Tag Archives: Religion

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.

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Facebook Debate Review

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Over the weekend, a Facebook friend of mine, a Deacon, made the following post:

“I was saddened this morning to see how a young lady who went on mission trips with <our> parish and was confirmed, posted yesterday pictures of her supporting Planned Parenthood.    I know that she is unaware of the truths of abortion mill that they are running and how they are murdering children.   I am praying that she finds out the truth.”

As one might imagine, this was met with the full gamut of potential responses, from those in complete agreement with the sentiment, to those who felt he was shaming someone publicly, to those who thought they were being condemned for ever having gone to Planned Parenthood for any reason.

Every now and then I like to break down posts and comments.   Today, I’m going to do that.

My commentary:     This may be, broadly speaking, a sort of shaming.   No names were provided, but there were some details that could be identifying in nature.   There is an acknowledgment that the person may be ignorant of the truths about what Planned Parenthood engages in.    I don’t think the post is out of bounds, as it is right and appropriate to rebuke people engaging in sinful activity, as long as it is done with charity.   I do think, though, that the reference to the Parish should have been left off.   It immediately identifies the person as local.   Had he left it at just someone who he knew had been confirmed, and had gone on mission trips then in the minds of readers it could be just about anybody.

The first back and  forth was as follows:  

Responder 1:  I’m saddened that you would put it out on face book rather than talking to her personally.

Poster: I am more saddened that she would post a picture first without talking to me so that she was well informed.

Responder 1:  But you are the adult here.

Poster: She is an “adult” as well, and “adults” should know that planned parenthood’s main revenue is from abortions.   Period.   Too bad so many people are misinformed when it comes to that.

Responder 1: I guess I’m not OK with shaming on Facebook.   A private conversation with some give and take seems more logical.   As for the adult part, well I guess the older adult should set the example.

Poster:  No give and take on that subject – abortion is the murdering of a child – it only is a choice of life or death – and I do set the example of standing up for life.

My commentary:   I can actually see points on both sides here.   I actually agree that the preferred initial approach would at least have been to ask the person in question whether or not she was aware of Planned Parenthood’s activities.    Perhaps even ask outright if she supported abortion rights (in private) to see where she stands.    And as I mentioned, even if one chooses to use this as an example for public consumption, care should be taken to use it as a teaching example, while minimizing the risk of revealing who the “sinner” is.    Also, saying there can be “no give and take” on any subject I think is wrong-headed.   One can know with certainty that they stand for what is good and true and still have a give and take with respect to a discussion.    Give and take does not imply compromise – it can imply trying to have a reasonable discussion so you can gain trust and figure out exactly where they are.    To should someone down will do no good.   I don’t think “give and take” means what he thinks it means.

Having said that, it’s a ridiculous assertion that it is completely out of bounds to make a public statement about something that someone else willingly posted in a public manner, and it’s all the more ridiculous to say that you need to treat another adult with kid gloves just because you’re an older adult.

Responder 2: How is that shaming someone?   He stated facts without naming her.    And if she believes PP is such a great organization, why would she be ashamed at all?

My commentary:   Generally agree, with caveats as already stated.   Though, I will say that it would be possible for someone to still feel good about their own support of PP while feeling a little offended by being called out by a member of the clergy, essentially, as a supporter of murder.   It may be true, but there may have been a more charitable way to go about it.

The next responder’s comment will be necessarily broken up into multiple parts.

Responder 3: As a young adult, my mom took me to Planned Parenthood to receive regular health screenings.   Does this mean I am damned for life?

This doesn’t make any sense at all, which tells me it’s an entirely emotional response.   As for the source of the emotion (either guilt, or simply an inability to accept that just because an entity does some “good” it cannot erase the evil nature of it).   For one thing, nobody anywhere said anything about being damned.   And the phrase “damned for life” makes no sense at all.   You are not damned for life if you’re damned.   You are damned for all eternity.   Which means ALL of us should be doing everything we can do to make sure we’re right with God!   Eternity’s a long time.   Finally, just because you went to PP at some point to get assistance, depending on what it is you did there, there may be nothing morally wrong with it.   If you got some check-up or general health screening, especially if you were ignorant of the other things they do, then there’s not a problem.

