35th Annual Chesterton Conference

So if anyone out there is like me in that they reside in (or near) the state of Pennsylvania or are obsessed with the author G.K. Chesterton you should consider coming to the 35th Annual Chesteron Conference!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m seriously considering going and wanted to spread the word for four main reasons:

  1. G.K. Chesterton is arguably one of the greatest writers who ever lived
  2. Bishop Robert Barron is the keynote speaker
  3. There’s a banquet (which is to say there will be a ton of food)
  4. Your inner nerd will thank you forever

See you at the Conference maybe!

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I Don’t Believe in Political Saviors

I get accused of being highly idealistic quite a lot.

It’s a fair accusation as I am highly idealistic. Due to my strong belief in Heaven, when I look at the world I live in I see ideals half realized. I see people longing to be loved and who I believe will be loved far beyond what they can imagine and well beyond what they deserve; because I believe them to be created by God who is love. I see purpose, promise and adventure behind what strikes others as common or even repulsive in its poverty.

But today I wanted to discuss a different sort of idealism, the political idealism that always sweeps around the presidential election season. Regardless of your personal politics, the quest for a political savior to single-handedly solve all the world’s problems by November the following year drives.me.crazy. Not only does social media make the process even more obnoxious, but the waves of idealism are too much even for me.

For starters, I can’t stand the “It’s Time for a Woman” President similar to last year’s “It’s Time for an African American” President. Would it be a cool and historic thing to have that happen? Most certainly. But do you know what I think it’s time for? Something cool, retro, and that the world hasn’t seen for decades and certainly not in my lifetime: a good president.

In my limited experience, American politics is a cross between a joke and a bad dream you can’t wake up from.

But it’s not just the establishment’s fault. Networks wouldn’t insist on showing those “debates” on T.V. if no one watched them. I never know who is more ambiguous, the voters or the politicians themselves. Most I encounter claim to want change but never talk about what sort of change or how to attain it. Instead, they all seem to prefer falling in love with the flowery rhetoric that requires no actual commitment because it’s easier than agreeing on an acceptable standard to determine what would constitute acceptable results/progress for any sort of change in the first place. Politicians can’t be held accountable if the people themselves give them nothing tangible to accomplish. Politicians won’t offer anything tangible because true change, true action, would risk alienating certain members of their voter base as it is impossible to please everyone.

If this weren’t true to some degree than Donald Trump would have zero appeal to voters as a candidate. While his idea to build a wall to keep immigrants may well be the worst, most un-American thing I’ve ever heard it is something tangible. Walls are either built or they are not. He doesn’t waste voters time talking about how walls are nice, or how walls work for some people but not others and how we need to respect all people’s opinions on walls.

And Trump is a frightening prospect because I don’t see any love or respect for anything other than himself and selfish men do not make good leaders. Neither do selfish women, in the spirit of equality.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the true inspiration behind this post was that so many on Twitter today were “feeling the Bern” and promoting him as a moral candidate by virtue of his pushing for a moral economy.

This is exactly the type of feel good rhetoric that makes me sad to be a millennial because we fall for it like the idiotic rats following the pied piper to their death because they were so enamored with his song. (That’s just one of my standard corny metaphors used to illustrate my point I do not mean to imply that Bernie Sanders would kill any millennials). “Feelin the Bern” is the perfect example of how everybody gets so caught up in their ideals, such as the vague notions of love and connectivity he promotes in his speaking engagements, that they lose touch with reality. He may have an eloquent message but I would rather be sold an honest truth than a pleasing lie. Because in spite of what the current culture would have you believe you can’t mandate morals. You can’t make a moral economy by forcing vaguely ethical requirements on corporations. The truth that no one wants to discuss is that you make a moral economy by making moral men and women and the unpopularity of this truth, I would argue, is directly tied to the fact that this job cannot be done by the state. And the reason that the state cannot do this is because it adheres to Enlightenment principals of liberty and a government neutral in matters of religion. However, the interesting result of that concept is that government tries to promote a morally good action divorced from a larger moral framework, and it ends up looking a lot like the cartoon below:

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Photo courtesy of churchpop.com

And it never works. Ideals are never realized and people become cynical because politics constantly promises more than it can deliver, and in my opinion that’s why all political people ever do is talk in varying degrees of hope and condescension.

Talk of how others should fix something, how others should change, how others should stop being ignorant in their love of Trump… In short, talk of how the world would be a better place if it was full of people more like themselves.

And I can’t stand it because this pride blinds to the only thing that has ever changed the world for the better: love. Yet this change they truly seek is not going to be dramatic, global, sweeping, or entertaining. It’s not going to have a bumper sticker or a benefit or a stage of any kind because none of those things have the power to change people’s hearts, which is the only way to make the world a better place.

What changes people’s hearts is when they say no to the world. No to the temptation to say something awful about their neighbors, no to crappy television, no to the temptation to pride and superiority, and yes to those brave and wild moments when they go out on a limb and actually love their neighbor even though it might be the opposite of what they feel like doing.

And my belief in this simple observation comes from the fact that I am a lifelong Catholic and was in a secular service sorority and, unlike vague political mandates, I have seen this method work time and time again. It is arguably the prime reason I am religious but not at all political because politics tells me to trust the power of the state whereas religion tells me to trust the power of God, and only one of those things has ever had the power to change my heart and open it up past my selfish nature to see in blazing color the needs of others. This may not have changed the entire world but it certainly changed mine and maybe my tiny corner of Pittsburgh is better because of it.

So now if I look remarkably calm in spite of the political mess we seem inevitably headed towards you can know it is because I’m not disappointed or even that surprised because I don’t believe in saviors.

Unsolicited Life Advice For My Brother Graduating College

While I could never choose a favorite sibling I have to confess I have different soft spots for each of the ones I have. One particular soft spot I have for my older younger brother, the brother who is older than everybody else but younger than me as I am the firstborn, is the fact that he is technically the sibling that made me a big sister for the first time.

And for the sake of tradition I thought I would celebrate his graduation from college with an old staple from our childhood: some bossy but well-intentioned, usually unsolicited and often uninvited life advice from a sister who has three years of extra wisdom to impart:

Dear Brother,

Graduating anything always triggers pictures of adulthood, reminding you of what you’re leaving behind and leaving you feeling unprepared no matter how much you prepare. But don’t be afraid.

I think the great mystery of life is that the fundamentals about you don’t really change, you keep a lot of the same personality, feelings, and perceptions that you have always had, but your experiences broaden, your confidence grows, and pretty soon you’re surprised that without ever meaning to you’ve actually grown up.

And as you take this next step forward you’re going to be given a lot of advice on how to lead “successful” life.

This advice is well meaning, but nothing can ruin a life quite like worldly notions of “success.” What I mean by that is all too often success in is measured the wrong way and becomes synonymous with things like an impressive career, prosperity, and having what your friends have in every aspect of life from the material things to personal relationships, as if attaining these things were the only way to create a worthwhile legacy and impact the world for the better.

Yet I would recommend entirely rejecting that outlook because that is the one that leaves people living in fear, stressfully trying to control every detail from their diet to their career path and competitively comparing their progress to their neighbors. And I would wish better for you because, contrary to what I would have had you believe during your formative years, I actually love you a lot and there is some big sister part of me that’s always looking out for you, even though I know you can take care of yourself. Your happiness is important to me because the only misery I want in your life is the misery caused by my own self.   

Therefore, I will admit that from my brief experience with adulthood thus far there is one thing I wish someone had told me as I was graduating: “don’t forget to have an adventure.”

By that, I do not mean to suggest that you should spend all your money on a trip to Europe. I simply mean that as you enter the workforce and begin to think about things like health insurance and a 401K, there is so much focus placed on getting ahead and securing the next step on the road to “success” that it can be very tempting to forget to enjoy the step that you’re on. In other words, you forget that even though you’re not technically a kid anymore, life is still the same giant adventure it always has been. You just have to take the time to look for it, since your to-do list will be longer than ever before.

But the incredible thing about life is that you live. No matter what happens somehow you survive everything that gets thrown your way, even the things that at first seem impossible. So worrying is basically useless and the time you would have spent worrying is better spent developing trust and gratitude, the two fundamental things every adventurer needs.

This is the attitude that truly determines success because not only does it lead to greater happiness, it also gives one the courage required to reject the temptation to measure happiness in terms of self-indulgence and end the lie that life worth is nothing if it does not contain a list of impressive accomplishments. It will give you the wisdom to realize the true paradox that an impact is made not through great achievement, but in those tiny little moments that at first seem insignificant but later turn out to be the moments that make life worthwhile. Mundane moments where you are given an opportunity laugh and be silly as you go about your daily routine. To appreciate everything you have as it comes to you. To share your unique essence with the world as you spread the love of God you’ve experienced in your everyday encounters with your neighbors. The ability to live life not as a competition but as the gift that it is, both to your own self and to the countless others you will meet. Because ultimately I know you will be successful for the same reason I love you, not because of the amazing things you do at present or will do in the future, but simply because of who you are. The wonderfully thoughtful and witty young man I have so enjoyed getting to know.

Congratulations on your graduation from college. This is a big day and we’re really proud of you.

Love,

Ellen