Statues are Complicated, Especially When You're a Native Catholic

Friday, July 24, 2020



There has been a massive rash of toppling statues in the United States - followed by a rush to defend the fallen statues.

There are two separate issues for me here: destruction of churches/church property and destruction of public statues and figures. Vandalism and destruction of churches and statues on church property likely veer into hate crime territory and should be denounced with ferocity. That is not ok, ever. Catholics are not just here to be abused and no one should ever be targeted for violence.

Public statues are different. Many of those have had appeals for decades for their removal. Those appeals have been kicked down the road, ignored, or outright belittled for years upon years. Contrary to beliefs that I have heard around the Catholic internet, these public statues are not an issue purely because they are of a person who was Catholic (which would be a problem). The statues are at issue because of the actions of the individuals and systems they represent.

Let's talk about the top two controversial statues of Catholic people at the moment: Columbus and Serra. Both have many public statues. Both have a legacy that greatly concerns Native people in the Americas.

Columbus

This guy. Not a saint. Never landed in the United States. Did not land under the Italian flag. Yet somehow he became the image for Italian-American Catholics in the United States.
His supporters like to claim that Columbus never had slaves, never committed atrocities, and merely wanted to bring Catholicism to the greater world. None of that is remotely supported by the historical record. From his own diary about the native Arawaks, "with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them." If that sounds like slavery, it is.
It gets worse. There are records of reports that Columbus rewarded his men with women from the local tribes. If that sounds like sanctioned rape, it is.
The following was written by Columbus to a friend in Spain in 1500, "A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand." In case you missed it, this is Columbus advertising to his friend that girls as young as 9 were being hunted to be used at will. That's child slavery, and often child sex slavery.

No matter what century you are in, this was wrong. I find it incredibly disturbing to hear Catholics defend these actions as some sort of product of his time. Rape, mass enslavement, child abuse, and other evils are not products of their time. They are symptoms of evil. This is a particularly weak argument because there were debates and movements contemporary with Columbus for humane treatment of the native peoples. Servant of God Bartolom√© de las Casas, O.P. was integral in many of these debates, especially the famous Valladolid debate.

For that matter, Italian-Americans have better choices! People who really were strong practicing Catholics who lived in the United States. Mother Cabrini is a good example, and in fact has been picked up by the state of Colorado to replace Columbus Day with Cabrini Day. She was an Italian immigrant herself, a saint, and her work directly made the lives of Italian immigrants better. I can get behind that.

Serra

Serra is more complicated because he is a canonized saint. In theory, his cause has gone through a rigorous examination that should take into account any possible places where his life and works would bring controversy or concern. But Junipero Serra was not canonized under the normal system. His cause was formed centuries after his death, lacking in personal writings, reliant on descendant testimony of those who knew him, and allowed to skip typical steps in the process.

Much of the controversy is this: for Native people, and most Californians, Serra embodies and represents the mission system (see this beautifully written perspective). Serra came with the conquistadors, and the situation for decades would remain a choice of terrible option A or terrible option B.
Terrible option A: die brutally by the hands of the conquistadors or in via forced work in the mines or plantations/ranches.
Terrible option B: die in the missions where the work was also brutally hard and disease so prevalent the death rate exceeded the birth rate for most of it's existence.
Option C, stay outside of both, was hardly an option with disease continuing to spread, food scarce due to the arrival of the Spaniards, and the frequent rounding up of Native people. The terrible options weren't so much options as they were an inevitability.

Being told we shouldn't see the effects of the mission system when evaluating Serra seems near impossible. If Serra had not founded the mission system in California, his work would not have nearly the interest or support that it does for his sainthood. I don't see how to speak of one without the other.  The voices of Native people are a large and echoing void in the Church discussions of Serra. Very few perspectives of the Native descendants of the missions were included in the documentation for his cause, and the consistent protest of Native people to his canonization were ignored for the sake of image.
Pope Francis had declared he would canonize Serra, despite lacking the requirements and procedures to do so. He wanted to do it during his US visit, which was already scheduled and looming. The Curia found a way to make it happen. Native people feel silenced because they were silenced. Silenced for the sake of a political statement, and once again used as a regrettable sacrifice for the Church.
This is why many people are upset. You would be too.

