Friday, December 21, 2012

Hoping for the End of the World

Artistic depiction of what didn't happen today.
If you have a Facebook account and you've checked it today, you will have discovered two things:  the world was supposed to end today, and people are somewhat disappointed it didn't.  While this disappointment might be our sarcastic, sophisticated 21st century way of mocking a primitive 16th century prediction, there is some peculiarity with how fascinated we are with the end of the world.  Whether it cometh in fire, in water, in zombie plague, in earthquake, in nuclear annihilation, in financial collapse, or in alien invasion, we are fascinated by a topic which should absolutely terrify us:  our own demise.  Our hearts are shattered when we hear of a shooting in a school or a mall, but we are absolutely fascinated, perhaps even thrilled, by the prospect of the collapse of human civilization.  Why?

We want the world to end, not because we crave the death of our neighbors, or because we want to watch the world burn necessarily, but because the destruction of the world is so very very real.  Humans build things of every shape and sort.  We build structures and institutions, we build cultures and civilizations, we build ideologies and philosophies, all for what?  Humans are the only species that, when faced with adversity in nature, do not adapt, but adapt nature, even to the extent of absolutely eliminating the natural setting completely in some cases.  We're a creative species, but somewhere deep within we know it does not last.  We look back on our history as a species and see decrepit ruins, temples which have crumbled and palaces which are no more than excavation sites, and we realize a very cold and real fact:  None of it lasts.  The reality of our creations is the same as the reality of their creators, that all of it will inevitably fall some day.  New York City, like ancient Rome or Greece, will be ruins, and everyone who ever built her will someday be dead.  It may not be the most pleasant of thoughts, but its certainly real.

We go about day to day living in our created world.  We drink coffee in a Starbucks, both of which are human creations.  We drive cars on highways, also both created.  We work in jobs making money (created things, both of them), we struggle to receives wealth and power (both ideas we invented).  Everywhere we turn, we see a world crafted entirely of human hands, and a creeping worm of an idea in the back of our mind reminds us that, like the hands which created it, this world will not last.  It may be "real" now, but will not always be so.

Generally speaking, we like living in our cozy, man-made world.  Its comfortable, its convenient, its suited to our flavors and preferences.  However, its not real.  Every Starbucks is no more subsiding and eternal than the people who build it, every ideology no more sustainable than those who hold it.  We're comfortable in the created world, but we hunger for a world that is real, one indifferent to human creations and their temporal nature, a world that is honest and brutal and lasting.  We wouldn't enjoy the suffering and death of billions, but we do crave the chance to stare reality, timeless and eternal, in the face.  We want eternity because eternity is real.  With great irony, we want the death of everything because we want to live forever.  Rather than dwell in our own illusion, we want to be stripped of our weak creations, we want to watch our skyscrapers tumble and our false ideologies fall, and see what about us and about the world is really real.

So don't feel guilty when your apocalyptic hopes are dashed and you feel disappointed, for its a craving for truth you feel.  This same desire that makes us crave the thrilling reality of zombie doom is the desire that drives to pursue the truth, to hunger for heaven, and to seek the coming of the Son of God, wrapped in cloths and laying in a manger, this Christmas season.  We crave God, because more than anything or ever could be, God is real.  Our creations will fall, and those who created them will fall, but He who created us will never fall, and when all that is false has fallen, all that will be left is us and Him, and how very real an experience that will be.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Newtown Taught Us About Advent

I admit, I feel a bit uneasy using the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT as fodder for my sub-par blog, because, for obvious reasons, this tragedy is abhorrent on an entirely different level.  Nobody appreciates the slaughter of other human beings, but the massacre of innocent children is nothing short of abominable.  If this is our reality, a reality in which children are executed in their classrooms, I vehemently reject it.  This is not the reality for me, no thank you.  Such an abomination causes even the most hardened skeptic to purse his lips and whisper, "Evil..."  However, because we the unhappy survivors left to cope are, invariably, human, we ask the question all human ask: Why?  Human beings seek the light of understanding, even in the darkest of horrors such as what unleashed upon this quiet school.  We seek meaning to this meaningless suffering, and in that, there is a lesson to be learned.

If ever there were a good argument to spite God with, it would be this:  How could an all-knowing, all-powerful, good, and loving God allow such evils as Newtown to happen?  You would think (and you'd be right to think so) that any truly good, able, and knowing person would stop Adam Lanza from pulling the trigger that morning; that his mother, the staff and students in Sandy Hook, and himself would still be alive had somebody intervened.  Who better than the Almighty himself, who is praised as omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and completely good, to swoop down from the High Heavens and stopped the madness before it ever began.  In fact, why wouldn't he do so in the case of every evil ever?  If God exists and God is good, why are we so brutally confronted with the horrible reality of evil?

Forgive me for being a bit philosophical in this next part.  To understand better the problem of Evil, we must ask what evil is.  Evil is not a thing, but the absence of a thing.  Just as darkness is the absence of light and cold the absence of heat, evil is the absence of what ought to be.  We were so disgusted and repulsed by Newtown because we know, in the depths of our souls, children ought to be safe and innocent.  It ought to be that no child is executed in the corridors of their school, and when cold harsh reality strikes us with the news that what ought to be is not so, we feel the cold, dark chill of Evil.  

Where does evil come from then?  Where did reality split from what ought to be to what, unfortunately, is?  Put simply, choice.  The power to choose makes derivation from the right path possible.  Human beings have the power of Will, we can choose Good or not Good (Evil).  Rock have no choice.  A rock cannot stop behaving as a rock should.  That's why we cannot seriously accuse it of being a bad rock, its just a rock.  Humans do, and because of it, we are capable of magnificent good or horrifying evil.  A person, through the power of choice, can be Gandhi or can bring a nation to its knees in horror.  Newtown showed us, as Virginia Tech, Columbine, Sudan, Rwanda, the Holocaust, and so much more have showed us, that we live in a reality in which people do choose evil.  The repulsive reality we live in is one which resulted from our choice.  

So where does our suspiciously silent God lie in all of this madness we call "reality"?  I suppose we would prefer to see a Superman-like God, one who in unmatched power and total nobility swoops in and stops evil before it happens.  We would want a God in unparalleled strength, with Heavenly armies pouring from the skies and laying waste to all the evil men and women.  Indeed, if God were good, he'd crush the power of sin and darkness with resplendent glory.  Unfortunately, there was no angelic garrison barring the doors of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Nor did St. Michael swoop from the clouds and put Lanza to the sword before opened fire.  No, cold, harsh, terrible reality took place in Newtown and God and his great might were nowhere to be found.

Or were they?  We hunger for the great and powerful God to come and destroy our violent world in even greater violence, and we forget that we may be looking in the wrong places.  We look for God in a throne, but not in a manger.  We seek to find him with glittering crown, but don't think to see him wreathed in thorns.    We expect God to fight evil, and rightly so, but we expect him to do so oppressively, defeating power with greater power, crushing violence with greater violence.  This is because all we know in this world is the threat of power, violence, and oppression.  However, fighting evil with such tools is merely fighting it on its own terms, something God has little interest in doing.  Violence is not defeated violently, nor is evil toppled in destruction.  Evil, that which brings violence to our schools and destruction to our homes, is defeated from within by the light of Goodness, which is what brings me to Advent.  In Advent, we draw our focus to the coming of Christ, an event swimming in peculiarity.  The nativity scene might be cute and idyllic to us, but in reality, it is Earth shattering.  Think of the famous Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel".  While it might be pleasant and Christmas-y for us, this song is a cry for help, wrought in bitter tears.  This ancient song speaks to exactly what we've been talking about, our desperate cry for God's intervention in a world held captive in evil.  Advent is not just about decking the halls in preparation for Christmas.  It is a season to remind us of this very deep yearning of our very broken hearts:  We need God with us.  Our hearts shattered and bound in in an evil world, we need God, in his goodness and might, to free us from this world, and how peculiar is the way he chose. 

