Thursday, May 28, 2015

I Love The Pope, Volume 5000

And let me clarify that I'm not talking about the general affection and deference that we owe him as Catholics. I actually love how the Holy Father conducts his pastoral ministry. [There is some kind of transition coming.--ed.] [Helpful note for the stupid: This paragraph can be read straightforwardly.]

The smart readers are getting wise: "What hideous crime against mother Church has the pope committed, in the eyes of some alleged traditionalists, today?" That's the ticket, laddie.

I hope you're sitting down. The unspeakable horror, from which we shall never recover, that has countless dozens of the "faithful remnant" praying for the end of his pontificate...

He let some Protestants pray for him.

I know! The horror of it all. I mean, they openly and explicitly adore the one true God in three Persons, and have received a Trinitarian baptism for the forgiveness of sins, but you know, other than that, they're not like us at all! People might get the idea that we love them or something.

I was waiting for the day when Tim Dukeman became the metaphorical Muslim in the Vatican; today is apparently that day.

I mean, really, who are these people? They aren't Catholic in their hearts, these alleged defenders of the faith. Nothing says full communion quite like, "We despise you". All the great missionaries, that's what they did: just stood with their arms folded, and scowled.

I can't wait to hear this one. No, seriously. I would love to hear the explanation.

Nobody likes the "separated" part, but we're not kidding around when we say, "brethren." Somebody missed the memo. Sheesh. You thought I was tough?

5 Pointed Thoughts For Today

5. My vague awareness that some Christian somewhere has been mean or judgy does not affect my willingness to affirm traditional Christian teaching.

4. You will not see heartfelt apologies here, with me purporting to speak on behalf of the "Church," whatever someone means by that.

3. If you say, "I'm inclined toward a certain sin with a stigma, and frankly, I fail more than I succeed, but I want to live in accord with God's will," that begins to elicit my compassion.

2. I am shocked! Shocked that a sinner who made peace with a sin found a "home" in the Episcopal communion.

1. Sinners always say they want to find a place that's "welcoming." Just once, I want to look at them and say, "You know where else is welcoming? Hell."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Go, Bernie, Go?

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, has recently announced a run for president. I have seen him on TV a few times. One thing you can say about him: he's one of the most earnest, ardent ideologues you will ever find. I mean "ideologue" in the best possible sense: a deeply principled person, who generally views most calls to compromise as a capitulation to the powers arrayed against the weakest and most disenfranchised. He's the kind of progressive you'd like, if he didn't think you were evil.

There are three kinds of progressives: 1. Committed, passionate, deeply misguided, and otherwise misinformed. 2. committed, passionate, deeply misguided, who can't possibly believe that one's political adversaries don't agree with him or her. This kind may even hate them, because 1) OMG, these people are so stupid! or 2) these people seem to win more elections than us. And 3. Smug, arrogant jerks, who don't actually care about anything or anybody, they just have a crew of people they'd like to impress. Belittling Republicans and other non-progressives is just the price of admission.

If I'm being really honest, some mix of the second and third really yank my chain, because I am a compassionate, sensitive guy, who really believes in making things better for everybody. Whatever you'd label me ideologically, I am that guy, full stop. There are some overlaps in the categories here, and that's too bad, because a lot of these people, I want to like. Admire, even. I think Dr. Haidt is really on to something, saying essentially that we have different balances of core values, and that, depending on that balance, we frame issues--even the words we use--in different ways. I saw this kat on Bill Moyers* (don't judge me) and I definitely wanted to read/hear more from this guy.

In any case, I think Bernie is firmly in the first camp. If you make him mad, he can fluctuate, but there's no guile in the man. We definitely need more people with no guile in this game. People who say what they really think, who don't change on principles--or even issues--with the wind.