The Bishop Barron thing

I take special issue with public Catholic leaders trying to claim that they shouldn't have to do anything about statues and denying their normal claim to leadership. Suddenly when it becomes iffy, complicated, something that might make the church look less than stellar - it's the laity's problem.
I can't believe I have to say this to people who should know better, but if it's a problem in the church it's a problem for us all - laity and clergy alike. No one gets to opt out. This is a moral question, and a question of the actions of the church hierarchy. Both facets deserve to be answered by our clergy with respect and attention. The laity must do work too, absolutely, but it is shameful for clergy to try and wash their hands of the issues.

Many of these statues were controversial when they were erected. They have remained controversial. Instead of caring about legitimate concerns, Native people have been brushed off and ignored - often told that these concerns were just due to our anti-Catholicism. When 25% of Native people are Catholic, that's a major problem. Native people should not have to choose between speaking truth about history and being seen as good Catholics.

If the Church has made mistakes, those mistakes must be acknowledged and rectified. Anything less is dishonest and fatal to the Body of Christ. Where corruption has leaked in, it must be repaired not ignored. These are truths we know. We have lived through years of scandal already. We have no business pretending that we don't know how serious it is to refuse to address wrongs.

************

Weeeeeelllll this was a fun one. I was REALLY hoping to do this piece later, but current events and statements meant moving it up sooner rather than later. Statues and dissent about popular figures is not my favorite subject, but this is a very common topic where people read one source that is agreeable to them and proceed to never learn about it again. It matters even more as decisions are made now for how to replace, or not, the statues that have fallen. 
So let's discuss! 

Other posts of interest on this blog:





Indian Boarding Schools: A Forgotten Legacy

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


Much of the wider US population only hears about Native concerns when the news covers a conflict about a statue of Columbus, a racist mascot, or an oil pipeline. These things do genuinely matter, but I think most people have never heard of one of the root traumas that is at the heart of the desperation to defend what is Native: Indian boarding schools.

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of the Indian Boarding Schools. I didn't know about them myself until I was asked to put together an exhibit on them for my college library during Native Heritage Month - despite my own grandmother and great-grandparents having attended some of the most infamous of the boarding schools.

These were not like what you might be picturing when I say boarding schools: with manicured lawns, high academics, and social climbing. This was more akin to industrial school/boot camp/prison for young Native children.

The primary objective of these schools was to assimilate the children into mainstream white, Christian, western centered culture. From the beginning that was not seen as something to be done with respect for their Native cultures. Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt, who would found the Carlisle Indian School that both of my great-grandparents attended, famously said "kill the indian, save the man" to describe the ethos of the schools. In a speech in 1892 Pratt said,  "A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead."

In 1891 an Indian appropriation act was passed that made attendance at the boarding schools compulsory. Significantly, this allowed children to be forcibly taken from their families and tribes. If parents did not send their children, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was authorized to withhold rations, clothing, and annuities (something in violation of treaty agreements.) Many families and tribes tried to resist. They attempted the hide the children. Some Native police officers resigned rather than carry out orders to take the children. In 1895, 19 Hopi men were imprisoned in Alcatraz for refusing to send their children to the Indian schools.

It wasn't until 1978, with the Indian Child Welfare Act, that parents were given the legal right to refuse to place their children in Indian schools. That's 87 years when there was no legal ability to refuse to be separated from their children.

Life at Indian Boarding Schools

Many of the schools were intentionally located far away from the children's tribe, family, and homelands. Speaking Native languages was forbidden, including out of the classroom. Punishments for speaking Native languages, even if the child didn't know a word of English, could be swift and severe. Upon arrival at the schools, the children would be given new names, English names. Their hair would be cut (in many tribes cutting your hair is cutting off your connection to your past and ancestors). Practice of the school's sponsoring denomination's religion was often required to some degree.