Unfortunately, this is why many turn from organized religion because we all judge versus support our own.

She may be right that we all tend to judge.   But the “thou shall not judge” thing is also misapplied.   The entire context of Scripture makes it clear that we should judge what people are doing from the perspective of discernment, correction, and aiding in another’s salvation.   It is not an act of love to allow one to persist in sin.  It is an act of love to correct it.   However, on the flip side, many people do not convey that correction in a charitable way.   And flipping around again, many will be corrected charitably and will see it as an act of hate because they feel they should just be “accepted.”    We “support our own” in the faith by trying to get them to heaven.    When we see error, it can be a tricky balancing act to try and figure out how to go about correcting that error, for that person’s own good.    It is not an error of organized religion that we sometimes fail to act in charity.   It is a failure of people, in general.   But those who persist in sin after receiving correction cannot be “supported” with respect to accommodating that sin.   Yes, we still need to love them, but that doesn’t mean what they think it means, often enough.

Knowing God does not judge, the message that is being forced onto us from our church leaders is disappointing.

Um…   God doesn’t judge?    Then who does?    Is there no hell?    This is the epitome of relativism.   Only are we not to judge anything anybody does as right or wrong, but God doesn’t even do it, apparently.   This is dangerous thinking.

I miss the days of feeling welcomed to church versus hearing how horrible we are because we may not attend every week, don’t dress appropriately or may support Planned Parenthood for many of their other services that help millions of people.

My commentary:   Oh, where to begin.   First, I would be curious to know exactly how this person was made to feel like she is a horrible person.   It is possible that an uncharitable approach occurred, in which case that is problematic.   But I have an inkling – maybe more – that this person heard a perfectly charitable reminder about the importance of weekly Mass attendance, the importance of modesty in dress, and felt personally offended because she was unwilling to look inward and consider what was said with humility.    Now, I don’t know her and can’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that there are many people out there who react that way even if she is not one of them.

The other irksome argument about the good the argument about pointing out the good things about Planned Parenthood is the willingness to just turn a blind eye towards the evil that they do for the sake of the good.   Not to mention, many people put contraceptive services in the “good” column.   They aren’t.

But more to the point, at the heart of all these protests in favor of Planned Parenthood is whether or not there should be federal funding for it.   So, if you feel that strongly about PP, then write them a check or use their services, or volunteer for them.   But don’t ask me to fund an organization that doers evil things.

 

Anyway, there’s actually more, and I could go on.   Maybe I’ll continue this with another post if I feel like there’s enough worth talking about.

 

The Climate Change Pope, Part 3

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I’ve spent a couple blog posts giving the background on why I believe the Pope is wrong about climate change.   Let me start this post by stating my areas of agreement with the Pope.

