Sunday, December 20, 2009

Putting on the Political Hat

An unapologetic conservative, I have for awhile been pondering what exactly that means. There are social conservatives and economic conservatives. Conservative can even describe our taste in clothing or home decor.

By definition, a conservative favors traditional views and values. There is an element of restrain and resistance to change in the conservative.

As the country becomes more polarized with the Political Left becoming more honest defenders of socialism, the Political Right is trying hard to define what it is that we stand for. In all the commentary that I have heard, I feel an essential structure is missing from the argument. We hear the defense of capitalism, traditional values and our Constitutional Democracy from the conservative media, but they often mix arguments and leave the listener confused.

This is in part because we have allowed the Left to define the battlefield. Socialism is an economic system, a political system and a philosophy of life. Conservatism is the principle by which we defend our institutions. It is distinct from them and they are distinct from one another.

We often defend Capitalism as creating equality and Democracy as a means to happiness. This is a mistake. Each of these institutions we defend is separate, though integrated, in the America we love and are desperately trying to preserve. But we must defend each institution for its unique role and understand the need for all three to be preserved simultaneously.

Capitalism should not be defended as a means to make people equal. It does no such thing and never was designed to do so. Capitalism is an economic system designed to bring the greatest amount of wealth to the greatest amount of people. It has never and will never bring that wealth in equal portions. It should not be defended as a means to happiness. Prosperity and happiness are not the same thing. Capitalism does not make us good. Our "worth" in the market is by no means our true inherent worth.

Capitalism is an economic system based on competition and innovation. It is a system which understands human nature and our desire as human beings to better our station in life through hard work and creativity. As an economic system, there is none equal in the world. In the United States under a capitalistic economy, we do not have poor as the rest of the world. We do not have bloated bellied children dying of dehydration in our deserts, yet our rich are as extravagant as the oil sheiks of the world. We do have working poor, but we also have a lower middle class, a middle class, an upper middle class and so on.

It is not our Capitalism that makes us equal. It is our Democracy based on our Constitution that does that. It is not an equality of material goods which this form of government sought to guarantee. It is an equality under the law. Our American Democracy is not designed to put a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. It is to make sure that each of us is guaranteed the freedoms that all men should be afforded. The freedom to pursue our dreams, practice our religion, raise our families, vote our conscience and our best interest. It guarantees due process, a jury of our peers and a fair trial. It is a form of government designed with protections for the minority against the majority. It makes the law makers beholden to the people, and at its very heart, protects the individual from the tyranny of a few and from the government itself.

Finally, neither our Democracy nor our capitalism makes us happy. History has shown us a multitude of examples of free and rich people who are miserable and enslaved poor who find joy. Happiness comes not from what we have, be it a TV or Freedom, but from who we are. As conservatives, we defend our Judeo Christian values as the means to true happiness. It is God's love which is our true source of joy. It is with Faith, Hope and Love that we become human beings able to know true joy. We do not insist that all peoples believe in the God of our tradition, but we must insist that it is being Good which leads to Happiness. And Good is something objective and can not be redefined with the winds of change. Our rights and freedoms as well as our limitations are first, last, and always, defined by our Creator God.

These three American pillars of Capitalism, Democracy and Judeo Christian values are certainly dependent on one another. All the laws in the world can not protect us from the greed that can certainly exist in Capitalism as recent history has shown us. A democracy can not exist if every citizen is working on the lowest level of morality, fear of laws. Furthermore, America once had laws which kept one human being enslaved to another and currently refuses to pass laws to protect the most vulnerable against the more powerful simply because one is born and the other is not.

Our economic system and our laws are only as good as we are. We defend traditional values because without them, all our laws and freedoms, all our wealth, is dust in the wind. The generosity of the American people does not now nor has it ever needed government mandate. Our values require we take care of the widows and the orphans, visit the sick and feed the hungry. We can not be forced to be generous by our Democracy nor be generous if not allowed the opportunity Capitalism allows to gain our own wealth and give it freely.

So as Conservatives what do we believe, what is it we are loathe to change?

Our Capitalism is the best system in the world to make the most people the most money.

Our Constitutional Democracy is the greatest equalizer the world has ever seen.
Our Judeo Christian values are True and Good and can not be replaced.

All three together...That is what the American Conservative defends. We are unapologetic in our conviction that what we have is a good thing. Our America SHOULD be made better. It is a work in progress, a wonderful work of art. But it should not be replaced by an economic, political and philisophical system based in the belief that it is material wealth and equality of results that makes us happy and good. Even if it came in a Brook's Brothers suit and tie, that is change we MUST resist!

