Nationalism and the Primacy of the Conscience


I can't remember exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last 15 years, I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

The day and time are unmemorable because how often does a grown woman find herself in the position of being required to actually say the Pledge of Allegiance? It can't have happened often in the past decade and a half, but still, if I'm going to write on this topic I would like to have a handle on when it was. Instead, all I can tell you is that I no longer do, and I won't teach my children to either.

I have gratitude for my country and for the liberties that are afforded to me here (like the freedom to write a blog post saying I don't recite the Pledge of Allegiance without fear of any consequences beyond fits of rage in the combox). I am the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans, and while I am a conscientious objector to almost all war, I respect the fact that most individuals in the military are sincerely trying to do the right thing and make the world a better place. (And for the record, my sentiments toward war have been largely influenced by the voice of my post-Vietnam father.)

My gratitude and respect for my country do not conflict with a mind that is determined to think for itself. And over the years I simply realized I could no longer in good conscience pledge allegiance to anything but God alone. Because if it came down to it I would not follow the United States of America or her leaders past the edge of my conscience. I won't, and although you clearly have your own freedom, I don't want you to either. And I certainly don't want my children to.

One thing I love about being Catholic is the degree of felt connection to fellow believers worldwide. Certainly, I hope Protestants experience this gift too, but there's something about your religious affiliation literally meaning "universal" that hammers it in. (Not to mention the fact that our central authority is outside of the United States and that most of our beloved saints are of non-American origin.) You can travel anywhere in the world this week and find a Catholic mass that will be nearly identical to the one in my central Iowa parish on Sunday morning. The Christian faith supersedes nationality, and it should always be that way.

I know that the latest news headlines with the NFL, President Trump, and the Star Spangled Banner are not the same thing, in that what's happening here is not a protest of the actual lyrics in the song. But in some ways, it is the very same thing; because another thing I love about the Catholic Church is the seriousness with which we regard the human conscience. In fact, we hold it in such high esteem that it is discussed thoroughly in the Catechism.

Let's look at a very brief slice:





1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."47

and wait for it, 'cause there's more (emphasis mine):

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.

If the actions of the football players who are taking a knee during the National Anthem were repugnant to me (they're not), I would respect the fact that they are human beings doing their best to live according to their consciences, in protest of a systematic racism that lingers after a national history of slavery and oppression of rights. Whether or not you or I would take the same course of action is frankly irrelevant.

In just the same way as I, a white middle-class mother, can be moved by my conscience to not profess devotion to country above all else while still retaining gratitude for said country, my brothers in the NFL (an organization and very idea that I deplore, by the way) have the right to be moved by their conscience to make the same sort of stand. When any human being is attempting "to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right", who can stand in condemnation of that man?

Maybe a better question- why would you?

Christians, can we honestly imagine Jesus rebuking these men for a lack of patriotism when their hearts are to draw attention to a social ill? That is not our Christ, that is a red, white, and blue god of our own making. May He remove the plank from our eyes and have mercy on our souls.

Spiced Caramel Companions (or, my fall reading list 2017)


It's been an unseasonably warm September here in Iowa but, keeping in the back of my mind how very long winter will be, I'm feeling pretty okay with it for now. Despite the summerish temps the leaves have begun falling and I'm more and more frequently spotting blazing orange trees in a sea of still-green ones. We were given a load of harvest vegetables from friends at a local farm and I happily added seasonal acorn squash to a pasta dish this weekend. (The entree turned out characteristically mediocre, so the autumn magic apparently doesn't extend so far as to transform my culinary skills.) I bought a fall-scented candle and light it every chance I get, even though the preschooler blows it out when I'm not looking and the toddler almost burned his hand on it during our glorious squash dinner. The good news is, now he can say the word "hot".

It's autumn, and here's what's going down on my nightstand.

(View the books at Amazon by clicking the covers. Links are affiliates and I receive a few cents of the purchases you make at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting this blog!)

Just Finished Reading:

It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood
by Frida Berrigan

When we were living in Denton our housemate foisted this book upon me and I'm so glad she did. The author is the daughter of two passionate- if not highly controversial- Catholic radicals and political activists. It is both an account of her unusual upbringing in an intentional community and of her own journey navigating motherhood. What I appreciated most about her work is how respectful she is in relating her own parents unconventional family choices (they were both frequently jailed for their political demonstrations, keeping them away from their children for months at a time) while she herself has taken a different approach. It was a quick read and helped me formulate some of my own conflicting thoughts on motherhood and activism.

The Girl on the Train: A Novel 
by Paula Hawkins

I don't usually do a lot of audiobooks, other than stories for the kids in the car, but when I took a solo road trip up to Iowa from Texas to look for us a new house I picked this one up to keep the zzzzs at bay and it served it's purpose well. At this point in my life thrillers always feel a bit predictable to some extent, but they're fun and entertaining regardless. I liked it.

The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning
by Simcha Fischer

I really enjoy Simcha's writing and this book didn't disappoint as she writes about the beauties and woes of Natural Family Planning in her signature "sometimes funny-sometimes slay you" style. This isn't a how-to about the logistics of learning your body's fertility signs and all that fun stuff- this is a book for folks who have been practicing NFP for a while and have big feelings about the whole shebang. Quick and easy but very valuable!

