Lt. Nick Vogt and the Power of Faith

Nick Vogt’s alive. And that’s a miracle.

It’s a dramatic story of heart-stopping injuries and inexplicable survival—and a simultaneous testimony of tenacious faith and the power of prayer. Nick’s horrendous suffering touched the hearts of his hometown community, the far-flung military family, and Catholics everywhere. And the mysterious interplay between setbacks and miraculous interventions has swelled the ranks of spiritual warriors praying on Nick’s behalf, all around the globe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let me tell you about Nick.

A handsome, athletic young man, Nick turns 24 today (December 13th). He has the lean muscles of a runner and the kind eyes of a big brother—his four younger siblings think he’s “one of the most amazing human beings” ever. One of those rare people liked by everyone, Nick reflects his parents’ strong values of family and faith. Devout Catholics, Nick’s parents–Steve and Sheila–wove faith into the normal fabric of life: a crucifix in every room, nightly prayers together at bedtime, and grace before meals. “God has been a part of our everyday life since day one,” says Olivia, Nick’s 22-year-old sister. And He remains so, now more than ever.

One month ago, the young lieutenant with the strong jaw and easy grin led his platoon on patrol in a still-dangerous corner of Afghanistan. It was a mission cut short. Nick stepped on a pressure-triggered explosive device (IED) hidden in the dirt beneath his feet. The lethal trap—purposely set for American soldiers–exploded under Nick, tore off his legs, and left his life hanging in the balance.

Nick should be dead, the doctors told his family later, if not from the explosion then from the precarious surgeries that followed. He suffered such severe wounds that his heart stopped several times as doctors operated to stanch the massive bleeding.

Medicine rejoices in miracles, but doesn’t expect them.

Believers do.

Jesus promised that, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8). And Scripture says, “For God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37).

Even as his family sent that first urgent message–begging for prayers for Nick–to friends, parishioners, and neighbors in Bethlehem, Ohio, God surrounded Nick with exactly the people he needed.

A skilled medic, Spc. Thomas Underhill, saved Nick’s life in the intense aftermath of the blast. The military surgeons in Afghanistan, forced to amputate the torn limbs, fought tirelessly to stabilize Nick as he continued losing blood. Soldiers on base, responding to an emergency midnight appeal, sprinted over to give blood for Nick. The urgency of saving one of their own overcame their exhaustion, and the line of war-weary soldiers stretched a city block. (Before leaving the war zone, Nick needed 400 units of blood, 100 more followed later– the highest total of any wartime patient.)

Miraculously, Nick survived.

Parents will tell you that the thought of a son or daughter suffering alone is almost unbearable. The planes fly too slowly, the miles stretch too far, and the war zone delays their bedside vigil. But while Nick lay unconscious in critical care, God was there. According to his sister Olivia, “soldiers who did not even know Nick would sit with him for hours just holding his hand …just so he wasn’t alone. All for my brother who had been there not even 3 months… The amount of love from his and other soldiers there was unbelievable.” Nick needed comfort; bonded by war, his brothers in combat took turns by his side. The faith of his family and the prayers from back home brought angels to keep watch.

As people prayed, God answered again and again, in awesome power and love. In the days just after the explosion, Nick needed repeated surgeries. His sister Olivia said. “Every doctor…said he should not be alive after all he went through.” But God was not ready to call Nick home.

In fact, Olivia says, Nick’s dad jokes that Nick himself must have insisted on more time. As an officer fiercely protective of his men, Nick “was famous for going up the ladder of superiors until he got the answer he wanted.” It’s not hard to imagine that “when his heart stopped in the operating room, Nick must have gone straight to the top and respectfully asked God, ‘With all due respect, Sir, I’m not done down there, so could you please send me back?’”

Nick is back–resilient Nick, powered by a loving heart, a tenacious will, and the vigilant prayers of hundreds, even thousands, of people he’s never met.

Last week, Sheila Vogt posted this glimpse of Nick’s indomitable spirit: “He has a big day in the OR today.  He was chomping at the bit to get in there and just kept looking at the surgeon teams coming in his room and mouthing the words, ‘Let’s do it.’ Even as injured as he is, he still seems to be the Nick we all know and love.” Thumbs up, powering through the pain, determined to do what it takes–that’s Nick.

Never afraid of hard work, Nick excelled in school, sports, and the army, always doing more than was asked.  Why serve? Because it was his dream, his calling. “When he was six years old he wanted his first flat top hair cut,” said Olivia, “He had already decided he wanted to be in the army. From that point on he never second-guessed that.”

As his West Point years drew to a close, Nick mulled over the next step: medical school or deployment.  He opted to postpone medical school—for the sake of his future patients.  He told his mom that he’d go to war first, so that when he treated wounded warriors in the future, he would know first-hand what they had faced.

In God’s plan, there is no “what if?” He knows the “why?” and the “what comes next?” What we know is that God’s promise endures: He “works all things to the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). God’s got a mighty plan for this selfless young soldier.

Our culture blindly denies the value of life “burdened” by imperfection, disability, or suffering. But that’s not how his family sees it. They see the son and brother they love and for whose life they are profoundly grateful.

The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:18) No easy task for us mortals; it requires divine perspective. In the midst of their grief and worry for Nick, his mom and dad gave thanks to God for the greatest gift—Nick’s life. In a Thanksgiving Day post, Sheila wrote, “Steve and I went to Thanksgiving Mass today in the hospital chapel. Our prayers of thanks this year have…a much more powerful sincereness. God has blessed us with a most ultimate gift – some more time with Nick.”

Nick’s life is truly a gift for others.  When the time is right, I hope Nick discovers…

–The spiritual fervor he’s inspired every day since his injury.  Countless adults, children, and peers hit their knees every day to pray for him.  Even people who haven’t prayed much over the years hear Nick’s story and reach out again to their Father in heaven.  “God, please heal Nick. Guide his doctors, comfort his siblings, and strengthen his parents.  We’re looking for miracles, Lord.” If only our lives drew others towards Christ with the same intensity.

–The gift of joy he gives his parents, doctors, and siblings each time he smiles, signals thumbs up, or delights in a favorite song. It’s a gift multiplied and received by hundreds who check on him daily through Facebook, receive emails from the incredible network of military families, and read the posts on his parish’s website. I wonder, do the rest of us give others such pure joy?

–The seeds of humble trust planted in the hearts of many, as God answers their prayers for Nick. On Dec. 7th, Nick’s dad wrote: “Nick`s recovery has gotten more difficult. …It turns out that a blood clot had formed in his brain … He went into emergency surgery last night and the clot was removed. This latest injury had me praying hard for Nick and to give us strength against falling into despair. Within an hour of my prayer for strength we had a visitor, a friend of Nick`s who happened to be here for other business. [He] had this type of injury a while back and looks great. My prayer was answered again. I now see that this injury can also be overcome. Thanks for your support and please continue your prayers.” Would that we all trusted in God’s strength, not our own.

