogant assumption that all the poor want is cash and food. Have you ever asked the Catholic poor whether he’d like the beauty of his church stripped for cash? Boy, you’d get smacked, because the majority of Catholics are poor, and know what’s important in life. Is it not enough that we are the largest charitable organization in the world?
Him: But you can’t deny the Pope lives in a mansion.
I: And you can’t deny that if he didn’t, the Catholic people would put him in one. We’re human, we like to reverence things.

Christians in War

This past week marked the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Here is an interview with WWII Catholic chaplain,  Rev. George B. Zabelka who repents that he did not counsel against the dropping of the two atomic bombs.  At times, it feels like a punch in a gut.

I’m not really sure where to start, myself.  This is a stark subject for me.  It makes me question the greatness of my country, and the greatness of the Church who did not oppose something so horrendous.  As I write, I feel halted, as if I’m channeling Hemingway.

First of all, I don’t oppose war itself.  Like many parts of life, I consider it unfortunate and horrible, but inevitable and often necessary.   There are, however, just wars and unjust wars, and the line between the two are often blurred.  And even if one side has a just cause, does not mean that all the men behind it are entirely just themselves, nor the methods they use just.

Perhaps I was just naive about this for a long time, but I spent most of my life believing that, whatever you said about Vietnam or the Iraq War,  one war we could all get behind was World War II.   The Japanese brought us into it with an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor,  and Hitler needed to be stopped.  If there was a line between Good and Evil,  the sides upon which the Allies and the Axis stood were clear.  We were The Good Guys, they were The Bad Guys.

The evidence was there:  the Axis was undeniably evil and committed horrible crimes against humanity. On one side of the world, they were murdering millions of Jews, Catholics and other minorities and were bulldozing Europe in the process.   On the other side of the world,  Japan had a raging case of The Little Guy Who Snapped,  wanted to be treated as one of the World Powers, and they needed the United States out of the way.    It was truly a noble war, proving to all the goodness of America, as well as its greatness.  The only reason to blush, for our part, being that now we get to take a collective look in the mirror and see ourselves wearing a t-shirt reading, “My grandfather went to Midway and all I got was The Baby Boomer generation.” (The Baby Boomers alone make me like grenades a little more.)

But does The Bad Guys being bad make the opposition The Good Guys?   World War II,  even if it was a just cause, was not won without making extremely amoral, and anti-Christian compromises.   We may have stopped Hitler, but only by aligning ourselves with Stalin, who was responsible for anywhere from three to six times the genocide that Hitler was.

And we ended the Pacific War with the murder of 250,000 civilians, and somehow, this slips under the genocide radar.

For the first three centuries, the three centuries closest to Christ, the Church was a pacifist Church. With Constantine the church accepted the pagan Roman ethic of a just war and slowly began to involve its membership in mass slaughter, first for the state and later for the faith.

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, whatever other differences they may have had on theological esoterica, all agreed that Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching on the rejection of violence and on love of enemies was not to be taken seriously. And so each of the major branches of Christianity by different theological methods modified our Lord’s teaching in these matters until all three were able to do what Jesus rejected, that is, take an eye for an eye, slaughter, maim, torture.

It seems a “sign” to me that seventeen hundred years of Christian terror and slaughter should arrive at August 9, 1945 when Catholics dropped the A-Bomb on top of the largest and first Catholic city in Japan. One would have thought that I, as a Catholic priest, would have spoken out against the atomic bombing of nuns. (Three orders of Catholic sisters were destroyed in Nagasaki that day.) One would have thought that I would have suggested that as a minimal standard of Catholic morality, Catholics shouldn’t bomb Catholic children. I didn’t.

I, like that Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power and prerogative and violence, all in the name of our Lord.

I walked through the ruins of Nagasaki right after the war and visited the place where once stood the Urakami Cathedral. I picked up a piece of a censer from the rubble. When I look at it today I pray God forgives us for how we have distorted Christ’s teaching and destroyed His world by the distortion of that teaching. I was the Catholic chaplain who was there when this grotesque process, which began with Constantine, reached its lowest point – so far.

