When You Don't Like Man's Best Friend

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When I was about five years old, my dad, a pilot in the Marine Corps, bought our family an American bull dog for our family pet, the mascot used by the same branch of military in which he served. We named her Molly, an appropriate name for this small, stout animal whose mouth was as leaky as our water faucet.

Both my dad, my brother and me loved Molly.

My mother, on the other hand, never developed the same tender feelings. 

She complained about Molly’s propensity to drool over everything, a problem exacerbated by the fact she was solely responsible for cleaning the slobber, she muttered when she’d trip over Molly’s lazy body positioned in a haphazard spots all over the house, and of course, she’d leave the room as soon as she caught wind of the foul, gaseous bombs Molly was famous for dropping. 

(Come to think of it, we all took issue with this particular character trait.)

Though my mother was a kind and devoted parental guide, she could not summon the same love for our family pet. 

She tolerated Molly, but she did not love her.

A short time after my dad brought the dog home, he was stationed on an overseas assignment.  My parents planned to transport the dog across the world with us, except on the morning we were to leave the country, the dog was bitten by a rattlesnake and died.

My brother and I were devastated. 

We sat in the backseat of a packed car, weeping.  It was bad enough we were leaving the home we loved, and now we’d be doing it without our family pet.  It was almost too much for us to bear. 

A few minutes after she delivered us the news, I looked to my mom for comfort and was shocked to see she was crying. I was confused at my mother’s public display of emotion as her disdain for Molly was a well-known family fact.  I thought my mother hated Molly and yet, here she was--tears dripping down her cheeks—visibly saddened by the loss.   

As an adult,  I admit I don’t like dogs for all the same reasons my mom never liked them:  they stink, they’re messy, and caring for my six children is plenty enough work for me.  I don’t have the skill set or the extra emotional or mental capacity for something furry.

Unfortunately, my 11 year old daughter, Mary, does not share my sentiments and for the last several years, she has claimed her greatest dream in life is to own her very own dog.  Though she desires to be a veterinarian when she grows up, that child should most definitely pursue a law career because her ability to argue her case for a family pet is Ivy League material.  Recently, after our millionth discussion about why a pet will never be in the cards, Mary looked at me and said,

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m gonna wear you down.  You’ll change your mind.”

Later that night, when her dad was tucking her into bed, she looked at him and said, “One time I saw a mouse run across our floor.  I thought it was gross but I also thought, if that were my pet, I’d name her Cherry. Please let me have a dog, Dad.  I want a dog so much. I promise I’ll take care of it.  I promise.”

Famous last words. 

Still, a few weeks ago, Jon and I began to vacillate on our staunch pledge.  Even though we both agree John and I have enough responsibilities, Mary’s desire for a pet was so intense, we felt it almost cruel to not even consider her request.

And so this past weekend, after many years of swearing off the idea, we bought a dog, a chocolate lab in honor of Mary’s eleventh birthday.  She named him Shiloh, the same name as her favorite dog character in one of the animal tales her dad has read to her several times.

Let me be clear:  I still have all kinds of reservations about a dog. 

I’m not a people person, not a pet person. 

I’m worried about training the dog to go potty outside and to listen to us. 

I’m worried about managing a puppy while we try to do school work. 

And I’ve already noticed the new dog is teething and gnawing on anything he can put in his mouth.   (Plus, he’s already baptized my brand new rug.  “Thank you, Shiloh!”)

But parenthood is funny thing and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey thus far, it’s that my children constantly issue invitations to my own personal growth, they summon me to open my closed, selfish heart a little more.  I sometimes want to keep the door closed--siphoned off where it’s safe and easier--but I keep realizing with every yes I give (even if I want to take it back sometimes), there are so many things for me to learn.

Even in the few short days we’ve had, Shiloh, I’ve learned Mary has an abundance of love to give and that she lavishes that dog with her time and attention.  I could stand to follow her example and be as generous with the people in my own house as Mary is with her dog.

I’ve also finally figured out why my mom cried all those years ago when Molly died, and it wasn’t not she was sad about the dog’s departure.  She was crying because she was sad we were sad.  She cried because she knew we were heartbroken about the dog and so she was heartbroken too.

I’m probably not going to ever be a dog person but I daresay I will love Shiloh, I already love Shiloh because Mary loves him. 

Our kids are such great teachers.

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The Cry Room Debate

Writing on Facebook, Kendra Tierney, from the popular blog Catholic All Year, ignited a firestorm by suggesting that instead of cry rooms for small children, parishes should establish Silent Worship Rooms for people who feel they’ll be distracted by “cooing babies or breastfeeding mothers, or the vocalizing of disabled adults, or the off-key singing of hard of hearing old ladies.”

The issue of cry rooms is guaranteed to bring energetic reactions from Catholics of many stripes, and Tierney’s post was no exception.

Read my suggested solution on Aleteia.

C.S. Lewis’s Advice To The Modern Reader

I recently discovered the preface written by C.S. Lewis for Saint Athanasius’ book On The Incarnation. In it, Lewis extols the virtue of reading old books and I found the wisdom particularly pertinent to today’s readers, who are like me and consume a great deal of online information. Though he wrote in a time when mobile reading wasn’t possible, his words apply to those who desire to read good books but get distracted by the ease of reading on the World Wide Web.

C.S. Lewis’s Advice To The Modern Reader by Colleen Murphy Duggan

Lesson One: Read Primary Sources

As a teacher, Lewis notices that students are hesitant to dust Plato’s Symposium off the shelf and read it for themselves. “He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said,” writes Lewis. This is a mistake because Plato himself is much easier to read than his modern commentator. But because students are intimidated to approach the master himself, they content themselves with summaries that are confusing and don’t get to the heart of the original author’s intent.

