Monday, December 30, 2013

On Work and Sex when Grounded in Sin

Colin Farrell as the original Mr. Banks.  We'll get to him after we talk about sex and sin a bit.

Onan's sin of "spilling his seed on the ground" (Gen. 38:9) is the archetype for the dead-end that all sin is.

Compare 1 Sam. 3:19, where we are told of Samuel the prophet

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground.

Samuel is confirmed as a prophet, and his words are as fertile as God's Word, not "falling to the ground" in waste, but received somehow by a good soil, returning forth perhaps a hundred times what was sown (see Mat. 13:8).  As God Himself says ...

[My Word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:11)

God's word is fecund.  It always, somehow, produces fruit.

Sin is sterile.  The best it can bring about is suffering and death.

God's way is the way of the Spirit; the way of sin is the way of the world.

And Scripture gives us some graphic images of what we become when we live entirely to the world and not at all to God.  Scripture does not give us Gollum (as Tolkien does) to symbolize living for sin, living for the world - instead the Bible gives us Whores.

Indeed, the apotheosis of a life devoted to the world, the flesh and the devil is the Great Whore, the Whore of Babylon, who "made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." (Rev. 14:8)

Imagine the skankiest slut you can - crowned with false glory and worshiped by the smart people of the world, and by that part of us that desires success and selfish satisfaction above all else - that's the queen of this world, the Whore of Babylon, whose infected pollutions the movers and shakers eagerly lap up.  If Satan is the Prince of this world, his Princess is a sloppy whore.

In the Book of Proverbs she is an Adulteress, leading astray the man who should be seeking not her but his Lady - the true Lady Wisdom.  Follow the streetwalker to where she lives and find ...

Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.  (Prov. 5:5)

For not only do we waste the seed God entrusts to us when we do the deed with this Adulteress (who represents devotion to the world and to sin), we lose all effective stewardship of the wellsprings of life.  If we drink from the well of another who is not our beloved, how are we to hope to safeguard the well that sustains us?

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. ... Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?  (Prov. 5:15-20)

Well, speaking on behalf of all Dirty Old Men everywhere, may I say, we know why!  Because she's cute and seductive and it won't really lead to anything, will it?  It will simply be a dead-end, a dalliance that we can keep well under control and compartmentalized tightly away.  Right?  Sterile, you know.  Safe Sex and all that.  Spilling our seed for a night on the town.

And it is this very devotion to a self-contained and deliberately infertile use of what is supposed to be a fertile faculty that dooms all work.  One of the effects of sin is the separation of effort from product.  The very ground upon which we spill our seed becomes cursed because of our sinfulness ...

Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ... In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen. 3:17-19)

Not only does instant gratification become a chimera, but the "thorns and thistles" the ground brings forth in this fallen world become a crown of thorns that covers everything we try to do.

All work becomes effort, drudgery, pain.  Especially creative work, especially work done in love.

And yet ...

Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Sowing God's seed, then, though painful and sometimes apparently futile, eventually brings forth a harvest of joy.

And so I am speaking here not just to my fellow Dirty Old Men, or to my fellow Sinners.  I am speaking here to my fellow Artists, or Artists in Spirit.  I am speaking to all of us and to the Poet in all of us.   I am speaking to Mr. Banks, as it were, or his prototype in the film Saving Mr. Banks - to the lonely Celt who sees beyond the "Celtic twilight" to the true and solid figures whose mere shadows dance upon the wall of our cave, which we call the world.

There is always a great return if we go forth with God's Word, though we sometimes can't see it for our tears or taste it for our parched and malnourished lips.

For even sorrow is productive, in God's economy.  Even a kind of depression - it it's the right kind - can lead to Him; not the sorrow of the world, you see, but the right kind of sorrow.  The sorrow that seeks out God.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)

My son, repent in the right way - not in the way of mere regret for worldly mistakes and failures.

Repent in the way of the Spirit and you "will come rejoicing - bringing in the sheaves."
 
 
 



Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Duck Dynasty Clan are the Best Catholics in America

This needs to be said, now that the Phil Robertson controversy has settled down with A&E caving and with the Robertsons agreeing (as they always have) that True Tolerance (tolerance of sinners, but not of sin) is a Christian virtue.

Karen and I have just finished reading the autobiographies of Phil, Si and Willie Robertson, three of the main players on A&E's (still A&E's!) Duck Dynasty.  


Si Robertson
These men are the best public Catholics in America.

They are not racists, they are not "homophobes", they are not barbarians.  They are the best public Catholics in America - though they would presumably prefer being called the best public (small c) catholic Christians in America.  Or not being called that at all, since they're all well aware of their sins.

So let me elaborate: these guys are not in communion with the Catholic Church (as I am, and as I think it's important to be), but they are tremendous, humble and unpretentious Christians.  And their doctrine, the doctrine that informs their lives and that they live and breathe, is the basic, sane, sound, incredible, glorious, unearned and spectacular revelation of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit concerning the Good News of salvation.

They talk the talk and they walk the walk.

And they know the Bible backwards and forwards - which (to our shame) is more than can be said for almost any Catholic (big C) you'll meet.

We moan a lot about the need to reclaim Christian Culture.

Believe it or not, the show Duck Dynasty is doing it.


Answering the Persistent NO



It's funny how we can do terrible things to one another and deal with it, but small slights are often harder to endure.

I have been having a wonderful Christmas with friends and family, but one former friend, who is angry at me, refused to return a "Merry Christmas" message, a simple offer of peace and reconciliation in the spirit of the season.  This person has injured me in many ways, but nothing has hurt more than this clamming up in the face of a simple "Merry Christmas".  This act is more telling and more vile than any that have gone before it.

