Don’t Listen to Justin Beiber

So this probably doesn’t surprise anyone but Justin Beiber is apparently trying to do some damage control for his image as an irresponsible party animal (it is taking every ounce of self-control I have within me not to add something really sassy to the end of that statement). In an interview he did with Complex magazine he even talks about his Evangelical Christian faith, and shares the following observation (which has gotten a fair amount of online traffic) “You don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell that doesn’t make you a Taco.”

We’ll Justin, never say never… (I tried to fight it- I really did!)

jb

But, coming back from the solid two minutes I took to laugh at my own bad pun, in my opinion this is a sad indictment of the public educational system, because this is one of the weakest arguments I’ve ever come across- not to mention one of the crappiest metaphors of all time. When I think Taco Bell my next thought is never Church, it’s college hangovers. More to the point, that is the equivalent of saying A does not yield B and C does not yield D. The relationship between A and B is in no way affected by the relationship between C and D. That is like saying my mother and father got married when they were 22 and have been married for 31 years. My neighbors got married at 22 and have been married for 31 years. Fantastic. But it doesn’t prove a thing because my parents’ marriage is in no way affected by my neighbor’s marriage. If you got married at 22, and had been married for 31 years, that would just add another set of letters (E yielded F).  I would be an absolute fool to use this alphabet soup to assert that if you got married at 22, you would also be married for 31 years (and beyond hopefully). It’s just yet another ill-thought-out argument in the public arena. I don’t know why we pay attention to it.

Perhaps because, regardless of his unimpressive debating skills, the Biebs echos a sentiment I hear a lot from millennials in my generation, the idea that we are more “spiritual” than “religious” and don’t need church for anything. Loving God in a vague and abstract way whenever you personally feel like it is enough. So they say. But it shouldn’t be. Your heart longs for more than abstractions. In fact, if it’s anything like mine then your heart won’t be satisfied with anything less than the real deal, perfect love and true completeness.

Because people aren’t as against church/organized religion/religious institutions as they think they are. It’s simply a product of the indoctrination that we call public education. What people are against is the media portrayal of the church/organized religion/religious institutions, which always show Christians as hateful and stupid, and the Catholic Church as an outdated relic whose teachings are in opposition to “progress”. In general, as part of the “question everything” generation we are taught to question all authority (religious authority included) and then replace it with our own authority. Interestingly that’s one of the reasons, I would argue, that the teacher turnover rate is so high, because the next generation has been raised with this pride, that they already know everything/will figure it out on their own and no one is going to tell them what to do- especially some crap teacher. (Crap is the label given to any teacher who doesn’t give an adolescent their way, so take that with a grain of salt.)

And this anti-authority way of thinking breeds mistrust for the wrong institutions. Don’t trust the moral authorities, which they paint as the overbearing parents trying to get in the way of your life of self-indulgence, trust the authority of the state. You may think I’m exaggerating, but humans have to believe in something in order to give their life meaning, and if you don’t believe in a religious/moral authority this will create a vacuum. And society has a lot of suggestions with how to fill that vacuum: money, sex, power, control, fame, volunteerism, social status/popularity, health/an obsession with diet, entertainment, mass/social media, materialism, Starbucks, political activism/social change, and always looking toward “the future.” A future, they promise, that will eventually fulfill you. Even if you feel horrendously empty on the inside it’s not because you’re subscribing to the wrong dogma and pursuing the wrong things- it’s because you don’t have enough of it yet!!! So quit your soul searching and party! This is your choice baby, your life, your rules- this is freedom!!!!!!

Yes, I’m at it again, I’m discussing the things that encompass the new atheism, secularism with a religious fervor.  With spokespeople such as Justin Beiber.

These people do not love you. They are misguided themselves (and by that I mean they simply haven’t found the truth yet, I’d hate to think they’d lie to you intentionally to promote their own new atheist agenda) and they want you to follow them in order to validate them and their cause. Don’t. Following strictly human authority in isolation from a higher power is like following a herd of sheep off a cliff. What makes you think they know what they’re doing? What makes you think they have all the answers when in reality they are probably struggling with life’s big questions just as much as you are? Sheep need a shepherd. Shepherd’s love their sheep. Shepherd’s guide their sheep.