–His impact on his siblings’ faith. In the midst of her family’s suffering, Nick’s sister Olivia said, “In a situation like this it is easy to blame God and ask why did it have to happen to such a good person? If anything, this has brought us closer to God. We’ve seen miracles lately happening to Nick. When doctors themselves say he should not be alive, there is a reason he is. And our family and friends believe it’s because of prayer…. For any one who has, is, or will go through this, you have to learn to trust in God and in prayer.” In pain? Trust God. Turn to Him.

—The inexpressible significance of his love. Nick awoke ten days after the explosion, the doctors stabilized him, and the military flew him and his parents to the U.S. for the next phase of treatment. Unable to talk, Nick looked at his parents next to him on the plane and mouthed to them the only words that mattered. “I love you guys!” Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Lord, help us love like that!

To those of you just learning about Nick, Olivia says, “My family first and foremost would ask for prayers from people. They’ve got us so far already but he has a very long way to go.”

Nick faces the constant threat of deadly infection and many months of intensive rehabilitation. His family’s journey will continue on its wild ride–the ordinary and the miraculous—but it’s a journey they won’t make alone.

Moved by the urgency of Nick’s daily struggle, thousands of people will walk and talk with God more deeply today. They will thank God for the gift of life—no matter how broken and vulnerable—and beg mercy, healing, and strength for Nick, his family, and our military.

And you…will you pray too?

Will you share his story with friends, so they will pray too?

It’s a small–but powerfully big–way to say thanks.

Financial support for wounded soldiers can be sent to Fisher House or the Wounded Warrior Project.  Donations to support Nick’s recovery can be sent to: Lieutenant Nicholas Vogt Hope Fund
c/o Sacred Heart of Jesus Church
5742 State Route 61 South,
Shelby, Ohio 44875

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

Photos courtesy of Olivia Vogt

Permission granted for republication, in whole or part, with attribution.

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Catholic Youth Ministry under fire over Girl Scouts’ pro-abortion ties.

The Girl Scouts “100th Anniversary” Convention in Houston last weekend sparked a firestorm of protests from conservatives and pro-life advocates over the Girl Scouts’ speakers: an A-list of entertainers, journalists, and philanthropists that included many champions of pro-abortion and LGBT causes.

The speaker lineup was but a symptom of a deeper pathology, according to current and former Girl Scouts. Behind the badges, slogans, and cookies is a deadly reality: the Girl Scouts’ ongoing partnerships with U.S. and international advocates, like Planned Parenthood and affiliated organizations, which sell a distinctly un-holy vision of sexual empowerment secured by contraception and abortion.

Particularly troublesome is the Girl Scouts’ relationship with WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, an international agitator for abortion, contraceptives, sexual diversity, and “comprehensive” sexuality education. WAGGGS delegates, for example, helped draft the controversial 2010 World Youth Conference NGO document demanding global support for “abortion” and “LGBTTIQ issues.” (See the excellent links at 100questionsforthegirlscouts.org, girlscoutswhynot.com and honestgirlscouts.com.)

It’s a situation that’s unconscionable for Catholics. And a growing number have left the Girl Scouts, embracing a mission to tell other families what they’ve uncovered.

Christy Volanski, a former Scout leader, and her daughters Tess and Sydney are prime examples.  They left the Scouts in 2010 when they saw evidence—materials, resources, and partnerships–that their Girl Scout dues promoted an agenda of abortion, contraception, explicit sex education, and homosexuality.  Their website, speaknowgirlscouts.com, tells their story and offers details, screen shots, and web links that lay the facts bare. “We felt so hurt and betrayed when we found out about this agenda…There is no reason for other families to…be deceived,” says Christy.

So where’s the Catholic Church in all this?

Not where you’d expect.

It’s quite literally in the Girl Scouts’ camp. The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), the Church’s representative and “advocate” for Catholic Girl Scouts, occupied Booth 932 in the Girl Scout Exhibit Hall in Houston. The NFCYM, which connects some 700,000 Catholic Scout members with the Church and provides Catholic materials for the Girl Scouts’ religious recognition program, set up shop near the official Girl Scouts’ booth and the large WAGGGS exhibit—a great space to “meet and greet” as they promoted their religious recognition materials.

Nary a public word about the Girl Scouts’ links to groups promoting abortion, homosexuality, and sexual “rights” for teens. Or about the controversial speakers.

For parents like Christy Volanski, the NFCYM’s cozy relationship with the Girl Scouts creates a smokescreen that obscures a disturbing reality. The NFCYM website and FAQs, along with the NFCYM-GSUSA position papers, gloss over the Girl Scouts’ involvement with pro-abortion advocates, suggesting erroneously that parents need not worry. As a result, parents who do see problems with the Scouts find themselves stymied by pastors, bishops and laypeople who interpret NFCYM’s relationship with the Scouts as unqualified approval.

Rochelle Focaracci, a former Scout leader from Georgia and the co-founder of girlscoutswhynot.com, believes that the NFCYM posture simply “confuses the youth they are there to protect.” Her Florida-based co-founder and sister, Lisa Larsson, puts the problem simply: “We need NFCYM to speak out, to acknowledge that there is a problem with the Girl Scouts.”

They’re not holding their breath.

In spite of the documentation on websites like speaknowgirlscouts.com and 100questionsforthegirlscouts.org, the NFCYM and its Executive Director, Bob McCarty, have failed to acknowledge the extent of the Girl Scouts’ problems—and they’ve failed at least in part because the NFCYM’s fact-finding process is seriously flawed. Instead of insisting on rigorous, independent investigations of credible complaints, the NFCYM states in its position statement that questions will be resolved by “directly contacting GSUSA” for answers.

This first step, however, is typically the last, as the NFCYM seems willing to accept GSUSA answers as gospel truth without independent factual corroboration, parent interviews, or consultations with knowledgeable experts (including former Girl Scouts).

It makes no sense, says Rochelle, from girlscoutswhynot.com  “If we had to investigate a robbery, we would not ask the robber if he robbed the bank.”

McCarty’s July 2011 interview with Our Sunday Visitor added insult to injury for these Girl Scout activists. McCarty dismissed out of hand the possibility that the Girl Scouts might advocate or partner with pro-abortion groups. “Most of the concerns I hear from parents are about what they heard or saw written on blogs and websites engaging in misinformation. It’s never anything they saw themselves.”

Perhaps McCarty needs to look more closely.

For example, the NFCYM FAQs flatly state that it’s “not true” that national and local councils support Planned Parenthood. In an interview last week, McCarty referred often to the “position statement” in which GSUSA promised that no Girl Scout “monies” will flow to organizations like Planned Parenthood—as if written assurances settled the matter.