And it brought up the question of How are we do deal with the NO?

***

The single great and enduring frustration of running Theater of the Word Incorporated over the years has been the persistent NO we've been getting from within the Church.


  • An organization in Massachusetts books a tour of our pro-life play Sarah's Secret, signs the contract, pays the deposit, and then at the last minute cancels the tour for fear that the pro-life message will offend local Kennedy-Catholics - as well it should.


Now, I'm not saying that people who don't book our shows are wrong not to book them.  I would never book shows by a touring Catholic theater troupe.  It just sounds too awful, you know? 

But the persistent NO is a conundrum all the same.

It's a conundrum because you don't know how to deal with it.  Are we charging too much for our shows? you ask yourself, even though you're selling them at a loss.  Then you try offering them free and you find you can't even give them away.

And they're not bad.  I have enough experience in show business to know our shows are really quite good, in fact better than anything else I've seen of a similar nature.

***

I had a dream one night.

A Frodo-type character in a Lord of the Rings-type saga is making his way through innumerable adventures not (as in Tolkien's epic) to destroy the ring, but in order to marry the princess.  

At the climax of his saga, he appears before God, who sits at a judge's bench. The wedding is about to begin, when it is revealed - in front of God and everybody - that the princess has said NO.  She has issued the reverse of Mary's fiat.  The marriage will not occur; the quest has been a failure.

The sense in the dream is that this is like the moment when Frodo reaches the crux of his adventure and can not find it in himself to destroy the ring, to complete the action that he came for, the deed that his whole life's saga was pointing toward.

But there is also a sense in the dream that the marriage becomes a monastic one, that the NO of the princess is answered by an unexpected YES.  There is a sense that the Frodo character is not really the groom but the bride; that it is really he who has been sought after by the great Bridegroom who seeks after us all, and that when the world says NO we can always say YES.

It is not a question of the NO of the princess to the groom.  It is a question of the YES of the groom to a Greater Groom, a YES of one bride that redeems another bride's NO.

***

The command to shake the dust off our feet and move on when we are rejected is not the NO it appears to be - it is not returning a NO with another NO.  It is simply the recognition that the NO of others is not really our concern.  It is God's seed that we are spreading, not our own.  What business is it of ours if His message is rejected, if (for example) something as simple as His offer of peace and reconciliation is ignored, even at Christmas?  

For we can always counter that NO with a YES, a YES to Him.  Even if we are left standing at the altar, crushed and abandoned by the princess or the mere lady in whom we had placed so much hope, the marriage feast is not cancelled.  For the world always lets us down.  And the wedding is consummated beyond the world.

The Bridegroom is coming.  And to Him we say an everlasting YES.

Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”? But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:17-20)







Catholic-ism

John Médaille comments on a Facebook post about a particularly vehement and anti-Francis Catholic, but his observation applies to many on both the right and the left: 

"His is a highly political religion, one placed entirely as the service of partisan interests. It is not so much Catholicism as Catholic-ism, not so much a religion as an ideology. Like all ideologues, he cannot tolerate dissent from his pontifications, not even from a pontiff."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Mystery of the Peace of Christmas

[I posted this last summer, and it's worth repeating now.]



They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:14)

We live in a very broken world.  Perpetual war, rule by a plutocracy, usury and taxes that crush the common folk, pornography, a culture in free fall, attacks on the family, abortion - and on and on.

But most folks, even in the Church, keep blithely saying, "Peace!  Peace!" when there is no peace.  Or worse yet, "Why can't we all just get along?" - as if the things that make for turmoil are insignificant and the problem is with those who suffer and complain about it.

There is no peace today and there was no peace for the Holy Family.  Christmas came in a panic - an untimely and precipitous delivery when there was no room at the inn, and was followed by a flight into Egypt to avoid the bloodthirsty brutality of Herod - Herod the icon of "Pro-choice" leaders, hungering after the slaughter of innocents.

And yet somehow every Christmas - or at least once during Advent - there comes that indescribable moment - that moment of stillness, silence and peace.  "Silent Night", "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and other beautiful hymns touch upon this holy awe.

Everyone has felt it - atheists, Jews, Buddhists.  There is a magical stillness and a pure calm, a still and steady light burning in the darkness, even in the midst of the secular orgy of commercialism and rushing about we call Christmas the Holidays.  It's there.  It's a foretaste of the Peace of Christ that we receive only fully in the Kingdom, and it is not anything like the false peace of this world.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. - (John 14:27

God grants us this grace at some unexpected moment every Advent or Christmas - He grants it even to those who most despise Him.  It is the enduring gift of the Nativity, of the entry into the world of our sinless Savior, the child who shall lead us (Is. 11:6), and, though quiet and easy to miss, it is very real.


Christmas as D-Day

The Mithraic god aion

We are, as Christians, not of this world. 

“The world from which we must be detached, the world that is Satan’s kingdom, is not the planet, not matter, but our own greed and lust for it. The word for ‘World’ in the New Testament is aiōn. It is a time word, not a space word. It means ‘the old order’, ‘the fallen order’, ‘the Adam order’. Christ has invaded that kingdom, that order. Christmas was D-Day. We are liberated and called forever away from the old order.”
— Peter Kreeft from his book Back to Virtue.

This aion from which we are to detach is akin to the sarx or carnality that St. Paul describes, and which I wrote about yesterday.

I sent out a plea on Facebook regarding that - "Does anyone anywhere preach death to the flesh and rebirth in the Spirit any more?" I asked.

A friend of mine who is very devout, an Evangelical preparing to enter the Catholic Church, answers ...

Kevin, yes, this was preached constantly in the Evangelical circles I ran in as well as those I'm still associated with. The thing I find interesting about it is, while the 'flesh' is verbally acknowledged as an abstract concept closely associated with the sinful nature, it is in practice abstinence from outward physical evils. My experience has been that the  teaching on this is a strange blend between Puritanism and Gnosticism. The idea of putting to death the 'flesh' is quite literal. 'Don't smoke, don't drink, don't listen to music not produced by Christians, don't see R-rated movies, don't closely associate with people who are not "Christians".' Somehow the outward informs the inward and not vice versa. The 'flesh' is evil and the soul is good.
I would even venture to say that's why the doctrine of Purgatory is offensive to Evangelicals. "How is it possible, if Christ fully redeems us, that after shedding the 'flesh' the inner man could somehow still be in need of purification?" When I first began studying Purgatory that was my mindset. In Evangelical circles It is largely the denial of the sacramental life—because salvation is mostly passive on our part. Once we repent, we are saved. Thus, the participation with grace has run its course and it is now simply a matter of controlling carnal appetites (in fairness, with the help of the Holy Spirit). Perpetual regeneration, through participation with the graces available to us, is not taught in Evangelical theology.
So, the short answer is 'yes', it is taught all the time. However, in my experience, it is taught from the point of view that personal holiness is achieved through how well we abstain from those things on the naughty list and not how completely we surrender to the Holy Spirit's continual reshaping of the inner man.

If that's accurate, then the situation is this ...


  • The Catholics have taken to ignoring completely the entire tradition of flesh vs. spirit and world vs. Kingdom.  We hear that God loves us and that we should love one another - true enough!  But we don't hear that this is done not really by our own efforts, but by dying to our old selves and actually and literally being remade into new selves.   We don't hear about mortification and transformation.

  • The Protestants who still preach this doctrine of death and rebirth fall into the trap of either keeping things too external - "Just hit the things on this list and you'll be fine" (which, ironically, tends to be a kind of salvation by works) - or keeping them vaguely and indefinably internal - "The new man is the inner man and as long as you've got the inner feelings, you're OK" (which is the flip side of the Gnostic coin: since flesh and spirit are divorced in Gnosticism, there's really no significant communion between the two).


But if I would have to point to one thing that has helped me more than anything else in trying to stop being a hypocrite and start being a Christian, it's been the courage to die to the part of me that seeks fulfillment from the world - to die to the sarx and to turn from lusting after the things of the aion - and thereby to let God's grace do the work that I am always resisting.

Of course, I'm still a hypocrite and I don't have this right, but the key to keep in mind this Christmas, is the Cross - death, the tomb and the life that comes from it.  The Passion is present even in the manger, and from that comes our greatest hope.

Christmas is indeed D-Day.



Monday, December 23, 2013

What We Die To



Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom. 6:3)
***

I am corresponding with a blog reader who is struggling to find a word to describe "living for one's self; living without God or any independent authority; blindly doing what everyone else does because it's fun and we don't even reflect upon it."

I write that you could call this

Ego-centrism, willfulness ... Paul himself gives it the word sarx in Greek, usually translated "flesh" in English.  He opposes the life of sarx to the life of the Spirit - the one leads to death and the other to eternal life (as you know, I refer to this on my blog a lot).  The "sarx" life is what you're describing, the notion that "I'm sufficient unto myself.  I can make my own decisions and choose my own morality.  No exterior being or principle has any authority over me.  I will satisfy my desires and placate my conscience as best I may".  We all naturally live that way; that's the Old Adam in us.  The New Man, the new creation, is born from death to the old self and from recreation in Christ - and this happens sacramentally and supernaturally in baptism, and temporally and naturally by being lived out over the course of our lives.
But even "flesh" doesn't really work as an English equivalent of that word, for it implies that the body is wrong and should be rejected, which is not what St. Paul meant.  "Carnality" comes closer, though the Elizabethans would have simply used "will" - meaning self-centered volition.

Then I pulled up Strong's Greek, which nails it ...

4561 (sarks) is generally negative, referring to making decisions (actions) according to self – i.e. done apart from faith (independent from God's inworking). Thus what is "of the flesh (carnal)" is by definition displeasing to the Lord – even things that seem "respectable!" In short, flesh generally relates to unaided human effort, i.e. decisions (actions) that originate from self or are empowered by self. This is carnal ("of the flesh") and proceeds out of the untouched (unchanged) part of us – i.e. what is not transformed by God.

Now this is central to our Faith - but it's something you never hear in homilies or even in catechesis.

Becoming a Christian does not simply mean trying to be a good person (commendable as that is).

Becoming a Christian means death.  It means not simply renouncing the ways of our fallen nature; it means killing it, dying to it.  Kill the petty tyrant within and hold vigil for the return of the king, the true king, the King of Kings.

It is that death and rebirth that makes us carry the name of Christ - Christian.  Without that we are simply people with a set of beliefs and a few odd ethical notions that we mostly ignore.  Without death to self - without the cross - we have not come anywhere near the Reality of the True God.


Keeping the F Out of A & E

... which is to say keeping the Faith out of "Arts & Entertainment"

Pat Archibold writes ...

