Monday, June 30, 2014

A "Christian" Cult - Abuse, Murder, Madness

Micha Moore: Bethany Deaton's Murderer?
International House of Prayer cult member Micha Moore after confessing to the murder of Bethany Deaton.

Some notes while reading the Rolling Stone article on the Tyler Deaton cult.  It's a long piece, and I'll give some highlights below, with a running commentary (the boldface is my own emphasis throughout).

They spent many hours discussing the Harry Potter books and films, which they approached with "a religious devotion," according to [cult survivor] Herrington, whom they briefly resisted admitting to the group, because it would have broken the symmetry. The works "fueled our sense of being on a divine mission," says Herrington. "One of their chief attractions was a sense of belonging to a secret club with exclusive access to knowledge and power. That was the root of our whole ideology."

Such a Gnostic thrill of power is behind much of the heterodoxy in the Church today.

"In the years I was with him, things were constantly happening that I had to shrug away as being 'the work of the Holy Spirit,'" says Herrington. "[Cult founder] Tyler [Deaton] would raise his voice and say, 'Jesus!' and the neighbor's music would immediately stop. He would tell the birds to fly away and they would fly away. He would place curses on my appliances so they wouldn't work."

OK, that's creepy.  But cults are demonic and the presence of the preternatural should surprise no one.

Speaking of the woman who married the cult leader and who would eventually be murdered, Boze Herrington says ...

"The dream of her heart was to be married," Herrington recalls. "We used to stay up late talking about it, night after night. She had been praying for her husband since she was a teenager. She had written him letters, before they even met." She found herself "fiercely attracted" to Deaton and was convinced that God had ordained their union. She was aware of his struggles with homosexuality but believed that God would use her to heal his heart."

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

We are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mat. 10:16), not bubble-wrapped as crystal and foolish as teeny-boppers.  Do devout Christians really know nothing about human nature?  This is shameful, and in this young lady's case, tragic.

Tyler Deaton's cult was formed within the larger organization of the International House of Prayer, a bizarre unaccredited Bible school in Kansas City.  I wrote earlier today that the administrators at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) did not do enough to address the cult within their organization that Tyler Deaton had formed.  It's worse than that.  This kind of prideful nonsense set the stage for it ...

This is IHOP's most alluring tenet: God needs IHOPers to effect the Tribulation and bring Christ back to Earth. "The church causes the Great Tribulation," [IHOP founder] Bickle has preached. Before founding IHOP, he argued that "God intends us to be like gods. God has conceived in his heart of a plan to make a race of men that would live like gods on Earth." Bickle sometimes affects to know God as he would a peer. "I heard what I call the internal audible voice of the Lord," he has said. He claims that he visited heaven one night at 2:16 a.m., and the Lord charged him with preparing for an End Times ministry and seated him in a golden chariot that lifted off into the empyrean.

"And ye will be like God," said Satan to Eve, Gen. 3:5.  And believing a man who claims this stuff ... well, a culture of credulity is created when enough credulous people gather.  And when these same credulous folk, unwise to the world, devout, misfits, eager for self-sacrifice are misled even by the very founder of their Bible college, things can only get worse.

And with Tyler Deaton, things got worse.

The article points out how the book The Final Quest (a kind of End Times porn, from the sound of it), by NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) apostle Rick Joyner poisoned Deaton with a delusion of grandeur that led him to believe that he himself was almost a god, and God's chosen instrument in His second coming.

Years later, when [cult survivor] Herrington tried to reread The Final Quest, he started shaking, ran to the bathroom and puked. He doesn't think it's possible to underestimate the influence of the book or of NAR's latter-day apostles on Deaton. "In some ways, Tyler was as much a victim as anyone else," Herrington says. "These apostles destroyed him. I think they drove him mad."

One of the hallmarks of cults is extreme forms of sexuality - sex is either brutally repressed or emphasized to an extreme, in weird and ritualistic ways, so that there grows up a kind of "sex magic".  In both IHOP and in Deaton's sub-cult within IHOP, the Old Testament book Song of Songs was used as a pretext for the latter.  Rolling Stone comments on this ...

If the Second Coming depends upon "romantic communion" with Christ, and the alternative is satanic hegemony, then any error in worship should be made on the side of erotic intimacy – to lust and repent is surely better than abandoning Jesus in his hour of need. ... 
"Very quickly, there were sensual escapades with God," a former intern says, meaning that some people's private imaginings turned explicit after exposure to IHOP's "bridegroom" Christ. She says that an instructor told her, "God is using his word to kiss you." The intern heard stories of IHOPers fantasizing about having "orgies with Jesus" and "sex with God."

... which manages to be blasphemous, sick, heterodox, and fertile ground for the sex abuse that motivates every cult ... and also something that is not unimaginable in certain Catholic circles, I'm sorry to say.  And people get mad when I raise alarms about hyper-sexual theology.

In platonic relationships, [cult leader] Deaton urged prolonged, affectionate contact, particularly among men, because, he said, they had been wrongly socialized to resist it. They should hug, cuddle, give one another massages. If you were uncomfortable with loving touch, you had "a wall in your heart" and were "only experiencing part of God's love." "You can't function as a Christian that way," he said. This disconcerted many of the men, but they accepted that spiritual growth might entail discomfort. Deaton might encourage two guys to cuddle on the floor while the rest "dog piled" on top of them, in the words of an ex-member. These were innocent activities for most of the men. Deaton, though, according to Herrington, "spent hours cuddling with Justin on the futon in their dorm." Justin, who was not gay, eventually became uncomfortable with Deaton's affections.

... to which my comment is - holy crap.

The next day, a student named Rob Atkinson was crossing the stretch of Highway 29 earlier darkened by the premonitory cloud when he was hit by a car and killed. Atkinson had been a vocal supporter of interfaith dialogues, which Dea­ton considered harbingers of the Antichrist. "We were convinced that God had come down in wrath, and that our prayers had led to this student's death," Herrington later wrote to a friend. Several others concurred.
The worship-group members believed they had blood on their hands, and it exalted them.

This whole story - all of it true - is the perfect combination of adolescent stupidity, demonic infestation, and the narcissistic vanity of human pride.  It's like kids playing with a Ouija Board - while hating the other kids who don't.

