During our recent trip to Montana Kathleen and I took the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine and brews. As always, most of it was okay, some of it was bleh, and some of it was fantastic. That’s life, right?

I think it was in the context of sampling some beer that we got on the topic of cheesemaking. Evie was coloring nearby as we talked, which also influenced the course of our conversation.

Photo by NastyaSensei Sens on Pexels.com

As you may or may not know, Kathleen’s family is Swiss. That is, dairy and cheesemaking run deep in her family history. There are pictures of her ancestors only a couple of generations back carrying giant copper cheesemaking kettles in parades in full Swiss garb. Partially because of this history, and partly out of curiosity, I recently listened to an Audible book called “Switzerland: A Village History.” The author traces the history of one village in Switzerland, his home village, through almost a thousand years of Swiss history, with the goal of providing a window into Swiss culture as a whole. How well he does showing that Chateau D’oex is representative of Switzerland as a whole is up for debate, but the book was enjoyable, if somewhat overtly politicized at the end.

At any rate, the most memorable part of the book for me was his description of the daily life of the village in the Middle Ages, starting with the advent of cheesemaking as the primary source of income for the village and the country (it is somewhat anachronistic to call Switzerland a “country” at this point, but we’ll let that slide for now).

All the village cows belonged to the village herd and pastured on the village common land. In the spring they would be herded up to the alpine meadows in a grand parade with bells, ribbons, music, dancing, feasting, etc. Each cow would be milked, and their output would be carefully weighed and computed as a percentage of the total output of the herd.

Then the village boys and young men would essentially live on the mountainside all summer, tending the cows. They would move them from pasture to pasture, milking each one every morning and every night while the cheesemaker and his apprentices would follow the herd with their buckets, bowls and cauldrons in tow. All summer long they would make cheese, either out on the meadow or in special cheese making huts.

The cheesemaker was arguably the most important man in the village. He was a man who had spent decades of his life perfecting his craft. He had to judge the quality of the milk by sight, taste and smell, check temperature and consistency by feel, know exactly how long to simmer the milk at exactly what temperature, without the benefit of a thermometer or a timepiece. He had to know the right time to harvest the rennet and add it, how to form the cheese, age the cheese, cure the cheese. Every grade-A cheese he turned out was money in the village pockets (individual families were paid a percentage of overall profits based on the percentage their cow or cows had produced on the first day of pasture. See above.) Every lesser grade cheese he produced was money lost.

You had better believe he kept a close eye on his apprentices. He taught them his trade, but he also severely limited their ability to cause disaster. The apprentice cheese boys probably started out splitting wood, trimming fires (itself a delicate task when the temperature must be maintained within a few degrees without a thermostat), scouring kettles. Then perhaps they moved up to straining the milk, skimming the milk, cutting the rennet. They were probably not allowed to start mixing ingredients or stirring or actually doing anything that could potentially ruin a cheese until they were in their mid to late teens and had demonstrated the maturity and ability to attend necessary to keep from burning the cheeses. They were probably started off on the smaller, inferior cheeses made from second or third skimming, intended for local consumption by the cowherds themselves. Only gradually would they be allowed to move up to higher quality milk and higher quality cheeses. When a man produced his first grade-A cheese deemed by his masters as being worthy of being shipped to market, it was the culmination of decades of training.

In a word, the cheese masters most likely trained their apprentices in a manner similar to the guild apprenticeships of medieval Europe (admirably treated with a lively gusto in Peter Ackroyd’s “Life of Thomas More” and to a lesser extent in his magnificent “History of England” see especially Volume II. The guilds receive a much more nostalgic and rosy treatment in Anthony Esolen’s “Piolitically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization). Our conversation meandered to the guilds and their role in shaping and teaching their various arts. Nowadays when we use the word “art” we instinctively think of something that is essentially extra. An art is something that is nice, like singing, painting, drawing, acting, poetry, fiction, etc. The connotation is of something that doesn’t really matter. Of course we all agree that art is good, and great to have around, and what would our culture be without art, etc. We pay our “artists” obscene amounts of money to sing and dance and act for us, but in the final analysis, we think of art as not real work. We have separate categories for real work (useful, somewhat coercive, reliably earns a wage or delivers a paycheck, somehow necessary to the sustainment of life as we know it) and art (frivolous, done solely by and for enjoyment, does not reliably earn a living except for a tiny minority, the world would go chugging on quite well without it.)

The ancient’s were not so split in their thinking. Read any of the dialogues of Plato and you are guaranteed to hear him blathering on about the “art” of the farmer, or of the physician, or of the gymnastic instructor, and comparing it to the “art” of the rhetorician or politician. More recently, look at the cheesemaker, and all of his guild master colleagues in all the various guilds. This was real art. This was art that really mattered. It really mattered because the village depended on it for their livelihood, but also because it became a matter of pride for a man to become a master cheesemaker. The day he stood before his masters, and they judged his work worthy, and recognized him as a master and a peer, was a great day in the life of a man. It was the day he took his place in the community, in many ways, it was the day he became a man.

Before he got to that point he was taught, trained and criticized. His every mistake was pointed out and corrected, sometimes harshly. His masters treated him as if the art really mattered, and he had better be willing to sacrifice his own ego and his own ideas for the sake of that art.

