Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: Politics of Vulnerability

I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a short magazine article before, but this is one which tells more (and more convincingly) than most, as it details facts about our culture not contained in many larger books.  R. R. Reno, editor of First Things Magazine, uses the October 2016 edition to present his views on the Politics of Vulnerability, and the changing culture in our country which has so many people confused --- and scared.
He begins by noting that “A pervasive disquietude is transforming our society and politics … We no longer have very clear answers about what makes for a decent, honorable and happy life.”  I think that is a good summary of things.  He then describes two conflicting metaphors for the journey of life:
“I’m just old enough to have internalized a fairly straight-forward set of expectations.  Life would be like a train ride with regularly scheduled station stops:  college, job, marriage, children, retirement, and the grave.  I could make mistakes and be diverted for a time, but the train would still take me forward, guiding me along the main course of life, however many side trips I might take.  This gave me a sense of security, a feeling that life would take care of itself.  (For long-time readers of this blog, you might remember I once described my own thoughts on life in a similar manner ---- before Medjugorje.)
A friend, somewhat younger than me, ventured a strikingly different metaphor.  He said life is like a sailboat heading toward a self-chosen destination.  The always changing winds require tacking first this way, and then that.  You must always be vigilant, assessing conditions and making decisions, all with no guarantee you’ll get where you want to go.”
I like those two metaphors with one exception:  the train ride I rode had God as the engineer, or at least as co-pilot, although quite honestly it took me a while to realize that.  To lead a good, happy life, I found that we need God.  We NEED God.
“(The) correlation of greater freedom and greater dissatisfaction (today) can be hard to process, which is one reason why our political culture has become so dysfunctional” … greater freedoms bring anxiety, uncertainty and fear.  “The paradox:  the most successful kids with the greatest opportunities seem to be the ones most eager for protection … Fragile people feel the slightest slights more acutely.”
The young today think: “Without a transcendent meaning to life, things are up to me.  I give my life meaning, but it seems that if I’m depressed, despairing or in any way unhappy with my life, it’s my fault.  I have failed.”  Reno summarizes that the young, detached from family, religion and culture feel a great vulnerability and isolation.
“The push for transgender rights … sets aside inherited assumptions about what it means to be a man or woman… I’m convinced the rising generation will be very unhappy indeed.  When everything’s up to me, including my sex, I can only count on myself.  This is not good news.”  Reno goes on to talk about the denigration of marriage and American history --- nothing seems to provide the young a base of comfort.  “Our loss of a sense of natural providence over our lives to say nothing of divine providence --- that’s at the root of our political turmoil … and in a rise in vulnerability and greater demands for protection.”
“The rising generation is more and more likely to ask big government to provide security and comfort.”
Pick up the October issue of First Things Magazine and read this article in its entirety, and share it.  It is a most clear explanation of where we, in our demands for unlimited, undirected freedoms, have gotten to.  We need to understand this.  And we need to pray.
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Here in Michigan this past week I heard the interview of a local college president on the radio.  He went to great lengths to explain how he was ensuring that students on his campus would be interviewed, as well as campus security people, and video cameras screened to perhaps find a license plate number, “so we can ensure the perpetrator is caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”  The horrible crime?  In a remote area of the campus, “not often visited,” someone had written on a wall the letters KKK and a racial slur.  The dean’s interview was in response to some campus protests, by what were apparently deeply hurt students.  Pull all stops to arrest the perpetrator??  I wondered what the dean (or the deeply scared and offended students) might think of all the graffiti everywhere in downtown Detroit --- should all big cities be made off limits to his fragile students, so they won’t be upset?
And on another day in Michigan I heard how the state legislature passed a new law:  if you can’t adequately read by the third grade, you will be held back a year.   (Currently, only 50% of Michigan third graders are proficient in reading.)  Why does it take lawmakers to pass a law to do what it seems schools SHOULD do?  Well, our state educators do not agree that kids should EVER be held back.  Why?  Well, the answer is in the vote to pass that law --- it was 100% along party lines.  The liberal thinking legislators --- and educators --- are not as worried about our kids’ reading ability as they are about their “maybe having hurt feelings because they are held back.”  This is just so sad to hear; this is how our kids are being taught, just as Reno summarized in his article.
I had reflected a while back how I perceived God was sad at the state of our culture.  Hearing things like those above about what’s happening in our schools and to our kids, makes ME sad.
As I wrote earlier, we need God.  We need to know that He is there for us.  We need to trust Him.  I fear, with our increasing fears of vulnerability, if we can’t find and trust Him, then we’ll find someone else.  And despite his (or her) self-proclaiming that they will save us, they won’t be God.
I had thought I might lead this posting with these events in Michigan, and I was going to title the posting:  “KKK,” but I had some fear that the posting then might be taken down, as other Facebook and Twitter accounts have been.  It’s what we’ve come to in our culture.  And I’m afraid this is only the beginning.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Review: Heaven Starts Now

