50 Shades of Disorientation

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(Image credit Charlie Mackesy)

Recently, on the ‘luv’-soaked occasion of Valentine’s Day, Facebook announced that they will allow users in the United States to choose a ‘custom gender option’ in which one may select from 50 genders, alternatives to the traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ options. Among the choices are ‘transgender,’ ‘cisgender,’ ‘gender fluid,’ ‘gender neutral’ and ‘neither.’ Their reasoning, you ask?

When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self (from the Facebook Diversity page).

This latest cultural exhibition of gender confusion really is nothing new, it is just the next step in man’s rebellion against God along the unhinged-from-reality, Bataan Death March-like excursion into nothingness. This is a manifestation of a problem as ancient as sin. But, still, there is something big that is happening with Facebook’s decision – showing that this problem is still as fresh as a wound.

Where does all this gender confusion stem from?

As a start, it is worth considering that the only reason Facebook would offer 50 gender choices as a way of liberating people to be their “true, authentic self” is if a person’s body is not really part of their self (a concept in philosophical language referred to as body-self dualism). If that outlook is true, what follows?

Well, based on my feelings, consciousness and whatever else makes up ‘me,’ I can manipulate, use, dictate, shape and otherwise rule this machine in which ‘the real me’ is housed. This is one step, but it gets worse. Not only do I not have to ‘listen’ to the nature of my body, but, given the disappearance of God from the human horizon, then I really have no inherent nature that informs what is good or bad for me. Thus, the rampant acceptance of, as George Weigel phrases it,

…the utter plasticity of the human condition: there is nothing given in men and women, not even their gender; all is malleable; all can be changed to fulfill desires (or, as it is usually phrased, to meet the ‘needs’) of the imperial autonomous Self (pg. 44, Evangelical Catholicism).

In short, we are alone in a hostile jungle with two options – die or rule: rule over our bodies; rule over anyone who threatens my self-creation; rule over reality itself. This is the affirmation of nothingness.

Now doesn’t this picture make a lot more sense?

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Year after year, this way of thinking has been tightening its grip over our once Creation-affirming culture. But a monolith such as Facebook now trumpeting this worldview as a matter of their company’s foundational ethos is really a big blow.

Why is this an important step?

For a billion people around the world, Facebook is the hub of culture. It is where they connect with people, learn about themselves and receive a hundred cues a day about how life is lived. It is their temple. It is where they come to engage, to listen, to connect and to speak. Like monks, who, as a way of centering their life, periodically ‘check in’ with God every couple of hours, Facebook users must return multiple times daily just to ‘check in.’ It provides a near-monastic rhythm of life.

As this temple, Facebook is a remarkably and insidiously powerful teaching entity – probably the biggest in the world, when it comes right down to it. And the real shame of their recent moment of gender politik is that now every 14 and 15 year-old who makes a Facebook will be considering, “Wait, which one of these genders am I, really? Where do I actually fit on this continuum? I’m not so sure…” The mindset from the get-go is, “You are not given. You must create yourself.” The idea that my body is really me and that there is a givenness (a ‘whatness’) to who I am that informs me of what is good for me and what isn’t… that idea? Implicitly ‘un-friended.’

Why is any of this bad? Because it hurts people. It leads not to human flourishing, but to human suffering. If people stew in a culture that says their body is not part of their ‘true self,’ then they will forever be in a cracked, dissonant war within themselves. Moreover, if people stew in a culture that says, ‘There is nothing that is inherently bad or good for you,’ then eventually more and more people will live that way (I dare you, go to any college and see if that is the case), making more and more people blind to what is good for them and enslaved to poisons. So, in effect, to the classically beautiful definition of a ‘good society’ given by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day – “a ‘good society’ is one in which it is easy to be good” – people will naturally respond, “that’s threatening.” That’s chilling.

What does one say? We might as well let Pope Benedict XVI say it for us:

The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

One is also reminded of the legendary quote from Dostoyevsky, which so succinctly illuminates an unwavering truth about life and what it means to be human:

If God does not exist, everything is permitted (The Brothers Karamazov).

Nothing seems to be more and more evidently vindicated each and every day than these two statements. We are losing our bearings (our grip), because we’re walking in the dark. Once God is erased from the “human horizon,” we stumble around for want of light, direction and purpose, desperately and impossibly trying to create ourselves out of nothing and save ourselves from annihilation.

No one would say that Facebook is in voluntary cahoots with the devil, and that won’t be claimed here either. But, our Holy Father nailed it when talking about this mass gender confusion:

Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Lived-out lies lead to slavery. What are we (you and I) doing to help people not fall victim to this vacuous disorientation?