Contrast that with our attitude toward the teaching of art. When the school budget has to be balanced, what is the first thing to go? The arts. When we send our kids to college what degrees do we tell them to avoid? Arts. Art is an extra, an elective, and most tellingly, it is a class that no one can fail. All you have to do is “do your best” and express yourself. In a word, we treat art as something that doesn’t really matter. With the things that really do matter we don’t say “just do your best.”

We fire people who don’t enhance productivity, regardless of whether or not they do their best. No one gets through medical school on the basis of doing their best or expressing themselves. They had better be expressing the views of the CDC, the AMA, the ACOG, the APA, etc. They had better be meeting the standard.

The old masters treated their art as if it really mattered.* They expected discipline, and sacrifice, and respect for the art. You had to show that you had mastered the art that was given you before you were deemed to have anything worth expressing. Did it crush spirits? Probably not as often as we might think. Spirits are greatly determined by expectations, and if you were a boy with no expectation except being an apprentice and learning an art and eventually becoming a master, you probably adapted to it just fine.

I would not say that theirs was a superior way of teaching. But I do wonder what would happen to our “art,” which, lets face it, is mostly very bad, if we started treating our chosen art like a master cheesemaker, with an entire village’s livelihood simmering in his kettle.

*An argument could be made that the attitude toward the art was not the primary difference, but a result of the primary difference between their art and hours. The primary difference might well have been the theological outlook. Was it Dorothy Sayers who said that bad theology always leads to bad art?

Welcome to a beautiful morning.Family Friday 147 (1)Stretchy -stretchy. Yawn.

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Oooh, what a refreshing sleep!

Time to rise and shine!

 

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Oh, Hi there! Good Morning, Daddy!

Evie doesn’t like to wake up all at once.

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She prefers to spend some time cocooning in Mommy and Daddy’s bed, or on the couch.

Last Saturday we did family photos, so everyone had to get dressed in semi-fancy clothes. Of course we all looked fabulous.

 

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Who, little ol’ me? Aw shucks!

 

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I’m practicing my smile.

It was sunny and beautiful, but a little bit chilly, especially since the photographer insisted we take most of the pictures in the shade. Something about the light being better. Which I get. When you take pictures of us in direct sunlight we are so blindingly white we just wash out the photo.

Ellie did not mind the cold (she has meat on her bones) but Evie was not digging it. We had to keep reminding her of the wonderful playground that awaited her, only upon the condition of obedience and cooperation and other boring concepts like that.

 

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Fortunately for all concerned, she was very good and got to play at the playground.

She spent most of the time rock-climbing. On rocks. In fancy shoes. And a skirt. She was able to climb all the way to the very top of the big rock (with Daddy spotting underneath, of course).

 

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Hey! Get out of my way, Boy!

Then we got into the car to head home, but less than two minutes into the trip Evie must have calmed down enough to re-connect with her bladder. At any rate, she suddenly announced excitedly, “Oh! Mommy Daddy, I have to go potty!”

So we stopped at Jack-in-the-Box and used the bathroom and ate some wonderful greasy food.

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As soon as we got home it was nap-time for Evie, while Ellie ate voraciously, and then helped Daddy write Family Friday.

 

On Sunday Evie and Ellie went to stay overnight at Deedee and Papa’s house, since Daddy had to go in to Seattle to present his capstone project at school on Monday. So Mommy and Daddy (a.k.a Kathleen and Ryan) had a date night. We had some wonderful Thai food. If you are ever in the area, we highly recommend Ayothaya in Puyallup. It tastes just like Thai food, and the garlic ribs are to die for.

 

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(Note: not literally to die for. I wouldn’t actually die for them. [Unless I were a pig.])
Daddy finished his last rotation for a while last week, and after presenting his capstone he has a couple weeks off, so he got to spend the whole week with the girls!

 

We ran so many errands we were like errand-running-machines.

 

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They are great assistant chefs. We grilled steak and corn.

And Ellie enjoyed some outdoor time several days this week, thanks to the cool but mostly not raining weather.

 

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Oh, so this is what you mean by outdoors? I dig it.

Evie is going to be a flower girl in Uncle Andy and Aunt Annarose’s wedding in May, so Daddy took her to try on her flower-girl dress.

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This is not the dress she will be wearing. This is one that she fell in love with and absolutely had to try on, and the saleslady was a good sport about it.

Poor Evie. For a while there she thought she had died and gone to heaven in the “dresses house.” She wanted all the dresses (except, ironically, the one that the bride had picked out). Then, alas, it finally sank in what Daddy had been trying to get her to understand before they even walked in, namely, that we were not actually taking any dresses home. We were going to order the dress, but we had to leave it at the store for now.

Then Daddy thought he had died and gone to purgatory. Holy ballistic melt-down, Batman! The last straw was when we tried to trade the white princess slippers for her regular pink sneakers. In the words of Mark Twain, we will draw a curtain of charity over the remainder of this scene.

That cut our outing short. In vain did Evie protest through her tears that she was going to start listening now, and she wanted to go to another store. Daddy had decreed that there must be consequences (namely going home for lunch and nap) and consequences don’t mean a thing unless you follow through on them. Plus Ellie had recently discovered that she was starving also, and it was time to adjourn for the sake of the sanity of all concerned. So we had to finish up our shopping after lunch.