When they completed their internships, Deaton asked her out [Bethany - the girl who thought she was destined to marry him and cure him of his homosexuality]. In the summer of 2009, he took her for a walk and announced that he intended to pursue her "unto marriage."
"It's hard to overstate the exhilaration she felt," Herrington says. "By the time she left Southwestern, her one dream was to be married to Tyler. Tyler was going to be cured, they were going to get married and have a son named Samuel."

Again, how stupid and naive are these kids?  Teaching them End Times heresies was like putting a loaded gun into the hands of a three-year-old.  At least when 16-year-old Candace on Phineas and Ferb imagines marrying Jeremy, she plans on naming their future babies Xavier and Amanda.  And she doesn't think Jeremy is God's prophet, on the cusp of being cured of his lifelong attraction to other guys.  The cartoon characters of Phineas and Ferb have more sense than these college graduates.

I don't mean to be making light of this, for it was all quite tragic.  But I'm struggling to find words to express the cut-off-from-wisdom-by-being-over-protected nonsense that set the stage for this cult as much as the sick and twisted End Times theology of Bickle, the school's founder, did.

They took turns describing their visions of the future. When it was Bethany's turn, she got "really scared," Herrington says. She turned to Deaton and said, "Sometimes all I want to do is live in a house with you, and a baby, and maybe some chickens!" Deaton called her "selfish" and told her to stop elevating her own desires over those of the "community." "You need to put away your personal longings and connect with the goals of this movement," he said.

... nah, this ain't gonna work out.

In college, they had looked ahead to careers in law, art, medicine, literature, finance, education. Some had started applying to grad school. But the Great Tribulation was impinging on the present, and Deaton's End Times mission trivialized everything else. To support themselves and Deaton, group members delivered pizzas and sold makeup and paint.

I am told that many graduates of super-Catholic Cardinal Newman Society Approved Catholic colleges, after they get their Great Books educations, embark on careers in multi-level marketing, selling Cutco Knives and Amway products.  And many of these kids have similar bubble-wrapped cult-like worldviews.  What's the connection here?

Bethany Leidlein and Tyler Deaton were married in August 2012. During the procession, Deaton sang "Come to Me, My Beloved." They held a worship service at the altar. Bethany seemed "resolved" and "serene," in the words of a friend. Some in attendance, though, were uneasy, spooked by Deaton's evident power over her. Several of Bethany's old friends felt a "deep sense" that they were bidding her a final goodbye.

I knew a very devout young Catholic woman who married a man with a similarly creepy personality.  When I saw her a month or two after her wedding, she looked miserable and frightened.

Some of Bethany's roommates in the women's house noticed a change in her as soon as she got back from her honeymoon. She was "confused" and "uneasy." She'd moved into Deaton's basement room in the men's house, but within two weeks began spending one or more nights a week at the women's house. Sometimes she stayed several nights in a row. "I just need a little space," she'd say, or, "I just feel too controlled." But she wouldn't elaborate. No one had ever seen her so listless and depressed. She could not be consoled.

Cults are all about hyper-control and abuse.  And Bethany was evidently being abused.

During this time, according to the statements Deaton's roommates made to detectives, Deaton was pursuing "sexual relationships" with three of the men in the group. Moore recently told someone close to him that he too had been sexually involved with Deaton. "It was a skillfully orchestrated system of debauchery that shattered the wills of the boys under Tyler's care and crushed their spirits," says Herrington.

The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is part of an overall trend.  This trend includes both full-fledged cults that have been allowed to spring up inside the Church as well as the spreading of the same general spirit of abuse and unreality that we've been reading about here.

Anyway, if you have the courage, read the whole Rolling Stone piece.  It's sickening.

And here's an article by a survivor of this cult that calls into question the confession of the man who says he murdered Bethany at Tyler's behest, but that in general affirms everything in the Rolling Stone piece, including the culpability of IHOP itself in this whole horrible situation.

Cults and the Demonic

Last week I wrote about the difference between Living in the Church and Living in a Cult.

Bethany Deaton, who did not survive living in the cult Boze Herrington writes about in The Atlantic.
Here's an article at The Atlantic that describes the effects of Living in a Cult within the Church.  In this case, it's within the Protestant segment of the Church, but note the similarities to the Catholic cults within the Church.

As in the Catholic Church, the International House of Prayer case shows that those (the school's counselors and administrators) who could have stepped in to intervene, or who could have been more helpful to the victims once the cult was fully exposed for what it actually was, appear to have been less than diligent.  The same is true for authority figures in the Catholic Church, who for years knew about the damage being done by cult leader Marcial Maciel (founder of the Legionaries of Christ), but at best did nothing to restrain him, and at worst actively protected him.

After all, if bishops enabled (and still sometimes enable) the sexual abuse of children on their watch, they'll enable cults.


I think it's important to note this about cults.  They are not neutral things.  They are not merely means of seeking a close group of like-minded friends and somehow worshiping with them.  In my last piece on cults, I focused on the unrealistic element of hyper-control that most cult members are seeking in their lives, and this is bad enough, but what's really happening in cults goes far beyond this hyper-control and the insularity that comes with it.

Cults serve the ends of their founders, or of the people who run them.  And those ends are always not only evil, but astonishingly so.

Cult leaders are abusers.  They abuse people sexually, physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.  They have a demonic god complex (they want to be like God, and this is a demonic urge), and the damage they do is incredible.  In the Tyler Deaton case, (according to the article) that damage may have included ritual sexual abuse and murder.  In the case of Marcial Maciel, the evil included even the sexual abuse of his own biological children, whom he sired on the sly.  In the case of Jim Jones and Jonestown, it included murder and mass suicide.

If you're drawn to a cult, you may simply be seeking a close-knit group to share a life of intense devotion with, but the leader of the cult has other motives.  He wants to abuse you.


I've also written about the cult-like aspects of things that one would suspect as harmless, such as Dramatic Groups that are led by charismatic Acting Instructors.

There are a ton of charlatans posing as acting coaches and directors at workshops and grad schools around the country, cult leader types who use mind games to mess with the actors under their care in order to bed their bodies and break their spirits. 