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World
by Kelly Nikondeha

This is the adoption book that the world needed. The author is both an adoptee from birth and a mother of two adopted children, and her depth of insight is profound. While there are thankfully plenty of awesome book resources for adoptive parents in the thick of navigating our particular complex circumstances, I really haven't found a theologically-based approach to the topic of adoption other than Russell Moore's Adopted for Life, which isn't bad but frankly isn't in the same league as this one. I heartily recommend this to anyone touched by or curious about adoption, or just anyone interested in human connection in general.

Currently Reading:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I'm slowly biting through this book, and am finding it incredibly helpful. I mentioned it to my newsletter subscribers this summer, and have only become more of a fan the further I get into it. I've always considered myself pretty good at interpersonal relationships and dialogue, but two chapters into Nonviolent Communication and I was confronted head-on with the truth of how my combination of numbing my feelings and taking responsibility for the emotions of others has been seriously unhealthy to me as an individual as well as for my family dynamics. Yet there is much more here too- it really is a must-read.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J.D. Vance

This one was on my list for the summer, but I never got to it due to oh I don't know, the most complicated three months of my life? So I finally started it a few days ago and I have to say I'm a  bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong the author's family is fascinating, but I guess I thought it would be more eloquently written. (To be fair, he clarifies in the introduction that he is not a writer and is surprised that the book is in existence. I just didn't know that going in.) And I'm not quite halfway through, but I had hoped for more noteworthy commentary on the "hillbilly culture" and less details of his own life. It may be coming, but so far I'd say I'm underwhelmed.

The Violence of Love
by Oscar Romero

Up until a year ago, my husband and I had only vaguely heard of Oscar Romero, the El Salvadoran Archibisop who spoke for justice so boldly that he was murdered during a mass. But one of Eric's college students gave him this movie to watch, and we were hooked on the soon-to-be-saint right away. We ordered this compilation of his homilies this summer and are just completely smitten by his courage and clarity. He is a prophet for our times, to be sure.

Will Be Reading:

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

My friend Sarah Babbs totally killed it assessing Hulu's series based on this book and its relevance to our times. I had never heard of the book or the series before, but my interest was immediately piqued by her review. I can't wait to dig in!

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I don't read a lot of parenting books anymore, and whether it's because parenting an atypical child has made me cynical of their content or because my life is so parenting-heavy that I want my books to be far removed from the topic, I'm not sure. But every once in awhile I come across an angle that seems life-giving, and the subtitle on this one caught my eye. I haven't read a book on parenting since Momma Zen (and I really loved that one), so I figured I'd take a whack at it.

The Art of Memoir
by Mary Karr

This has been on my list for a year or two now, but I keep forgetting about it. Regardless of whether or not I ever write a memoir, my personal experiences are always woven into my writing so this book feels apropos. I'm trying to take writing as a craft more seriously and commit to reading more to make the headway I hope for, and this one comes highly recommended.

Poverty of Spirit
by Johannes Baptist Metz

Speaking of highly recommended... okay not this one. I've actually never heard of it before, have any of you? I stumbled upon it when someone gave me the language to realize that the term "poverty of spirit" succinctly sums up a lot of the themes I write about, so then I started googling to see if there were any books on the subject. Based on its brief synopsis on Amazon, I'm expecting to love it. Plus it's pretty cool that it feels like such an undiscovered treasure!

Reading with the Kids:

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

Once we finish up James and the Giant Peach for the 12th time, this baby is next on our list. I absolutely loved it as a child and I think my boys will too, especially the 7-year-old who loves all things sciencey. I'm not as sure about the 3.5-year-old's ability to follow the plotline, but any book that is enjoyable to mama ends up delivering a pretty feel-good experience for everyone. Funny how that works, huh? ;)

Eric is Reading:

Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World
by Ken Wilber

Eric hasn't started this one yet, but it should be arriving tomorrow and my basic understanding is that its a theory of spirituality that seeks to integrate the revolutions in science and culture with the insights of the great religions. Definitely heady, but seems really necessary and timely too!


Your turn! Tell me in the comments or on Facebook what you've been reading lately, or which titles you have your eye on. I'd love to add some of them to my oft-forgotten Pinterest board of books to be read!

My Body, My Sacrifice


One of my best friends has battled infertility for years. Professionals and relatives have recommended In Vitro Fertilization to help her conceive, but she and her husband felt it wasn’t the Lord’s will. They have tried other body-honoring methods, but they won’t be doing IVF. Recently I chatted with my friend over coffee while she held her baby daughter, adopted at two days old, and teared up at the light shining in both their eyes.

Another friend, a male, battles a longing to be female. He has been advised to transition genders; well-meaning voices in his life have wanted to see his suffering end. But ultimately my friend believed God created him male for a reason and resolved to trust his Creator’s loving plan above his own pain. He was confirmed into the Catholic Church this year.

In today’s reading, Saint Paul exhorts us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) I look at the courageous choices of these beloved friends of mine, and those of others I love who are living out hardships like celibacy or hyperfertility, and feel humbled by their trust. I, on the other hand, am committed to Church teaching on the body, but for years it was never a cross I personally had to bear.

That is until this Spring when I sat in the bathroom with a positive pregnancy test and burst into tears.

Read the rest at Blessed Is She!

(Note: The Catholic teaching on sexuality, gender, and other aspects of Theology of the Body is a huge topic that people have appropriately written entire books on. This devotional is not meant to be a comprehensive apologetic, but rather an encouragement for us all to integrate our spiritual lives with our physical ones, even in the way that is hardest for us personally.)

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)