My thoughts on this are still evolving, and will probably continue to evolve for a long time.  But please read the rest of the interview.  For me, it was a turning point.  I used to be able to say I was not at all opposed to war and still, some of Rev. Zabelka’s anti-war and anti- military sentiments don’t sit well with me.   But it was an upheaval of all I thought I believed.  I now must question whether war is something I truly believe in, or something I have been conditioned to believe in.  Some things are worth dying for, yes, but is anything worth killing for? (excluding direct, immediate danger, in cases of self defense)

But were the Crusaders and the popes who commissioned them wrong?   Where does this leave soldiers who became saints?  St. Martin of Tours?  St. Joan of Arc? (it’s important to note, however, that in the latter’s case, God never directed her to kill anyone, and she never did.)   I can fortunately fall back on something  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters,

[T]ens of thousands […] will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.  I believe that The Enemy [Screwtape, a demon, refers to God as ‘The Enemy”] disapproves many of these causes.  But that is where He is so unfair.  He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophisticated ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

This merciful quality of God is certainly a blessing, because as I read about Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I find myself less and less convinced that we have as many just reasons for war as we think we do.


Struggling a bit with writer’s block… Just not feelin’ it lately, I guess.  I’ve watched a steady decline on my stats page with a slump and a “Meh.”   I’ve started topics that seem interesting for a whole five seconds before I get distracted by a Gizmodo article and the post trails off on its own.  Bear with me.

Gosh, even finishing this post was a struggle.  I need a coffee and a massage.  Blergh.


Cowboys, Aliens and Dad

I’ve been looking forward to “Cowboys and Aliens” for months.   I’ve never seen the trailer and prior to its release on Friday, I didn’t even know the plot.   All I knew was that it was a Western with aliens, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, so really, what else is there to know?

After seeing it, I was happy to find that it wasn’t much more than that.  It was sincere, yet silly– just an entertaining summer movie that didn’t try to be more than that.   It’s not satire or cynical; it knows its pulling out all the cliches of both genres and it’s okay with that.  As Roger Ebert says, “Humanity is in danger, and it’s up to the rough-hewn cowboys of the Old West to save us.” It’s a movie with the security of predictability, which is almost refreshing.  It has a cheesy twist like those from movies that came from times when corny twists weren’t questioned or scoffed at.  While everyone else is trying to be The Newest Thing, revamping a couple old schticks requires more creativity and daring to be successful than coming up with something completely original, I think.   I loved it because it was a movie that was willing to just be a movie.

The mashup of genres reminded me of a game my dad used to play with my siblings and me.  I only have one brother, but he had more Hot Wheels, action figures, and toy soldiers than any one boy really needed.  So some nights, after dinner, while mom did dishes in the kitchen,  he’d drag up a bucket of them along with two or three of those toy castles with the trap doors and working drawbridges.  Action figures– a conglomeration of aliens, cowboys, superheros and spacemen– were divided,  alliances were formed (and as frequently betrayed), rules were written (merely to be broken), stakes were claimed, and plots took turns that would put M. Night Shyamalan movies to shame.  Watching Cowboys and Aliens was like watching my childhood imagination in movie form.

Then, of course, was the fact that it felt like an off-shoot of Indiana Jones.  I was a Disney girl from birth, but if there is one movie that I feel defined my childhood, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” would be it. 

Daniel Craig was marvelous as a rugged bad guy gone good, and the role of steely-eyed cowboy fits him like a glove.  But it was Harrison Ford who really made me nostalgic for classic popcorn action movies. I felt like I was watching a true descendent of the Indiana Jones franchise, just with better CGI than they had 30 years ago.   No, it won’t have the staying power or legacy of the franchise itself,  and it didn’t have a John Williams score that people will be humming decades from now,  but it could stand next to the real thing, if not by itself.   I couldn’t help but think that maybe this meant that we could all put “Indiana Jones and the Guy from Transformers” behind us and pretend it didn’t happen.