  1. I am not deligitimizing the overall, general issue of stewardship of God’s creation.     I am not suggesting the Pope has no authority in this area, nor that he should be silent about these concerns.   I am not even saying that the Pope has no right to an opinion on whether or not human-caused global warming (or climate change) is real.    He, as does every person, has a right to an opinion.    As Pope, he has the obligation to instruct the faithful.   More generally speaking, it is proper and correct to challenge all of us as to whether or not we are striking the proper balance between respect for human rights and progress and respect for God’s creation.
  2. There should be many things that we see that should not be particularly debatable as either a good thing or a bad thing in the realm of stewardship of the earth.   Dumping of toxins, breaking the law, leaving a plastic bottle in the woods – some are clearly more serious than others, but all are wrong.   The Pope is correct to suggest that knowingly doing something that is harmful to the planet is sinful.    This statement is not Gaia-worship, it is a simple acknowledgment that we have a responsibility we need to take seriously to keep this planet as healthy as possible, because God made it good, and also because it’s in our best interest to do so.    No matter how pro-capitalism one might be, this should not be debatable.
  3. Consumerism is a somewhat strange word, but we should all be able to agree that, while the economic system is not inherently problematic, the human conditions of jealousy and greed are.   You can point to any economic system ever put in place anywhere, and you will have one thing in common:   greedy people will find a way to take advantage of other people, and will exploit the system to their gain.    I personally believe that the Pope is often a bit too hard on capitalism, as if the system itself is flawed.    Compared to any other system devised, I actually thing it produces the most superior of moral outcomes – you earn what you deserve (generally speaking) and it forces allocation of resources in the most efficient way for a thriving economy, which benefits everybody.     Clearly, there are shortfalls, as will be the case with every system, and we continue to try to create the perfect variant of a social-capitalistic system, which will never happen.   But having said all that, it is certainly worth noting the personal pitfalls of this system.   Capitalism does offer the opportunity for great wealth.   That’s not bad, but is the question is why is that wealth being pursued?     It’s one thing if natural interests or a great idea that can add to the quality of life of others is the reason for the pursuit.    It’s also another thing if an opportunity exists to make your life better without sacrificing other good things (God, family, etc.).   It’s quite another if the drive is purely materialistic, and the time and effort is sacrificing time and energy on more idealistic pursuits.   This is where capitalism, while not bad in and of itself, can be a source of temptation for those who may have a personal weakness in the area of covetousness or greed.    This goes hand-n-hand, then, with the stewardship of creation.   Most Corporations are good, all of which are filled with working people – I hate the generalization of all Corporations as somehow innately evil. This doesn’t mean that greed cannot infect the principal owners/board members of an organization.    As Christians, we can both believe in the goodness of capitalism while speaking out against environmental injustices when they happen.
  4. There are grey areas in the area of stewardship that can be legitimately debated.    Is it immoral to build a factory that will employ people who will be able to provide for their families if it means the endangered snail darter will be at serious risk?    Is it immoral to shutter the entire project, causing community disruptions, lost jobs, and so forth because of an overscrupulous view of stewardship?    Good and honest people will disagree on the moral high ground here.   Perhaps there is a middle ground that makes sense.    One thing is almost certain – not everyone will agree, and it’s almost impossible to say that one side is sinning and the other is not.

So, I think the Pope makes many great points, and challenges us to make sure we are not letting politics steer our religious or moral obligations.    However, where I do take issue is moving from the moral directives to a much more specific proclamation of what our obligations are as a world community, as governments, and as individuals in response to the threat of human-caused climate change.

It is one thing to take a position that dumping a known toxin into a river is a sinful action, and it is quite another to suggest that driving a car is a sin if the option of a bus is available.   If the moral instruction is based on a belief that fossil fuel use is causing destructive warming, it is understandable why that instruction takes place.   But if that underlying premise is false, then the moral instruction is also false.    Put differently, if I do not accept the science-based premise that leads to a particular moral instruction on the basis of that scientific premise – not on simply obstinate grounds, but on grounds of experience and research and (to the extent possible) unbiased human reasoning – then am I obligated to accept the moral instruction that is a response to the flawed scientific premise?    This is different from just saying “I studied the Bible and I don’t believe in Purgatory.”    That is not a scientific question that leads to a religious doctrine.   So, I am not saying that whatever I don’t accept I don’t need to listen to.  In fact, I accept that the moral issue of stewardship is an obligation on my part.   It is the specific nature of this issue that I have a problem with.

One may simply ask, “What’s the big deal?”    Well, it is a big deal, actually.    If the Pope gives moral authority to governments, the UN, and other secular organizations on this issue, it sets the stage for a much more aggressive response with the justification that the Vatican is on board.   I think the Pope, in his own way, has this vision of the goodness of they types of choices that will be made – people just decide to buy fewer things, drive less, think about the environment more, and participate less in the types of things that will drive climate change.   Governments will do reasonable things that benefit everyone.