My greatest hope is that in the next round of elections, the positive message of the conservative is articulated and that we have choices of politicians who believe in the inherent goodness of or institutions and values.

And that the majority of Americans come to see that our Constitutional Democracy, Capitalism and Judeo Christian values are something they can hang their hat on.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

If you are around my age, you may remember this as a television show that came on around the holidays staring Loretta Swift (of MASH fame.) We rediscovered it as an audio tape by Barbara Robinson.

It tells the story from a little girl's perspective recalling a very extraordinary Christmas Pageant. Her mother is put in charge of the pageant that is the same every year after the normal director breaks her leg.

This year, however, the Herdman's have decided to participate. The Herdman's are a family of six horrible children. They set fire to things, smoke cigars (even the girls), cheat, lie, steal and blackmail kids about their weight. They come to church after having been told that refreshments are always served, a lie from the narrator's little brother.

They bully the other kids into all of the main roles. They have never heard the story before and are interested in all the details of the Nativity. Hearing it for the first time, they see things and question things in a way that brings the story alive to the narrator.

The night of the pageant is far from a disaster. Though Mary burps the baby and the wise men decide to give their own ham from their charity Christmas basket in lieu of the bottles of bath salts usually used, the play is somehow more this year, somehow more how it should be every year.

This is a funny, sweet and poignant tale of what Christmas means. I recommend it to children young and old. It will refocus your attention on the first Christmas and the characters in a heart warming way.

Hearing the story of the Best Christmas Pageant Ever will remind you what Christmas is all about. It will remind you that "Hey, HEY! Unto you a child is born!"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wisdom in the MIDST of Suffering

Last Term in my Bible study group we read parts of all fourteen narrative books in the bible. Moving from Genesis to Acts in eight weeks. Now I spent two weeks reflecting on just a few verses from James. From my talk, my thoughts on James 1: 5-8.


Laura told us two weeks ago to take off our academic hat and put on our life changing hat and here we are at session one being called to be wise.

I am a doctrine person. I love doctrine. I love to study it and through trying to figure out what and why the church teaches this or that, I grow closer to God. Through understanding human nature and the nature of God, I learn a little bit more about the love story of God and Man. Scripture is a bit harder for me. It is harder for me to wrap my brain around it. So when looking at these vs. I went to my doctrine to get me started.

I taught the gifts of the Holy Spirit and I knew wisdom was in there. So were knowledge. counsel and understanding. I remember the matching quizzes I had given my students with all the definitions, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember which was which. I had to look it up again. And I think defining wisdom in relationship to those other gifts that sound like the same thing will help us to see what James is asking us to really seek. To search for like a treasure, without doubt and with confidence that it will be given to us.

Knowledge: Understanding God's revelation especially as is expressed through scripture.

Counsel: Knowing the difference between right and wrong and choosing what is right.

Understanding: Knowing how we need to live as followers of Jesus, because that isn't always clear right? Do we talk or shut up. Stand up or sit down?
Understanding helps us to see which we do in a particular circumstance.

And Wisdom. The ability to see God at work in our lives. For the wise person nature, history. The ups and downs in life take on deeper meaning.

Ah ha. Thank you doctrine, it makes more sense. We are to search for the deeper meaning, Gods will for our lives in THIS trial, through THIS suffering. And so this is what we are asking for, this is what we must search for as if it were a treasure: To see God's will for us through this trial. And Jeff Cavins calls for us to do this in the midst of our suffering, while we are enduring a trial. For like remembering the outcome, steadfastness, eternal salvation, if we can see God's will, we are more likely to Pick up our cross, to do it right.

I don't know about you, but since last term, I am a little leary of Wisdom. I never knew that Solomon ended up a tyrant with a gazillion wives and pagan temples and 666 bags of gold.

So, Wisdom is not enough. And our trials are going to feel like everyone else's’, they will look like everyone else's’. We can see God’s plan, have our objective in mind, but what more must we do?

To answer this, we must look to Christ. To the Cross. Christ's face was not the face of happiness was it. It was not the face of butterfly filled joy. He looks scared and sad and begged God to take this Cup. Right? But his IS the face of Trust and Joy and Love. And what did Christ DO? He accepted the will of the Father and act accordingly.

Let’s talk a minute about what he accepted:

My first time in Rome, when I stepped off the Tram and saw the Colosseum, I was in awe. I felt like Roger Rabbit, a cartoon placed into real life. It was so huge and so old. It held so much history. By the middle of my semester there, we used the Colosseum much as one would use McDonald's: a point of reference or a meeting place. Like the second time you see a truly suspenseful movie, the feelings you first felt are dulled and can not be recreated.