I still remember the day, when I was about 9, that my dad popped in an old VHS with the title scribed on a handwritten label.  My mom was out of the house with my aunt and mom’s friend, Mary.  That left me and my siblings (which I believed totaled 4 at that time), Mary’s kids, (5 of them?) and my three cousins in my dad and uncle’s care for most of the day.   Some of the details are fuzzy, but I remember that it was soon after lunch, and my dad put the movie in the tape player saying that it was a movie he liked when he was a kid.   [This led to years of living in the belief that my dad grew up during the same time that the Nazis occupied North Africa, but I digress.] That tape played on loop long after, as did its sequels when we got our hands on them.

Perhaps it would seem strange to some if I said that the moment-long memory of my dad with that VHS is one of my fondest of him.  Some, I’m sure, would think that this implied that my dad gave me no better memories than popping in a movie to get a dozen kids under 10 to sit still for 90 minutes.  My dad himself might be insulted that rather than big memories like family vacations and Disney Land and the time he took teaching me how to shoot or ride a bike,  it’s a memory that took place in our living room–one that he may not even remember– that evokes the warmest feelings.   I can think of 19 years worth of good memories with my dad, but that one sticks out.  I don’t know why, but it does.

Dad was also the one who introduced me to Star Wars, and I’d join ranks with the other girls with crushes on Han Solo.  My dad gave me Harrison Ford in his glory days, so to watch him kicking ass again (in an aging John Wayne kind of way) at however-old-Ford-is-now-I-don’t-really-want-to-think-about-it, made me reminiscent. 

I sat in the theater on Friday, thrilled that the movie was everything I hoped it would be, but wishing I was watching it with my dad.

Weekend nothing

Until I get home internet access and a laptop that will make it worth it (once I get more readership, maybe I’ll put up a donation widget!) I only have Internet access during the week, except through my phone. Not so good for long or well-edited pieces.

But I did want to share the following link on forgiveness. It’s a good follow up from my last post, though unfortunately, I can’t remember how to embed a link using WordPress Mobile. Meh. I’ll fix it Monday.


I loved this paragraph:

Just as Christ blew apart for all time the old “law” of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, he also blew apart all notion of counting the cost, hedging our bets, playing things close to the vest. To forgive is not to let someone off the hook—this time. To forgive is not to be outwardly “nice” and inside to plot vengeance. To forgive is to open our arms and heart wide, to remain woundable—as Christ did on the Cross.

Anywho, have a great weekend, everyone!

One in Seven

A family of strong opinions and stubborn, loud personalities,  heated discussions were inevitable on holidays.  To borrow from Matthew 18:20, wherever two or more Watsons or Martinezes are gathered around holiday pie and coffee, there political tension shall be in their midst. 

Our passion for Reagan-era politics were something that defined us.    Before I was two, if I heard my grandfather turn on Rush Limbaugh, I’d throw my toys down and sit in front of the radio. Before I knew how to add, I knew that Bill Clinton was a lying sonofabitch, and Hillary still scares me just a little.  [Especially those caricature pictures of her.  Shudder.] 60 Minutes was a Sunday night ritual.

Watching debates about politics from the sidelines shaped me into the person I am and from an early age, I’d pipe up with commentary that I can imagine was as obnoxious as it was adorable.  Our country’s history and current affairs were a big deal.   To this day,  people and families who don’t talk about, or don’t care about things like that seem strange, and I wonder, “What do they talk about? Each other? Psh.”

Couple hard conservatism with a fervor for criminal justice. My dad had known he wanted to be a cop after a stint in the Marine Corps from the time he was young,  both my grandmothers worked in jails and had personal investments in the outcomes of sheriff elections,  and conversations about major investigations and criminal cases in the ’90s (OJ Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Oklahoma City Bombing, the beating of Rodney King) dominates no small part of my childhood memories.  My grandma still watches Court TV almost exclusively, except when she takes a break for her Mexican soaps and Project Runway. 

So after Thanksgiving dinner one year, when the younger kids had gone off to watch the first tv airings of Christmas movies on CBS, and the adult discussions had ensued,  it lead to the opportunity for me to announce that I was opposed to the death penalty.  This time, at age 16, it was not a flippant opinion I took up on a whim and would forget later, and they knew it.  My dad looked at me like I had just announced that I really wanted to get a summer job in the prostitution field.