Christ, God Incarnate, came, not as a conquering hero, but as a baby.  He did not bind the forces of evil, but  lay bound in swaddling clothes, not on golden throne but in a manger, the trough from which the animals would eat.  Here is our conquering God, on glorious campaign against evil, who from the very beginning of his assault on the powers that be is completely undermining them.  Here is a God who, at the pinnacle of his war march on evil, does not conquer with great oppression but in total surrender.  Humanity asks for a conquering hero and we are given one even better:  A God like ourselves, born, raised, and died in suffering and evil.  God is no stranger to suffering and evil, and rather than crushing it in force he juxtaposes himself in the midst of it all.  When we see tragedy like Newtown, we rightfully ask "Where were you God?"  However, God has given us an answer in Christ crucified; he was not indifferently aloof, but at home in the midst of the suffering, a God who knows how incredibly hard it is to be human.

When we see unspeakable horror and experience despair from tragedies like Newtown, they ought to remind us of Advent, of our world long captive to the power of evil, desperately yearning for God with us.  We ought to think of Christ, not as one who conquers in great gusto but one who has the audacity to enter into the experience of suffering and evil in our lives.  Here is our answer to Evil's problem, Christ's conquest of it from its very heart.  Like Frodo toppling Mordor from within, Christ enters into our world of suffering and actively undermines it from within.  For the remainder of this Advent, we ought to think about this, about our desperate cry for a savior and the revolutionary response we get in the infant Jesus.  We ought to think about this child, bound helpless in a manger, yet set out to conquer the universe, not in strength but in surrender.  Here is the paradox of Christianity, here is the heart of our bold and fantastic faith, here lies your salvation. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why You Really Are Great

If there is one thing that we, as a society, struggle to comprehend, it is the value of a human being.  This critical misunderstanding drives virtually every debate, every argument, every conflict, every war; every confrontation in the modern world comes from the fact that I do not understand why I should find you worthwhile.  Abortion, sexual ethics, racism, poverty, discrimination, warfare, all based on the misunderstanding of human value.  People are great.  You'd struggle to find someone who completely disagrees with that premise, but you could very well spark a bloody war (or even worse, an internet flame war) trying to identify just why people are great.

The general consensus of our society is that we are valuable because of things about us:  our appearance, our abilities, talents, beliefs, histories, possessions, personalities, etc.  A great man or woman might be great because they are intelligent, or rich, or powerful, or have a strong personality.  A mediocre person might be mediocre because they sit on their couch all day and have a crappy resume.  We evaluate each other based on utility, on traits, on ability the ability to express oneself upon the world around us.  This is why Alexander the Great is "the Great" and you cousin Alexander is not "the Great", because your cousin didn't conquer the better part of the known world in his early twenties.  This is why the United States is a great nation and Eritrea is not, because the United States expresses its influence all around the world and Eritrea does not.

This idea of greatness has its merits, one can't really deny that.  Our gifts are not given to us without reason, and our society runs because people use the gifts their given to express themselves upon the world their in.  However, human beings are not merely the value of their gifts, because gifts do not last.  Madonna was a great musician... once.  Madonna no longer tops the charts because her music isn't as good and her looks aren't doing all that well, in other words, her gifts are fading.  Our abilities come and go with the passage of time, they change, they get better or worse depending on where or when we happen to be.  Or, to streamline the process, insert me, with a pick up truck.

4,000 lbs of instant inevitability
If Madonna were crossing the street and I, who just so happened to be rocking out to "Material Girl", was not paying attention and (with great irony) hit her with my truck, I could quickly hasten time's inevitable decay, a la brain damage.  We are all one hit and run away from vegetative states, and what becomes our gifts (and therefore, our value) then?

Mankind is great, not because of any extrinsic trait, but because of intrinsic value, a value that is infinite and incomparable.  And here's where it gets interesting.  You see, you and I are both valuable, intrinsically and regardless of our differing traits and abilities, but we're also uniquely valuable.  Most people like to find value in their abilities because it reaffirms their individuality, it tells them that they are one of a kind, that they are special and unique, which is why we tend to scoff at anyone who tells you that your value is independent of your unique traits.  Being valuable is not just merely finding worth, but finding worth that is entirely and completely unique.  Thus, some of you might scoff when I say "You are valuable regardless of your supposed individuality." because being equally valuable as everyone else just doesn't seem all that valuable.  But that's where you'd be wrong.

You are uniquely and infinitely valuable, not because of what you have done, are doing, or can do, but because of who you are.  Period.  Each and every person is unique, not in what they do, but in who they are.  Every human being is a unique creation of God, valuable in a respect completely unique from any other person.  This is why the king is worth no more than the slave, the CEO worth no more than the hobo, the master worth no more than the servant, because, in God's eyes, there are no kings or slaves or CEOs or hobos, just people.  Human beings.  Each of them absolutely and uniquely crafted and purposelessly loved by God.  People aren't valuable for what they have made, but because of Him Who Made Them.  You could change the world if you really believed that about everyone you met.  Yeah, its hard.  Our entire culture disagrees with this; it undermines the competitive system that our entire world is based on.  But it is the fundamental truth of human life.

If we, as Christians, are to understand our place in the history of salvation, we ought to first understand this very basic truth: you're not worthwhile because of what you have to offer, but because of what God has offered you.  Christianity is not like the rest of the world, which is constantly struggling to prove yourself worthy for the things you have and the things you want.  Christians have nothing to prove, for God's not interested in trading your good deeds for eternal salvation.  For Heaven is not a prize one by moral greatness, but a gift given to those who will receive it.  God does not admit into eternal peace those who have "earned it", for one cannot earn love, they can only receive and reciprocate it.  Heaven is for God the lover and we the beloved to love each other for all eternity, not because we're useful to each other, but because we delight simply in the fact that the other exists.   This is the heart of Christianity, not competition for greatness, but delightful, loving relationship with God.  Why are Christians supposed to be good people?  Not because our goodness proves our worth, but because the true recognition of our worth in God makes being good so delightful and effortless.  Goodness, to the Christian, is not so much a duty but a response, a consequence of the realization of just how loved we really are.

If you want to be a better person, if you want to be a better Christian, the best place to start is the contemplation of just how loved by God you really are for no reason other than the fantastic fact that you exist.  The growing realization that you are infinitely and eternally loved by God will change you, will cause you to return that love to God and to fellow man, will make Goodness inevitable and irresistible for you.  Think about it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Making God Bleed

In the movie "Iron Man 2", there's a great scene in which Tony Stark confronts the villain in a prison cell, hoping to understand the villain, his motives, etc. etc.  Amidst the witty dialogue, exposition-setting, and foreshadowing and whatnot, the villain makes an interesting philosophical comment:

Ivan Vanko: If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him.

Most people don't think too much more about that line.  But I am not most people.  I focused on that line the rest of the movie, and still ponder it frequently.  If you could make God bleed, would people lose faith in him?  The movie seemed to make that assertion, and so does out culture.  Take the case of General Petraeus, the most recent of history's laundry list of sex scandals.  A month ago, it seemed as though there was nobody quite like Petraeus, indeed, he was a God-like figure.  Powerful, a clean cut military man who valiantly and charismatically led his troops into battle, now turned chief spy for the U.S.  As far as giants in the power structure of the world go, Petraeus was one of them.  However, his vulnerability and failures as a person are now splayed across international news; the man entrusted with some of the greatest secrets of the world rendered vulnerable and weak by the charms of a woman.  Soap operas can't even compete with this stuff.  If Petraeus was a God-like figure, we now see him bleed, and an entire nation loses their faith in him.