My family were sent to the Carlisle Indian School, the Ponca Indian School, and the Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University). My great-grandparents were given the names Theodore and Zilla by the time they arrived at school. I have no idea what their tribal names were. They didn't record those names. Carlisle has been digitizing all of their student records, and I highly recommend giving the project some of your time. They kept every scrap of correspondence, reviews, intake forms, and reports. As a descendant it's both a fascinating treasure trove and incredibly unsettling to have my family so exposed and documented.

Zilla was an orphan - likely her parents died either before or during the Ponca Trail of Tears. Over a quarter of the Ponca tribe died in the first year after forced relocation due to food shortages and malaria. She was alone by the time they arrived in Oklahoma from Ponca homelands in Nebraska. Her reports at school are consistently good. She clearly wanted to be liked by those in charge. She worked hard at her studies and followed the rules. She was smart and actually achieved a high school education by the time she left the school in 1917 - a feat for anyone at that time, but even more so for an orphaned Native girl. In reading her file I felt like I could see the desperation of an orphan realizing that her survival depends on the approval of others. She could not afford resisting.

Theodore was consistently a pain to the school administration. He resisted as much as possible. He eventually went on leave to visit his sister in New York state and never returned. Punishments are not recorded in the files I have found, but there are records of visits to family being refused by letter. The administration felt that he was too resistant to his work and breaks were liable to make that continue. Breaking bonds among family and tribal members was not just a consequence but a goal of the schools.

Both of my ancestors arrived at Carlisle in their teens as a finish to their time in Indian boarding schools, but they started much younger. Children as young as 4 and 5 years old were taken from their families and sent away to boarding school. Many never came home. Malnutrition, overwork, overcrowding, and rampant infectious disease killed many children. Rates of tuberculous in 1915 Indian boarding schools were 4-5 times higher than the non-native rate. Rates of diseases like measles, mumps, and smallpox were double or triple the national rates. Conditions were often unsanitary and the farm work that was part of their education hard and dangerous.
Every boarding school has it's own cemetery due to the high mortality rate.

Catholic run Indian boarding schools

How did the Catholic run schools fare? Unfortunately, many of the worse stories of abuse happened in the religious run schools. For many Native people, the association with clerical garb and fear started here.

In 1872 the Board of Indian Commissioners allotted 73 Indian agencies to various Christian religious denominations. Seven of those agencies were under the Catholic Church in some way. In 1872 that was 17,856 Native people under Catholic run Indian agencies. Catholics never operated the majority of boarding schools. Most students attending boarding school would have experienced a school run by a mainline Protestant denomination or the federal government. But we should resist the temptation to blame shift that most of the offenses were not committed by Catholics. For one, there are no hard numbers on the abuses that occurred in these schools in order to know for certain if that is even a true claim. For another, one case of abuse is too many. These were children who deserved to be safe.

Many Catholic run schools and missions were sponsored in large part by St. Katherine Drexel. Her interaction with funding and furthering Catholic schools for Native students deserves it's own space, but includes much overlap with American anti-Catholicism, misogyny among clergy, and resentment of outside influence on local decisions.
Crucially, many Catholic run schools were located on reservations. This meant that Catholic tradition had to interact with the local Native culture and traditions in a way that was avoided or banned in many of the off-reservation schools. This meshing of Catholicism and Native traditions in the boarding schools has multiple consequences. It meant that trauma and struggles of the school environment would become connected with Catholicism forever more for those students - a phenomenon that is observed in people who attended non-boarding Catholic schools as well.

Most of the historical sources I have found focus on the struggles of the individuals and orders running the schools, and there's a echoing lack of stories from the perspective of the students in the academic literature. This is something to be aware of whenever doing work to understand experience. I've included resources for first hand stories from students of these schools at the end of this post. I strongly encourage everyone to listen to them, with the awareness that these are hard and raw things.

There is a parallel story here for the Catholic Church. The Church was/is very involved in the Canadian school system, and the boarding schools experienced by First Nations people. There are many factors that make the experience of Native peoples living in the United States and Canada very different. For the sake of clarity, I have focused on those schools operating in the United States, but I encourage you to learn more about First Nations as well.