The Lord is my Shepherd. And though He lives in my heart, it is also crucially important that I meet Him in church because that’s His palace. Because while personal prayer is where God comes to dwell in my soul, the Church is a symbolic place where I go to dwell in the soul of God, to have an encounter with the mysterious nature of God. That is where He generously confers the graces I need, the goodness I can’t muster on my own. That’s where I find my answers. That’s where I learn to love, not just God but my neighbors as well (both the ones that also attend and the ones that don’t- just to clarify for the cynics out there). But most importantly, as a Catholic, it is the place where I receive the Eucharist and engage in the ceremony where God gives me the greatest gift this life has to offer: Himself.

And I would take that gift over absolutely anything else in the world.

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I’m not angry

So anyone observant living in the world today has probably noticed that it’s not so pretty. There are a lot of tough issues that are tough to navigate, but which require a response both as an individual but especially as a Christian.

And I’m all for some good “rabble rousing” to that effect. Nothing like some straight talk for motivation. But so much of what ought to be, and is often intended to be, motivational misses the mark. It’s accusatory and belittling. It focuses on what people ought to be doing, but don’t do. People who should be living a certain way, but aren’t. Becuase there is an anxiety that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that we ought to be doing more to stop that. There’s some truth to that statement. But hell is not stronger than heaven, never will be.

And the purpose of the post and the title of the post is the same, to inform you that I’m not angry.  And I’m not angry because I’m not worried. Is there cause to be worried? Certainly. Is there cause for despair? Usually. Would it be easier to give up? Always.

But I’m not going to do any of those things. Because I know the truth. And the truth is just like the old adage that says you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. (As much as people nark on all things traditional there is wisdom to be gleaned from those who came before us, and it is written off far too easily with our smug superiority and notions of progress)

Because the truth is God is love. And the nature of love is that it cannot be forced. You will get absolutely nowhere by demanding that people behave like good Christians. You can certainly try it. But it won’t be effective and there is a serious danger of becoming very cynical about human nature in the process. Because true Christianity is an invitation, it is a call to come and be absolutely transformed by the overflowing love of God. And invitations go two ways. You respond yes, or you respond no. And who would respond yes to someone who is angry? To someone who is making hard demands and expecting them to be followed through with machine-like precision and absolute perfection? Not me, my friends, not me…

Because I’m stubborn, remember? I can rarely be obedient unless I trust the person I’m obeying. And it would be hard to trust the person I just described, the angry person. The God who is only justice, and not mercy.  I think that’s why Jesus is divine mercy; as human as the rest of us, He understands. His heart is where the love of God and the justice of God meet, and it’s name is mercy.

And I’ll take it.

As much as He is willing to give me. Because I trust Jesus more than I trust the smartest, happiest, most successful person on earth (which, ironically, if you’re willing to take off your microbic human eyeglasses and view from a more cosmic perspective, is probably Jesus too- but I was thinking more in terms of self-help/businessman/celebrity culture when I wrote the phrase).

And therein lies the importance of the Christian witness. Because your life is not just about your acts, it is about your very being. Your whole life, wherever you are whatever you are doing, should be a witness to your invitation, your call to love. People should see your daily yes to receiving the love of God and the transformative peace and joy it brings you. Because it is your yes to God, like in the beginning of the New Testament with Mary the mother of God, that ultimately decides your destiny.

And just for fun I have a story to this effect. I described a strong interior conversion a couple posts back and do you know that every time I attempt to drink alcohol anymore, I get carded? I don’t go out drinking often, certainly not often enough for that to be a serious hindrance. But formerly, being the old-soul/controlling planner type I admit to being, people were always assuming I was older than I actually am. So after the night I turned 21, I rarely got carded. That is, until recently. Because since this interior conversion I have the heart of a child (at least I try to) and without intending to my entire demeanor has changed to the point where I come off differently than I used to. Perhaps the way to describe it is more innocent, more open, more friendly/approachable/understanding. Because you are what you eat right? (Yes that was a Eucharist pun)

And I only noticed this because people respond to me differently now, and I think it’s because they’ve encountered this subtle change where it’s not just me anymore who they’re encountering, it’s who I am in Christ. So now instead of coming across as a no-nonsense, extremely driven superwoman who is in control of every detail of her life, I come across as a joyful little girl reveling in the little mysteries of the everyday. And instead of being intimidated by me or thinking I’m perfect (which was equally common) people now talk to me like I’m a cross between a preschooler and their mom. And do you know in truth it’s kind of nice? 

