Tag Archives: Society

Be Real, People

There’s been a lot said lately by people more qualified than me about the current state of the Catholic Church. That its archaic. That it must change to keep people engaged. That the conventional wisdom of modern people is stronger than the doctrine of an institution that has survived thousands of years of in spite of the human brokenness of its members and leaders.

I honestly don’t have answers for any of the Churches critics, internal or external. I do know that I have made a conscious decision to follow Christ through the Catholic Church and to raise my children within it. Of all the adventures I have embarked upon in my life, this has by far been the most challenging.

When I began blogging and sharing how Christianity collides – sometimes rather harshly – with the daily life of my family, I truly believed I had found my role in the “new evangelization” the Church was talking so much about. I thought it was a great way to use the amazing technology God had given us to make the world a better place in my own little way.

I soon found that trying to navigate the intersection between adult life and Christian morality was not so easy. The more I explore, the more I realize how flawed I am as a Christian and Catholic.  I believe in decency, goodness and, as corny as it sounds, brotherhood. Even when, as I am currently, struggling to find these things within me.

I have been very blessed over the course of my life – for many years, I was one of those people who was hated by others, including my friends, because things often seemed to go my way. I got good grades from elementary through graduate school. I had wonderful family and friends. I was in good health, was motivated and innocent to a large degree of the harsh realities of living. I did not know how fortunate I was. The last ten years or so have brought me many challenges and battles for which I was morally unprepared.

A writer at heart, I thought sharing those struggles as I reconciled them with my faith would offer support and motivation to others facing personal hardships like mine.

May be it does.

But its done something else as well. Its made me more reluctant to wear my heart on my sleeve about my beliefs and experiences. We live in a world that wants conformity and homogeneity when it demands diversity. My most powerful stories of God in my life amidst my own numerous failings are ones I could never share here. Not because people might label me a religious fanatic. Heck, I get that by just going to Church on Sunday and being pro-life.

No. I can’t truly share because I must also live for the future in some sense. In many ways, I’ve already hindered myself through my writing. I’ve given the world reason to exclude me from social groups, employment opportunities, friendships, even family circles. It’s not because I’m trying to be Catholic – it’s because I share my un-perfectness in a world that demands flawless living. Funny concept for someone like me who spent my professional life “selling” businesses and ideas, and “putting the right spin” on straightforward things.

St. Paul faced great danger in his desire to spread the Gospel and God’s Word. Today, sharing our spiritual experiences in life can lead us to isolation. I often feel I have contracted Jerry McQuire syndrome, if you remember the old movie.  I know I have something to share, and my blogs do come from my heart. I just wish it was easier to know what’s right and get on with it like Jerry did in the movie. Or like Paul did in the New Testament.

I also hope I’m able to continue as Paul did in the face of adversity. Perhaps like he, I can learn to be happy with fewer friends and even fewer true companions on my journey.  Maybe I can learn when its best to keep quiet and best to share my life loudly. But more importantly, perhaps I can encourage others that the goal of life is not to be what society sees as perfect and acceptable. Perhaps we can never truly heal our own brokenness until we’re home with the Lord. But we can help one another cope through honesty and understanding.

 

People are People

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the boxes we put ourselves in and the labels we put on those boxes. 

It’s somewhat amazing that in an era where we devote so much time to ensuring diversity in everything we do, that we actually end up driving people farther and farther away from one another.

My favorite incidence of this phenomenon this week is the idea that no white woman should have the audacity to wear hoop earrings. In case you didn’t know, those are apparently reserved for black women, and it’s wrong for white – or any other non-black woman I suppose – to appropriate black culture.

Huh?

If this is where we’ve come to in our culture wars, it should be clear that not one of us on this planet gets it. By sharing culture – music, art, fashion, food, and yes, even jewelry – we bring ourselves closer together and ultimately can find peace with one another.

Our love affair with technology often takes the blame for the social distance of the modern era. After all, it’s easier to say what we want to say (i.e., be insensitive to anyone and everyone) from behind a screen. There’s truth in that – I know I’m guilty of saying things online I’d never say to a person in the flesh. Who isn’t?

But self-separation really isn’t as new as the latest tablet or phone. We’ve been doing it forever really, so it makes sense to think people are farther apart than they’ve ever been. Society decides who they don’t like, and then they pounce. When we don’t know the type of person we’re attacking, it’s easier to stereotype and “normalize” ostracism. 

I’m pretty sure that now a days, no one really wants equality. Every “group,” be they women, religious, atheist, blacks, gays, trans, hillbillies, millennials, hipsters, liberals, conservatives, married, single, etc, etc, wants to claim some level of superiority over everyone else. Like it or not, equal DOES mean all lives matter. Even unborn ones, old ones, and dare I say it, Muslim ones.

I’ve become sensitive to this lately watching my husband maneuver through life. He is a middle-aged white man. With a beard, who likes coffee, and working outdoors. He goes to church, owns guns and trucks, and likes big dogs. He grew up on a farm and understands American laws at all levels. I guess you could say he’s the guy everyone wants to hate and blame these days.

But like anyone else living under any other label, there’s more. He works long hours at a job he’s good at, but, like so many, he is disrespected everyday. He struggles with his own health issues. He supports our family financially to the point of exhaustion. He’s all about “girl power,” being the biggest cheerleader our two tween daughters have, urging them to strive to be all they can be. He fights the system where he sees it failing people, especially kids. He provided extraordinary end-of-life care for both is his parents, and had been rock solid in love and support for a wife plagued with illness and depression.

Maybe he’s not so bad after all. Like a lot of other plain white bread guys I know, he’s working hard at life with absolutely no time to worry if someone is black or white or yellow or green or purple. Yeah, he’s worn and broken in spots – just like EVERY LAST ONE OF US. 

So it’s this simple : people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and conditions. We’re all here for a reason and we all count. People who do wrong should faces consequences – not because of their “type” but because they have somehow hurt another.  What we should be doing is encouraging one another to do right – in though, word and deed. Because in the end, we are all the same. 

Who would have thought that in our modern, enlightened world that we’d still have trouble understanding this?

Lent with My Dogs

For Lent this year, I’m going to try to be more like my dogs.

Now before any of you very serious traditional Catholics run for the Rosary beads, hear me out. I’m not talking about eating out of a dish on the floor, barking to go outside or visiting all of the other dogs in the neighborhood like my Great Pyrenees does. No. What I’m talking about is learning from my dogs about some of the amazing things they do that people seem incapable of doing.

People who know me well know I spend an inordinate amount of time with two very white dogs – the aforementioned Pyr, and an aging, yet very playful, West Highland White Terrier. If you don’t know me well, you might guess this from the fact I’m constantly covered in white fur.

I like them better than I like most people. Even when the Pyr drools all over my leg for a pretzel or the  Westie erupts into peels of high pitched barking every time the washing machine switches cycles. Its not because they’re cute and furry, although that does help (especially when one of them just ate an entire birthday cake or switched the gas on the stove on trying to get to an apple pie).

It’s because dogs know how to love unconditionally.

I’ve been observing them now for some time and I’m really not sure exactly how they do this. I know they don’t forget things – like when they’re punished, or dog shamed, or where the treats are. And I know they aren’t stupid – the Pyr can open doors with knobs and the Westie can hide his toys successfully from the Pyr. And I saw a lab on tv last week open an armoire refrigerator and find the peanut butter.

It seems that when they greet me with uncontrolled enthusiasm at the door, watch over me when I’m sick, snuggle with me at night and try to sit on my lap (the big one, not the little one), its truly because they love me and are happy in my presence.

I don’t know a human, even those who I love and love me most, who has never been angry with me, showed me distain, let me down or felt unloving toward me at some point. I have a way of torquing everyone I know off at some point. That’s just me. And I’ve paid for it in human relationships (hence my preference for animals).

But Max and Penny, those white furry angels, forgive me anything – unnecessary vet trips, tripping over them, buying the wrong treats, staying out too long, etc, etc. Sure they’ll show annoyance, but they’ll be back in no time for an ear or belly scratch, or in the Pyr’s case, a full body hug, like nothing ever happened.