 

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Meanwhile Ellie is like, “Yummy, yummy fingers.”

 

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Oh hi there, Grandma!

Evie had her three-year doctor visit, which is the part where you take her to a “doctor house” so that she can play with some fancy toys, wear a fancy paper gown:

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“This is a teacher dress!”

Which crinkles delightfully.

 

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Crinkle crinkle.

And then a nurse practitioner talks to you for five minutes, tells you you are perfectly healthy, and says, “See you next year for some shots.”

Easiest Doctor house visit ever. I feel like it could have been conducted over email.

One other big event this week, we took Evie to visit a Montessori school nearby. She took to it like a duck to water, and was very sad (but also very well-behaved) when it came time to leave.

How did she get so big? Already time to start thinking about her education? What?!

 

Which brings up a host of big questions. We are pretty sure she would be bored silly in a public school (a bored Evie is a very dangerous thing), which leaves parochial school, Montessori school (limited options in the area), or some variation of co-op/homeschooling option available to us. Given the way our next year looks like it is going to go we can disregard co-op/homeschooling our of hand for now. We have a couple more schools to check out, this spring, but at some point we are going to have to make a decision.

What the heck! Why do they allow parenting to be done by parents? By the time you figure it out your kids are grown up! Parenting should be done either by teenagers (because they know everything), surgeons (often wrong, but never unsure) or Grandparents (who have experience). Of the three, I think grandparents are the least sustainable option, because you run out of experience grandparents after the first generation. The other two might have merit. We’ll do some research and get back to you.

Just kidding. It’s a fun trip, but I don’t advise trying it without some supernatural support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things that Evie hates the most is eating lettuce. She does not understand why it is even considered a food item, or why her grownups insist upon putting it on her plate.

Coming, as I do, from a “clean your plate or else” background, it’s easy to let meal times turn into a battle of the wills. You know the sort of thing that starts out:

Evie (with much dramaticness): “No, I can’t eat yettuce!”

Daddy (with stern forebearance): “Yes you can, I know you can do it.”

And ends up:

Evie: Tears, crying, anger, kicking and throwing food on the floor.

Daddy (through gritted teeth): Clean that up: Sit there until you eat your lettuce. Lettuce for breakfast. Lettuce for lunch. Lettuce for ever and ever amen until you learn to like it!

 

There have been nights like that.

Fortunately, Kathleen comes from a background that endorsed the “No thank-you bite,” meaning that you at least have to try something before you can decide you don’t like it, but then you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.

We kind of meet in the middle with Evie. I still think it is important for her to learn to like lettuce and to be able to eat things she doesn’t like, but I acknowledge that it is not necessary for her to learn that all the way right now.

There are a few reasons why I think it is important to learn to lettuce. First and foremost, because it is good for you spiritually. Food was made for the body, not the body for food. We live in a world that cannot (and I mean really can NOT) practice moderation in food. We cannot eat things we don’t like, we cannot say no to things we do like. I could write a whole (rather ranty) book about it, but in brief this cripples the spiritual life by making the mind and will slaves to the cravings of the body. I am not even talking about the ancient and noble practice of fasting, I am talking about simply not being ruled by it, the simple ability to eat healthy food and not binge on unhealthy food. Freedom from the demands of our stomachs and palates begins when we are babies.

Secondly, for community. The world does not revolve around me. Instead, I live in a community within my family, and within that family everyone has their own likes and dislikes. Some people in that community like sloppy joes, cream tuna on toast, and other foods where the bread gets soggy. I happen not to like these foods, but for me to insist that we not eat these foods is to expect the enjoyment of other people to take a back seat to my own preferences. Demanding that whoever is cooking make a separate meal for each person is just as bad. It is far better for the community for me to accept that sometimes I won’t like what is on offer, and to eat it anyway without complaint. In this way I subordinate my tastes to the good of others in a concrete action, which builds habits, which trains the virtues far better than any amount of lecture or study.

Thirdly, for courtesy. Courtesy is really nothing more than thinking about how someone else will feel, and acting in a way to preserve their happiness and dignity. I have been to many countries around the world with the Army, and I have seen relations with the locals spoiled over food. Literally. I have seen large, tough, athletic Green Berets complain about the lack of meat and about being “red-blooded Americans” who apparently “need” their protein, completely insulting our hosts. They didn’t even realize that we were eating better than 99% of the country, or they didn’t care. They thought that our money ought to be able to make food appear out of thin air. The ability simply to shut up and eat what is put in front of you is part of being a good guest, and it starts early.

Fourthly, for delayed gratification. This is a less important reason than those above, but it is important nonetheless. This is where we have made the most progress with Evie eating food she doesn’t like, is by using it as a tool to teach delayed gratification at an age appropriate level. You can’t put a plate of mac-and-cheese in front of her, let her fill her stomach and then expect her to be motivated to eat her lettuce. You also can’t give her a plate of lettuce and tell her to eat that and then when she is done she can have some mac-cheese. She can’t see that far ahead, yet. She is only two.

This is where the “no-thank-you-bite” comes in. You can put one piece of lettuce on her plate, and some mac-cheese on the table in front of her out of reach and tell her that she can have the mac-cheese as soon as she eats her one bite of lettuce. The reward comes immediately after the unpleasant but necessary ordeal of eating the lettuce, so the reinforcement is stronger. She learns that doing what she doesn’t like will always lead to being given what she has been promised. (An important corollary is to be careful what you promise, or seem to promise.)