There is good there, and the good things are the things we should do anyway, irrespective of climate change.   But going beyond personal choices, everything else is problematic even if the theory is correct.   And if the theory is wrong, then everything else is horribly flawed. Governments will tax – inefficient, and a displacement of resources that can help people.   Governments will regulate and restrict production, will deviate resources to unnecessary and expensive areas, and will be an overall drag on growth and incomes.   But far worse will be the continuation and escalation of social engineering:   (a) abortion on demand will continue, be promoted as a good, and will escalate in the areas of the world where it has yet to gain a foothold; (b) people will be encouraged to outright “fear” having children, further encouraging use of contraception,  (c) personal property rights and use of property will continue to be diminished and attacked, and (d) marriage will continue to devolve into an institution of self-happiness rather than as an institution of rearing the next generation.

Now, the Pope doesn’t want fewer children via an increase in abortion and contraception.   And he would condemn that approach.   But the secular world doesn’t care what the Pope thinks, except when he thinks something they can use to advance their agenda.   While it should not be the case that the Pope should never speak pastorally or on social justice issues due to the risk of progressives selectively choosing the words of his they want to use for their purposes, neither should the Pope dismiss or ignore the fact that this reality exists.   He should understand the consequences of his instruction, and at the very least make it clear that when he speaks of these things, he condemns absolutely a number of the human “solutions” or agendas around this issue.

He should, in my opinion, also not speak so absolutely about the truth of climate change as a result of human activity, but instead focus more generally on environmental stewardship and our moral responsibility.

The Climate Change Pope, Part 2

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In my recent post The Climate Change Pope, Part 1, I provided a brief historical context as to why I believe i can speak to this issue with some clarity from the standpoint of science and mathematics, as well as modeling.    I have done my best to take an unbiased look at the data, and have also studied a number of the less black and white issues around the idea of human-caused climate change (which used to be global warming, but I’m convinced that it became obvious that this claim was going to be problematic – nonetheless, climate change is still, generally, used synonymous with a precept that the planet is warming, and that is undergirded by a precept that the warming is caused by humans).

My past history has led me to the conclusion that the theory that humans cause global warming is mostly false.   Call it the Diatribe-o-facto-meter.   I say mostly false because I think there does appear, in my past research, that over the past few decaded the temperature anomalies ride slightly higher than what is otherwise nicely explained by incorporating cyclical trend analysis.   The differential, however, is not what I would call significant.    The fact is, there are very long term warming and cooling trends that take place over time.   We all know this without being science majors – there have been series’ of ice ages and series’ of warmer ages.   One can easily find historical charts dating back millions of years that show these cyclical patterns, determined through different scientific analyses.   Then there are intermediate term cycles withing these longer term cycles.  Finally, we know of at least two sixty-ish year cycles that take place with ocean warming and cooling patterns.    Throw on top of that the solar cycle that lasts a fraction of that time, and it’s easy to see why trying to jump to conclusions by looking at a 10, 20, or 30 year temperature trend needs to consider all sorts of things before you can start talking about what the actual impact of human activity does.

In my past blogging, I attempted to do just that, and my conclusions are that we are in a long/intermediate trend of warming at about 0.4 degrees Celsius per Century.   This has nothing at all to do with human activity.    From the mid 1970s through the 1990s we were in one of the short-term upward cycles.   My analysis showed that we peaked a few years ago, are on top of a wave where temps would be relatively stable, and then start a gradual decline for a number of years before starting to increase once again.    I posted this observation a number of years ago and it’s exactly what happened.

My analysis also showed that recent anomalies where slightly elevated after considering these cycles.    This could have to do with recent solar cycle contribution, or it may well have to do with human contributions.   So I accept a contributory impact.   But it is such a small contribution that it cannot possibly justify back-breaking action.

So, moving on from all that, why is this important?    I have always felt it is important, primarily, because I think we are victims of a combination of honest mistakes and outright lies.    Honest mistakes can be reviewed and debated and corrected.   Outright lies means that there is something more to the story.   The question is, “why would they lie about something like this?”