And I'm convinced that there is a cult-like element that has been given free reign throughout the Church.  It's something that normal people don't fall victim to.  But the "devout" do.  For the "devout" have a hunger that can be filled either by God or by scoundrels claiming to have the authority of God.  This hunger is a desire for purpose, intense devotion, self-surrender - all of which are marvelous things that can indeed serve God and serve our neighbor.  Or serve the appetites of cult leaders.

And we see this phenomenon all over the place, including in Catholic groups that are not cults.  Even something as apparently innocuous as LifeTeen was (to a certain extent) at one time a cover for the sexual activities of its excommunicated and defrocked founder, activities that bishops (as usual) overlooked and enabled.


And so we need to be careful.

None of us (I hope) is tempted to start a cult.  But many of us - being "devout" people -may be tempted to join cults, or organizations within the Church that have cult-like characteristics.

Therefore, some common sense and wariness are called for, especially in a world that has gone so crazy and in a Church whose leaders no longer offer guidance.  Stewardship of Love is the hallmark of those mature in Christ.  And it's Stewardship of Love that we must practice - lest we be victimized and victimized severely.


Rolling Stone also has a piece on the Tyler Deaton / International House of Prayer case, which I have not yet read, but which you can read here. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Youuu Satisfy the Hungry Heart with Gift of Finest Wheeeattt

Here's an old article at Crisis Magazine where Jeffrey Tucker writes about the Hidden Hand Behind Bad Catholic Music.

So excuse me while I vent, as this is a sore spot for me.

We don't need Latin.  We need reverence, and the Ordinary Form of the liturgy can be duly reverent, provided the bad music is eliminated.  For 40 years Catholics have been subjected to music at Mass that conveys a powerful subliminal message, one of narcissism, banality, unreality, and lameness.

Fear of God is undermined more by the bad music at Mass than by any other single thing in the Church.

Fix the music and the rest will follow.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Let's Talk about Sex. And Talk and Talk and Talk.

On Facebook today, folks were hawking tickets to the Theology of the Body Conference in Philadelphia, which I guarantee you has almost nothing to do with John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

If you're tempted to go to this thing (and I do mean "tempted"), save your money and read the Real Theology of Body, which is all about marriage and which is not the sort of theology that would inspire a charismatic type conference.  Then ask someone who went to the conference the following questions.  Ask them if at the conference ...

  • Was marriage ever mentioned?
  • Were the sacraments ever mentioned?
  • Were babies ever mentioned?

... or did the presenters spend their time talking about sex, nudity, the paschal candle symbolizing a giant penis, imagining Mary naked, the heroism of Hugh Hefner, the desire for pornography being a disguised desire for God, and how only cowards practice custody of the eyes?


Back in 1982, long before I became Catholic, and while I was still hoping, above all else, to have lots of sex with lots of different women, I was given a sizable role in a play at a local Catholic College.  We had cast parties after every rehearsal, and I was astonished at how these Catholic girls kept shocking me with their sex talk.  They were like sailors, only they would laugh a lot and describe sex acts in detail - though with enough incongruities for me to realize that these girls had probably never had sex, despite their bravado.  I was also confused in that, despite their bragging and their foul mouths, they seemed to be nothing but "teases".  They talked a good game, but they were certainly not open to any kind of advances.

"Oh, they're all virgins," one of my fellow male cast members conjectured, when we discussed this privately.  (He was neither Catholic nor from the college.)  "You'll never get anywhere with them," he added.

"But if they're virgins," I countered, "Why do they spend all their time talking about sex?"

"Well, if they ever get laid," he replied, "they'll shut up."


So it's time to shut up.

JP2's Theology of the Body is not about sex.  It's about marriage, it's about love, it's even about consecrated virginity.

But marriage, love and virginity don't sell.  Titillation sells.  Especially to a certain market that gets a thrill out of talking about sex and is flattered in thinking that sex and religion are the same thing.  

Which they're not.

But the problem is virtue is not sexy.  Virtue doesn't sell.  And neither, it seems, does deep and reverent theology.

Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot

There's an excellent article in the current New Yorker by Lee Siegel about the strange friendship of Groucho Marx and T. S. Eloit - or perhaps the "strained" friendship.

And from Siegel's article we can conclude one thing: Eliot may have been a better poet than Groucho, but Groucho was a lot funnier than Eliot.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to anybody.  But what may surprise most of you (who aren't huge Marx Brothers fans as I am) is that Groucho was a very gifted writer, especially when it came to his correspondence.  Siegel quotes from Groucho's letters and highlights the antagonism buried beneath the superficial cordiality of the Marx-Eliot friendship ...

In response to Eliot’s polite letter, Groucho, who was born Julius Henry Marx, reminded Eliot that his name was Tom, not T.S., and that “the name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. ... All male cats are named Tom—unless they have been fixed. ... ” He ends the letter still refusing to acknowledge Eliot’s wife Valerie, and reminding both of Eliot’s less-than-Bloomsbury origins: “My best to you and Mrs. Tom.”
Groucho and Eliot had been promising to visit each other for three years before Groucho finally came for dinner at the Eliots, in June of 1964. According to Groucho’s letter to Gummo—the only existing account of the dinner—Eliot was gracious and accommodating. Groucho, on the other hand, became fixated on “King Lear,” in which the hero, Edgar, just so happens to disguise himself as a madman named Tom. Despite Tom Eliot’s polite indifference to his fevered ideas about “Lear” (“that, too, failed to bowl over the poet,” Groucho wrote to Gummo), Groucho pushed on. Eliot, he wrote, “quoted a joke—one of mine—that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile politely. I was not going to let anyone—not even the British poet from St. Louis—spoil my Literary Evening.” 

"The British poet from St. Louis" is marvelous phrase, especially coming from the pen of a veteran of vaudeville, who had performed in every town in America, and who was certainly not impressed by the hot and humid river towns of the mid-west.  Or even by T. S. Eliot.

Siegel at first seems to be straining a bit in making his case that the relationship was strained, and that there was quite a bit of antagonism in the subtext of the letters Marx and Eliot wrote to each other.  But I suspect he's right - for elsewhere he quotes Groucho ...

