Category Archives: Faith

Politics and Religion

Found this in a group where I am more observer than participant…

“This political season has created a deeply painful crisis of faith for me. I’ve seen so-called Christian after Christian support the hateful policies of men like Trump and Cruz. I’ve seen my Christian friends, especially (but not exclusively) the white ones, grow more and more bigoted and intolerant. I’ve seen pastors and other faith leaders endorse a man that openly preaches hatred.

The day Falwell endorsed Trump was the last straw for me. I renounced the faith that day and haven’t considered myself a Christian since. But it hurts me profoundly.

What I always felt made Christianity real was the transformation of a person’s character catalyzed by the experience of God’s grace. I don’t see that anymore. I don’t see Jesus in most Christians any more. I just see people clinging to religion because they are afraid of hell, and then using that religion to condemn others to the hell they fear. This is not a religion of love. It is a cult of fear and I feel completely alienated from it.”

…and felt compelled to say something.

First, let us take this man in the best possible light.  This, to me, means that he was exaggerating when describing certain policies as “hateful,” that his notation of “white” Christians is ideological residue (after all, he also noted this wasn’t categorically true – so why mention it?), and that such word choices as “bigoted,” “hatred,” and “cult” are there for effect.

In other words, this is a rant, an emotive outburst.

 

Now, let us challenge some of his assumptions.

He refers to the “so-called Christian” who supports Cruz or Trump – but seems not to consider that both of those men are Christians, too.  I submit that this does not even enter his mind, but that he considers the Christianity of these men to be ploys to curry favor with voters.

Just what does it take to be a Christian?  And is this man the arbiter of Christianity?  Interesting that he would, ostensibly, be so much against discrimination, and yet discriminate as to what someone holds as his deep-seated belief.

(See – you never, ever escape the reality of discrimination.  It is a basic fact of the human condition.  You simply choose which forms of discrimination to participate in.)

The climax of his post, of course, is that he renounced Christianity after the political endorsement of a major Christian leader.  His assumption – I have to guess – is that Falwell’s endorsement made any difference at all to his own faith, or to Christianity in general, or to the Truth at all.

Would you renounce arithmetic if a mathematician endorsed Trump?  Would you renounce southern food if Paula Dean endorsed Trump?

Obviously not.  The connection is not tenuous; it is entirely imagined.  I am a Christian, and I could barely recall that Falwell endorsed Trump.  I have not renounced my Christian faith.

But it’s easy to get lost in the political rhetoric.  There’s a reason people can get jobs as pundits – the stuff is highly engrossing.  People watch on with great expectation, in astonishing numbers.

(Enough about Trump being a reality star, and that being disqualifying.  That fact is exactly why he’s so good at this.  He’s been training for it all of his public life.)

Our man does make one reasonably good assumption:  That Christianity is about the transformation of a person’s life by God’s grace.  (Though the ambiguity here confirms that he is not the best arbiter of a Christian’s sincerity).

Christianity is articulated in the Creed, and reduces to this:  The God of all creation came down to earth and was made flesh; He suffered and died for our sins; He rose again to new life, giving us the hope of an eternity in His presence.

Your life may be transformed by accepting this, and inviting God’s grace into your life.  It may also be that you continue to struggle, but your hope will empower you to endure the struggle.  You now believe that God will redeem even the worst of your suffering, and that does change things.

 

So where does that leave our guest?

He laments that Christianity has devolved into a kind of bludgeon, useful for the fearful, and that there is nothing left which resembles his expectation of the Church.  Indeed, his own act of renunciation, which accomplishes nothing relative to its catalysts, causes him pain, because he really did harbor the hope of Christ in his heart.  He thought that same light, the light of faith, might have had greater effect on the world around him, which he projects onto the world as a whole.

I would begin by telling him to turn off his television, unplug his computer.  But just before he does that, he should look into the persecution of Christians around the world.

American Christianity is not the entirety of Christianity.  It is only one sliver.  This is taken entirely for granted in the new Testament, as St. Paul addresses the Church in each location, and as the same happens in Revelation.  Christians in every time and place are going to have their particular virtues and vices, and the character of one is foolishly projected onto the character of the whole.

