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?

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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!

‘Same Love’ and A Different Kind of Grammys

the-winners-of-the-55th-annual-grammy-awards-11Well the Grammys aired Sunday night to the usual cacophonous diatribe of vacuous self-worship. But this year had a new kind of rotten show for us to digest: a mass ‘wedding’ ceremony of Oprah-size proportions (You get a marriage! You get a marriage! Everyone gets a marriage!). Has an orgy of weddings ever been shown on TV before? It has now. It’s been said that we live in a post-Christian society; surviving on the expiring fumes of a culture that once sprung forth from the fecundity of the Gospel. Sunday was a rather jarring reminder that those fumes are thinning quickly.

Just as the water beneath the surface reveals much more about the actual action on the surface itself, so it is with human events – there is a lot going on in the background. Sunday’s display was no different. As Queen Latifah legislated over the assembly line style ‘ceremony,’ slithering in the background was the crested hymn of all the festivities: Macklemore’s ‘Same Love.’ The title of this song is the perfect place to start to understand all this surface-level confusion.

What is love?

This question should be talked about more. It is perhaps the most important question that exists. And the definition of its subject is perhaps the most important definition that exists. Where should we start? Let’s start where ‘Same Love’ ends: 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

Everyone recognizes this passage, but unfortunately, the middle of it is often forgotten. Yes, we all know love is ‘patient’ and ‘kind’ (incidentally, as an aside, this does not mean anything flaccid like ‘nice’) and not ‘jealous,’ ‘boastful,’ or ‘rude.’ We should never forget that they are part of the profile of love. But we often forget that St. Paul tells us love ‘does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.’ What exactly does that mean?

Jesus says something similar in John’s Gospel when he tells his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15.) How does this help us know what love is? It can start by showing us that love involves action, it involves doing something. And why does one do anything? Well, because it’s good to do. Well, why is anything good? Because it’s true. It is an affirmation of being. It is in accord with reality, with “what is”, with the way things really are. So, Jesus is essentially saying here, “If you love me, you will act according to the Truth of what I have revealed.”

Similarly, St. Paul is saying, in 1 Corinthians 13, that love will only ‘rejoice’ in that which is in accord with Truth, with reality. Why? Because love seeks, wills and works towards what is good for the other – and it cannot be good for someone to be acting outside of reality, to be moving towards nothingness. How could love ‘rejoice’ in that? Thus, love is always motivated by a desire for human flourishing and freedom. And, in order to attain those, we must be willing the “other” to be in right accord with reality. How could love do anything different?

In the midst of this discussion a principle is rising like cream to the top (one that is so very foreign to our culture that it rushes upon us like a fresh breeze):

There is no Love without the Truth.

If we lose our ability to see the Truth, we lose our ability to love (regardless of our good intentions).

Now, there are many kinds of love (filial, fraternal, affectionate, etc.), but the subject of  ‘Same Love’ is particularly sexual love. So the question then is, “What is the truth about sexual love?” Tomes of beautiful words have been written on this; but, to deal with the topic only briefly here, it seems safe to assert that sexual love is the love in which persons unite most comprehensively and through which babies are made. Another way to say this is that sexual love is both unitive and procreative. Then, what is simply given to us as fact about how human beings can both completely unite (meaning especially bodily unite) and produce offspring?

It would seem written into our very bodies that this can only occur between one man and one woman. To act on the contrary is simply to deny the truth practically screaming at us and, as a result, simply cannot ever lead to human flourishing. So then, however good the intentions are, to act in a way contrary to what is good for someone cannot be love.

A brilliant illustration of this is found in St. Francis. Many people across all kinds of dividing lines admire St. Francis as a man of great love. Most aren’t familiar with a phrase St. Francis unceasingly lifted up in prayer:

O Lord, show me – Who are You; and who am I?

In so many words, St. Francis asked for nothing but the Truth: the truth of who God is and the truth of who Francis was as his disciple. ‘Lord, let me see things as they really are.’ And it is precisely that which freed him to love so ardently. The truth set him free – free to love.

So, what is love? Love is found in Truth. The Truth of ‘what is’ and the Truth of what is ultimately good and life-giving for each and every one of us.

