Christian Life/Personal Holiness: January 2009 Archives

For the past few days, I have been using a friend's car to get to work. She doesn't have the wonderful satellite radio I listen to, so I'm stuck with the local stations and programming. When I got into the car, it was tuned to a relentlessly, almost fearsomely cheerful Christian radio station. The past few days they've been telling me everything wonderful about the Obama inauguration and the "classy way" that George Bush and family left the White House. (I should note that these people are probably not big Obama fans--hard to say, but that would be my guess.)

This kind of cheerfulness, particularly in the morning--which, I believe, should only be experienced as a matter of staying up until dawn, never a matter of rising to greet it--would normally be enough to drive me out of my mind.

But this morning, getting out of my car, I thought, "Why not?" Why not look at all the good things in the world and celebrate them in preference to dragging myself and others down with my relentless carping and complaining. That isn't to say that I need to like everything. I don't need to, and no matter what kind of pep talk I give myself, I won't. But it does mean that there needs to be a fundamental attitude adjustment--I need to stop looking for things to not like. It's a habit that I probably developed in college as we did all of our lit studies. You were taught to dissect a work and see what things worked together and what didn't, but no one ever taught real appreciation for a work of art. Instead it was a kind of weighing of things you liked against those you did not with a judgment at the end.

No one has to like everything. No one has to like all parts of any given thing. It is a service to alert people to things they may not like, but it is not a service to go out and look for things they may not like. I don't do that consciously, but it is a tendency I fight all the time. I am the anti-Christian radio station--relentlessly downbeat.

That said, not much of it comes through here, mercifully--and I will take pains in the future that less of it does so. Why? Because, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." Not just rejoice, but be glad--appreciate the good things of each day--the moments when we can become aware that God really is with us. We rejoice in His presence and we are glad in the goodness of the world. Yes, newsflash for Catholics with Calvinist Tendencies (CCT for short) the world is Good. As part of creation, it cannot be otherwise. But the world is also fallen and so there is a large share of bad things that take place in it. The Christian Radio Station seems to understand this--while relentlessly cheerful and supportive, it nevertheless announces the need for blankets (we're having a cold snap here (praise God--natural mosquito control)), food for food pantries, and worker for soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The world is a fundamentally good place where bad things can happen because of people. People who, like the world, are fundamentally good but who choose to do things that fly in the face of God and the rest of humanity. Humankind is not "utterly depraved" by the fall, even though we cannot through our own mertis achieve salvation.

The fundamental goodness of the world and of the people in it requires our attention, our nurturing, our time. I can choose to look for what displeases me and thereby satisfy some difficult and distorted itch--giving in to that fallen side of my nature. Or, I can choose to see the goodness, beauty, and glory with which creation is imbued, while not turning away from the ugliness people and natural evil (disasters, etc.) can cause. Acknowledging the imperfections of the world does not mean dwelling on them (the tendency I've cited before). It can be done while still looking beyond them to the grace that gives them life and purpose.

Bookmark and Share

As I reflect on this day I am thankful, profoundly thankful.

I am personally thankful that despite all of my predictions about those small-minded enough to keep him out of office on the basis of skin color alone, we as a nation showed ourselves to be on the way to overcoming judgment on the basis of unavoidable personal characteristics. I'm not happy about the election overall, but I must admit that a small candle of hope and joy was kindled by the fact that a person of color could be elected to the highest office in the land.

And more importantly, when driving to the Magic Kingdom this morning with Sam and quizzing him on why I was home to do this the following occurred:

"Do you know why I'm home today to take you to the Magic Kingdom."

"Because it's Martin Luther King day."

"And why is Martin Luther King important?"

"Because he made it possible for brown people to live with white people and so we could become a family."

That really touched my heart. I explained that courageous people could do this before MLK and the like, but that it took a great deal of courage to defy social convention that way--courage I'm not certain that I have. However, in most places today, this is a relatively easy commitment to make.

But there's nothing to bring home a celebration like making it personal. And so, my thanks for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, a flawed visionary and a man of peace, encouraging all to look past the surface and to see the shining dignity of each human being whether black, white, yellow, red, Christian, Jew, Muslim, gay, straight--all human, all worthy of love and made worthy of love by the love invested and lavished by our Creator and Father.