Then I would cut to the quick:  Where is your spine, man?

Do you follow the Truth as it is fashionable, as you have sufficient social approval for it?  Are your beliefs so deeply sincere when you are comfortable, then complicated and tenuous when you are distressed?  (This is about as good as we have for a Christian litmus test:  When circumstances become difficult, genuine Christian faith will grow stronger, not weaker).

Or is it only that you are being lumped in with the wrong kind of Christians, who support “hateful policies” and are ever fearful?

What a terrible reason to apostatize.  No, you find your courage and choose from two options.

One, you call yourself a different kind of Christian.  This is the Protestant option.

Two, you renew the Church, by the grace of God.  This is the Catholic option.

But to make an excuse for yourself, to relieve yourself of the burdens of faith because you can’t stomach the association with Christians of differing opinions, vices, and virtues – that is hateful.  That is bigoted, and as is the case with bigotry:  That is cowardly.

Lift yourself up, man.  Force yourself up off the ground, take stock of your surroundings.  God is abounding in mercy, so make a fresh start.

This time, return to Him with all your heart.

The great balcony in the sky

I, like many Americans, was very saddened to hear of the passing of Roger Ebert today. No matter what my feelings were with the quality of his reviews (I feel like, later in his life, he could often be very inaccurate on basic plot tenants when providing a summary) I still felt like his reviews MEANT something. As a kid, when a movie had TWO THUMBS UP that was always a sign that the movie was going to be good. What I think I admired most about Ebert was his ability to appreciate movies as art, but to keep his reviews in line with his midwestern sensibilities, which could be counted on by the mainstream movie goer. He loved great films, high concept films, indie films and the like, but also did not punish films that were meant to be popcorn fare and would still give them the approval of the worlds most famous and influential thumb since the Roman empire.

Many of the comments on social media speak of Mr. Ebert going to that great balcony in the sky, where he will pick his argument back up with his long time sparring partner Gene Siskel , who passed away in 1999.

But to talk like that would be to blatantly disrespect Mr. Ebert. Mr. Ebert did not believe he would be going to any such place. Nor did he believe his friend would be there waiting for him. Because, to Mr. Ebert, no such place exists. Mr. Ebert understood our need to believe such a place existed; he respected that need, but found it completely improbable.

Today, when Roger Ebert smiled at his wife of 20 years and breathed his last he ceased to exist. Maybe not totally. In his own words, today he “live[s] on indefinitely in [his] constituent atoms, which will be recombined in dust, flowers, trees, the wind, other living beings, and eventually in cosmic stardust.”

In a country that wants to become completely tolerant of all views, and to allow every man and woman to make their own choice in the privacy of their own hearts, minds, and homes we must not disrespect his choice. We must not insist, contrary to his desire and will, that he lives on in a great balcony in the sky.

The balcony is closed.

I wish Mr. Ebert would’ve examined why it is we all need to believe he is with Mr. Siskel somewhere. Why we desire for two men we never have met to rekindle their friendship so they could go back to doing what they loved in this life. Why it gives us great hope and joy that the balcony somehow, someway, IS OPEN.

This innate feeling of ours – to believe in that reality of the afterlife – was just simply a premise not worth examining much* on his way to the conclusion that his atoms are now becoming cosmic dust.

So Mr. Ebert grants us these feelings, but thinks they are not founded in any form of truth. And we must respect his wishes – and in doing so we must confront the very real question – where IS Mr. Ebert now? We can comfort ourselves with our own hopes for Mr. Ebert, but we must then ask ourselves an even more important question – what do I believe about what will happen when I die?

*At least never in his public musings on the matter.

Except in the cases of….

If you’re like me, you’re probably eagerly anticipating next Tuesday – voting day – not so much because you get to cast a ballot (and don’t get me wrong, that’s a super awesome responsibility) but because we can officially get out of the political cycle that inundates us with political ads, yard signs, bumper stickers, and all around annoying Facebook (and blog – irony!) posts about the election.