Evie loves beets
We bribe her with beets. Because you have to know what motivates your two-year-old.

 

 

Then, as she gets used to that you can lengthen it out. Two bites of lettuce first, then two bites of mac-cheese. She is up to three bites each now, and it has also turned into a counting game which helps take her mind off the nasty lettuce.

I guess it’s in keeping with our general parenting strategy of trying to give precedence to teaching good behavior proactively as a way of preempting the need for correcting bad behavior. It is not foolproof, and there is always the bad behavior we do need to correct, but overall it does seem to be working for Evie. She is smart and catches on quickly, and (we hope) is learning habits of thought and outlook that will tend towards virtue as she gets older.

It’s not an exact science. It is not strictly speaking a science at all (by the Jakian definition, at any rate). But at least we don’t have lettuce on the floor, and she gets enough fiber to poop with.

Little victories, you know?

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Daddy’s first week back from Thailand has certainly been a busy one!

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Evie tried on a bracelet that one of the Thai soldiers gave to Daddy to bring back for her. She likes it, but she is still a little bit too small.

We decided that the first thing we needed was a good old-fashioned family outing.

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So we went to the local Farmer’s market, where Evie amused herself by making friends with random babies in strollers.

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She liked this chair so much that she didn’t want to leave it to go home!

On Sunday we went out with Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne, and Baby Edmund, and Baby Edmund’s grandparents. Family Friday 60 11

IMG_2969Uncle Adam invited us out to Northwest Trek, which is a zoo a few miles south of us that features only animals native to North America in general, and the Pacific Northwest in particular.

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Evie especially liked the Great Pacific Northwestern Banana Slug.

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And the big tray of bones.

The sign said “Don’t climb on the moose,” but we (by which we mean Daddy and Uncle Adam) reasoned that they kids weren’t climbing, per se. They were simply sitting, where someone had lifted them up too. So they weren’t technically breaking any rules.Family Friday 60 18

We got to go on a train ride around the free roaming area of the park. Evie liked all the animals,

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That’s a really big critter!

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Moo Babies!

But Evie’s favorite critter at the zoo, is none other than her cousin, Baby Edmund.Family Friday 60 13

Edmund likes Evie, but he does wish she wouldn’t be quite so touchy-feely about it.

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Evie insisted on helping to push Edmund’s stroller along the mile or so of trail we walked. Before we got to the end of it she was so tired she kept belly flopping on the pavement and then crawling after the stroller on her knees to push it. There is no quit in her!

On Monday we had some family over to the house for a small 4th of July party. The best part of it (for Evie at least)?

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MORE Baby Edmund!

Evie is getting to be quite the hugger. Edmund? Meh, he can take it or leave it. Especially from Evie.

Other than that this week has been super busy. Daddy started school… Finally!

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First, last and only time I will wear the stupid UW shirt.

It has been long days, and there are a lot of them ahead over the next two years. Right now we are blessed to have Auntie Grace who can play with Evie and do fun things like make glasses out of pipe cleaners.

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And it is absolutely necessary to optimize time at school and work so that in the evenings we really are free to spend the time with Baby Girl. She needs Mommy and Daddy in her life. What’s the point of getting an education and jobs and moneys and things if you get old and your kids don’t know you?

Family Friday 60 8Choose the most important. That is wisdom.

That’s all for this week, folks. Hope you’re having a great week, and a great weekend. God Bless!

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“Daddy’s drink looks yummy. I wonder if I can reach it from here before they stop me.” Evie likes reading, but Traherne puts her to sleep. Evie likes reading, but Traherne puts her to sleep.

Not much went on this week at this particular Kraeger house. We tried to go to a Father’s day party on Sunday but it didn’t work out very well. Evie did not like the heat, or the noise, or the amount of people she has never seen before, so we had to go home early. We had some frozen yogurt and enjoyed a movie and some quiet reading in the comfort of our own family room. ryan finally finished the Thomas Traherne introduction he has been reading for months now (“Happiness and Holiness” by Denise Inge).

Evie likes reading. She likes Dr. Seuss and other books with bright colors and good stories. She also likes her busy baby cloth book, but mostly for eating. She thinks the story line is lacking a few things, like character, setting, plot. You know, little things like that.

Mostly this week has been dedicated to learning bio-chemistry. Ryan studies it during the day and explains it all to Kathleen and Evie in the afternoon and evening. Bio-chem is incredibly intricate and beautiful, with layers upon layers upon layers of complexity. Fun, but tough, especially trying to learn it online on an accelerated timeline.

A little TCA cycle, anyone? A little TCA cycle, anyone?

Studying at a coffee shop is fun. Sometimes you see weird things, like this cool little conveyance:

Pull cart behind a motor scooter? Pull cart behind a motor scooter? Why not? Why not?

Really scraping the bottom of the barrel for news, here, but Ryan managed to kill his punching bag good and dead this week. He borrowed it from an Army base in the Philippines that was shutting down, and has been babying it along for over a year now. Well, one of the corner links finally popped and bent open, the top flew off and some of the extra stuffing came flying out. Also one of the lag bolts that holds the swivel to the beam is pulling out of the wood.