I’ve often heard Fr. John Riccardo speak, with clear, insightful and piercing words, and so I guess I had expected something bigger-looking than this short 140-page, 8-chapter ditty with a common-sounding title.  Glancing at the chapter titles though, I noted the book IS well-organized (in typical Fr. Riccardo fashion), starting with questions about the reader’s plan to grow in holiness, and then moving on to discuss the biggest obstacles faced by most people, and ending with key points to focus upon to gauge one’s progress.  And each chapter ends with questions, to meditate upon or discuss. 
Reading the book, I loved all the saints, insightful authors and Scriptures quoted to re-enforce Fr. Riccardo’s words, in part because over the years I’ve read all those referenced books and authors myself and even used some of the same quotes in my own writings!  And when I read Fr. John mentioning that he had been to a Final Four game in Atlanta, the very same one which I attended, I thought:  “Heck, I could have written this book”!! 
But then I thought again of the smallness of this book, and I realized a great truth:  It has taken me many DECADES to read, to pray and to learn my way to what Fr. Riccardo has (yes) clearly, insightfully, and piercingly put into this small book.  I’ve read many hundreds of books to find the key truths which Fr. Riccardo has boiled down, for those who may not read so much, into this one.  And I am so humbled.
The operative word in the title of this book is:  “Starts”.  You need to start by buying this book, and then moving forward, as the sub-title states, day by day.  For teens, for friends, and for those you know who want to make a difference in this world, this book should be on your Christmas list; it will be on mine.  But do as I did, read it yourself before you give any copies away.  Don’t wait decades to learn what this book can teach you in minutes.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mysteries We Believe