The Economics of Sex

Take 10 minutes and watch this. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good, practical cogitator. This production from the Austin Institute provides a unique and thoughtful illustration of the sickly situation of sexual relationships in the young adult culture (and beyond) and how it can be improved. Because this video is a secular production, it is – from the perspective of this blog – incomplete on certain factors and a bit overly ‘worldly’ in certain characterizations. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing portrayal of the dynamics of sexual relationships and the hopelessness of the current trajectory of the dating culture.

Food for thought:

  1. How is the walk of a disciple different from the general cultural portrait sketched here?
  2. Taking some time to think honestly, how can you act differently to heal the diseased relationship culture we live in?
  3. Considering how unnatural and fractured the relationship culture is, where does our hope lie?

Grow Up: Become a Child

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

How often does the wisdom of God prove to be radically different from the wisdom of mankind?

A good illustration of this is in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. At first, Jesus’ disciples approach him because they are hungry. And, seeing their hunger, Jesus deliberately intensifies it by speaking of the “the true bread from heaven… which comes down and gives life to world.” This bread is better than the manna that fed their ancestors for years in the desert. This is the only bread one ever needs to eat. Naturally, His disciples are sold and salivating – resolutely declaring, “Lord, give us this bread always!”

And, after rising to a crescendo, with the next few lines Jesus loses more disciples than any other time of his earthly life. He says, “I am the bread of life… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.”

What the disciples expected to get was not what Jesus was prepared to give. He was prepared to give something much greater. Likewise, throughout the whole Bible, what God tells His people to do often baffles them just as much as it baffles us nowadays. What our natural gut-instinct tells us will be effective is often the opposite of the solution the Lord gives. And doesn’t this shock us every time?

Just look at the very life of Jesus. Mother Teresa has great words that are pertinent here:

“You know, [we] don’t understand. Jesus came into the world with the most important message [and task] of all time and he had only thirty-three short years to communicate [and accomplish] it. And he spent thirty years doing nothing!” (I Loved Jesus in The Night, pg. 72)

Combine that thought with the fact that the climax of this “redemption” – this “Good News” – was to come through the brutal death of the protagonist and we throw up our hands in puzzlement. This plan for saving the world from all of its problems and redeeming creation itself is just simply not how we, as human beings, would go about things. We would come in with power, wealth, talent and a huge conglomerate wad of “the best the world has to offer.” God (in this world at least) reveals His glory in more magnificent ways.

Lloyd Greenhaw, a confident, jovial, shoot-from-the-hip, Texas rancher-type who leads international missions for Renewal Ministries all over the world, puts it like this: “We live in an upside-down world.” If you want to save your life, lose it. If you want life, you must die. If you want to be rich, become poor. If you want to be filled, be emptied. The list goes on. Just one look at the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) reveals how God’s idea of blessedness is a 180-degree spin from ours.

So, now the question: what does this mean for us as disciples?

Surely, we want to be great disciples. We want to produce fruit. We have (or we should have) a fountain of magnanimous aspirations boiling over within our hearts. Pope John Paul II recognized this when, in addressing young adults throughout the world, he said,

“It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives… the refusal to allow yourself to be grounded down by mediocrity.” (Prayer Vigil at World Youth Day 2000)

We want to be great and we should want to be great. But, how do we achieve greatness?

Jesus answered this for us. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). And our hearts are pierced with bewilderment and wonder once again. How can this be possible? Because the ways of God are not the ways of man.

The disciple is not one who has just given some measly intellectual assent to a set of ideas, but one who has received the “spirit of sonship” so that now…

“When we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom. 8:15-17)

Brothers and sisters, we are sons and daughters of God. Through God we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters and, therefore, heirs to everything He has to give us (Gal. 4:6). This means two things.

First, once again, that we are born to be great. We should hunger for greatness, for glory and for producing magnificent fruit. Notice that when the disciples asked Jesus about how to achieve greatness (Matt. 18:1), He didn’t rebuke them – He answered their question. To not long for glory and for greatness is to not recognize the reality of who we are: namely, children of God.

Secondly, if we want to be great (and if we want to be great disciples), we must come, as children with empty hands, to our loving Father, being nourished by Him and Him alone. We must be made humble. We must become small. We must realize that the only way to have a “big impact” is to be totally present to the little and insignificant things we have to do at each moment. That in the very smallest things (like this moment right now), we meet the very greatest (the infinity of God’s presence).