They always knew I’d grow up to be a bleeding heart liberal.  They knew it from the time they had first read to me the story of  The Little Red Hen and, being four, not seeing the analogy on the welfare state, thought the hen was just being a total meanie by not sharing her bread. 

My announcement that year has lead to many discussions, heated as they are long, since.  At first, my arguments were rather weak, lead by my heart rather than my head, stemming from an instinctive understanding that most who supported the death penalty did so out of desire for vengeance, and that this seemed wrong to me.  The valid arguments I did have, hard to articulate.  I often lost.  But I stood my ground, and with time, became immoveable with information.

Did you know that one in seven people on death row are later found innocent?   Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, there have been 1,263 executions.  Statistically speaking, that means 180 innocent people have been killed for crimes they didn’t commit. 

Of course, there are many who say that the collateral damage of having one innocent killed is the cost of achieving “justice” for the six who are guilty.  This argument comes from a surprising amount of people who otherwise identify as “prolife.” 

If you read (which I encourage you to do) the stories of how some of these innocent men came to be convicted of these crimes, it would appall you.   Their lives have weighed on the statements of prison snitches (inmates who lie about having overheard the confession of a fellow inmate in order to obtain a sentencing deal),  false confessions (confessions coerced out of suspects by physical or psychological abuse), mistaken witnesses, white coat fraud, failure to test DNA, and corrupt law enforcement.  The statistics are astounding.

In my reading, it seemed to me that the underlying pattern was that the prosecution and the victim or the victim’s families wanted nothing more than justice to come from somewhere, somehow.  For it to be closed– done with.  If there was a chance that they had brought their daughter, wife, mother or friend’s killer/rapist to justice, then they could close that horrible chapter of their lives and move on.  This is, of course, understandable.  But it’s also wrong.

We saw this happen weeks ago, on a shockingly large scale, when Casey Anthony was acquitted of murdering her daughter.  From an objective point of view, the lack of physical evidence was more than enough to give the jury reasonable doubt, and yet it was not the people close to the victim crying out against this supposed breach of justice. The general public was sent into a twittering outrage.  [Alannis Morrisette could take a lesson in what Irony really means.] 

The public, some of whom had only heard of Caylee Anthony when they got curious about their friends’ statuses, were suddenly tearing their hair in lamentation over our country’s criminal justice system and how it had failed that poor little girl.  Some going so far as to threaten the lives of members of the jury.

Whether Casey Anthony committed the crime is no longer the point. The trial’s over, and she can’t be tried again.  The point is that, this time anyway, our justice system worked.  It worked because we, as a supposedly moral civilization, believe that it is better to let a guilty person walk free than to condemn an innocent. Or, at least, we should.  The Casey Anthony trial, however, proved to me that the bloodthirst of the days of the coliseum are long from over.  It doesn’t matter who pays, as long as someone does.

From a Catholic’s point of view,  the death penalty should be considered heinous, and honestly, a renouncement of belief in God’s justice.  We all want to take matters into our own hands and dole out justice as we see fit– it’s human nature.  But if we believe that God should be the sole ruler of life and death, and that He will punish sinners accordingly, then we should be satisfied to simply have dangerous people off the streets, and our 21st century prisons are more than sufficient. 

As of 1998,  only slightly more than .5% of prisoners  were listed as “escaped” or “AWOL.”

[UPDATE: I had meant to acknowledge here that 13 year old statistics were the most recent I could find from a reliable source, even when using a Google search term as blatant as “number of prison escapes in united states per year.”  If anyone knows where I can find more up-to-date information, please pass it along.]

True, there are still thousands of escapees a year. Why aren’t you hearing about them? The vast majority of escapees are “walk-aways” from community corrections facilities that have minimal supervision. Dramatic, Hollywood-style escapes from maximum security prisons are the ones that draw media attention.

Like their maximum security counterparts, the minimum security walk-aways are usually recovered. State prisons reported that more escapees and AWOL prisoners were returned than escaped every year from 1995 to 1998. The last year with more escapees than recaptured prisoners was 1994, when 14,307 prisoners escaped and 13,346 were returned.

Federal prison breakouts are rarer than state prison escapes. One federal prisoner escaped and was recaptured in 1999, out of a prison population of more than 115,000. He was the only one to escape in the past four years.

