Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: The Fractured Republic



Yuval Levin has created a thinking man’s book on where America is today, versus where many liberals and conservatives think it is, and where it should go from here.  This is a thinking man’s book because it would be easy to debate his words from a biased point of view, until we think about the bigger picture he presents. 
He notes the liberal desire to build on the Great Society begun in the ‘60’s and the conservative desire for a community-focused society like after WWII (or of the Reagan years) but he notes that at those times our culture and economy were at different points than today, and we can’t wish them back, or even create their return.  It’s like longing for the days of our youth; you can’t go back.  The way forward from today starts with where we are at today.  And Levin gives examples of our current muddled thinking about where we are at and about how to move forward, like recognizing this is an age of individualism and self-deemed uniqueness, and yet wanting a single government program to meet everyone’s desires.  That’s illogical.
He notes that in “opening ourselves to an immense diversity of cultures, we have weakened the roots of mutual trust, (and the) mediating institutions of family, community, church, unions and others.”  In praise of diversity, “our culture is becoming a sea of subcultures,” and the “Nominally Religious”, who have generally composed nearly half the population … are becoming “Nones” in their quest for individualism. 
Levin offers no simple answers to “Where do we go from here?”  He does, however, point to a need to reinforce our mediating institutions but not from the top down, but rather through subsidiarity --- “the entrusting of power and authority to the lowest and least centralized institutions capable of using them well --- a key to addressing the particular problems of our age of individualism”.  Capable of using them well is a good phrase, but a most debatable one.  But I agree with the general premise he makes that we must work hard together at the lowest levels, not the highest.  A government can’t unite us; we must know each other, in our diversity, to unite together in purpose.
With his focus on subsidiarity, I’m guessing Levin would favor Britain’s Brexit, as well as state lawsuits against the Executive Office dictates.  I think he would favor e pluribus unim over “celebrate diversity”.  And I suppose he’d favor orderly immigration, with local-developed plans for a “melting pot” rather than communities of like-minded people setting up their own laws (and flags) within our country.
I grew up in a Polish ethnic neighborhood, but we were Polish-American, not Polish, period.  We didn’t speak Polish in school, and we expected to learn and love American ways, rather than expecting others to change to ours (except, of course, we expected others to learn to like kielbasa).  And then we all moved away from those neighborhoods.  I don’t think Levin is proposing we go back, we can’t, but rather that we know our neighbors today, and work together in our local churches and communities.    
I think Yuval would have liked Magnus, whose book The Shed That Fed A Million Children I recently reviewed.  When Magnus saw something needing to be done, even halfway around the world, he rallied his neighbors to help those in need.  That’s subsidiarity at its fullest.  I think I heard it described in yet another Book as “love your neighbor.”  And you can’t delegate that to a government.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: The Shed That Fed A Million Children



I read many books, but it is a rare one that I can’t put down.  I intended to read only the Prologue of this one, but upon reading it --- and after my tears stopped --- I had to continue it to the end.
Magnus Barrow writes this book in his company office, a 100-year old, lopsided, corrugated-iron shed at the back of his dad’s house.  The story of his charity, Mary’s Meals, starts when as a young man he sees the news about a war in Yugoslavia, the slaughter of men, raping of their wives and kids, and their impending starvation.  His reaction is to buy a used Land Rover, load it with food, and drive from Scotland across Europe to feed those war refugees.  His next trip is with a convoy of trucks.  Over time he delivers needed supplies to hospitals, as bombs fall around him.  And he hears of starvation in Malawi, Africa.  Visiting there he meets a woman whose husband died of Aids, as she soon will, and her six starving children.  He takes their picture.  It hangs on his office wall.  It’s in this book.  And he begins delivering food to Malawi, with two stipulations:  1) the kids will be fed, for most their only meal of the day, in school, and 2) the villagers must prepare it.
Today 25% of the school children in Malawi (and in many other countries) get their only meal, in school, from Mary’s Meals --- Mary being the name given to one of their large food-hauling trucks.  Mary’s Meals feeds over one million children, each day!  Much of this book resonated with me, including the author’s visit to Medjugorje, and his commitment there which later motivated his actions, as mine did me.
I recently a story read about a very rich man who said: “Despite all my money, there’s nothing I can do.”  I read about a very intelligent woman who said: “Despite all my wisdom, there’s nothing I can do.”  In fact, there were dozens of these men and women pictured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, sitting on the House of Representative’s floor --- for this great photo op.  Woe is us!  Give us more power so we can do something!
And I thought of Magnus, who saw something that needed to be done, and he went out and got a used truck ---- and did it.
- - - - - - - - - -
Many of us ask:  What can I do to make a difference in this world, and who cares if I do (what’s in it for me)?  I believe this is the answer to those questions:
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my breathren, you did it to me.”  Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.   Mt 25:40-43

Thursday, June 16, 2016

They're Dead. Now What?



