Friday, April 20, 2018

Pope Thoughts, Continued

You know, I lost my father when I was young. Simultaneously, my experience of human fatherhood was not at all good. I will spare you the details. Let's just say that being in the Church--an intact family--is one of the greatest joys of my life. I experience that joy every time I see a priest. Perhaps you have had the luxury of taking the Church for granted. Perhaps you have had the blessing of an intact family of origin. In both cases, I have not.

I did not know I could love a person as much as I love Benedict XVI, both as pope, and now as Pope Emeritus. I was doing a Holy Hour at the moment he left the Chair of Peter. It was hard. The Blessed Trinity reminded me that the heavenly throne will not be abdicated. The time between popes is terrible; I hate it. In any case, as we used to say, "God is good, all the time."

And now, with Pope Francis, it's in his eyes, his face. That joy. It can only be the joy of the Holy Spirit. If I never read a word of him, it'd be alright if I could see that smile. Whenever I see him, it's there. There have been hard days, I'm sure. You'd never know it, though. If you think of him, and there are not warm feelings, something is wrong. Pray until you find them. This stands apart from anything that starts out, "I wish he had said..." or, "I wish he hadn't said..." We all have them; they're close to irrelevant here. Some people pray for the pope, but they are hate-praying. They're praying mad, or worried, or something else. God and the saints have power we just don't. You do realize that prayer is communion with Almighty God? Sovereign, all-powerful immovable God. Suffering may not cease, the job may not come, et cetera, but if I pray for an increase in charity, or fortitude, or any spiritual good thing, I will get it. If we had any idea the plutonium we are playing with, we'd pray bigger than we do. All of us. But, I tell you, I do begin to understand.

What do I think of Pope Francis? People ask me that sometimes. I have no idea how to answer. It's like asking me if I like my Dad. I realize for some of us that is a very imperfect analogy, and in that, I mourn. Still, the way some people ask it, I can tell Pope Francis isn't family for them like he is to me. I mourn for that, too.

I suppose one day, we could have a truly wicked pope, who brings scandal and shame to us continually, and maybe after the fact. Then it'd be harder to love. But what a luxury to be here now! What mercy has come to us! If we find love for our spiritual father difficult, the problem is us.

I have nothing to add. Read and take what is good. The joy of the Lord be with you.

The Pope Has Nothing To Prove

I will not tell you that every utterance is the greatest wisdom ever produced. I will not tell you that no criticism of the pope is ever acceptable. I will say that most people shouldn't and can't. If that bothers you, good. Do you realize that John Paul II is a saint? I'm not God, obviously, but there is a strong possibility that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI probably is as well. And besides that, arguably the greatest theologian you'll ever live to see. Do you want the job following those guys? It seems like some people do, and it's as silly as it sounds.

What a great gift the Catechism of the Catholic Church is to us! Don't let anyone ever tell you that nothing good came from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, because that Catechism is its fruit. Those two magnificent popes made it their life's work implementing the Council, and taking us out into the world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. You could spend the rest of your intellectual life reading those two guys, and it would not be a waste. Far from it! Read older things too, but the previous two popes as popes and as private theologians are top-notch.

Did you also know that we have older catechisms that are just as good today as the day they were written? The Baltimore Catechism and the Catechism of the Council of Trent can educate and edify you as well. In short, if you need to know the faith once delivered, it's all there. Talk with your priest or a trusted spiritual director if you have questions, or even doubts.

My job as a member of the faithful in the Body of Christ is to listen and obey. Let me say that again: our job is to listen and obey. That sounds scary and undemocratic. Yeah, well, this ain't the United States Senate; it's the Church. Jesus is already King, and he left His Vicar here as well. The positions are filled. I'm so glad we didn't have Facebook and Twitter and cable during the "Babylonian Captivity" (one real Pope, two antipopes at the same time) or the Borgia popes! You think the printing press made the Reformation schism and heresies worse? Hoo boy! I'm thankful for St. Catherine of Siena, who told the successor of Peter to suck it up and get back to Rome, where he belonged. Now the only problem is, everyone thinks they are her.