Thank goodness someone had the courage to stand up for what is right and is only now beginning to be accepted as normal. His lessons should be the lessons we internalize and examine as we look to other groups who are fighting injustices and difficulties. We can't paint all with the same brush, but we do well to look beyond the individual configuration and to determine what is just and what is right.

And perhaps, for those who read Ms. Vowell's book, reviewed below, we might do well to internalize a little of Roger Williams's teaching regarding laws about the first table or any table.

May God continue to raise up courageous leaders who will fight the good fight for the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, for those who have no voice of their own. It is far too easy to dismiss and forget that we are visited by Grace in the persons of those who surround us every day. We need to begin to see the grace and act on it.

Bookmark and Share

An election is always difficult for those whose candidate has not succeeded. This is particularly true in the last election when the stakes seemed so high. For the unborn they are high indeed.

And yet, if Obama is a principled, thinking man, as his supporters argue, and if he is indeed a man to be president to "all of us"--those who voted for him and those who did not--as he has promised, the time for carping and complaint is over and the time for engagement has begun--at least until the man has an opportunity to take office and give us a sense of how he intends to occupy it.

This man, for good or ill, is now our president for at least 4 years. His ardent supporters expect things from him that no man yet has ever been able to accomplish, and there are early signs that Obama is significantly aware of this. Washington will continue to be politics as usual.

And yet, I do think that the man about to enter the office is of quite a different sort than what we have become accustomed to over twenty years of mismanagement and duplicity. He is something of a cypher--the product of his own propaganda machine-- and so it is difficult to discern how he will serve the people of the United States. By his own words, it seems clear that he will serve the weakest and most vulnerable among us very poorly indeed.

That is a matter for two courses of action. The first is prayer--each of us should be storming heaven each night praying for this man and this congress that will shape the years ahead of us. Rather than complaining and throwing up our hands in disgust, it is even more imperative to become involved in supporting the causes of good and opposing evil. To this end, we also have incumbent upon us the responsibility to make clear to this obviously intelligent man that as leader of the free world, he does not have the luxury of having any "question that is above his pay grade." (This was his famous response to people questioning him about the morality of abortion.) It is now part and parcel of his job to wrestle with each of these questions and to deal with it with integrity and with something more than a lick and a promise. Because if he is to lead us all, he must lead a divided country and he must come to some terms with that division that does not simply dismiss half of its constituents. Will he do this? I suspect not. But without the combined effort of prayer and engagement, it seems certain not to happen.

I was very pleased in this last election when both California and Florida voted to define marriage in the traditional way--Florida within its state constitution. (That's not such a big deal as it may sound--apparently the FL State constitution can be altered on a whim--a few years back we inserted an amendment about conditions in pig-pens.) I was pleased not because I support the causes themselves. I was pleased because at a time when the American people expressed their disgust and aggravation with the present regime and voted for some sort of nebulous and unreliable "change," they also sent a clear message that they are not interested in the entire agenda. We do not wish to have an agenda crammed down our throats. There needs to be a time of discussion with real engagement and real listening rather than talking past each other and dismissing points as though no points have been made. We need to hear what the people who support marital rights for gays have to say and on what they base their reasoning and argument. We need to recognize that both sides have not so much reasoned with one another as they have fumed at one another. Is the "slippery slope" argument against the validation of gay rights reasonable and logical? If the matter is a matter of sin, is it also a matter for legislation? Must everything sinful also be illegal? It is not presently so, etc.

Obama is our president for the next several years. Perhaps through our prayers and through our frequent (let us say constant) vigilance and willingness to inform the government, perhaps we can bring about some of the justice we seek and some of the real change that he has promised--change that is meaningful, right, and which makes us a stronger nation, more dedicated to the principles upon which we were founded and more dedicated to doing always what is right, not what is convenient. We must acknowledge that we are likely to see much good as well as much bad from the next administration. There is little that is unmixed. We will need to pay attention to everything that he says and does and we will need to react to it, not with the nearly senseless vituperation I have seen in some quarters but with constant reasoning and argumentation.