Every morning I get down on my knees and pray to God.  Sometimes the cares of the world or my life weigh on my thoughts, and I want to tell God about them.  These days, I’m tempted to pray:  God, please stop those terrorists who seek to kill others.  Or I might be tempted to pray:  Dear Lord, please watch over those who feel hatred from those around them.  Or I might want to pray:  Please, Lord!  Keep our enemies from using the good things You give us in evil ways.
I might ask God to do these things.  But, I think, no one seems to be asking God.
As for stopping terrorists, President Obama says Donald Trump is creating them, and he must be stopped.  And for his part, Donald Trump says President Obama is not keeping them away from us.  And a local respected radio show host says we should jail those who by their speech promote killing Americans, before they actually kill any!  And in other media areas are those who say we must keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, and still others who say we must stop terrorists --- like those who say abortionists or homosexuals are sinners, or, …. those who disagree with me.
I pray to God about these moral issues, and am tempted to tell Him what to do,  These other discussions I hear in the media are about these same moral issues, but they are not asking God to do anything, they want SOMEONE to do something.  And therein lies the issue they are not talking about:  Who?  And perhaps most importantly, who do you trust?
We’ve seen that many liberals would say that conservatives are the evil ones on every moral issue, and they should be stopped.  And certainly there are a goodly number of conservatives who would say the same thing about liberals.  What is, they may agree, a moral issue is being pursued with a political solution.  And in politics in this country, right now, those on other side are always the terrorists, on every issue.
There is a fear today that if we gave politicians today the power to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, all conservatives and their organizations would be banned from having guns.  If we gave politicians the right to put those who make terrorist speeches in jail, all priests and ministers would soon be in jail.  We’ve seen what happens when the IRS judges the morality of conservative group organizational efforts.
In America today, in Washington and in the media, there are no moral issues, there are only political issues.  That is the problem with any proposed solution being discussed for the terrorist problem.  Politicians would not be as moral, or as loving, in implementing any solution as God would. 
But back to my prayers, exactly what am I praying for these days; what am I asking God to do?  Well, it’s none of those solutions, nor any other I might want.  Instead I pray the prayer He taught us.  It starts:  Our Father … , and looks for His solutions.   
The right solution to the terrorist problem will not be one I create, but I trust in God.  I don’t trust politicians in Washington.
This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:  to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life.  Luke 1:70-71

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On The Killing of Gay People



