Thursday, March 08, 2018

Never Settle. Ever.

I'm in my late '30s now. The lot of you have no right to complain about singleness, relative to me. Or that's how it feels most days. Men get like caged animals at times. I don't want to get graphic on you, but there's a part of this longing that's downright primal. Our female counterparts have this, too. It's just more acceptable for men to talk about sexual desire, for a whole slew of reasons. Anyway, it would be no big deal, really, but for the fact that the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, calls us to live holy lives of total purity and chastity. If not for grace, I would frankly laugh hysterically at this entire idea.

I don't speak from high in the saddle on some high horse on this one, you deserve to know. Just trust me on this. On the other hand, if I have tasted of the mercy of God in any way, there must be some great glory in celibacy. There is some mystery in chaste life, its difficulty but attainability, that promises total freedom. Every time we have failed--or if you like, friends of yours--we are aware that there was nothing inevitable about that failure. No matter how many times the merciful God makes a new way for us by the forgiveness of our sins, we have the memory of that choice, and that willing is the substance of our guilt. It's mercy to be aware of our guilt, but not to condemn ourselves with that awareness. For this mercy we give continual thanks.

In any case, you may be like me, in that you firmly believe that you are experiencing a trial until you step into the vocation of marriage. Maybe it's been a long trial, as well. Maybe even so long that you begin to doubt where you have been, and what you intend to do. Perhaps you think--against the very facts of the matter--that you are ugly or unlovable. Let us be direct. You might have all manner of insecurities, too numerous to name. In this situation, besides the inclination to sin, you may survey the landscape and wonder if prudential decisions about romantic partners were wrong. I don't mean to say that it's impossible that you're too picky. Only people you really trust can help you make that determination, that you've closed yourself off from possibilities for silly reasons. But...never settle. If values, or circumstances, or something else show you that a particular person is a bad match, trust yourself, and trust the Lord. Besides, God can change you, if in fact you're being an idiot. His grace is dynamic; He doesn't have a "backup plan" for you. If you go the wrong way, God will restore the years the locusts have eaten. If you've arrived in a vocation, and you are unhappy, the problem is you.

Even if the choosing was horribly imprudent, guess what? God wants to use you where you are. If you've chosen, He's chosen, and by His grace, suck it up, Buttercup. Maybe you think you have married a quarrelsome wife. Maybe you have. I found your cross, my friend. It's not your job to play God. If you have chosen the priesthood, or some other celibate vocation, it's more fixed. Spouses die; promises before God don't. Not without sin, anyway. I would rather bear the cross of incompleteness and frustration than choose poorly. There is no "need" of sex or companionship that requires you to settle. It's better to remain unmarried, even if it's hard. Married life has its challenges, too. Recognize the joy and the gravity. "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder."

My soul waits for the Lord, like watchmen for the morning, like watchmen for the morning.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Single, Valentine's Day, 2018

I'm supposed to be sad, but I'm not. Nor do I exult in my supposed "freedom." I have an interesting take, I hope, one that doesn't get a lot of hearing out, especially not for us men: Suffering and joy can co-exist. Of course we know this. We might know it even better if we're struck by a car, let's say, and spend most of 2017's warm months in a hospital trying to recover. I digress. The point is this, my brothers: it's OK to say that your heart longs and aches for something you don't understand. It's OK to say that you've cried about it. It's more than OK to say--if you want to--that you've dreamed about the day, that you've seen your beloved's face, even if you don't know who she is. It's acceptable to say that you are in some sense incomplete, even knowing that the deepest desire is for union with God. The great mystery, the great truth, is that Contentment is not a great blanket that covers the loneliness and desire for companionship. Contentment is in fact the resolute conviction that God has loved me, and will never stop doing so, and the firm determination to continue acting in accord with that conviction. I can cry and sorrow and hope and dream while that remains true. When I have begun to firmly believe that desire and peace are not opposed, I'm on the way to understanding contentment.

You're not going to trick God into sending you someone. If God's timing and purpose is so inscrutable that history's greatest minds cannot even begin to articulate them, why do we continue to believe that this state has some root of fault in ourselves? Self-improvement is great, but if there's too much analysis and self-criticism here, we'll go crazy.

You may not get married, ever. You may not have sex and children. God may not answer these prayers. I don't know, and neither do you. If there is anything in me that still knows I am lovable and loved, then I am content, and to that degree. Allow me by God's grace to cultivate that awareness of His presence and friendship, God's abiding fatherly care, and I can love others in that power, even while tears for unrequited love also abide in my soul.

