Category Archives: Life

We Are Not to Worry. But What Does That Mean?

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God is in control.    God is my co-pilot.   God is the navigator.   Not my will, but Your will be done.

I was reflecting on the Gospel reading from this last weekend:   Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 24-34.

I won’t quote it all here, but among the text are a couple key quotes:

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

The Bible is an amazing thing, because it is all true and authoritative, but at the same time it is quite easy to take things out of context and in isolation.    The Bible has counterbalancing messages throughout.   One of the classic examples is the admonitions to feed the poor, and then Paul’s statement that says that if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t deserve to eat.   It is easy to pick one side and dig your heels in and apply that to everything, when in fact Jesus is talking about the less fortunate poor who either can’t work or would likely desire to earn a wage if offered, whereas Paul is focused on a community of able-bodied people who all need to do their part.

After Mass this last weekend a friend of mine, who knows I scrutinize finances and try to make sound financial decisions and plan for the future (and he is the same way), smirked a bit when asking me “how’d you like today’s Gospel?”    I could tell he was tweaking me a bit, and we engaged in it.   He was conflating “planning” with “worry”.   I disagreed with him, and I think by the end of our talk he was agreeing with me.

I think to read Jesus’ words here as some instruction to forego any and all planning is not only incorrect, but it’s actually counter to what He’s trying to get people to do here, which is to not worry, as in don’t be anxious.

My friend, as we talked, had the personal revelation that his planning is his way of actually not being anxious.    I agree with that.   Perhaps more important, good planning will help your loved ones not have to worry as much.   If I didn’t plan for the future, and didn’t have my affairs in order, it would cause grave headaches for my loved ones if something happened to me.   Stress, anxiety, and probably a bit of exasperation and anger would follow.

I always remember a personal example from our Homeschool group.   My wife was getting frustrated because they would schedule events and then they wouldn’t plan them.    The leader of the group at one point remarked about how they didn’t need to because the Holy Spirit just made it all come together at the end and somehow, some way, the events turned out fine.    While maybe this was true in its literalness, my wife’s observation was that she and a couple other moms always did 90% of the work because they would have been utterly embarrassed had everyone showed up to nothing.     So these three moms ended up feeling like they had to continue taking on this burden while the others extolled the wonder of the Holy Spirit bringing it all together.    There was finally a push for some structure and reorganization in the group that led to some rifts, unfortunately.   I guess my point is, if you think you’re living the gospel by not worrying, but your lack of attention in the name of not worrying leads to the anxiety of others, then you are not properly disposed to what you’re being called to do – in my opinion.

We Christians have struggled with this balance forever.  We are in constant conflict with the opposing ideas of the necessity of what we do versus what that means about our trust in God.    One can actually take this all the way back to the heart of arguments about predestination.

Here’s how I see it:   You should plan for the future and plan for contingencies.   We should do what we feel we need to do in prudent and responsible ways.   This is not lacking trust in God.   In fact, God is likely calling us to do some of these things.    But planning and taking action should ease your mind, and not burden it.    If you are not able to do everything you would like to do, but you are doing what you can, then you need at that point to not worry and trust in God.    If you are moving past prudence and trying to outsmart God by being ready for everything imaginable under the sun by relying only on your own wisdom, then you are trusting in yourself and not in God.   If you’ve planned for X and the unexpected Y happens, you need to trust that God will help see you through – or that this suffering has a greater purpose.   If you are obsessed with perfection, you need to relax and trust in God.

This covers a lot of areas, from finances, to married life, to health, to raising kids, and so on.   One should try to make good health choices.   That may mean you’ve decided to eat in a certain way, avoiding some foods not because they bother you physically but because you’re trying to stay healthy.  But at the same time if you are traveling or visiting and the food choice is not to your general health standards, and you become obsessed with the idea that eating that burger patty is going to take 2 years off your life, then you are not in balance.   That’s worry and anxiety and something of a lack of trust.

If you feel like a store of food and water is a good idea and you take some measures and you sleep well then that’s a good thing.    If you wake up every morning wondering what you haven’t done in the event that X, Y, or Z happens and you are never comfortable with what you’ve set aside or stockpiled, then you are out of balance.

My wife and I actually were talking on Saturday about the responsibility of raising kids.   The discussion turned to her concerns about them becoming godly persons, their salvation, and everything we may not be doing to make that happen.    I was agreeing that we need to do everything we can, but we’re humans and we will fall short and at some point we need to simply ask God to fill in for our deficiencies, and that He is not going to abandon them to the wolves just because we forgot to do this thing or that thing in the overall formation of their faith.    It was almost as if that Gospel reading on Sunday was for us.

So, you see, I may be a planner, but I’m really not a worrier.   My wife is.   I’m not speaking out of turn here – she’d say the same thing.   In fact, she may well say that I don’t worry enough, and I say she worries too much.   We’re both probably right.

If you do absolutely nothing, then that certainly can be trust in God.   But you should also assess whether or not it’s just simple laziness, and whether your lack of concern is affected others.   It could be argued at times that I am lazy.

Finally, I offer my preferred analogy of our participation in life with God.    It’s fine to recognize that “God is in control” as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to eschew your obligations.   I’m not the biggest fan of that phrase, not because I think it’s false, but I think it’s a bit misapplied to our purpose.   God is ultimately responsible for everything we are – He created us, has granted us our very life, has given us our abilities, and has single-handedly opened the doors of heaven to us.    He has all the power in the Universe to control every aspect of our lives.   But that doesn’t mean he exercises that power over all of our thoughts, words, and actions.   He doesn’t.   It doesn’t mean he moves us like pawns on a chess board, maneuvering us through every situation, while at the same time maneuvering those around us.    He may well intervene on occasion because He loves us, but the very fact that some of us end up sick or injured, or dead, is self-evidence that God allows things both in and out of our control to occur that bring with them certain undesirable outcomes.   I acknowledge that God is ultimately in control to the extent He desires it, and that he has the power of full control to the extent He exercises it.    He is also a navigator, but not necessarily “the” Navigator at all times, since we have a say in the direction we go.