If I'm being direct about it, I wouldn't watch EWTN (the global Catholic network) if I could, with the exception of the Holy Mass broadcast and other prayers. I don't care what Raymond Arroyo thinks about the state of the Church, or Pope Francis, or American politics. God love him. But it's really not my job to save the Church from itself, or to rebuke Pope Francis. My job is to listen and obey. That includes praying as well.

As long as we're being direct still, so-called "dubia" are used in the Church when there is an unsolvable confusion about a theological matter of great importance. As far as I know, it's never been used as a shot across the bow of the pope, so to speak, until now. If those four cardinals knew the teaching on marriage, they're not confused, and they didn't need to ask. How weak is our faith, if we need the Holy Father to feed us culture war scraps, just so we know the sky isn't falling? Just asking.

If I can't square something Pope Francis says with what I already know, I have the option to stick with what I do know, until it is made clear. I can stay silent and pray. I can humbly ask my pastor. I might even recognize the difference between a private opinion, and something else. The psalmist, whilst lamenting the apparent triumph of the wicked in the 73rd psalm, says in verse 15, "If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have been untrue to the generation of thy children." If you ask me why I don't have anything to say in criticism of the pope, I'm going to quote this verse. If this Catholic Church is the household of faith, we'd better get used to obeying the human father Jesus gave us. You know, my Dad was far from perfect. But what kind of son would I be, if I ran him down in public, in front of the watching world? In the name of truth-telling, let's say. My father was a good man; I'd be a horrible son, even if everything I said were true. We're living in the very Kingdom of God as the Body of Christ. Grace builds upon nature, and yet some Catholics treat the Vicar of Christ like a stranger. That's no way to live.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Random Thoughts About "The View" And The People On It (And Other Stuff)

Let me start by saying that I generally like celebrities. You'll notice this if you've read this blog for any length of time. I love pop music, TV, movies, sports. In a certain way, I'm the stereotype guy, and I like that about myself. You probably don't know as much about William Jennings Bryan, or military aircraft, or any number of other things, as I do. I like that also. Anyway, I've seen "The View" from time to time. It seems like it's the usual "midday mommy" programming, and that's fine, as far as it goes.

You may have noticed that they like to talk politics on there. It's been a while since I watched, but you'll notice this. For the longest time, they only had what you might call stridently liberal views represented. This is TV, after all, and artists in the general sense...well, you know. If I'm honest, Whoopi Goldberg has never bothered me. I like Whoopi. She was on Star Trek: The Next Generation--my favorite show maybe ever--as "Guinan," a wise listener with unique abilities. And she was the star of Holywood Squares, a trivia game show for several years. Her stand-up comedy is often funny, even if a little crass at times.

And Barbara Walters started the show. There are like 3 people on Earth who don't like Barbara Walters, and they probably work for some propagandist somewhere. Anyway, I am not affronted by the existence of liberals as such, so long as they aren't affronted by me. That could be a big ask these days, but we can hope. Whoopi, or Joy Behar, or other people, surely said dumb things, even offensive things. That's almost inevitable. You know, we non-liberals (I have no idea what a "conservative" even is anymore) used to accept that our philosophies were counter-intuitive, even boring, after a fashion. It was our job to check those foolish progressive impulses, to ruin those utopian dreams. We were the people of The Facts. That isn't true these days. If you think liberals are the emotional ones, living a fact-free existence, I should let you read my social media news feed. And if that sentence offends you, good. That's my point. Somewhere along the line, people decided that they were so beleaguered, that they had to leave the mainstream behind. "Mainstream media" was not a slur when I was young. A different view, even a contrarian one, is one thing; creating a cocoon is quite another. And that's what talk radio started to do. And the internet? Forget it. Now, any buffoon with a computer thinks he's got "the truth" you've never heard.