I urge everyone to read up on some of the sites I’ve cited.  If you ever get around to reading Actual Innocence,”  you’ll understand how common and how avoidable wrongful convictions are, and how very frightening it is.  That these people, in most cases, did not even know the victim and were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, should hit home that this could happen to you or someone you know.  If it ever does, I wonder if you’ll still believe that only the guilty are put to death.

For more information and useful statistics, check out The Innocence Project and http://www.antideathpenalty.org/

Human Solutions

I didn’t write yesterday; I may not write anything else today.  I have days where I just drop my face onto my keyboard and think, “Ugggghhhh,  I can’t write.  I suck.” 

This usually happens after one of three things happen: 

  1. Someone tells me how much they liked my writing.  I always feel this manic tick go off inside me that tells me I have to top, then, whatever I wrote before, so as to actually be deserving of praise.  Right now. This instant. I need to pump out something absolutely epic, that will change the life of the reader with my gritty insight.  Something poignant, yet witty.  Then my eye starts twitching.  I told you from the start— I crave approval, but when I actually get it, it does weird things to me.
  2. I start reading other people’s blogs;  blogs written by people I very much admire.  And when I finish, I slump my shoulders, take a long drag from my coffee, think, “Uggghhh, why didn’t I write that?  I’ll never be able to say that kind of stuff without sounding like an idiot.  Well, who cares? It’s not like anyone’s actually reading your blog.”  Face:Keyboard. 
  3. I have an idea for a post, but haven’t worked it out to the point where I can articulate it and am consequently consumed by a need to get my thoughts on paper.  But since the thought is half-formed, it comes out looking like:  “sahsadfdhgfdhgf-soap-nachos-conclave-synergy-Armando Guebuza-ashdkgkhghg.” 

Yesterday, all three happened, which sent me into a spiral of artistic and melodramatic self-loathing.

I’ve learned that if I’m in a bad mood, coffee is actually not a good idea for me.  This is counter-intuitive, since I usually think: Coffee + Happy = Energy = More Happy.  But apparently, Coffee + Bad mood = Energy = Restless Crankiness. 

So, having had multiple cups of coffee by the time I got home last night, I really was not keen on a quiet evening at home with my book, alone with myself and my dumb writing.  I tried, I really did, to just sit with my book and my soup.  But in the end, after a phone call from my sister, I went to Panera in search of just some basic human contact, had another cup of coffee (and a bagel) and tried to read again.  No luck.   With the dangerous combination of intellectual frustration, caffeine-induced restlessness and your average bout of moodiness,  all I wanted was a good, real life conversation. 

I’m not really a lonely person.  I spend a lot of time by myself, and I’ve never been the type who minded that so much.  In fact, if I have just too much time with too many people, I start to want to kill them and so I go catch a movie by myself and I feel better.  Most people tell me that going to the movies by yourself is lame and asocial, but I’d like to remind them that it at one time may have been the only thing keeping them from an untimely death.  Rachel, I’m talking to you.

But this time, I was cursing the year I was born as two years too early to be able to go to a dark bar and spill my troubles to a chatty bartender like a Freudian psychologist patient with daddy issues.  I drove around for about 20 minutes in a residential area, not totally sure where I was or where I was going, until I popped out, unexpectedly, onto the route I take to get to the church. 

Hey, I can take a hint. 

I sat in Church for a little while, not really saying much, or feeling like I was hearing much on God’s part.  This is usually okay with me.  When I worked at the church, if I just needed to get away from the soul-crushing florescent-ness of the church’s kitchen, I’d go up to the chapel, just to sit.   Sometimes I’d have deep thoughts, and sometimes I’d just think about whether or not the spaghetti sauce could use more basil.   I used to think of it like sitting in church and not saying much was like being able to sit in comfortable silence with a friend.

After a while, my inability to pray and the ensuing silence between God and I started to feel like “awkward silence,” and I wondered if it was my fault because I didn’t come to church often enough anymore.  Annoyed that I had come all that way to the church and not felt any more at peace,  I heard the piano playing downstairs.  Well, I sighed exasperated, that was it.  Any little bit of prayerfulness I had was waning fast, as my mind kept wondering who was playing the piano, what they were playing, how nice it sounded, but how goshdarn distracting it was, etc., etc.  So I walked out of church, leaving my purse and missal behind, and went downstairs.