The co-pilot analogy is also lacking a bit, since it sort of relegates God to a secondary back-up position in our lives.   I know that “co” can mean partnership and equality, but that’s usually not how co-pilots are referenced.   There is a pilot and a co-pilot.    It may be a better analogy to say I am God’s co-pilot.

I prefer the Navigator analogy, but with a twist.    If you imagine a ship with two rudders, one large rudder for large-scale directional movements and one rudder that allows quick reactionary movements along the broader path, I see God as the Navigator of the big rudder and we are navigators along the path we’re on.    I think God moves us directionally where we are to go.   I think we need to trust and not be anxious about that direction.    But that doesn’t mean all is clear sailing in a straight line.   We may need to navigate some rough waters or around islands or icebergs and what-not as we follow our path.   We can still crash on the path God sends us if we aren’t doing what we are supposed to be doing.   We have responsibilities to uphold to ensure that we get where we are intended to go.    And even that smaller rudder can ultimately change our direction if we continually push it in opposition to the big rudder.    God makes it difficult for us to move off the direction He has chosen for us, but not impossible.

So, don’t worry about planning.

Ninevah90 Warning

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I made a comment on another blog I was a bit wary about.   I dared question whether or not it is wise for everyone to jump right in and do the Ninevah90 program.

The response I received was actually not what I expected.   I expected to hear why everyone should be able to do it, and that not embracing it fully is a sign of weakness, which is all the more reason why you should do it.    But I received a lot of agreement.

Basically, what I said about it is that everything there is good.   I have no issues with anyone doing it.    But it’s also a LOT.    Depending on where a person is in their spiritual journey, it could be utterly overwhelming, and perhaps even counterproductive, to try and do it all.   We humans are fickle creatures, and some have a tendency to become demoralized and give up on the whole thing if we fail to do every last thing.   I suggested that, at least for some, it may be a wiser course to stretch yourself, but still make the additional devotions, prayers, and activities achievable.

I was happy I received such agreement in one respect, but then I got nervous about whether or not i was just encouraging an attitude of copping out…

The following is a follow-up comment I made, that I thought I’d reproduce here.

“I wanted to make sure I clarify my comment a bit. I guess I’m just a strong believer in proper balance. And I think we all get out of balance at times one way or the other and need to constantly self-correct.

In no way am I saying that nobody can take on the full Ninevah90 program. Nor am I saying one should easily or simply dismiss it because “it’s too hard.” Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t constantly challenge ourselves to do more than we are currently doing… to take that “Next Right Step” in our spiritual growth.

What I am saying is that we are all in different places on our spiritual journey, and we all have different responsibilities in life that we cannot disregard or replace with another time consuming activity, whether it is a holy one or not.

As an example, a friend of mine – a wonderful and committed Catholic – at one point in his spiritual life thought it was a good idea to try and do everything he read that other saints did. And he was demanding his family do the same. All were good things in and of themselves, but the sheer volume of things he was doing, and in turn asking his family to do, became a real stress and caused problems in the family: Hours of adoration, hours of volunteering, hours of prayer, attending this function and that function… My observation was that I thought I fostered a better relationship with my kids and family by simply being at home and talking with them or playing a game with them. Yes, we also incorporate prayer and other spiritual devotions into family life, and I am not saying we can’t do more – we certainly can. But he was not in balance, and I could imagine even the good Lord was saying “the saint you are trying to emulate was single and a monk. You can’t do what he did – go spend time with your family.”

The Ninevah90 thing is very good, and it’s a great challenge to take upon ourselves what we can handle, and perhaps that one thing more that we feel we may need to help have God lift us up to accomplish it. That’s the next step. But if one tries to leap over a tall building in a single bound from where they are now, there is a risk that you end up a spot on the sidewalk.

I’ve already seen someone on my Facebook page lament that already on Day 3 of the program, he is undergoing a lot of spiritual warfare. I have no idea what that means, and it may very well be a true statement, but I couldn’t help but think “or maybe you just took on too much.” If he’s truly being attacked in unforeseen ways, he needs my prayers. If his view of spiritual warfare is that he doesn’t have enough time in the day to fit everything in, then I’m afraid no amount of prayer will create additional minutes for him. But hey, I could be wrong.”

I’m reminded of some of the criticisms about Catholics by some other Christians about “piling up words.”   While this criticism is usually in response to devotional prayers, such as the Rosary, and is completely unfounded, there is nevertheless a risk that some people just believe that piling up devotion after devotion after devotion makes them more holy.    We risk getting out of balance.   The proper perspective of any devotion is that we are in a relationship with God, that we are participating in the work of salvation that He alone made possible, and that we are being His hands and feet to the world around us.    If we just do a bunch of stuff in order to satisfy all the daily requirements of a program and somehow think we’re now a better person for it…  well, there may be some truth to that in terms of a better understanding that you can do more, and forming good habits.   But it could also become this obsessive action that erroneously leads to a belief that you’re working your way to heaven.

So, whatever you do, make sure your life is in balance, and make sure you know why you are doing it and why this is an important thing.

 

Happy Belated Thanksgiving, and Happy Advent

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Since I don’t blog for a living, I will from time to time take extended breaks, since this isn’t my top priority.

That was the case over the last couple of weeks.    I started an extended vacation from work beginning November 17, and because I was trying to get everything in a place where it needed to be before I left, I haven’t submitted a blog post since a few days before that.

Today is just a check-in as I now begin the task of catching up from my time off!

A quick recap of my time off:

November 17 – My wife and I and a couple friends drove to Green Bay, Wisconsin and listened to Charlie Johnston speak.   I introduced myself as “The Diatribe Guy” after his talk and he was genuinely happy to see me.   It was nice to meet him in person.    He appreciated that I have a bit of a skeptical nature about the whole thing, while also keeping an open mind about it all.    I am respectful and try to provide a different view or insight when I comment on his blog and I think he recognizes that I am not a troll who is trying to play some game of “gotcha” but instead someone who is trying to understand, take it all in, keeping my wits about me, and maintaining prudence.    He didn’t say a whole lot I hadn’t heard him say or write before, but it’s always good to be in a small community with others.

