Monday, October 8, 2012

A Reader Writes: "You've Been Caught" and "I'm Sorry"; I Respond

Sometimes I feel downhearted and think my work's in vain.

But then the Holy Spirit revives my hopes again.

"I'm Sorry," thank you for your apology.  It's gracious and I gladly accept it.

Believe it or not, I welcome learning about my mistakes.  It's how I've always learned, in a lifetime full of mistaken judgments, errors, human frailty, etc.  In my reply to your initial comment, I was objecting not to learning that I had mistakenly believed a quotation summarizing Aquinas was a direct quotation, but--as my reply to you stated--to the gotcha tone of your comment.  And to your implication that I deliberately mislead readers and have forfeited "more" credibility, when I'm not aware that you and I know each other or have had interchanges in which you've informed me of how I've forfeited credibility in the past!

And though I don't want to presume to know you (because I don't), I do want to share something with you now at a rather personal level.  As my previous reply to you indicated, I do know "of you" in the way we can all now know quite a bit of others via the internet.  

And so I know bits and pieces about your educational background, where you've taught, even who your friends and acquaintances are via your Facebook page--and you can easily discover all the same information about me online, including similar information at my own Facebook page.  

We're connected by a network of shared interests and religious affiliation.  We're both Catholics, unless I'm misreading the information I see about you online.  We've both studied and taught theology.

We have quite a bit in common.  And so this is why I want to speak to you at a personal level, without presuming to know you personally.

From the information you make available about yourself online, I know that you have children (or perhaps only a child).  And here's what leaps out at me when I think about our exchange in the combox of this blog: you apologize that your initial comments to me were "a low blow and immature."  And you go on to say that I did not deserve the harshness of your comments.

And I'd like, if I may, to ask you to think about those recognitions re: yourself and your behavior in light of the fact that you're raising a child or children.  I applaud you both for your self-recognition and for having the guts to say these things about yourself out loud.  That shows real maturity and self-awareness.

And maturity and self-awareness are, it seems to me, a sine qua non of being a good parent, a good father.  Children raised by parents who can't come to terms with their immaturity, or who can't recognize when their lack of solid character formation leads them to be harsh and judgmental towards others, end up being beaten up psychologically by their parents.

I know.  I've been there.  Children deserve better.  They deserve (but often don't get) parents who strive to be full-grown adults, who inculcate loving, accepting, and respectful attitudes in their children.  Loving, accepting, and respectful attitudes, in particular, towards those who are down and out, kicked about by others for one reason or another.

And this brings me to the video clip above and the snippet from the old African-American spiritual "There Is a Balm in Gilead," which I've always loved.  I've said before on this blog that the couplet I particularly love in the hymn is the set of lines that speaks of being downhearted and then having the Holy Spirit revive our hopes again.  (Paul Robeson doesn't sing those verses in the rendition above; I chose to feature his singing of the hymn simply because I love Robeson's voice and witness.)

And, again, I'd like to share something rather personal with you as I applaud your recognition that you are capable of immaturity and as I encourage you to keep that recognition alive as a father raising children: what I want to share is that I myself do sometimes get downhearted.  Very much so.

The words that others toss out, sometimes casually, often with the intentional wish to hurt others, do sometimes hurt.  Here's how my Sunday morning went yesterday:

1. I woke to read your comment "You've Been Caught."  I struggled to understand and respond to it.  I saw I had mistakenly read a summary of Aquinas as a direct quote of his work, and was glad to correct my error.  I chafed, however--just a little bit--at the implication that I'm a liar and deceiver, and have forfeited "more" credibility.

2. I then saw in my email inbox (which sends me Disqus notifications) that someone calling himself Kid Charlemagne had posted a string of responses to me at Dennis Coday's NCR article about the Bishop Andrus-Archbishop Cordileone situation.  Mr. Charlemagne left some 12 postings late Saturday evening or early Sunday morning responding to folks in the thread following Coday's article; by my count, 6 of those were directed to me.  The Kid calls me everything under the sun: I'm an unrepentant sinner, in league with the devil, ignorant of the bible, a purveyor of pure poppycock.  And, oh, the usual loving taunt of a certain stripe of Catholics when they find you unacceptable: I should find a new church and leave the Kid's Catholic church behind.