“I get away with saying some pretty insulting things,” he told one of his biographers. "People think I’m joking. I’m not.”

Groucho, in a sense, took on the identity of his on-screen persona and functioned as a kind of "licensed fool" in society at large.  

Siegel is coming out with a "short critical biography" of Groucho that promises to be quite interesting.

Sin is Sexy - Isn't It?

Since talking about hell has become embarrassing for most Christians, you won't often find discussions about the eternal consequences of sin.

But look at the temporal consequences of sin: addiction, misery, spiritual blindness, compromising our relationship with the truth in order to rationalize our behavior, etc.  Sin causes so many obvious problems this side of the grave that one wonders why we all habitually engage in it.

I think one of the reasons we love sin is that sin is sexy.  I don't mean that all sin is about sex, or even that sexual sins are the most serious sorts of sins.  What I mean is that the allure of sin is a kind of excitement that takes us out of ourselves.  The thrill is a kind of mini-transcendence, or appears to be.  The thrill is exciting, it's over-the-top, it's "sexy".

By contrast, virtue is typically quiet, hidden, mundane, slow to bear fruit, difficult to cultivate.  A man who changes dirty diapers and is faithful to his wife and who works nine to five and who pays his bills - this looks awfully boring.  A guy who drinks too much or whose irascible nature leads to bar fights, or who has a few sexual encounters that the missus doesn't know about, or who's been running that scam for so long that you begin to wonder when he'll get caught - this is exciting.  This is "sexy".

Much of what addicts have to get used to when combating their addictions is the fact that life - the hidden life of virtue - is not chaotic and filled with artificial thrills.  Everyday life without the drug-of-choice is not a constant kind of panic - and at first glace this seems boring.  Life is not "sexy" without the high that the drug-of-choice provides.

But the high is always artificial.  That's key to understanding any addition or any sin.  The high of a drug or the thrill of a sin is our way of controlling an experience that takes us out of ourselves.  But the irony is that this artificial control is an illusion; sin and addiction always make our lives harder to control in the long run.

I knew a young woman who was devoted to a life of sin, which in her case consisted of aggressively seducing any man she met, especially if they were married or "a challenge".  She thought she had this game well under control, and that the high she got from it was one she could manage and feed on at will.  Then one day she saw in a flash how entirely out of control her life had become.  Both she and her victims were reeling in a cyclone of emotion and pain, and people's lives were coming apart at the seams.  To her credit, she felt great revulsion and a powerful urge to repent.

And if she's still on the wagon, she's had to get used to living a life that at first must have felt much more boring to her.  She's had to get used to finding her thrills in the things that actually provide them, to feeding on the bread of life and the living water, not on junk food and soda pop.


But this is all a way of talking about Mary, on this, the Feast of her Immaculate Heart.

Why do you think the Mass readings for today are all about suffering, lamentation and pain?  The Gospel tells the story of Finding Jesus in the Temple, which is a joyful mystery, but the joy is preceded by a horrible sadness, panic and despair as Joseph and Mary search for their missing son.  Even once He's found, the mystery remains, and the pain is part of that mystery.

That mystery includes the question, why is Mary's Immaculate Heart placed in the midst of this suffering?  Why must she, sinless creature, be forced to endure such pain?  For the same reason Our Lord had to, apparently.

Mary's Immaculate Conception is one of the most hidden of all mysteries that have been revealed to us.  Her Immaculate Heart, filled with virtue and compassion, beats with love in small and unnoticed ways.  Her suffering is, at today's Mass, placed in the context of the great sufferings of Israel, exiled and abandoned because of their sin; placed in the context of the tremendous sufferings of man, sufferings that spring from sin, sufferings that only the cross and a perfect sacrifice addresses.

An Immaculate Heart - a life of purity and virtue and love - is not "sexy".  And in this world, purity and virtue and love must always suffer, for sin will have it so.

But it is precisely that suffering that is the way of the cross.  The sword that "shall pierce your own heart, too" (Luke 2:35) unites her heart with His - as it unites our own hearts with His - and is the only way out of the cycle of sin.

I've Been to the Mountain Top

Even though hiking in the remote mountains of Missouri during a hot and humid summer day can literally kill you, as I once learned, it does a soul and a body good to get out of the suburbs.

Bell Mountain Wilderness is in Iron County, Missouri, and is one of the most remote spots in the state.  As you can see from the photos below, nothing man made is visible from the summit.  I walked about 12 miles and saw no one.  The path is rugged, rocky and not well maintained.

But it was a lot more fun than the internet!

The trail is not marked.  At one point it splits.  If you don't have a map, you don't know what to do.  If you're trying to get back to your car, you take the path on the left and you'll be there in about an hour.  If you take the path on the right, you'll walk for two hours and end up back at this exact spot.

I stayed at the summit until it looked like lighting might become an issue.

One of the many glades along the way.  Glades are mini-deserts that spring up in the Ozarks on the sides of hills.  Lots of lizards can be found in glades.

A shallow pond off the path where I enjoyed a nice swim.

View from the summit.  Bell Mountain is the second highest peak in Missouri.

The trail is not maintained at all, and sometimes simply disappears into the brush.

Orange fungus was plentiful on this hike.

This is some sort of mushroom.  Or a mini-space ship.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Poetry and Exile

In the photo above, you see me (left) at a restaurant with Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  Fr. Dwight was in St. Louis presenting a three day mission at Immaculate Conception Church in Dardenne Prairie.  I offered to take Fr. Dwight out to breakfast one morning.  My plan was to take him to the lobby of his hotel and eat donuts and cereal for free.  But he insisted that we go to someplace swanky, so we ended up at Bob Evans.


I first met Fr. Dwight when he was still Mr. Dwight - a former Anglican Priest who had sacrificed his career when he converted to the Catholic Faith in the mid 1990's.  I met him at Ave Maria College back in 2005, about ten years after his conversion, where he was giving a talk on The Lord of the Rings.  He mentioned then that he was hoping to be ordained a Catholic priest - but only at his first mission talk this week did I hear the whole story.  It turns out that that entire period, from about 1995 to 2006, was a decade in which Dwight Longenecker suffered in quiet obedience to three different bishops who refused to ordain him, while his former Anglican clergy friends in other dioceses were being ordained and getting on with their careers.