November 18 – my birthday!   Yay me.    And as my birthday present I went to our garden an hour away to spread a mineral mix on it only for 50 mph winds to spring up out of nowhere and make spreading it impossible.   So I unloaded it and came back home.   While I was gone, our oven broke.   Since I have already paid for this oven twice because it keeps breaking down, we decide to get a new one.    My wife and I do a birthday dinner, shop for appliances, and go see a movie.   Jack Reacher.    It was OK – nothing special but a couple hours of mindless entertainment.   Lowe’s is on a two-week delivery schedule, and Thanksgiving is only 5 days away.   We pass.

November 19 – November 27:   Rifle deer hunting season in Wisconsin.    A time where the kids, the father-in-law, and me spend countless hours in the woods and see NOTHING.    Four year drought.   The only thing I got was a cold.

November 19: Appliance shopping – decide to go to a gas stove with a local dealer who can guarantee delivery by Thanksgiving.   but we are not set up for gas, so first need to find a plumber who can get to our house before Thanksgiving.     Vacation is stressful.   Wisconsin Badgers win in football, moving up to 6th in the national playoff rankings!

November 20 – Packers lost again.   Defense is horrible.

November 21:  While we are hunting in spurts throughout this whole week, this was the special day of triumph.   Spend all day at the father-in-law’s land a couple hours away, picking off huge Bucks!    Well, we spent all day there, froze our butts off and finally saw a doe about 200 yards away facing away from us with about 15 minutes left in the hunting day.    Too far to take the shot for my son, who was the only one allowed to shoot a doe in this county.   That’s as close as we got all season to shooting a deer.    My wife actually found a plumber who could come over the next day.

November 22: We have gas in the kitchen!   Well, I always have gas in the kitchen, but I mean the natural kind that runs appliances.

November 23 – Spent half the day in a dentist’s chair.    A crown in my mouth cracked.   That has been drilled out, my nub is now even a smaller nub, and a temporary crown is on. I texted my sister and said that I think my Purgatory will be continued dental work in a confined space with spiders crawling on me.   Her response was “If that is Purgatory, then Hell sounds better.”    I couldn’t even argue.   Our gas stove is delivered!   We can now make a Thanksgiving meal.

November 24:   Happy Thanksgiving!    Great meal with the whole family.   Very nice day, despite my mouth hurting from the dental work.   Despite my wife’s nervousness about getting used to gas and convection oven cooking, everything was awesome.

November 25 – 27: Lots of hunting.    My father-in-law has a habit of picking a spot to park on public land and then walking to the furthest possible point on that land from where we parked.

November 26: Badgers won again – Big Ten East Champions – will play in the Big Ten title game next week against Penn State.   Will likely remain 6th in the rankings, possibly moving to 5th.   Need to finish top four to make the playoff.

 

Looking at that recap is a synopsis of life.    A couple hurdles and unexpected irritations that need to be dealt with – so you deal with them.   You can let it get you down or you can just move forward.   Some things of highest value that bring you joy (God, family, thankfulness, time together), things you try to do but don’t succeed at and you learn from it and move on, some frivolous pursuits that bring some added color and entertainment to life…    If I recapped every week of my life it would probably look something like that.

 

So let’s move on.   It’s Advent.   Life will be busy, but when you look back at each week will you see a lot of pointless busyness at the expense of things that would have been more important, or do you see a good balance.     I look above and I like the balance overall.    In the woods, I even spent some of that time in prayer and contemplating God.

But I was on vacation – toss in my work schedule and suddenly the balance becomes harder to achieve.    I’m going to try my best to maintain a proper balance during Advent – and beyond.

Your Sin Will Find You

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A few years ago my wife and I attended a Catholic homeschooling conference in Minnesota.   The keynote speaker was Jeff Cavins.

Mr. Cavins is a good man with a lot of good things to say.   In full disclosure, though, from his time on Relevant Radio as the morning host, there were times I felt he was judgmental against those with opinions other than his own.   I remember a particular show where outreach to the Spanish-speaking community in America was discussed.   I am perfectly fine with meeting people where they are at and reaching them in their own language, but I also firmly believe that, for the good of these very people, we need to empower them for future success, which includes asking them to learn English.   On this particular show, Jeff Cavins and his guest were advocating, paraphrasing here, that the Christian approach is for us all to learn Spanish deal with the fact – and expect – that some people will not learn English.

Someone called in and made the exact point I was thinking, which is basically that this is poppycock, and I don’t think it’s against Christian ideals to expect reciprocation from that community.    In other words, yes we will help them, but they need to help themselves as well so they can be the most productive members of the country they have chosen to come to.   I remember the caller making this point, in a very respectful and reasonable way.

The response was extremely cold.   I was actually offended by the reaction.   It was as if the opinion of Cavins and guest were an official doctrinal position of the Church.    What could have been a good back and forth on the respective merits of the approaches, and an understanding that we really want similar things but maybe we have a couple different ideas on the best approach, the guy was treated like a child who wasn’t deserving of their time and discussion.

Having said that, nobody is perfect.   Cavins does much good and has offered great resources to strengthen people in the faith.    The main reason I mention it is because that really, really annoyed me and it stuck with me.   And despite all his good, it goes to show how even one momentary failing can do a lot of harm.    Not that Jeff Cavins knows me or cares what I think of him one way or the other.   But it’s still a good lesson for us all – a momentary lapse of reason can haunt you.   Maybe in this case, few heard it and fewer yet looked at it the way I did, and fewer yet remember it either way.    But I remember it, and perhaps there are others like me.

Having said that, there is one other memorable thing I can remember of Jeff Cavins, and it was a talk he gave at the aforementioned homeschooling conference.   In this case, it impressed me as a piece of great wisdom, and it is this:  “Your sin will find you.”