Indian boarding schools today

Yes, there are still boarding schools for Native kids around the United States today. Many have been given over to tribal or local control. Some are still run by the Catholic Church. There is an American Indian Catholic Schools Network that maintains a list of current US Catholic Indian Mission Schools.

The legacy of boarding school is varied and wide. Some students, like my grandmother, were proud of graduating from boarding school. Others carried physical, emotional, and mental scars for the rest of their lives. Many would not/do not speak about their school experiences. Others are just beginning to give voice to those memories.

Boarding school did contribute to the formation of some kind of pan-Native identity. This was an experience that both pulled apart tribes and brought them together in a shared goal or fight. The tradition of Indian Princess pageants, which began at boarding school as another tool for assimilation, has been reclaimed by many tribes as a way to pass down their particular traditions and values.

The schools did change the religious landscape among Native peoples. As of 2000, it was estimated that 780,000 people of Native ancestry in the US were Catholics. The involvement and exposure to Catholic tradition remains important to many Native people, and the intersections of the two identities continues to be a work in progress. This a living, breathing, experience - a far cry from the static museum approach too many use when discussing Native people.

Want to learn more?

The Heard Museum opened an exhibit in 2000 entitled Away from Home: Indian Boarding School Stories. Their website includes a good overview of the boarding school experience and includes first hand accounts. Most of their education curriculum is focused on high school aged students, but there are good book lists for all grade levels (starting in 1st grade) and the educator reading list is helpful for curious adults.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition - based in Minneapolis, MN, this group has a number of resources for education, advocacy, and healing resources. Their repatriation project is of particular interest for Carlisle school descendants and survivors after the army ruled to fund the return of the dead to their tribes and families in 2016.

Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors by Denise K. Lajimodiere

Education for Extinction by David Wallace Adams

Black and Indian Mission Office history - gives a good overview of Catholic Indian missions. This is not from the Native perspective, but is useful to get a wider picture.



What questions still remain for you? The boarding school experience was very different for various peoples and locations. Have you looked into the experience of your local tribes? What was in your area?

A Story of a Mixed Race, White Passing, Catholic Woman

Tuesday, July 7, 2020



I'm one of the many mixed race Catholics you might not realize are around in your parish. We can pass for one of our race categories, and mostly no one questions their first assumption until little signs are dropped. Like talking about "my tribe." Mentioning being excited for an exhibit of Native women artists coming to town.

My Dad is from the Ponca of Oklahoma. We're not just rumors-in-the-family-of-Cherokee-blood natives, but on the rolls, card carrying, Natives. Our tribe is teeny tiny, and hits most of your ideas of Native culture. We invented Fancy Dance with the big feather headdress and regalia you might picture when you think of a powwow. Also we powwow. We did hunt buffalo and live in tepees. Someone has to be the stereotype.

My family is also Catholic. That can get painful. You see, most Catholics haven't heard of the history that can make those two legacies difficult to reconcile. I've met many Native people who are openly antagonistic toward the Catholic Church and practicing Catholic Natives. I've also been around many Catholics who speak of Native people as a historic past, not a living breathing reality. Between the people in the parish who don't understand why you might be hurt by their adoration of Columbus or jokes about Native treaty claims, and the other Natives who think you're brainwashed for being Catholic at all - we end up in a no mans land.

Over the next few weeks I hope to start to share more about these places where these two parts of me end up talking past each other. We are capable to expanding understanding, and learning the historical background that helps prevent harmful ignorance. This will be mostly about sharing Native perspectives. While there are many voices explaining Catholicism, there are very few for the intersection of Catholicism and Native history/experience.

Some topics that have come to mind:
Indian Boarding Schools, including the Catholic run schools
Doctrine of Discovery, Columbus, and Missionary Mandate
Treaties, Reservations, Nationhood
Family, Blood quantum, Adoptions, Native Womanhood
Native traditions and the Catholic faith

What kinds of questions do you have? Where would you like to grow and learn? It's ok to be coming at this from a place of minimal to no background. We all have to start somewhere. I love sharing history and stories, and it helps to have questions!