Even Girl Scout spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins (who deferred comments on these topics until later this week) has distinguished between partnerships by the national organization and those of local councils. “We have not and do not partner with Planned Parenthood on the national level,” she claimed. However, ”local councils are free to partner with whomever they choose…”

And they do. For example, a quick web search yielded 2011 evidence of a Girl Scouts of NY PENN partnership with a Planned Parenthood initiative (with links to explicit websites) for the Scouts’ body image project.

Susan Riedley, a current Girl Scout leader who created the site honestgirlscouts.com “challenges” McCarty to go directly to source materials—on her website and others–and “investigate the links for himself.” McCarty says he’s “clicked around” a few times to address concerns but feels that the grievance procedure established with the GSUSA bears better results.  He insists that, “We need to be in these conversations [with the Girl Scouts]…You can’t even raise the questions if you are not in relationship with them.”

True enough, but the follow-up question is, “Then what?”

The point of raising questions with the Girl Scouts isn’t to prompt technical compliance as they sanitize websites and books. Similarly, the narrow scope of the GSUSA-NFCYM position statement—whether the Girl Scouts directly fund or partner with Planned Parenthood, through dues versus cookie profits, locally or nationally, with parental permission or without, etc.–misses the point.  And it deftly redirects attention away from the enmeshed relationship between abortion-promoting-WAGGGS and the Girl Scouts USA.

In my view, McCarty’s failure to commission a thorough, independent review of the facts behind the Girl Scouts’ affiliations—while taking the Girl Scouts’ denials at face value–betrays the trust of Catholic youth and their parents.

While McCarty insists NFCYM must “stay in the conversation” with the GSUSA, concerned parents find themselves on the outside, rarely consulted and with little opportunity to present their evidence or see it taken seriously.  And, they wonder, when does the desire to “stay in the conversation” morph into playing the willing dupe, providing “Catholic” cover for the Girl Scouts’ complicity in feminist and liberal causes?

“Process” isn’t the only reason why NFCYM needs a push to address the seriousness of the Girl Scouts’ issues. McCarty also disagrees on the relative importance of certain Girl Scout affiliations, including the WAGGGS relationship. McCarty’s current focus is not on the WAGGGS relationship, but on getting buy-in from the Girl Scouts for an approval process for materials, plus an initiative to establish relationships between diocesan youth ministers and local council leaders.

Reasonable goals, certainly.  But they strike me as the scouting equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.

He doesn’t see it that way. McCarty believes that the WAGGGS influence is “fairly far removed from our kids” and “doesn’t filter down.” As for the millions of dollars that flow into WAGGGS coffers from GSUSA? McCarty likens the WAGGGS dues (a head count based on a country’s number of Girl Scouts) to the U.S. taxpayer’s support for the United Nations.

The analogy limps. Girl Scouts’ membership is voluntary. The Church doesn’t have to sponsor troops. (In fact, there’s even an excellent alternative that’s exploding in popularity—the values-rich, American Heritage Girls.) And the Church’s voluntary participation looks like an endorsement.

Jane Petry, a 67-year-old Girl Scout veteran, spent last weekend at the Houston convention distributing flyers highlighting the Planned Parenthood—GSUSA connection. To her, the money flow is a repugnant cooperation with moral evil. Volanski calls it “mind boggling” that, through GSUSA membership, “Catholic Girl Scouts are supporting this global agenda to bring sexual rights (including emergency contraception and abortion) to all young people.”

Volanski says WAGGGS’ influence does have “a real impact on the local Catholic girl in a local troop in many different ways,” from the WAGGGS pin girls wear to express global sisterhood, to the problematic Journeys project books that routinely plug WAGGGS, to WAGGGS-related fundraising activities, to international visits to WAGGGS chalets, to WAGGGS global advocacy.

Even so, McCarty doubts that the influence “is as pervasive as you think.” Besides, he maintains, “We can pretend that we can protect our kids from this stuff or we can prepare them…”

In spite of the disagreement between NFCYM and the Girl Scout activists over the significance of the Girl Scouts’ issues, McCarty did intimate that while he’s committed to dialogue, lack of “movement” by the Girl Scouts on these issues may trigger “decisions” in the future.

The Church has financial leverage, if it’s willing to use it. McCarty estimates 700,000 Catholics are members of the GSUSA. At $12 per year, Catholic support delivers roughly $8.4 million to the Girl Scouts, not including funds earned by Catholic Girl Scouts’ fundraising or cookie sales, or the millions of volunteer hours donated by Catholic adults.

How to move forward?

I strongly urge the NFCYM, or the USCCB in its oversight capacity, to create a focused working group with a mandate to assess the extent and impact of the Girl Scouts’ connection to WAGGGS’ and other groups.

That working group should include at least three leaders from the Girl Scouts watchdog websites.  They know the issues, have spent hundreds of hours on their own time tracking down facts, and have been overlooked by the NFCYM for too long. If the NFCYM can spend hours in conversation with the Girl Scouts, it needs to engage these committed Catholic parents as a resource to be taken seriously.

The project should have a short deadline, delivering a report in advance of Bob McCarty’s planned meeting Anna Maria Chavez, the new CEO of the Girl Scouts. (Reportedly Catholic, in 2009 Chavez spoke at a women’s event co-sponsored by the local Planned Parenthood.)

Finally, the end game must be clearly defined, more than vague “movement.” GSUSA has stonewalled its critics by splitting hairs, arguing narrow points, with semantics about official or unofficial relationships with Planned Parenthood, national versus local level, parental permission or not, whether monies flow from membership dues, cookie sales, or other funds, etc.

In my view, either GSUSA severs its ties to WAGGGS and creates an explicit policy forbidding partnerships, affiliations, and resources from Planned Parenthood-like organizations—or the Catholic Church should withdraw its sponsorship of all Girl Scouts troops (convert to American Heritage Girls) and recommend that individual Catholics withdraw from the Scouts as well.

It’s time. Catholic families deserve clarity, delivered with courage.

(c) 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

Mary Rice Hasson is a Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C

(Permission granted for reprints and republication, with attribution.)

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Reaching Teens: The Priest Who Roared

It’s hard to impress a sixteen-year-old boy.

And it’s even harder to impress a sixteen-year-old boy with a Sunday homily.

But on a recent Sunday, a priest at our parish (we’ll call him “Fr. Joe”) did just that.

“Hey, you know that visiting priest, mom?  He was on fire. It was like one of those old fire and brimstone deals. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Neither, apparently, had most of the other teens in the Church.  Or even most of the adults, most likely.

His topic?

Pop culture…and its brazen efforts to normalize sexual perversity. Not an easy topic on which to engage teenagers positively and persuasively.

Teens too easily put on mental headphones and tune out “predictable” grown ups. “Yeah, yeah.  Back in the day…lecture 192.” Besides haven’t adults always complained about rock-n-roll, teen culture, fashions, and the like? It’s just a generational thing.