Admit it, no matter what sort of
moral fortitude you possessed,
you were fascinated by this man's
And, strangely enough, isn't this the cycle of human history?  The rise and fall of great men, gods in their own right, until somehow they face their vulnerability.  Achilles had his heel, Caesar had the Roman Senate, Byzantium had Mehmet II, Napoleon had Waterloo, and so on and so forth.  Human civilization is built of great men and falls when these men (literally or metaphorically) bleed.  Even more strangely enough, we enjoy this cycle.  We participate in what Romans called delectatio morosa the Germans call it schadenfreude. It is the delight in the misfortune of others.  Tabloids fly off the shelves and Entertainment Tonight is on air because everyone loves a good scandal.  We love watching Tiger Woods play golf.  But we couldn't get enough of him when his affair was made public.  Do we feel bad for him?  Yes.  Do we want him to suffer?  Probably not.  But boy, are we entertained and invigorated by it.  Indeed, we love the downfall of great men because it show us that great men are, behind all their shimmering splendor, human, and thus not really great.  I would even go as far as saying we, in some dark corner of our soul, crave the downfall of all great men, just so we no longer have to believe in their greatness.

So then, is the villain right?  If you could make God bleed, would people cease to believe in him?

Christianity has an unique place in this discussion.  Namely, because we actually tried it.  While the world looks at the cyclical rise and fall of great men and thinks, "If only we could make God Himself bleed, then he too would fall,"  we were the ones crazy enough to do it.  When a Jewish carpenter made the audacious claim that he was the Son of God and had miraculous credibility to that claim, we crucified him.  We scourged him, made him bleed profusely until he died in one of the most gruesome ways we could imagine, and we sealed him away in a tomb.  We struck a fatal blow upon God and killed him so that we might not have believe in him.  And the most extraordinary thing happened. 

Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, was slain by men, and as the direct fruit of that, Christianity has enraptured the world.  History's greatest certainty, the ebb and flow of power, was turned on its head on Easter morning.  Jesus Christ died and conquered death itself in the Resurrection, and in Heavenly glory, he undermined everything we've ever known about greatness.  Christianity is unlike anything in the world.  Everything in the world is built and sustained on the basis of strength.  Successful institutions, corporations, and nations are built by strong men, for strong men, and through strong men (and/or women, in case you get yourself in a tizzy over such meager distinctions).  Successful things succeed because of the exploitation of their strengths and fail because of the exploitation of their weaknesses, or so the world would say.  Not so for Christianity, which was built upon the spilled blood of the Most Innocent.  It was Jesus Christ's cross, his weakness, and not his strength that laid the foundations for Christendom.  

The Church is not born out of the illusion of man's strength, but out of defeat of his weakness by Christ on the cross.  You see, it was precisely because God bled and died that we have the audacity to believe in him.  Let the Holy Mass be the glittering testimony to this fact; in all of Christianity, there is no more glorious moment than when the Body and Blood of Christ are elevated for all of heaven and earth to see and believe. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ dredged deep in the heart of man and left everyone in every age, from greatest emperor to lowest serf, in utter awe and amazement.  In it, we see greatness eternal, greatness eternal, greatness itself. 

Why do we wish to topple great men and their great things?  Because we know that they are not really great.  No matter how strong the Strong Man is, he will die.  No matter how tall the tallest tower is, or how shiny the shiniest monument is, it will crumble to ruin or lose its splendor.  Great men are not great because even the greatest of men fall and die.  But Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, died and now lives eternally, and it his passage through death into eternal life that makes him, truly and eternally, great.  This is why we believe in a bloodied God, why we can look in confidence and laugh at a flabbergasted world and say "We made God bleed, and because we did so, we believe."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Catholic in a Coffeehouse

So, as I type this, I find myself perched in a corner of America's own pseudo-cultural hubs, the creature known as Starbucks.  I don't make it to Starbucks often, which is odd considering the facts that I love coffee, they sell coffee, and they have about as many coffeehouses in the US as the Catholic Church does parishes.  However, the occasions I do get to go to Starbucks are quite interesting, for a variety of reasons, most notable of which is the similarity that Starbucks bears to the Catholic Church.

That got your attention didn't it.  Now, allow me to explain myself.  I know about Starbucks' support of gay marriage and whatnot.  I'm not saying that Starbucks and Catholicism are the same.  But they are very similar, and here's why.  

They march to a war on naps.
Walk into any Starbucks, and you'll notice that they all bear a striking resemblance to each other.  You can go to nearly any Starbucks and know what sort of environment, what sort of menu, what sort of service, what sort of experience that you will find.  They all have similar layouts, similar furniture, similar atmosphere, and similar process to each other, and from all this, we tend to gleam a sort of reassurance.  We like Starbucks for a variety of reasons, but mostly because Starbucks gives us the same experience no matter where we are.  When we want expensive coffee and free wifi, we know that no matter where we are, we can go to Starbucks and find it.

Now look at Catholicism.  No matter where in the world you are, the Catholic Church has a string of consistency.  You can walk into a Catholic Church and expect the same experience day in and day out.  Mass at St. Patrick's in New York will be the same as Mass in Sts. Peter and Paul in San Francisco, singing many of the same hymns with much of the same smells and bells and what not.   We all have a variety of reasons for being Catholic, and among them prominently is its widespread consistency.  When our souls hunger for prayerful silence and Heavenly Liturgy, we can go to a Catholic Church and find it.

Now, hang in there with me on this one.  Starbucks, for many, is a place of worship.  I can assure you, Starbucks is not just about coffee.  If it were, I could buy a cheap coffee maker and generic coffee, put it on a cart, sell it for 50 cents and be way more successful than a Starbucks.  A cup of coffee is easily $2, and yet Starbucks are more common than acne on the face of a 15 yr old.  Why do people go to Starbucks if not just for coffee?  Well, as mentioned previously, it has to do with the atmosphere.  People like Starbucks, not because its coffee and wifi, but because its trendy coffee and wifi.  Each cardboard-wrapped cup of joe comes with a sense of unspoken prestige, an aura of cool.  Starbucks is artisan, its earthy, its cool.  A styrofoam cup of Folgers doesn't convey the same message that a paper cup of Starbucks does, and that's why we'll drop mad cash for a Venti Mocha Abomination (I take my coffee black, thank you muchly).

And what a devout band of worshipers
we are...
Starbucks is a place of worship, like the Catholic Church, but it worships trendiness.  We don't go to Starbucks for coffee, we go to Starbucks for really cool coffee.  I'd argue that if modern pop culture, especially amongst young adults from middle class upbringing, had a religious denomination, it would be the Almighty Starbucks.  My age group is, despite the demographics, very religious.  Our ancestors worshiped in grand churches and basilicas, and they gave their souls to a God that their eyes could never see.  My generation worships in coffeehouses and shopping malls, and sell their souls to gods they can only see with eyes.  My heart, when it soars in prayer, can be overwhelmed by grace eternal.  My generation cannot commune with trends; we can only empty our wallets at its feet and pray that another cup of coffee will make us happy for a few minutes, or plead that these new shoes will put our anxieties at ease.  Problems that our hearts are afflicted with and illnesses that our souls are stricken by are hopelessly abated with Ugg boots and North Face jackets, all gathered in the vain hope that when we have everything we want, we will still want everything that we have.