This is why we can't have nice things! This is why we can’t have nice things!

Exciting, right? I know. But some weeks are like that.

Kathleen came up with a great recipe for emergency garlic bread which I thought we would share, because it was delicious.

Ingredients:

  • Sandwich rolls or hot dog buns
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Papa John’s Garlic dipping sauce. Kathleen loves that stuff and orders extra every time we get Papa John’s.

Spread the Garlic spread on the open sandwich roll of hotdog bun. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Toast until golden brown and crispy in a toaster oven or regular oven. Enjoy!

Clever, right?

I love those smiles! I love those smiles!

Originally I had no intention of being involved in medicine. When I passed Special Forces Selection and was asked to choose my specialty I had planned on choosing engineer, since I had been an engineer in the regular Army for six years already. Much to my surprise, however, I heard myself saying, “I think I’ll try out for medic.”

That sentence out of the blue changed my life, and I have never looked back. From day one of the medic course it was like drinking from a fire hose, and I loved it. After seeing patients on trauma and clinical rotations I knew that I had to learn more and that medicine was what I wanted to do after I got out of the Army. Which profession to choose, though? Doctor? Nurse? Physician Assistant (PA)?

While I was going through the course my Grandpa was dying of cancer. I would visit him on the weekends and talk about his medical care and how he was doing, and one of the things he said has stuck with me ever since. “I have a thoracic surgeon, an oncologist, a plastic surgeon and pneumonologist. But you know what? I don’t know which of them to go to if I need a Tylenol.” He would talk about his PA who did the routine procedures like excising skin lesions, managing his blood pressure and organizing his chart. More than that, his PA had the time and the continuity of relationship to ask questions like, “How are you handling all of this, Ted? How does it make you feel?” He was the one who could explain how a tumor resection would likely affect Grandpa’s pistol shooting and his ability to hug his grandkids.

There is a need for specialization to provide advanced treatments, but there is also a need for someone to provide the basic treatments and basic human contact. Someone needs to manage the more advanced services in the context of this patient and his priorities. This was the role that I became interested in, and which I have often seen PAs performing within healthcare teams.

My time with Special Forces reinforced my commitment to the basics of healthcare. In Southeast Asia I heard Thai police officers and Nepalese rangers telling me about their comrades bleeding to death for lack of a simple tourniquet. I saw people around me in the streets dying for want of the most basic healthcare: nutrition, hygiene, drinkable water, vaccinations, and clean dressings. These are things that we in middle and upper class America take for granted, but which are egregiously unavailable in underserved areas in our own country and around the world. These people don’t need neurosurgeons and cardiologists. They need basic health education and general practitioners.

Short term, “mission-trips” to troubled areas, while valuable, are not a sustainable answer to this need. What is needed in underserved areas, both in America and globally, is for solid general practice to be a regular presence in the communities and to provide not just healthcare, but health education as well. My exposure to the healthcare system convinced me that the General Practice PA is perfectly suited to provide this community based care and education as part of a broader healthcare team. Telemedicine will extend this capability by allowing PAs to consult with their supervising physician over longer distances, just as I used to as a medic on deployment.

This is why I want to become a PA, to provide quality healthcare where it is needed most and to work with specific communities to develop a sustainable model of community based care.

In the break between quarters this summer I am entertaining myself at least partly by taking an online medical biochemistry course from the University of New England. It is a bit rough but I am making good progress. I usually go to the library to work for a few hours a day, because it is:

  1. Quiet
  2. Free (I bike so no gas)
  3. Has interwebs

Last thursday I arrived as they opened, at 10:00 AM, found myself a table, fired up the laptop, and sat down to get to it.

Before I got to it, though, I decided I would check my facebook first (wanted to see how the last blog post was doing, you know how it is?) And of course, that is never a short proposition. I never just log in, check it, log out, I always get distracted by someone’s post about Pope Francis’s latest misunderstood statement and what he meant by it, and oh, by the way, here’s a video of a baby and a puppy and a young otter frolicking together on the back of an elephant that loves them all so very, very much, and you really need to read this article about why republicrats are evil, etc.

I scrolled for about 10 minutes or so, and then reminded myself that I was here to work, and I ought to get to it. It occurred to me I could say mid-morning prayer of the Divine Office and dive right into bio-chem.

I usually say Divine Office using the iBreviary app on my phone, or as a podcast using the Divine Office app if I am super busy or driving somewhere. Recently, however, I have taken to using the leather-bound four-volume set, at least for the Office of Readings and Office of Morning Prayer first thing in the morning. The iphone is convenient, but there is something about a leather-bound prayer book that is more conducive to meditation. I typically only say the major hours, Readings, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, but for whatever reason, that day I packed the book in my book bag, intending to say all the minor hours as well (Mid-morning, Mid-day, Mid-afternoon, and Night Prayer).

The minor hours are aptly named, for they are intended to be inserted into the busy workday at regular intervals (9:00, 12:00, and 3:00). Accordingly they take only about 5 minutes, 8 if you sing the hymn.

Well, I closed down facebook intending to get out my breviary when all of a sudden I realized that I was actually far too busy to say the minor hours today! Far, far too busy. I had so much studying on my plate, I could not afford to waste another minute, I had to get right to it. There was not a moment to lose.