The whole idea of the show was to parade these nouveau riche Christian hillbillies around so that we could laugh at them. "Look at them," we were supposed to say.  "Look how backward they are!  Look what they believe!  Can you believe they really live this way and believe this stuff?  See how they don't fit in? HAHAHA" 
When the producers saw the way the show was shaping up, different than they envisioned it, they tried to change course.  They tried to get the Robertson's to tone down their Christianity, but to their eternal credit they refused.  They tried to add fake cussin' to the show by inserting bleeps where no cussword was uttered.  At best, they wanted to make the Robertson's look like crass buffoons. At worst they wanted them to look like hypocrites.
They desperately wanted us to laugh at the Robertsons.  Instead, we loved them.
A&E wanted us to point fingers at them and laugh at them.  But something else happened entirely.  Millions upon millions of people tuned in, not to laugh at them, but to laugh with them. 
And then we pointed at them.  We pointed at them and said things like, "I wish my family was more like them.  I wish we prayed together as a family.  I wish we were together like the Robertsons."
By the time this all happened, A&E had a conundrum.  They knew who the Robertsons were and what they believe and they still held it in disdain.  But they really liked the money.  Really liked the money. So they lived with it.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Inner Death

Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9)

We are not called simply to trust in God to deliver us from death - either the physical death we all fear or the inner death that comes to some of us.  We are called to allow Him to deliver us through that death, to raise us from the dead.

Any old god can rescue.  Only the true God revives.

There comes a point where there is no return, no hope, where all is lost and only bitterness, regret and anger remain.  There comes a time when we see the pointlessness of our own actions, where we see that no matter what we do, we can't cut it on our own.  There comes a time when we have "the sentence of death within ourselves."  There comes a time not only when we are dying on the cross, but when we cry out in agony to the God who has abandoned us.

And at that moment, which is the culmination of our baptism, we die.

And we are forced to trust not in ourselves, "but in God who raises the dead".


Joseph and the Angel



Here's a very fine homily by Deacon Nathan Allen, based on today's gospel, Matthew 1:18-24 -

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, 
but before they lived together, 
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame, 
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 
“Joseph, son of David, 
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit 
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, 
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel, 

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him 
and took his wife into his home.

Deacon Nathan preaches ...

***

I've always thought this passage (Matthew i.19) meant that St Joseph, being a 'just man', a righteous man, was going to send Mary away quietly because on the one hand he didn't want to expose her to infamy, but on the other he just couldn't see his way clear to marrying her if she was, as he quite naturally supposed, pregnant with another man's child. Now, Mary would certainly have told him about the visit from the angel, and all the angel said. But what the angel said was incredible, unbelievable, and it would be quite natural for St Joseph to be, oh, a bit sceptical. That's the interpretation all of our translations put on the text, based on how our Greek text is punctuated, and it's a quite natural interpretation. But the punctuation is not original; it was added by editors to make better sense of the text. And there is an entirely different interpretation possible, and to my mind one which seems to fit better with our understanding both of Our Lady and of St Joseph, if we change the punctuation slightly.

Note that the angel in the dream does not say to Joseph, "Don't suspect Mary of adultery, of being unfaithful to her promise to marry you." Rather, the angel says, "Do not fear to take Mary your wife." Instead of reading, "Do not fear to take Mary your wife <stop> for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit," let's try dropping the semicolon. If we do that, we get, "Do not fear to take Mary your wife because that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." That is, "Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home ON ACCOUNT OF THE FACT THAT the child she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit." That changes the meaning entirely, doesn't it!

Let's back up a bit to the Old Testament for some background. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was the most holy object in the Temple. It was housed in the most holy place in the Temple, the Holy of Holies: a place so sacred that only one person, the High Priest himself, ever entered that room, and only on one day a year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The story is told in II Samuel vi.6f how, when King David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to his new capital Jerusalem, the oxen drawing the cart stumbled and a man named Uzzah reached out his hand to steady to Ark and was struck dead for touching so holy an object. St Joseph knows this story. Why is this relevant? Because the early Church Fathers often referred to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

The Ark in the Old Testament represented the Presence of God; but Mary bore within her womb Almighty God himself. The Ark contained the Tablets of the Law, the words of God written with the very finger of God; but Mary bore within her the Word Made Flesh. The Ark also contained the staff of Aaron which blossomed and bore fruit, signifying that Aaron and his descendants would be the priests of the Old Covenant; but Mary bore within her the Rod of Jesse's stem, the eternal High Priest of the New Covenant. The Ark also contained a jar of manna, that miraculous 'bread of angels' that fed the people of Israel on their journey for forty years through the wilderness to the Promised Land; but Mary bore within her the true Bread come down from Heaven that gives life to the world (John vi. 32f).

On this interpretation that I am proposing, therefore, St Joseph's dream strongly suggests that he is struggling not with disbelief, but with belief — and with a profound sense of his own unworthiness. He has come to believe what the angel said to Mary, and so he does not act like an outraged and betrayed man, but like a man who, as the months of Mary's pregnancy progressed, begins to feel more and more the crushing weight of his appointed task... and quite frankly a dread of the Holy One. Mary, as we said, would certainly have told him what the angel had said. And while he would naturally have been sceptical at first — conceived by the Holy Spirit; right! — his natural incredulity gives way to fear and awe as the weeks go by, and especially when the other things the angel said — about Elizabeth who had been barren being pregnant in her old age — started to come true. How dare he,a mere man, take Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, into his home? Joseph is a 'just man', which does not mean he feels an outraged sense of justice, but rather it means that he is devoted to the law of God and would not dare unless God commands otherwise to take to himself something — someone — whom God has consecrated for his own divine purposes. That I think is what St Joseph's dream means.