Don't Let a Pandemic Become a Failure of Love

Thursday, April 2, 2020



I have been watching a tragedy unfold in the past weeks of this pandemic. It's not just a tragedy due to the virus itself. It's a tragedy of choice. It's one that has revealed an infestation present and hovering beneath the surface of many parishes. The pandemic has rooted it from the unspoken underground and brought it to light.

These past weeks my heart and trust has been broken over and over again by my pastor, parish, community, and many of those I called friend. I can't deny the sickness of pride and the crippling of love that has been unavoidable to notice.

It is not courage to seek loopholes and work arounds to the rules during a pandemic.
It is not faith that seeks the sacraments regardless of the consequences.
This is not a religious persecution issue.
Your enemy is not the rules. We are not up against a typical enemy of war. This is a virus.
A virus does not care about your reason for gathering. Expecting a miracle to prevent the transmission of disease so you can attend an underground mass is both the sin of presumption and an act of disobedience against your rightful bishop, in many cases. You are not demonstrating your devotion to the Eucharist. On the contrary, you are demonstrating a depth of pride and failure of love.

Love desires the good of another. Love does not say the risk of illness and death to yourself and others is an acceptable consequence of your chosen action. Especially when that is a foreseeable consequence.
Love does not choose ignorance. Love does not deny reality. Love is not hard headed.

Yet many of us are receiving a warped version of love and community from our parishes and pastors lately. The adherence to ignorance, and narrow minded focus on one way of being Church, will have consequences well beyond this time of physical sickness.

Our neighbors see us. They see the churches that have refused to comply with rules. That delayed and put off reasonable precautions. They will remember how slow that church was to act when the community was under threat.

The more vulnerable members of the community see us. They will remember how their lives were discussed as not a point of concern. That their health was seen as their own problem that was only getting in the way of other's need for access to the sacraments as they desired.

Don't kid yourself that a parish is justified in it's sins against faith and community merely because of it's adherence to beautiful liturgy and orthodox catechists. Because if I have not love, I have nothing.

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing." 
- 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3

There is a phenomenon about the stories of epidemics throughout history. Despite their wide reach and shared experience throughout a population, the first hand stories of the lived experiences of an epidemic are few. It's as though, collectively, human communities have experienced a sense of shame and desire to forget what happened. But, as we should know by now, it's never true that evils disappear as long as they stay unspoken and unacknowledged. They wait. They fester. They come back again.

The only way to break that cycle is to root out the sickness. COVID-19 will end someday. We pray for a treatment, a cure, a vaccine. But there is no medicine that can heal a wounded soul without truth, faith, and love.
My prayer is for parishes to break the cycle of us vs them thinking. For pastors who have made errors in their response to apologize publicly. For members of those parishes to open their eyes and see what has been happening. For an abundance of faith, trust, and love over fear, pride, and ignorance.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 - John 13:34-35

You're Unexpectedly Stuck Home with the Kids - Now What?

Thursday, March 12, 2020



With COVID-19 shut downs happening all around the country, I've heard a lot of people asking "what do I do with my kids?" We're a homeschooling family, so my kids are always home, and have been through a Minnesota polar vortex winter, tiny apartment living, and a house fire that meant living in a hotel for five weeks.

Being unexpectedly stuck home with the kids means you likely didn't have time to prepare, probably can't go anywhere, and likely have some work to get done yourself (and, ya know, not go crazy.) You can do this! Here's some ideas.

1. Set a schedule

I cannot tell you how important this is. Some sort of pre-determined structure to your day is everything when you are all home, all day, in each other's space. This can be very fluid! Ours looks like this:

Breakfast as people wake up
Dress after breakfast
Morning chores (straighten up, start laundry, unload dishwasher)
Announce "the plan of the day" (we'll get to that in a second)
Lunch
Nap/quiet time/school/learning show
Snack
Afternoon chores (fold laundry, prep/cook dinner, big group pick up)
Dinner
Family time (movie, game night, walk, etc.)
Bedtime (I suggest early and kids not sleepy yet get quiet reading time)

2. Make a list

Our "plan of the day" is me announcing the game plan. In a normal time, this involves our classes, outings, errands, projects, or whatever else needs to happen that day with the kids.
When we're all stuck at home, it's whatever I have picked out from our idea list.