Starbucks, as a concept and as an institution, is a stark reminder of a very fundamental truth of human nature:  we are a species seeking purpose.  The human race exists, and yet, uniquely enough, we know that we don't have to exist, and that causes us to seek a purpose, a cause for our existence.  In something as simple as an overpriced and over-stylized cup of coffee, we seek to further settle the dispute in our soul.  We tell ourselves "If I had just one more venti mocha beverage, then I'll be ready for today" or "I'll be happier with a grande cappuccino" recognizing that we're not ready for today and we're not happy.  I have nothing against coffee, I love the stuff in fact.  But we cannot be honest and think that we haven't given trendiness and fashion free reign over our lives.  We coat ourselves in brand names and designer labels, clutching our mocha with both hands.  Why?  Because in a small corner of our heart, we think that the North Face will save us, that Sperry's mark the path to inner peace, that Louis Vuitton wants us to have life to the fullest, that at the bottom of our latte, we might find God.

Human life isn't so cheap that it can be valued in cups of coffee and fashionable accessories.   We want so many things, and when we get them, we find ourselves still wanting, because we never wanted them in the first place, just the satisfaction that we hoped they would bring us.  We don't want (insert trendy item), we want happiness, and have convinced ourselves that (aforementioned trendy item) will bring us one step closer to happiness, ultimately leaving us with coffee stained teeth and a landfill full of paper cups whose emptiness matches that of our hearts.  We were made for more than trends and fashions.  We were made for eternity.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

With Fire

Christ is a conqueror.  All too often, we try to soften him up, to make him seem harmless and passive, but if we don't find Jesus Christ to be incredibly dangerous, we're absolutely kidding ourselves.  Jesus is not sugarplums and teddy bears.  He is not a security blanket, nor is he a hearty laugh.  Jesus is fierce; he is wild and threatening.  Now, can Christ be comforting?  Of course!  Does he warm the heart?  Absolutely!  Is he refreshing?  Certainly?  But does Jesus Christ stop there?  Absolutely not.  While he may begin his journey with us through comfort, he will continue it with fire.  Jesus Christ is relentless, and he wages war on your heart.

Let me explain.  We live in a limp world, one of cheap excuses and cheaper thrills.  We let alcohol, drugs, and sex do for us what we cannot do ourselves.  We justify 5 days of the week with the brief refreshment we gain from the weekend, and even that does not subside.  More people kill themselves on Monday than any other day of the week.  Less than 50% of us actually like our jobs, and 75% of us lack the motivation to do anything about it.  We are a generation that doesn't live, and certainly doesn't thrive.    Most of us live within an hour of getting anything we want, we can get nearly infinite amounts of entertainment with the push of a button.  We aren't starving, we're actually more likely to die because we have too much food than because we have too little.  And yet, life seems miserable to us.  Anti-depressant use has increase a whopping 400% from 1994-2008.  There is a problem here. In today's world, we merely exist, subsiding through each day with the vain hope that the next might just be possibly be better.  I'm going to pull the Captain Obvious card and suggest that this isn't right.  Its not good that we are miserable, that happiness is so fleeting.  We're killing ourselves slowly with drugs, alcohol, and rampant promiscuity, desperately searching for peace we never seem to find.  Much of our society sees this as inevitable.  Jesus Christ sees this as a war zone.  Our society, in its united melancholy, has dismissed our beloved Jewish carpenter.  How can a roaming preacher save the world?  How can a crucified nobody free us?

If there is anything 2000 years of Christianity ought to have taught us, its that it was no mere nobody that hung on the cross.  Warlord and kings have risen and fallen in the past 2000 years.  Greece is a page in the history books.  The Ottoman Empire is a section on our world history exam.  Caesar Augustus is consigned to museums.  But Jesus Christ, the Nazarene?  Two billion people stand as rousing testimony that this obscure man from a dusty corner of history is alive.  Caesar commanded millions of legionaries, Alexander conquered Persia in his twenties, Mehmet II toppled Constantinople, but they are all dead and dust, banished to library shelves.  So why has Christ survived?  Why does Christianity flourish to this day?

Christianity shines resplendent because the Cross of Jesus Christ is a weapon unrivaled.  The sword has laid waste to many, and armies has conquered lands over and over again, but the Cross of Jesus Christ is stronger than sword and soldier; it does not make claim to land and to city, but to the human heart.  It is easy to conquer a city, you can set fire to it and raze it to the ground.  Not so the human heart.  The heart of man is not conquered in the fires of destruction, but in the fire of Christ's love.  This is the secret of the Cross, and the strength of Christ, the Warrior King, he does not conquer in death, but triumphs in life.  Jesus Christ lives eternally, his Sacred Heart ablaze in love.  It is this love that compels us, that wages war on our heart.  The love of Jesus Christ is relentless, it is unstoppable.  Christ is conquering the entire world with fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We may speak of our withering world, but even as it seems so dark, Jesus Christ is rising.  He overwhelms the darkness as the sunrise overwhelms the night, as spring overwhelms winter, as life eternal overwhelms death.

Jesus Christ is waging war for you.  He comes with blazing fire to conquer your heart, not to destroy it, but to bring it to life.  Jesus Christ will make you burn, not in death, but in Heavenly Life.  He will ignite your heart with fire, and how you will love having it burn.

Friday, November 2, 2012


If you were form your impression of western culture from a 5 minute trip of the internet, you'd probably come to these few conclusions:  1) The devil's name is Justin Bieber. 2) Christianity and atheism are in an epic and never ending battle to the death.  3) Christians can only relate to the world in complaints.  Now, while I can't necessarily comment on the truth value of the first two, I can and will say that the last item is false.  We are not creatures of complaint, at least we're not supposed to be.  Unfortunately, that seems to be the case these days.  Christians seem to be the greatest sense of accusation, of complaint, of bemoaning the modern culture.  We always hear of Christian preachers proclaiming fire and brimstone, condemning and denouncing our modern generation.  We see Christians spewing out hatred and judgement, giving downcast looks and showing great dissatisfaction with a myriad of modern issues.  By many measures, Christianity seems to be more focused on eradicating evil than spreading good.

You can tell he's British
by his dental care.
Now, before you get the wrong impression, let me clarify: Christians ought to fight evil.  They ought to fight it passionately, even more passionately than they are now.  Evil must be eradicated in every time and every place, and Christians ought to be the flag-bearers in this effort.  However, it seems our modern efforts aren't quite effective.  Let me explain...  G.K Chesterton, the British apologist and author, once said, "A good soldier doesn't fight because he hates what's in front of him, he fights because he loves what's behind him."  As Christians today, we seem to be passionate, not because of what we love, but because of what we hate.  I will ardently oppose efforts to legalize gay marriage, not because I hate gays or love or because I just get a kick out of oppressing people different from me.  I oppose gay marriage because I love the traditional family, the great and true expression of human sexuality and erotic love.

In many ways, we Christians have forgotten how to love the world around us.  When we wake up every morning, fearful of the day and the wrongs we might confront, we're missing the point.  Christianity isn't a losing battle, its a celebration.  Check your liturgical calendar, we have feast days all the time.  Why?  Because we celebrate!  Christianity is a joyous expression, a gleeful shout that first erupted 2000 years ago on Easter morning.  We are the people bearing the Gospel, the Good News.  If we truly understood the gravity of the News that we are to proclaim to the world, we would have no time to complain.  We would be unable to frown, we'd never stop laughing and shouting in sheer exhilaration, because we are the first light of a dawn in the day that never ends.  We are light and salt, we are the joy of the world.