The dragons of Jealousy and Despair are not unknown to me. Yet if I know that God alone grants this gift of nuptial union, for the purpose of His Kingdom, if I know that no other man can claim any virtue for himself in matters of love, then I can rejoice when my brothers begin to receive the gift, because the mystery of this blessing has only begun to unfold, and he feels no more worthy to receive the gift than I would.

Don't bother wasting any jealousy on the wicked and their sexual conquests. If you desire marriage at all purely, you exceed any alleged great and virile man. Women are not to be conquered, but loved. We know that to love a woman is infinitely greater than to be sexually satisfied in her body, even if God has seen fit not to entirely separate the two.

Who am I, and who am I to be? Continue to ask and answer this boldly, and this Day of Love will not trouble you. You are made for greatness, in every state of life, and every season. Rejoice in Christ, His great victory over the powers of darkness ringing in your hearts! May His great love song be our song as well.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Another 50 Shades Movie? Isn't Every Movie A Fifty Shades Movie?

I suppose we could get moralistic about it again--and it's not wrong for someone to do it--but I need to be real about another aspect: the pornification of our culture only has been successful because we are in fact sexual beings. Not as some uncomfortable concession that slips out into view when the 12 kids burst forth from the matriarch's long skirt, mind you. Every titan of lechery you could name knows that he's trading in something the vast majority of us desire. And that desire itself is good. It's twisted all over the place, and we could write monstrous tomes about the damage this disordered desire does.

If our culture made an icon, well, it would look like the '50 Shades' movie poster. But the first step in desiring the good instead, and the highest goods, is to acknowledge that this counter-appeal has an appeal. There's nothing prudish about most of the people I know, but "Hollywood" aren't aliens from the planet Zaltan; they are us. They might be particularly broken versions of us, but they are us. Perhaps even perpetrators of great evils, but then, so have I been. I don't have the right to speak the name "Harvey Weinstein" or "Polanski" or whomever, as though I haven't needed to go to Confession--actually--in 20 years. Quite the contrary.

Fair enough, I will never be arrested, publicly shamed, and excoriated for anything I've ever done, and I pray it will always remain so. But I understand these perverts; these perverts are me. It's not the hottest of hot takes, but it will have to do.

While I'm At It

I think that caring about how policies affect various people, especially people of color, is an important consideration. Even to say "people of color" enrages some people on the Right, as if you've already conceded to some leftist identity politics. All that I will concede and do say is that when we attain equality before the law, it will be because we have joined our neighbors in overcoming the unique challenges of being non-white in this society. We can't listen to anyone's experience, empathize, and fulfill an obligation in solidarity, if we have decided we don't have to, because they are on--or even sound like they are on--"the Left."

If that even sounds like a concession to everything you hate, you might be part of the problem.

And to follow up on my last post, and some questions I received privately, you're darn right I take these unjust deportations personally. If I decline to tell you why, just know that this is not an abstract discussion for me. Frankly, I tire of arguments appealing to abstract principles, while simultaneously  my interlocutors even defend injustice in the concrete and specific. These almost daily reports of almost unbelievable deportations force us to reckon with the fact that these are not mistakes or clerical errors.

I concede that the US has a right to protect its border. Do you really believe that throwing out people who've been enriching their communities for decades in many cases enhances the security of the United States? I'd honestly like an answer. Against what or whom are we enforcing these laws? Better question: If someone cannot attain legal status in 3 decades, even 4, and not for lack of trying--whose fault is that? I say it's not the immigrant's. Aside from the fact of the perfectly valid point that you shouldn't have to be on your way to sainthood, just to get a seat at the table.

The danger of appealing to the majority is that it assumes whatever that majority holds is correct, just, and sensible. Populism is a whole political style and method based upon this fallacy. We're living in these times.

Just suppose that one political party fields a candidate that is endorsed by the largest abortion mill in the nation. Said candidate promises to continue also the normalization of alternative sexuality, and the government-sponsored persecution of traditional religious believers in their fight against all these things. That candidate is a hectoring, domineering scold, who by the way, is casual with national security secrets, to say the least.

The other is completely unqualified, incurious bigot, who--whether in a quest for power, or as part of his constitution--has normalized racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, police brutality, and sexual assault. I concede that if you voted for the latter, you may not be any of these things. Here's the million-dollar question: How many injustices are you prepared to accept, in your quest to say, "I thank you Lord, that you have not made me like one of these Democrats"?