And how does that affect us? In a moment that same Jesus is going to be present on this altar in the hands of his priest, and we on our knees will acknowledge him, strike our breasts and say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof" — we will be saying what St Joseph was feeling. I know we don't often reflect on what a tremendous thing is happening when we receive the Eucharist. Presumption is more our failing, isn't it, than fear of our own unworthiness. It's become so routine for us that even if we make the effort to prepare to receive Our Lord, confessing whatever grave sins we know we've committed and so forth, still we only rarely are aware if at all of the tremendous mystery, of the crushing weight of glory we are celebrating. We dare to receive into ourselves the very Presence of God. We dare to bear Almighty God within us, taking his presence with us into the world. "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," we rightly say, "but only say the word"... and he does say the word, because he is the Word, and our souls are healed.

Phil Up the Stocking

My friend John C. Hathaway has written a thoughtful piece on Phil Robertson and the Dixie Chicks.  It's thoughtful, even though he quotes me.

But he also quotes Jay Leno, who has the best line yet about the Robertson situation.  Phil is in trouble for quoting 1 Cor. 6:9-11 ...

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Leno remarks ...

Gay people are upset with him. Then he went on to criticize adulterers, drunks and swindlers, and now Congress is mad at him. So the guy just can’t win. 

***

By the way, I'm told former Upstage Productions actress Jenna Fischer of The Office  mentioned me on The Tonight Show a while back, though I have not had the patience to search YouTube to see the clip.

Just one more proof that being an EWTN Rock Star pays off!


Vanity Fairness - Homosexuality and the Human Condition

Vanity Fair has published an interesting article on the Secret Life of the Vatican, an investigative report into the "gay lobby" of Rome.

Though the article contains a good deal of what the author admits to be gossip and speculation, it nonetheless seems to present an accurate portrayal of what life as a "gay priest" at the heart of the Church entails.

And as I read the piece, I couldn't help thinking how strange this human tragedy and comedy can be.

***

When I was in grade school, my friends were usually the kids everybody else made fun of.

In sixth grade, I transferred from a Montessori school in the suburbs to a public grade school in the country, far removed from the Yuppie environment I was used to.  I was shocked to see the ways of the "rednecks" of rural Missouri.  The rednecks were a lot of fun, and there is much good I could say about them, but the one troubling thing my redneck classmates were consistent about was their ruthlessness toward fags, queers, homos.  You didn't have to be "gay" to get picked on or beat up, you just had to be "sensitive".  If you liked books or music or anything other than sports, you were a f*ing faggot.  

Harold (not his real name) was, to hear everyone talk, a f*ing faggot.  Overweight and a bit effeminate, and wearing glasses, he was the butt of everyone's jokes from sixth through eighth grade.  Things got better in high school, but Harold was never popular, and never had any real friends - except me, it seemed.

Then one day after we graduated, Harold called me on the phone.  "I've got to tell you something," he said.  "You know how everyone has always been making fun of me for being queer?  Well, I am.  I have been for a long time."

Now this astonished me.  I didn't think anyone was really queer.  I couldn't imagine that guys actually did the things boys used to accuse one another of.  I just thought it was a sick way of trying to hurt somebody's feelings - accusing them of something like that.  I knew people were queer theoretically - that f*ing faggots must exist somewhere.  But here!  And Harold?!  And not only were the accusations against him true, the reality was far more shocking than any of the bullies could have imagined.

He described his job at the truck stop on the highway, where for years, from eighth grade on, he had worked first as a bus boy, then as a waiter.  He said there was a hole between stalls in the men's room at the truck stop.  Truckers would signal to Harold in some way, and he would follow them into the bathroom and service them there in the stalls.  Some guys were regulars and knew to stop there for that reason, and they'd look for Harold and signal to him.

"How frequently would you do this?" I asked.

"Over and over again throughout the day," he said.  "By the time I was 16, I had had sex with hundreds or thousands of men."

By contrast, my sexual experience at the age of 16 had included a few Playboys and an active imagination.

But it's not as if I was missing anything.

The irony of straight boys who were virgins making fun of gay Harold who was having more sex than any of the rest of us was not lost on me.  But what kind of sex?  This was in the days before AIDS, but still - anonymous encounters at the men's room of the truck stop off the interstate is not really something anyone should be proud of.

And I'm sure many of us have tales to tell that are not far removed from Harold's stories.  Gay or straight, it's rare for any person to do good things with his or her naughty bits.  Harold's sordid and sad encounters are not that much worse than the disco clubs and one-night-stands of the straight world, or the hours wasted descending deeper and deeper into more and more perverted internet porn that characterizes the gay and straight high school world of teen aged boys today.

The next time I saw Harold was a few years after his "confession".  He met with my girlfriend Karen and me to introduce us to his fiance - a petite and darling young girl who had been a couple years behind us in high school.  "Doesn't she know?" I wondered.

Well, of course she knew.  And after a long marriage and many children, Harold left her for his male lover, with whom he is now living in an A-frame in rural Missouri.  Middle aged like me, Harold's whole being continues to be devoted to this strange desire.

***

What does this have to do with the "gay lobby" of the Vatican?

It is, as I say, the human condition.

We fall far shy of what we ought to be.  It's the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin - the one doctrine that can be proved by opening your eyes and looking at people and the world around you.  The one doctrine that requires no faith, only open eyes and ears.

It is sad to see how we live.  Those of us who did not spend our teen years performing fellatio on truckers in the men's room at the diner off the interstate can easily feel superior to those who did.  But what of those of us who have given our lives to greed - who have neglected our wives and children to chase the almighty dollar?  Or those of us who think of the Church as a club we join to beat other people over the head with?  Or those of us who have fed our fears by feeding our bellies, or who have used drugs or booze to silence that awful empty place inside?

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  (Rom. 2:1)

And yet ... do we live in a world where the best we can hope for is to tolerate one another's bad behavior, while we keep messing up and behaving badly ourselves?

No.