These children are happy.  Now please,
I'd love to hear why you are not.
I find it incredibly concerning whenever our culture does not think of Christians as the joyful people.  I cringe when I see a world that is afraid of Christianity because they think of it as an imprisonment, as dwelling in archaic fear.  Our world has confused Christianity with its exact opposite.  Christianity is not a domain in fear, it is the freedom from fear.  The Cross of Jesus Christ is not a sign of oppression, but of liberation.  Jesus Christ isn't good news for middle-class white Americans, Jesus Christ is good news for all humanity.  The message of Christ transcends time and cultures, it is the invitation to joy for all peoples.  Heaven was not won for the well-behaved, it was won for the joyful, for the exuberant, for the redeemed.

When a Christian meets the world, it is his joy that is his greatest weapon.  Christianity best conquers the human heart not with the sword, but with the outstretched arm, with the invitation to life.  As a Christian, I must wake up every morning, not gritting my teeth because my enemies exist, but resplendently joyful because God has made his dwelling among men.  If Christians are fighting a battle in this day and age, it is a battle already won.  We have no place to cringe, no right to grit and gnash our teeth, because we are living testimonies to God's goodness.  Consider Paul:  "Creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the Children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now."  (Romans 8: 19-22).  We're Christian for Christ's sake!  Consider what that means if we truly believe the message we proclaim!  If we really live the Word we read, the Eucharist we receive;  if we truly consider the sheer audacity of our faith, we would all but die of joy.

Oh you Christian, you have no excuse to be sad!  You have no right to mourn, because the Risen Christ lives and dwells in you, and is using you to redeem the world!  Celebrate this truth!  Proclaim in any way you can the love Jesus Christ has for humankind!  Start by doing something other than internet-surfing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Let Me Be Free

Freedom is, for lack of a better adjective, a wonderful thing.  Here in America, freedom is not just a capital virtue, it is the capital virtue, and I'm here to declare what a wonderful thing that is.  Freedom is good, very good.  A man cannot have virtue if he is not free to be virtuous (or, alternatively, vicious).  Our nation's great prophets were right to praise freedom, and let no human being denounce freedom.  Having said all these things, and firmly holding them to be true, it is necessary for me to pose (and subsequently answer) the question:  What is freedom?  Man cannot possibly expect to be free if he is unable to have a grasp of what freedom is, where it comes from, why it is necessary, and ultimately, what it leads to.

Freedom has not been well defined throughout our history.  Freedom was the cry that let loose both the French Revolution and Mahatma Gandhi's movement for Indian Independence, one causing a considerable portion of civilized people to decapitate another equally considerable portion of civilized people, the other causing a peaceful cry for the dignity and independence of an entire subcontinent.  My love for freedom would like to presume that the French were less accurate than Gandhi in how they defined the idea of "freedom".  If we really wish to be free, it would be sensible for us to know what freedom is (at least, such a thing seems sensible to me.)

Freedom is the ability to be human, to put it in simple terms, or to put it in even simpler terms, freedom is the ability to be.  Period.  (Because the human part, at least in our case, is inevitable.)  Freedom, in the purest sense, is what it means to be human.  The extent to which we are free is the extent to which we are able to fully express our own humanity, the extent to which we can live.  And that's precisely what we were meant to  do.  We are meant to live.  We are deigned to be fully and wonderfully human, and that's usually the problem.  We have no idea what that looks like.  Our definition of freedom is usually off because, in a hilarious twist of irony, we separate being free from being human.  Instead, we usually understand freedom as  something on the lines as "I get to do what I want, given that I don't inhibit other people from doing what they want."

Now, there is something to be said about being able to do what we want to do.  I like being able to do all sorts of stuff, it is a good thing to be free to do.  But being free to "do" is not the best definition of freedom.  We're not human doings, we are human beings.  Freedom is not doing, freedom is being, and our problems are usually from the confusion of these two ideas.  We don't do free, we are free, and our freedom is oriented to something grander than what we can and cannot do; it is concerned with who we are.  Our society has done a great disservice to itself by equating what a man does to who that man is.  We are not the sum of our actions, nor is our identity the culmination of what we choose it to be.  Man is more than action, though his actions are certainly important.  He is greater than choice, although his choices are incredibly vital. Man, and his freedom, are oriented towards higher purposes than merely good choices.

"Freedom," as Blessed John Paul II puts it, "consists not in having the ability to do what you want, but in having the ability to do what you ought."  How wretched a life would it be if we only did what we want and never considered what we ought to do!  We have wants and desires, and we certainly want to do them, but life would absolutely suck if there was no reason for us wanting to do these things.  Humans are a unique brand, we are imperfect beings who recognize our imperfection and, thus, desire perfection.  We are the only ones who step back and think "Why the hell am I hungry?  What are the implications of my thirst?  Wouldn't it be swell if I never had a deficiency every again?"  We understand our desires as an imperfection.  We give them moral weight and understand them to have moral consequences.  Our desires, our wants, our imperfections are not purposeless; we don't have wants because life sucks, but because there's a purpose, a perfection to be sought.

Jesus Christ is the image of a free man.  Folks, freedom without purpose is the worse slavery man can muster; I would much rather be shackled and chained with a purpose than absolutely powerful without one.  Our freedom, our ability to be human, must never be without purpose.  We need a reason to be free, a noble end, a duty higher than ourselves.  Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection, was a free man, eternally convicted to do the will of his Father.  Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, because quite frankly, we have absolutely no idea what we want, much less why we want it.

Freedom has to be rooted in the Truth.  At its core, freedom must be from the truth, by the truth, to the truth and for the truth.  To be truly free is not just to be free from something or free to do something, but free for something.  We must have a reason to be free for, a purpose to achieve with our freedom.  Yes, you can make that purpose up to suit yourself as you please, but that seems rather shallow and futile, not to mention boring.  Freedom, true freedom, must be just that true freedom, not the illusion of being able to do what you want, but the freedom to do everything that you ought to do, the freedom to express your own excellence in a great many wonderful ways.  Be free.  Please, for the Love of God, be free, but really be free, the freedom that is true.  You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Prophets and Poets

Evangelization is hard work these days.  What most of you don't realize is that I probably write and erase 2 blog posts for every one that I actually publish, and even then, I'm only satisfied with about 30% of those.  Usually because my train of thought leaves me long before I can write it, so I end up repeating myself and punching walls in frustration.  'Tis a lovely time.  And that's just me and my feeble attempt to evangelize via my equally feeble blog.  
This represents me, trying to write one of these things.
Its better than actually doing things I'm obliged to do, but still.   Its hard.
 Our culture makes it incredibly hard for any person trying to make a genuine attempt to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  We express ourselves in 140 characters.  Everything is a Facebook 'like', a retweet, a bumper sticker, a slogan.  Nobody talks anymore, especially not about anything important. We talk about sports, talk about the weather, talk about how the weather is going to affect the sports.  Intoxicate us enough, and we'll crazy talk about how sports affects the weather.  (It has never snowed when the Dolphins play at home.  Coincidence?  I think not.)  Regardless, we've acclimated ourselves to not discuss anything that might genuinely be considered vital or fundamental.  I cannot go up to a man on the street and say "Excuse me sir, I'd like to talk to you about the meaning of life" and expect anything but a raised eyebrow and a shrug as he walks away.  We don't talk about important things, we never discuss anything that can come close to possessing deep, valuable meaning and the depths of the soul.  