Be Not Afraid

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The word “virtue” can be one of those oft-repeated non-words that we digest as dull and lifeless. This reaction is completely understandable – the familiar becomes banal. But it is good to shake ourselves out of this and ask the Spirit to refresh and renew our vision to see things as they really are. The Christian concept of virtue simply consists of a person being all that it is possible for him or her to be (the realization of the human capacity for being). They are gifts that bud from the grace of God, which surge through the disciple and manifest him or her as a radiant, free, happy, inexplicably wondrous child of God.

One of these gifts that is seldom appreciated for its impact in our lives is courage. We don’t carry swords, fight in battles, lodge on the frontiers or live harvest-to-harvest anymore – we work on computers, drive in cars, store our food in Tupperware and have temperature-controlled houses. So why do we need courage?

“Do not be afraid” is the most repeated phrase in the Bible. In fact, it is repeated 365 times – one for each day. Isn’t that somewhat shocking? It’s not variations of “I love you” or “Come to me all who labor”, but “Do not be afraid”. That must mean two important things:  1) God is telling us that fear will be a huge part of our lives and, if you don’t think it is, you are kidding yourself and 2) He can do something about it (why would He tell us to rise above fear unless He could give us the power to do it?).

We need to admit that fear is a very real part of our lives. Every day we are met with situations and decisions that grip us by the throat – some lightly, some tightly – and make us want to shrink away, to run. Think of the Dark Island from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. How often does a “great dark mountain rising out of the sea” meet us on our life’s voyage, an “utter blackness as if they had come to the edge of moonless and starless night”, “not land at all, not even, in an ordinary sense, a mist… [but] Darkness”?

And, though they vary in severity, hue and gravity, this fear-inducing darkness meets us every day. Fear really is one of the biggest problems in our lives. Michael O’Brien – one of today’s best fiction writers, who happens to be Catholic as well – was recently asked what he learned from times of struggle, hopelessness and discouragement. His response:

I saw that fear – not just sin, but fear – blocks out the actions of God. It can…  What have I learned? After sin, fear is my greatest enemy. 

Sin is our worst enemy: evil flooding into our very selves. But after that, nothing is more hellish and can keep us from all the good the Lord has for us than fear – the fumes of that flood.

If fear is one of our biggest problems, then it makes sense that courage is one of the biggest “answers” in our lives. St. Teresa of Avila goes so far as to mark courage as perhaps the most important characteristic one can have when on the “spiritual journey” that is the life of a disciple. Why? Because fear won’t lead us home. Fear makes us shrink and deflate; it makes us “turn tail” as most of the members of the Dawn Treader would have done. But courage literally “gives heart” so that we may attain and achieve what is good for us and our brothers and sisters. It frees us to not be steered by our fears, but by our internal compass, by Truth, by God Himself. It liberates us to plow forth on the mission – our mission – given to us by the King.

We need not even be bogged down by the fact that there is fear in our lives. We are not called to be fear-less. We are called to be courageous – willing to go on in the face of fear.  Fear will come (doesn’t God allude to that by repeating a phrase 365 times in the Bible?) and when it does may we embody Reepicheep, saying,

This is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me though fear.

So how do we acquire courage? By asking for a gift. We don’t have to rise above fear strictly on by our own moxie and savvy. Of course grace isn’t magic (it requires our co-operation) but it is, first and foremost, from the Father. We can’t defeat darkness. We can’t, of our own accord, flick the fears off our back and shimmy on up the mountain. But, our Father, who confidently stands as Lord over all, has no problem with turning our darkness into light. Let’s rejoice that, with God dwelling in us, we are empowered to rise above all evil. Alleluia!

Let us beg our Father to pour out on us this gift of courage, which, like Reepicheep, can often come in a small package, but can nonetheless steer the ship straight – through choppy, dark waters to Aslan’s country.

Bearing Fruit for the Kingdom

The video below is the last of four young adult shows on Crossing the Goal.  The first three can be found on our blog, http://www.crossingthegoal.com, or http://www.etwn.com.  In this episode, the guys look at the importance of intercessory prayer while engaging in the mission of the Church.