Some Christians choose to believe in the words of the Bible alone, forgetting that for hundreds of years there was no Bible.  And during those years there were unwritten memories, some deemed very important.  Some were Revelations, like the Trinity, and others were just common sense good things.  Birthdays are like that.
As I write this it is September 8th, the day the Catholic Church chooses to celebrate the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God.  It’s not in the Bible; who knows if this date is the correct date --- and since over the years the numbering of the calendar itself has changed, it is very unlikely that this is the actual date of her birth, but we celebrate her birthday anyway, and we chose today.  It’s common sense to celebrate the birthday of someone we love, someone important.
Mary and Jesus are important people in Church history --- and no, I’m not saying Mary is Jesus’ equal.  She lived with John and knew the apostles for many years after Jesus’ death, and therefore more than many, they knew her.  They celebrated her birthday, and in tradition the Church has continued to do so.  And even more, knowing that life begins at conception, we celebrate both her and Jesus’ conception, on December 8th and March 25th,, nine months before.  It just makes sense to do so.  And the reason is because we believe that both were not JUST conceived, there was a mystery about their conception, a miracle if you will.  Theirs were no ordinary conceptions, or births.
There was a head of the theology department at a local “Catholic” university (where I got my MBA) who was quoted in Time Magazine as saying that Mary was likely a slut, and Jesus conceived in the gutter.  She had difficulty accepting mysteries (and when the dean of the school offered no countering arguments --- “Freedom of expression is allowed at our college,” he wrote me --- I wrote him that I was using my freedom of expression to cancel my annual support of the school).  This head of theology couldn’t even accept the Bible, which described Jesus’ conception.  She reminds me of Thomas, if she didn’t see it, she couldn’t believe it, or teach it, I guess.  But to my mind the specialty of Jesus and Mary doesn’t need proof, all history and reason says so, and reason says we should celebrate their births.
I recall how my nieces flew every year across the country to visit me and mom on mom’s birthday.  Every year that I cared for her, they were there to celebrate with me the birth of this special woman --- to us.  Growing up, all my aunts and uncles and cousins lived across the street from us or down the block.  Families knew each other, and celebrated together.  And so when sis got married it seemed natural that she bought a home two blocks from mom and dad.  And as her kids, my nieces, grew up and went to school it was grandma’s house they returned to when school was out, for snacks, help with their homework, and dinner if sis had to work late.  That was --- and should be --- family life, and so when dad died and I began caring for mom, it was only natural for my nieces to come and celebrate the birthdays of their second mom.  Mary is like that to me, a second mom, and is for many in the Catholic Church.
This morning I lit three candles next to the image of Mary in the church, and softly sang “Happy Birthday.” For all that she has done for me in my life, all of her prayers, I will always celebrate her birth, as I remember the three Hail Mary prayers that I say each night at bedtime.  She has not forgotten me; I will not forget her.
Her birthday is not in the Bible, but I will celebrate it anyway.  It requires no special Revelation to know that she was born, and that she was special.  How special she was is a mystery; we can never know for sure --- but I am very confident when I say she was not a slut!!
I think I will go back over this blog’s history sometime today and look at the words and pictures of those days when my nieces and I celebrated our mother’s birthday.  She, for us uniquely, was a very special woman.
We believe.
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Tonight I plan on going out to dinner with some people from the Caregiver’s Support Group I help coordinate.  It almost seems kind of fitting that we chose this day to get together and celebrate.  Like moms, these are special loving people who I am so privileged to know.  When times were difficult, often alone or even against the wishes of their siblings or kids, they chose to love someone who deserved love.  Even as some people relegate an hour on Sunday to God, many of these people’s loved ones wanted them to put the special person they cared for in some home where “you can visit them on Sunday”.  But they knew that is not how you show that you love someone, and remember how much they loved you.
For some of these people, their loved ones have died, and so in a way we are celebrating their loved one’s life and, of course, their birth.  But the real way to celebrate their birth, even as Jesus did, is to live the life we were born to live, being who God made us to be, and celebrating those special people He has put into our lives.
Like you.  Thank you for being there. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Getting Away With Murder

I was in the army again, and I was having thoughts --- no, feelings --- that to some degree I was wasting my time here, all this marching and the endless paperwork, oh yes, all the paperwork, for I was a clerk in the army.  And everywhere people were playing games to avoid entering the real shooting war going on, even as they said prayers for those there.  And yet, deep inside, most felt a deep pride in being here, serving our country, even if somewhat unwillingly.  It was a good, Godly thing we were doing.  And we all knew it.

I recall that I was in another one of those meetings again.  I don’t recall the topic, but it was being held in a large military meeting room.  I sat near the head officer at the front; it was where I was supposed to be seated, and I and everyone else seemed to know it.  I was a trusted advisor.  Around the table were many nameless faces, all looking the same, anonymous in uniform.  But looking around, I noticed that some present were “different”.  I can’t describe how, but you could see it in their faces, or hear it in their voices.  They were different.  They were here because they were supposed to be, and they felt the same pride in our country as we did, but we knew they were different, even as we politely ignored the fact.

An alarm suddenly sounded from somewhere; I can’t recall whether it was a blaring horn, like a fire alarm or an air raid siren, or whether it was just a quiet note handed to our meeting leader, who dismissed us, but thinking back I knew that something big was happening.  So did everyone.  It didn’t feel strange to me at the time, but as the others scrambled away, each thinking they had some duty they must perform, I (strangely) remained sitting there, like an observer to the action.

Somehow I knew, as we all seem to sometimes, that I was aware of what the others were thinking--- and doing.  Driven by the alarms in their lives, they felt deep stress and panic, and some were killing those who were “different.”  I saw knives rip into stomachs, and I saw heads being bashed in.  And as the alarms and sirens continued to blare, while panic still reigned, I saw all the blood they were generating, and I thought:  “How is this helping things?”  And so I found myself thinking and pondering that perhaps these killers (and our leaders) knew something I did not.  I was that trusted solder who always sat near the leader, and who was assumed to know more than others.  Why, this time, didn’t I, I wondered?