Of course, with every political cycle, abortion becomes a large hot button issue. And it seems like we’ve all become very accustomed to hearing the following: “Except in cases of rape or incest.” It seems that, for a pro-life candidate to seem “moderate” enough, he or she must ardently profess this exception (we will leave the life of the mother to another discussion)

I must, at this time, make something very clear: Rape is awful. As a man I find myself woefully inadequate to discuss this topic. I cannot begin to understand the complexities of rape and the damage it does to its victim.

I also want to be clear that I am not some blockhead chauvinist who completely misunderstands why this is such a weighty issue. As stated, rape is awful. It’s terrible. And – specific to gender – is a completely lopsided crime. When a man rapes a woman, he suffers no noticeable temporal consequences. Yet a woman who is raped, and if conception happens during rape, now has a 9 month burden that can imperil her life, her ability as a wage earner, and cause her unspeakable psychological damage.

With that caveat out of the way:

Along comes Todd Akin and “legitimate rape.” There’s no way to justify that man’s ignorance on this subject. And I won’t waste a lot of screen time doing so. But, unfortunately, his comments have put flesh on the straw man argument against such a rape exception.

And what this means is, a slightly more nuanced view – like Richard Mourdock’s – ends up getting lumped together with Mr. Akin. Which is an incredible shame.

Now I don’t know Mr. Mourdock or his politics, but I do feel like we must examine what he said, and furthermore examine his clarification.

Here is what he said exactly:

“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Now let’s be fair to the man and realize that he was on live television in the context of a debate and a big red “time is out” flashing light in front of him. His words, at first glance, do lack nuance and can be incredibly misconstrued.

If you examine the comment you might have two questions “Did that man just say that rape is intended by God?” or “Did that man just say that life that comes from rape is intended by God?”

I think anyone with any semblance of charity and sanity can easily dismiss the first question. (However if you still struggle, here is how he clarified his remarks:
“God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”)

And so it makes us truly examine what we believe about life. Is all life sacred? Is God involved in the creation of every new life? Or does God only involve himself in “wanted” pregnancies, but recuse himself from “unwanted” pregnancies and pregnancies that are the result of rape?

And if we dare say that God is involved in the creation of every new life. And we have the courage to profess that all life (born AND unborn) is sacred, then is Mr. Mourdock really that off base?

But of course those making civil law may object to the above paragraph. So let’s take God out of the equation for a moment (silly, and ontologically impossible, but let’s try).

What makes a society just? Is not the protection of the most innocent life just? Is not protecting the rights of innocent life, who in no way can fight for itself, just? And furthermore, can two wrongs make a right? Can the abortion of a life created by means of rape ever make right the absolute injustice of rape?

It can be tempting to think that it is moral to allow for the “exception in the case of rape.” To think that “This is awful and completely unfair, in just this case abortion should be legal to even the score” but again we have to ask the same question – can two wrongs make a right? Can fighting injustice with another injustice lead us to believe that we are a just society? *

As believers or non-believers we must answer those questions. As Catholics we are then bound furthermore by our belief in the sanctity of all life.

And as people of good will, if we think this through and realize that justice must be done, we then must do all that we can to support a woman through her pregnancy. We must find every conceivable way to reduce her burden and suffering and to do everything we can to care for the child, whether it is kept or given up for adoption.

That is true justice. THOSE are the kind of services that a government should be funding at nearly half a billion dollars a year. And punitively we must find a way for the agressor to pay his fair share as well. Punitively rape should not only be met with jail time but financial punishments as well that can be paid to the woman to help in the care of her unborn child.

Sadly – the political machine lacks any ability for real dialog, and Mr. Mourdock becomes just like Mr. Akin in the eyes of many, but the uncomfortable issue of rape and abortion will continue to be there – and we must all have an answer for it. Not only to inform our consciences on how to vote, but to also help direct us towards the common good of supporting women who are victimized in such a terrible way, and also to support and sustain the gift that life, even life conceived in such a way, is to the world.

P.S. This post was written on an Apple computer, founded by a man who was given up for adoption.

 

* I had wanted to make the following case, but I felt like it hurt the flow of the blog post but I didn’t want the thought to go away.  As a society it seems like we are on a course to try to “unbelieve” there are any real differences between a man and a woman.  And I think this issue makes us come more in touch with created reality.  That the overwhelming lack of fairness in the consequences that a female victim of rape can suffer are a sign of how different we are as man and woman.  And I wonder if that plays into the issue at all.  I wonder how much this “exception” tries to also correct this “lack of balance”  That, if we can just abort the consequence a way, we can truly try to make man and woman the same.  And this is what happens when a society desires sameness – instead of equality – between genders.