In this way, we live as children – constantly and forever living in the presence of our Father, allowing His will to guide every inch of our lives. It is an eternal paradox of that “upside-down world” that if we want to be great, we must be small. It is in our smallness that we can rest more firmly in the embrace and power of our Father who loves us. How else could a woman that looks like this change so many hearts?

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This is our privilege and our call – that you and I are each a child of God.

Brothers and sisters, let us live in that truth. Let us abandon ourselves totally to Him, allowing Him to purify us, in His Love, into the pure gold we are created to be. Let us trust our Father. Let us hope in Him. Let us love Him by a complete gift of ourselves. There is no other path for the disciple to take.

Scriptural postscript: pray with Sirach 3:17-24; Psalm 50:15-17; Micah 2-4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

i.d.entity Crisis (Part 2 of 2)

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(Click here for Part I)

So, this is what the Church is and who we are as her members… in theory. But why doesn’t this description of the Catholic Church match what we actually see? Why don’t we seem like “fools in love?” Why aren’t we making “a scene?” Perhaps it is because we as a Church have lost sight of how the walk of a disciple begins and from where it finds its roots – an encounter.

“God is not some topic to study, but a person to meet” (Ralph Martin, Called to Holiness, pg. 9.) This assertion is substantiated in crystal-clear fashion by simply reading the Bible, where one repeatedly finds accounts of people’s encounters with a living God. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, to name a few, had a definite moment when the Lord “passed them by” (go here to see Dr. Mary Healy’s terrific insight on this phrase). It is only after such an encounter that their lives were forever changed into a holy recklessness for God.

Why would it be any different for us? Scripture is not a collection of nice stories, but God Himself, presented to us in His Word, showing us how we should live. Thus, taking Scripture at its word (pun intended), suggests to us the question: if we do not meet the Lord, how can we follow Him? In order to follow anybody you have to meet them!

The Christian walk must be more than just encouraging one another with good ideas about ‘living better.’ It is about power. That dynamic and ever-new power of God changing our hearts and moving our lives from the inside out. If we have not been touched by the white-hot power of God, then how can the fires of our hearts burn with love for Him and His people? We don’t need cheerleading, we need the very life of God within us.

This ‘encounter’ element is the foundational line to a drumbeat Pope Francis has been sounding throughout his pontificate, and before. Check out his response to this first question (as well as the whole interview):

Notice how then-Fr. Bergolio mentioned this ‘encounter’ as a work of the Spirit. It is a curious thing that the Apostles themselves, after Jesus had ascended, had no idea how to be disciples. After spending three full years with Jesus Himself (imagine that…) they still hid in a room, shaking in their boots, having no idea what direction to go in and how to live out all He had taught them. Indeed Jesus anticipated this because he told them to wait there until they received something. Then, that something happened.

That something was Pentecost. They received the Holy Spirit, the Person whom Jesus died and rose to give us. It was an encounter with the Spirit which “transformed them into courageous witnesses to Christ” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, #87) that catapulted them out of their concealed sanctuary. It was this baptism in the Holy Spirit that freed men and women to be missionary disciples.

Once again, how can it be any different for us? If we are in desperate need of an encounter with God, of a personal relationship with Our Savior, how can we not need the reality which makes that relationship “come alive” – our own personal Pentecost? If you listen to the popes over the last 50 years, if would seem it is what we need more than anything, both individually and collectively as a Church:

 “More than once we have asked ourselves what the greatest needs of the Church are… what is the primary and ultimate need of our beloved and holy Church? We must say it with holy fear because, as you know, this concerns the mystery of the Church, her life: this need is the Spirit… the Church needs her eternal Pentecost; she needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, a glance that is prophetic.” (Pope Paul VI, General Audience, Nov. 29 1972)

How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #261)

Once again, it becomes smolderingly clear that the life of a missionary disciple is not about a worldview, principles or intellectual assent so much as it is a life lived, literally, “in Christ” through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, in conclusion, if this is what the Church is, then this is what we seek to be in i.d.916 – a community of missionary disciples. A body of men and women who have encountered the Lord and thereby “walk by the Spirit,” seeking to radically follow Him on His mission to all peoples.

O Lord, may it be so!

i.d.entity: Community of Missionary Disciples (Part 1 of 2)

Jesus-disciplesWhat is the Church?

There are whole courses on this topic and many ways to approach the question. There are the usual meanings about the ontological and existential nature of the Church that discuss allusions to the Body (1 Cor. 12), the Bride (Rev. 19) and the Vineyard (John 15). But recently we received a more business-oriented, less symbolical “job description” of the Church from our earthly shepherd, Papa Francesco.