And, in short, now I get carded absolutely everywhere I go.  And if that’s my witness to the world, I’ll take that too. 

Forgive and Forget?

So today I was scrolling around the web (I feel like that’s a more accurate description than surfing the web) and I read this article that posed an intriguing question. The question was: can you forgive and not have a relationship with that person?

I think the author of the article was sort of wondering can you walk away from a relationship and still love that person in the sense that you’ve forgiven them, but the relationship is bad and you need to walk away from it. But she didn’t allow comments. Boo.

So I’m going to weigh in on both sides of the question right here. (Consider yourselves fairly warned!)

As for the first part of the question, I think forgiveness is essential in any relationship, even the ones you don’t intend on breaking. I think forgiveness gets an interesting reputation because it’s always presented as something you don’t want to do but really should do if you want to be a good person and all.

And that’s such a shame because real and authentic forgiveness goes so much deeper than that. In fact, if it models God’s forgiveness, it completely forgets the offense and in no way hinders the self-giving love that is the true joy of Christian life (where you receive that from God and share it with others). And I think Jesus encourages forgiveness because the truth of it is that it’s not so much for the other person as it is for you. Embarking on the trail of forgiveness is a lesson in learning how to give a person exactly what, in your mind at least, they do not deserve. And that is difficult. Because, speaking as a human, I rely on my judgement a lot and it’s hard to give up the moral high ground (on those rare occasions where I’m standing on it) to go and sit with my fellow sinners, instead of on my lonely throne of judgement and righteous indignation. Because forgiveness takes trust in God, and an acceptance that even if I feel justified in my anger towards someone for their offences against me, I might not be either:

  1. justified at all
  2.  have that offense righted while here on earth.

Yet I like to envision heaven as a kingdom of mercy, and the further I walk down my spiritual path the less I want retribution from people for their sins against me because they were doing their best with what they’ve been given and I’ve certainly sinned against many here on earth (and against heaven too for that matter). And I want to forgive because I also want to be forgiven. I would want all the people I’ve ever sinned against to have mercy on me because the truth is, no matter how I appear to the outside world, I’m weak. It’s just a fact.

And I think this realization, the art of forgiveness, is a form of freedom. Acknowledging your weakness and the weaknesses of others, and being happy that God loves you and your neighbor anyway in spite of your many weaknesses. And celebrating that He’s happy to give you access to his love, the only thing powerful enough to overcome it all.

But getting to the second part of the question, is it okay to forgive and not have a relationship with that person? I would also say yes to this. Because I had a falling out with one of my best friends right around the time I graduated college. She knew me inside and out. I wanted to repair whatever was wrong (because to this day I’m still not certain exactly why she was so mad at me, I only know that she was) but she did not. And that hurt. Really badly. And it took me a long time to get over it. (Not having a blog at that time- which is a shame because I bet I could have churned out some really good stuff) And forgiving her completely took a long time.

I wanted to forgive her much sooner than I was actually able to because I felt really betrayed, and that’s a tough emotion to reconcile with forgiveness. I honestly don’t know how Jesus does it so effortlessly (I chalk it up to Him being infinitely more loving than I am). Because forgiveness flows from love and I still loved my friend (I do to this day) but I sensed that true forgiveness would require me to sacrifice my own emotions and my own will in the name of love, and boy did I not want to do it. But I eventually did even though this friend and I don’t have any kind of relationship anymore. While I wish her the best and made peace with what happened, the truth is as we were growing up we had been growing apart and becoming two very different people.

But it’s still important to take the humble path which in this instance was choosing love and life. Because selfishness brings death. Not physical death per se, but when you get too caught up in your own emotions, you become preoccupied with them, and it’s you that stops living. Because you’re not there in the present moment anymore, you’re immersed in the peaks and valleys of your own internal realm. And the only way I’ve ever found out of that battleground is surrender. A surrender to the love of God, which, as I have said before is stronger than any emotion. And this surrender is certainly a beautiful struggle. Because God’s love is an overcomer for sure. It doesn’t ask you to deny, ignore, or bury the emotions. Instead, it requires you to confront them, to be honest about what they are, no matter how ugly, and accept healing of them.

And with that healing, it’s like you can remember the wound without feeling any of the pain. It loses its sting. With this healing you can take the next step. One leap further on the path of love. Becuase now your eyes are not fixed on you, only the adventure that lies on the horizon.