It scares me way more than Joy Behar ever could.

And why? Because if you can't discern what is true from what is false, no great expanding flow of information will help you. And the tribalism really bothers me. It's like anyone who isn't "us" must be destroyed. How many times will you read "Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Liberal Snowflake" before you say, "Wait, I thought we were trying to persuade them"?

I'm actually glad that "liberals" control the media, the arts, and academia. If we can't make an argument (remember those?) in that crucible, maybe there isn't one to be made. What if--for all the gaping holes in the philosophy of "The Left"--the contrarians never had good arguments?  Just stop and think on that. It may be overstated, but arguments have not been required or even offered for some time now. That scares me, too.

You can't really have a discussion in the true sense without granting something your interlocutor says has moral value or truth value on the face of it. You cannot despise someone, and truly win an argument.

Even if "The View" is default liberalism, we need it. We need them. They are us, and we are them. I think we forgot somewhere that we're in this together. We're in this together. I said it twice, because you might have missed it, between scanning Drudge and the Daily Wire. I don't know if I have changed, but I have a strong desire to know things I had not known, to listen to voices of people I had tried to silence.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

King Of Endless Mercy

During Lent, the acclamation is, "Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory!" I confess that it takes me a couple of weeks to get it right in my head. I want to say "mercy" every time. Then again, it's the same thing, if you think about it.

The fundamental awareness or consciousness of a disciple of Christ is that of being drawn into Him, and into the Father's love. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him" and, "After I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." "In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins." "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation..." "There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." We could go on.

He is Savior and Redeemer in every moment, not only in the high moments. He never stops being willing to die for our sins. This is a great mystery. The truth is that we are Peter, in every denial we are reminded. But how much does Jesus love Peter? We stop the thought process many times. Some of us are so proud, we enjoy dwelling on our failure. We create stern theologies of failure. On the one hand, holy mother Church always tells us that our sins are never inevitable or required. On the other, a good many people could use some thinking of themselves a little less, myself included.

Jesus loves you, full stop. Not theoretically or generally, like a beauty queen that wishes for world peace. You. You as you actually are, not how you want to be. If someone says this too often, people in the family get jumpy, like we're going to give the Eucharist to axe-murderers and pagans. But seriously, though, have you stopped to think about this? Recently? "God shows his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." If you take a detour into "still sinner," Jesus is still your Redeemer. I can't get over it. I don't want to.

The thing that makes me chuckle nearly every day is this crazy idea that we've got to clean ourselves up somehow. This is how people think. Good people go to church. Good people do churchy things. I need a game show buzzer. News flash: Scumbags and thieves and losers and drunkards and perverts go to church, if they've heard the good news right. Because this is our last shot, our only shot at something better.

I just need to let Him look at me with that tenderness, as he must have looked at Peter, or the rich young ruler. That look--you almost get used to it--is powerful. You'll sell your whole life just to know someone loves you and knows you that way.

His glory is his mercy, and his mercy is his glory. Let it sound silly in your ears. Let it put laughter in your mouth, for then upon reflection, it will put laughter in your soul.

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?

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Seven Stages Of Roger Federer In A Major

7 Rounds, 7 Reactions. These are the reactions of Roger Federer's opponents in a major championship:

Round 1: "Holy buckets! I get to play Federer! I'll be telling this story until I'm dead."

Round 2: "Holy buckets, it's Roger Federer! Maybe if he plays horribly, I can make history. It's happened!"

Round 3: "No matter what, the money's getting good. And if I win, someone's making a movie."

Round 4: "Weather the early storm. If I'm not down 2 sets, I have a shot."

Round 5: "If I beat him here, maybe I can win the whole thing."

Round 6: "I'm not scared. But he's still Roger Federer."

Round 7: "Championship Final. Sod it, he's got enough of these already."

Djokovic: "They will never love me like they do him. Oh, well. It's my time now."