Because there are saints.  And there is goodness.  And there is love.

And when we see someone who is good, someone who does good things, with integrity and self-sacrifice, we know it's all true.  We know we are made for a better world.  And we know that none of us deserves to get there.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Incarnation and Imperfection

My Fellow Artists,

Back in 1988 I was a young man - but getting past that "Oh, you're still young" stage.


And I was desperate.

All I wanted to do was find a form or a mold in which to pour my passions and my talents.  I badly wanted my own theater troupe, so that I could do the work that my heart was burning to do.  St. Paul says, "Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16)  Well, all I could say was, "Woe unto me if I do not do theater!"

But I had no money.  I was counting pennies.  I was going to bars that had all-you-can-eat appetizers for happy hour - not to drink, but so that I could eat for free.  For a few months there, I had no regular source of income, apart from delivering flyers door to door.

And I had a vocation.  I was called to act, to write, to direct.  And I couldn't do it!  I had had several good gigs - my singing telegram business, my tour to army bases overseas, my stint as a magician, as an MC, as a stand-up comic - but lately the gigs had dried up.  And I was desperate.

I mean, sure I was teaching children's theater classes at a local community theater, but what was that compared with what I wanted and longed for?

I mean, I could have the kids suggest story ideas that interested them.  I could write these stories into plays that were tailored to the cast and their talents.  I could have the kids learn these plays and I could direct them during the course of our sessions.  I could build sets, run the lights and sound and find costumes for the show.  I could design and print programs.  I could have my girlfriend Karen run the box office and take tickets.  I could ... I could ...

Hey, wait! I thought.  I already do have my own theater troupe!

It wasn't what I was expecting.  It was just a bunch of kids and a rickety old proscenium stage and stupid me trying to make the best of the hand I'd been dealt - but it was what I was longing for.  Right there.  Within my grasp.

That realization was a major turning point in my life.  I ran that children's theater program for three years.  I learned a lot about writing and directing and all aspects of producing.  It was a great joy, and the first time I understood what the incarnation meant - although I was still an atheist and I didn't call it that.

Chesterton says

There is something in all good things that is beyond all speech or figure of speech. But it is also true that there is in all good things a perpetual desire for expression and concrete embodiment; and though the attempt to embody it is always inadequate, the attempt is always made. If the idea does not seek to be the word, the chances are that it is an evil idea. If the word is not made flesh it is a bad word. 

And ever since those days, I've been much more humble when it comes to the opportunities offered me.

Ever since those days I've understood what making the word flesh means - and the inadequate final product that always results.

The Jews thought the Messiah would be a grand political leader - someone with the power and machismo of the Roman emperor.  When he turned out to be a poor kid from Nazareth who was born in a stable and nailed to a cross ... well, this wasn't what they had in mind.

And then there's my wife.

All those years I was dating Karen - 8 1/2 years, to be exact - I kept waiting for someone better to come along. I mean, she loved me more than anyone I'd ever met.  She was honest, funny, perceptive.  She and I could talk about anything.  She was always there for me.  I could tell her anything.  I could trust her with my whole being.  She was ... she was ... hey! it eventually occurred to me.  I don't need to keep looking for the woman I'm going to marry!  She's been right here all along.  Right there.  Within my grasp.  All along.

She wasn't perfect.  The Children's Theater troupe wasn't perfect.  But it was there.  It was real.  It was what God gave me.  And it was a great blessing - once I realized that incarnation always involves imperfection - in this life, anyway.

And imperfection is a form of suffering.

***

Now, Fellow Artists, I'm writing this to you because we're in an era of new technology that has a lot of us excited and a lot of us flummoxed.

But first, here's a chart I've come up with to help me make my point.

LevelTalentMoneyProduction
AmateurPoor to MediocreNoneLong Rehearsals
Semi-proMediocre to ExcellentSome, but usually very little; not enough to make a living.Less preparation time than amateurs, more than professionals.
ProfessionalExcellentSupports a familyAbility to produce in short periods under great stress

Here's how the above chart works when it comes to actors.


  • Amateur Actors do Community Theater shows.  Many community theater actors have some talent; most have very little.  They do this for fun, and they all have day jobs, since there's no money involved at all.  Some community theater shows rehearse five days a week for six to eight weeks - a lot of work, and the actors need it.  Family and friends come to see the shows.
  • Semi-pro Actors do shows that draw small houses, composed of both family and friends and the general public.  Most semi-pro actors have the talent and experience that enables them to get occasional paid gigs on commercials and in industrial work, but the "semi pro" plays they do pay them perhaps $20 to $60 for a six to nine show run - token money.  They all have day jobs, or they are living with someone who supports them and enables them to indulge their love for the craft.  They are good enough at what they do that they can put up a show on perhaps half the rehearsal time a community troupe needs.
  • Professional Actors make a living at their craft - though they may have to fill in with odd jobs here and there between gigs.  They can work under any and all conditions.  Many professional companies might rehearse daily for two weeks to mount a full-length show.  We rehearse our Theater of the Word one-acts maybe three to five times before mounting a new production.  We can't afford to spend more time than that on show prep, since we're so busy touring and performing other shows.

And from what I gather, the chart also applies to musicians - with one big difference.  Semi-pro musicians can have at least as much talent as professional musicians, but the industry is so brutal that they can't afford to give up their day jobs and tour and so they'll settle for playing great music in small clubs for $100 or less per night per player.

***

Now, throughout my entire adult life - with the exception of early 1988 when I was delivering flyers and for a year or so in the 1990's, I have made my living by acting, writing, producing and directing.  For almost 40 years I've been making money at this, and for 33 years I've been supporting myself and my family by being in show business.