In his mission talk Fr. Dwight didn't dwell on what this must have been like.   But I think we can picture it.

Imagine being called to something - having a legitimate vocation - and spending a decade of your most productive years, from age 39 to age 50, being prevented from practicing what you're called to do, what you're made to do, and what you love to do, all the while having a wife and children to support; being forced to support them by taking odd jobs and being under-employed, all because you decided to be faithful to God and obedient to your bishop.


Actors understand this - because actors know how hard work is to come by and how much we long for what we love when we're not able to do it.  These days I give all I've got to Theater of the Word and Upstage Productions and Grunky, for I know what it's like to go years deeply wanting to do what I'm made to do, but being unable to.

Living like this - where there's a painful gap between what you love and long for and the satisfaction of that desire - living in this exile, this is what makes a man a poet.  For poetry is always somehow about that quest, the quest of the lover for his Lady, the attempt to find or to build an earthly city that somehow embodies the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, whose music you hear echoing far away, whose four lost chords you seek to sing and to honor, though you yourself are muddied and bruised, your instrument out of tune, a drunken troubadour on the side of the road.

And though all actors are tempted to do this for a kind of vainglory, if you love it you don't mind the reality, which is usually far from glorious.  In other words, you sing the four lost chords even if you're on the back of a hay wagon getting pelted by sleet and the small audience is running for cover.  The reality (for me, at least) is spending long hours on the road, changing in dressing rooms that are storage closets, performing for audiences who are often drunk and heckling you, dealing with performance spaces that are sometimes bowling alleys or barns with bugs flying in your face (see photo below - one of our many performances at a barn in rural Kansas, where I ended up swallowing a lot of bugs).

But we do what we can, and we do it for love.  Fr. Dwight had a good line about this.  He repeated advice he once heard about what to do if you're a Catholic layman seeking to serve the Church.  "Do what you can.  Don't wait to be asked - and don't wait to be thanked."

For as Paul says, "Woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16)  When God calls, you answer, for His sake and not for the sake of anything else.  We act (we actors) because we must.  It is what we are made to do, what we are called to do.

This is what makes it a vocation.  It is similar to the great vocation of marriage, where likewise you long for and seek out your Lady; and when you marry her, she'll find that you're a drunken troubadour on the side of the road, and you'll find that she's not as attractive the first thing in the morning as she was under the moonlight when you picked up your guitar and wooed her.  But you are One Flesh, and sweating beneath the floodlights on stage for applause is not unlike changing dirty diapers in the family room for no thanks at all.  In both cases, our love becomes incarnate - fleshed out - only by means of a cross.

That cross can be the hard work and persecution involved in answering the call; or it can be 11 years of exile and frustration, longing to answer the call.

Either way, we find ourselves in a gift of ourselves, and we find our greatest glory is this rough and splintered cross, embraced with love.


Meanwhile, Fr. Dwight gave an impressive three day mission, aimed at both the heads and the hearts of his audiences.  He told his conversion story, spoke on the twelve "isms" that threaten the wholeness of life in the Church, encouraged ways to counter these sins and divisions, gave honor to Our Lady and the saints, and drew us all closer to Christ.

He ended the mission by having the audience stand to receive his blessing.  All of us in the sanctuary - over 100 people - stood and crossed ourselves as he blessed us.  Then immediately, the associate pastor said, "Let's show our gratitude to Fr. Dwight!" and we all gave him a hearty round of applause - while we were still on our feet.

And I couldn't help thinking, "Not a bad way to get a standing ovation!"

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Living in the Church vs. Living in a Cult

There's a strange phenomenon that's been at work within the Church for the past sixty years or so.

A number of groups have sprung up within the Catholic Church that have become more or less full-blown cults.  These groups present themselves as Catholic, but they share several of the following characteristics with cults ...

  • An "us vs. them" mentality
  • The attempt to control every aspect of the lives of their members
  • Secrecy - not being open about who they are or what their intentions are
  • Recruitment of new members is done thorough "love bombing" and false friendships
  • Members are isolated - cut off from their families and from society at large
  • An emphasis on sex - either sexual purity or sexual license - which becomes almost obsessive
  • Members are abused either psychologically, physically or sexually
  • The founder is adored, and his sins or flaws are hidden or excused away
  • Totalitarian techniques are used: history is rewritten, dissidents are shamed, expelled and stripped of their dignity and humanity, and brainwashing is practiced
  • A spirit of sadism and masochism can begin to flourish
  • Esotericism - the full truth of the aims of the cult is revealed only to a select few who have become sensitive and keen enough to appreciate the secret, after a long process of initiation; the true aims of the cult are hidden from the public and from new members
  • A narrow and bizarre doctrine is taught and sick and perverse discipline is followed

Many Catholic sub-groups like this make a lot of money and cultivate a large following of powerful people.

The response by bishops and the Vatican to the formation of cults withing the Church?  Typically they sit on their thumbs, or else praise the cult leaders, until, like the founder of the Legionaries, the founders are demonstrated to be wolves in sheep's clothing, or worse.


My question is this.

Is there a tendency within the "devout" demographic of the Church toward seeing the divinely constituted Body of Christ itself as being nothing more than a narrow, sick cult?

Here's a character sketch of what I mean.  It may even describe some readers of this blog!  Let's call this guy Vince.  Vince ...