And this is where the Pope becoming complicit (I believe with good intentions) is quite problematic.    The goal of those who really, really understand the science behind this issue is to promote a particular socioeconomic outcome.   Increase taxation, disallow more and more land use, thus reducing private ownership of land (I just read today that during Obama’s 8 years, he has federalized enough land to fill Texas three times – that is alarming and something we should resist greatly), and – the greatest evil of all – to paint human beings as intrinsically at odds with creation and of lower value than planet earth.

In my next, and final, post on this, I will further explain my position.   In a nutshell, I am not suggesting the Pope doesn’t have a proper concern in making sure we are reminded of our human responsibility to care for God’s creation.   He makes great and humbling points that need to be considered.   My issue is moving beyond the more general spiritual directive in reminding us of our overall responsibility and the broad considerations we need to make in all our actions, and moving into much more specific case of climate change and fossil fuels.   There is a very real danger in how his words will be taken by many odd bedfellows, and in my opinion not only creates potential confusion but also actually, albeit indirectly and unintentionally, aids in the advancement of evil.

Merry Christmas (and Happy Holidays?)

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I took an extended vacation from work (and blogging) over the Christmas and New Years holidays.    I sincerely hope everyone has found joy thus far in the Christmas Season.   Also, as a reminder, in our Catholic faith the Christmas Season begins on Christmas Eve – and it doesn’t end the next day!

I love Christmas.    I encourage everyone to find time to continue to celebrate this season through Saturday, which is the end of the official celebration of Christmas (the baptism of our Lord).    Keep in mind that we have not yet celebrated Epiphany, which is really the feast celebrating the first time representatives outside of the Jewish world met our new King.

It’s really easy to forget to continue this celebration because we all start off the New Year, we get back to work, and life resumes somewhat back to the normal that it was in the days preceding Christmas.    Keep it up!

Since I took a break, I have not had my follow-up on the Pope and Climate change.   There will be one, if not two, follow ups to that post.    I not only believe it is an important topic, but it has always been a scientific topic of interest of mine, and so I will be spending time on it, both from a scientific perspective but also from a faith perspective.

In the meantime, I wanted to just place a few thoughts down regarding the annual weirdness around whether or not people should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or anything else.

I find the whole thing an odd mixture of political correctness, and also a sincere recognition that not everyone believes all the same things.   So here is a litany of thoughts on the subject:

  • Christmas is on the calendar. To not mention the word at all, or to be unwilling to wish someone else that you know celebrates Christmas is simply stupid.   We wish people a good Memorial Day or Labor Day whether or not we actively celebrate the meaning or intent of that day (most of us really don’t.   Maybe some of us do on Memorial Day, and fewer yet could even come up with an explanation as to how Labor Day came to be and why.   And yet, none of have any issue wishing each other well on those days.   That’s because there’s no religious association attached to it.   Well, for those people who are not believers, it still doesn’t negate the holiday itself, even as a secular celebration.   So there should be no issues with wishing anyone a Merry Christmas, but even if you want to be sensitive to the matter of religious affiliation, if you know someone religiously or culturally celebrates it, just say it.
  • We’ve reached the point where wishing people a Merry Christmas almost feels like you’re taking a stand on something. That bothers me.   I say it because I want to, but I, too, have been browbeat with the political correctness to the point where it somehow feels bold or courageous to wish someone a Merry Christmas.   I hate that feeling.   It’s messed up.    Further, people who read an e-mail that says “Merry Christmas” probably feel like the person sending it just took a risk of offending people.     That’s even more messed up.
  • Having said all that, I don’t have anything really against “Happy Holidays,” under certain conditions:
    1. If someone has no idea whether the people they are addressing are believers, celebrate Christmas, or are Jewish, Muslim, or anything else (and there is a more than reasonable chance that the situation exists) then see nothing wrong with a generic salutation.
    2. If I know with certainty that someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas then I would give them a generic salutation. I would have no issue with talking about my own faith or celebration of Christmas, but in this situation why would I purposely wish them a happy celebration of something they don’t celebrate?   While I may wish in my heart they did celebrate it, it would be somewhat pointless outside of any other evangelization effort.   It would be like wishing someone in another country a happy US Independence Day.
  • If I make the mistake of wishing someone a Merry Christmas who doesn’t celebrate it, the appropriate response is “Thanks.” Don’t be a jerk.    It is also appropriate, in the case of someone you may be running into more often, to clear up the misunderstanding charitably by saying, “Why thank you.   Just so you know, though, I don’t celebrate Christmas but I certainly hope you have a Merry Christmas.”    There’s nothing wrong with that response.
  • If you are a Christian and you know that someone celebrates Hannukah, then wish them a Happy Hannukah, for crying out loud. It is not against your Christian religion to acknowledge someone else’s celebration.   I’d say the same thing about Kwanzaa, but I’m still convinced that’s generally made up and I know of nobody who actually celebrates it.   But for the five people that do, if you find them, then by all means extend a Merry Kwanzaa, or whatever the appropriate greeting, is.
  • The most annoying thing to me in this whole thing is that a number of good Christian people now seem scared to wish anyone a Merry Christmas. It’s one thing to take some precautions around more general audiences, or in uncertain situations.    But if you are a Christian, and I know you’re a Christian, and you know I’m a Christian, and you wish me a “Happy Holiday” then I want to whack you upside the head.   You have now officially conditioned yourself into being in “safe” mode and you aren’t even thinking about it.