I highly recommend making a master list for yourself of different types of things to choose from. It takes off a lot of the daily mental load!

Here's some of the categories I like to include:

Gross motor/Get Your Wiggles Out
Quiet Time
Family projects
Movie/show/games
Novelty

3. Inventory what tools you already have available

Now that you've started thinking, go through your house and inventory what you already have to work with. Sports equipment? Art supplies? Odds and ends? Camping stuff?

Use what you find to add to your list. Here's some things we have tried and loved:

  • Pitch a tent inside! We have a 2 person tent that can become a fort, a reading space, and endless hours of pretend play. If it's nice weather where you are, that can become a full out backyard camp ground.
  • Field Day. It's easier than it sounds. I found cones, balls, chalk, and jump ropes. We had running races, running drills when the races got teary competitive, jump rope clinics, draw crazy long loopy lines with chalk and try to tip toe the whole line.
  • Recycle Bin Crafting. I dump out the recycle bin, remove anything hazardous like sharp cans, and let the kids invent away! They can cut, draw, tape, design, tear, whatever they want. Robots, fashion creations, and creative bug habitats have happened.
4. Keep some learning time, even in difficult times

One thing I learned from living through a house fire, was the kids needed the relief of giving their brains something else to focus on while we were displaced. Reading aloud, printing out worksheets, teaching skills I knew. Here are some of our favorite resources.
  • The Library Even if you can't go there physically, many libraries offer online resources you can access. Ours has free streaming content, downloadable audiobooks, ebooks, and access to learning databases for kids and adults. 
  • PBS They have a streaming app that is wonderful for getting access to what we call "learning shows" AKA Nova, Nature, and other content. PBS Learning Media is a great resource for distance learning needs.
  • YouTube Our favorite learning shows on YouTube are Liberty's Kids and the various farm history series from BBC featuring Ruth Goodman. Want to learn a craft or other skill? There's probably a YouTube video for that.
  • Project Gutenberg Need any more free read alouds? Project Gutenberg has thousands of free classic children's literature titles to access as ebooks for free.
  • Pinterest If you have an idea you're thinking about there is probably a mom or teacher out there with a how to article on Pinterest for you. It's wonderful for finding hands on game ideas and other activities focused on a particular topic.
  • Your own childhood and skills. Remember that odd camp song you still remember 15 years later? Your kids will likely love hearing you tell about it and teaching it to them. I've taught the kids how to juggle, how to double a recipe, how to crochet, how to sew, and how to use a screwdriver. It's empowering, bonding, and often gets a chore done, in one swoop!
5. What is this "quiet time" you mentioned?

Parents have stuff to get done too. No shame in using some screentime! But here's some other ways to make it work for you too.
  • Set boundaries. Quiet time for us runs from toddler nap start to snack time at 2pm. The big kids are used to not being able to choose TV shows, get a snack, or be loud during that time. 
  • Choices. The main rules for things to do during quiet time is they must be: quiet, independent, not destructive to others or things. They are welcome to choose something like LEGOs, painting, or a board game that we can't do with the toddler tornado happening. They are encouraged to play outside independently during this time.
  • You are not in charge of their happiness. It's a freeing concept! It's ok if they feel bored. It's not my job to provide constant stimulation. They have choices from the quiet time list (as I mentioned earlier), they know the boundaries, they are welcome to come to me with any questions or injuries. Other than that, I need to be allowed to work.
  • After 2pm, learning show! I will often still have work that needs to happen after 2. Especially if the toddler is still napping, I love to get that done. I find documentaries are much less distracting for me than say PBS Kids. PBS documentaries typically have handy viewer ratings, so we pick one rated TV-PG or G and they can learn about something new!
6. Work Together

Homeschool families are forced to work together a lot. Putting away laundry is a group effort. When it's cleaning windows day, I spray rags for everyone (even the two year old) and they clean what they can reach. Include the kids as much as you can in household projects and chores. Being allowed to contribute to the family is a big morale booster, and I find it's easier for kids to start talking about what's on their mind while they're working alongside you.
I've had many conversations about kid's worries and struggles while cleaning up books, hanging laundry, and tidying rooms.