  • Operates on a strict "us vs. them" mentality: either Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, Christian vs. Secularist, etc.  All good resides with "us", all bad is found in "them".
  • Has a kind of nascent obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Only by doing things in exactly the right kind of way can Vince find salvation.  Thus a free spirit like Pope Francis who operates entirely off the cuff is horrifying to Vince, not merely because Francis emphasizes things "they" also emphasize, but because he's spontaneous, and spontaneity frustrates the desire for strict control within the cult.
  • Lying and immoral behavior are means that are justified by the ends, and our ends, the ends for "us" within the cult, are always laudable, by definition.
  • Our primary aim as cult-Catholics is to seal ourselves off from the rest of creation and hunker down.  Power, security and control - over our own lives and over others - becomes our Unholy Trinity.
  • Since an extended family always includes people who disagree with you - the boorish secular uncle, the spiteful liberal sister-in-law, etc. - family members are sometimes denigrated or even disowned if they don't stick to the program.  Even the bonds of natural affection are severed.  The cult replaces the family.
  • Sex is either Puritanically repressed at all costs, or made into a kind of magic rite that expresses our deepest longings for God.  It's never just sex and it's never just fun - and it's never what the Church teaches it is.
  • Brutality is king - internal dissidents and external opponents who aren't with the program are to be treated with a heartless and violent contempt, even if they're bloggers or Facebook friends.
  • Certain Catholic Media Celebrities are adored and may never be criticized, questioned or looked upon as normal fallible human beings.
  • Vince might find salvation not by means of the sacraments, but through things like Gluten Free Whole Foods, Raw Milk, Multi-Level Marketing, Yoga, Yogurt, End Times Seminars, Guns, specific devotions or media apostolates, etc.


Now an "us vs. them" mentality can help us to remember that we, as Christians, are to be in the world and not of the world, and to keep in mind that much of what passes for culture around us is degenerate and dangerous - and to remember that sometimes it is, in fact, "them vs. us".  Such an attitude can help us to be on guard - but if there's anything antithetical to Christian compassion it's letting your whole life be infused with the spirit of "us vs. them".  The more we think like that, the less we will love "them" and the more we will seek to destroy "them" (whether "them" are the liberals, the atheists, the Protestants, the "neo-Catholics", the gays, the Democrats, the Jews, etc.) for "them's" the ones who keep bursting our pretty little soap bubble.  Them's our enemies, dammit! and we're not foolish enough to love our enemies!  That's certainly not why we're Christian!

Vince, then, attempts to live in a cult that satisfies his need for control, power and security, rather than in the Church, which offers none of the above.  The Church offers much more than control, power and security, but Vince and his fellow cultists won't see that.

Clericalism is Out. Media Celbritism is In!

Catholics, here's the new rule.

You can attack the Pope as much as you want, as frequently as you want.  But don't you dare breathe a word in criticism of any Catholic Media Celebrity!  (That ought to include me, by the way, EWTN Rock Star that I am.)

Over at Facebook, a friend has posted a mild critique of a certain public action of a Catholic Media Apostolate.  He thinks a Catholic Celebrity Cruise is over the top.  I'm not as incensed about it, but I see his point.

And yet ... commenters are furious with him!  An angry mob with torches and pitchforks has formed.  One has accused him of slander and defamation and calumny - for suggesting a Caribbean Cruise is not the best use of the resources of a Catholic Apostolate!  Soon someone is his combox is bound to tell him (shudder) that he should repent and go to confession!

All I can say is the First Annual Kevin O'Brien Theater of the Word Gambling Casino Night and Star-Studded Potluck will be unassailable.  Un-assailable.  It will be at the Hooters in Lemay, MO.  Stand by for more details.

Be Nice to Those in Line

Yesterday I experienced a brutal and shocking encounter with evil that still has me reeling.  It's the kind of thing I really can't describe, but one of the effects of it was a distinct desire to go to confession today before Mass.  I felt dirty and needed a shower, so to speak.


So I went to one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis, St. Francis de Sales, home of the Institute of Christ the King, whose priests offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Confession is offered throughout the day on Sunday, from 7:30 am to 11:30 am, even while Mass is being celebrated - more or less.

Being a good Catholic, I showed up just in the nick of time for the 10:00 am Mass.  (That's what Good Catholics do.  Really Good Catholics show up late).  There are two confessionals in this massive church, on either side of the nave, and I picked the one on the right.  But the priest darted out of the confessional as the procession passed us, and the line for confession quickly disbanded.  "He'll come back after the homily," a young penitent informed me.

So I picked a pew while the organ played and the invisible choir sang (from the loft) and the church was filled with splendor.  But after a while I noticed that the line for the confessional on the left was still in tact.  Figuring that the priest on the left must still be hearing confessions, I made my way to that line.

But the line never moved.  I was third in line and three or four others were behind me.  Finally I asked the guy in front of me if there was a priest in the confessional.  "I have no idea," he replied.

Then, after the homily, a bunch of the folks from our line - in fact everyone who was behind us - moved over to the confessional on the right and cued up.  A priest was busy over there hearing confessions!  Suddenly there were about 15 or 25 people in that line, while the three of us who had been in front on the left were stranded.

I turned to the two sinners ahead of me.  "The last will be first, and the first last!  You've heard that!" I exclaimed, assuming they were familiar with the words of Our Lord from Mat. 20:16 and elsewhere, and we made our way to the end of the line on the right - going from first on the left to last on the right.

I made it over there before the guys who had been ahead of me did.  So when they got there, I let them move in front of me.  At first they demurred, but I insisted.

And it occurred to me.

If you can't be kind to your fellow sinners in line at the confessional, you're not doing it right.  And we're all in that same boat.  We're all in line, existentially speaking.  We're all steeped in sin, eager for forgiveness.  We're all devoted to death and darkness and hungry for life and light.  And the line sometimes shifts and falters, and sometimes the last will be first and the first last, and that's a great joke, a divine comedy.  Be nice to those in line.  That's got to be the bare minimum for Christian behavior.  Be nice to those in line.  Yes, I hate the "Church of the Nice" too, but the gentle self-sacrifices of everyday courtesy are central to the Christian Spirit.


Mass was followed by the Corpus Christi procession around the church, through the streets of old South St. Louis.


Friday, June 20, 2014

They Took Me Out to the Ballgame

Some pictures from my Father's Day present from Colin and Kerry - a trip to a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Rainbow over downtown.

Kerry deliberately smiling the way people do in selfies.

This was before the rainbow.

Sunset over home plate, as viewed from section 435.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Still Waiting

Opinions vs. Belief

Jonathan Tobias writes ...