 

In the end, does it all really matter?   Well, yes and no.   What clearly matters most is what’s in the heart and what your intent is.    Some people, in my opinion, turn this a bit too much into a war against political correctness, while some do go too crazy on the political correctness.   And there are tons of ancillary issues around Christmas that lead to all of this – arguments about displays on public property, songs sung in schools, etc.    But most people just want to wish people well, and we should recognize that.    But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back when we reach the point of silliness.    It’s good to not get overly dogmatic about things, but it’s also good to stem the tide of cleansing Christmas from Christmas.

It’s Just a Joke!

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So, on my Facebook news feed I saw an article about some woman named Brandi something or another who is some real housewife of something that I don’t care about, and even though I’m going to write about it now I don’t even care enough to find out her name or why she’s in any way famous.

Anyway, this woman took an Instagram photo of herself squatting over the baby Jesus in a Nativity scene, simulating (I guess) giving birth.   She had some caption on the pic along the lines of “Remember the reason for the season.”

The whole thing is stupid and childish, and offensive.   But whatever – it’s a free country, and I feel dumber for even knowing about this woman.

The more interesting side of the article to me was that she received really negative feedback about the picture even from people who claimed to be fans, and people who claimed that they were neither Christian nor religious.

Apparently she’s an atheist, but her initial response was along the lines of “It’s a joke people.   Get a sense of humor.”    I think her version included an f-bomb, because as we all know f-bombs make your argument better and clearer.

I mulled this over a bit, for some reason that even I don’t understand.   I am a Christian and the picture offended me.   I also realized that I don’t really care what she thinks all that much and the picture reflects on her quite poorly.    I don’t even know who she is and I don’t care enough to find out.   I actually just pity her and hope she finds her way.   It should be noted that she did eventually take the picture down.   I guess she didn’t apologize, which was fine because most of those apologies are insincere anyway, and are usually along the lines of “I’m sorry all you stupid people who can’t take a joke are offended.”    Simply taking the pic down is probably more honest.   She probably realizes it’s not worth the hassle, she alienated some fans, so it’s time to move on.   She’s really not sorry for it, so why say otherwise?

