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Devra Torres

Who Cares What You Think?

Nov. 22 at 1:04pm

When I came home from college for the first time, my eyes were opened to just how strange my family was. Everything I had thought “that’s just the way it’s done” about had turned out to be just one option among many. Other people didn’t share my assumptions: In fact, some thought my family’s ways were just as bizarre and alien as I thought theirs were. Then I got home and saw my family through their eyes.

                                        

I should add that my college was just about as congenial to my upbringing as it was possible for an institution to be. And it was still a shock. This classmate was horrified by the way I forced the French toast down into the butter when we shared

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Devra Torres

Death with What? Brittany Maynard, Veterans Day, and the lure of the pseudo-obvious

Nov. 12 at 10:24pm

The suicide of Brittany Maynard, may she rest in peace, and her efforts to persuade others to follow suit, have brought on a lot of conversation about “death with dignity.”

                                    

Everybody has an opinion. But we'll get nowhere until we back up and address the question, “What do we even mean by dignity?”

Here are two common meanings that most people seem to have in mind (even if they're not pressed to articulate them).

  • According to the first definition, to do something with dignity means to have things under control. After all, it seems undignified to be out of control, at the mercy of events, of biology, of nature.
  • The second definition is related to the
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Devra Torres

The Trouble with Gurus

Nov. 9 at 12:33am

I used to be a serial guru follower. Not back when I was five or six and my parents were flirting with Eastern religions--I was just a mother-and-father follower in those days. Wherever they went, I followed (and they went all over the place, both geographically and religiously. Eventually we all became Catholic and stopped switching allegiances.).

                                  

No, I mean that as an adult, I used to search for gurus who would help me stay afloat as a child-rearer, a cook, a manager of money, a grownup human being. (Later I searched for homeschooling gurus and writing gurus.) At the tender age of 25 I abruptly became a homemaker (or began trying to); at 26, a mother.

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Devra Torres

What’s at Stake

Nov. 2 at 10:46pm

Here’s the message I’ve been trying to get out for years, first of all to myself but also to anyone else who might benefit from it:

Just do whatever’s on your plate! Don’t get discouraged and cynical if you don’t see spectacular spiritual or intellectual progress. Live wholeheartedly in the moment. Age quod agis (Latin for, more or less, “Whatever it is you’re doing, really do it!”)! Don’t be discouraged or paralyzed by failure.

Your own real spiritual state is notoriously hard to get a handle on. Don’t concentrate on futile attempts to evaluate where you stand, as spouse, parent, Christian, or human being. You can’t save the world singlehandedly. In fact (what’s become clearer and

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Devra Torres

“High-Quality Love”: Four Questions to Ask Yourself

Oct. 24 at 10:17pm

It’s been a few years since I translated Self-Esteem without Selfishness, and I’m finally able to read it with fresh eyes--for enjoyment, not false cognates and typos.

                                        

One recurring problem I encountered during the translating was how to render “amor de alta calidad.” “High-quality love” just didn’t cut it: in English, it sounded like I was describing merchandise, hawking a product—exactly what the author was not doing. In the end I found several more palatable ways to render the phrase.

But Fr. Michel Esparza has some strikingly perceptive observations about love. They touch on something we’ve discussed repeatedly here at the Personalist Project (

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Devra Torres

Factions

Oct. 20 at 11:39pm

The Synod is over!  The Synod is over! Relieved or dismayed, euphoric or alarmed, we can take a deep breath and relax. (No, not really: now it’s time to begin sifting through the results and preparing for the real Synod.)

                        

The commentary has ranged from distraught to elated, but one recurring idea is that it’s been good to get things hashed out: that it’s a good sign we haven’t settled for a bland, generic document-generating process. Over at Shoved to Them Rebecca Frech even has a post entitled “Why I’m grateful to Cardinal Kasper,” 

She argues that a rousing debate about important questions is a wholesome and necessary thing, recalling the words of her high school

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Devra Torres

The Synod: Caricature and Reality

Oct. 13 at 2:00pm

This is not a post about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. You can learn about what’s actually going on there elsewhere. (Here’s Katie on Pope Francis’ opening remarks and here's the document that's causing today's uproar).

No, this post is about the caricature of the Synod, which you can all too easily bump into--by reading only headlines, or reading entire articles uncritically, or reading them critically but failing to consider the source.

                        

The caricature is this:

The centerpiece of the Synod is the fate of divorced and remarried Catholics, and the sole question at issue is: Justice or mercy? Will the Catholic Church finally relinquish its fixation on rules

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Devra Torres

How I Spent My Autumn Vacation

Oct. 2 at 11:07pm

At considerable inconvenience and expense to many generous people, I just spent a week flying to and riding around New England to see nearly every single member of my very extensive extended family. I flew down to Baltimore (because that’s where Southwest likes to take everybody, regardless of their chosen destination) and then up to New Hampshire. I stayed with my parents and then with my sister’s family, which includes not only nine children and one on the way but also Boomer, a dog who’s bigger than most of them.

