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No Easy Answers

I’m a bit confused these days on where my religion hits my politics. I’m probably not the only Catholic confounded in this area these days.

A little background first. I was a Democrat for many years. Raised in a blue-collar working town with an immigrant (and naturalized) father and a mother from a large Catholic family, it was somewhat natural. In my later years in high school and into college, my parents’ became a bit more affluent through hard work at good jobs and solid money management. While they retain many of the same values, they also became more conservative. 

Like many Catholics, I stayed Democrat for many years, turning a blind eye to the party’s support of abortion, atheism, same-sex marriage and its excuses for urban crime. Then two things happened. One, I had kids. Second, I watched my party boo God on live tv. I became an Independent. I truly believe neither party deserves my allegience, nor do I feel either represents any majority of American voters. I mean, really, how do you squeeze billions of people into one of two groups subscribing to predetermined ideas on everything? 

On many issues, I see that I now skew conservative. Particularly on social issues and finance. I’ve always been one to believe in being charitable to others, even when it’s obvious that poor decision making led someone to need. If I were a Republican, I’d likely earn the dreaded Rhino label.

Today, I stumbled upon the Catholic “rules” for voting as published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the sense that it was clarifying about our responsibilities in voting as Catholic Americans, in some ways I couldn’t help but be slightly uneasy.

That uneasiness comes from the great debate over immigration and refugees in the United States. I understand that Jesus called us to welcome foreigners and strangers and treat them with dignity. And I’m all for welcoming those who truly are fleeing violence and war. But I think recently, as we’re seeing in Europe, some are less refugees of war than they are purpatrators of violence and fear among those that would show them mercy.

This is where my confusion sets in. When terror is hiding beneath the call for aid and rescue, who are the real victims? Again, I understand the call to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. And I realize that God calls us to this task even for those who are being less than honest. Yet aren’t we also called to protect our families, our friends, and those around us who are more naive to those who would harm them?

As Catholics, a group that is dedicated to giving, are we in uncharted waters when our charity is returned with violence, rape and an overall disrespect for the values that provided the aid in the first place? Does God really want us to place ourselves and millions more in danger while we ignore the inevitable? Or would he rather we use our resources to stop the spread of terror and preserve the human dignity of others, like the women being assaulted all over Europe?

I’m not silly enough to see a black and white simple solution to any of the messes the world currently finds itself in. If there were easy answers we’d hopefully have instituted them by now. But as a Catholic faced with choosing a new leader in the near future, how do I decide whose dignity holds more value in our world? Is it fair to allow others to experience injustices like rape and personal violence while our leaders ignore the elephant in the room? 

Do our Catholic leaders need to fine tune our call to charity if it indeed leads to greater suffering and strife?

I’m confused.

Forget It

I was raised to be a good girl. If I didn’t have something nice to say, I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Go along to get along when necessary. Other people may do or say things that hurt you, don’t embarrass them.

This is probably how I ended up studying public relations and cultivating a career in the profession. It’s never what you say, it’s how you say it.

A few years ago, after years perfecting the ability to clean up other peoples’s messes with a nice turn of phrase, I burned out. Or flamed out. Whatever you want to call it. As I rose in the pr ranks of experience, I began to hate what I did. I tried extended breaks. I tried telling myself I’d get over my professional issues – they were a hazard of the job. 

But I couldn’t “pr” my personal life anymore. I couldn’t let people walk on my feelings and emotions any longer. I’ve become dangerously real since my children were born. Dangerously real for a person who thinks it’s important not to bottle emotion. And it shows. I’ve lost friends, jobs, and reputation. 

People are emotional beings. We have feelings for good reason. Not only are they there to speak to us about our own state of mind but they exist to remind others when they may have erred or stepped too far. And vice versa. Yet in today’s age, we are called by society to be emotionless. We’re never to call out anyone who hurts us, slights us or does something wrong. As a prize, were never to be challenged by others.

This is vanity. It’s the very thing that draws lines between people. That teams us up against one another like when the two most popular kids in the class got to choose teams for dodgeball in grade school. (I was usually called last.)

Earlier this week, amidst Christmas prep stress and all the crazy mental trappings of end-of-the-year holidays, my emotions broke free of their chains once again to spar with someone who may or may not have deserved it. My opponent was not able to excuse my outburst and write it off as frustration, as I see fewer and fewer people are able to these days. Friendships much longer and stronger than this one, ones with years of memories and love, are dissolved for one mere emotional explosion. Years of comraderie are instantly tossed because imperfect humans are always expected to be perfect managers of feelings. It’s like working for a tyrannical business manager 24 hours a day. Friends are no longer friends forever. 

Days have gone by and I’m left alone now with my feelings of inadequacy when it comes to social skills. I acted a bit childishly, venting to Facebook friends, many of whom reminded me of what I’ve been dwelling upon – why have I been vilified for being the person I am? That “real” human being who can’t help but bubble over from time to time when the world demands too much.

Why are we all so quick to jettison people from our lives for being real? For exhibiting feelings and emotions we’ve all felt at least once, or that make us think about our own behavior? Why can’t we forgive even when we receive apologies from those who need to give them? Why can’t we accept that people deal with frustration and rejection in different ways? We all do these things? I know I do.

It does hurt from the other side, too, where you end up wondering what happened and how you could be so misunderstood. Maybe this one will work itself out. Maybe it won’t. I’m sorry for my part in upsetting someone else. But I’m also not completely unjustified. I know I’ll never perfect the ability to make myself and everyone else happy. 

Forgiving I suppose is one thing. Forgetting, or the inability to do so, is something different. One of those human conditions it’s hard to overcome. Perhaps a survival instinct. Maybe we emotional weaklings will be evolved out of society someday.

Better news? Maybe I have a New Years resolution to work on. Don’t just forgive. Forget.

Hope Lies with Everyday People

My family and I just wrapped up a Christmas-time visit to Walt Disney  World in Florida. The resort and parks have always been promoted as a magical place. I’m beginning to think the Disney people could be right.

Not in a pixie dust, mouse who talks kind of way. But in a real world example kind of way. 

In the last few months, the possibility that our world will ever be at peace again seems to have slipped even farther away. Blacks hate whites, whites hate Muslims, Muslims hate everyone. Democrats hate Republicans. Old school Republicans hate new conservatives and the media hates Donald Trump. All we hear about is how people around the world with different belief systems and ideas cannot coexist.

Or can they?

If you’ve been to WDW or Disneyland in California recently, you know at the end of your trip you’ve had all that you can take. Not because of Disney. You likely know everything they do is exceptional. But those of us who visit…we’re the reason Disney has to be taken in small doses. It’s the strollers, stroller parking lots, scooters, people driving scooters like they’re at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, infants screaming on busses, on rides and at resorts, daily rain showers, toddlers spilling ice cream on their Bibbidie Bobbidie baubles, boys smashing people with Pirates of the Carribbean swords, the lines for Peter Pan’s Flight, people causing bottlenecks while they decide how many quick service meals they have, drunk parents in the Germany and Italy pavilions, parade watching areas, no chairs at the pool, people considering shirts in gift shops, people stopping everywhere to take pictures of everything, everyone checking the app to see how long the wait is at Test Track, and people, people, monorails, people, busses, boats and even more people.

After a day or two navigating the ocean of Disney, not only are you in physical pain, your at wits end. And then you have to battle TSA to get home.

But If you stop for a moment or two, and open your ears, you’ll hear people discussing all your family is dealing with in a variety of languages. It’s amazing really. In the last week, I’ve heard Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Farsi, German, Italian, and a lot of other languages I couldn’t pin point. I heard British, Australian, Brooklyn and Southern accents. I saw a very happy young Muslim woman wearing-glow-in-the-dark green Mickey Mouse ears over her head scarf and a group of Indian teen girls dressed as Jasmine from Alladin. I saw a very imposing African-American dad wearing R2-D2 Mickey ears and a hipster girl wearing a Yoda backpack. They were all bumping into people, strollers, signage, scooters and merchandise trying to get somewhere. But they were ok with it all because they wanted to be there.

And while factors that should have led to major annoyance and perhaps arguments and violence continued, everyone was relatively happy, gracious and hospitable. Disney was piping in traditional Christmas music. A choir, with Neil Patrick Harris as emcee, sang age-old Christian hymns while people jockeyed for the best view in the rain. Santa was everywhere you looked. People were saying “Christmas.” We listened to a   Beatles cover band together and watched Asian monkeys swing overhead. No one complained, poked fun, fought or antagonized. People were organized, well-behaved and happy. Weird.

I saw lots of very thankful kids of all ages, and parents who may have been worried about the cost indulging them out of love and true affection. There was no “privilege.” Just people who worked hard to give their kids or themselves something special.  There was almost no negativity. 

People – at least everyday people – CAN actually get along with and respect one another in non-ideal, maddening circumstances. It’s amazing we can take the stress of rat-mazes like Disney and daily life, yet our leaders don’t trust us-the ones living the American life they discuss-to tell them what we need. 

Don’t believe me? Try standing in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train sometime. On a Saturday.

Checking My “Privilege”

Everyone loves a good Internet quiz. I stumbled on one on Mashable I had to do this week.

It was about determining your “privilege” quotient. There were 100 check off boxes. You got one point for every box you checked off. The higher your score, the more “privileged” you are. 

I got a 52, which the quiz creators seem to think is somewhat high. Despite the fact that I’m not a man, was bullied as a child, and have been discriminated against for my gender and religion. After all, I am white, have never lived below the poverty line, have traveled abroad and remain the same gender I was when I was born.

The whole fight against “privilege” strikes me somewhat odd. Or maybe I should say backwards. I certainly understand that human beings have a way to go when it comes to equality, and I applaud strides to get us there. But why exactly does that mean we attack the achievement of those who have gained comfort?

Many of the questions on the quiz seemed not to be judging me so much as they were accusing my parents of beng successful people. I don’t mean one percent successful. There are many people between those in poverty and those swimming in money. I mean employed, educated, comfortable, hard-working middle class people. 

My parents sent my brother and I to Catholic grade school and high school. They sent us both to college – they made too much to get any real financial aid but not enough that paying tuition wasn’t a real sacrifice. Our family visited my father’s family in Germany, and he helped me buy a car when I was in grad school. He and my mother now enjoy spoiling my daughters, their only grandchildren. 

My father, who came to the U.S. after World War II, learned English, became a citizen, got a college education, and became a successful engineer, considers these things major achievements. Caring for his family, and preparing a new generation to contribute to the world, was a goal he set and achieved. He is a hero to me.

But apparently in today’s conventional wisdom, providing “privilege” to my brother, me and my children, is wrong. When my father came to this great country, it was all about using freedom to create opportunity. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had a chance to better themselves. Even German immigrants after the horror of Nazi Germany. Today, the best opportunity Americans seem to find is in discovering who is to blame for their misery and using the system to take whatever someone else has earned away from them.

I did not grow up rich. Nor am I now. My husband and I pinch pennies to provide our children with all we can. My parents were not “connected” people. They kept there noses to the grindstone, and have hard work and commitment to thank for what they have and what they have given to us.

Having lived a comfortable life does not make me insensitive to the needs of others. I know many people with varied human needs. I do my best to provide support, aid and friendship that lifts those who are down. I do that because it’s the right thing to do. The very international travel and education that’s supposed to make me “privileged” has actually brought me greater understanding of others, just like it was supposed to.

Not being black, Hispanic, poor, gay, trans or whatever does not mean a person has not been discriminated against. (The quiz, interestingly, did not have questions related to age, disability, etc) I’ve faced discrimination for being Catholic, diabetic, female, depressed, married and having children. My husband has faced hardship for being a farmer, hunter, union member, energy company worker, and white man with facial hair. EVERYONE faces discrimination at some time in their lives. 

Yes there is true, heartbreaking discrimination in the world. But it won’t be eased by driving a wedge between those who have found success in life and those who have not. Instead, we should be looking to those who have achieved to learn how to do it ourselves. We should be raising one another up with the gifts God has given each of us.

“Privilege” is something that is earned through hard work. It’s something that illustrates just what we can achieve. Not something that makes us less human, or less compassionate. It’s not yet another reason to throw stones at others.

There are Rules, You Know.

I haven’t been writing. I’ve needed time to sort some things out.

There are two things I know that I am. One is a Catholic. The other is an American. Like many others, these are the foundation of my being – the platform on which I have built my entire life.

As Matthew discusses in his gospel, I believe like the smart man, I have built my house on rock, which will sustain, rather than sand, which will fail.

Yet I worry, as it seems much of our world is sliding down the cliff into the ocean to be washed away. This problem seems to be rooted in our arrogant belief that we humans are able to set our own rules and guidelines for living.

This summer has seen some true storms battering against the foundations of lives built on Catholicism and America. Obviously there was the same-sex marriage Supreme Court decision. There have been three mass shootings in recent weeks, racial fights about a hundred-year-old plus flag, and of course, revelations about what Planned Parenthood really does with the bodies of aborted babies. Couple all that with ISIS, Christian persecution, sex-trafficking, Nuns being forced to pay for abortion, and there are fewer and fewer reasons to get out of bed in the morning.

Where did we lose our way? For generations, there have been both written and unwritten “rules” if you will, about how civilized society deals with such conflicts. They’ve been passed down by word of mouth. Written in our Bibles. Reiterated by popes and religious leaders. Some are included or implied on the Constitution of our great country. We should agree about more than we differ on at this late date.

If it’s not obvious to someone yet that ending another life is wrong, we’ve got problems. Yet in our cities, people die daily over drugs, debts, relationship problems, general arguments and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our young women are sold a story of rainbows and unicorns on abortion, only to find they will live with unmentionable guilt the rest of their days. Others, ignoring natural law, question the gender God himself assigned them, daring to tell the almighty he made a “mistake.”

Society now believes morality is relative. That we make up our own rules for our lives. Let’s be honest here – most of us don’t have the mental, emotional and spiritual capacity to do that properly. We are selfish, power-hungry, and win-at-any-cost when it comes to what we want and think we deserve. Which, when it comes to being decent human beings, isn’t much.

I haven’t been writing much. Not that there isn’t much to discuss. I just don’t seem to have much to say about our obsession with rewriting rules we already know work and propel us towards liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Yet each day, the world gets worse instead of better. Because of us – humans. As if we’ve crossed over progression and started downhill to regression. Freedom is not about doing whatever you want when you want to do it. It’s about having the opportunity to do what is right when it needs doing. It’s about having a conscience that nags us, not a society that tells us WE decide what is right. 

Until we get that through our heads, it would be nice if people stopped shooting one another, belittling one another and insisting wrong is right.

Will The Real Catholics Please Stand Up?

Late last week, I had an interesting conversation on Twitter with some Catholic and raised-Catholic millennials. We were discussing our perceptions about God being either a warm fatherly figure or a strict disciplinarian. 

Rather quickly, our topic turned toward what we’ll call “traditional” Catholicism. I talk to lots of Catholics online, and I champion Roman Catholic values and teachings. I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic institutions through graduate school — all post Vatican II. Yet I never really realized, until a local organization of the Society of St. Pious the X (SSPX) “reopened” a closed Catholic church building in my city, just how divided “Catholicism” really is.

There are lots of quotation marks in this post, mostly because I don’t know what to call some of the organizations and groups I’m going to talk about. In my upbringing, those who do not follow the Church in Rome are not “Catholic,” let alone “Roman Catholic.” But, last week, I was shocked when a religious person told me David Zubik, Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh and a very holy man, was not a “true Catholic.”

