Category Archives: Media

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.

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…

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.

Death by a thousand cuts

I came across an online story discussing unsealed documents in the diocese of San Bernadino California regarding sexual abuse by priests.  As a Seminarian I cannot explain to you the overwhelming grief and pain it brings me every time I read a story like this.  There truly are no words to describe the deep pain I feel every time I read of hear of these stories.  There are also no words for the anger that I have for those who were so inept at handling the situation.

When I read stories like this I honestly ask myself and God “How do any of us stay in the Church?”  It literally is by the grace of God that faith can endure in these times.

I’m also sick of the apologetics that come with this situation.  They make me grow tired and weary.  How do we defend something that is so utterly indefensible?  How can we, with straight faces and upright hearts, try to discuss statistics, reasons, psychology, and the like?  And furthermore – how can some people out there actually get angry with the media?  Get angry with those who write and talk about this issue?

Are we being treated fairly?  Certainly not.  But what underlines this?  Why is there this huge rush to jump on the Church?  There are many who will point to the devil, many people will quote this as the everlasting battle of the “gates of Hell” encroaching on the Church.  And maybe some of that is in the midst of this.  But really, when you get right down to it, people intuitively expect so much more – and so much better – from the Church.  People, deep down inside of them, want to know that there is a place of salvation – even if they haven’t quite gotten around to surrendering to that salvation.  People want to know there’s a sense of divinity in this world, a place of God’s true presence, and a place that can still be held up as a model for something that is good, and right in this world.

And we have failed.  There are no other ways to say it.  There are no ways to twist the facts, massage the truth, or cleverly use misdirection.  We have failed miserably – and have destroyed hearts, lives, and faith in the process.  With each and every cover up, each and every secret archive we experience death by a thousand cuts, and each one of them hurts more than the one before.

It’s time for our leadership to do what we should’ve done a long time ago.  Beg, plead, and utterly fall at the feet of God for His mercy.  Anyone who thinks business as usual will work needs to simply be left behind.  The only response that seems logical is one of complete and utter surrender to God to make it right.  To beg Him to send among us prophets in our time to call us to deep repentance and renewal.

Sadly business as usual is still going on.  There are still people out there trying to hold up spinning plates and somehow trying to stitch back together tatters and threads that are torn beyond repair.  It’s madness.  And it needs to stop.

How do we endure in these times of great trial and distress?  The way Saints have for 2,000 years by focusing our minds, hearts, and souls on the Cross of Jesus Christ and ask the Great and Good Shepherd to lead His Church in these days.  May we have a renewed awe and love for Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, and may we be set ablaze by God’s Most Holy and capable Spirit.

“The more things change,…”

There was a feature in the Chicago Tribune this past Sunday which was simply uncanny, though not surprising.  Headlines and political cartoons were reprinted from as long as 140 years ago, with the too-blunt-to-be-implicit point that we haven’t really conquered many of our big problems.  A few were:

“OIL SPILL THREATENS GULF” from a spill in 1980 of 4,000 barrels.  There were concerns about how and where the oil would disperse.

“REVOLT MAY BE NEARING,” leading with “Taxes are becoming so burdensome…” and more or less describing what the tea parties are about.  It was 1949, and a quoted expert said, “the politicians, apparently, are not aware of the situation.”

There were two about the CTA’s financial problems, from 1950 and 1967.  And there’s one about how Cubs fans are long-suffering.  The date on that one is 1968.

In this context, I would like to share some quotes from GK Chesterton, which have a similar effect.

“Do not look at the faces in the illustrated papers. Look at the faces in the street.”

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.”

“I still hold. . . that the suburbs ought to be either glorified by romance and religion or else destroyed by fire from heaven, or even by firebrands from the earth.”

“This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.”

“There is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting.”

“If you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will have no answer except slanging or silence.”

“When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.”

Bear in mind, if you don’t know, that he lived from 1874-1936.

Culture of Death

I’ve been reading The Difference God Makes by Francis Cardinal George. It’s a fantastic read. If you don’t have it pick it up, pronto. In it he references John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae extensively in the first two chapters (as that’s all I’ve been through).  JPII talks about the “Culture of Death” that permeates much of society, including the US.

While I’ve heard of this reference before, Cardinal George really does a great job of drawing it out and it ended up helping me put words to observations I’ve had myself.  Specifically, how much of what we see on television is about violence, murder, and death.  So I did a little research and went through the primetime lineups of the Big 3 broadcast networks (ABC,CBS,NBC).

All told they program 45 hours of primetime Monday through Friday.  I ended up looking at all of their primetime programming and looked at programs where murder was at the heart of the plotline for the show.  For this research I actually looked at the plot synopsis for the show as listed in the directv.com channel guide.  These results also include 20/20 and Dateline, as those two shows were planning on shows about murder.

All told 31% of all primetime broadcasts (14 hours) deal with murder.  If you make death a broad term and add in medical dramas which often deal with patients dying, that number goes to 35% (16 hours).

If you single out the 9pm CST hour, where 15 hours of “dramatic” programming is found that number jumps to 40% (6 hours) For 9pm the percentage is 53% when factoring in medical dramas (8 hours).

Don’t forget these numbers don’t include shows that deal with other extremely violent situations such as rape (there were two other hours of Law and Order and an episode of Medium that dealt with rape).  When you start to add those shows in over half of what you see on the big 3 in primetime deals with extreme criminal violence and murder.  Those numbers are incredibly eye opening.