Reformation Reconsidered: On Becoming a Bible Christian

Maybe in fifty years, or a hundred, Catholics will be reading the Bible the way they should have been reading it all along.
~ Flannery O’Connor

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The Giddy Appeal of Humanae Vitae

You don’t need a pope or an ecumenical council to tell you
what the Bible clearly teaches.

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Dear #Pro-Choice

Please, come talk to me.

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No Need for a Virgil: On Adults Reading Children’s Lit

Favorite book
Flannel lap
Cat curled cozy in a nap
~Rhonda Gowler Greene,
At Grandma’s

When I was finishing up my nursing degree, I took a children’s literature course to fill an elective requirement. My colleagues chose more practical electives – medical Spanish, for instance, or healthcare informatics – but I signed up for kids’ lit precisely because it was decidedly impractical. As a nursing student, so much of my energy was taken up with acquiring important new skills and knowledge – in classroom, in clinical – that I relished the excuse to make time for escapist distraction.

Wonder of wonders, the class turned out even better than I’d hoped, for it was truly devoted to reading children’s books – not reading about them. Professor Brenner’s syllabus was blissfully free of juvenile literary theory, and there were no signs that we’d be subjected to ponderous academic speculation about hidden themes and archetypes. Instead, we got a reading list that included Lois Lenski and the Brothers Grimm, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling – and we dove in. Class meetings were glorious oases when we’d come together, share our thoughts and insights about what we’d read the week before, and deepen our mutual appreciation for the genre’s uncanny magic. It was my favorite class during nursing school, and especially since it was so easy to study at home. All I had to do was open an assigned text, welcome one of my young ones into my lap, and read aloud.

That class experience came to mind recently when I read Meghan Cox Gurdon’s WSJ review of Bruce Handy’s Wild Things: The Joys of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult. Gurdon writes that Wild Things is a parental “discursive encounter” with kids’ classics, a journey of sorts with the author as our Virgil, “both guide and wanderer.” Gurdon ends her review by recommending Handy’s book as “engaging and full of genuine feeling,” and I was almost tempted to track it down at the library – but I decided to give it a pass. I’m sure Mr. Handy has valuable things to say about the exceptional books he treats – including some of my own favorites, like Charlotte’s Web and Good Night Moon – but I couldn’t help thinking that my time would be better spent actually reading the books themselves. When it comes to children’s literature, I side with Prof. Brenner’s instincts: Go to the source!

But where to begin – which source? I have my own memories of books my mom read to me (for example, The Story of the Other Wise Man every Christmas), not to mention the ones I eagerly discovered and devoured on my own, but I already regularly revisit many of them, sometimes every year. “What to do, what to do,” I pondered – then a brainstorm. “Wait a minute – I have seven kids of my own, all voracious readers. I wonder what their childhood favorites are?” I decided to ask.

Of our seven children, only our two middle-schoolers still qualify (barely) as current purveyors of “children’s” literature. Their older siblings, now in college and high school, have moved on to more serious fare, but they’ve maintained strong connections with their reading histories. I frequently hear them talking about childhood favs, swapping title and author suggestions with each other, and sharing their bygone literary enthusiasms, especially older to younger.

I approached them all somewhat scientifically for my in-house survey. “Quick – without thinking about it,” I wrote them in emails (and in person to my youngest), “what’s your favorite childhood book?” They all responded readily, and the results surprised me. To begin with, only a couple selections from the amorphous “classics” category: C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle and Elizabeth Orton Jones’s Twig. Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander might just achieve that distinction in time, but it’s a bit too early to tell, and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myth has an unfair advantage in the classics department.

The other three on the list are nowhere near the classic stratosphere: Now We Can Have a Wedding by Judy Cox, At Grandma’s by Rhonda Gowler Greene, and The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. All three would be considered picture books for the youngest readers (or for their parents to read to them), and here’s the interesting thing: One of them was chosen by one of my oldest kids. (Which book and which kid will remain a closely guarded secret.)

Given that range and variety, I can only conclude that more went into their choices than simply the books’ contents – that is, there was something beyond text and pictures that appealed to them in a singularly memorable way. No doubt the circumstances in which the favorites were encountered – or repeatedly encountered, especially in the case of the read-to-me selections – played a role. Also, there must be a rhythm in their language or a captivating cadence (not to mention the illustrations) that hooked their young hearts beyond the mere thoughts expressed through the words themselves.