And then the alarms went silent.  People began filing back into the room.  The panic seemed over; the meeting was setting up to go on again.  I thought, at first, that the emergency was going to be just ignored, but I was wrong.  The leading officer sat down near me again and began to question the others about what had happened.  Each talked, rather proudly it seemed to me, about what they had done.  They had helped restore peace, they said.  All seemed aware of the now empty chairs in the room, but of this they said nothing.  It seemed strange to me; I was confused.  Why didn’t they mention what had happened to the others, the “different” ones?  They all seemed to be seeking comfort in each other’s silence on the matter, as if the evil too horrible to mention ceased to exist because all ignored it.  But I couldn’t.  Without calling attention to myself, I tried to get the officer’s attention.  “They are getting away with murder,” I wanted to shout.  But I didn’t; I seemed to be the only one concerned with the matter, and so I quietly stared at the officer’s face, hoping to get his attention.  And when she finally turned my way, I silently shook my head from side to side to convey my feelings.  She must know that the truth wasn’t being said here; they’re trying to get away with murder.  And that’s when I first noticed it:  the officer --- and all the soldiers in the room --- were women.

She looked at me, and clearly saw and understood the meaning of my slowly shaking head.  She understood.  Looking at her, I saw she was a nice-looking woman, not beautiful, not ugly --- not “different.”  It seemed she wanted to smile in response to my motions, but she didn’t.  She acted as the officer in charge, like she knew something I didn’t.  And that’s when I realized she was going to let them get away with murder. 

And I said nothing.

- - - - - - - - - -

No alarm went off this time, but things suddenly changed in the room as if there were, and I found I was wide awake in my bed --- and near tears.  I again felt that deep sadness I had felt only a few weeks ago, when I had perceived the state of our country.  And so in the quiet of my room I said some prayers for our country --- and for myself.  And I asked for God’s mercy, most sincerely.  I asked for mercy:  “God forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

They just think they do.

I got up and showered; I wasn’t physically dirty, but I felt like it.  It was still early; I had awoken early, as I usually do, but mass at all the local churches were set later on this day.  It was just assumed that everyone would sleep in on this national holiday, Labor Day.

I went out, stopped for coffee, and headed to the small, tiny nearby adoration chapel where I would be alone there, I expected, with Jesus.  The parish’s larger adoration chapel with its scheduled adorers --- including me this particular day --- was closed, for the national holiday.  I don’t know the logic for that, and don’t want to presume the worst, but it seemed the church’s priorities were wrong.  What better day to pray for our country?

And as I now sit in the tiny chapel writing these thoughts, I again see the face of the woman officer, who seemed so confident.  I almost feel like I know her.  And I recalled the other women:  Why didn’t they mention what had happened?  And I recalled my silence.

It is silent in the chapel, as I pray to God.  I don’t know what words to say, as I recall the strange military meeting where all had talked, and yet seemed silent.  And then I looked around at the chapel’s empty chairs.  “He waits,” came to mind.

And I am sad, and I ask for mercy.  As others celebrate this country’s holiday, entertained, I pray for it, and especially for our women.  I don’t know what else He’d have me do, but to be here with Him, so He knows He is not alone.

- - - - - - - - - -

Driving home from mass I thought about how the devil had first tempted Eve, but Adam went along.  Is he focusing on women again?  He tells them (again) you can get what you want.  And women are now 60% of college grads and will soon be leaders of our businesses, and one may soon lead our country.  And of course they are free to choose.  They can even choose what sex they want to be, or not.  They can be alone in their freedom, unbound to anyone.  (He told us we were created to be united with Him in heaven.  But what if we now, in our precious freedoms, choose to be unbound to anyone?) 

And what of the men, the Adams of today?  Well, even as birthrates in this country are at record lows, 80% of black fathers are not there to raise the children they were allowed --- by the woman --- to father.  And suicides in this world are at record highs, especially for those who “choose” their sexual orientation. 

I can see why God is so sad.

And He created man and woman and saw that they were good ---
and now they want to change themselves, to be and to think as they
believe they “have a right to.” 

They have a right not to be good?