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

If He Were From Norway, We Wouldn't Be Having This Conversation (Yes, Donald Trump's Campaign And Presidency Is Racist)

You need to know that I'm writing angry. My question is, "Why aren't you?" Here's the latest outrage from the Trump administration. Seems like it may work out, thanks to Congressman Ryan of Ohio.

We have but one brief paragraph in the Catechism about immigration. But that part about a "natural right" is key. People have a natural right to seek livelihood and security in another country. That says to me that any juridical actions taken by the US to impose obligations on the immigrant are after they've been a guest here. You don't simply get to say, "Your obligations to the country of arrival are, "Don't come here."

Therefore, the conclusion is this: It's an immoral violation of natural rights for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport anyone whose only crime is being an undocumented immigrant.

Let's be real here: Most conservative Catholics have made their peace with this. If Tony Esolen or whomever can give them cover, they'll find a way to make Trump's policies fit the Catechism. As long as the Democrats are radicals on abortion and personal morality, nothing else matters. I know about being enraged at the Democrats, believe me. The first step in the right-wing revisionism is to say that only "intrinsic evils" are issues that bind the conscience. Everything else is prudential judgment, or so it goes. "Prudential judgment" is right-wing Catholic code for, "Well, that's just your opinion, man." But surely we can think of situations where, if you change the circumstances, the act becomes quite grave, indeed. And this is one. It's not immoral for the government to deport people, as such. Therefore, deportation will never be intrinsically evil. But again, an act could be a grave injustice without being intrinsically evil.

You'll hear right-wing Catholics lament "identity politics" from "the Left." And yet, no one has come to terms with the white identity politics of Donald Trump. And right-wing Catholics can't, because they have chosen him to defeat "the Left." As long as sexual politics is poisoning the political culture, we can't have a conversation about what the totality of our faith really says. It may not say things we agree with.

It's hard to imagine what American politics would be like without abortion-on-demand. I think my political enculturation would have been different indeed. And maybe we wouldn't be here, reckoning with Donald Trump.

Update: The first US Senate candidate in Missouri who promises to stop this will get my vote, regardless of their stance on abortion.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I'm Probably Just Virtue Signaling

Dr. Bryan Cross, on something that's been bothering me a long time:

"Something I wrote in July of 2016 about the rise of the charge of 'virtue-signalling:'

What I see in the acceptance of the use of "virtue signaling" as a criticism is something quite dangerous, something that, without an explicit and principled difference provided, just is public judgment and negative deconstruction of the motives of others from the point of view of cynicism. ... [W]ithout additional contravening evidence the [apparently] righteous statements and actions of our neighbors should be taken at face value as sincere, on the principle of charity. But if additional evidence indicates that these righteous statements and actions are only for show, then that evidence (or the discord between that evidence and their 'righteous' words and actions) should be the means of criticizing these statements and actions. That evidence shows the hypocrisy, and makes the public criticism justified. Otherwise, without such evidence, the use of this term "virtue signaling" would be applicable to "people who display their virtue by acting virtuously," as sauce for the gander. Imagine Blessed Mother Theresa's life chalked up as "virtue signaling." Even by the Golden Rule, we would not want our (actual, authentic, sincere) good deeds or words to be treated as "virtue signaling." So when persons say that they love the environment or hate pollution, ... the principle of charity and the Golden Rule require taking them at their word, unless we have evidence indicating their insincerity. In short, [there is] an important difference between the use of the term 'virtue signaling' as a negative, cynical judgment of others' motives, and criticizing hypocrisy by showing the disagreement between their words and actions, or between their actions and other actions or inactions."

[Me talking] I must confess, whenever anyone throws out the accusation of "virtue-signalling," I want to punch them right in the teeth. [Not a virtuous reaction.--ed.] Stop virtue-signalling, dude.

More seriously, if it is true that all of us are hypocrites in one way or another, a principled way to distinguish virtue-signalling from actual virtue would be most helpful. Undeterred cynicism, aside from being infuriating to receive, dissuades all of us from the pursuit of virtue.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I challenge the deeply uncharitable slur, "Social Justice Warrior." ("SJW") Just kidding. Maybe. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Jason Stellman, Doing Jason Stellman Things

Jason Stellman is that one ex-Reformed guy who started the Drunk Ex-Pastors podcast with his friend Christian Kingery. He apparently had various side-gigs going on, but in true Stellman fashion, decided to write another book called, "Misfit Faith." (I'm too lazy to find and type out the subtitle.) There's a podcast of that same name, too.