[note: I am dissatisfied with this entry because it fails to capture the spirit of what I'm trying to say. I guess in part that I am arguing that we have now assumed the character of the "loyal opposition." Rather than doing what seems to be the case in recent politics, carping and tearing everything down, it seems we would better serve everyone by engagement and active amd thoughtful conversation. We may not achieve all of our goals, but we can hope to maintain the infamous Washington gridlock that keeps us from progressing too rapidly in the wrong direction.]

Update: entry altered for accuracy. Obviously, this statement proved untrue, and I must have misunderstood my source in reading: "His buckling on Rick Warren is just one such sign." This statement has been removed. Mr. Warren spoke at the inauguration, there could have been no buckling. My sincere apologies.

Bookmark and Share

Some Liturgical Thoughts

| | Comments (5)

A couple of points before I begin--first, it's amazing the way Satan finds things to distract us during Mass. You'll be sitting there and suddenly, wham, this thing pops into your head that you can't seem to dislodge. What follows is my attempt to dislodge it so it doesn't hijack another Mass.

Second, I think it's important to note two things about the commenter. (1) I am not an expert on liturgy. (2) I am not particularly conservative when it comes to liturgical matters.

Yesterday as we celebrated the last day of the Christmas season I was looking at the nativity and at the priest behind the Altar (normally he is seated off to the side where the nativity set is presently) and it occurred to me how language can be so easily manipulated to further any given agenda. Particularly what occurred to me was the way Vatican II was presented to me as I entered the Catholic Church--and of that one particular liturgical innovation. It was presented to me as, "The priest no longer stood with his back to us, he turned around to face the congregation." This was presented as a triumph of civility and sanity.

Yesterday it occurred to me that there are no (or at least few) creatures in nature wherein the head faces the body. Generally the head and the body face the same direction. It would be evolutionarily counterproductive to always be looking at where you've been.

So, how is it a triumph to have the head suddenly face the body--the priest face the congregation? If he is leading us, shouldn't he be focusing our attention in the appropriate direction rather than facing the other way? How do we form one body of Christ with our head turned around and gazing back on us?

I don't feel strongly about this--I can understand the arguments on the other side. And I've never given much thought to the matter, mostly because when it is presented to me, it is packaged up with a lot of other extraneous items that do not necessarily have the same import--the Mass in Latin, the use of Chant, etc. (Again, not that I feel particularly strongly about either of those items except when they are used as goads and whipping rods. They just don't have the same importance as being one body and one people before God, with the Priest acting as Head in persona Christi.)

So there you have it--a summary of my distractions. Nothing important, nothing earth-shattering, nothing even particularly innovative or thought provoking. But I think it would be nice to have a Mass spoken or sung in English with the Priest at the head in the appropriate way. I wonder how I would react to such a thing. I wonder if I would be just as distracted at that as I was at these unwelcome intruding thought? Perhaps the first time, but afterward, I think it would be welcome. I don't honestly know.

Bookmark and Share

A Pair of Observations

| | Comments (1)

There are times in thinking when one line of thought leads is some odd way to another. So it was the other day as I was thinking about who knows what and it occurred to me that it takes some of us an entire lifetime to learn to say, "Yes." Others seem to grasp the point much earlier in life. St. Therese leanred "Yes" very early on. I have not yet done so. Learning to say yes, mean yes, and live yes--what a formidable task. But it is all made possible through love:

"Many waters cannot destroy love,
for love is stronger than death. . . "

It is only on the tenuous bridge of love that humanity crosses from one generation to the next. We cannot cross in any other way, but looked at today it seems so much more tenuous than it ever has. Surely this is mere chronological bias--surely. All times must have seemed this way to the people living in them. After all, how many times did God have to tell us that the right thing to do is to give some food to the hungry. Surely our own innate human understanding should make this a point that needs no further reinforcement from a supernatural agency? And yet, when it is not said and repeated constantly, the vast majority of us tend to fall back on "I, me, mine."

Anyway--you can see how thoughts start in one way and end in another. And I am intrigued by the thought that love is that slender bridge, the rope bridge across the chasm that looks at any moment like it might be swept away, and yet which, because of its Foundation, is more solid than the rock it is anchored to. And yet, we trust it so little. Or perhaps we don't, but there are those among us who look at it askance.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from January 2009.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: November 2008 is the previous archive.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: February 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll