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!)


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.


The Pitt 

So today I was faced with an interesting choice. Now that I’m much better at navigating Pittsburgh via public transit I know that from the stop near my office there are two bus routes that take about the same time to get back into the city. The first goes through a fairly poor rundown area before hitting the downtown. The second goes through the prestigious University of Pittsburgh. And the campus is impressively beautiful.

Guess which place my preppy white girl outward appearance fits in better?

I know the anticipation is killing you, but it was the second one. And that makes me kind of sad. Because while I’ve taken both ways, the first time I took the first way I was taken aback. Because suddenly I was launched into a world that was primarily African American and included many people with disabilities, the elderly, and had a strong presence of single mothers. One in particular who had a broken foot and was carting around her work bags and her kid on this broken foot of hers still haunts me. Because that would be damn hard. I don’t even know if I could do it. And while I hate the notion that just because I grew up with a nice, middle-class family I don’t know what suffering is (I know well enough, believe me), it would be hard to bear that particular cross. And I’m grateful that I had a really supportive family to go through it with me, because that lady was all alone with her child.

But fortunately since this is Pittsburgh, there is something sort of genuine about the people here, what you see is what you get. There’s this like prevailing blue-collar honesty, a sweet simplicity that’s hard to describe. Just know that it is the opposite of superficiality. And the people had a little community. A lot of them knew each other. And what could have been a really depressing scene (one that my more elitist but sometimes well-meaning professors and teachers would teach me to automatically pity if not outright condescend) was turned into something almost sweet. Because there’s nothing like being cared about, knowing that people have your back through thick and thin, not because of what you do for them, but because you are friends and neighbors. That is the power of Pittsburgh. And I’m sad that, being raised up and down the east coast, that I haven’t experienced anything like it in other places.

Because other places have turned their back on it as something outdated in this dog-eat-dog world where you are number one and everyone else is number two (extend the number two metaphor as far as you want). And that’s too bad. Because now there is an absence of this type of community, an absence that the world is in mourning for, whether they admit it or not.

Because the truth is the best things in life aren’t things. What makes the experience worthwhile isn’t “finding yourself” or accumulating lots of material goods or even being the best. It’s serving your neighbor. And in a community like the ones I’ve described in Pittsburgh, you get the joy not only of serving your neighbor but in having your neighbor serve you too. I’m glad they keep that tradition alive. And I’d love to see it come back to life around the world.

Christ’s the King

So a couple of weeks ago I came across a blog that is also Catholic (there are lots out there don’t let secular society make you think there aren’t!) and the author had a post encouraging her followers to be Christ-like. Now she seems really authentic and sweet, not that I’ve ever met her, and it is good that she is encouraging her followers to put their faith into practice. I can tell her intentions were good. However I just really hate the term “Christ-like.” I hear it used a lot and honestly I just think it’s a bit presumptuous. Not only that, it sounds stressful, like it would leave people always on edge, trying to be perfect all the time with God watching over your back every second of the day. I know I can never be Christ-like, even on my good days. My nature is the opposite of Christ’s. But that doesn’t stop me because I don’t want to be Christ-like, I want to be Christ.

I know, I know. If being Christ-like sounds presumptuous, being Christ Himself sounds blasphemous and unrealistic. But hear me out. During Jesus’s earthly life He consecrates Himself to God His Father. He prays in John 17:11 “…Holy Father, keep them in Your name that You have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.” I honestly think He means by that that by the power of the Holy Spirit His consecration to God was so total that He and God were one, prompting Jesus to be so incredibly humble that He would take no responsibility for His good deeds and heroic feats on earth, giving all the glory to God. And this sentiment is echoed in Paul when he talks about the Holy Spirit saying in Galatians 2:20 “No longer I, but Christ lives in me.”

This is the type of thing I want. To be so on fire with the Holy Spirit that it is no longer myself, but Christ who lives in me and through me. I know in my heart that if I spent every day imitating Christ I could never be like Him. On my own I don’t have the holiness, the willpower, or the grit. It will leave me tired, frustrated, ineffective and maybe even spiritually dry. But fortunately, it’s never been about what I can do, but what Christ can do for me. I believe He can send me down His strength and His Spirit to accomplish the impossible. And He does, because He has this incredible capacity for love (at least that’s how I explain his enduring love for me). I think the world today is the way it is because so many people settle for being “Christ-like.” Some passive, comfortable Christianity that really waters down the beauty of the spiritual life. And I would wish better for you readers because, as usual with God, there is so much more to it than what meets the human eye. That’s the belief that keeps me moving forward.