In his recently released Evangelii Gaudium, which is simply the Holy Father sharing what is most particularly on his heart and mind right now for all his spiritual children, Pope Francis tells us what the Church is and what she goes forth as (especially the Church as a reality here on Earth):

The Church… is a community of missionary disciples (#24)

That’s what we are: disciples who share, first, our lives with one another as adopted children of God and, secondly, our mission of bringing the love of Jesus to others.

We are a community. We share our lives together; joyously and determinedly walking side-by-side in seeking the outcast and yearning toward our “inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading” (1Peter 1:4). We are a fellowship that “goes forth” and a family of brothers and sisters living in union together with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This means we ought to “devote [ourselves] to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers”, even day by day “attending temple together and breaking bread in [our] homes, partaking of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:42,46). We need one another and we need to live our lives in a way that substantiates this fact.

We are missionary. As members of the Church we, “who were dead through our trespasses,” have been made “alive together with Christ.”  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are now in the Son. If so, we now share in their mission. We are on the great “co-mission” with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to “go make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). What did Jesus come to do? “To save and seek the lost” (Lk 19:10); to “save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). For this reason, “mere administration can no longer be enough”, but we must be “permanently in a state of mission” (Evangelii Gaudium #25). We have to have a constant, pulsing missionary spirit that is ever ready to witness to the love of Christ and sees everything in the light of bearing fruit for the Kingdom.

We are disciples. We are ‘learners’ who sit at the feet of the Master. We are warriors who have pledged our total, unreserved allegiance to a King. We have been “crucified in Christ” so that we no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in us; and the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). And so, our lives are over, in a sense. He is our Lord and we must give ourselves totally to him. This is what it means to be His disciples.

This community of missionary disciples can be summed up in a line from John Mark McMillan’s song “Heart Bleeds”:

Like fools in love, we’re bound to make a scene.

This is what the Church is. And, as part of the larger body, this is what i.d.916 is as well. Whatever contribution we make can only be centered on our identity as a community of missionary disciples. Let us get on our knees before the Lord that this might be a reality.

(Click here for Part 2)

‘Oceans’ Full of Angels

C.S. Lewis said that two things which cannot be found in hell are music and silence. (The Screwtape Letters)

Josef Pieper chimes in, “… to the extent that it is more than mere entertainment of intoxicating rhythmic noise, music is alone in creating a particular kind of silence… within which, when things come about happily, a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.” (pg. 55-56, Only the Lover Sings)

George MacDonald agrees saying “Heaven is the region where there is only life, and therefore all that is not music is silence.” (pg. 113, George MacDonald: An Anthology)

Peter Kreeft concludes, “Heaven is both silent, like the contemplative mystic, and full of sound, like a dance or a symphony.”

This all jives with what is recorded about the end times, when the redeemed will be awed to silence “for about a half an hour” (Rev. 8:1) and then “sing a new song before the throne” (Rev. 14:3.)

It would seem that most of the music in our culture today, though, doesn’t really echo that “new song.” We don’t really make much music in which God rests and perches, waiting to show Himself to us. Isn’t all of the music from, say, the Grammys produced more or less for entertainment and pleasure-seeking? In the culture at large, how foreign is the idea of music helping us access the Good? The sentiment embedded in this anecdote about Handel’s famous piece Messiah seems almost strange to us:

“When a nobleman praised Handel as to how entertaining the Messiah was, Handel replied, ‘My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.’”

We make a lot of noise, but not a lot of music.

But all is not lost! Every once in while one hears something that runs contrary to this current trend. Though it isn’t perfect, I think ‘Oceans’ by Hillsong United is a good example. I could see this being sung in Heaven.

A friend recently remarked to me that the period from 6:08-6:45 in this song, where the singer, Taya Smith, begins to soar into the heights, must be something of what Heaven is like – lifting up all of oneself (mind, body, spirit, voice, emotions, etc.) in a great chorus of praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am instantly reminded of the great wedding feast where the music of Heaven will drench us and the glory of God will irradiate us as we sing ‘Hallelujah!’

Ergo, I once again encourage you to, at some point in the near future, set aside everything you are doing (carve out a little attentive, receptive ‘silence’), free your hands from the computer and…

1)   Read Revelation 19:6-10 to prime the pump.

2)   Simply listen to this performance, allowing God to surprise you.

3)   Pray.

(Note: Praise is universal. The Holy Father recently taught us that praise is essential to Christian life and explicitly ‘not just for Charismatics.’ So whether it’s King David, chanting monks, George Handel, Rich Mullins, Hillsong United or an off-putting amateur, God loves seeing His children “dance in front of the Lord with all [their] strength.”)