                              

My father, sister, nephew, and brother-in-law took it in shifts to drive me to a certain strategically located McDonalds which lies halfway

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Devra Torres

The Trouble with Hagiography

Sep. 20 at 12:49pm

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God is a book that was on my meaning-to-read list for months. I’m only partway through the introduction, but already there's a lot to like.

The book is a collection of letters from Ruth Pakaluk, a woman I knew slightly when we lived in New England. In fact, we were sent to visit Ruth and her husband right after our marriage by a priest friend who thought it would be good for us to see everyday matrimony in action—a kind of belated marriage-prep field trip.

Ruth was an atheist girl who went to Harvard, converted to Christianity, got married (her husband Michael put the book together), bore seven children, and then died of cancer at the age of 41.

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Devra Torres

“Soft Addictions”

Sep. 13 at 2:02pm

Browsing through the library one day, I happened on a book about “soft addictions.” It belonged to the self-help genre, and I don’t remember what kind of treatment the author recommended, but it was an interesting idea: the causes and effects, not of physiologically addictive substances, but of relatively innocuous habits like overeating and nail-biting. (This was a long time ago, so electronics were not on the list, but I have no doubt they would be now.)

I thought of it the other day when I ran into two different videos making the rounds. They’re also about addiction, but they’re concerned with showing that certain addictions are “real” because they have a physiological basis or

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Devra Torres

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Sep. 6 at 7:33pm

Lots of people are haunted by the sense that they’re not doing enough, not becoming what they were meant to be, not doing what they were put on earth to do. Their efforts seem pointless. For some, this worry amounts to an ever-present low-grade despair, lurking in the background.

There are plenty of possible reasons for this, but rooting out one particular misunderstanding has been especially helpful for me.

Faced with a crisis, a tragedy, or just a looming mountain of laundry or paperwork, it’s easy to get paralyzed for lack of knowing where to begin.  Of course, we could begin anywhere. “Ninety percent of life is just showing up,” says Woody Allen, and “Well begun is half done,” says

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Marie Meaney

What Midlife Crisis is Really About

Sep. 3 at 12:54pm

The Marshallin in Richard Strauss’ wonderful opera “Der Rosenkavalier” sings a beautiful aria about time and what it is like to get older. “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbares Ding”, “Time is a strange thing” she sings in elegiac tones, bemoaning the fact that she is no longer young, and that the young man with whom she is having an affair will not be hers forever. She sends him away before he has gotten tired of her, only to have to tell him farewell for good after having smoothed out all difficulties for him so that he can marry the young Sophie with whom he has fallen in love. She has to accept the fact that she was forced into a loveless marriage at a young age, and that she is now

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Ian Skemp

Pitfalls of Asserting Gender Roles

Aug. 28 at 12:52pm

In Devra's recent post on "Becoming who you are..." She described the fallacious notion that gender is a mere social construct that inhibits self discovery. 

I, too, reject the notion that gender is nothing more than artificial social norms that restrict us from being who we truly are. After all, God created us Man and Woman, two different types of human. Thus, there is a natural distinction between "masculine" and "feminine." Yet, I find myself annoyed whenever the discussion comes up amongst fellow Christians. Not because I don't take the topic seriously, I just don't like the direction the dialogue takes. I've been trying to pinpoint the common missteps taken by earnest individuals when

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Devra Torres

Becoming Who You Are, Even If You’re Not Sure Who That Is

Aug. 27 at 11:23pm

                         

“Become who you are!” St. John Paul II used to encourage us.  I loved that.  But I ran into a problem: how to figure out what, or who, that was?

People have different ideas on how to go about this. One popular approach is to strip away all your roles. Once you’ve shed all that extraneous stuff, you’ll be able to see what lies beneath it.  You’ll be free, the theory goes, to become who you really are.

Well, that depends: what do we mean by “roles”?  There are lots of possibilities, but here are four, for starters:

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS

One meaning of "role" is all the “socially constructed” aspects of you.  They’re not part of who you “really” are, but they’re so

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Devra Torres

Please Don’t Be a Human Ping Pong Ball!

Aug. 20 at 12:20am

St. Paul warns the Ephesians against letting themselves be “blown around by every wind of doctrine.”

Another danger these days is letting yourself be blown around by every false headline. Or every true headline. It hardly matters. Whether the journalists are lying or not, the game is to get you to imagine yourself an informed consumer of information, a connoisseur, not a human ping pong ball, bounced forever back and forth by the force of your own predictable reaction to their stimuli.

                         

My grad school roommate Agnieszka once explained to us how journalism operated in her native Soviet-controlled Poland. The government would accuse a completely innocent man of

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