It might be hard, but be willing to be honest with your kids that need you to talk straight. Gentle with the ones who are struggling with the changes in their lives. Kids are smart and they realize when something is up. But they want to be connected with you and their family. 

7. Set a finish line

I mentally need to know when I might have a chance of down time. We normally have getting ready for bed time at 7pm and kids in bed at 7:30pm. Yes, it's early. We're all normally up by 6:30am so it needs to be early, but it allows for my husband and I to actually talk to each other or watch a non-kid appropriate show/movie. 
Being stuck at home all day every day for an extended period is very much a mental game. We will each need to be aware of our personal needs for mental breaks, morale boosts, and a chance to laugh. I like to work on a puzzle (jigsaw, cross word, suduku), watch a standup comedy set on streaming, make a mug cake, or snuggle up with tea and a book. 

I hope this is helpful for someone! Leave your ideas below in the comments.

We've Done This Before - Cancelling Mass for Outbreaks, A History

Tuesday, March 10, 2020



Viral outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics have happened throughout human history. Some require different responses to see to the end. The Catholic Church, being a 2000+ year old institution, has seen quite a few.
I've heard many Catholics, and priests, calling the closure of churches and shutting of public masses to be "unprecedented." Au contraire! There is in fact historical precedent for closing churches and avoiding large gatherings during illness outbreaks. There is also historical precedent for what happens when we decide to not follow the advice of health authorities in regards to churches.

I love me a good history tour, so join this one: cancelling mass for outbreaks, a history.

1918 Pandemic Flu

The pandemic flu of 1918-1919 is the most recent example of the scale of global impact that we are seeing develop with COVID-19.

 From Baltimore, MD: "The city’s leading Catholic clergyman continued to question why local churches were closed “while the stores, saloons, markets and the like remain open.” While recognizing public health concerns, James Cardinal Gibbons argued that “it would be a much-needed relief to our church-going population if they could be allowed to attend brief morning services… I am told that a number of calls upon our physicians are simply the result of nervousness, or the consequence of alarm. This might be considerably allayed by the reassurance of religion, and discreet words from our priests given the people in church.”
This quote is from October 15, 1918, yet is almost identical to statements I have seen shared on social media in the past few weeks.

In the Fall of 1918 awareness of the virus was high, but acceptance of the need for social distancing was not.

In Spain we see what happens when Catholic leaders and faithful refuse to comply with local health authorities. "Because of a strong social influence of the Bishop, the Catholic Church authorities in Zamora [Spain] stated that “the evil upon us might be a consequence of our sins and lack of gratitude, and therefore the vengeance of eternal justice felt upon us” [19, p. 149] and, subsequently, organized a series of Mass gatherings at Zamora's Cathedral. One of the likely consequences of the events was the easy spread of the virus. The attempts of civil authorities to forbid Mass gatherings were disputed by the Bishop, who accused the political and public health authorities of undue interference with the church."
Zamora had the highest death toll from the pandemic flu in all of Spain, due in no small part to the refusal to accept social distancing measures. Zamora had a peak death rate of 10.1% in October 1918. Mortality in all of Spain in the same month? 3.8%
Those mass gatherings to pray the virus away? They were held in October 1918.

On October 12, 1918 Rochester, NY announced the closure of all churches, including public masses. This is after steps such as cancelling confirmations and other public devotions. The bishop put a statement in the newspaper encouraging the faithful to follow the direction of the health authorities, act prudently, and to pray in communion with the Church at home.
Rochester would fare much better than other comparable cities in the area. It's excess death rate was 360 per 100,000 residents - putting it just about equal with St. Louis, MO. Both cities are now held up as examples of how many lives can be saved with the early adoption of social distancing measures.