As Christians, we all believe that we will be judged.   And we all know that some people seem to get away with all sorts of things – bad things, including things that hurt other people – without temporal repercussions.  And while, as Christians, we want everyone to abandon sinful ways and accept Christ and be saved, we also long for appropriate justice.   And thus, we simply have to trust that, whether this life or in the next, justice will be done.

So, it may not be universally true that “sin finds you” while still on this physical planet in the temporal sense.    But I think it’s true that a lot of it really does.   I think there is a reason for this.   I think one way that God brings you back to Him is to humble you so that you are forced to deal with your own sinfulness.    Perhaps if you fall and then repent, God finds that sufficient.   Perhaps if your heart is completely stone cold, there is little to be gained.   But if you are ripe for salvation but are a slave to some sin or another, you may need to be completely jolted out of your ways, and that may mean a very uncomfortable, and even public, and embarrassing revealing of who you are.

In my own life, I have seen this happen.   I have seen it happen with others around me.   And I think what we have seen over the last few months in the political arena is a perfect example of this as well.   Between all the things that have been revealed about Bill and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, what is revealed to the world is a dark side of sin that ultimately comes at a great cost.   In the case of Hillary Clinton, it is very likely that everything that was uncovered by the Wikileaks e-mails cost her the Presidency.   In a bizarre turn, the sexting scandal of Anthony Weiner ultimately cost him his political life and his marriage, but also ensnared the Clinton campaign and also assisted in damaging her Presidential hopes.    And even though Donald Trump won, many ultimately supported him despite a number of problematic things that were uncovered and made public to the world.   Yes, he’s President and can make reparation for past sins by governing in a Godly way, but the memory of the things he has said and how he said them will not go away.   The damage to him is personal, not just in how we view him, but in how his wife and kids view him.    I’m not suggesting that there is any lack of love there, nor should there be.   But it is something they will now always know that their dad has said, and it may be a less tangible type of damage than losing the election, but it is real nonetheless.

But not all these things are ultimately a bad thing.   Whether Hillary, Bill, and Donald repent and change their ways is completely up to them.   But such public embarrassment can do it.   If one is able to self-reflect and realize that sins were committed, mistakes were made, and embarrassment occurred, then repentance can be initiated.   It can be a deep, sorrowful repentance.   Or, it can be action-oriented (“I’ll make sure I never make that mistake again”) out of fear of embarrassment.   Sure, I think God always prefers perfect contrition, but he gives us imperfect humans a lot of tools and feelings to help us do the right thing even with imperfect contrition.   And that’s still a blessing.

Even more important when discussing more public figures – but this still does apply to all of us – is that when the sins and mistakes of others are revealed it is a learning opportunity for all of us.   Do you think anyone in government with security clearance in the near future will be setting up private e-mail and lying about it?   Yeah…   don’t think so.   And that’s a good thing.   Should all of us watch our language, our conversation, and our actions at all times not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because in this day and age of constant video monitoring, cell phone usage, and internet tracking we may just be leaving a roadmap of our own sinfulness for all the world to see at some future time?    Yeah – not that I’m thrilled about the scary non-private world we live in, but it’s probably a good thing for all of us to ask the question “If I ran for office, would I want others to see and hear what I am doing and saying right now?”    It would be great if we just did the right thing because it’s the right thing and because we love God and neighbor.   But if we also do it out of a bit of a sense of fear that someone else may find out, that’s not entirely a bad thing, either.

The best antidote for your sin “not finding you” is to stop sinning.   Or, at least, go to Confession, be sorry, and work on your deficiencies.   We all have our weaknesses.   None of us are perfect.   Don’t embrace your sin – fight against it.   Those feelings of guilt you have?   Yeah, the world tell you that’s bad.   It isn’t.   It’s a gift.   Use it, but then after you are forgiven then shake the guilt for what you confessed and move forward.  We’re human – there will likely be some residual guilt for sin depending on the nature of it.   Don’t let that residual guilt allow you to question the gift of forgiveness.  Instead, use it to continue to be resolute that you don’t want to repeat your offense.   But if you do, don’t despair.    Most Catholics will tell you that they get frustrated because they end up repeating the same sins and confessing them over and over.    The goal isn’t to just go with it because you can go to confession.   The goal is to stop.   But that goal is much harder than it seems – it takes multiple confessions and continued grace to stop your bad behavior.   Hopefully, you will sin less often, and less severely.   But it will happen.   Let that guilt get you to confession – that’s healthy.   Despair is not.

Will your sin find you?    Yes, it will.   But better that it finds you sooner rather than never, and that you work to correct it.   Better that it finds you in a way that puts you on your knees and gets you to confession.    In the end, you can never be happy that you sinned, but you may thank God for the gift of your sin finding you.

Team Hamstring

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So, on a completely different and personal note…

My son was part of a Flag Football League this year.   The last game was called off, and it was decided that it would be fun to have the team play against parents, coaches, and teachers.

My initial response was “This is not a good idea.”

My wife and son finally convinced me to play the game.

I am 48 years old, and I work at a desk.   I used to be a very good athlete.   Used to be.

Result:  Severely pulled hamstring.

But I was not alone.   Two other pulled hamstrings and a pulled calf muscle, and it was determined by more than just me that “maybe that was not a good idea.”

I’m on the mend, but it will be a few weeks before I can do any vigorous exercise.   Not that I did before.

The Diabolical Deception of Self-Love

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It all sounds really good – you need to love yourself.   And that is absolutely true.   But I think  – no,  I know – that we have largely lost the truth in application of what that actually means.    And it’s a very difficult discussion to have in these times when we define “who we are” by so many thing, most of which are things that should not define us.

