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.