Of course you know where that thought came from. This guy! ——>

I had to laugh, actually, because it was ludicrous. The immediacy and obviousness of it (which I have fallen for many, many times). Here I had just spent ten minutes doing basically nothing, and not a peep out of him, but let me even think about spending even half that time praying, and all of a sudden, he has a million things to say about how much work I have to do, and how I can’t afford to be procrastinating, and the duties of my state in life and yadda yadda yadda, yammering uselessly.

I prayed the minor hours anyway, thank God! Who knows what great goods might have come of that?

It is moments like these that convince me that the spiritual warfare is real, and also largely one-sided.

It is one-sided in the long term because Jesus rose from the dead, so all other arguments are invalid. But in the short time it very often seems to be one-sided the other way, i.e. the bad guys keep winning. I am convinced this is not because the bad guys are so powerful, but because the so-called good guys are asleep.

Or as T. S. Eliot would say, “Asleep, tired, or [we] malinger.”

That's right, this is going on around us all the time, and we are sleeping through it!
That’s right, this is going on around us all the time, and we are sleeping through it!

I mean seriously, why is it that we can veg out on facebook for twenty minutes without noticing it, but if we want to say a decade of the rosary we suddenly have a million things to do? We can stay up until 10:30 because we just have to finish this episode of “Sherlock” but then suddenly we are just too tired and it is far too late to say bedtime prayers? And don’t even get me started about morning prayer!

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

— 2 Corinthians 10:4

The truth is that that the devil will try almost any nonsense to distract us from prayer, because prayer is almost the most powerful weapon we have against him. It pays for him to keep it safely locked in the weapons cabinet.

Seriously, we do not realize the power of prayer. In the words of Saint Paul “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” 2 Corinthians 10:4. These strongholds are the niches and dark corners of our spirits where Satan still has his influence. When we pray we open up those dark fortresses to the light, and it blasts the enemy out with C-4! What toys the Father gives us to play with! Like in my old engineer days when we would play around for an hour so, stacking innocent looking blocks of white play-dough, but then, at the pull of a wire loop, BOOM!!!! A building disappears in a cloud of smoke and fire! If we could really see what happens when we pray we would walk away from our prayer time like this:

Cool guys don't look at explosions. They walk away in slow motion.
Cool guys don’t look at explosions. They walk away in slow motion.

Just keep that image in mind next time you pray, see if it doesn’t give you a little extra oompf!

When I got out of the army, although I had my bachelor’s degree, I was missing some basic science labs and a couple of low level English classes that Universities tend to insist upon their applicants having. So I enrolled in a local community college and began making up these pre-recs. Now, less than a year later, I am finished with pre-recs and beefing up my application with the recommended classes.

Community College is an eye-opener. Of course I feel old there, surrounded by teenagers too young to shave, but I am by no means the oldest student there. In Bio 160 my lab partner was in his seventies. He had retired from two careers (military and managing a data collection company) and was starting a third as a hobby (environmental surveillance). Too which I could only say, that’s a true badass!

Another major eye-opener was the existence of the grading curve, which is a source of major emotional turmoil for probably about three-fourths of every class.

Apparently this is the norm at Community College. The professor takes the highest score on every event, and considers that the 100% grade. He subtracts that from the true 100% grade, and adds the difference to everyone else’s score. Other instructors use the mathematical mean and add complicated algorithms to determine how much of a curve to add. The assumption, as far as I can tell, is that, if no one in the class is getting all of the questions right, or everyone is getting some of them wrong, then the instructor must not have instructed it well enough so it really isn’t fair to give them the grades they got.

This means that, theoretically, if everyone in the room turned in a blank scantron, everyone in the room would get a 100%. It also means that the one person who fails every single test skews the mathematical mean downwards, which makes a bigger curve for everyone else.

It also means that if one person actually does get a 100% on an exam, then they destroy the curve, because 100% is actually 100% and no points are subtracted or added. For everyone else, this can be frustrating, especially those who were counting on a curve of at least a few points to raise their GPA from 2.9 to 3.0 (which seems to be the magic number for nursing programs.)

Oops! Sorry everybody, my bad for actually trying.

Growing up in homeschool and then joining the Army, I had never seen a grading curve before. Your score was your score, you either knew it or you didn’t. In my parents’ world, anything below an 80% was failing and we had to redo the assignment, and in the Medic course in the Army the cut-off was 74.45%. In both places it was implied that the only truly acceptable score was a perfect score, in that when your grades came back the feedback was never, “Wow, you did really well, congratulations!” It was always more like, “You got question number 57 wrong. Do you understand your mistake? Let’s go over it, and make sure you review it before the next test.”

More fundamentally, the existence of a curve really brings out a distinction between the two types of students, i.e. those who are pursuing knowledge, and those who are pursuing a grade. The ones who are pursuing a grade usually have a minimum score that they have to achieve in order to make it into their Undergrad or certificate program or Masters program. These students study with an eye on the grade sheet, trying to guess who is getting the highest scores and throwing off the curve, always asking “Is this going to be on the test?” The assumption being that if it isn’t on the test, why learn it?