It turns out that of all the people who could have been on the otherwise-deserted property,  there was no more perfect person to have picked that moment to distract me from my attempt at meditation.  Once thick as thieves, though granted, fraught with complicated adolescent hormones.  He was my best friend until unique circumstances eventually ended our former closeness and by now, we hadn’t talked for more than a few minutes in a long time.  Things change, and people grow up, lives diverge into different paths. But if you’re lucky, there’s still a solidness there in a friendship, and a bond still intact, no matter how long its been stagnant, even after its been deluged in a lot of pain, misunderstanding or separation.  The bond’s changed, but it’s there, simplified and laid bare, and better for that.

So we caught up for a solid half hour– more than we’ve talked in seven months, and left with promises to pray for each other,  and no matter how long  it is before we catch up with each other again, an almost tacit agreement that we would still be friends.  “I’ll be there… I mean… you know what I mean.”  “Yeah.  Me, too.”

It’s funny how God works.  And not to sound cheesy, but it occurred to me what a generous gesture it was.  He gave me, who doesn’t come make visits often enough as it is, an answer to a prayer against loneliness in human form, when His company should be all I need.  He wants me to come to Him, but when I do, lets me leave.

[UPDATE:  I was trying to think of a better way of explaining what I meant by this.  It’s like a Father seeing His child, sad and lonely, and instead of making it another unhappy lesson in coping, and blind trust, sent me off with a piece of candy, knowing there will be plenty of other times for me to learn the hard way. In other words, He gave me a good break.]

I went back upstairs to get my things from the chapel, and as I walked out, I mouthed a thank you.

How to Make a Bowl of Cereal

If I ever have kids, they’re not leaving the house until they’re 30.

I sometimes take a step back from myself and imagine what I would say if I were not myself and were someone else, perhaps my inner 40-year-old. My inner 40-year-old would say, “19? Go home. If you’re an age that ends in “teen,” you don’t belong here. You look like you’re playing dress up. Take off those ridiculous heels and go home.”

It’s not that I think my parents made a mistake in letting me leave the house when I did. For one thing, it wasn’t up to them. Short of shackling me to the bunkbed I shared with my sister, I don’t think there was anything they could have said or done to stop me when I was ready. I was 18, had a car, a destination, and it was just as well that I also had their blessing.

I spent most of my early life looking forward to my 18th birthday as the day that I was magically granted a nice car that never ran out of gas or needed repairs [I wonder if my mom remembers the times I would ask if we could go visit my grandparents in California. Of course, mom, I know airplanes are expensive. But why can’t we just drive there? Driving is free!] and a house and a dog and a horse, because when I was 18, no one could stop me from the simple task of putting up a fence like the one in my Aunt Sue’s backyard and keeping a horse there. It really can’t be as hard as you think, dad. Gosh.

But then I turned 16 and I got a job and had a few minimal expenses and some distant concept of what it meant to have rent to pay. So by the time I was on my second second-hand car, I realized that it was probably unlikely that I would actually be out of the house by 18. I also sort of came to terms with the fact that this was not only acceptable, most people aren’t actually independent of their parents until after they graduate college, or get married. This was such a dire reality for me that during the Midterm Breakdown of Spring Semester 2010, I sat at the table with my parents, crying because I was afraid that I would never be able to provide for myself and would have to rely on some guy to marry me before I could move out of the house.

Mere months later, at age 18, I was packing my car up to make the 500-mile trip to my new home.

For the first 8 months, I was still not “on my own.” I had almost no bills, a ton of freedom and lots of people to help me out if I were in a bind. But I had no money, and very little independence, which is a whole lot different from “freedom.”

So I got a job (try two) and an apartment and am now, in every possible way, on my own. Even emotionally, I’ve made myself a bit of a loner in that sense of detachment I think most adults have because they understand that people will not always be there when you need them and that you might just die alone, so you might as well get used to the idea. I don’t say that in a jaded, bitter way; I just say it because it’s the truth.