Chafes.  Just a little bit.  Normally, I can laugh these immature taunts off, shrug my shoulders and go on.  But there are times, I admit, when I feel beleaguered enough by one damned thing after another that I begin to feel downhearted.  And then these kinds of incessant taunts do affect me.  Especially when they come in downpours, as they did when I read first your comment to me and then the Kid's in a short space of time.

3. Then this morning, I wake up after a tossing and turning night and read a thread to which I've been contributing at America's "In All Things" blog, in which Tom Beaudoin discusses the challenge of naming minority groups (including gay or queer folks) as they ask to be named, and not as "we" choose to name these folks.  I find that, in response to what I've posted there, a regular at this blog site, Mr. Smith, addresses me, "Mm, Mr. (Mr.?) Lindsey."  As another poster, Sandi, points out later in the day, Mr. Smith seems to be making a point of some kind about gender ambiguity, with his Mr.? tag--when, as she notes, it's perfectly clear from my username that I'm a William.

And I suspect she's right about Smith's intent, since the very same Mr. Smith is also a regular at the Commonweal blog site, where another poster responding to some of my comments back in April 2011 employed precisely the same immature gender-bending, gender-insulting tactic to let me know how worthless I am.  I would find it hard to imagine that Mr. Smith was unaware of that discussion, in which a poster persisted in referring to me as him/her, though all my postings were clearly labeled as postings from William Lindsey.

So.  Sometimes I feel downhearted and think my work's in vain.  

I do so, in particular--I'll admit this--when Catholic blog sites descend to this level of immature, scurrilous, unintelligent, designed-to-kick-in-the-teeth discourse.  NCR, America, and Commonweal are about the best we American Catholics have.  They offer the highest level of intellectual discourse among our journalistic publications (U.S. Catholic deserves mention as a fine publication, too).

And this is our best?  This level of conversation is the best we American Catholics have to offer?  Conversation in which people--frequently men, I can't help but notice--taunt each other with playground-level taunts about gender and sexual orientation?!  Slurs and insults, slings and counter-slings.

Taunts to leave the church.  Accusations (entirely unfounded, when they're aimed at me) about deliberately intending to lie and deceive.  Stupid talk about folks in league with the devil.

Sometimes I feel downhearted.  Sometimes I feel that far too many of us--frequently men, I can't help but notice--seem to be in a state of arrested development in which we're absolutely transfixed by what we perceive as threats to our male entitlement and our male domination.  

And so we gay-bash and knock women with a vengeance.  As Catholic men.  In the name of the Lord.

Meanwhile, some of us--some of the very men engaging in this immature and harmful behavior--are raising children.  Some of these men are raising daughters.

They're raising children (daughters included) who deserve a better world, one in which women can grow up with every bit as much entitlement as men have, with all the chances and opportunities afforded to men.  Some of the children being raised by these immature, taunting, mean-spirited men are--you can count on this; you'd better believe it--gay children.

They're going to grow up to be gay.

And they don't need to have their hearts broken and their lives thwarted by fathers whose masculinity is so fragile that those fathers need to beat up people they perceive as weaker, in order to demonstrate what big, fine men they are.  In the name of the Lord.

As I say, "I'm Sorry," I welcome your apology.  I hope in sharing these frank responses with you, I'm not ungraciously using your apology as an occasion to return injury for injury.

That's not my intent.  I really am concerned about children who grow up in homes in which their parents lack basic psychological and moral maturity, and who expend much of their energy in attacking those they perceive as different in a threatening way.

I really am concerned that many of my fellow Catholics seem to think they have a divine warrant to behave this way, and even to raise their children this way.  The children of the world deserve better, and I applaud your awareness that your comment to me was harsh and immature--because that suggests to me that you are capable of offering your own child or children a more loving home in which the children you raise will be raised to respect others and cherish the differences of others in a world full of tremendous, divinely ordained diversity.

P.S. I don't intend to imply that your comments to me had anything to do with gender bias or bias about sexual orientation.  I recognize that your concern is to fit Paul Ryan into Catholic social teaching.  I think, of course, that Mr. Ryan absolutely betrays Catholic social teaching and may very well not even understand it at all.  That's a matter for another conversation, however.

Meanwhile, I wanted to take your very important word "immature" and use it to talk about a certain way in which many Catholic men, some of them raising children, behave at Catholic blog sites--and to note that, in many cases, the immaturity does express itself as toxic homophobia and toxic misogyny.

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