The students who pursue knowledge, however, study the actual material. They ask questions about the actual material and how it relates to reality, or to patient care. They don’t care about the questions they got right, they want to understand the ones they got wrong. They don’t care how anyone else in the class is doing, they are trying to improve themselves to their utmost capacity.

Of course there is a little of the grade watcher in everyone. No one is a perfectly disinterested disciple of knowledge, even if we try. It bleeds over into the spiritual life too. If I am honest, isn’t my faith life sometimes an example of grade watching? I am doing all the right things, trying to get the highest score I can, but secretly I am glancing left and right to see how everyone else around me is doing. If I am doing just a couple of points better at the whole Catholic thing than everyone else around me, or at least as well as the top five, I must be doing pretty well.

Well, that may have been the case before Jesus. There was only so much that could be expected out of fallen man pre-salvation as evidenced by the Mosaic divorce allowance. But Jesus was the ultimate curve wrecker. He gave perfect obedience to the Father and invites us to do the same. The only problem is, we can’t.

There is no curve, and if there were, we would be on the wrong side of it. No one can earn the right to salvation, it is a free gift. Once that is truly realized it forces us to examine why we are struggling with the Spiritual Life in the first place. It makes no sense if we are grade hunting. However, if we are pursuing it for the love of that Life, then it makes total sense. Just as it makes total sense to learn as much knowledge as we can, despite the fact that we can never know everything, so it makes total sense to pursue as much holiness as we can, even though we will never be perfectly holy.

This is because holiness, like knowledge, is intrinsically good and worthwhile. It is beautiful in and of itself without regard to what it may get for us. Every ounce of goodness, truth and beauty that we attain makes us bigger souls, better souls, more holy and open and humble souls, better off than we were before. That, in itself is worthwhile.

Trust in God’s Mercy to do the rest.

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?” Matthew 7:9-11.

In thinking over my post yesterday I realized that a person’s parenting style can provide a lot of insight into their values. Put briefly, every parent loves their children (ignoring for the sake of this post the outliers who do not love their children). They love their children so they want to give them the best things they can give them. So you can tell what you value most by taking a look at what you automatically try to give your children.

On the surface this seems pretty obvious. Someone who values financial security will try to make sure that his children are financially secure. Someone who values relaxing and good food will give their children plenty of time to relax and will cook or buy good food for them. Someone who values educational achievement will push his kids to do well in school.

This is what love does. When you love someone you want to give them the best that you have. The very fact that you want to give your kids (a good foundation, all the finer things in life, plenty of opportunities, vegan granola, or what-have-you) indicates that you do in fact love them, which can be a comforting thing.

As I see it, the trouble comes in when people disagree about:

  1. What is most valuable
  2. How best to share it

I know a man, a very wise and good man, who is a very profound introvert. His oldest daughter is a very decided extrovert. As much as they love each other and have a great relationship there has always been a certain amount of tension there. He values time away for recollection, reflection and recharging. She goes crazy if she is by herself for too long, away from people and places and happenings. However, the fact that they know this about each other helps to reduce the friction. Each can acknowledge that what the other values is good, it is “just not for me.”

Thou shalt be sweet, kind, loving and gentle or I shall smite thee with ye olde birchen rod.
Thou shalt be sweet, kind, loving and gentle or I shall smite thee with ye olde birchen rod.

I think where the most trouble comes in is when we don’t know or can’t agree on how to share what we value. There is, of course, the old fashioned method. The parent says “This is how it is.” The child says, “Yes Sir/Ma’am.” The end. Rebellion is met with punishment, dissension is not tolerated, and even questions asked for clarification are seen as challenges and dealt with accordingly.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the parents who refuse to inculcate any religious values or doctrines whatsoever because they don’t want to “brainwash” their kids. “They’ll find their own values when they are ready. We aren’t going to impose our values on them.” Well, that is hogwash. They definitely are imposing a value, the value that is most important to them, the value of relativism. “That’s fine for you, this is fine fore me, I won’t tell you what to believe so you had better not tell me what to believe.”

There is an art to sharing our passions and beliefs, and it is not the same from one relationship to another. A way of talking that would be appropriate for a father-son relationship would be totally out of place in talking to a stranger, or to a peer. This is why there can be no method of evangelizing, but only a principle of love that desires to share the best things in the best way, for the sake of the other. This principle has to adapt itself to the situation and the relationship of it will foil its own best attempts.

Dude, I don't believe in, like, imposing my values, man. And my kids aren't going to impose their values either!
Dude, I don’t believe in, like, imposing my values, man. And my kids aren’t going to impose their values either!

On a deeper level, what we pass on to our kids says a lot more about our real values than our words. I may say that my faith is important to me (notice the subtle caveat hidden behind the two words “to me”) but if I do not teach it to my kids, how important is it, really? If all of my time and energy is spent on other things, then is the faith really the most important thing in my life? And it doesn’t matter what those other things are. They can be values that society sees as good and useful and productive, like industry, economic stability, volunteering or tax paying. Or they can be values that society generally considers frivolous and time wasting, like video games, LARPing or smoking marijuana. It doesn’t matter. Whatever takes up the majority of our time and energy to pass on to our kids, that is what is most important to us, regardless of what we may say to the contrary.