Then there’s your own physical well-being. When you nearly dismember yourself with a staple like I did last night, you have to go out to Walgreens at 10pm and get your own bandaids. There, you see one of your boss’ clients and hope they don’t recognize you, and realize what it’s like to be offended when they don’t. I mean, seriously, c’mon. You see me all the time, lady! Too often, in fact! You come in without an appointment, like, three times a week! Lady? I’m not old enough for the sweats-and-no-make-up me to look so grotesquely unrecognizable from the black-dress-and-brushed-hair me, right? Right?! You better just be pretending not to recognize me. Seriously. Look at meeeee.

To those of you who have been at this whole adult thing for a long time (a nice euphemism for “old”) this is not worth writing about. This is like me writing an instructional article on how to make cereal. But for me, all the time I’m finding some other new thing I hadn’t accounted for in my daydreams of what adulthood would be like. Things like having to check the mail every day.

Checking the mail every day is weird. Grocery shopping is weird. Walmart really intimidates me. To varying degrees, I live some version of this article almost every day.

When you haven’t actually done it, there’s no way to predict the exact way you have to itemize every dollar and every minute spent. There’s no one to remind you of literally, anything. The buck starts and stops with you and your survival strategy. Only you can decide when the dishes in the sink have reached critical mass. This sucks in ways you can’t even imagine, and there are times you think, “I can’t do this by myself anymore.” But you can and you do. And it’s fun. It’s good to have a chance to know that you’re a complete person. Independence is invaluable to me, as it has been since I could first utter the words, “I do it MYself” to my parents.

I write all this wondering if I’ll ever show this to my kids, as a warning or encouragement, when it comes time to decide if they’re ready to face The Great, Wide Somewhere. It won’t matter, though. In the immortal words of Crush the Turtle, “Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?” Experience isn’t passed on by word of mouth, and sage advice honestly rarely matters. Like me, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. And like me, they’re going to be fine.

Especially if they wait until they’re 30.

UPDATE: Oh my gosh, guys, a giant spider just skittered across my floor. This is one of those times I feel like I am just not good by myself. Without someone to “GETITGETITGETIT” while I screech from atop a chair, I am fairly demobilized. If anyone wants to stop by my apartment and rescue me, I’ll be here, trapped on my couch while the spider moves in and leaves its towels on the floor.

Fish on Fridays: Catholics aren’t bothered, why are you?

I’ve only been to Bella Casa, a pizza place on  the corner of 16th and Farnam, a handful of times, but already I’m recognized by the owner as the girl who gets cheese pizza on Friday. 

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to have the once-a-week-vegetarian talk with people I know.  If I go out to eat in a group, I spend the most time looking over the menu, trying to find something meatless (and I don’t do fish), that will also satisfy my need for protein.   I’ve become accustomed to asking waiters what they recommend for vegetarians and with that becoming an increasingly popular trend for health or ethical reasons, they’re more than happy to help. 

It’s really not a big deal.  I actually really like veggie burgers, and grilled portobello mushrooms make a good, filling meat substitute without tasting like meat at all. 

But when I explain to people why I’m being such a high maintenence foodie,  I get the whole gamut of reactions.  Everything from interested questions, timidly insincere nods, to being publicly quizzed on whether or not I know why Catholics are called to abstain from meat.  “I bet you didn’t know that Pope So-and-So only instituted that practice because he had family in the fish mongering industry.”

Actually, I have heard that one before, several times, in fact, and I’ve done some research. I’ve found nothing conclusive to support that claim.   In fact, it was surprisingly hard to find anything that answered my question about when and why that tradition came into being, other than that we do it in memory of Our Lord’s Passion, though no one said why it was the meat of warm-blooded animals. 

I heard long ago (and found some others say it on various forums that popped up on Google) that because warm-blooded meat was a rich man’s food, and fish, a poor man’s food,  the pope wanted the rich to identify with the poor in this way.  This doesn’t seem likely to me either,  but a whole heck of a lot more likely than the idea that a pope was taking religion-changing measures to help out the fish industry during a time when, due to the availability of fish and the conditions of the majority, it was probably doing well enough on its own.  I get that there have been corrupt, power-seeking popes in the Church’s history, but I’m just not buying it.   