But I’m only guessing at all that because my survey didn’t extend to rationales. I’d toyed with following up my inquiries with a “why” question, but I’m glad I didn’t, for now I truly have a quest ahead of me, a seven-book road of discovery. I know that my children’s reported favorites are somehow landmarks for them, but I have no context or explanation. Consequently, I now have the privileged opportunity to trace some of their earliest literary steps and attempt to glimpse a stage of their inner development that I’d otherwise not have.

Here’s another thing: It’s only a single glimpse, and thus the quest is endless. I know this because of my eleven-year-old’s earnest attempt to address my survey question.

“My favorite?” Katharine asked. “It’s the one about a grandma and her grandson – but they’re dogs.” It sounded confusing, so she tried to go find it on the shelves.

After some time had lapsed and she hadn’t returned, I went to find her. She was perched on the back of an easy chair, absorbed in the open book on her lap – Just Like a Baby by Rebecca Bond. “I was looking for the dog one and found this,” she said. “It’s another one of my favorites.”

Favorite book, it turns out, is a malleable term, and so my list will not be static – a blessed gift! As the list expands, I’ll have endless excuses for taking refuge among its members.

Let the quest begin.
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Charles E. Rice (1931-2015): A Remembrance

Being a Christian isn’t for sissies.
~ Johnny Cash

ammonAmmon Hennacy, godson of Dorothy Day, was picketing and protesting war taxes in Phoenix. It was 1949, and folks out west had little experience with political gadflies like Ammon, so they hauled him into the police station. The police captain threatened to jail him, but thought better of it after consulting with higher-ups. The captain let Ammon go and told him he could picket, but that he’d be taking a risk. Here’s how Ammon relates the final exchange:

“You’ll be on your own,” the captain said.

“I’ve been on my own all my life. I don’t need cops to protect me,” I answered.

Later, as he hoisted his signs and took his stand like some latter day John the Baptist, Ammon entertained a journalist’s question:

“Hennacy, do you think you can change the world?” said Bert Fireman, a columnist on the Phoenix Gazette.

“No, but I am damn sure it can’t change me,” was my reply.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a stretch to compare Hennacy, the anarchist rabble-rouser and pacifist, with Dr. Charles Rice, the law professor, boxing coach, and Marine. Still, when I learned of Rice’s passing last week, it was Ammon’s bold defiance in Phoenix that leapt to mind. It’s exactly the kind of single-mindedness and visceral courage that defined who Rice was – a characterization that I was glad to see affirmed by Nell Jessup Newton who wrote the memorial post on the ND law school’s website:

A man who stood by his beliefs no matter what, [Rice] respected those who opposed him, and the feelings were mutual. Never one to shy away from a fight, Professor Rice was willing to take on the difficult battles for what he knew to be the truth.

In particular, Dr. Rice was passionate about fighting for life and for the Faith, and it’s in those arenas that I came to know him best. We’d met each other through mutual friends over the years, and I’d always been an admirer of his writings on abortion and the right to life, so when I had an opportunity to help arrange a series of pro-life speakers on my campus a number of years ago, he came to mind immediately.

“What’s the topic?” he asked when I contacted him.

“We’re bringing in Joe Scheidler to talk about abortion,” I told him, “so we were thinking you could address the issue of euthanasia.” That was fine with him.

last-temptation-of-christ-2The date arrived, and I met Dr. Rice at the front doors of Bethel College’s auditorium where he’d be speaking. His trademark grin was wide and bright, and he shook my hand vigorously as I ushered him inside.

“These are all Christian kids, right?” he asked.

“Yes, for the most part,” I replied. “Mostly evangelical Protestant, so they’ve been hearing the pro-life message all their lives.” He nodded, acknowledging the fresh datum, his eyes drifting upward as he cogitated.

Dennis Engbrecht, the VP for Student Development at the time, introduced Rice to the Chapel audience, and it turned out he had a story to tell. “Dr. Rice is well known for his books and his scholarship and his fearless defense of life,” Engbrecht said. “But my own introduction to Dr. Rice was when the movie version of Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ was released in 1988, and it came to the theater right across the street from here.” That theater is gone now, but I remember it well: A small, two-screen cinema next to the Kroger on McKinley – I saw Gattaca there, and maybe one or two other films.

Back to Engbrecht’s introduction. “The opening night of the film,” Dennis recalled, “Dr. Rice showed up at the theater to picket and protest the movie’s sacrilegious content.”  Picture it now: Dr. Charles E. Rice, acclaimed author, speaker, and legal scholar, a beloved Notre Dame law professor known and respected throughout the world for his efforts on behalf of truth and life and justice, and he was all by himself outside that theater, walking back and forth with a sign – to all the world, a fool and a crank, like Ammon Hennacy. Dennis, however, saw a man of firm and gutsy conviction, a hero. That’s how I saw him, too: A role model of fortitude and unwavering commitment to his beliefs come what may.