But when a priest grabs their attention, keeps them listening—and gives them something meaty to take home and chew on–it’s worth noticing what works.

So what went right?

For starters, Fr. Joe got their attention. He didn’t glide gently into his topic. He fairly roared. He spoke passionately, compelling attention by the volume and certitude in his voice. His voice conveyed the unspoken message: ‘Listen up. This is important. The stakes are high: your soul and our culture hang in the balance.’

Father Joe wasn’t angry and out of control.  But he was vehement, concerned, and loud. Troubled about the likely future of our culture, he insisted that his listeners respond, in their own lives, to what he was saying.

Look at it this way:  kids understand passion. Celebrities, teachers, coaches, and websites encourage our teens to discover their passion and pursue it, to find what matters to them, and to be a voice for it. But if a priest or youth leader addresses sexual morality or serious cultural problems with the same bland tone of the weekly “doughnuts-and-coffee-in-the-parish-hall-after-all-Masses” announcement, few teens will listen.

And why should they?  The speaker’s tone of voice implicitly says, “I know you’re not listening but, bear with me, I’m required to say this.”

Hardly a way to inspire teens to risk their popularity, face humiliation, or endure rejection because they stand up for truth.

A priest who roars, on the other hand, gets their attention.  Don’t cringe. I’m not advocating a weekly rant or ear-splitting homilies.  But our teachers, pastors, and ministers need to command attention and one way to do that is to let loose with the change-up pitch.  Be unpredictable. A dropped voice, a whispering tone, or compelling rhetoric does the trick too.

What else worked about Fr. Joe’s homily?

He used specific words, pointed criticisms, and concrete analogies. Gay marriage?  It’s like Grape Nuts: neither grape nor nuts. Gay marriage isn’t “gay”—the homosexual lifestyle teems with unhappiness, depression, disease, and substance abuse. And it isn’t “marriage” either. Marriage has a centuries old meaning that cannot be changed by popular vote—it requires the faithful sexual intimacy of a man and woman, united permanently to parent the children born of their intimacy. Two women and a turkey baster (or two guys and a rented womb) can’t compare.

Dozens of times a day, the culture pulses seductive, destructive messages to our kids—through music, videos, websites, peer conversations, the media and our schools.  (Read Mary Beth Hicks’ excellent new book Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid, and you’ll see the problem.)

Teens need us to respect them enough to provide reasons why certain acts are immoral.  Forget the euphemisms. Give them the words to defend traditional morality and provide the examples that challenge the lies behind accepted cultural ‘wisdom.’ If we want our teens to rebuff the culture’s assault on morality, then we need to tackle the other side’s arguments head on. Where else will our teens hear the truth, if not from their families and the Church?

Kudos to Fr. Joe for tackling tough subjects, with passion, clarity, and certitude.

I hope there’s more where that came from—in your parish and mine–for the sake of all our kids.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

 

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C.

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The Sad Dance of Chaz Bono

Picture this: a female-to-male transsexual proudly dances with a woman partner in front of millions of TV viewers, competing with straight couples for the applause, approval, and votes of viewers young and old.

The show’s producer lauds the transsexual’scourage” and “remarkably strong character.”  The transsexual, who declares himself* a “straight man,” and his LBGT supporters launch a media blitz to silence critics of the show, branding them “haters” and “stupid bigots.” Why? Because they won’t support this “positive role model” whose appearance will help “save lives” of vulnerable, transgendered teenagers.

It’s reality.

And it’s airing on the ABC reality show Dancing with the Stars this fall. The show scored big publicity last week when it announced that Chaz Bono, the transgendered offspring of the famous Hollywood duo, Sonny and Cher, would join this season’s TV dance competition. The show also will feature an openly gay contestant, Carson Kressley.

Chaz, who began transitioning from female to male last year, looks male (thanks to hormones), dresses and calls himself male, and has undergone breast removal surgery.  While he would like to add male genitalia, he considers the reconstructive surgery too risky. Besides, he feels like a male already, even without the proper equipment.

What’s he doing on Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), a show which the producer maintains is a “family show?”

Chaz says “America really needs to see this…” because of the “completely inaccurate stereotypes and thoughts that people have” about transgendered folks.

His bottom line? (No pun intended.)

“I want people to know that transgender people are just like everyone else.”

And if parents or families oppose his performance, preferring not to expose their children to the transgendered lifestyle?

They’re “haters.”

Well then, either most parents in America are “haters” or Chaz Bono–and his Hollywood friends–have got it wrong.

America does not “need” to see transsexuals pretending that their sexuality is a normal as the married husband and wife next door.  And they definitely don’t want their children to see it either.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that only 20% of American parents believe that it’s appropriate for children younger than 13 to be exposed to dialogue about alternative lifestyles. (Even higher percentages of parents would shield their children from images of alternative lifestyles.) The research found that, among both church-going and non-church-going parents, 32% believe the minimum age for exposure to dialogue about alternative lifestyles is 13-16 and an additional 29% of parents would wait even longer–until at least age 17. Further, 19% of parents believe such content is inappropriate for all ages. [Full disclosure: I coauthored the Pediatrics article with Iowa State University media research expert, Doug Gentile, Ph.D., and others.]

Parents: don’t be intimidated. You are not alone. It’s not “hateful” to affirm traditional male-female sexuality as natural and preferable to homosexuality, bi-sexuality, transsexuality, and the rest of the sexual smorgasbord. And it’s a good–not hateful–instinct to want to protect your child’s innocence.

This stunt—shining the spotlight on Chaz Bono as the first transgendered dance contestant (so we can pretend his new self is “just like everybody else”)–is the latest round in the same old game: Hollywood liberals arrogantly shove sexually dysfunctional people at viewers, insist that the public accept and approve of all “sexual minorities,” and then slap the label “hater” on anyone who objects.

Maybe to Hollywood producers, sexually confused and sexually deviant people really are “just like” the rest of…Hollywood. According to actor Corey Feldman, it’s an open secret that Hollywood’s number one problem is pedophilia. And Hollywood seems fascinated by sexual disorder masquerading as normalcy. Small wonder that DWTS producer finds Chaz Bono’s story “compelling” and “profound.” The LGBT community responded with verbal love strokes, hailing Hollywood’s decision as “a tremendous step forward for the American public to recognize that transgender people are another wonderful part of the fabric of our culture.”

Right.  Only if “culture” means the LGBT culture, with all its “wonderful” features like dungeons and fetish shows (popular exhibits in the “Erotic City” area of the L.A. Pride event. Maybe they’re saving that for next season’s “family show”).

It makes you wonder: do Hollywood types even know any regular parents? Or do they just ignore them?