Anyway, we recall that socialism is really bad. No, really, really bad. We notice if we're paying reverent attention that holy mother isn't ready to bet the farm on some forms of "capitalism," either. Anyway, so long as Bernie and the Democrats support abortion, and are ambiguous about property rights as such, it's not a live option. "Gay rights," etc. take your pick. Catholic, the Democratic Party hates what you must profess. Even as a fire-breathing, card-carrying member of the GOP, I know they aren't much to write home about, either. But they don't openly attack the Church, attempting to trample the consciences of believers. At least not yet.

I hope Bernie does well; I hope he helps us to see underlying principles; I hope he imbues all of us with a preference for the poor, as the Church has already instructed us. Yet if he does well, I know it will help my party (and my guy). I hope that's not too cynical. Go, Bernie, go! Sort of.

Read Of The Day

Like a beacon cutting through a dense fog off the Atlantic coast. [These are the Days Of Our Lives!--ed.] Shut up! [Oh, come on! That was hilarious!--ed.] I think you have an exaggerated view of your own talents. [You should know.--ed.] Bah!

No, Seriously: I Love The Movie "Independence Day"

It's the quintessential action movie; it's the quintessential "don't think too hard" sci-fi movie; it's vintage Will Smith, for good or ill, I suppose. It's underrated for its heart. Maybe that's why I'm writing this.

If you add up the slew of really good acting performances--Smith, Pullman, Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, and on and on, you get a good movie, no matter what critics say, or the prevailing belief that you're not allowed to appreciate a mega-blockbuster as a good movie. Did you know this movie grossed over 847 million dollars, worldwide? At the time, it was the second-highest total of all time. Somebody liked it.

We have coined the unfortunate phrase, "disaster porn" since this film to talk about the tendency to destroy everything to make the point that whatever has happened is really, really, bad, but it was legitimately impressive and new in 1996. I just keep thinking that the relationships between the characters are believable and work well. This is why this movie works, on a human level.

Hirsch and Goldblum are really great as father and son. Pullman just kills it as the POTUS, delivering one of the best speeches ever, on the eve of the final battle. Goldblum and Smith are great together when they go to sabotage the bad guys.

Those kids. If the "President's" little daughter, and "Capt. Hiller's" little son don't just make you want to squeeze them, you may be a troll.

There's a wedding, between Smith's Hiller, and Vivica A. Fox's Jasmine Dubrow. Margaret Colin plays Goldblum's estranged wife; they may even be divorced. They get back together! Don't blame me for being pleased.

Harry Connick, Jr. plays Will's Marine pilot crony, and he's hilarious and endearing. He does a great impression of Jesse Jackson (no kidding), reminding us all that, hey, that guy used to be important, and we all used to like him.

The only weak point of the movie from a Christian moral perspective may be the conversation between the president's wife, critically injured, and Jasmine, who eventually tells Mrs. Whitmore that she is an exotic dancer. The First Lady says (correctly), "I'm sorry." Jasmine says, "Don't be." She makes good money, blah, blah, "sex-positive" nonsense, blah. It's one thing to treat people like people, even if they are in disreputable work; it's another thing to believe the lie that there is no disreputable work. But really, a very good movie. Heroism, drama, action, humor, good acting...what do you want?

Of course, I'm pumped for the sequel. We don't need it, but I'll be watching next summer.

Side-bar: I think Whitmore has to be a Democrat. The GOP doesn't need to nominate ex-fighter pilot presidential candidates to win. [Didn't they actually do this?--ed.] Touche. Still, that's my bet. P.S. OK, it's awesome that the president flies into battle, even if we are a bunch of militaristic jingoists. I digress.

I Figured It Out

I figured out why Christian Contemporary Music sounds cheesy, as it were. Actually, that Gungor dude nailed it, but I'm not chasing that link down. It's very simple: Loving God is too big for this. The music can't handle it. I just sensed it while I listened to, aptly enough, "Love Song For A Savior" by Jars Of Clay. It's a great song for what it is. It's almost great pop music. Here's reality, though: Jesus will never be popular. He will never be cool. He's Lord and God; he doesn't need you or me. The fact that he chooses us, to need us, as it were, tells us only about our need. I digress.

