Friday, August 17, 2018

Dear God, what do we do now?

As a practicing Catholic, it is difficult for me to articulate how the past few days since the report on sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania has been released. While we've known about this evil for over a decade, the fresh betrayal, renewed denial, and continued excuses have ripped open a wound in my heart that was really only beginning to heal. Perhaps this time around, hearing about the atrocities as an adult, it cuts even deeper.
If we are to take our faith seriously, times like these should shake us to the core. I've asked myself if I should stop going to Church. Does my very presence there in some way act as a "pass" for these violent men and the corrupt leaders that protect them? Should I find a different Church, one with less baggage and less greed, one less intent on protecting itself at the expense of innocents?
But on the other hand, I really don't want to give these men my faith. They've taken so much from all of us, from their victims especially. Do they really get to walk off with my relationship with God? Do I let them snatch the Eucharist from me, along with my safety and my trust?
For many of you, that last sentence may sound like nonsense. But it's everything. The truth is, if you believe in the Eucharist, than another Christian church simply can't provide the relationship with God that the Catholic Church does. Maybe that's how they take advantage and hold us in. Or maybe it's the intimate mystical connection that we hold it to be, in which case God damn every one of these people who has committed sacrilege against it. I mean that seriously.
So then what is the responsibility of those of us who who choose to stay? Father James Martin wrote a beautiful column for the New York Times where he argued that we as lay people have a responsibility to use our anger to activate change in the Church. That's all well and good. But the reality is that we as lay people don't have any formal power. Which is why this was allowed to continue in the first place. As Rabi Ruti Regan argued on Twitter, the Church is a patriarchy intent on protecting and promulgating its own self. In other words, as a lay person I have no power and as a woman I have even less. Which brings me back to the question of what I ought to do.
I am a playwright. That is what I do, and I've done it for a pretty long time. I don't hold any lofty ideas about art being superior to other forms of communication, or art being able to change the minds and hearts of large groups of people. I think at one point I thought that way, but now I just consider it one more form of communicating. It can reach some; others are basically indifferent. But God blessed me with this specific form of communication and I think we are supposed to use the talents we were given to serve God.
When this report came out, I was already in the process of producing two short plays about the Catholic Church. Each of them grapples with my struggles with the Church in different ways, but together they hold a great deal of what I've been feeling. It's strange that when this broke out I was already in the process of doing this work. It has been a rough process itself, as the festival I'm producing them in has had its own share of controversy. For a while, I considered not joining the festival. But now I'm very glad I stayed. I think God knew what He was doing asking me to put up these pieces. Catholics need to talk about their feelings on the Church. The need to wrestle with their grief. They need to confront their anger and demand change. We need to scream for change, even if the men up top aren't listening. I think eventually they will fall. Whether their fall equates to the Church falling depends on the laity. How strong is our faith? How much do we value our relationship with God over Earthly institutions. I hope the answer is that we value our relationship with God completely and the Earthly institutions only insofar as they serve to bridge the divide between us and the divine.

So I'm digging in. Hard. I'm going back to the page, ripping them back open and confronting the Church where we are now. I'm letting everyone in that 99-seat theater know how I feel. And that I'm still here. And that I'm still in Church. Listening. Holding them accountable. Because someone has to.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Please, Not This Pope: Defending the Faith when Leaders Err

Pope Francis has issued a public apology for comments made against sexual assault victims during his papal visit to Chile.  Former victims strongly assert that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros knew about sexual assault allegations against the infamous abuser Father Fernando Karadima and did nothing. Pope Francis originally called such accusations calumny, a spiritually charged term referring to the sin of spreading false and damning rumors.  He also said their accusations were without proof.

When I first read about the incident on Twitter, I felt the familiar, cold, pit in my stomach. Not again. I prayed. And, please not this pope. I, like many young Catholics, love Pope Francis.  I once waited nine hour for the opportunity to see him for thirteen seconds.  And it was worth it.  So you can imagine the crushing, sinking feeling when I read that the man who I’d pinned so many hopes on took such a massive step back on an essential, basic, moral issue.  (To be fair, Francis has been far from perfect on this issue in the past.  But this statement struck me as especially callous.)

Then, I read a headline that he had apologized.  Well, he sort of apologized.  He recognized that his wording was wrong.  Lack of “proof” was the excuse that Catholic bishops had given for decades for protecting serial abusers, despite the fact that proof is almost impossible to produce in cases such as this.  So Francis said that he shouldn’t have used proof, but rather evidence. Is that better? I’m not sure.  What did strike me as relevant was that he appeared sincere in his regret for hurting victims.  He regretted appearing to “slap them in the face.”  He knew he had erred and his sorrow seemed genuine. Nevertheless, he still believes Barros to be innocent.
This indicated two things to me.

1) Pope Francis is willing to listen and admit when he is wrong. 

This is the essential difference between the current pope and religious leaders of the past.  The willingness to apologize and the humility he has shown will set many Catholic hearts at ease.  No, he is not trying to silence victims.

       2 )He's still wrong. 

These people have been proven honest once before when all of their accusations turned out to be accurate. There is no reason to believe they are mistaken now.  Pope Francis’ apology does little to change the reality for them: they are bringing their needs to the Church and the Church isn’t listening. It’s the whole disgusting cycle replaying over again.  Publicly declaring a “zero-tolerance policy” isn’t enough.  Acknowledging victims as trustworthy- no, as worthy at all- this is what is needed.  Such a simple step, but somehow so hard.

As a practicing Catholic in a largely secular community, I know what comes next: the gauntlet.  How can your religion let this happen? Again. Why can’t the just do the right thing? What else are they hiding?  I can normally dodge theses type of questions with the simple assertion that Church leaders are people too and I don’t have to answer for their choices.

But this only leads to the harder questions. If Church leaders are just people, why do you follow the Pope?  Is he special or isn’t he?  What’s even the point of being Catholic?

At their root, the questions all boil down to a single argument: If your religion were true, the people most practiced in it wouldn’t lack basic morality. They do lack basic morality, so your religion is false.

To be clear, in no way do I wish to imply that the worst effects of the pope’s actions are my discomfort. The true fallout is the added pain, suffering, and humiliation experienced by countless victims who only want to be acknowledged and treated justly by the Church. But I can’t imagine that I am the only Catholic who feels a sense of mounting frustration when Church leaders commit these sins.  Because I wouldn’t do something like that, and I’m no moral hero.  And now they’re doing something publicly immoral and I’m going to have to answer for it.  This is the stuff that has made many Catholics simply give up and leave the Church and frankly, I don’t blame them.  There’s nothing like genuinely good people confronting you with spiritual questions to which you have no answer to turn you off to your own faith.  And it’s especially trying when the leaders of our faith are the ones putting you in that position.

How can you believe someone is an infallible holy man if he does something so obviously wrong?  And if he’s not infallible, doesn’t that take down your entire religion?  Do you have to support blatantly corrupt behavior in order to justify your faith?  And if you do, how do you do it?  More importantly, why do you do it?

These questions often feel discriminatory and its easy to be defensive and lash out in response.  But the truth is, they bring up feelings of anger and resentment not because they are essentially wrong to ask (although not always asked in the kindest manner) but because they are good questions. And we do have to answer to them.

Here are a few things I say in response to common criticisms of Church hierarchy.

1)      The pope is only infallible under very specific circumstances.

 The doctrine of infallibility is one of the worst understand of all Catholic doctrines, even amongst Catholics themselves.  The pope is only infallible when defining a doctrine concerning faith or morals, and then, only when he does so in a very specific way.  The last time a pope spoke with doctrinal infallibility was 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared that Mary was Assumed into Heaven.  In other words, Pope Francis can easily be wrong about his stance on Bishop Barros.  Popes can be wrong about most things, which is why the Church can and has reversed its teachings on several issues throughout history. 

2)      To be spiritually ordained and morally good are not the same thing. 

When a man becomes a priest, he undergoes the sacrament of Holy Orders, in which he is anointed by the Holy Spirit as a priest of the Church.  Christ then works through him to perform the sacraments that are the bedrock of our faith. Because it is Jesus who works these miracles, not the man, the moral state of the man has no bearing on their effectiveness.  This means that if I receive communion from a priest who protected a sexual abuser, or from an abuser himself, I am still receiving my sacrament. (Although his own spiritual state is in no way redeemed by this.)

This is the power of ritual.  This is the ancient pull that draws me to Catholicism and leaves more modern iterations of Christianity feeling empty.  What any human being says or does will never compare to sacramental grace. It’s best for all of us to just get out of the way and let that happen.

3)      The Church’s ability to endure despite humanity’s best efforts to destroy it is evidence of God ultimately being in charge.

Look, at the end of the day, the Catholic Church really shouldn’t still be around.  Human beings have done their best to run it into the ground for centuries to no avail.  I’d posit they’ve gotten a lot of help from the -um- other guy. And yet that Catholic Church continues to grow worldwide.  Perhaps it’s best to spend less time answering for the sins of other people and more time marveling at God’s infinite goodness.

I once met a young man who became a cloistered Catholic monk after the minister at his Evangelical church was arrested for some financial crime and the church closed after the scandal.  I had to laugh. “Your Church had a scandal so you became Catholic?”    He shrugged. “You guys never close.”

No.  We don’t.

So yes, I can be angry at the Church without having to leave it.  I can be outraged on behalf of victims and still defend the institution wholeheartedly.  And yes, I can still think the pope is fundamentally morally wrong while falling at his feet in spiritual awe as he passes. 

Because that’s how simply complicated genuine faith is.  It’s why Catholicism is so essentially… human.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reflecting on THE CHALICE

Another production in the books!


That's the only way I can describe the experience of having my play The Chalice produced at the Stonewall Inn.  As a Catholic writer, I feel that my voice ought only to be heard in an LGBTQ space with the express permission of the people to whom it belongs.  The Stonewall chose to give my play a platform, and for that I am incredibly grateful.  Seeing Xavier Theatre, a Catholic theatre company, work in tandem with The Stonewall, the historical beginning of the Gay Rights Movement, gave me hope that yes, people can in fact still listen to each other.  We can in fact still learn, and our hearts can still be changed.

I sat down with Bruce Jones, who played Alex, to talk about his experience working on the play, and what the play works for LGBTQ people and people of color.  He started out expressing his surprise, when he first saw it, that the character was written by a white person.  This says a lot about the type of roles that have been traditionally written for the stage- white people, mostly men, have written roles for other white people, mostly men.  When people of color do appear onstage, too often they are in stereotyped roles with no connection to the lived experiences of  human beings.   Bruce reflects, "Queer people have been around forever.  People of color have been around forever.  But I think that if you write these roles and the only thing you have to bring to it is this weird, formulaic idea of what you think people are like, there's nothing about that that has integrity." The exception to this, of course, is plays written by people of color.  The result that its actually difficult to imagine a white person having written a thee-dimensional lead character that isn't white.  Wow.

What was eye-opening to me about Jones' assumption was that he actually wasn't wrong.  I hadn't originally written Alex as a black man, despite the obvious thematic connections to race that present themselves in this play. From my place of racial privilege, it didn't register with me to address Alex's race, despite the fact that the central scene in the play takes place between him and a Neo-Nazi.  It wasn't until we cast Jak Watson in the original production at the New School that this layer was added to the script.  I do not think I would have been able to do justice to that aspect of the character if it wasn't for Jak's guidance and input during the re-writing process.  Thanks to feedback from Jak and Bruce, the play has gained depth and power far beyond what I initially conceived.

Bruce goes on to describe his relationship to the character himself, a person with a vastly different temperament, experience, and worldview. "There's a character who can be like you on paper- who can have the same skin color and be the same age- but you can still not know who they are, how you can get into them, or how you can crack what they are. And I feel very much like, he and I, if you were to check the two boxes, we're both black and we're both Queer.  Those are the two things we have in common, but everything else is so different.  His essence is different than mine." This really ties back to his original point.  We hear all the time about the lack of roles for Queer people and for people of color.  But the next layer of this conversation is that the roles that do exist so often lack complexity. Bruce says it best:

"It is so important to see people of color (and LGBTQ people) as being human beings experiencing pain and loss and love and everything in-between.  I think that when you have under-represented people and you have the opportunity to look at them and say 'oh this person has experienced profound pain and profound joy', that is so important."

I return again to the word honor. It's an honor as a writer to work with actors who care passionately about my plays, that see them as vital and relevant to their lives.  Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who dedicated their talents to The Chalice:

Director Tom Paolino
Stage Manager: Signey Junk
Cast: Bruce Jones, Margaret Arnold, Marisela Gonzalez, Joe Hoover, Bruce Jones, Kevin Martinez

A very special thank you to Austin Pendleton for appearing in the role of Pius XII. 

You can check out Bruce's full interview (and the accompanying ambient sounds of The Stonewall) here:

Bruce Jones Talks about the Chalice

You can also read more about the production in my article in America Magazine:

Does a Catholic Play Belong at the Stonewall?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Why Silence Isn't an Option, (or the devil grows stronger when you deny him.)

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
-1 John 2:9-11

Today I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms: wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected.”
-Pope Francis

I was recently discussing this weekend's events in Charlottesville with a fellow Catholic whom I love and respect a great deal.  This person expressed to me that s(he) believes the proper method of dealing with people like David Duke is to take away their power by ignoring them.  In regards to the protest/anti-protest this weekend they said "I wish no one had shown up."  While I understand the viewpoint, and in many ways wish it were true, I fundamentally disagree.  Here's why:

For too long, many of us with the power to speak have chosen not to on the mistaken belief that not actively part taking in racism and discrimination leaves us morally exempt from any discussion of race.  I am ashamed to admit that growing up I felt this way.  I didn't think about race, and in doing so I believed I had achieved a sort of racial neutrality that was the same as being "not racist." This was a false belief, a belief symptomatic of the privilege that I did not understand myself to have, that I could not comprehend.  I was inactive in the conversation about race, and I thought that meant I had no effect on it. In reality, by not talking about race I was moving aside and creating an open space for racists to step into. And now they have the spotlight.

So let's be explicitly clear.  Racism is real, alive, and well in the United States.  It is part the continuation of a legacy of racial violence that began with the founding of this country and is just as integral to the American story as freedom, bravery, and moving west. As a White person, I have a special responsibility to articulate to these men who claim to represent me that I reject their entire ideology.  Because, unfortunately, White opinions are the only ones that matter to them. 

I am saddened that I have not observed a more overt stance on this issue within the Catholic community.  A traditionally conservative group, I believe many parish priests are afraid of alienating their congregation by appearing to preach in favor of one political party over another.  But the Church's stance is clear and uncompromising on this issue, so there should be no fear of offense.  We as Catholics need to stop pretending that racism isn't a moral issue.  Racism is a sin. And, just as there are both venial and mortal sins, there are both overt and subtle forms of racism.  As with all sins, racism must be stamped out within ourselves and actively combated in society.  I should no more deny my tendency to make racial judgments than I should deny my tendency to lie.  What I should do, instead, is try to stop lying- stop making racial judgments. Racism, like the devil, thrives best when we deny it's existence. The fact that it makes us feel better to believe it doesn't exist cannot make it so.  It it best that we confront it directly and with force. 

Let us also never forget that we too have a history of oppression in this country. Along with Jews and people of color, laws existed to suppress and control us.  Laws were also written prevent our immigration into the US on the basis of our alleged desire to overthrow the government and place the pope in power.  Basically, people thought we were terrorists. Groups like the KKK still include Catholics on their lists of undesirables, but in general society our status has elevated dramatically. We are, in fact, a group with a great deal of power both politically and economically.  How disappointing that, rather than using that power to fight for others experiencing discrimination, we have become safe and complacent.  We shut our doors and mind our own business.

On the rare occasion when I do hear a Catholic speak about our history of discrimination, it's often, disturbingly, used as an excuse for inaction.  The "Well, we were discriminated against too."  is usually a stand in for "We can't be the bad guys" or "It's not our job."  But it is our job.  And, yes, we can be the bad guys.  By promoting hatred against Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community, we have actively contributed to the problem.  By doing nothing we have passively contributed to the problem. (Remember, we confess both what we have done and what we have failed to do.) 

Now is the time to do the right thing, to take a moral stand on the side of good.  It's what Pope Francis is asking of us.  More importantly, it's what Christ asks of us. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why I Didn't Attend the Woman's March

The following was presented as part of "A Call to Action," a salon series of short political pieces from The Skeleton Rep.  It was directed by Ria DiLullo and written and performed by me.  Because I occasionally do perform things. 