Yes, transgendered people are equal in dignity to every other person. And Chaz Bono, female, male, or somewhere in the mutilated middle, should be treated with kindness and compassion. But let’s face it—anyone who feels compelled to mutilate his or her sex organs, with chemicals or surgery, because he or she feels like the opposite sex, has got some serious problems.

Chaz Bono’s story is heartbreaking. But heartbreak doesn’t make a role model. Nor does it make transgender-ism a condition to be celebrated.

Dancing with the Stars won’t showcase the backstory behind Chaz Bono because it tells of the misery that results when a child is left to raise herself. And the confusion that results when reality is defined by feelings, unmoored from objective reality, moral truth, or even the truth of one’s own body.

One particularly telling sentence in his memoir suggests the destructive inversion at the roots of Chaz’ tangled history: “As any child of famous parents will tell you, parents come first.” (p. 11).

And so they did for poor Chaz.

Sonny and Cher divorced when Chaz was four. She was a cute little girl named “Chastity” back then. Her nanny, Linda, became the “one person who gave me…warmth, safety, and attention.” (p. 10) As a child, Chastity traveled with Cher, who let her hang out with the show’s drag queens in between and after performances. (Good parenting, eh?)

After the divorce, Sonny began calling Chastity “Fred,” and encouraged her to hang out with him like “father-and-son.” (p. 16). By age 13, Chastity identified as a lesbian. And at fourteen, she was coached by an older lesbian—her mother’s friend–on “how to make love to a woman.” (p. 47). Shaped by instability—temporary homes, disruptive school changes, and her mother’s revolving cast of lovers—Chastity became a dysfunctional adult. She suffered through bad relationships, drug addiction, depression, unemployment, and personal confusion. Therapy from lesbian and transgendered therapists—surprise, surprise–compounded her confusion. Last year she embraced a transgendered identity and became “Chaz.”

So this fall, Chaz will dance his sad dance in celebration of who he has become.

And when the approval, votes, and applause prove to be but a temporary balm on his tortured soul… then what?

For Chaz’ sake, I hope someone in Hollywood introduces him not to the next, ‘best’ surgeon or therapist, but to the only Someone who can offer true healing and peace.

————————

  • Note: I follow the journalistic convention of using the pronoun that corresponds, at each stage, to Chaz Bono’s self-identified gender identity.

© 2011  Mary Rice Hasson

 

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Same-Sex Marriage: Lessons in Conscience

At first glance, there’s nothing impressive about Laura Fotusky. Her soft, middle-aged figure, unremarkable cardigan, and dark, ‘80s-style hair capture the plain ordinariness of small-town America.

Nothing chic or trendy here.

But Laura grabbed headlines recently, standing tall to answer the call of conscience against the power of law. She resigned from her job as Barker Town Clerk, a position that would require her to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians once the newly passed “Marriage Equality Act” becomes New York law on July 24.

Why resign from a fulfilling job when unemployment tops nine percent?

Conscience.

That’s the same word that gay advocates pulled out to laud New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo, for his balance-tipping vote in favor of homosexual marriage. He too earned headlines, as homosexual activists across the country hailed him as a “hero” for “voting his conscience.”

Only thirty-five miles apart geographically, Laura Fotusky and Mark Grisanti stand worlds apart on the meaning of conscience. The contrast between them is itself a powerful lesson.

Conscience means more than ‘what I think is right.’ Conscience is “a way of obedience to objective truth.” So taught the brilliant, and saintly, intellectual— Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Clerk Fotusky searched for truth by looking upwards, to the Truth-giver. She read His Book and bowed to its authority“[T]here is a higher law than the law of the land,” she said. “It is the law of God in the Bible…The Bible clearly teaches that God created marriage between male and female.”

Politician Grisanti sought truth by scanning left and right on the political horizon. He looked right as he wooed Christian churches, particularly African-American ones, campaigning on the promise that he was unalterably opposed to gay marriage.” (See his 2008 letter here.)

Post-election, he looked left, bending a listening ear towards LGBT lobbyists and fielding pro-gay calls from Governor Cuomo and tweets from Lady Gaga.

Finally, Grisanti sought the truth about same-sex marriage by looking inward, to his “personal belief” (a temptation Pope Benedict once described as “self-sufficient subjectivity”). Before, Grisanti said, “I simply opposed it [same-sex marriage] in the Catholic sense of my upbringing.” But now, for this pressure-filled vote on same-sex marriage, Grisanti announced he would seek truth by relying on “reason” bereft of faith.

And so, like the politician who peels off his suit coat when it’s time to “get real,” Grisanti peeled off his faith to gay applause because it was time to “take the Catholic out of me.”

Wrong move, for any serious seeker of truth.

Newman insisted, according to Pope Benedict XVI, that, “freedom of conscience” does not mean “the right…’to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge.’” Put differently, one who seeks truth in good conscience cannot ignore God, who is Truth.

When Grisanti closed his eyes to God’s truth, he stumbled into a blind alley, hopelessly lost. Defending his decision to support same-sex marriage, Grisanti asked, “Who am I to say that someone does not have the same rights that I have with my wife, who I love…?”

In his moral myopia, marriage looks like a fuzzy framework that honors his loving feelings for his wife. But marriage bestows rights not because of the couple’s feelings but because their sexual union as male and female, unlike the sexual activity of two males or two females, quite naturally produces children–children who need the stable union of their own mother and father, a commitment secured by marriage.

What about our other truth-seeker, Laura Fotusky?

For her, ignoring God was never an option. Her search for truth brought her face-to-face with Him.  And she found her answer.

“Since I love and follow Him, I cannot put my signature on something that is against God…I would be compromising my moral conscience if I participated in the licensing procedure.”

With no option but to “choose between my God and my job,” she resigned.

For her faithfulness, she’s been rewarded with sneers from the liberal elites. The Daily Beast, eschewing the respectful convention of capitalizing God’s name, smirked that, “maybe god wanted her to be unemployed?”

No matter. Laura’s courage and clarity of conscience don’t depend on others’ approval, only God’s. And she’s not alone. Other officials, like Supervisor Karl Brabenec of Deer Park (a Catholic), have resigned as well, citing conscience.

And Grisanti? Political expediency labeled “conscience” has proven quite profitable. Days after his vote for same-sex marriage, Grisanti’s re-election campaign received over $50,000 in donations from national advocates of gay rights, including $10,000 each from New York Mayor Bloomberg and Tim Gill (the financial engine driving the same-sex marriage train).  And while Republicans aren’t happy with Grisanti, one journalist reported that, “Democratic party regulars are chasing Grisanti like hormonal tweens chasing Justin Bieber at the airport.”

Life seems good for Mark Grisanti.  When he looks in the mirror, he feels “wiser today” than “yesterday.”

But life’s even better for Laura Fotusky. She says, “I’ve made my choice, and no one means to me what Jesus means.”

And in the end, conscience is not about pleasing the person we see in the mirror.