... while most Americans still believe in a God and an afterlife, these beliefs are really “opinions,” and loosely-held attitudes.
Real beliefs actually produce real religion, like church attendance, prayer and charity. But “religious opinions” have no power to produce any real religion.
The mere fact that Americans “agree” with a survey statement reveals only an observation that Americans have a positive opinion on God’s existence, with the strong likelihood that they might not want to do anything at all about that opinion.
If religion is demoted to the level of opinion, or, more accurately, “consumer choice,” then like any other choice it can always be easily replaced and switched out with something more convenient or entertaining. Maybe something more “personally fulfilling” will come along.

Read the whole article here.

Art and the Mystery of Woman

Here's a photo I've posted before.  It's a picture I took of a stained / painted glass window at a rural church in the archdiocese of St. Louis.  It's by the Emil Frei studios, and I'm guessing it's c. 1910, which is when their best work was done.

And here's a painting by my friend, artist Ali Cavanaugh.

The similarity is striking, as in both cases the artist captures what I would call the Mystery of Woman.

Here's Ali's painting enlarged.

What a beautiful, indescribable, captivating work!

It is a portrait of Ali's studio assistant, done with a kind of fresco technique - watercolor on a clay surface.

I interviewed Ali for the St. Austin Review and you can read that interview here.


Today we begin the novena for the co-patron of the Fraternity of St. Genesius, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose feast day is June 28 this year.  Part of what Mary reveals to us, in revealing the Word Incarnate, is the Mystery of Woman, a mystery that's been trampled on for many years.  May we see more clearly that deep mystery as we ask Our Lady to pray for us!

When the Faith Becomes a Contraceptive Device

The Faith is supposed to be comprehensive, fertile, life-giving.  It is catholic in the sense that it encompasses everything.  Like a great work of literature, it includes the heights and depths of human nature, the wonder of creation, the beauty of passing fancies whispered silently, the shock of stunning realities shouted loudly.  It is complex, where everything interpenetrates or foreshadows everything else.  It is beautiful.  It is terrifying.  It is awesome.  It is heaven and hell, the earth, the cosmos.  It is a mystery, like life itself.

But we make it into a neutered puppy, crated up throughout the day, making sure it "does its business" outside the house.  The Catholic Faith - indeed the Holy Trinity - has become a toy, a tool, or worse a club that we join to beat others over the head with.

It is supposed to perfect our nature, but we use it to kill our nature.  We use it to cut off even our healthy and natural reflexes.

As a blog reader wrote to me concerning the Archbishop Carlson situation ...

When otherwise good people rationalize away the scandal, and write lengthy essays telling us to not look behind the curtain, that's what I don't like.  They aren't disputing the facts:  they are just trying to tell Catholics why they shouldn't be outraged.

In other words, we don't want to be real about this - or about anything.  Our Faith serves not as a bridge to Love, not as a challenging and thrilling way to engage the tragedies and comedies of our very existence, not as a means of making life better and of caring for others, even at the cost of our own self-sacrifice, but as a shield: as a barrier or a diaphragm to prevent conception, to block conception in the intellectual sense, to prevent us even conceiving of anything that might trouble us.

Galileo wrote to Kepler ...

Oh, my dear Kepler, how I wish we could have one hearty laugh together! Here at Padua is the principal professor of philosophy whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass [i.e., telescope] which he pertinaciously refuses to do. Why are you not here? What shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly! And to hear the professor of philosophy at Pisa laboring before the Grand Duke with logical arguments, as if with magical incantations, to charm the new planets out of the sky.

See no reality, hear not reality, speak no reality.

But could I not write to my readers ...

Oh, my dear Readers, let us laugh at human folly!  The archbishop's press release refers to two pages in his deposition that it claims exonerate him.  But his staunch defenders refuse to look!  They won't click on the link.  They refuse to see that the linked document gives the lie to the press release.  The pages in question show that the archbishop was not confused about his answer, nor was he quoted out of context, as he staunchly claims.  Indeed, the whole deposition - the entire context - reveals far less than Christian behavior on the archbishop's part.  But that would be "looking behind the curtain".  And instead we circle the wagons and charm the truth off the internet, the way the old philosophers tried to charm the new planets out of the sky - the ones that disturbed their precious ideology.

So even the Faith itself becomes just another means of contraception - of blocking the concept of the truth and of aborting its coming forth into our lives.


May we renounce this temptation.  If we deny the truth of any situation - whether it be the truth of the solar system that a telescope reveals, or the truth of sin and human nature that a scandal reveals - we push others further away and we deny the very purpose of our Faith.

The Catholic Faith is not an ideology; its purpose is not to defend our prejudice, nor is it to make life simple, to make it and our neighbors something we can manipulate and control.  It is the path to the Truth, to Him who is the way, the truth and the life.  And like God Himself it is a living, sometimes dreadful thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are Christians Just Like Everybody Else? Should They Be?

Rebecca Hamilton over at Patheos struggles mightily to come to terms with the common problem for Catholics: what are we to do when one of our own causes a scandal?

In this case, she focuses on Archbishop Carlson, who shocked normal people (though, sadly, not enough Catholics) when he said, in a sworn deposition, that he wasn't sure if he knew that child rape was a crime or not when he was 40 years old and auxiliary bishop of St. Paul, and who has since insisted that he misunderstood the question put to him, a claim that a simple reading of the relevant part of the deposition does not support.

I've tried to be fair to Archbishop Carlson, who is my archbishop, and who (ironically) was actually waving red flags about the abusive priest in question back in St. Paul, and who did more than most others in the chanceries at the time, though certainly not enough.  That he should compound his bad testimony (which amounts, in Christian terms to bad "witness") with a denial that should rather have been an apology, is a shame.  That he should go so far as to attempt damage control by distributing a letter to every parish in the archdiocese (when he's never done that here on any doctrinal or moral issue), repeating his rather far-fetched denial while boasting of his own value as a bishop, is sad.

Hamilton reminds her readers - rightly enough - that we are not to put our trust in princes or in the sons of men (Ps. 146:3), but in the Son of Man; that we are all sinners, including our bishops, and that we must therefore avoid a kind of clericalism that serves only to bring us down when our clergy lets us down (as they inevitably do).

What she misses, however, is the flip side of this truth, which is the source of the tension she's feeling, and which is at the heart of the Catholic Faith (much more so than it is in Protestant versions of the Catholic Faith).  As I wrote a while back during another scandal ...