But what held my inner attention the longest was this idea that whenever people mock other people in a degrading way, they rely on the “it’s just a joke” defense.    It’s worth considering what that means.   We have probably all walked the line between harmless joke and potentially offensive joke at one time or another.   I can remember getting into an argument with some woman who is blond who said “Blond jokes are never funny, ever.”    I disagreed.   And I still do.   Some are funny.    But some are mean.    And I think what happened there is she had personal experiences from utterly mean individuals who mercilessly teased her about her blondness and beyond.    While it is probably true that good people will disagree on exactly where that line between “have a little sense of humor, don’t be so politically correct, and don’t get offended by everything” and “that is offensive and inappropriate” I do think that reasonable and good people can agree that there exists such a line, and we should do our best to not cross it.

Some take the attitude that we should never even go there.   We should, at all costs, avoid any potential offense.   I personally believe this is entirely wrong and problematic.   I understand the reasoning and I think the intentions are good.   But it’s part of what ails our country.   We’ve reached a point where we can’t say anything offensive at all about anybody on anything, and the judge of what constitutes offense is the progressive left.    In their view, religion itself is offensive.   The bible is offensive.   And so on.    We are a much healthier society if we learn to live with a little stereotypical humor about ourselves.   And yes, even if it crosses a line, we should be willing to brush it off and move on with our lives.    Better to err on that side of the equation than to try and muzzle all potentially offensive words universally.

Some take the attitude that everything is “just a joke.”    That’s a cop-out, and it’s not true.    The real question one should ask is whether or not engaging in stereotypical humor serves as its main purpose a good and funny joke, or whether the main intent is to demean and mock.    This really isn’t a difficult question.    When an atheist squats over the baby Jesus in a Nativity Scene only an idiot doesn’t see that as a statement that says “I’m mocking the Virgin Birth and what Christians believe.”    If you tell the joke about the kid praying for a bicycle for Christmas by telling Jesus “If you ever want to see your mother again…” while putting a Mary statue in a drawer, then that is funny.    Could that be taken offensively by some?   Sure, I suppose.   Should we really be joking about holding Mary hostage?     Well, the joke is more about what the mind of an innocent kid who desperately wants a bike for Christmas is like.   It’s funny.   The other is a crass mockery.   In the one case, most Christians will either be outright offended or not find it funny at all, and even non-Christians find it tasteless.   In the other case, many Christians will see the humor.

Here’s a hint:   if you hate Christians or consider them stupid, then there is a high degree of probability that your “joke” is not “just a joke” but is demeaning and offensive.  I’m not saying that is universally true, but you probably should be more careful about whether or not that is the case.   And if you get that kind of reaction, then the blindness is yours, not others.    I’m not saying that Christians can’t cross that same line – they can.   They are just less likely to.

The same is true whether we’re talking about Christians, Jews, Muslims, Blacks, Whites, Women, Men, Blondes, or Eskimos.    If you have a hatred or distaste for any group of people and you are “just making a joke” then are probably at higher risk of crossing a line.    Just accept it, and maybe do something about that by looking inward.

But let’s not get crazy.   Jokes are good.   Not taking yourself too seriously is good.    I mean, if you’re blonde and can’t find the humor in ANY blonde joke, then I think you are doing yourself a disservice.   Or, perhaps, more accurately the fault lies on others who killed your sense of humor on the subject.   And I am sorry if that is the case.   But try to move on.

I still have a copy of a bulletin from the Wisconsin Department of State, bulletin 91-92 issued January 1, 1992.   Subject: Automobile Dimmer Switches.  (I’ll skip over a lot of it, so it will lose a bit of the feel of authenticity)

  • Pursuant to the WI Dept of Motor Vehicles Act… All motor vehicles… will be required to have the headlight switch mounted on the floorboard. The dimmer switch must be mounted in a position accessible to operation by pressing the switch with the left foot.  The switch must be far enough from the left foot pedal to avoid inadvertent operation or pedal confusion.
  • …all other vehicles with steering column mounted dimmer switches must be retrofitted… Vehicles which have not made this change will fail … safety inspection…
  • …This change is being made in the interest of public safety… A recent study … has shown that 95% of all Wisconsin nighttime highway accidents are caused by a blonde getting her foot caught in the steering wheel while attempting to dim the headlights.

Come on…   that’s funny!

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.