Nadal: "I own him, but it never seems that way."

Murray: "He's still here? I'm getting old, and he's still here!"

Wawrinka: "If I don't beat him, that's OK."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Somebody Made Senator Cory Booker Mad

Frankly, I liked what he had to say. A few of the phrases are indicative of what many on the Right derisively call "identity politics," but they didn't bother me. The president's comment was appalling and indefensible, but we're so used to it now, I probably just wasted my life saying it.

I seem like a liberal to many people, because I'm not willing to set aside my revulsion to defeat the Baby-Killers. I think that civility and respect should be a hallmark of politics always. And it may be galling that Barack Obama gets credit for that supposed civility in the face of his heinous policies. But when did Republicans decide that winning took the place of that civility? Is it my fault that I don't agree with that decision?

Absolutely, I'd rather lose with honor than win without it. Me just saying that is inspiring many of you to start sentences with, "But..." I don't want to hear it. If you don't agree, or don't understand, there it is. Read it again. In the end, this is my political philosophy.

There are people who will point out that Democrats and progressives don't hold themselves to the same standards. Granted. Why does that alter what I should expect from my own side, and from myself?

It all seems romantic, moralistic, and pretentious to many, I'm sure. Then again, if the words a president or potential president says have more staying power, more timelessness, than the average puff of smoke that is a human being, what would you say? If you knew that schoolkids will be reading about you one day, I'd hope you might modify a few things. And since I can't be dismissed as a moral degenerate gay activist or Planned Parenthood toadie, I'll ask:

What are you going to say about Donald J. Trump?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Spock And The Battle Of The Mutara Nebula: A Brief Reflection In Moral Theology

In one of the more memorable events during the lengthy career of Starfleet Admiral/Captain James T. Kirk, the USS Enterprise was under the command of Captain Spock, as a training vessel for Starfleet Academy cadets, in the year 2285. In the course of overseeing those exercises, the crew discovers that someone is attempting to interfere with communications between the Enterprise and space station Regula One, in the Mutara sector. The director of the secret project on Regula One had contacted Admiral Kirk about an unusual order regarding control of the project, allegedly issued by him. Unable to establish communication, and after determining that the communication breakdown was the work of a malevolent third party, Starfleet Command orders the Enterprise to investigate, and places Kirk in command. Upon further investigation, it is determined that an old foe, Khan Noonien Singh, had stolen the overseeing vessel, the USS Reliant, marooning her crew on Ceti Alpha V, the place where Kirk had sent the enhanced human and late-20th century autocrat Khan, after his deadly attempt to commandeer the Enterprise in 2265. Khan also stole the secret project, in the hopes of luring Kirk there. Khan wanted vengeance for the death of his wife, a former Enterprise crew member, who chose to go with Khan and his associates when their exile was imposed. She died on Ceti Alpha V, and Khan blamed Kirk. After a series of battles, the Enterprise is badly damaged, and the Reliant is nearly destroyed. Khan uses the project as a kamikaze time bomb, knowing that the Enterprise is too badly damaged--or so it appeared--to escape the explosion.

Captain Spock surreptitiously decides to enter the central engine compartment--sealed off because of lethal radiation levels--to repair the damaged warp drive, which would allow the Enterprise to escape. He succeeds, and the Enterprise leaves the area. He later dies, after poignantly suggesting to Kirk that he had undergone a real-life "Kobayashi Maru" simulation (an unwinnable simulation scenario administered to Starfleet Academy command officer candidates). Spock said, "I never took the Kobayashi Maru test...until now. What do you think of my solution?"

In a personal axiom that helpfully serves to explain his moral reasoning in this situation, Spock noted, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." Provided that we exclude more utilitarian readings of the statement that would instrumentalize the few or the one, let us analyze the moral action itself.