This is not to critique anyone’s parenting, which is why I am speaking in such broad generalities. In fact, most of what I said need not apply specifically to parenting at all. The general principles are the same in any relationship:

  1. When you love someone you will want to share the greatest good you have with them
  2. What you actually spend the majority of your time and energy sharing tells you what is really the most important thing to you.

 

I have a lot of faults.

“Beat faults! Grrr!”

This should not be surprising to me. I am, after all, human, and I have been reminded by all the saints, ranging from Brother Lawrence to Francis DeSales to Therese of Lisieux, that I am therefore nothing. Faults are my natural state of fallenness unless I am raised up and sanctified by supernatural grace. And yet, my faults irritate me, every time I have fresh evidence of how flawed I am. It makes me want to beat my faults over the head with a club until they die or turn into virtues.

Maybe I am just a caveman at heart. Or, maybe, that is a holdover from my Dad’s advice: “If at first you don’t succeed, get a bigger hammer.”

Sometimes I think that God lets me hammer away at faults, at least at the more obvious ones, without expecting me to be very successful. It is a way of keeping me occupied while He does the real work of building my soul in secret.

When I went home for Christmas in 2011, I took the time over the break to build a hope chest as a gift for a cousin of mine. It was an ambitious project, made more difficult by the fact that I had no woodworking experience, I was making it up as I went along, and the temperature was below zero the whole time. Even in the one little corner of the shop, walled and partitioned off with doors and heavy canvas curtains, and with the old wood stove as hot as I could crank it, the temperature barely crawled above freezing during the day. I had the very devil of a time getting the varnish to set.

Layn can fix it just like Daddy!
Layn can fix it just like Daddy!

Despite the weather, my nephew Layn, who was two-years-old at the time, insisted on coming out to “help.” He helps his dad (my older brother, Ian) in the shop all the time, so he figured he would need to show me the ropes out there since I was new to the whole working-in-the-shop concept.

Layn’s method of helping consists of finding a hammer, wrench, metal rod or other blunt object, and using it to hit whatever part of the project looks to him like it needs some love. When the project is a metal elevator or a tractor tire, this is fine. When the project involves expensive red oak lumber, sanded, planed and carefully shaped and glued together, a two-year-old with a hammer can be remarkably destructive.

Fortunately, Layn is more than willing to hit pretty much anything you tell him to hit, so I let him pound on the piece of cardboard Ian uses as a mat when he is under a tractor (on the 0 degree concrete. I know, hardcore, right?) Layn pounded on that, he pounded on the end of the elevator, sticking under the curtain awaiting repairs like a dog whining hopefully in the snow outside the window. He pounded on the concrete floor. He tried to pound on the cat, but neither the cat nor I would allow that. While he worked, I worked, and eventually I got the thing put together.

Surprisingly, a two-year-old pounding on the lad of this chest is not what it needs right this moment.
Surprisingly, a two-year-old pounding on the lad of this chest is not what it needs right this moment.

God does the same thing with me. He knows there is a ton of work to be done crafting my soul into the soul-to-be that He has planned. He knows that most of it is delicate, subtle, patient work which I cannot do. Some of it involves tearing down faults so deep and black that I can’t even see them, but even more of it involves building up a new kind of life so sublime that I cannot imagine it.

Me? I only get in the way. The more I try to “help” by hammering on everything I see, the more I just throw a monkey wrench in His projects. He doesn’t mind, of course. He is a very patient father, but He does need to get on with the work that I am too small and immature to understand, and to do that He needs me busy with something else.

So He gives me other things to “help” with. He allows a fault to show itself on the surface as a habit of sin (the fault was there all along, He just lets me see it coming out in actions) and bids me get to work beating it on the head.

So I do.

And surprisingly, it doesn’t work. I beat and beat and chop and chop until I am blue in the face, trying to get rid of actions that He could put a stop to in half a breath by sheer overwhelming grace. I can no more beat my faults to death than Layn can pound a tractor tire onto a tractor. I get frustrated and petulant, but He simply smiles and says to keep working at it, while in the meantime He is doing the actual work over in the other corner.

This may be an off-putting metaphor, because it sounds like God is just tolerating me, and that all my efforts in the spiritual life are useless, nothing but child’s play.

Hmmm.... This looks like a good idea....
Hmmm…. This looks like a good idea….

The truth is, though, that all my efforts are child’s play, but they are far from useless. Layn’s pounding away at a piece of cardboard is play, but it is not useless. Play is his most serious business because it is play that trains his eyes and his hands and the nerves and brain that connect them. Every blow develops accuracy, consistency and strength, and forges his little toddler body into the body of a boy, and then a man, with a keen eye, a quick, problem-solving intellect, and an arm of iron. Later on, when he splits wood or pounds nails or hammers red-hot steel into shape, he will be using those very same eyes and nerves and hands.

In the same way, God is not simply putting us off by having us hammer away at habits of sin that we are realistically powerless to defeat on our own. We are developing our spiritual eyes, our habits of discernment and our spiritual muscles and growing into the spiritual maturity He desires for us.

(Of course the analogy breaks down because I will never grow up to be independent of God, and the other side of the reality of my relationship with Him is that His work is always the fundamental reality, my work is to allow Him to do His work, and to cooperate with that work… but that is another story).

God always has a plan. Just go with it and enjoy the ride.
God always has a plan. Just go with it and enjoy the ride.