Consciousness

I’d like to be brief with this one, but I don’t want to simply cast it off into blogland. It’s the kind of thing that comes off as the result of a drug-induced “clarity,” but I’ve restricted myself to caffeine and alcohol, and neither of these have advanced my spirit.

Ok, that’ll do.

One of the real landmarks of my faith came in an empty chapel, when I had plenty of time to think. I was tracing the grains of the wood floor with my eyes, when I moved to reach out and touch the ground. On contact, I realized that I was, albeit remotely, touching something which God had touched. In fact, there was nothing in the room, that I was aware of, which had not been touched by God, down to the subatomic level (or, you know, whatever is sub-subatomic).

This was surely an unoriginal thought, yet I found myself in awe. That very matter, however it may have been transformed since the beginning, came tumbling down from God’s hands to mine.

Big Money

Evangelicals are doing (have been doing) something right about money.  That is, they’re talking about it to the point that it’s not taboo to ask for it.

It seems to me that every Catholic “ask” I’ve heard has been a high-wire act, with the asker hoping not to offend, hoping not to trip over the wire of anyone’s sensibilities.  That’s too bad.

So, with the encouragement of an Evangelical’s book on money management, Marcy and I have renewed our efforts to be good stewards of our finances.  Right after we buy a new car.  And a helicopter.

In seriousness, I’ve been praying earnestly about it, hoping for patience and self-control, for willingness to continue giving even if I can’t have everything I want.  All generally good practices.

Another good practice is that I can work overtime in order to cut down our debts or increase our savings, both giving us the concrete results that are so satisfying in an endeavor like this.  In roughly that context, I dared to pray that God would, if it is good, make something big happen.  I confessed that I did not know what that could be, and that I have no clear idea how to make it happen, so there should be no mistaking that He is doing it.  I just wanted to see it, to dare to ask for it.  Nevertheless, even if such a thing were not to happen, I would be content with His blessings on our own efforts.

I decided to let that slip somewhere to the middle of my mind:  not to be looking, but to be aware.

We had a carpet cleaner at work that was an absolute nuisance to use.  It had a 20′ hose, and we only used it for spot cleaning.  So, you either had to make two trips to get it to the scene of the grime, or else informally apply for the circus with a balancing act that would make any trained elephant blush.

Consequently, we bought a new one, better suited to our needs, and put the old one for sale on Craigslist for $450.  I had two buyers, and the first one agreed to come all the way from Indiana to check it out.  The other was in the city, but since he was second, I put him on hold.

When the first buyer arrived, he had his son with him – a young man who ended up doing most of the talking.  The older man checked out the machine – his son told me he was very familiar with such models, and said so in a very friendly way.  Satisfied, the older man stood up and said, “I know you’re asking $450-”

Naturally, I saw this coming.  I figured anyone who came to look at it would want to negotiate, and I don’t blame them.  But I did have a buyer on deck, with cash in hand.

“and you know the situation with my job and my family,” he continued.  I did know, because he told me on the phone – he was about to be let go from a cleaning company, where he was the manager.  His goal was to work on his own, and try to earn a living that way.  For that to be successful, he needed equipment.

“Would you take $350?  It would mean a lot for us.”

His voice cracked.  He wasn’t putting me on.

I was quiet for a long moment, and he didn’t try to say anything else.  First, though I expected the negotiation, I was a little disappointed.  This was already a pretty good price.  But I quickly let that go.  Second, this wasn’t my money, and it would be used for an unquestionably good cause.  What right did I have to discount that price?  Well, maybe a pretty good right, based on reasons which will be omitted because they could only be seen as boastful.  Finally, I simply understood that it was the right thing to do, and I had the privilege of being in a position to make it happen.  That’s uncommon, and it shouldn’t be squirreled away for petty reasons.

“Yeah.  Yes, let’s do that.”