It’s about pleasing the Person we see for all eternity.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

 

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Are You a Good Dad? (Or Mom?)

Father’s Day made me think: what do I know about being a good dad?  After all, I’m a mom.

Motherhood gives me a certain perspective on what good dads do.  But only a dad can offer the inside-out perspective on being a good dad.

So I tapped into wiser heads than mine and asked some really good dads, “Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give a younger dad on what it takes to be a good dad?”

Charlie, a father of three teens (two boys and a girl), says this:

“First, learn patience—with the kids and their mother. Second, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

He paused.

“And third, realize that you are not guaranteed happiness in being a father.  It requires self-sacrifice—in terms of sleep, money, etc.—but only through that self-sacrifice can you be happy.

“I always tell people that the greatest moments of fatherhood are not at Disneyland or at some sporting event.  I remember one time the whole house was sick for a couple of days. The place was a ‘vomitorium.’ I’m doing all the nursing and janitor functions while feeling like crap. I’m nauseous and exhausted, rinsing out a vomit bucket in the bathroom, and it hits me—THIS is what it means to be a father.

“It felt good.”

The heart of a Dad–progressively emptied of selfishness, bucket by bucket, becomes a heart overflowing with love.

But it doesn’t happen by itself.  Would any of us empty ourselves so willingly, day after day, if we didn’t have to?

A friend of mine lives a wealthy, power-couple lifestyle. Long-married, but with no children, she once told me, “It’s hard for us, with no children, to learn how to be unselfish towards each other.  Everything’s negotiable. His turn, my turn. It’s not the same as being unselfish. I watch you with your children and I’m envious. They teach you to give out of love—to give simply because they need it, even when there’s no benefit to you at all.”

Her wistful words remain fresh in my memory, even after several years.  I think of them when I struggle to give freely–when meeting a child’s need creates a momentary sense of “loss”—lost privacy, free time, sleep, or opportunity. In my better moments, I remember that it’s not “loss” at all, but a gift, to have the chance to love more deeply, less selfishly.

Charlie experienced the blessing of necessity.  I say “blessing” because ‘necessity’ has the power to change hearts, if we are willing. God, fortunately for us, doesn’t unfurl the scroll of our selfish habits all at once, demanding that we march through the list and methodically rid ourselves of self-centeredness before the sunset of life.

He leads us by the grace of necessity. Our response ‘in the moment’ turns loss into gain and selfishness into love.

All He asks is a heart willing to love.

And humble enough to do the job in front of us.

That’s what it takes to be a good Dad.

And, come to think of it, that’s what it takes to be a good Mom too.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

 

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Sudden Death. Life Perfectly Timed.

Mary Hamann

Sudden death.

The loss of a beloved friend, without warning, rips a gaping hole in the memory-rich fabric of life.

Mary Murphy Hamann, my college roommate, longtime friend, and one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever met, died on Good Friday in a remote village in Paraguay.

Her plan? To attend her daughter’s wedding there and meet the Paraguayan in-laws. But God planned otherwise.  Mary hemorrhaged unexpectedly from a hidden, life-threatening tumor, just one day before her daughter’s wedding.

Nothing could have saved her. Even if she’d been stateside, the end result would have been the same.  Her close-knit family–husband, four adult children, seven surviving siblings, in-laws, and dozens of nieces and nephews–reeled from the blow, in shock and grief.

But the days that followed found them steadied by the mercy of God’s grace and the hope born of faith.

It was her time.

I remember once, thirty years earlier, when Mary told me, “It’s time.”

Only then it was “time” to marry her high school sweetheart, Mike—a decision that seemed as ill-timed (to others) as her death now thirty years later.

Just 19 when Mike slipped the engagement ring on her finger, Mary married at 20. No shotguns involved, just a young couple in love and ready to team up for life. “He’s the one,” Mary told me, “It’s time.”

So she married and left school, taking a job that would support them both while Mike spent his last two years at Notre Dame.

The young feminists in our dorm sizzled with outrage. Clearly appalled, one driven engineer-to-be expressed her indignation—on Mary’s behalf–to me. “She’s got a 3.9! Why is she leaving school?  Why doesn’t he leave school so she can finish?”

Mary’s decision made no sense to the career-oriented, high-achievers of the 80’s. Forget the balancing act. Marriage and motherhood were obstacles to career success.

Some imagined a he-versus-she wrestling match over dominance and ambition, with Mary finally yielding.  Others carped that Mary’s conservative beliefs and traditional Catholicism must be at fault. “What a waste.” They lamented their friend’s all-but-certain future: talents undeveloped and opportunities lost, all sacrificed at the altar of marriage and motherhood.

Poor Mary.

“Poor Mary” never looked back.  Her sureness emerged from a prayerful heart intent on one question: ”What is the Lord’s will for me?”

The answer didn’t come instantly. She prayed for months, her rosary often slipping from her sleeping hand, down from her top bunk onto mine below. The Lourdes Grotto at Notre Dame held dozens of candle stubs lit by a young woman in search of God’s will. And her commitment to daily Mass—at noon or 5 pm—often meant the ultimate sacrifice for a college student: settling for the dregs of cafeteria food. Limp lettuce and rubbery burgers, at best. (One long-winded homily and she’d miss the meal entirely!)

God must have been tickled to see a young heart madly in love, but so willing to ask what He wanted. And Mary delighted in His answer—yes, marry Mike.

It was time.

More importantly, her question, “What’s your will for me, Lord?” wasn’t a one-timer.  It was the recurring theme of her life. (Mike’s life too, for that matter.)

And indeed, it’s interesting how life turned out.

Mary’s first job gave way to full-time motherhood, with one girl and three boys in quick succession. Unfazed by muddy feet and shoes gone AWOL, Mary’s contagious laughter bubbled over in daily life. As her peers got big jobs and even bigger signing bonuses, Mary changed diapers, hugged toddlers, and shrugged off thoughts of what-might-have-been.

Then, supplementing Mike’s teaching job, she resumed part-time work, often from home, with stints in copywriting, advertising, and political campaigns. In short order, resourcefulness paired with economic necessity and gave birth to a successful family business in marketing and communications.

Funny how God works.  As Mary followed the thread of God’s will, woven among family needs and life’s opportunities, her creative talents flourished, her professional skills sharpened, and her entrepreneurial spirit grew. She picked up the classes she needed, then came full circle, landing back at Notre Dame in a job she loved—Director of Communications in the Mendoza College of Business. For ten years, as her children moved into adulthood, she edited an award-winning magazine and played a central role in her husband’s successful entre into politics.

Even by feminist standards, it was a quality resume for a mom of four.

But her accomplishments aren’t the real story.

When Mary died, God didn’t read her obituary.  He read her heart.

That’s the story too easily missed. Her heart had grown more in love with Him over the years, not by adding up achievements but by asking that question, “What’s your will for me, Lord?”