I’m going to share in its entirely a post that showed up on my Facebook timeline.   This friend of mine is a family member who grew up in a Catholic family but in adulthood came out as gay and left the Church.   He is not a person who spews agenda and vitriol.   He often talks of love and peace and acceptance, and even desires good for those who will treat him badly.    All of which says a lot of his personal character in many ways.   He talks of God, but in a sense that is far from Catholic and mainline Christian.   To my shagrin, though, he has fully embraced the “goodness” of “who he is” (i.e. gay) and all that goes with it from a lifestyle perspective.   He is in Hollywood and has produced films, one of which was featured at the Cannes film festival, which is about his story growing up gay in a Catholic family.   While not outright anti-Catholic, the undertones are there – he simply believes the Church’s teachings are wrong, not loving, and archaic.   He is actively promoting the goodness of living “who you are” as an expression of self-love.   Unfortunately, he is in a position to influence and affect the way others think as well.   As he does this, he believes he is professing truth.

I am reproducing the post he made today to demonstrate where he is coming from:

“This weekend I will take a vow of silence.

For the words, clotted in the tormented throats of those told they are loved unconditionally, but cannot be who they are, because it will send them to an eternity of fire.

For those raped physically, mentally, and emotionally by the guilt and fear of an ideology that taught them to keep their beauty silent, and utter a string of Hail Marys instead.

For those carrying the weight of an unspeakable defilement in their bodies, minds, and spirits and have never since been able to connect God and Love, because they cannot understand how these two synonyms can feel so horribly different.

This weekend I hold silence to hear the screams that still linger in the air, audible when you stop to lend a sobered and reverent ear.   I hold silence to hear the voices and the stories they never got to tell.   I hold silence for those who wander, lost and lightless, on this Earth, in for and out, due to the false representation of unconditional love that has stolen the inner children and turned them to husks of what were once powerful, unquestionably self-loving beings.

This weekend, if it resonates with you, and even if it just for a small chunk of time, I invite you to join me in respecting those who have been conditioned by ideologies of all kinds with silence.  And if not, quieten and listen whenever you can.  Collective awareness can heal the deepest energetic wounds , and our woprld needs it now.

I love you, truth warriors.”

This is not the ramblings of someone who is unloving and ill-intentioned.   And not everything in that post is wrong.   And it also highlights how important it is that we do a much better job of finding ways to characterize God’s love for us in a way that can reconcile the tough questions about what that means in the context of the very real existence of Hell.

But he has been misled in a very diabolical way.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the term diabolical conjurs up imagery of demons and monsters and ugliness.    And for good reason, for that is what lies behind the mask of it all.   But something that is diabolical does not have that appearance to one who is swayed by the diabolical.   The very nature of the diabolical is to take something that is evil and disguise it and present it as good.   Or to take something good and pervert it and re-present it as something else (e.g. traditional marriage is about being happy, people want to marry people of the same sex, therefore same-sex marriage is good.   The premise here is faulty, but is widely accepted.)

The post above perverts the entire idea of what self-love is.   The problem is that the entire underlying baseline is now faulty, so all other arguments and conclusions that stem from it are faulty.   Regardless of how thoughtful, well-meaning, emotional, and even loving the case is, if the case is made on a faulty premise everything else is flawed.

In this case, there are a couple faulty premises.   The first is that unconditional love necessarily implies that there are no expectations of behavior attached.   This is wrong.   Unconditional love, by definition, means that you are loved despite your flaws and your behavior.   Unconditional love in no way dismisses anything bad as acceptable.   It means that I love you anyway.   Unconditional love could even mean that you find ways to point out issues of belief, faith, behavior, etc. but always in a spirit of charity.   It also means that if all these attempts fail, you will still love that person.   This is different from accepting behavior as good and right.   It can be a difficult distinction when emotion and humanity of the individuals is involved, but from a purely logical standpoint, this is really not all that difficult a distinction to make.   The main issue is that we want our children, brothers, in-laws, and friends to be happy.   It is difficult to see someone struggle with their weaknesses and tell them they need to control this thing or that thing, especially when all the world is telling them that it’s OK, and what you were taught is just an archaic ideology.   It is much easier from a relationship standpoint to relent, and let be what be.

The second problematic premise here is that self-love is about what makes you happy.    “God made me that way” is a common refrain.    God made all of us with infinite dignity, and it is true that we are His creation, warts and all.   But never has this been an excuse to purposely give in to our own weaknesses.   We all have them.   Some weaknesses society has decided to celebrate and some weaknesses, not so much.   Those who are prone to anger are asked to control that urge.   And this is the right thing to do.   Some people really struggle with it.   We are asked, in our maturity, to keep it under wraps.    But if someone has a weakness in the area of sexual perversion (of any sort, really – both heterosexual perversion and same-sex attraction, among many other things) it is difficult to find anyone admit this is a weakness that needs to be controlled, other than when issues of violence is involved.    We suppress other things and say it’s for our own good, but in this area it is claimed that suppressing it is a horrible thing.   There is no consistency.

The issue at hand is that we tend to define ourselves – and thus the self we love – according to what we feel, think, and do.   I am sorry, but this is a flawed idea of self.   It is true that our experiences, thoughts, feelings, education, urges, etc. form our character.   But that is not us.   We can, at any time, change our opinions.   We can change our behavior.   We can control our urges – perhaps with help in doing so.    This is not “us.”    What we are is human.   What we are is body and a soul.   What we are in baptism, quite literally, is an adopted child of God.  What we all are is an image of God.   All the rest takes who we are and puts it to work in what we do, what we say, and how we act.   I am not defined by my heterosexuality, my marriage, my kids, my job…   these are all outward signs to people around me what I think and feel and believe and what is important, and may very well then indicate to them who I actually am.    But who I am is actually fundamentally the same as who everyone else is.   The question is, are we exhibiting this outwardly or aren’t we?

I don’t want to make it sound like we’re all clones.   Obviously, the last item of “who we are” is our particular and unique DNA.   Between the genetic code and the soul, we are all individuals and unique.   It is said that no two snowflakes are alike, and yet every snowflake is made through the same process and is made of the same components.   How a snowfall drifts or flies or melts or sits does not define what that snowflake is.   It is a snowflake, pure and simple.