Nothing demonstrates this more than the death of the prophets and poets.  These are the truth-tellers, the men who mine for meaning in the depths of humanity, and they are a dying breed.  The prophet stands on the street corners and proclaims the fruits of his search to any who will listen.  In the past, we used to run them out of town or kill them.  Nowadays, we're much more cruel.  We ignore them.  We let them shout at the top of their lungs from their allegorical podiums, their words laced with a vein of truth, their soul poured out into the open sky as they desperately look for someone to listen, and we give them no ear.  We call them crazy, or we explain them away into neat little categories we've built for them, to contain and control them.  Its so much easier to deal with people when we've labeled them.  Democrats, Republicans, hipsters, geeks, drunkards, druggies, whores, jocks, preps...  we've got a laundry list of categories custom made so that we don't have to deal with the real you, so that we don't have to recognize the cold hard truth that you are just as human as I am.  Thus, we kill the prophet, whose voice is too true and too honest for us to listen to.  Yeah, we'll hear them.  Heck, we might even take notes and post quotes on Facebook and Twitter, because who doesn't like to think themselves wise.  But actually listen?  Such a thing is too hard, because listening requires there to be a change in the heart, a surrendering of our control, a relinquishing to the Truth.

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."  T.S. Eliot
Poetry is a dying art, precisely because art is dying.  Our culture, in its hell-bent quest to make an iPhone that actually fulfills the deep hunger in our soul, has decided that art, while nice and all, is not nearly important as math and science.  We don't care about truth anymore, we've made it something personal, relative, opinionated, because God forbid there is actually a standard on which I am to be measured, an unmoving, unsympathetic basis on which I am evaluated.  No, such a thing scares the daylights out of us, so we create our own standards, ones that are sympathetic and personal and ultimately under our control.  Science may give us the facts, but poetry gives us the truth.  Science is the servant of man, with it, man may craft and create what ever he likes.  Poetry, poetry serves no man.  Poetry crafts men, not vice versa.  Poetry is a thing of beauty, and beauty changes people.

And it doesn't have to be religious poetry (or prophecy) either.  One of the greatest shortcomings a Catholic can do for their spiritual life is to deny themselves anything that doesn't have "Catholic" rubber stamped on the side.  Catholicism is the fullest revelation of the Truth on this side of eternity, meaning that whatever truth, goodness, and beauty we can distill from this life is, by its nature, Catholic.  Catholics must not come to mirror their secular counterparts and live their life in slogans and regurgitated quotes.  Catholics must become those annoying types to enjoy writings that surpass 140 characters, those who read and enjoy works long thought to be lost, those who stare at the technologically dominated world and say "No thank you, I'll enjoy my T.S. Eliot if its all the same."  

"The means by which we live has outdistanced
the ends for which we live. Our scientific power
 has outrun our spiritual power.
 We have guided missiles and misguided men."
The scientists might inform us that we're chemical, the mathematician may tell us that we're geometric, but the prophet and the poet remind us that we're human, a truth all too often forgotten.  In a time in which we surrender our identity to our doings, we forget that we are, first and foremost, invariably, human beings.  In a world ever changing, ever growing, ever evolving, we need to remember who we are.  Science and technology are constantly besting themselves, constantly redefining our capacity to discover and create things.  Our technology may revolutionize the way we live, but it will never revolutionize who we are.  We have no shortage of good science, but we are at a great shortage of good men, and men are the deciding factor between nuclear medicine and nuclear bombs.  Humanity needs prophets and poets because they search the human soul for the meaning of fire and rain and solace and pain.  Science can give no values, psychology will never tell you what is or is not good.  This is the domain of the prophet and the poet, the ones who seek truth, who proclaim their thirst from mountaintops and city slums.  In their proclamation and in their storytelling, they shed rays of deep truth, glimpses of not what the universe is, not how the universe is, but why the universe is, why we are, why love is.

We're at an embarrassing loss in the modern days.  In all our hustle and bustle, we seem to have forgotten how to be human, how to look at the world without and within and find truth and meaning to it all.  We are material, yes, made of the same chemicals as the soil and the stars, but we are not just  material, for rocks do not ponder truth and stars do not suffer.  Humanity has been graced with the prophet and the poet since the beginning of mankind, and this is for a reason:  we've been busy searching for meaning the entire time.  The poet and the prophet are by no means infallible, nor are they always graceful or gentle.  They're human after all.  But they are asking the right questions, and such a thing is more than most can attest to.  If you want to discover your humanity, read some poetry, find some prophet and see what they might have to say, search and sift for Truth, not as something relative and subjective, but as something grander than the universe itself.  The prophet and the poet, though they may be wrong, are searching for God rather than the rest of the hoi polloi (fancy words!) who see fit to make themselves into their own, weak, puny gods (also knows as bloggers).  So go out, read some poetry, or better yet, write some.  We need more.  We need people with the audacity to look for meaning in the madness and the chaos, and out of that search, reveal beauty.  We need the poet and the prophet.

Now for your listening pleasure:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hitler and I: A Painful Look at Evil

Need I say more?
I was born at the end of the 20th century, 1991.  And the 20th century was one hell of a century to be associated with.  When people look back from the distant future, the 20th century will almost certainly jut out  as one of the most memorable centuries in human history, and for all the wrong reasons.  Before the century was even half over, the entire world had erupted into war twice, with a global economic disaster spanning the time inbetween.  The Second World War claimed nearly 70 million lives, 17 million of them were civilians exterminated, including the death of 2/3 of the Jewish population of Europe.  Even more haunting than the devastation that the war left was the devastation that the war made possible.  Atomic warfare, capable of annihilating enormous swaths of land and bringing about global extinction, sprang out of the ruins of the war and loomed over the latter half of the 20th century.  Periodic genocides, civil wars, and mass human rights violations also littered the century.  As far as people getting along with other people goes, the 20th century sucked by any stretch of the imagination.

In the wake of this century, you find my generation, the last generation of that terrifying stretch of time.  My generation is interesting, and it doesn't take a sociologist to figure that one out.  We're affluent, ridiculously well connected, and incredibly influential.  And with all of this affluence and influence, we seem to have turned our eye towards the mistakes of the generations past.  I challenge anyone to find a generation as concerned with social issues as my generation.  We created (and promptly rejected) KONY 2012, we pioneered the ability to grant foreign aid via text message.  We protest for freedom in the streets of the middle-east, we camped outside of Wall Street for months on end.  Didn't actually get much done, but hey, we occupied, right?  Cries for Gay Rights and Women's Rights and minorities' rights echo through our lexicon.  Take a class on foreign cultures, and you'll quickly discover disdain for colonial influences and imperialistic practices, coupled with intense praise for cultural relativism and pluralism.  We are, for better or worse, the generation of being fair.  It makes sense.  It doesn't take a guru to see that the generations before absolutely sucked at treating humans... humanely.  So we've now chosen to roundhouse that system in the face for a system that corrects the mistakes of our elders.  We're out to stop sin... sorta.

If the last hundred years have not convinced you
that sin and evil are real, seek professional help.
The tragedies of the 20th century, as well as the many tragedies before it, were just that:  tragic.  We cannot look back at the massacre of millions of lives and find it inconsequential.  We cannot look at the thermonuclear bomb, the pinnacle of human discovery and the cutting edge of science, and gasp at the fact that we've used our question for knowledge and forged the ability to annihilate humanity.  Genocide, violence, unrest, slavery, poverty, discrimination, oppression, all of these things scar the memory of our not-to-distant past.  They serve as a horrid reminder that sin and evil exist, not as a theory or as a imaginary concept, but as a stark reality that affects us, here and now.  My generation, in its movement to stop sin, is capable of extraordinary things; I really believe this.  But we're missing a few crucial pieces.  We always speak of the big sins, the ones I listed above.  These are the obvious sins, the social sins.  These are the evils that make you shiver, the ones that might keep you up at night.  They're dark, they're cold, and they must be stopped.