It’s a question that I, for one, ought to ask more often.

Because that simple question—“What’s your will for me, Lord?”—purifies the heart. And our sincere (though surely imperfect) response to that question, over and over, defines a life well lived.

In hindsight, Mary’s life was not only well lived, but perfectly timed.

And so was her death. It was her time, because it was God’s time.  It’s the only way Mary would have wanted it.

© 2011  Mary Rice Hasson

 

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The Facebook Generation: Narcissism, Sexting, and the Decline of Empathy

Two recent stories suggest that a disturbing practice has found acceptance among teens and young adults: broadcasting the sexual misbehavior of their peers, especially girls, on a massive scale within hours. Photos preferred.

Is it just gossip, gone digital? “Mean Girls,” with a sexual twist?

I don’t think so.

Some commentators too easily dump these incidents into the overflowing bucket of cyber-bullying or dismiss them as teen-age drama, writ large. But these episodes deserve a second look.

A few months back, a Washington state eighth-grader named Margaritesexted” a nude, frontal photo of herself to her new sort-of-boyfriend. Within weeks, their fledgling relationship died.

The photo lived on.

The boy sent it to another girl who captioned the photo, “Ho Alert!” and added instructions: “If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” The photo instantly ricocheted, via text, from one social circle to another. Within hours, students from four different schools had ogled the sexter’s naked body and passed the photo on. The eighth grade girl was devastated.

The second situation occurred in the upscale suburbs of New York City. Someone created rankings of 100 allegedly sexually adventurous girls and boys from the surrounding school districts and circulated the lists using Blackberry Messenger.

One teenager (who claims he was not the original creator of the lists) quickly created a Facebook page called the “Westchester SMUT List” (“SMUT” meant “slut,” thinly disguised to evade Facebook restrictions), and posted only the girls’ rankings (including full names and descriptions of sexual activity).

Within hours, thousands of people saw the list. Over 7,000 of them “liked” the Facebook page that trashed the girls’ reputations.  And with one click, each of those viewers magnified the damage, publicizing the page instantly to his or her Facebook friends.

The sexual behavior of the 8th-grader and of the SMUT 100 (to the extent the reports are true) reads like an MTV script. And that’s certainly a huge problem.

But let’s switch focus, for a minute, from the girls to their enthusiastic “audience” of thousands. Their behavior may well reflect the bigger problem.

Consider the smut list. What does it mean when thousands of young people swarm, within hours, to the site of their peers’ humiliation? (Imagine piranhas in a feeding frenzy.)

And what drove seven thousand of them to click the “like” icon on the smut list?

Meanness, maybe. But narcissism is a likely suspect, too.

The Facebook generation shows an overwhelming desire for self-promotion, to weigh in, to be in the know. Want to be important? Dispense scandalous information.

The teens who “liked” the list not only didn’t care that others knew they’d seen the list and passed it on, they wanted others to know that they’d done so. Being among “the first to know” matters too. It’s a sure way to build social capital—be the source that sends others to the newest, most outrageous virtual place.

No shame, no hesitation, no reticence. In their narcissistic stampede towards Facebook fame and “firsts,” thousands trampled on the dignity and reputations of very real people. And they didn’t even care.

Why? Because, in a given moment, narcissism blots out both moral sense (do their consciences even register slander? detraction? cruelty?) and a sense of empathy. (Many ethicists believe that empathy is at the heart of morality.)

An empathic person in this case would grasp the pain, shame, and humiliation experienced by the girls on the list—and would never add to their misery by passing the information on, especially because it might be false. A narcissistic person would seize any opportunity, including the humiliation of others, to vault back into the center of attention.

Narcissism gave a good showing at the Westchester Smut List.

There’s a second factor at work here as well.

In today’s culture, sex is entertainment.  It doesn’t need to be either personal or intimate—a lesson the Facebook generation has learned well.

It’s not surprising, then, that these young people easily accept the idea that women are sexual objects. Depersonalized sex is everywhere, in ads, music videos, TV, movies, teen websites, and, of course, pornography. Immersed in it, they can’t help but be shaped by it as well.

Take, for example, the teens recently interviewed by The New York Times on the topic of sexting. For this sex-saturated generation, sexy photos become a strikingly impersonal part of the mating dance.

One girl puts it this way: “We see virtual images all day long, so if someone sends you a [naked] image, it loses the identity of the person. It’s just a picture.” A teen-age boy in the group added helpfully, “And usually the face is not in it.“

It’s the very definition of depersonalized sex: the most “personal” aspect, a face, is out of sight. But the naked body still titillates and makes the rounds, by cell phone and text.

And even when the photo does include the person’s face—as it did in Margarite’s case—her peers had already lost sight of the real person who would be mortified, shamed, and crushed with regret as they passed her picture along. She was just a body, grabbed, groped, and used as an object for pleasure (or humiliation) in the virtual space. Her reputation became a plaything as well.

Similarly, a teenage girl on a smut list is but a name—no one cares about her.  They care only to know what she’s willing to do with her body–or at least what others say she’s willing to do.

What’s missing is any sense that these girls are persons, not sexual objects. And what’s lost, among other things, is the privacy and space that would allow these adolescents to mature, repent, change course and begin anew. Instead, they’ve been humiliated on a grand scale, and will be haunted by the exposure for years.

On the plus side, at least the girls know they’ve gotten off track and need to change.

But their peers—the thousands steeped in depersonalized sex and searching for the next narcissistic shot at popularity—they have no idea how far off track they are.

And the real question for our culture is, “What are we going to do about that?”

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

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Should You Feed Grandpa? Depends on Your Worldview.

Grandpa's Food

My friend, Marci, drives a basketball carpool every week, carting her teen-age son and his teammates to practices and games. So she hears a lot, from the boys, about their daily lives.

One conversation a few weeks ago sent chills up her spine.

“How’s your Grandpa doing?”  Marci asked Trey, an occasional rider.

Trey’s Grandpa had been in the hospital, a few states away, for two months after suffering a systemic infection that left him weak and unable to breathe on his own.  Trey’s aunts and uncles had been taking turns visiting, flying down to spend time with him and watch over his care.

“Well, not so good,” said Trey.

And then, in a matter-of-fact tone, he added, “But they stopped feeding him last week. The doctor said now he’ll die naturally, on his own, sometime this week.”

Marci’s jaw dropped.  She didn’t know what to say. Trey’s parents were nice people, not attached to any particular faith, but trying to raise good kids.  And yet here was Trey nonchalantly describing his extended family’s decision to starve his Grandpa as a “natural” death.

When the other boys left the car, Marci’s own son turned to her, aghast, and said, “What’s up with that? Stop feeding him so he’ll die?!”

What’s up with that?  It’s “worldview” in action.

What’s a “worldview”?