This is why I'm not a musical relativist. If I want to love God with all my heart in song, I need sacred music. It doesn't mean that it has to be from one culture or time; don't get in a huff. It does mean there actually is a sacred/secular distinction, and that's OK. If I may, I'm tired of hearing there isn't one. That was among the worst things they tried to teach me at seminary among the separated brethren. You're trying to say that you want Truth to touch every part of your life; to state it more like we have heard it, there is no square-inch of this universe that belongs to someone other than God in Christ. Just say that.

They taught you and me to reject the sacred/secular distinction because they are afraid of clericalism, the idea that only the clergy matters, that only the liturgical affairs and evangelistic efforts of the Church as such are important. They think this is synonymous with Catholicism. I suppose it can be. But that's why they bought the Protestant story; that's why if you're reading this, you probably have.

There is no point in pretending that Lionel Richie (God love him) and Bach are the same. I'm sorry, but not. One is better, and higher. It isn't to say that you can't make something common, and give it to Jesus. What would pop music sound like, if everybody knew Christ, and wanted to get to Heaven?

Intellectually, we might even know that in a strict sense, romantic love is a poor analogy for loving God. As mysticism, eros has been a fruitful theme, but the key is, the context of the Tradition, where it has been taught and believed for century after century that celibacy is greater than marriage.

The understanding and appreciation of the apostolate of the laity has deepened with time, but again, only in the context where it is taught and believed that the priesthood is a higher calling. People think that saying that denigrates the lesser thing. Not so. The right ordering of things allows for them to flourish.

CCM never has been fully aware of the ambiguity between adoration, evangelism, and entertainment (and mass appeal). And that's why it does none of them particularly well, outside a subculture. We need also to be comfortable making people uncomfortable with our loving of God.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. I can't be the only person who has thought, ""Grey's Anatomy" is one of the best shows I've ever seen" whilst also thinking, "I want to punch Shonda Rhimes (the creator) right in the face."

4. I have always loved that Snow Patrol song, "Chasing Cars," even if it's a little co-dependent. I don't feel like the sort of guy who likes Snow Patrol, but hey, that song works.

3. "ER" is still the greatest hospital drama ever, but "St. Elsewhere" is lurking close behind.

2. I think hospital dramas are pretty hard to foul up, really. Life and death are freighted with an indelible significance. Just give us characters we like, and you're set for at least half a decade.

1. I'd love to be one of those pious people who doesn't watch TV or movies, but I'm not. I love people and their stories. Our reflection of ourselves in entertainment may be realistic or less so, but there is something of us in every good story.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

I always feel conflicting things on this day. America is really good at taking personal virtue and using it as a shield against criticism of itself. We do not have the right to fail to inquire whether the deaths of honorable men have taken place in the service of just causes, undertaken by just means.

And yet there is something undeniably moving about the courage of those who die for the sake of others. Even in the most absurdly ill-conceived military endeavor, when warriors fight for each other, seeking only to survive, it is praiseworthy.

Nationalism is so insidious, precisely because by means of war, it mimics martyrdom, our greatest example of love and self-sacrifice, given by Our Lord and his disciples after him.

Freedom isn't free, but what is freedom? Would you do anything to keep it? That's a good question to ponder today. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

5 Astonishing Sports Facts

5. No team in the NBA has ever won a best-of-7 playoff series after trailing 3-0. Both conference finals series are 3-0.

4. Greg Maddux won at least 15 games every MLB season for 17 consecutive years.

3. If you took away every one of Wayne Gretzky's 894 goals (most all time), he would still be the NHL's all-time leader in total points (goals and assists).

2. Recently, the NHL's all-time leader in wins by a goaltender, Martin Brodeur, shut out (no goals allowed) the opposing team for the 125th time in his illustrious career. He filled in for Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, who, as of that night, had 124 wins.