I fear that fewer and fewer people understand this, and even if explained, would accept it.

If you really want to “be who you are” then you need to be a child of God.   And if you are to act like what you are, then what you think and do and say needs lead with “am I thinking of self-love in terms of what I want or in terms of what God wants for me? “    That is not an easy question, because sometimes God calls us to suffer, to struggle, and to use those weaknesses to utterly rely on Him for our happiness, and not the things of this world – even relationships.

Why Am I Annoyed by Happy People on Commercials?

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The little boy drops a bowl of cereal.   The bowl breaks and stuff is everywhere.   The boy cries.   The mom smiles and consoles him.  There is no anger or scolding.  There is only…  a Swiffer!   And joy abounds.

The man has heart pains.  But because of the magical pill he no longer has heart pains.  He now feels younger.   Now, all his time is spent laughing as he plays hide-and-seek or fishing with his grandchildren.

I hate these commercials.  But why do I hate them?   Do I not want people to love their kids and grand-kids?   Do I prefer that people lose their temper instead of being cool, steady, and joyful?

No, that’s not it.

The first reason i hate them is because I am not that perfect.   I’d have yelled at the kid and thrown him in the corner while grumbling about his clumsiness as I cleaned up his mess.    And when I retire, I look forward to spending time playing cards with my grandkids, but I’m probably not going to play hide and seek.   Too much work.   So, yes, I see my own imperfections in the perfect unreality of commercials.

The second reason I hate them is because I don’t believe they mirror most realities, and they’re trying to sell me something by lying to me about the fact that all my anger and imperfections can now magically be solved by this particular product.  That’s a lie.

But really, my dislike for all this goes much deeper.   I may be overthinking this, but I am utterly annoyed by the hypocrisy of our culture.   We sure love our kids in commercials.   They are our joy and our hope.   But in a society that has killed over 50 million kids in the womb and prevented however many other pregnancies because of the contraceptive mentality we have totally embraced, the idea that we really, really love our kids so much because they mean everything to us is simply a lie.  They don’t.

That may seem harsh, and I don’t mean it as a universal statement that applies to everyone.   But I do mean it as an overarching cultural statement.

Imagine the following sentiment from Mr. and Mrs. ABC:   “Oh, little Johnny and Jenna are just the joys of our lives.   We can’t imagine what life would be without them.   They are such blessings, and it’s so unreal watching them grow up!  The time flies by so quickly!”

“Oh, so are you planning on having any more children?”

“Good, God, no!   We can hardly handle the two we have!”

So… which is it?   The “money can’t put a price tag on the little darlings that bring the ultimate joy to our lives” parents, or the “I can’t handle this” parents.    Because saying you can’t handle something, to me, is not something you say about a blessing.    It’s something you say about a burden.

Now, don’t get me wrong.   I am not saying it isn’t normal to think that you can’t handle life at times, including the kids.   This is perfectly normal.   In fact, sometimes I think we need those times to allow us to refocus on God.   Because when we can’t handle something, we must humbly turn to God in our humanness and ask for help, and admit that we are not God, we are not in complete control, and we are imperfect.    The answers that God gives in these times may not be what we desire.   We get tested and refined and strengthened so that we can not only handle what we have, but a little bit more.    And to the extent we can’t, we need to lean on Him all the more.   This isn’t all about happy happy joy joy.

So, in our human ingenuity, we’ve turned to abortion and contraception as the answers to our burdens – children – all the while putting on a face of love and joy and happiness over the children we have, as long as we don’t have enough to disrupt our lifestyle.   And this somewhat peeves me.

But, I guess a commercial about a dad with 9 kids doling out a punishment while pulling out an old dishrag he found for a quarter at a garage sale probably wouldn’t inspire consumerism.   So, I’ll just have to live with the fact that people on commercials love their kids.   At least the ones they kept.

 

Tattoo or not Tattoo

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jesus-tattoo-by-dennis-wehler-728x868Let me lay all my biases out from the beginning:   This opinion comes from both a Catholic/Faith perspective, but also deeply on my own opinion of tattoos.   And I have yet to hear any argument that has convinced me that getting a tattoo – especially one of visual prominence – makes any sense whatever.   I think they are stupid, pure and simple.   I know that rankles people, but I have a right to my opinion.   So, I’m going to be evaluating the question from the perspective of someone coming from a good, Catholic, family who is debating the relative merits of getting a tattoo, but wanted to make clear my initial bias in this question.   I admit I will not be able to refuse my opinion of it from my personal bias, and actually I am not even going to try all that hard to do so, because quite honestly I think the reason I already feel that way (and always have) is because I did the more balance, honest evaluation of their merits years and years ago.

So, anyway, my wife has these occasional get-togethers with other homeschooling Catholic moms.   The families range in various sizes and in various stages of where they are in life.    Some have large families (8+ kids) with some kids already graduated and in adulthood, and it goes all the way down to those with a couple young kids just getting rolling.

Without exception, every family takes their faith life seriously, and it is important to them to pass on their Catholic faith to their children.   Of course, we all have our own approaches and styles, and one could debate the strategy of trying to make this happen all day long.  Ultimately, all this really tells me is that none of us our perfect and it shows the importance of relying on God all the more in our journey as parents.   One of my favorite little prayers to utter is “God, please help these kids turn out OK despite my own stupidity and laziness.”

One of the moms is struggling a bit because her 2nd oldest son has a couple tattoos.   And now the third one has a sizeable tattoo on his forearm and wants to get one on his other forearm.    She has tried to argue for why this isn’t a good idea, and as is typical of young men, they think they know better than their mom.    Now, these young men, to my knowledge, have not strayed in their Catholic faith, still find it important, and still practice it.   They do not see any conflict with the faith and getting a tattoo.

And this is where my opinion comes in.