Eventually, I found that the teaching is first mentioned in The Didache of the Apostles, written in the 1st Century.  Hey, good enough for me!  The Didache contains basically all the other core truths of Christianity.

Whatever happened in history, though, I can think of one reason that abstaining from meat on Fridays is good for Catholics: It reminds us of who we are.   Most of the week,  it’s easy to forget you’re Catholic.  Since high school, I’ve gone months at a time where every waking moment was spent either at a church, at a convent, with nuns and prayer schedules and in all other ways, identifying as Catholic in a routine that was just taken for granted.

Between August and December of last year, I worked at my Church and its school and went to Mass every day. When the semester ended and I got a paying job, I still went to Mass several times a week until moving to the other side of town made only Sunday Mass possible.  And I miss it.  I miss feeling as Catholic as I did.  And yet, there are people who’ve never had the opportunity to have daily reminders of who they are and their duty to the Church.  For all of us who have to live in the world and can’t spend life kneeling in Adoration, we have Fridays.  Fridays that make us think before we order a Bacon Double Cheeseburger: “Oh, shoot, it’s Friday. Guess I’ll go home and… make a PB&J.”  Whatever was in the heart and mind of the man who first gave us this duty, God surely saw the benefits of this. 

The same goes for my scapular, and my veil, and all the other little things required of Catholics that make us put in the little extra effort, that remind us that men are meant to be in the world and not of it.

I don’t mind explaining to people that there is one day a week that I don’t eat meat.  Some people are genuinely curious and thoughtful.  I’ve had very nice people, non-Catholics, say how much they love my scapular, and sound proud to show that they even recognize one when they see it. 

No, what bothers me is the people who presume to tell me that my traditions are dumb.  People who won’t say anything negative about Muslim women in a Hijab, (these are often feminists who, I would think, would be the first to recognize this as a gross injustice against women by their male oppressors. Instead they admire the courage it takes to go against the American-Judeo-Christian grain in such an open way.  Apparently, sticking it to one Man is more important than sticking it to another) or even acknowledge that they’ve noticed it out of fear of being accused of bigotry or hate, will openly laugh at my religion’s traditions.  Literally– the same individuals.   Jews have much more finicky diets than Catholics in regards to meat, (for much stranger reasons) and I don’t hear anyone scoffing at them.

“I went to Catholic school,” I said once.

“Oh, so that’s why you are the way you are,”  sneered my coworker.


Replace “Catholic school” with “Buddhist monastary” or something like that, and I couldn’t imagine anyone having the gall to act like it’s anything less than extraordinary.  And dare I become indignant at this offense, and it just fans the flame, while being accused of a hate crime against any other racial, ethnic or religious group is seen as the ultimate taboo. 

People seem to think that most non-Christian religions are exotic, exciting and progressive (read: trendy) compared to stodgy ol’ Christianity.  Quote Gandhi and every 20-something (and anyone who read “Eat, Pray, Love”) in the room will solemnly nod in agreement; quote the Psalms–sublimely poetic, in even a superficial way– and you’re a religious fanatic.   Then they feel they need to fix you, to unravel those crazy ideals of yours when they’re obviously so 1489.  Outdated. Obsolete.  In so many words, I’ve been made aware my “corruption” is some people’s personal undertaking.  No, they don’t even pretend to respect my religious sensitivities.

Yes, I have a persecution complex.  Yes, this makes me angry that I, a bigoted, brainwashed, bitter (how’s that for alliteration?) Christian am more respectful of my tolerant, enlightened, open-minded liberal friends than they are of me.    It upsets me that some of my friends, who care about me, won’t read my writing because I spend too much time talking about “Catholic stuff.”  Yes, it hurts.  But that’s reality, and being Catholic is all about living in reality and dealing with it as it is. 

I’m probably preaching to the choir.  Pretty much all the Catholics I know will be nodding in agreement, I think.  We all know that the people who are crying out the loudest for “tolerance” are the ones most likely to be incited to anger or condescending antagonism  at the sight of a Catholic living his or her Faith.