1. In 2009, a writer for ESPN predicted that in Roger Federer, we were about to witness the greatest twilight of a career in the history of tennis. Roger Federer is currently the #2 player in the world.

Love Came Down

Never forget the Cross. That's an axiom. Upon it, the Lamb of God took away all the sins of the world. There is more we could say, but I won't, for prudence and clarity.

I realized the other day that we should not forget the Incarnation. He would be Priest and Victim at Calvary, but his willingness to do it was plain when he became one of us. God isn't some ogre in the sky, waiting to smack you with a clipboard; he came to take away your guilt, your shame, all of the things that make you (and me) less us than we are supposed to be.

The fear of Hell won't make you love with any love worth sharing. The heart-knowledge that, on that day, we got a fresh start that will never be undone, that will change the world. Feels a bit odd writing about this on Pentecost Sunday, but really, the Holy Spirit pours the love into our hearts, by which we know and see that we are loved.

There is no more waiting, no more "How long, O Lord?," in a certain sense, because God answered our cries in Christ. I used to think the saints were crazy. Yes, they are the saints, and it wasn't in any impious way, but I wondered how they could suffer so much, and have so much joy. A ton of them have asked God to suffer. Once you know at the deepest level of yourself that God is your Father, there isn't anything that can take your joy. They became witnesses of the Lord in suffering, precisely because the Light of the world is greater than any darkness.

My friend Johnny sang it this way: "'cause tonight's the night the world begins again." God's love and mercy makes today always the time to begin again.

Holy Spirit, pour into our hearts the love that will change the world. Remind us that we are children of the Father, who will never be orphaned. Speak it deep in our hearts, deeper than any fear or temptation will ever reach. We ask this through Christ, Amen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

More Than Words

It's not only the band Extreme's 1991 anthem to fornication, it's also a reality of the spiritual life. If you and I don't go to Mass, pray, confess our sins, and do works of charity, then a Catholic dude from New Jersey becomes an associate pastor among the Reformed, consigned to wearing Santorum sweater-vests for the next 30 years. Not that there's anything wrong with the sweater-vests.

You can hardly blame him. There's no real intent to schism there. He might have concluded that Catholics wouldn't know Jesus from a hole in the ground. Isn't that true?

I am not putting myself forward as some kind of paragon or example, but I believe the Catechism. I believe that if I were to skip Mass on a Sunday or another Holy Day of Obligation, that's a grave sin, and I'd be fortunate to avoid Hell, if I died with that on my soul. There are other things that I am much more inclined to actually doing, and so I stay close to the Church, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I thought everyone did that. That's what Confirmation Sponsor Guy and Lady both do. And Hebrew Catholic Woody Allen, and Bob, and almost everyone else I know. That isn't weird; that's just normal. Or, put it this way: That's what people who believe in supernaturally-revealed truth and judgment would do.

Why practice religion without taking its claims seriously? I can't even begin to understand this.

The Pew survey tells me that I, and nearly everyone else I know, with our basic, Christian sensibility, make up about 4 percent of American Catholics. Sheesh. No wonder I feel so weird all the time.

Keep that in mind, Catholic apologist. The unassailable truth of your arguments are being blocked by Screw these Catholics! At least we take God seriously. You'll pardon the language; it needs to be visceral like that, because that's how it is.

Dear God, we pray that you pour many graces on us this day to be worthy members of Christ's Body, the Church. May we be the irresistible aroma of Christ to those near and far, so that we all may attain true holiness and full communion with You, through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Room For Squares

This was the debut album 14 years ago from John Mayer. Some might say he is for frat-boys and basic fools, but I have always felt he told the story of being 20-something at the beginning of this century better than anyone else.

We grew with him, and he with us. He's branched out stylistically and instrumentally, but I believe he is, as much as anything else, a songwriter. If a personal lack of virtue makes him less able today to give words and music to our experiences, that doesn't diminish what he's already done.

The next two discs were even better, many say. Well and good. In all cases, I'm thankful for his gift.