They counted out the money for me to see, a nice gesture though I had no doubt it would all be there.  He expressed his thanks several times, holding back tears, and I tried to shed any notion that I was his benefactor.  It was just a good thing to do.  Let’s not have pride muddying the waters, least of all false pride.

It would be a couple hours before I realized what happened, or at least one interpretation of what had happened.  That is, God had answered my prayer, though my bank account did not grow because of it.

 

Abortion: Debate, Ministry

There came a time a few years ago when I began to reflect deeply on the reasons a person might have for being pro-choice. Reflexively – instinctively? – I had always believed it was a misunderstanding, maybe a case of callousness which simply needed a proper, heart-rending appeal in order to spark a conversion. If only I could find the right words, the definitive and undeniable perspective which would change everything, then the debate would disappear.

It’s tough to deal with perpetual failure like that. A few years ago, I began to wonder why such an approach was doomed to fail, even with people whom I believed were intelligent and compassionate.

The closest I’ve gotten, by the way, is something like this: Abortion must be the most terrible fate a person can face. In your most vulnerable state, with nerve endings as fresh as they’ll ever be, in the place which is supposed to be the safest in all the world, in come the brutally dispassionate instruments of death. You have committed no crime, been given no defense. You will endure, arguably, the most intense pain possible, and you can’t even scream. Does anyone deserve this? Of all the very serious reasons people give for not wanting a child, can any justify this action?

Plenty of people – some reading this, perhaps – could respond that there are reasons, that it’s not as bad as I’m making it, that I’ve conflated the suffering of the fetus. (Please, don’t come near me with that truly stupid argument that we are only talking about a bunch of cells clumped together).

My breakthrough came when I doubted a quality intrinsic to the question, “How can good people justify abortion?”

In other words, since abortion does not seem justifiable – in that it is tantamount to murder – it must be that good people don’t justify it.

There’s a lot to get angry about there, and before you do, let me pull the pressure valve on one point: There is no one good who opposes abortion, either, except for God. We all, on both sides of this and every debate, are fallen and sinful. That sinfulness is manifest, for some, in a pro-choice stance.

This will not solve the debate, I understand. I’m just trying to understand it. There is a whole other angle, a set of people who does not believe in God who may or may not acknowledge the personhood of the fetus, and yet they defer to the woman and her opportunity to abort. Such people might be as likely to say that we still, as part of the social contract, must protect life at all stages.

Perhaps – and I’m beginning to believe this more and more – a debate is not the proper field for this competition of values and fundamental beliefs.  At least not in an academic sense, which might ultimately produce a consensus among the enlightened which trickles down to common folk.  Rather, since we are talking about real persons who will live or die based on decisions made in a real human mind, according to quite specific circumstances, efforts ought to be focused on those minds, and on amending those circumstances.

If one life can be saved in this way, it must be better than perpetual failure in the grand debate.

Dignity

When I look at this picture, I see a kid with a huge smile on his face.  I see a teenage kid with his family posing for another family photo.  He could easily think he’s too cool for it, but he wants to get in on the fun. You can sense a closeness in this picture.  A genuine joy.

Almost 40 years after this photo was taken we have the one below, snapped as the news of that same kids’ assassination spread across the globe.

What happened?

How did this kid, smiling with his family on a bright sunny day, become responsible for the blood of 3,000 men, women, and children?  How did this kid become a man who could dream up using a passenger jet as a missile? How did this kid’s death become the cause for chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and waving American flags?

In looking at the contrast between these two photos one thing struck me, Osama Bin Laden was never just a man in the collective consciousness of our culture.  His name was a symbol the moment it first came into our living rooms.  It was a symbol of hate, of murder, of terror. Of evil, embodied.  And so Osama Bin Laden became larger than life, he became more than a man to us. This allowed many to gather and cheer when he was killed.  We held rallies, press conferences, and photo ops.  We all breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Our nation had slayed the boogeyman, we can now lay our heads back on our pillows and finally get some sleep.

And as we lay ourselves down to sleep, deep down inside of us, in that place we don’t like to always talk about, one simple truth remains: Osama Bin Laden was just like us.  He got in fights with his mom and dad, and with his siblings too.  He had to do menial chores like take out the garbage and do the laundry.  He probably tutored his brother in math, and helped tuck his little sister in at night.  No matter what propaganda teaches us, Osama Bin Laden was just a man.