I thin that can happen with the cross of Christ. Our familiarity with the passion leads to a loss of intensity. Its horrors begin to feel much like the witches in our child hood memories. No longer real and certainly not horrifying.

As a teacher, I used the stations of the cross to teach different aspects of Christ’s sufferings to help my students see how anything they may face was also felt by Jesus. I use it here, to try and recreate some of the intensity we may have felt when it was first encountered.

In The Agony in the garden, Christ felt such enormous stress, such incredible mental anxiety from the weight of the sins of the world that the very capillaries in his skin burst and he sweated blood. Not a poetic analogy, a true physical torment from a psychologically grueling experience.

He felt sorrow to the depths of his soul in the loss of Judas, the betrayal of Peter, the cowardice of his friends.

When He meets his mother, we are called to reflect on the suffering of Mary, as we should, but Mary’s baby is now a man whose very heart must have wanted to break from the sight of his precious mother’s pain at having to see him tortured and killed.

I used the crowning of the thorns to speak of the humiliation that must have been felt by the King of Kings being mocked in his tattered purple robe and ridiculous reed. When I ran the lesson by my father who was in the midst of painful Chemo. treatments, he scoffed, “Humiliation, hu? Can you imagine having thorns this big smashed into YOUR skull.

So true. Me must never forget the excruciating physical torture Christ endured: The scourge, the crown, the walk the nails. Such physical horrors on top of mental anguish and gut wrenching sorrow and fear.

Jeff Cavins quotes Peter Kreeft as saying the problem with illness is that our pain becomes a tyrant. Look at me, look at me, look at me. Remembering just what the passion entailed, How we become Christ like in our sufferings is that we refuse to become self focused. We refuse to focus on our sadness, our fear our frustration, our pain. In the midst of our human suffering, we turn away from our self and fix our gaze upon the face of God.

With our face fixed on God we can ACT like Christ who in the midst of his suffering did not shout, "Can you just shut up and let me die in peace!" No, he gave hope to the criminal, comfort to the heartbroken, forgiveness to his friends and enemies.

John Paul II in 'on the meaning of suffering' tells us that it was not just man that was redeemed by the cross. Human suffering was redeemed as well. And so we have a choice and a promise in our suffering. Do we redeem the moment by fixing our face on God instead of on our selves so that we may act like Christ? Or do we waste it? And if we embrace our cross, we are promised steadfastness, perfection, the crown of life.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joy, an act of the will

I belong to the most wonderful Bible Study Group. This is my fourth or fifth year with the group, I have lost count. I found the group quite by accident. I was trying to find a Catechises of the Good Shepherd Class for my children that met during the day and was led to this group. Truth be told, I was not too excited about having to actually do anything myself. I have never been much of a bible reader, and I was hoping to just be able to drop them off and go shopping. What a mistake that would have been.

I have met some incredible women and have learned a lot. It is a true joy to be in the presence of so many women who take their faith and family so seriously. There are around a hundred women in total; women of all ages from many different parishes.

This year I have been asked to lead a small group and to share the responsibility of giving the large group lecture with one of the co-founders. Today was my first lecture on the book of James. Though it was written as a talk and not a piece of writing, it is what I have been working on for two weeks, and so I post some of it here:

Count it all as Joy: James 1: 2-8
And what are we to count as all Joy? Our trials. I am guessing we have all been around Catholicism long enough to know Pick up your cross and follow me. We know it is through suffering that we imitate Christ and gain eternal life. So, I wanted to talk a little bit about how we do this. How and why we count our trials as joy so that we can turn our knowing we should Pick up our Cross to actually picking up our cross.

In teacher training we were told to always start with our objective. Make the test first. Know what it was that we wanted our students to take away from the lesson. And work backwards. This sounded good. But in truth, especially as a new teacher, it rarely worked out this way. There was that great game the kids would love, all those worksheets that came with the teacher materials that were so easy to print off and hand out, the text book that needed to be read, right? The test was usually composed after looking back at all the lessons of the previous weeks to see what stood out as the most important and most repeated information.

In the end, you had eight hours a day, five days a week, eight weeks a term that needed to be filled. The goal ended up being keeping the kids busy enough, engaged enough that they wouldn't mutiny. If they learned something along the way, well, that was good too.

Trials can be just that. Meaningless Busy work that fill the minutes, days, weeks and years of our short lives. Something to pass the time between the cradle and the grave and if we learn something along the way, well, that is good too.