I wonder often in their presence about this amazing trait. From what other dog lovers tell me, this is a hardwired thing in almost all breeds. They know how to forgive and forget. They KNOW nothing in life is more important than the power of love. No wonder dogs are man’s best friend. Its too bad we’re not more like them. Or learn more from them. Incredible were the masters.

So, my Lenten promise to be more like my dogs. I will be making more concerted efforts to love people without conditions or limits. To forget about the things that rub me wrong and remember that I myself am broken. To spend more time out of my house and my yard and with other human beings. And to learn more about my own shortcomings in loving other people for who they are – the image of God in a crazy world.

Yes, Virginia there is a Hell

Like many others, I’ve been having a hard time lately dealing with human behavior.

We seem to have developed excuses for everything we once agreed was unacceptable – things like murder, rape, theft, infidelity, character assassination, child abuse, etc. – and decided to live in a world where everyone can do whatever they want. We have even decided that its ok do things that are completely stupid and degrading because “we should be able to do anything we want to without the fear of (fill in the blank.)”

A few weeks ago at my Church’s annual carnival, I picked up a priceless copy of some essays by the Archbishop Fulton Sheen at the white elephant sale for a mere twenty-five cents. Its an old musty paperback from the late 60s, but its topics and messages are as contemporary as any bestseller on Amazon today. In particular, as they relate to human relationships.

One essay in particular has captured my imagination. Strangely enough, its about the existence of hell. Sheen assures us in the piece that, yes, indeed there is a hell. After all, doesn’t there have to be in order for there to be a heaven? Anyway, what’s really compelling to me is how Sheen describes hell. He doesn’t talk fire and roasting pits and blast furnace temperatures. No horns, pitchforks and spikey tails. Sheen describes hell as the absence of love.

At the same time I was reading Sheen, cops were being shot in the street, Jihadis were attacking France and Germany, Iran and North Korea were developing nuclear weapons, Christians were under siege in the Middle East, anti-Semitism was making a comeback, and every American was arguing with another over what could possibly be the two worst Presidential candidates in history. I was also lamenting my own personal loneliness, feeling out of touch with friends and family, and reeling somewhat from the unexpected resignation of our Church pastor.

I suppose the world was making me feel rather unloved. But I knew God was there with me, as I often imagine Him, standing behind me with His strong hand on my shoulder, gently reminding me that He’s given me the strength to push ahead. And then I thought of Sheen’s words – Hell is eternity without love.

There was a time, quite recently, when I could not see or feel God’s love in my life if I could not feel the love of other people. Both kinds of love – that of others and of God – were both there, but though the imbalances of depression, I was unable to know either. Quite clearly, it was the worst time of my life. Real or not, I felt the absence of love. Sheen’s description of hell.

Putting all of that together, the idea of hell came alive for me. I cannot imagine for a moment, let alone an eternity, living that way again. I remembered how I often felt I had fallen into a deep hole, the people I love happily living life above me, without me, within earshot. I had no hope that God or anyone else would throw me a line and pull me out. I wanted to die, but thought perhaps I already had.

Sheen’s words made me think harder. I thought of all the people diagnosed with depression or a mental health malady. I thought of the people I couldn’t save from suicide with my own love. Then, of those around the world who certainly live lives of greater despair than I will ever. I thought of those hungry, thirsty, homeless, poverty-stricken, put-down, disrespected, and forgotten. I thought of those who are Godless.

More and more everyday, our world seems to have less love in it. Perhaps its because we truly do not extend love to one another. Or perhaps, we’ve become so accustomed to pain that we cannot recognize love when it is there, often because of our clumsy ways of expressing it. Maybe we’re even beyond that. Maybe we’re so pessimistic about the good in our world that we make it a point, consciously or unconsciously, to look for hate. Maybe we expect it to be there because we’ve been hurt, and when we find reality is more complicated than our own experience, we feel the need to invent it.

Sheen described hell in his essay – but he never did say exactly where it is. If we don’t come to our senses, it indeed may be right here with us. On Earth. If it isn’t already.