I don’t write this to make Bin Laden a sympathetic character.  We know that this kid would soon become a religious zealot.  He would walk down a dark path of religious fundamentalism.  He would preach his message with the goal of gaining enough followers to unleash a “holy war” on the west. He became bloodthirsty, and eventually would concoct a plan of mass murder that puts him on a short list of human beings who have had their hands in treachery of unthinkable proportions.

We can label him a monster.  We can buy into the symbol of evil incarnate. In doing so, we  may be able to sleep easier at night.  But the truth is deeper.  Osama Bin Laden was a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully created in His image.  His birth was a gift to his parents, and to our world.  He was loved deeply by His creator.  He was a boy.  A teenager.  A man.  Never more, never less.

I still don’t have an answer as to how this happened.  I certainly don’t think I ever will.  But I cannot get over how deeply this picture has touched my heart.

It’s pictures like this that make the beatitudes possible.  Praying for our enemy seems heroic until you whittle it down and realize that our enemies are just like us.  When I see this picture I think to myself, I wish I was there that day, it seems like it was a lot of fun.  I wouldn’t mind meeting this family and that gangly kid with a green shirt and blue bellbottoms.  I think, if given time, we might have been friends.  I might have grown to love him.

If only…

The New Evangelization: Conversation

Last week in an address to the Seminary community at Mundelein Cardinal George highlighted the pastoral importance of listening.  He stressed that listening to God’s people helps you to hear their fears, their needs, their desires, their shortcomings, and all of the things that can help you lead and pastor them.  This got me to thinking about the importance of conversation in the New Evangelization.

While it is extremely important to broadcast the true message of salvation in every way (print, web, social media, DURING THE HOMILY) people are just a bit more complicated than being just consumers of salvation data.  They need to gnaw on it, play with it, work it out in their own way.  They need to have conversations about it.

I was recently reading a post on Fr. Barron’s Word on Fire regarding the Japan tragedy and a young woman named Monica posted a question in the comments.  It was a thoughtful question and was written by someone who looks to be genuinely seeking truth.  Unfortunately, as of this writing, the question has gone unanswered.  I think this is real shame.  Now I’m not trying to pick on WOF, I think they’re doing great work but I think our view of the New Evangelization when it comes to new media needs to now embrace the social side of the web.  People are smart.  They’re thoughtful.  They have questions.  Who is going to answer them?

Unfortunately allowing comments on a faith based blog can be a Pandoras box.  The anonymity of the internet turns comments sections of websites into a historical record of some of the worse of our human nature.  But then there’s women like Monica, who see it as a way to connect with the author and pick their brain.  In this case, the author (or a chosen proxy) needs to be willing to answer Monica.  I think there’s something true about our need for conversation in the New Evangelization.  When evangelization is seen as a conversation you assent to the inherent dignity of the questioner, and in doing so we start to preach the gospel – without using words.

Ashes Data, or proof that repentance matters

A while back I was involved in remodeling the St. Julie Billiart website.  At the time I also installed Google Analytics to track the web traffic on the site to help St. Julie analyze trends as well has help optimize their website.  I came across some data this week that was eye opening and I thought I’d share it with you.

One of the first improvements I wanted to make in the redesign was adding a “quick links” section on the right hand of the page.  This provides some of the most frequently accessed content (Mass times, confession times, bulletin, etc) in an easy to find place for users.  Last Christmas I added a seasonal quick link for Christmass Mass schedules on December 18th.  From the time of December 18th (5 days before Christmas Eve) to January 3rd (as the link also contained New Years information) the page was viewed 723 times.

On Monday March 7th (2 days before Ash Wed.) I posted an Ash Wed page.  From the 7th until Wednesday 9pm that page was viewed 1,027 times.  In the period between Dec 1st and March 10th it ranked as the third most-viewed quick link on the site, behind the permanent links of bulletin (2,723) and Mass schedule (2,154).

I haven’t had time to really process this or draw any conclusions, but I have an inkling that Jonah and the rest of the Prophets are beaming somewhere in Heaven.