And a role model of faith besides. After his remarks about euthanasia and Terri Schiavo in Chapel that day, Dr. Rice encouraged the students to pray for a greater respect for life, womb to tomb, despite the culture’s continual slide toward relativism. “You can always pray to St. Jude,” he recommended, adding, “You know about St. Jude, right? The patron saint of impossible cases?” Rice knew he was tcharles_ricealking to a Protestant audience – I’d reminded him myself – but he nonetheless urged them to pray to Mary and the saints because he knew that such prayers had merit. And you know what? It wasn’t an awkward moment at all. Well, at least not for me.

Aside from those interactions I had with Dr. Rice when he visited Bethel, I rarely had the privilege of speaking with him. Occasionally I’d ask his advice about bioethics and the law, and he even read through drafts of some of my earliest writing attempts before I submitted them for publication. My favorite memory of him, however, are the many times I’d see him and his wife, Mary, at St. Joe hospital for daily Mass. He’d almost always sit in the back, and I’d only catch a glimpse of him as he went forward, head bowed, for Holy Communion. Those glimpses were in themselves moments of inspiration.This great man, possessing such a great mind and great heart, full of love for his cherished wife and family, and yet somehow overflowing with boundless generosity for his students and friends and countless other people and causes – this great man daily approached the throne of grace and ate of the divine banquet. It was his secret, and I felt a privileged kinship with him in sharing it.

After those daily Masses (if I could catch him), he’d always greet me cordially, inquire of my family, and encourage me in my work and writing efforts. “Keep at it,” he’d say. “It’s important.”

Yes, Dr. Rice, I’ll keep at it. You, too.
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A version of this memorial tribute was published on LifeSiteNews.

Seatbelts, Everyone!

On The Magic School Bus,
Step inside, it’s a wild ride!
Come on!
Ride on The Magic School Bus!

Congratulations! You made it through your first semester of nursing school, and now you’re poised to really get into it – to build on what you’ve learned, and continue accumulating the knowledge and experience that will lead to a rewarding nursing career.

OK, that’s it, students. Relax. You can sit back and daydream now, because the rest of my remarks will be addressed to your friends and family.

large_0710115716Nursing_promo_06_099So, friends and family, you’re all here to celebrate the accomplishments of a nursing student in your life – a Bethel nursing student, to be precise. One of the students sitting right here.

No doubt, she (or he – there are some, and they’re certainly included here out) has already told you about all the work she’s done, everything she’s been learning – the chemistry, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, not to mention the actual nursing stuff – plus clinicals.

Ah, yes, clinicals! Walking into a total stranger’s room for the first time, introducing yourself, and then bathing him – or poking him with a needle and giving him a shot; or cleaning up soiled linens after an accident. Can you imagine?

Plus there’s the charting and the assessments, taking vital signs and interpreting labs, looking up lists of meds and being prepared to answer questions – from clinical instructors, for sure, but also from the patients themselves!

I haven’t even mentioned the exams, right? The exams are tough, and your nursing student obviously did alright, or else she wouldn’t be here.

So, nursing school is a lot, as you know from the firsthand reports of the nursing student in your life. What I want to do today is give you an additional angle on their accomplishment – to help you further grasp the immensity of what she has gotten through, and what she’s taking on.

To help me do that, I’m going to draw on the tried and true wisdom of a beloved character that many of these students grew up with – either on TV, reruns, or videos: The Friz.

Remember those books a while back about All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and the like? Well, I’m here to tell you that everything these students needed to succeed in nursing school they learned from the PBS kids’ show, The Magic School Bus.MagicSchoolBus-620x323

And what were those things? The star of The Magic School Bus was the inimitable Valerie Felicity Frizzle – Ms. Frizzle – a third-grade teacher, and a Virgil to her class of Dantes.

In addition to her unorthodox and, at times, surreal teaching methods, Ms. Frizzle was well known for a number of stock phrases and sayings. For example, when she announced, “Seatbelts, everyone,” her students knew that they were in for another wild learning adventure, especially when she followed up with the command, “Come on, bus, do your stuff!”

Or, here’s another: “Look for connections” – the Friz’ way of fostering curiosity and critical thinking as the students careened through their outrageous field trips.