My generation's march against injustice, noble as it may be, is lacking.  Yes, we are rejecting evil.  Hooray, this is truly commendable.  But every journey away from something is a journey towards something, and we seem to be lacking just that:  somewhere to go.  We're leaving Egypt in a great exodus and we have absolutely no idea where the deuce it is we're going.  We might fight the big battles, and with great gusto, but we never wonder where they came from?  Where do the world's Hitlers, Stalins, Mussolinis, Maos, and Pol Pots come from?  How the hell did we get Ted Bundy and Jeffry Dahmer in the mix?  What causes horrifying evil to manifest its ugly head?  

Forgive my Catholic spasm here, but I'm going to say that big evil does not come from the abyss wholesale.  Hitler was not coughed up out of the pits of Hell, mustache and all.  People aren't born with the idea to start a human trafficking ring.  Joseph Kony didn't spend his childhood planning to create an army of child soldiers and sex slaves.  These crimes mature from smaller, unspoken sins.  Sins that, unfortunately, my generation tends to ignore at best, praise at worse.  Catholicism is lampooned and loathed for stances against things like birth control, cohabitation, abortion, and gay marriage.  We're held to be backwards and dangerous, relics of at time long past, the same time, perhaps, that gave the world the evils that we seek to conquer today.  And there in lies the issue.  First off, the Catholic Church belongs to no time.  It has not fit in anywhere or anytime snugly, precisely because it was never meant to.  The Church speaks of Truth Eternal, not truths long past or truths irrelevant, but Truth that endures.  Its not that we don't belong now and did belong then, we've never "belonged" in the first place, and that's beautiful.  Secondly, in her great wisdom, the Church recognizes that great evils start from small sins, and while not every unrequited sin will develop into massacres and slavery and warmongering, each sin pays its toll, each misdoing reinforces a world locked in darkness.

Our culture, the smelly, noisy thing it is, has a very odd, very toxic assumption:  That you and I are unavoidably different.  We preach individualism from the heights and praise those who stand out; our drive is for individual success, for more money, power, pleasure, and honor for ourselves.  Our individual freedom has been crowned king, and thus goodness exists in whatever we want it to exist in.  My friend, you and I are not unavoidably different.  We are children of the same Father, cut from the same cloth, oriented to the same Truth.  We may praise the ability to stand out amongst ourselves, but we mourn it in our hearts, because as we stand there, totally free on our lofty pedestal, we see how lonely we really are.  We stand out alright, but that's because we now each stand alone, having course our own path and crafted our own truths. Only when it is too late do we discover we've been chasing after mirages in the desert.

In a world reeling from generations of petrifying evil, we forget that the most evil thing of all is often the most subtle.  What allowed the monstrosities of our past to happen?  We did.  Hitler and I are both, in part responsible, because we are both sinners.  Evil is not the property and problem of far off places, it is in our homes and burrowing into our hearts.  I say this not to scare you, and I don't mean to be McCartyistic about it, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Sin must not just be fought in the jungles of Uganda and the slums of Port-au-Prince, we must fight in our hearts and in our lives.  Yes, your porn problem (or what have you) might not seem so horrible to the fate of humanity, but only because we're doing a marvelous job of staring at the end of our noses.  You and I, we are not so different, and the lust you may nurture in your heart and the greed I nurture in mine will collide and collude, and someone will suffer.  Sin is synergistic, and when a world full of sinners like you, me, and Hitler find ourselves commingling, the worst in us tends to come out in exponential force.   Remember, everything Hitler did in Germany was legal, he was given his power before he ever seized it.

If you have the noble desire to eradicate evil, which I sincerely hope you do, do yourself, your cause, and your world a favor:  as you seek to eradicate the darkness from the world around you, eradicate it from the world within.  Understand that sin is a complex and cunning beast, and its subtlety in the soul matches its brutality in Auschwitz.  Set aside your own goals, if you seek to be a light to the world, and place Goodness above all things.  Yes, man must be free, but freedom is for something more marvelous than itself.  We are not free for freedom's sake, nor should we be, for such a place is so barren and desolate.  We are free for the sake of Goodness, for the sake of Truth, for the sake of Beauty.  Our freedom allows us to seek these things, not as figments of an imagination, but as realities in themselves.  Goodness is not a measure we create and evaluate, but a measure that we are created and evaluated by.

By all means, if you want a revolution against the broken and trampled world, start a revolution!  But let it be an effective revolution.  If you seek justice and goodness, don't seek them aimlessly, and for God's sake don't just make them up.  Fix your sights on God, the moral axis upon which the world spins.  All things are connected, all things bonded, and in a great and vast universe, we have the consolation that we are not sons and daughters of chaos, we are the Children of God.  We are crafted from something purer than time and space, we're incorporeal spirit.  The vastness of time and space will not satisfy us, the corporeal world is but a shadow for us.  We long for goodness, for truth, for beauty; we seek God.  Want to dispel the darkness in this world?  Let God dispel the darkness within you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On the Pursuit of Happiness

What would you do if you had every material thing you ever wanted?

If your stuff could talk to you...
Seriously though.  If you had each and every urge and desire fulfilled, every material pleasure given to you, every material desire presented to you, what would that do to you?  Endless food and drink, endless pleasure, endless luxurious stuff, etc. etc.  Would you be happy?  Would you stop wanting, or at least want less?

Before any of you jump to say yes, consider the following:  The United States is, without question, the most affluent society in the history of mankind, possessing the largest array of mind-boggling distractions, entertainment, and pleasures that any society has possessed since societies started caring about such things.  Put to scale, we have almost everything we've ever wanted, and we have it with such ease and non-nonchalance that its almost criminal.  So, we should ask ourselves:  Are we, as a society, happy?  I'm going to go out on an unscientific limb here and say no, mostly because we've got a mass shooting nearly every week, the economy is a wreck, riot police now come standard with any sort of political shebang, and depression rates ever increasing.  Not statistically valid, I know, but call it a reasonable hunch.  Point is, we, as a people, are affluent, wealthy, spoiled, and ultimately discontent.

We exist to be happy.  The ultimate purpose of human beings is to be truly, deeply, residually happy.  The pursuit of happiness drives us, it moves us unlike anything else.  We will do many great and terrible things for happiness.  When I say happiness, I'm not referring to those brief passing moments where you sit down and think "Hot snot, I'm happy."  No, I'm referring to the sort of happiness that occurs when, now and forever, you have satisfied your life's purpose.  The happiness you receive when your very essence has been satiated, when every question you've ever asked has been answered, when the fundamental mysteries of your existence are no longer mysteries.  Yeah.  That kinda happiness.

We want happiness.  We want it more passionately than anything else because, simply put, its the only reason we are wanting.  Want exists because there is something wanting, because we have a void and it needs filling.  No one asks questions if they have all the answers.  Nobody seeks what they have already found.  No person hungers when they have their fill.  The most evident principle of human nature is that we are an imperfect creatures.  We are creatures of deficiency, our very nature is to be lacking, all of our actions are geared towards filling that fundamental lack.  Being imperfect probably wouldn't be such an issue if we didn't process in terms of perfection.  Human beings think perfection, we desire it, and thus are painfully aware of imperfection.  Had we been unaware that such a thing as perfection existed, we'd find imperfection bearable.  However, because we desire perfection, we suffer our own imperfection.