I want to make one thing clear: I would have gone to D.C.  I would have stood up against the casual acceptance of sexual violence, the condescension, the inferiority woman are facing in the near future.  But when the leaders of the Woman’s March said pro-life woman need not apply, I stopped myself, and I did a double-take.  They didn’t say, come, but know we will have pro-choice speakers.  They didn’t say come, but please be respectful of the general view.  They said don’t come.  Now, the name of this march was not March for Choice.  It was the Women’s March.  For women. I basically had my vagina card rejected by the organizers of this protest.

I am a pro-life moderate.  I oppose overturning Roe v. Wade and defunding Planned Parenthood as tactics.  I oppose most legal measures to stop abortion because they are ineffective to the larger goal of ending abortion.  I am a Catholic, but my objections are not religious.  They are based on principles of human rights and social justice.  Moderates like me have no voice on either side of this increasingly dogmatic debate. 

And I think that’s bullshit.  Do you believe there weren’t disagreements within the suffrage movement?  Those bitches fought each other like crazy.  Alice Paul and Carrie Chappman Catt hated each other.  And let’s not forget other movements. Malcom X and Martin Luther King- diametric opposition of tactics. Think how shitty a musical Hamilton would be if the founding fathers agreed about everything.  By laying out a specific doctrine and declaring it the official stance of “women,” you are limiting yourself and robbing yourself of allies. I know some kick-ass pro-life women, way more radical than me, who would be invaluable assets to what you are doing.  But you don’t know them.  Because you told them not to show up.

Yesterday, a friend posted an article about how progressives should no longer use the term “pro-life,” because pro-life people don’t really care about life. My friend pledges to only call people like me anti-choice from now on. This is not discourse. This is re-framing an argument so you are guaranteed to win.

 Let me break down something for any of you who think this is a good idea.  I have a degree in philosophy, with a focus on the Jewish Enlightenment thinker Baruch Spinoza.  He wrote about democracy before John Locke.  From his example, I’ve extracted two basic rules for effective discourse. First, always assume your opponents value what they say they value. In other words, don’t assume your opponent is lying or trying to trick you. Second, you must choose the strongest and most convincing of your opponent’s arguments and engage directly with that argument.

When you reframe the prolife- prochoice debate into a pro-choice-anti-choice debate, you are committing two philosophical fallacies.  You are assuming your opponent is lying about her values, and you are insisting that her weakest argument is her only true argument. You require less of your intellectual power to beat a less powerful premise, bringing the entire conversation down.  You weaken the level of discourse and that’s bad for me and it’s bad for you.

Listen, clearly I’m not stupid.  I know you have reasons to believe that pro-life people are contributing to more abortions.  I’m aware of those arguments and I have counter-arguments.  Give other people the benefit of the doubt.  Why do you assume people are dumb?  Or is it just because you know the real discussion, the hard discussion that we might have will be painful for you? I’m in pain too.  It’s okay, we can get through that together. And with that pain, we can find common ground.  We can ask- where and how can we work together? 

By excluding me from the Woman’s March you have also excluded my ideas, my values, and my dreams.  You’ve devalued me as a woman.   If, on the other hand, you’re open to pro-life women in general being part of the conversation, then pro-life moderates will most likely side with you in elections and in policy.  We will join you in the fight for equality in the workplace, for an end to sexual violence, for more support for single mothers and increased resources for children in foster-care and for families.  We’ll ally with you in the fight for diversity and inclusiveness and a strong thriving democracy.  I’ll ally with you on so many things. And I’ll fight with you about the other thing. I think that’s okay.  But it’s up to progressives to decide whether one more person marching makes a difference. If not, I’ll sit the next one out too.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To Pro-Life Christians: Please Support Refugees

Pope Francis, right, washes the feet of prisoners in 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO, POOL

As Vice President Mike Pence addressed crowds of supporters at the March for Life, protests raged across the country decrying President Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.  This executive order includes an indefinite ban on refugees from war-torn Syria. The Vice-President did not mention immigration in his comments to Pro-Life activists, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on our minds.  It is the height of hypocrisy to march for protection of the unborn and ignore the plight of children around the world.  Mr. Pence, it seems, is unaware that immigration is a life issue

The Pro-Life movement has fallen into a dangerous trap of one-issue politics.  The fixation with overturning Roe V Wade has chained us to the Republican Party, distracting us from vital work and weakening our stance. In fact, the Republicans often oppose measures that are vital to our cause: a stronger safety net for single mothers, fixing our broken foster-care system, and putting an end to the death penalty.  Lessening our focus on these goals has given weight to our opponent’s argument that we don’t really care about life at all. They perceive Pro-Life Christians as only focused on controlling women and forcing them into motherhood.  We, they argue, are hypocrites who only care about the life of a child while it is still in the womb. This stance would be insulting if it wasn’t so close to the truth.  We have lost touch with our calling as Christians and fallen into the simplistic story of the culture war.  And now President Trump has slammed the door on immigration. This is our chance to prove ourselves.  