Firstly, in the abstract, it would be wrong of course for Spock to directly kill himself for no reason at all. It would be wrong of him to take a mysterious and likely lethal "mineral supplement" in the hope of winning the ship-wide chess tournament. This action instead is proportionate to the great good of saving his shipmates. He does not intend his own death, but rather, to rescue the ship and crew. No other less harmful options are available at the time. So a good suitably proportionate to his own certain death is present. He is laying down his life, not someone else's. He's not directly doing an evil act to bring about a greater good; he's doing a good act, and its result is his death. Its object is repairing the ship. His intention is to save his crew. The circumstances foreclose other options, and a failure to act would cause the death of everyone aboard.

We should say that Captain Spock's death is an evil--a privation of a good that should be there--but it's not a moral evil, a morally blameworthy act. Quite the contrary. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken: The Spark Of Life

One of the reasons why it's not terribly hard to feel joy during a recovery like mine is that you get to spend some time with yourself. You get to imagine what it would be like if you weren't here. There is a great joy in knowing and seeing that you have something utterly unique to bring to the world. There is a goodness in the soul that is Jason Kettinger. I might make all manner of mistakes and sins in the next hour, say, but those aren't the essence of me. 

I don't understand death, really, but because I've had a brush with it, I know that death won't change what makes us, well, us. I didn't have any cause to doubt the Church's teaching about our eternal souls, but I have less reason now. I'm not even sure I can explain how I know. I think I understand why most sinners should be able to say that what makes them sinners isn't intrinsically part of who they are, at least who they are supposed to be. It's simply that my worst day as a moral agent on this Earth has no part in the essence of who I am. We're facing a choice to be increasingly defined by the things we do, good and bad. Welcome to life. But if you could spend one minute or five thinking about how the world would be that much darker if you weren't in it--seriously--life would be different. There are proud people who don't need to be doing that, sure, but then again, that "self" of theirs isn't the real one, anyway.

Who you are and what you are is revealed when you lack the power to pretend to be someone else. If you only had a moment to give yourself to someone else, what would you say? What would you do? We'd like to hope that we've got something to give that isn't from selfishness.

Oddly enough, I feel like saying something about Confession. It's an odd tension, knowing that I did x, y, and z, but that, in a sense, that wasn't my best me. You can only go and receive the benefit of it if you're willing to say in various ways that you acted contrary to who you're supposed to be. And of course that you do not intend to continue acting in those ways. What makes people afraid to go? I don't really know. Pride, I suppose. But unless you believe foolishly that this is the best version of yourself there will ever be, you have reason to partake. There are people who must think they will die if they go. I must admit, I want to laugh at them. I had a funny thought, like, "No, the lady and her car who hit me are not waiting for you." I can remember only one time having a less-pleasant experience, and 1) he's right, and 2) he's a military chaplain. And frankly, I'm a big boy; as long as he says the right words at the right time, he's free to say what he likes. He's the Lord's priest. I'm here for the "I absolve you..." What insanity makes people go decades between these experiences? If you figure it out, let me know.

Let's keep things really simple. Jesus loves you to pieces, way more than you or any of us are ready for. We know that even today hasn't been a banner day reciprocating that love back to Him. Confession is a way to say you're sorry before you die, and it's too late. I defer to the Church that the Eucharist is the greatest sacrament, but Confession is my favorite. If you don't know how to do it, numerous guides are available. Beloved Monsignor Pins (RIP) walked me through my first one, because I froze up. It'll be fine. Just go.