So I know what I'm talking about.  And when it comes to the New Media, here's what I've got to say.

***

We're all semi-pros at the internet.

We've produced a lot of videos for Grunky, my internet video network. Most of them are "garage videos", or cheaply produced but interesting things that draw between 1,000 and 60,000 views each - mostly on the lower end.  These are not well-produced videos by any means.  But the funny ones are funny and the serious ones are well enough made to work on YouTube.

Kaiser Johnson has produced a great trailer for Father Dangerous - Bionic Priest, but to produce a web series that matches the caliber of the trailer would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

Timothy Quigley II wrote, produced, directed and starred in four brilliant episodes of Ordinary - an internet comedy series about a Catholic Priest.  He tried to raise $30,000 on Kickstarter to produce a second season, but fell short.

We have the option of producing some of our Theater of the Word plays as videos - but to do them well would cost about $20,000 each on the cheap end.  

All projects on the New Media cost money to produce, and almost none of them will make money in return.  Maybe someday.  Maybe somehow.  But it's a long shot.

***

So here's where we stand when it comes to the New Media, Fellow Artists.

A generation ago, it would cost over a million dollars to make the kind of movies people can make digitally and edit on computers these days for a few thousand per project.  A generation ago, even if you had a great final product on video, getting it distributed - to cinemas or to one of the major networks - would be almost impossible.  Now, you can upload it to YouTube and almost anyone on the planet can see it.

But we mope and we moan.

"Oh, if only we could have our own production company!  If only we could produce a well-made movie or TV series!  If only we could get people to see it!"

If only - hey, wait!  We've all got that.  When it comes to information technology, Distributism is here.  Right here.  Within our grasp.

Only, it won't (easily) make money, and because of that we can't afford to spend much time or money on it - unless we've got someone supporting us, like a wife or generous parents.  We are, in effect, and per force, semi-pros at the new technology.  Even someone who has made his living all of his life in show business - like me - is a semi-pro at the internet.  

We are semi-pro in how we are still struggling (as is everyone) to learn the new medium and to do works that are suited to it.  We are semi-pro in how our talent level will not be commensurate with the money we make (if any).  We are semi-pro in our need to subsidize what we're doing or to find ways of doing it in our spare time.

And this is the way it is.  This is frustrating, but this is the way the Incarnation works.  

Welcome to the smelly stable.  Pull up a manger and make yourself at home.



Friday, December 20, 2013

Where Evil Takes Us

I once knew a man who kept getting lured into inappropriate relationships with younger women - lured by his own desires and by the various women.  But he kept saying he was seeking "friendship" - that these women were his "friends".

Yeah, right.

That's as believable as the claim that the hypersexuality of Christopher West and his followers is all about God.  Or that the bishops have been doing their best to protect the integrity of the Catholic Faith and to protect the innocent victims of sex abuse.   Or that the Republicans and Democrats in Washington really have your best interests at heart.

In all these cases: yeah, right.

But there's something deep here - something about human nature and even non-human super-nature.

And it has to do with how we like to hide our own intentions from our own eyes.

***

The appeal of atheism or even of paganism is the denial of the Person - and a Person has will and reason.

In other words, if God does not exist, or if "god" is a benign force of unity and squishy feelings, then there is no intent in the universe.  There is no will or desire for anything to fulfill any reasonable goal or purpose.  Things just "happen".  In such a cosmos, one is left with randomness and meaninglessness, but most people are willing to buy into that, if in return they can do whatever they want with a placated conscience.

And on my worst days, I'm tempted to fall back into my old atheist and pagan ways and believe that lie, the lie that nothing we do goes anywhere or is intended for anything - either by us or by the divine being behind everything around us.

But there's always one thing that keep the devil from getting the upper hand in this.  And that is that he is intentional.  Evil may be the absence of good, but evil beings use evil for specific purposes.  To take us somewhere.  Our sins never just "happen" any more than the good we work hard to do just "happens".

There is an intent there - and the intent is often beyond our own deliberately blinded view of things.

***

Take, for example, anime.  Anime is those Japanese cartoons in which innocent looking school girls end up doing some less than innocent things.

Someone showed me a parody of anime that was in itself as disturbing as the whole genre it was making fun of.  (Caution: this link is to a video that is upsetting on many levels, even though it's a satire of the genre).

Now people will argue with me over this, but anime is intentional and has a purpose, though the milder forms of it pretend not to.

And that purpose is to entice dirty old men with a kind of kiddie porn, but kiddie porn set in a weird world where the children are more alluring, more "accidentally" seductive and more deliberately innocent-and-provocative than actual children.  Anime shows where pedophilia really leads, and the disordered world it aims to create.

Now, I can understand dirty old men (being one myself).  What I can't understand is the weird thing that anime is.  It's a kind of culture that shows that sin does not just stop when it's satisfied - that sin is never satisfied and that if we indulge it it takes us to a particular place and does specific things - things which are always beyond what we naively expect them to be.  For pedophilia is not about lust; it's about the perversion of innocence, and building a world that celebrates and embodies that perversion; it's not simply about a dirty old man getting his kicks.

And an older man is never seeking mere "friendship" with younger women.  And people who are obsessed about the spirituality of sex are using the spirituality as a vehicle to get to the sex.  And bishops know exactly what they are doing and covering up when they protect pedophiles and lie about their crimes.  And politicians want money and power and don't give a damn about the voters: if they obsess about votes, it's because the votes are the vehicle to get them to what really want.

And anime pretends to be innocent, but it's not.  It's all about a world that exists to corrupt and abuse the innocent, even if only in one's imagination.

There is intent behind all of this.