Not to be outdone, conservatives are quick to point the finger of hypocrisy at the left-wing outrage surrounding the immigration ban. Obama took similar measures in 2011. (The seven countries on Trumps list are drawn from the Obama-era’s Visa Waiver program.)[1]  It’s natural to want to point fingers and say “Where were your protests then?” My question to pro-life activists is this: who cares? We have no time to waste removing splinters from other people’s eye’s- our beam is enormous.  We owe no loyalty to the Republican Party. We are Christians.  Our loyalty lies only in what is true. The question is not why are they outraged all the sudden but rather why weren’t we outraged before?  Pointing out the flaws in others is a distraction.  We only have time for the flaws in ourselves.
We’ve known for years about the refugee crisis in Syria, but we chose to do nothing.  We’ve known that translators who risked their lives to help our military were being denied entry into the United States.  We in the Pro-Life movement should have been the first to take up this cause. Instead, we are making excuses and blaming others. Worse, we are allowing our fears to control our actions. 

The story of Jewish refugees being turned away at the border during the Second World War has been passed around so much in connection with the current crisis, that it has started to feel like empty rhetoric.  But it is not.  The fears about allowing these refugees into the country are almost identical to the fears being expressed today: we haven’t vetted these people, we don’t know who they are, the enemy could be hiding among them, their values seem different than ours.  Roman Catholics often forget that we were at once suspected of wanting to set up a Papal Kingdom in the United States, echoing the current fear that Muslims will try to institute Sharia Law.  None of these fears ever came to fruition in our country, but we allowed them to guide our choices.  Every passenger on that ship of Jewish refugees died in concentration camps. 

I want to be clear:  I am not suggesting that all the rhetoric around this issue is accurate- popular media is rife with misinformation, which is certainly fueling the protests. I am also not suggesting that the Pro-Life movement ought to side with the Democratic Party.  On the contrary, I’m begging that we become entirely non-partisan. From the outside, it is much easier to perceive how both parties are right some of the time.  It is reasonable that a Pro-Life person might feel immigration policy needs to be reexamined, and a temporary hiatus may be necessary to do this. But if this is the case (and I’m not convinced it is) these changes must be made as quickly as possible.  An indefinite ban is not acceptable.  And, once the process is completed in a swift manner, we must dramatically increase our acceptance of refugees.  The numbers under President Obama were not remotely high enough. Every day that our borders are closed is a gift to ISIS and a victory for death.

Finally, I strongly urge Christians to take the charges of religious discrimination seriously.  Virtually every religious group has experienced persecution at some point in their history.  It is tragically rare for members of one religion to stand up for members of another.  This is to our shame.  Once again, conservatives will argue that the phrase “Muslim Ban” is hugely inaccurate, used to spur partisan rage.  The undeniable truth is that banning Muslims was one of President Trump’s (admittedly contradictory) campaign promises.[2]  If he intends to keep this promise then this executive order is the first step, as was disturbingly described by Rudy Giuliani [3].  While the immigration ban may not directly forbid entry based on race or religion, when taken within the context of President Trump’s previous statements, it sends a very specific message. As Senator John McCain, observes, “This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country.”[4]  Now, the President will wait and see how the Christian majority will react to this message.  We must not allow ourselves to be comforted by legality.  There is always a division between what is technically legal and what is morally acceptable, and we can only fall down on one side. We must protect the sacred right to worship, and vociferously oppose anything that comes close to challenging that right. 

The United States has so far failed to protect the innocent victims of our greatest enemies.  Some of these people are fellow Christians and ethnic minorities, many more are Muslims- all are targeted for extinction by extremists.  This is unquestionably a life issue.  When meditating on the moral path, we must remember Christ’s words in what is significantly known as the Judgement of Nations:

“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt. 25 v34-36)

Will Pro-Life Christians demand protection for refugees, or will we once again fail in our mission?



Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Ornaments and the Coming of Christ

Growing up, our Christmas ornaments were kept in tall, round, tins with covered with what scenes of old-fashioned winter villages- the kind you imagine would illustrate an old copy of The Christmas Carol.  I have many vivid memories of wrapping my fingertips around the tin lids and yanking them off to reveal what looked like a crumpled pile of old newspapers.  But they were our ornaments- each one wrapped in newspaper or tissue, to be opened one by one at the start of the Christmas season.  These were the first family members to come home for the holidays, the first familiar faces that brought laughter and bright exclamations of “I remember that one!”  Each ornament carried with it a memory, a perfect way to start a season that is all about remembering.  Remembering while also re-living, remembering something that is happening in this very moment.

The past couple years I haven’t had a Christmas tree, and it’s only now that I’m realizing how much this affected my spiritual preparation. The past few Christmases felt disconnected.  They came and went without me really feeling “in the spirit.”  I felt almost surprised on Christmas day, and a bit disappointed when it was over.  People talk a lot about how the ritual of the Christmas tree is drawn from the ancient feast of Saturnalia.  Well before the arrival of Christ, human beings were striving for a connection with the mystical realm. There is an ancient, primal, knowledge that transcends formal religion- the language of ritual- that understands what it is to prepare, what it is to open ourselves, what it is make room for God.  There is no rational explanation for why the Christmas tree works- it just does.  Without it, the season is incomplete.

But of course, the absence of a Christmas tree cannot fully explain my disconnection from the Christmas seaon.  The root of the problem was I wasn't feeling close to Jesus. It’s sounds a bit trite, when I lay it out like that, but it’s the simple truth.  It’s hard to feel the joy of Christmas when you’re removed from the underlying source of the feast.  I’m reminded of a comment a friend of mine, a former Christian, made- “Believing in God is one thing.  It’s the Jesus stuff that’s hard.” And he was one hundred percent right.  God is abstract, undefinable. He or She can be anything you imagine, and his rules- or lack thereof- can be a ridged or flexible as is convenient.  Jesus is a literal historical person that claimed to be God.  (Or didn’t, depending on who you ask.) There are things that actually happened or actually did not happen. If Jeus is God, then there are things God must necessarily be.  There are things about love and morality and our destiny as human beings that also must be. (Destiny is a big word, but that is what we’re talking about here.)  It’s not a theoretical concept anymore- it’s much more real and concrete, and therefore much more difficult.  But it’s also much more beautiful.

So this Advent, I set a goal for myself to reconnect with Christ. Advent is the perfect time to do this, because the season is all about preparing ourselves for his arrival.  We prepare in a literal sense by decorating our home with lights, to guide his way to us, and we prepare internally, by clearing a path to our own hearts.  But where would I start?  My natural go-to when wanting to revive religious practice is the rosary.  Like the tree, it has ancient, eternal roots.  It always feels right.  But my relationship with Mary was fine. (Yes, it's ironic that I have an easier time believing in God’s mother than God himself, but that’s a logical conundrum that I have long since given up on.) But I realized that I’ve been nurturing this relationship with Mary without really tapping into the best part of what it has to offer.  I’ve never really asked Mary to introduce me to her son.  So I did.  In a simple prayer, I asked Mary to reintroduce me to Jesus.  And, little by little, she has.  It's still happening.  Not to say I've returned to faith-like-a-little-child, but I'm a lot closer than I was last year.  And I don't have to lean so hard on Mary as an intercessor.  And that's a really good thing. 

My favorite ornament growing up was given to my parents when I was a newborn.  It’s a glass ornament that depicts an angel in the form of a lovely young woman with long brown hair walking on a cloud. She’s holding an infant her in her arms.  The infant, by the logic of Christmas ornaments, is me.  I loved the ornament, because it was beautiful, but also because it made me feel safe.  It reminded me that someone out there was loving me. It really solidified an early image of God in my mind.  Every year, when I found the ornament, I felt a rush of excitement and joy before hanging it on the tree- always on the best spot I could find, a place of honor.

Every year, it was like rediscovering Jesus.