A Word About Ecumenism

I have never believed that it's good to change your mind about big things quickly, or without reason. Even in my Reformed days, I did not leave a church (parish) on a whim, or for a trivial reason. Some people out there seem to think that I suddenly and arbitrarily decided to hate my Reformed heritage, and that I hate and misrepresent it to this day. That's false. The story of becoming Catholic is the story of remaining where I was, knowing what I knew, until the triune God made a way for me to do what he called me to do: seek full communion with the Catholic Church. If you cannot even imagine that the only true God might be calling all people into the Catholic Church, then don't dialogue with real Catholics, because that's what Catholics are supposed to believe. At a minimum, this means that the faith professed by Catholics is the true faith, and that anything distinct from this is in that respect, false. There are gentler, and more open, inviting ways to live this or not, and I try to be as warm and inviting as possible. But bottom line: Any Roman Catholic who doesn't tell you, show you, invite you into the one true Church, as it were, is either misinformed, or lying. I think you need to know this. We don't have "distinctives" as some of you Protestant evangelicals might call them, because we got bored one day, and others are OK, too. We call them "dogmas," and we call the contraries "heresies." Now, I realize that's equal parts impolite, and possibly scary for some of you. But look, this is religion, not a bridge club.

All the innumerable qualifications exist: No, you are not hopelessly damned right now, because you are a Baptist. You could be closer to God than I am, for all I know. But that will be in spite of  something you profess, in some respect. And, to look at it from the other direction, the well-catechized Baptist knows why he's not a Catholic. You can take him at his word, and still think he's incorrect. I don't need to misrepresent him, because if I understand my faith properly, the best presentation of his I can make is still different, and therefore, wrong. Is he mostly right? Well, probably, if most things he says are what all Christians would say. But there is a key point: We don't need to talk about all the parts where we agree; that's actually not the point of ecumenism. The point of ecumenism is to reach agreement together in the totality of the truth. If you as an individual need affirmation, just tell me. I'm happy to do it. But that's not ecumenism.

Now, someone says, "But you're playing with loaded dice. Ecumenism from your seat means everyone must agree with you." Well, the One True Church would be pretty lame if it didn't say that, no? And sure, I am aware that the Orthodox of various kinds also say this, but given their own lack of even nominal unity, that's just bluster, and most know it.

Part of the reason this conviction is so annoying is that most Protestants have a radically different notion of the Church than we do. The universal Church is invisible for them, if not explicitly, then in fact. And it's easy to just assume this is correct, getting mad at the Catholic that he won't join the little model UN project of denominations, right alongside yours. But the visibility of our Church--its hierarchy and unity--is part of the faith we profess. The surest marker of being a Catholic is being in visible union with Pope Francis. If your bishop doesn't answer to Pope Francis, you're not Catholic, or catholic, or any such thing. Now, bishops, priests, on down to your neighbor Phyllis might profess the doctrines of demons. You might be a better "Catholic," so to speak, than any of them. Granted. But if you want to know the truth, ask the Catholic Church.

[No one has a neighbor Phyllis, unless they are 84.--ed.] Could be, could be.

This should be obvious, but a Catholic cannot profess "faith alone" as the Protestant "Reformers" understood it. In fact, it became a slogan precisely to differentiate that profession from what the Catholic Church taught and teaches. For this reason, I don't find it terribly helpful to discuss the "5 Solas," musing on exactly which parts I could affirm. If I could affirm them, I'd be a Protestant.

The Church contended with the leaders of the Protestant Reformation mostly on the definition and function of agape, the Greek word for supernatural love, or charity, in justification; that is, the state of being just before God. On both sides, the discussion can get pretty technical. I don't recommend it for most people. That is, unless you need to know. And you might.

Anyway, please feel more than free to show me, quote me, refer me, to documents that exemplify your profession of faith, if we are in dialogue. I don't like to make mistakes. If I do, tell me, and graciously, if at all possible. It is in fact my goal, however, to show how that position is incorrect. Because those details are actually the reason you aren't Catholic, and I want you to be Catholic.

If you accuse me of misrepresenting you repeatedly without showing me how, I reserve the right to call it whining. If the root of that whining is anger that someone you love is Catholic, or just bewilderment that any sane person would become fully Catholic, I cannot help you. I'd like to, I just can't. I'll readily concede that most passionate Protestants are better Christians than Joe Catholic, but that's not really relevant to the question of truth, ultimately. True ecumenism isn't always sunshine and rainbows, even when we're actively trying not to offend. God bless and keep you always.