But the most famous Ms. Frizzle catchphrase has to be: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” These three ideas were the very core of the show – “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”—and really the very core of Ms. Frizzle’s character.

This past fall, I’ve caught myself frequently quoting these very words (or versions of them) as I’ve assisted my students – these students, your students – explore the world of nursing. Ms. Frizzle’s outlook on education – on life – seems especially apropos of nursing.

Here’s why.

First, Take Chances. This is the easy one, and it’s kinda’ the most obvious. We’ve already established that nursing school is hard – toughest major on the Bethel campus here, or any campus for that matter – and it’s equally true that nursing itself is hard.

Yes, it’s a rewarding career, and a meaningful one – you can really make a difference in people’s lives.

And for Christian nurses, it’s not just a career, but also an opportunity to demonstrate ones love for Jesus by loving people in word and deed.

All that, and a decent salary with benefits!

Yet…it is tough – demanding, at times exhausting; mentally and physically and emotionally taxing. So, it’s a risky enterprise your student has undertaken, and getting through school is only the beginning, for the risk-taking occurs every time a nurse approaches the bedside of her patient.

hospice_and_palliative_careThere’s a vulnerability involved, an outpouring of the self, that can be rebuffed – kinda’ like God reaching out to His creation, to His chosen people, to us, and being rejected, time and time again.

No matter. God keeps loving us anyway. And, similarly, that nursing student in your life, who has already taken plenty of chances just to get here today, will continue taking chances going forward—now until graduation, and beyond.

Then, there’s: Make Mistakes. You’re asking, “What can he possibly mean by that?” Right? I mean, we’re talking about nurses here. Make mistakes? You’re like, “What are they teaching my student here at Bethel?”

To be sure, mistakes in healthcare – medication errors, errors in surgery, things like that – are scary, and can be deadly. Nothing funny about that.

And certainly, safety is our goal #1 – “our” meaning the nursing profession in general, and Bethel’s School of Nursing in particular. Rest assured that your student is learning and adopting the attitudes and practices that promote patient safety as the highest priority.

Note, however, that I mentioned “learning” and “adopting.” When we learn things and try out new skills, we make mistakes—we’re human, after all.

Your student works hard to get everything right – both in the classroom and in the lab – but does she? If she did, she wouldn’t need to be here, and we’d be learning from her rather than vice versa.

No, mistakes are part of the deal, and we use those mistakes to further and deepen learning. Better to answer a question wrong and learn from it than avoid answering the question at all – or avoid the rigors of training and formation altogether.

Your student is in good hands here at Bethel. It’s our job to, in a sense, guide your student’s “mistake-making” to optimize her learning and her growth into the profession.

That way, when she is taking care of actual patients – using that knowledge and skill acquired through painstaking study, trial & error, and, yes, learning from mistakes – then significant mistakes, significant errors can be avoided.

Mistakes can be embarrassing, even humiliating, it’s true. That’s why we have to encourage your student to go ahead and try – do her best, even if she makes a mistake. She’ll learn from it.

Finally, there’s: Get Messy—a phrase that takes on a whole new meaning once you get into nursing school, and which doesn’t need a whole lot of additional comment.

Except for this: Messiness isn’t just about physical mess, but people’s lives as well. In clinical, your student has begun to encounter messiness of all kinds, including loneliness, fear, pain, and even despair.

She has been an instrument of healing in those lives – listening when no one else would listen; offering comfort and encouragement; responding to messy needs of all kinds.

mark-2-16-why-does-he-eat-with-tax-collectors-and-sinnersIn this sense, Jesus got messy all the time – and he got criticized for it. Like when the Pharisees and scribes upbraided him for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors.

Remember Jesus’ response? “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Nurses get to imitate Jesus in this. We get all tangled up in the messiness of others’ lives and become, we hope, instruments of the Lord’s healing, whatever form it takes.

I know that you all enthusiastically support the nursing student in your life, that you’re making significant sacrifices so that she can press on, that you’re praying for her.

We up here thank you, your student thanks you, and, frankly, the nursing profession and the entire healthcare sector thanks you!

I trust that the things I’ve shared with you today have given you some insight as to why your support is so crucial. As your nursing student progresses toward her nursing future, she navigates incredible frontiers almost daily.

Encourage her to keep taking chances, keep learning from her mistakes, and keep cleaning up the messes.

And encourage her to buckle up – it’s going to be a wild ride!
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An address to first-year nursing students at their Nursing Dedication ceremony, Bethel College, IN (18 January 2014)

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