First, let me be clear.    I do not think, nor will I suggest, that there is anything intrinsically evil or sinful with tattoos.   Like many things, the real question is a matter of what is driving someone to do something.   But I do think that someone really needs to be honest with themselves in evaluating why they want a tattoo if they are indeed considering one.   This shouldn’t be problematic – we really should do this with everything we do.  Why do a I want ten million dollars?   Because I want to give it away to the poor or because I want to have an easy life with little or no responsibility?   Most of us would fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and while most of us aren’t going to get ten million dollars it’s still a worthy mental exercise to go through an honest evaluation and promise yourself and God what it is you would plan to do with it if it ever happened.\

Here are my opinions and responses to some of the clever (or not so clever) arguments on the matter.

  • Argument: Getting a tattoo today is like getting your ear pierced years ago.   It has become much more accepted, and is not looked at as a big deal.    Full disclosure – I got my ear pierced in my college days.   I was in a rock band, admittedly liked the looks of it, and I did it.   I don’t even regret it.   I thought it looked cool.   There was no more motivation behind it than that.   But I am not being a hypocrite here, in my opinion, with that comparison.   Because even back then, I considered the questions, and even then there were people getting tattoos and doing all sorts of other things.    I knew and considered that at any time this was reversible.   I knew that at some point in my life, I may well consider the wearing of an earring silly or immature.    I knew I could take it out at any time if the situation called for it without needing to mask it.    It may or may not have been a dumb thing to do, and I may or may not have had other opinions of me diminished because of it, but the impact was minimal.    Also, I could switch it up for the right occasion – a simple stud for normal wear or something gaudier for a show, or nothing at all for a trip to the parents who I knew didn’t love it.    So, I get the comparison, and the social attitude may be comparable, but the reality of what you are doing is not comparable.
  • Argument: But <insert morally upright individual> has one, and if he has one, it can’t be all that bad!     In Catholic circles, the argument du jour is Father Stan Fortuna , who is a Catholic Priest with tattoos.    OK, this is always a stupid argument for many reasons, and I’ll address why.   Before I do, let me go on record as not intending in any way to disparage Father Stan Fortuna.   I honestly have no qualms about him doing what he does or having a tattoo – again, he knows why he does.    But whenever someone points to “a” person as the example among a sea of counterexamples, it is in no way an honest argument.   If you are truly going to make your life decisions based on the example of others, then you don’t look for exceptions to justify your own behavior.   You look for what the majority of people are doing that you admire and respect.   Exceptions are just that – exceptions.   And there’s a reason why they are exceptions.   Now, lest you think I am making an argument about just following the crowd, that’s misreading what I am saying.   Being a devout Catholic in and of itself is already not following the crowd.   But once you commit yourself, then you do want to follow the examples of other devout Catholics.    Most importantly, Venerables, Blesseds, Saints, and the other holy men and women we meet in our life should be very important role models, emulators, and mentors for us.   We should follow this crowd whenever the question is something that has a moral or spiritual component to it.    And in this case, the vast majority of examples in this group have not littered their body with tattoos.   Exceptions exist, of course.   But you have to acknowledge the predominant behavior and consider why that is the case.   And it is  a much stronger case.
  • Permanence Matters: My opinion.   But while young people don’t like to consider getting older or meeting other people or needing to be a good example for future children and all that, time moves quickly.   I’m 48 and I can still very clearly remember my high school and college days.   I remember how I thought about things, felt about things…   young people today have a difficult time thinking we can relate but I can tell you those youthful memories are very clear – we do get it.    I may think it’s stupid to color your hair pink, or pierce your nose, or wear some of the clothes you wear.   And I may argue why those things are stupid, and you may ignore me because I’m older and I don’t get it (even though I generally thought the same thing when I was young).    But ten years from now you won’t have that hair color any more, you probably won’t have the nose piercing, and you won’t be wearing those same clothes.   Because you’ll grow and mature and change the way you think, and for your own reasons decide that it’s time to move on from that experimentation.    But you ink a huge Eagle – or even a Cross – on your forearm or your back and it’s there forever unless you go through the agonizing and expensive experience of having it removed.    To not even rationally consider this element of getting a tattoo shows a lack of maturity and foresight, in my opinion.
  • Desecration of the Temple matters: OK, I want to reiterate that the heart is what matters.   And someone may really think and believe that they have a good reason for doing what they are doing.   And they may even think God likes them getting a religious tattoo.   But God still made you the way you are – without them.    Relating this to permanence, you are purposely changing yourself.    Others may disagree with me, but this smacks of someone thinking that they can improve upon what God has made you.    This isn’t trying to keep you healthy or fix a medical condition.   It’s fundamentally changing the intended design of who you are and how you were made.   Sure, it may be cosmetic in nature, but it’s also readily apparent for all to see.
  • Size matters: I am against all tattooing, but like all other things of questionable nature there is scale as well to consider.   If I see someone with a pierced nose, I may think it unnecessary and a bit silly, and I don’t really get the draw, but it’s not an overwhelming shock.    If I see someone with a nose, lip, eyebrow, and cheek pierced I am going to form an unfavorable opinion of that person in some way.   I try not to be judgmental, and I am not supposed to judge the heart, and I try my best not to.   But this person is also bringing a bit of this upon themselves by publicly mutilating their body.    My judgment isn’t really one about the salvation of the person.  It is more a general feeling that something is really missing in this person’s life that they are trying desperately to fill.    Others may go to other unfavorable thoughts of what that person might be like it.   And you can lecture as much as you want about that being wrong, but it is also human nature, and quite frankly it’s not 100% wrong.   We are given the discernment to separate out right from wrong and right things from wrong things.   Without even judging the heart of a person, I am not going to apologize for knowing that there is something wrong or problematic about the actual act and display of getting multiple piercings.   I will just try not to jump to conclusions about the person – though it can be very hard to separate the two.      Likewise, I could probably live with a small tattoo that may have some unknown personal meaning, but the more there are and the bigger they are is going to directly impact my first impression of you.   And as to the argument that it’s my problem and not yours, that’s dead to me.   Sure, any judgment may be my problem to an extent, but it’s also yours.   Whether endearing yourself to future in-laws, applying for work, making new friends, etc.  these things are all your problem.   And unless you never judge anyone for anything, you can’t expect others to act any differently.   And if nobody ever judges anything, then God help us all.

