My specifically Lenten reading this year is Frank Sheed's Theology for Beginners. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, because I know several people who read this blog have advanced degrees in theology or have just in general read a great deal more of it than I have. I've picked up bits and pieces over the years, but never gone about it in any systematic way. This book seems a good place to start for the establishment of some sort of foundation. I suspect it might be aptly titled Aquinas For Dummies--that is, it's the exposition of one approach to theology, not a comprehensive survey. But that's okay. Aquinas is not the last word, and his followers can be tiresome, but his work still seems to be...well, I started to say "the foundation," and maybe that's not accurate, but at any rate a major part of the foundation of Catholic theology.
Anyway, for beginners or not, it does make some demands on the intelligence. I started it once some time ago, maybe fifteen years, and got off onto something else and never finished it. But that bit was useful in that quite early on Sheed talks about the nature of spirit, and I felt at the time that I had gotten a firmer grasp on the idea than I'd ever had before. As it's generally used in our culture today, the word "spirit" is pretty nebulous, and seems to refer to emotion more than to what has been recognized through much or most of human history as a reality separate from matter and not dependent upon it; indeed, the opposite is the case.
I often think this denial of the reality of spirit is at the root of what is wrong with the modern world, that fundamental dislocation which seems to exist everywhere that what we call modernity predominates. It's of a piece with a general impulse to deny and defy reality--or perhaps it's the root. If you believe that your consciousness, your very self, is just a sort of side effect or by-product of the functioning of your body, but your most immediate possible experience--your experience of yourself--tells you otherwise--that is, it tells you that your self (your soul, your consciousness, the essential you that thinks and knows and loves), is real, and not the same thing as your body--you're starting off confused in your attempt to make sense of yourself and your world.
In passing, Sheed mentions Augustine's definition of community as "a multitude united by agreement about the things they love." That sheds light on our current political division: we are no longer united in that way, if we ever were. Most Americans I suppose would still say that they love their country, but they no longer agree on what the country is. Those on the left tend to see the actual place, now and historically, as all in all a pretty bad one; the object of their love is an ideal of what they think it ought to be. One's reaction to Barack Obama's rhetoric about "fundamentally transform[ing] the United States" was a sort of test of this: in general the right said "No!" and the left said "Yes!" No husband or wife would be pleased to hear "Darling, I love you, and I want to fundamentally transform you."
As it happened, the controversy about Mike Pence's self-imposed rules for protecting his marriage burst out on the same day I read that. (I don't know how you could have missed it, but in case you did: it's a rule derived from ones originally set by Billy Graham for himself and ministers working with/for him: no meals with only himself and a woman other than his wife; no events where alcohol is served unless his wife is with him.)
The reactions were as divided as they are about just about everything these days, with one group saying "Good for him" and the other saying "What a religious weirdo" and/or "What a sexist," often adding a caricature of what Pence actually believes and practices. What does Mike Pence love? His wife, obviously, and his marriage; he values them both to a point where he imposes some fairly strict rules on himself, not just not to commit adultery but to avoid putting himself in situations where temptation might arise.
What do his detractors love? Well, in this case the most noticeable thing is not what they love but what they hate, which is people they consider to be religious weirdos. But I suppose the thing they love which is involved here is a principle of absolute equality, which means in this situation asserting an absolute equivalence between men and women. Or men and women of a certain class, anyway: those who object that his rule would cut off women from certain avenues to power are talking about women who already are in positions of considerably more power than the vast majority of either men or women. So we can modify that statement a bit: not absolute equality, which would mean no distinctions at all in rank and power, but equal access for a few women to the machinery of power. And the establishment of this particular kind of equality, the attainment of this power, is more important than possible risks to a participant's marriage.
Anyway, I doubt that this is a situation that arises often enough to be a career problem for all that many women. I've been in the working world for most of the past forty-five years and offhand can only remember one occasion when I had a meal with my boss alone. That was with a newly-hired one who wanted to quiz me about the situation he was coming into.
Personally I think Spence's rules are prudent and sensible. They are further than I would go, but anyone who asserts that the situations he proscribes for himself are without the danger that he is trying to avoid is deluded.
A few times over the years I've been in those situations. I remember in particular attending a week-long training session with a female co-worker. We traveled together and on most days the evening meal was just the two of us. There was nothing romantic between us--overall we had a great situation, where we liked each other and worked well together, but our working relationship never tipped toward anything else. But I do remember during those meals having a faint sense that there was something just ever so slightly inappropriate about the situation. Not wrong--I'm using "inappropriate" in its appropriate sense here, not as a synonym for "bad." There's a certain intimacy about two people of the opposite sex sitting across the table from each other in a restaurant, especially if it's a quiet dinner. Which is different from a casual lunch. And the whole thing is different for different people. Certainly if there were already any sort of romantic or just physical attraction it would be a bad idea. And all sorts of other factors, such as age, are involved: now in my late sixties I would be less concerned than I would have been at forty or fifty.
But such human nuances are not to be considered when ideology is at work. One writer at Vox says "the practice described by Pence in that 2002 interview is clearly illegal when practiced by a boss in an employment setting." She's a lawyer.
There used to be a stock remark applied to someone who seemed to be over-reacting to something: "You don't have to make a federal case out of it." Increasingly now a lot of people seem to believe that making a federal case out of it is precisely what they want to do and should do. I suppose the old remark would be considered offensive to them, an attempt to invalidate their feelings. This is another aspect of our cultural division, and part of the reason for the hostility on both sides: the more aspects of life that come under the federal government's power, the more each feels that the other must not have control of it.
Late in March of every year, I remember that it's about to be April 1, and think "I don't have time to do it now, but next year I'm going to do something on the blog for April Fool's Day." And then I forget about it until the next March. Maybe I should get started on it now if I really want to do it next year.
Last week I was enthused about new cypress needles. It's also spiderwort season. These wildflowers pop up all over the yard in early spring and I always put off the first mowing because I don't want to cut them down. At this point it's pretty much moot anyway since most of what was once lawn--i.e. deliberately planted, nice-looking grass--has died, partly because there's too much shade, and left a mess of scraggly weeds and bare ground.