But the Christian is like the seasoned teacher. The teacher who has taught the same material for so long, that the air she breathes serves to instill in her students her objectives. Not a second of her day is spent on meaningless tasks to pass the time. Every opportunity, planned or unplanned becomes a means to teach to the test. And the test is no longer a series of questions on a page, it is a goal so deeply held by her, she no longer even has to think about it.

James tells us our objective. He tells us the answers to the test. He tells us what we will take away from the lessons of the trials of life. Steadfastness. Maturity. Perfection.

But like all but the most perfect teacher, we get caught up in the day to day and forget the objective. Our trials may teach us lessons, but almost in spite of our desire to learn from them. The first thing we must do to pick up our cross and follow Christ is to keep our goal in mind in the midst of our trials. To practice so hard and so long that it becomes part of the very air we breathe. That we are not left to see with 20/20 vision what we have gained, but know in the midst of the very trial that we are gaining the crown of everlasting life.

It takes practice, like the progression from the new teacher trying to keep her head above water to the guru who takes even the unfortunate event of the rabbit escaping from his cage to teach the difference between Democracy and Tyranny. We need to know our material and internalize our objectives. But it is this opportunity we have, that we must try and acknowledge with each trial, it is in this glorious opportunity that we may count as joy.

Now, I wanted to take a moment to distinguish between feelings and an act of the will. This is something I have been struggling with for a long time. Trusting vs feeling like I am trusting. Loving vs feeling love. Taking Joy vs. feeling happy. For I think there is a big difference and we may often doubt ourselves because our feelings do not seem to get the message from our head. I really am not picking up my cross because I do not feel at all happy about this. But are we really to laugh when the dog dies, or throw a party when the teenager totals the car? People do it all the time with love. I no longer love my spouse because I don't feel in love. I joke that if I felt the way I did when I met my husband for 13 years, I wouldn't be able to function. I didn't need sleep or food. I had butterflies in my stomach and was living on cloud nine for months on end. You can't hold a job or run a family like that. Thank goodness the feelings come and go while the love remains steadfast.

To give another example, I use trust: My father died three months before I got married. And in between the funeral and the wedding, I went to spend Easter in Nashville with my then fiance, now husband. I drove into town and we went straight to confession to be followed by mass. I got in line and went to confession to a priest I had never seen before. I was at that point really working on making a good confession, not putting the sin I was most embarrassed of in the middle, so he was less likely to pick it as the one to focus on. No, I laid it out there, put the worst one last and waited for the humiliation of having to have a discussion about it. At some point in the confession I had mentioned my dad. So when the priest finally spoke, he said, "I don't think you have grieved for your father."

What? I just gave you some really bad stuff. I am ready to be humiliated for these things I have done. But don't accuse me of not trusting God. For that is what I heard in his words. I assured him I had grieved. I had cried for my mom and my siblings and my grandparents. But I knew God had a plan. Hadn't I prayed for a miracle with the caveat that only God's will be done. To which he responded, "I don't think you have grieved for your father."

And then the floodgates opened. And I left the confessional and the tears were still flowing. And I sat waiting for mass still crying. And then mass started and I was still crying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I do trust you, you know that I do, you know that I believe you have a plan and that this was your will for my father. I am sorry I am crying, I do trust in you." But I couldn't stop crying and my heart hurt so badly I thought it was surely broken with the loss of my dad. And then came the Gospel, and I was still crying.

And it was the gospel of Lazarus. The one I'd heard a million times. Jesus gets there late, he is told Lazarus is dead and what does he do? He cries. I must have missed that part the first million times.

Why were you crying, I asked. You knew you would raise Lazarus. You knew God's will and God's plan? You are God! Why were you crying?

It was at that moment that I realized that God does not require I don't feel human. That it is okay to be sad, or angry or frustrated. We trust in spite of it. We count our sufferings as joy in spite of our sadness or anger or fear or frustration. In fact, these emotions themselves are part of our suffering. We can be sad for the loss of the dog, or the dad; scared for our child in his car. Our Joy is in the act of the will, not the emotion. It is joy in the opportunity God has given us through our suffering to become steadfast, mature, perfect. And despite our feelings, we can count all as joy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

MasterCard Moment

One of the joys of the Internet is that you get to meet people you will probably never see face to face. Chat rooms and blogs allow you to build relationships with people with whom you have a common interest or a shared experience.

One of my cyber friends just returned home from Ethiopia with her darling new baby girl. When she returned, I had a MasterCard Moment:

Airline tickets: $1800.00
Video camera battery: $35.00
Photo book: $25.00

Watching video of your child seeing your face for the first time: Priceless.

Thank you Elisa!