In a modern day age driven by sound bites, the encouragement to go directly to the primary source is particularly appropriate. If I had read every single transcript of the plane interviews given by Pope Francis, for example, rather than relying on the “quotes” inserted in inaccurate articles plastered online, I would have avoided at least a little of the confusion I’ve experienced during his pontificate. The same is true for famous quotes shared in online memes. Did Saint Francis really say, “Preach the gospel and if necessary, use words?” I don’t’ know but if I followed Lewis’s advice and consulted primary sources, I would have a better chance of knowing who really said what.

On the matter of consulting primary works, Lewis concludes: “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Lewis’s Second Lesson: Read old books in between the modern ones you consume.

Lewis isn’t suggesting refraining from contemporary literature completely. He’s saying we should expose ourselves to the great ideas found in old books in order to correct any errors assumed by our current generation. Every age, Lewis argues, has its blind spots or inaccurate assumptions and if we only read contemporary literature, our ability to recognize fallacies and refute them, is weakened.

“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books,” says Lewis.

Balancing our consumption of modern day information with a consumption of great ideas (and even incorrect ideas) from previous generations aids in keeping our faulty thinking in check.

Therefore, his reading rule of thumb is as such: “…after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

Now if you don’t mind, I have to put down my smart phone and tackle the entire Western cannon. I’ve got some reading to do…

What advice would you give to the modern reader?

5 Ways to Remain Positive When Posting on Social Media

"We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment,” says C.S. Lewis in his Introduction to The Screwtape Letters. Though Lewis is talking about life in the netherworld, upon reading his description I immediately thought of the hell we sometimes experience on earth: social media.

5 Ways to Remain Positive When Posting on Social Media by Colleen Murphy Duggan

All of social media isn’t bad, of course; none of the things in this world are. The problem with social media (and good food, alcohol, television, and my smart phone) is me, the user. Social media tempts me to present my life in a way that is sometimes inaccurate; it accentuates the best part of me without sharing the weaker aspects. It also distracts me from my own real life or embroils me in arguments unlikely to change anyone’s mind.

But…

Social media can also be a powerful tool—a means of spreading light in a dark, post-Christian society. Social media allows me to share my faith and dialogue with others who think differently. It enables me to post a beautiful image, a touching moment, a well-written article, or an idea I’ve never pondered before from a book.

But how do I consistently act as a harbinger of good news at a noisy watering well filled with dreariness, competition, ego and anger?

Here are five things that help me remain positive when posting to social media.

1. Be authentic. I love Instagram because I enjoy the snapshots of people’s lives. It’s tempting, however, to slap pretty filters on photos and set up a story that isn’t necessarily the complete picture. I have unfollowed many whose lives appear too pretty, too white, and too staged. I love a beautiful image and story, but what I love more is an authentic, beautiful image and story.

There are a few Catholics on social media who consistently tell brave, true stories of their lives and who inspire the search for beauty and goodness. The following Instagram accounts do a good job of sharing a slice of life while also depicting a firm, Catholic identity.

 

The beginning of Lent is full of such promise. #lent #crucifix

A post shared by Rita @ Open Window (@ritaatopenwindow) on

Rita Buettner @ritaaopenwindow. Rita knows the painful struggle of infertility and the thrill of eventually adopting two boys from China. Her joy and enthusiasm for her faith and her family are contagious.

Carrie@cheers_and_screams shares the struggles and joys she faces as a mother to an adult daughter with cerebral palsy. Carrie’s devotion and dedication to her special needs child is admirable. She also has great taste in books.

Amy Laddbush @party_of_thirteen. A mother of 11 children, Amy’s quiet example inspires me to be more generous, to love without tiring, and to look for beauty in the chaos.

2. Share good stuff. Not everyone needs to know what I think about Donald Trump or Pope Francis or Meryl’s Streep’s speech at the Oscars. A few questions to ask before posting to social media:

  • Is this post kind?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it true?

Aleteia writer, Zoe Romanowsky, does a terrific job of culling the most inspirational news on the Internet. Below are a few of the stories I’ve shared on my own accounts:

Mia Love gives one of the most powerful speeches I've ever heard at this year's National March for Life.

I cried my way through this beautiful Adidas ad shared here at Aleteia.

3. Pray before you post. Before typing a word, say your favorite prayer and invoke your patron saint or Guardian Angel to guide your thoughts and words, center your work, and infuse charity into your words.

4. Follow positive examples of social media evangelization. I’m consistently impressed with the work of Father Robert Barron whose recent interview with atheist, Dave Rubin, is a solid example of how to interact and discuss ideas with people whose views are diametrically opposed to your own.

I also appreciate Lisa Hendey’s example, founder of catholicmom.com, and author of both adult non-fiction and children’s fiction books. The work she contributes to print, radio, and television Catholic media serves to highlight the good work other people are doing in the Church today.

Randy Hain and Deacon Mike Bickerstaff at Integrated Catholic Life do a terrific job of encouraging people to integrate their faith into both their work and their home lives.

Finally, Sister Theresa Aletheia, who describes herself as a #MediaNun, and is the author of the book The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church writes practical pieces on spirituality and living the faith right here at Aleteia.

5. Limit your time. Real people are right in front of you, don’t miss out on interacting with them! Set reasonable times for social media use, then log off and live. Facebook will be there when you return.

What tips would you add for being positive on social media? Let me know in the comments!