Our worldview is the lens through which we see the world—it’s anchored to the truths we believe and reflected in the shape of our decisions.

It’s the window through which we interpret our world, find meaning, and make decisions about right and wrong.

Decisions like whether or not we should continue feeding Grandpa.

Secular or Christian Worldview?

The sharp divide between these two worldviews begins at the beginning…with their premises.

While the Christian worldview centers on God (and acknowledges that God is in charge and we are not), the secular worldview exalts “me and my happiness.”

That’s an easy sell. Daily messages from the media, entertainment, counselors, doctors–even nominally religious folks–reinforce the secular worldview that it’s “all about me.”

And ideas that once seemed unthinkable blend into the cultural “white noise”— hardly noticed, rarely challenged, but imprinted in mind and memory.

Ideas like…

“We can’t really know what’s true. You have your truth, I have mine.”

“What’s wrong for me might be right for you.”

“What really matters is that you’re happy.”

“You’re entitled to get what you want. Now.”

“You’ve got to think about yourself first.”

“’Quality of life’ matters more than life itself.”

“Some lives aren’t worth living.”

 

Unless consciously overridden, these ideas trigger a secular worldview by default—even among those who wear the Christian label.

The result? Flawed moral reasoning.

The results can be deadly, as Grandpa discovered.

Christian morality begins with the question, “What does God say about this?”

The secular culture first asks, “How do you feel about that?”

Trying to decide whether Grandpa gets fed by asking, “How do I feel about that?” is like trying to drop a moral plumb line onto a deck that’s pitching and tossing on waves of emotion.

It won’t work.

As Christians, our moral reasoning begins with the truth revealed by God. And our moral plumb line drops straight from one level (“What does God say?”) to the next (“What does the Church teach?”), defining the scope of our solutions.

“Solutions” incompatible with God’s teachings get dumped out of the “solutions” bucket from the start, before we ever ask ourselves, “How do I feel about that?”

Ironically, Catholics who reject the moral teachings of the Church miss one of God’s great mercies—it’s precisely those teachings that offer clarity, direction, and peace about how God wants us to act.

So, starving Grandpa is not an option. Pope John Paul II put it this way: “Water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act.”

Everyone has a worldview—from the doctors who proposed a “Do Not Feed” solution, to the utilitarian ethicists on hospital staffs, to the clerk in the hospital gift store.

Trey’s family has a worldview.

And so do you.

The question is, which one?

Someone’s life may depend on getting it right.

 

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

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Girl Wrestlers: Boundaries, Faith, and False Equality

In high school, I ran cross-country—the only girl on the boys’ cross-country team. Running made me happy and I was good it.

But with no girls’ team at my high school, I churned up the hills with the boys’ team. The miles I’d run with my dad and brothers over the years made competing with the boys’ team as natural as running itself.  (And beating even a few male runners on the racecourse was, I admit, satisfying.)

So I get it.

I understand Cassy Herkelman’s athleticism and her desire to compete against the best athletes around.  I really do get that.

Cassy Herkelman, by the way, is a 112-pound high school girl, a freshman at Cedar Falls High School in Iowa. The problem, however, is that Cassy competes with high school boys in a sport where success depends on breaching all the natural boundaries of male-female physical contact.

She’s a wrestler.

And what I don’t get is her parents’ decision to let her aim her athleticism and competitive drive at the wrestling mat. I don’t get that at all.

Cassy and another girl wrestler, Megan Black, earned spots in this year’s Iowa State Wrestling Tournament for the first time. But Cassy’s first round match proved to be a test of faith and conviction rather than skill…for her opponent, at least.

Her scheduled opponent, Joel Northrup, was a promising young wrestler who finished third in last year’s tournament. But Joel withdrew from the match, handing Cassy a victory by forfeit.

Why did Joel refuse to wrestle Cassy and, with that refusal, end his title hopes?

Because his faith taught him better than to grapple violently with a girl, grabbing at her body parts for handholds, mentally focused on subduing her. He knew that the sports context didn’t make the contact less problematic. Joel’s strong character propelled him to do the right thing—forfeiting–even though it cost him a shot at the championship he’s worked towards all season long.

To his credit, Joel speaks well of Cassy and acknowledges her athletic talent.  But he goes on to say, “wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times….As a matter of conscience and faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in [this] situation…”

Joel’s right.  It should never have come to this.

Even if dunder-headed school administrators lacked the common sense to keep girls from wrestling boys, the girls’ parents should never have allowed it. For the girls’ sakes as well as the boys.’

While wrestling moves aren’t overtly sexual and must conform to set rules, wrestling is a contact sport–an aggressive, body-on-body contest. Unlike the jarring, two-second contact of tackle football, wrestling entails sustained grappling, grabbing, squeezing, pressing, and even gouging. As the match progresses, opponents might end up lying on top of each other, wrapping their arms and legs around the other’s torso, or grabbing through the opponent’s legs to flip or pin the other.

“She can take it.”  I can hear the argument now.  But this isn’t a question about whether a girl is tough enough to physically endure those demands on her body.  Certainly an athletic girl can condition her body as well as a boy, and learn the techniques to deftly escape or take down an opponent.

Yes, girls can be fit, well-conditioned, competitive athletes. But that misses the point.

Throwing girls and boys on the wrestling mat together involves more than relative strength or skill level. Girls’ bodies are, well, girls’ bodies, different from boys.’ And that physical difference extends to the way they think and feel, as well as their natural inhibitions and inclinations. Our norms about appropriate physical contact are a way of respecting those differences.

Consider this: fifteen-year-old girl wrestlers, like Cassy, must allow a succession of fifteen-year-old boys (friends? strangers?) to handle their bodies roughly, intimately, aggressively on an open mat in front of a crowd, in an atmosphere of adversarial domination.  And, in order to win, they must respond in kind.

Do we really want a girl to shrug off this kind of contact? To overcome her innate emotional resistance to having her body handled roughly by random males? To accept an adrenaline-driven male grabbing her face, reaching through her legs and flipping her, pinning her? Or for her to grab a teenage boy the same way?

Do we really want our boys to put their physical aggression in high gear against a girl, “fighting” her, while they simultaneously experience her touches and grabs in sensitive areas?

For a boy and girl to wrestle each other requires each to make internal compromises–mental shifts to overcome the ingrained, rightful boundaries we have about how males and females should interact physically.

I believe it’s a good instinct for a girl to recoil from a stranger’s rough touch, especially in intimate areas, just it’s a good mindset for a boy to pull back from causing a girl physical pain or overpowering her in pursuit of physical dominance.

So what on earth are parents thinking, when they allow their son or daughter to wrestle an opposite-sex opponent? I just don’t get it.

Cassy Henkelman lost her subsequent matches and has been eliminated from the tournament.

She failed to win a medal.

But does she even know what she lost in the attempt?

(c) 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

 

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