I could actually go on.   Believe it or not, there are still additional points I could make.   But I’ll leave it to this last thing:

  • Find older people in your Church who you know to be faithful people, who also have predominant tattoos. Get to know them and then ask them if they are glad they have them.     I have done this on a few occasions, and in most cases there is regret.   In some cases there is acceptance that they did what they did and it doesn’t bother them.    In no cases yet have I heard anyone thrilled to death about how great their tattoo is, and they’d do the same thing all over again, and only regret that they don’t have more.

 

Of course, I could be completely wrong.

I Don’t Listen Enough

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It is a good and right thing to form opinions and to express them.   It is even better if those opinions are formed, with the best of your ability, in alignment with a well-formed conscience, with a mind towards God, with a mind towards Catholic teaching, and of course Sacred Scripture.

But we are human, and we all have our own life experience.   I wrote a couple days ago about how we all have a unique set of life experiences that help make us who we are.

Because of this, our opinions can gravitate to areas in response to specific circumstances and experiences.   Two people can fundamentally agree on the morality of a particular act, while still fundamentally differing on ancillary things in association with that act.   Whether you feel empathy and compassion for someone engaged in a behavior or whether you think people need to be punished for it will likely be due to past experiences that have led you to this point of view.   That, along with natural differences in temperament and personality contribute as well.

I reflect on my own weaknesses in this area.   I have very strong convictions and opinions on the rightness and wrongness of many things.   That is unwavering.    However, I think we often equate a pastoral attitude, empathy, and compassion with compromise on principle.

In my own experience, I sat on the board of a Pregnancy Center for six years.   The entire Board of Directors were very strongly Pro-Life and felt abortion was absolutely wrong.   But it would have been counterproductive and harmful if the folks working in the office – and the Board supporting them – had viewed the visitors with a judgmental heart.   There are times and places for the politics and the arguments, but not here.   This was a place to welcome them, to listen to them, to try and understand their situation, and only then could we try to steer them away from considering an abortion.   We needed to address the person, the situation, the experiences.   If we simply addressed the issue they would walk out and never come back, and probably tell everyone else they knew about their experience.

But in our personal, daily lives, how often do we forget this?   Shouldn’t all our interactions start with that approach?    Sure, they probably should.

But I’m horrible at it.   Because it requires that a person actually listen, and also care.

I am going to try and improve.   I think a simple way of doing that is to try and get in the habit of asking a question along the lines of “So, what has led you to look at things this way?”   And then shut up until they are done.

We’ll see how it goes.

Copy and Paste if you…

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…love Jesus.

…are really a true friend.

…hate cancer.

…don’t want toddlers to die.

 

As part of the Facebook generation, I’m really not entirely sure why I stay part of the Facebook generation.   I find that, more often than not, I am simply annoyed by what other people post.    The list is not short.   My liberal friends tell me I shouldn’t vote for Trump because he’s a horrible person, and then in a mind-boggling act of hypocrisy are planning on voting from Clinton.   One of my nephews is quoting gnostic gospels and arguing with someone about a pyramid in Bosnia or something.   Another nephew is gay and proudly proclaiming how “love won” because of the Supreme Court decision.   And then came the “solidarity” profile pictures that made my head want to explode.   And then the Traditionalist Catholics can’t help but tell me Pope Francis is an apostate.  And don’t get me started about requests to play games, or being poked or prodded or whatever it is that Facebook does.

But one of the more annoying things is when someone posts something on my timeline that says “I want to see how many of my friends are REAL friends.    No sharing allowed.   You must copy and paste this.”    This is the same approach as all those e-mails we’ve all gotten that try to guilt you into sending an e-mail along by saying something like “many of you will be too ashamed of Jesus to forward this and will delete it.   Those who really love Jesus will forward.”    Yeah – that’s it.   If I don’t forward an e-mail to all my friends I’ll burn in hell for all eternity because, obviously, it’s because I’m ashamed of Jesus.   Never mind that I don’t forward ANY e-mail because I actually don’t want to spam other people with a bunch of crap they don’t want to see, nor do I want to put someone through the same guilt trip I’m supposed to be going through.

I have a standard rule:   I do not copy and paste any message if I am specifically asked to do so.   If I want to copy and paste something I feel like copying and pasting (that’s never actually happened yet, but theoretically it could) then I will.    But don’t tell me to.   And this stand regardless of how nice and good and heart-wrenching your message is.   Babies are dying in Somalia?    I get it.   That sucks.   I may even look into charities that I can contribute to who are trying to do something about it.   I may even share an article about it (as long as I wasn’t told to), but I will not copy and paste.   Because if I do it for just ONE thing, then the precedent has been set, and suddenly I’m pitted against causes and people.

You think I’m your friend?   But you’ll only be sure if I copy and paste a post?    Get real.

And I love Jesus.   I’m not afraid to say it.   But if you try to guilt me into copying and pasting something that everyone will then know that a copied and pasted under pressure and duress, why is that in any way salvific?    And how am I evangelizing?    I LOVE JESUS!   NOW, IF YOU DON’T POST THIS YOU DON’T, AND I’LL KNOW I’M BETTER THAN YOU!   YAY ME!

And if I don’t copy and paste a post to raise awareness for sex trafficking, breast cancer, depression, yoga, or my left shoe then go ahead and think what you want about me if it makes you feel better.

So, the question is, am I being unreasonable?   As a Catholic, a Christian, and just a person trying to be a good overall human being am I taking a stand where I shouldn’t?   Or am I truly shying away from sharing the love of Jesus or helping mankind or just making a friend feel good?   Is my stand on principle actually innately unprincipled?

I don’t think so, and for now I’ll stick with my current modus operandi.  But I’m willing to listen to counter-arguments.