***

All sin is like this.  All evil is used by beings with designs that are far beyond our own rather simple hopes and fears.  For example, "vixens" (deliberately seductive women) know exactly what they're doing - they are intentional - and men fall for their traps all the time; but the trap traps the trapper, and even the women who think they are on top of the wrong they do are themselves wronged by it.

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden. (Ps. 9:15)

The best way to describe this, then, is that there is an intentionality behind our desires, both the good desires and the bad ones.  And since most of us follow our bad desires, we can see all about us where sin leads.

For instance, the witches in Macbeth aren't just messing around.  They want to destroy a man, to dehumanize him, to damn him.  Our evil desires are like the whispers of those witches, and I suspect that something far more frightening than witches are croaking out those whispers.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Tim. 4:3)





Moloch vs. Mammon



As I had hoped they would, the Robertson clan has announced, in effect, that they will walk away from Duck Dynasty unless Phil Robertson is reinstated.

And my friend Tom Richard comments on Facebook ...

Since the entire Robertson family now supports Phil, and is willing to walk on A&E, money, which is the only thing that matters in this society, will do the talking. This is the part I find interesting - has the LGBT community become financially powerful enough to take down the most popular non-fiction show on cable TV, or will A&E have to cave? That's about the only relevant question here. The rest was decided long ago.

In other words, which is the more powerful demon - Mammon or Moloch?  The love of money or the devotion to the Culture of Death?

My money is on money.  Corporations suck up to powerful interest groups like homosexuals in order to protect the bottom line, not because of any ideology, honor or sense of right and wrong.  Corporations are just like politicians in that sense.  To be perceived as "sensitive" to the so-called LGBT community is only valuable if it enhances your public image and increases your profits.  But if the homos will cost A&E the most popular show on television, I can't imagine they'll stand by them.

The question becomes, then, how can A&E save face and save Duck Dynasty at the same time?

... Although what Tom Richard is really saying is, "Yes, money will win.  But do the LGBTs have the financial resources to swing this?"




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Dynasty of Ducking

"I worry that America is becoming a real Duck Dynasty -no, not like the show. A duck dynasty in the sense that everyone walks around needing to duck all the time. We no longer scrape our knees in the schoolyard scuffle, or have to suffer to hear words that offend it. We get the Big Government and the Big Business bought-and-paid-for cultural overlords to protect us from anything that might challenge us to think, or feel, or in any way come out of the bubbles we would live in. We keep lowering the ceiling of free speech, and consenting to duck, until soon our knuckles must drag and we become mere primates that don't exchange ideas but just babble at one another and occasionally throw poo. And then we will keep ducking, and ducking, and ducking - ducking all the rights and responsibilities of man: to have a mind and to judge and discern and (yes) discriminate: until finally we writhe on the floor like the worms we've made ourselves."

- Joe Grabowski says more here.



These are a Few of my Favorite Sins



Because Phil Robertson pointed out that homosexual acts are sinful (and repulsive and stupid), A&E has kicked him off his own show.  A&E supports the so-called LGBT community, you see.

Robertson quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

My question is: does A&E stand by the Adulterers' Community as well?   Of all these sins, adultery by far sounds like the most fun to me.  Why didn't A&E kick Robertson off the show for criticizing adulterers?  Do they not stand by dirty old married men like me?  Why don't lecherous old coots have a voice in this?

And what of thieves and greedy folk?  In other words, bankers.  Doesn't A&E support bankers?  Are they commies, those folks at A&E?

And slanderers.  If A&E doesn't get behind the Community of Slanderers, what will become of most TV journalists?

***

Note that Robertson was quick to add ...

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job.  We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ‘em out later.”

***

The point is, sin kills.

I blogged about this earlier not because I hate LGBT's (or adulterers or swindlers), but because I hate sin.

In fact, I am perhaps "the greatest of sinners" (1 Tim 1:15), so I know whereof I speak.

I have been a practicing Christian since my conversion 16 years ago.  My life since then has been divided into two big chapters.  The first consisted of my wrestling with my old favorite sins that, after 8 years of struggle, God finally gave me dominion over.  The second chapter has been the 8 years since, a more difficult time because instead of wrestling against my new favorite sins, I did my best to rationalize them, to convince myself and others that they were not sins at all.

And that nearly killed me.  "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23) indeed.

I can't begin to describe the effect on my soul that my devotion to sin has had.  Only by seeing sin for what it is and by calling a spade a spade have I been able to have any healing at all - or for that matter any sanity.

If we can no longer call a sin a sin, then we will be forced to deny that grass is green and that 2+2 = 4.  Admitting sin is hard and shameful and painful.  But without that courage, we are lost.

And with it, the grace of God rushes in.

Support Phil Robertson by clicking here and liking the page.  

Criticize the Act of Sticking a Penis into a Man's Anus and ...


Robertson family, walk off the show.  Put an end to this.  This is insane.

Duck Dynasty is the best show on television and the Robertsons are the only intelligent vision of morality left in prime time - strange as that sounds.  And anyone who watches the show regularly can see that.

It's the most popular show in America, and Phil's family needs to back him up and back up his statements, which were simply healthy and normal and sane - and based on Natural Law and Scripture.

Can we not even say that anal sex is sick any more?

Apparently not.

Robertsons, do the right thing.  Walk away from this and let A&E lose their hottest property.  Stand up for Phil and your faith and simple moral sanity.

***

Two plus two are four.  The grass is green.  The sky is blue.

Homosexuals should not be persecuted, but Christians must not be intimidated.  Anal intercourse is sick, perverted and part of the Culture of Death.  If we can't say that anymore, it's all over.