"What's my purpose in the midst of an ordered
universe" said no dolphin ever
What is perfection then?  Why do we strive for what we do not have?  Why do we hunger for something we can give no example of?  Why am I asking all these redundant questions rather than getting to the point?  Humans are perfectionists because we were made for perfection by Perfection.  Lions don't experience moral outrage.  Dolphins don't find themselves in existential crises, horribly distraught at the discrepancy between the state of dolphin-hood and the ideal image of dolphin-hood.  Yet humans do.  We do ask the big questions, we do seek perfection.  Human beings want perfection in the form of the three Transcendentals:  Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  We are constantly driven towards good things, towards true things, and towards beautiful things (often, they are all one in the same).  Why?  Because we were made in God's Image, and God is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty itself.  Perfection is Infinite Goodness, Infinite Truth, Infinite Beauty.  Perfection is God.

This is why we enjoy the pleasures of the world, like good food and drink, entertainment, sex (!!!  He said the 's' word!!!), and all other sort of good things:  Because they have with in them a touch of goodness, truth, or beauty.  Many Christians like to decry these things, calling them evil and what not (I'm talking to you, Prohibitionists)  There is nothing evil about beer itself, or sex itself, or whatever other pleasure you might conceive of.  What can be evil is the means and consequences of those pleasures, and that is what we ought to be wary of.  Now I could go into the abuses and misuses of any number of pleasures, but that'd be a long and relatively boring list of things everyone already knows and still chooses to ignore (much to the chagrin of this author), so instead, I'm going to explain why those things, while good, aren't good enough.  And for the sake of examples, I'm going to use coffee.

He doesn't make ridiculous
political statements either.
I love coffee.  I really really do.  Drink it black and strong and slowly, savoring the flavors.  Personal favorite at the moment is Gevalia Kaffe House Blend.  But I digress...  I like coffee, because coffee is a beautiful thing.  The way it smells, its rich flavors, its warm, invigorating qualities.  These are all good things, and they are the reason I like coffee.  I don't like coffee for its own sake, I like it because of the qualities it possesses, specifically the good and beautiful qualities it possesses, they point me towards Goodness and Beauty (and, by association, Truth).  These things are fine and dandy and actually extremely good for the spiritual life.  They go wrong whenever people fail to move forward, whenever they fail to recognize that coffee and beer and whatever else are goods, and instead think of them as Goodness.

You see, whenever we find ourselves 2 bites into a delicious steak, or halfway down an excellent beer, or 4 months into a beautiful relationship, we have to look to the heavens and recognize where this all came from.  We must recognize the world full of good, true, and beautiful things and let them remind us of the Good, True, and Beautiful Creator.  They must inspires us to love God, rather than be distracted from him.  All the goods and pleasures of the world exist to serve this purpose:  to remind us, to inundate us with the message that God is Good, True, and Beautiful.

Happiness is the progression towards God, and it need not be done in total austerity.  Its not about the goods you enjoy or don't enjoy, but the how you enjoy them, the reason you enjoy them, and how much you actually enjoy them (as opposed to be reliant upon them).  Returning to our original question ("If you had everything you ever wanted, what would you do?") we see that what you'd do would have nothing to do with what you had or the quantity that you have it in.  You can have a pint of Guinness or a brewery of it and it will make little difference in how happy you are (Although it may make a considerable difference in terms of sobriety, liver health, and ability to carry on a coherent conversation.  You might also find this blog much more baffling.)  Happiness is not a matter of what you have, but how and why you have it.

Many people think, either explicitly or implicitly, that by having more stuff, or different stuff, or more different stuff that they will be happy, and these are the very unhappy people.  These are the people who, whether they own a house or a planet, will never be satisfied, because they fail to see the goodness, truth, and beauty present in what they have and who they are, here and now.  Happiness isn't something eventual, because happiness is eternal.  There is the age old adage "Count your blessings" and that is very much applicable in this situation.  We ought to understand blessings as they are here and now, not the blessings we are hopefully going to get eventually.  God loves us now, not eventually.  So be happy already, recognize the marvelous world around you, most especially in how it radiates with the message that the God of the Universe is Good and True and Beautiful and He loves you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wonderful Christianity

Christianity is amazing.  Christianity is profound, perhaps even absurd, and one of the greatest faults of modern Christians is that many fail to see it as such.  The modern Christian is all too often wanting in the simple virtue of wonder.  Christians fail too see the implications of Christianity, both in their own lives, and in the world around them.

Because let's face it:  Christianity is not the easiest pill to swallow, both for Christians and those who are not Christian.  However, in the modern time, the term "Christian" has been so used and easily tossed around we seem to forget what Christianity is about.  Some think it a moral system, some think it a social justice mission, some think it the first wave of hippyism, some think it one spiritual teaching among many, some think it delusion, some think it a nice story with a cool moral.  The list seems endless, tailored to fit any view.  But what is Christianity?  True Christianity?  To understand that point, and thus, to understand why Christianity is so sensational and fantastic, we must address the person of Jesus Christ.

Most people, and many many Christians, do not "get" Jesus.  Our greatest crime as Christians is that we do not "get" Christ, and that when we do, we don't want him.  That's why we crucified him.  Christ, you see, is not one nice guru among others, nor is he one enlightened fellow among others like Buddha, Baha'u'llah, Muhammad, or others.  Many people like to think Jesus Christ is one flavor of man's diverse religious palette, an option among other equal options, killed/rejected because he was a prophet like the rest.  The way many people have watered down Christ, he may well have been Barney the Purple Dinosaur.  Make no mistake about it at all, Jesus Christ was a dangerous man.  Christianity doesn't exist because we like the teachings of Jesus and think they're just swell guidelines.  Christianity exists because we believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, fully man and fully divine.  Christianity asserts that God and Man collided in the person of Jesus Christ, a man like us and yet the Son of the Father.  So what does that mean?

It means we're children of God now and forevermore.  The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons and daughters of men could become the sons and daughters of God.  This is the great premise of Christianity, not that we're a whole bunch of goody-goods saved from savagery by a Jewish carpenter, but that at a point in time and space, the transcendental became physical, Heaven touched Earth, and God became Man.  This was not a nice guy being nice.  This is re-writing the very foundations of existence.  Jesus Christ changed everything.  He is still changing everything.  It's not enough to just do what he said and call it adequate.  With Jesus Christ, there is no such thing as "adequate".  A Christian is never stationary, they're never sedentary, they are constantly being remade, constantly being renewed, constantly being driven to greater and broader heights.

The only duty of the Christian is to come to know the real Jesus Christ, to let him live in you.  Every aspect of a Christian's life, whether it be active or contemplative, ordinary or extraordinary, spiritual or temporal, is because Christ dwells within him.  The Christian is the living testimony to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, he is the shining witness to Christ's life, death, and Resurrection.  Many proclaim that we live in a post-Christian world and wonder how that ever came to be.  I cannot say for sure, but I'd bet a considerable amount that it was because Christians forgot how wonderful Christianity is.  We forget that Christianity is not just an aspect of our lives, like our career, our hobbies, and our preferences.  Christianity is who we are, it rewrites the very basis of our existence.

Christians are tasked with no simpler a task than saving the world, by way of bringing everyone before Jesus Christ.  We cannot hold this to ourselves.  We cannot just be another flavor of the world, for it is only through Jesus Christ that the world has flavor at all.  Christianity is not just a preference, it is the Truth, revealed in love.  We cannot treat it as anything less that.  We cannot sit contently with ourselves, nor can we go forth as conquerors.  We must go forth as witnesses, carrying a power that is not our own, relying not on our own strength but on the strength of He who sent us.

So to you, the Christian reading this, I give you this warning:  Do not take Christianity lightly.  Do not think it easy or insignificant to be a Christian.  Do not think it optional, or preferential, or inconsequential.  You were chosen for this, you were made for this, and it is discovering Jesus Christ that you will be discovered.