I had read an article about the SSPX reopening the old St. James church building on Pittsburgh’s West End for regular “traditional” Catholic Mass, or the Latin, pre-Vatican II, Mass. Lots of people have been heralding the beauty of the Latin Mass lately, even actor Michael Keaton, so I thought this was some “Catholic” group I didn’t have knowledge of. But I knew the Diocese of Pittsburgh offered Latin Masses regularly around the city, so it seemed a bit odd they would dedicate one building to Latin Mass.

Later in the story, Bishop Zubik was quoted reminding Roman Catholics that the SSPX was not a sanctioned part of the Roman Catholic Church, and that His flock should be sure to avoid Mass at St. James.  When a blogger I follow on Twitter posted pictures of the church reopening, I dropped him a tweet to let him know about this, and posted the news story. That’s when I heard from SSPX connected “Catholics” that neither I nor my Bishop were “true Catholics.”

So I read a little more about SSPX. They were once part of the Roman Church. A French archbishop started a group with papal encouragement to preserve the Latin Mass after Vatican II. The archbishop wasn’t specifically against Vatican II changes – he voted to move forward with many of them, including the new Mass. But as time wore on, however, his followers developed more and more ideas outside of Roman Catholic teaching. The archbishop eventually became estranged from Rome and was excommunicated by Saint John Paul II for ordaining SSPX bishops to succeed him without papal governance and approval.

Yet some of my Twitter friends seem to think SSPX members are the “real Catholics.” They do have churches and schools across the country, and as a lifelong Catholic, I was surprised by the size of this….”schismatic group” I hadn’t known existed.  I’m sure many of my Roman Catholic friends have never even heard of them, either. And even after research, other than the fact that they attend Latin Mass and don’t follow Rome, I’m not finding a lot of differences – or rather the reasons why they’ve separated themselves from the pope. They just seem to be really conservative “Catholics.”

Yesterday, I was reading about a so-called Catholic parish that ordained a group of female priests. As a lifelong Catholic, I know this is not Rome’s teaching, and is likely to get someone, or someones, excommunicated. These woman are obviously not Roman Catholics or priests, even if they identify themselves as such. I couldn’t help but wonder what SSPX would think of a move like this. This is probably the kind of “church liberalism” that generated their schism in the first place.

But really, in the end, I don’t get either of these groups. Christians, especially Catholics, are under fire across the globe. If we’re honest with ourselves, each Catholic likely has some disagreement with what comes from Rome. Some rule we don’t like or think needs fixing, theologians we all no doubt are. But we’re not all running off to start our own religions because there are both liberal and conservative schools of thought within the church. We hold fast to the tradition and community we love.

For Catholicism to weather the storm it has found itself in, we Catholics should be searching for unity, not dividing ourselves over who agrees or disagrees with what part of the “doctrine.” We believe in the same loving God the Father. We all believe in spreading the good news of his son Jesus Christ. We need to be tolerant of one another, remember we are all sinners and respect the different ways Catholics choose to worship within the rules. Creating the rules is not our place.

Catholics need to redevelop trust in the papacy and the Vatican. But we also need to realize that those leading our Church are still human beings. They make mistakes. They sin. But they are also faced with managing an ancient religion across the cultural, economic, and social divides of the world. If they aren’t moving fast enough, or are moving too fast on whatever our issue might be, we need to be patient in the process, and trust God will inspire.

In the end, we all have our personal relationship with God. We know in our minds that no religion, can meet the ideals of every individual among the millions of its members. But we also know it’s not up to God to agree with what we want Him to be. It’s up to us to change our lives to be what He needs us to be. 

At this point in history, what we need, what Catholicism needs, and what a God needs is for us to focus on what we have in common, and work together to solidify our Catholic faith and preserve the many facets of its history for centuries to come.