These are reflections I had while in the chapel about the recent killings in Orlando.  (These thoughts seem to flow from my last reflections about “choosing”.)  Even before I put pen to paper, however I heard many media thoughts about these events, and the discussions seemed to spit between “what REALLY happened” and “what should we do about it.”  (I choose to ignore those rants about “who’s to blame”.)
These are thoughts I had on what really happened:
 My mind turned to the Parable of the Good Shepherd, whose sheep “know My voice.”  Imagine we are there, and hear that voice.  “Yes,” we might say, “this truly is a GOOD shepherd.  We want what He wants.”  And we follow Him.  Then, on a far off hill, we see a lamb, one who has wandered from His flock.  What might we think and do?  Might we not in our fervor say to ourselves: “Look at that lamb!  He turns his back on the Shepherd and, standing on a hill like that so highly visible, he might be encouraging other sheep to go astray like he did.”  And in our desire to show how important it is to follow the Shepherd, might we not take our shotgun and go kill that lamb, for the benefit of the Shepherd and His flock, and come back and proudly throw the dead carcass on the ground and say:  “Look O Good Shepherd, I caught this straying one.”  And then to the sheep: “Look here; see what happens when you stray!”  And wouldn’t we feel proud and righteous?
But, let’s step out of the story and look at it from a true Christian viewpoint, as ones who truly know this Gospel.  I think we can all agree that the Shepherd would not be happy at this killing one of His sheep, even a straying one.  He loved it.  And as Jesus later showed, He died for the straying.
And in a similar way, I thought of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  What if the good son who stayed at home was fed up with his brother’s actions --- and his father’s sorrows --- and went out and killed his straying brother.  Might he come home and proudly say: “Look, father, I killed that no good son who treated you so badly, and I brought your money back to you”?  And what do you think the father would feel and say about his son’s righteous actions?  Do you think the father would be happy?
And then yet a third thought came to me.  Imagine we are looking forward to a family reunion in San Jose, California.  Our kids said they’d be happy to join us there, and we sent them directions.  And we hoped (and expected?) they would join us along the way.  Leaving from New York, we were perhaps in Denver, well along our way, hoping any day to see our kids who would meet up with us and travel with us.  Imagine our reaction when we saw their Facebook post from New Orleans!  Might we not worry (or even grow angry):  “That’s not the directions we gave you.  You might get lost going that way.  You said (or was it only that we expected?) that you would meet us along the way.” 
Well, perhaps we would not actually say those words (but we might be in our hearts).  But then, we’d look at those posted pictures, see the grandkids playing on the beach, and see the smiling family at some tourist site, and might not our hearts soften:”Well, they’re our kids.  We know they want to join us in San Jose, and we know we’ve taught them well.  We need to trust they will meet us there.”  We want what’s best for our kids, even if they stray.
But now let’s imagine a sad turn to our story.  Imagine we receive word that our kids took a remote road and went off a cliff, killing them all.  What then would we think?  “If only they had listened to us!  If only they had followed our directions.”  And in our grief, might we even blame ourselves for not somehow keeping them on a safe path?  But if our thoughts went there, we would be forgetting all we learned and believed that the Catholic Church teaches.
So let me remind you.
First, Catholic parents (with the support of the Church) give their kids directions to heaven (or San Jose), but every person, EVERY person, leads a different life, goes along a different road.  Sometimes we can choose bad roads, despite the best directions, --- or be lured astray.  Second, God loves us, even if we stray, like the sheep or the Prodigal Son, or our straying kids.  And he makes all roads straight; He makes good out of bad.  Wherever we are at, however lost, He can still direct us to San Jose.  Third, the journey isn’t over until it is over.  Even if lost now, we can choose to get back on the right path.  And then for Catholics there is even one Final Point to remember:  For some, the final stretch of road to heaven includes a detour through Purgatory.  Earthly death doesn’t end the journey.  Who are we to assume that someone who went off a cliff and died in sin won’t still get to heaven (San Jose)?  They may get there via a road we didn’t plan for them, but God did.  And we may be surprised when we finally arrive in heaven ourselves to see that they beat us there.
This is what we believe.  Do not forget it.  Do not be anxious.
So what about the killing of the gay people in Orlando?  Well, regarding those people, they are like the lost sheep, the Prodigal Son, and the detouring children.  We aren’t to judge them or their actions, but to love them.  And like the killed sheep or killed Prodigal Son or dead children in my musings, we must mourn yet have hope that they will still meet us in heaven.
And relative to the Muslim shooter, the sheep hunter, or the good son, they may have been people who acted with good intentions, seeking in their own way to please God --- but, sadly, they didn’t really know Him.  A God who loves all His children would not wish them to do the things they did, and yet, a loving God would love them just as much as He loved the straying sheep or the Prodigal Son --- or any who chose to go astray.  They are still His kids.
But what of the just blame or judgment for their sins; are their no consequences?  What is justice?  Well, perhaps the killers never had loving parents who showed them the way.  Perhaps they had some illness, fed by their culture to appear as a virtue (even as narcissism seems to be a virtue among American politicians).  Or perhaps, yes, they made evil choices and nurtured evil in their hearts --- but even so, we as Christians are not to judge, or worry.  We are only to love, even these.  And as for God, we trust His mercy triumphs over justice.
Relative to the actions of all involved in Orlando, those were my thoughts.  And then I read these words in the Liturgy of the Hours:
Always speak and act as men destined for judgment under the law of freedom.  Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not shown mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.  James 2:12-13
Do not, my brothers, speak ill of one another.  The one who speaks ill of his brother or judges his brother is speaking against the law.  It is the law he judges.  If, however, you judge the law you are no observer of the law, you are its judge.  There is but one Lawgiver and Judge, one who can save and destroy.  Who then are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:11-12