I must have listened to the first 15 of DXP before poverty struck, to be quite frank about it. So it went on, it changed here or there, and meanwhile, I'm receiving communications privately asking me about Stellman, have I talked to him, et cetera, because the show is making them uncomfortable. Well, OK, that's nice. But I'm literally just a guy who spent one weekend 5 years ago with him, and we've both been "corrupted" by Bryan Cross. Fair enough. Here's absolutely what I do know: I liked him right away. His leftism should have scared me away, but it didn't. We had a big political discussion that weekend, and I came away thinking what I always tend to think: As long as I know that you care about people, the fact that we don't agree on any one thing isn't, of itself, a problem.

I have no idea his difficulties from that time forward, and I can almost guarantee that we disagree on loads of things. And we start from different places and contexts, theologically. Fair enough. But if you had been Jason Stellman, uber-Reformed Christian pastor-guy, suddenly dragged by the force of the truth into the fold of the Catholic Church, you might have the look of a man who has to blow (most) things up, and start over. You know, evangelicals and Reformed don't know how to handle progressives, to say the least. Abortion politics, theological orthodoxy, and a confluence of other things made us Republicans, or so we thought.

 I was angry about abortion, when I was young. I'm pretty sure I could have been legally aborted, the day I was born, and I wanted whomever it was to PAY for that monstrosity. I hated Democrats as much as Stellman could have said he hated Republicans. I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and the political book that moved me and shaped me more than any other was "Radical Son," by David Horowitz. Like crying-on-the-pages moved. You can see the wheels turning: If they're the compassionate ones, why...? You can live a whole political life functioning on woundedness and outrage, and I think that was me. I was probably 34 before I could reasonably listen to another point of view.

What if Jesus lets a little light in, and you don't know what you thought you knew before? Maybe we come at it from different directions, but we're much the same: We need to know you care, before we care about what else you're selling. I find that Stellman's kind of people are those you meet in bars late at night. If you're the right sort of person, the guards will come down. If not, we all know where the battle-lines are. Maybe he's just trying to let different people know that it's OK to let the guard down. You're safe here, we're all screwed up, but let's talk about being human. There's always some humor with him, but in the end, he's about pretty intimate things. There was my "enemy" that evening 5 years ago nearly six, and he made me think. He showed me that things aren't what they seem. What could we find out about ourselves and each other if we just listen? This was supposed to be about suffering. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Federer Is In The Quarterfinals. As Usual.

This Federer kid has a bright future in tennis. But seriously, here we are again. The 19-time Grand Slam champion has a chance to win another here at the Australian Open. It certainly appears as though he's simply outlasted his rivals, except Rafael Nadal. He deserves to be considered along with Roger as the greatest male tennis player ever.

Federer is back in peak form, or so it appears. At 36. Still. Novak Djokovic could scare him, for a time. Nadal always could. But the truly astonishing thing is, I don't think there is anyone left. One of these very young guys has to knock him off the mountain. He could lose here; his next foe, Tomas Berdych, is quite capable. Grigor Dimitrov has the game to beat Federer. Marin Cilic could, too. Bottom line, though: Federer is the favorite.

There is a great beauty in Federer's game, after all this time. Even when he's playing poorly, he can cut loose the kind of artful shot that you tell people about, like guys do in bars when talking about football. They say that a legend is someone who--at least once during a game or match--makes you turn to another person and go, "Did you see that?" That's Roger Federer, routinely.

When will it end? I'm running out of useful sports comparisons. I compared him to Ali beating George Foreman in 1974, but that was nearly six years ago now. We went from thinking he'd never win another major title, before that Wimbledon title in 2012, to now wondering if anyone can stop him, except himself. It's true that sportswriters write career obituaries too quickly, but to have doubted him in the summer of '12 was good sense. And since then, he's made all the doubters look ridiculous. Can you imagine if those two back-to-back Wimbledon finals in '14 and '15 had gone his way? Or how about the US Open final in '15?

And here we are again. Still talking about Roger Federer. His entire career is an extended, "Did you see that?" It's a dominance that is gracious, chivalrous. The most generous account of Federer's opponents is given by Federer himself. I don't recall what they call the sportsmanship award in tennis, but I think he's won it a dozen times, at least. What does it say when both the fans and your peers name you their favorite?