A More Recent Example

1918 too far back for you? How about May of 2018. That was when an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to a ban on most sacraments.  No baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, or anointings until further notice. By September thousands of churches were closed in the hardest hit regions. Communion in the hand only, if you are lucky enough to be able to receive it. The DRC is a very Catholic country, with some 650,000 of the region's 1.2 million residents are Catholic in the Ebola effected regions. That means about 650,000 Catholics have already been living without access to the sacraments for over 19 months straight due to a virus.

Did you know that outbreak just officially saw an end in sight only last week? The discharge of the last Ebola patient, and a lack of new cases in two weeks, means the outbreak might finally be over. For now.

Adds a little perspective, doesn't it?


Let's Talk Little Kids and Modesty

Friday, January 24, 2020



I'm a theater person. I've been a dancer, and now also a parent of dancers, for the past 20+ years. That's a long time to be around the performing arts, and I've seen quite a range. Over the past few years, I've gotten a lot of questions from parents wondering about dance schools for their kids. A question that comes up time and again is about modesty.

How do you deal with immodest costumes? What if you don't like the choreography? Can you adapt the costume or uniform?

Here's my radical answer to the whole premise of the question: I don't believe in modesty as a concept for young children. I think it makes far more sense to approach clothing choices for kids by asking if it's age/activity/weather appropriate.

Context first

Going to church requires a very different set of clothing choices from a day in the woods or attending Ballet class. It is not possible to decide what is or isn't age appropriate without first factoring in context.
When we are talking about the dance context, the primary reasons for clothing design are 1) safety and 2) storytelling. In class, the tight fabric allows the teacher to see exactly what the student is doing, and correct any bad habits that are forming. That correction is what prevents injuries. In performance, costumes are designed to tell the story, set the time and place, and clearly indicate character.

Now is there wiggle room? Maybe. There are such things as bad design choices. If a costume is chosen that does not mesh with the age of the dancers, it is a bad choice. But I always approach those conversations from an age appropriate stance instead of one of modesty.

Be Goal Oriented

Why wouldn't I tell that studio director her costume choices are immodest? Because there is no uniform definition of what is modest - especially when you factor in different ages and contexts. We would easily be talking past each other. My goal is not to "win"; my goal is to reach a solution. In order to do that, I need to treat the director/costume designer/whoever is in charge with an understanding for the various factors they are juggling and a desire to be on the same page.

Sometimes it's just not a good fit

Perhaps there's a studio that's very close to you, but they focus on a type of dance that does not fit your taste. If you're not inspired by the end goals of that school, then it's probably not the school for you. If that director thinks two piece costumes that show off little kid tummies are SO CUTE, but you're not down with it - it's probably not the school for you.
Too often people interpret one school being a bad fit to mean that dance as a whole is not a good choice for kids. Please don't make that mistake (but I have a whole piece on it if you want more on that topic.)

What can you do?

Here are some ways I have seen dance schools in particular grow and improve when it comes to age appropriate choices:

  • Having all young dancers wear their tights and a nude leotard as a base layer for their costume. They get dressed at home, the costumes get a little extra protection, and changing awkwardness is banished. Yea!
  • Some schools have moved to not even having costumes for recitals at all. Instead those are saved for larger performing opportunities, and recitals are done in their regular dance uniforms plus a hair piece or cummerbund. Budget friendly, less waste, and no worry about costume choices.
  • Learning stage make up is a necessary skill for a performer. Don't be afraid of it! There are many YouTube videos now for stage make up for the young dancer (including ones for young male dancers). Make up is necessary under stage lights, but lots of places have figured out exactly what is needed and what is not.
  • The single most powerful thing for the parent of a little performer to understand is why. Why are things done this way? Why is this useful? What is the end goal that this is all building toward? Some schools offer occasional parent lectures, observation weeks, regular teacher feedback, lending libraries, and other ways for parents to understand what their child is working on.

Modesty is a huge concept! This is a particular area of my experience, but I know many other art forms and schools handle the question of modesty for young kids with very different solutions. What has worked for you? Do you do things different with your own kids than what you had growing up? Did anything I said make you think differently about modesty for young kids?
 
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