When a man becomes a priest - or even when a man becomes a Christian - we are expecting more than mere hypocrisy. We are expecting him to become holy - because that's really the point of following Christ, after all - to become like Christ.  
Expecting our bishops and priests and deacons to be holier than we are - expecting even our Catholic media celebrities to model Christ - may be foolish, and is certainly doomed to disappointment.
But it is part of the yearning that points us to Christ.  That our hearts should seek Him in fallen and sinful men is a great and painful tragedy - but it's part of God's plan; for God Himself became a man.


God became a man, and the Catholic Church is the one place left that insists that the Body of Christ (the Church, meaning you and me) is in fact the ongoing Incarnation (and hence the ongoing Crucifixion) of God.  We sinners are infused with God's grace at our baptisms, at confession, at Mass, and, really, throughout each ordinary day.  We are supposed to die with Christ that we might be new made with Christ.  St. Paul, in particular tells us this, many times.

And so we are right to be disappointed in public sinners, even when they're bishops.  Rebecca Hamilton's article is entitled "He's Just Like Us", meaning the archbishop is a sinner as we are sinners.  True enough, but what she fails to articulate (though I'm sure she realizes it) is that We are Not Like Them.  We Christians are not like the unbaptized.  In other words, by virtue of the sacraments and of God's grace, we are set apart, made to be holy, sanctified by the presence of God's Spirit in us.  We are dead to our old selves and living to our new selves.

And even if we choose to ignore this fact and turn our backs on God's transforming grace; even if we want to give up on our fearful calling and take it easy; either way, we Christians witness for Christ - giving good witness or bad witness, whether we realize it or not.  There's no way around that.  And every time we sin - especially in public ways (my own sins, thank God, are mostly private) - we serve as examples that we have other gods before the True One, that we put our own pride and fears before the One Thing Necessary, that we are just like everybody else, except for the fact that God died on a cross so that we wouldn't be.

We should be angry and disappointed with bad bishops.  We should be angry and disappointed with bad Christians.  We should be angry and disappointed with ourselves.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17 Cakewalk

190. Ashley Street Powerhouse Cake - detail.

191. The Grand Basin - Forest Park, in two weeks the park will be home to Fair St. Louis.

192. Cahokia, Illinois Welcome Center.

Above the cake a plaque marks this spot as the site of the murder of Ottowa Chief Pontiac in 1769.

193. Holy Family Church, Cahokia, Illinois - across the river and a bit south of the Gateway Arch.  Holy Family was founded in 1699.  The log church to the right - in the vertical French style - was built in 1799, and is the oldest church west of the Alleghenies.  To the left is the modern church.  The cake is to the right of the door of the log church.

But the cake was apparently designed by a satanist, who thought it would be funny to decorate it with illegible graffiti, a detail ignored no doubt by whoever paid him to do this.  Creepy if you ask me.

194. The cake at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine, Belleville, Illinois.

195. The cake at the drive-in theater in Belleville, which is still in operation.

One of the more entertaining cakes.  Appropriate for the drive-in.

196. Victorian Home Museum, Belleville.  Cake is to the right, above the retaining wall.

197. Emma Kunz House, Belleville, which was built in 1830 and is the earliest Greek Revival house in Belleville, and possibly in all of Illinois.

198. One room school house, Columbia, Illinois.

199. Eckert's orchard and produce store.  This cake was really fruit.

200. Madison County Courthouse, Waterloo, Illinois.  200 cakes, and I met my Waterloo.

Trend Setting!

Hey, St. Louis is suddenly trendy!

The Australians are investigating sex abuse within the Marist order.  One of the serial pedophiles was Brother Gregory Sutton.  There's a St. Louis connection here, as Sutton left Australia at one point to become headmaster of a school here in St. Louis.

But that's not the only St. Louis connection!  It turns out events in my home town are also inspiring depositions and testimonies half way around the world!

The Canberra Times reports this testimony from one of Sutton's Marist brothers ...

"Do you mean you didn't know it was a crime [to molest a child]?," Royal Commission Chair, Justice Jennifer Coate asked.
"I'm unsure, it could well be the case. I'm unsure of that," Mr Holdsworth replied.
The former Marist Brother was also unsure if, in 1989, he was aware that children were at risk of predatory sexual behaviour by adults.
"I really can't put a time line to it [when he became aware of that]," he said.
Justice Coate asked him his age at that time.
"50 something, 54," he said.
"Did you read newspapers or watch television?" Justice Coate asked.
"In some measure," Holdworthy said. "I might have turned to the sport first."

Hey, I sometimes read the Sports section first, too, and I'm 53 - so that's a plausible excuse, right?

In fact, Sutton's superior, Brother Anthony Hunt, was likewise simply ignorant.

He told the commission he was not aware sexually abusing a child was a criminal act at that time.

New York leads in fashion.  Los Angeles leads in entertainment.  St. Louis leads in this!

Christians: Scum of the Earth

We know Christ is Lord not simply because Christ survived death and the cross, but because He survives Christians.

If Truth, Beauty and Goodness bring us to Christ, it is a miracle He survives our Lies, Ugliness and Evil.

But He is the thin thread that takes us through the maze of darkness.

Let's take a few examples.

  • When a Catholic celebrity causes a scandal by his antichristian behavior, the world outside the Church watches us.  They watch us to see how consistent we are.  Will be be true to Christ or will we get defensive and cover our wounded pride, circling the wagons and defending mere men, even at the cost of sacrificing (again) the Son of Man who saved us?  

  • The world expects us to be hypocrites, for the world realizes, at some level, that Christians are called to something that is, humanly speaking, impossible.  To see a man shoot for the stars and fall flat on his face is perhaps disappointing, but to see a man claim that by lying flat on his face he is shooting for the stars is disgusting.  And so when we busy ourselves by building elaborate sophistries that rationalize things like Lying, Lust and Torture, we stand as witness to our own foolish scheming malevolence, even while we pat ourselves on the back for being wise and simple and good.  We have our reward and our reward is a secret contempt in the eyes of our neighbors - as well as the cold eternal winter of someplace more horrible than hell.

  • In the movie Ferris Beuller's Day Off, in the scene where the kid kicks the car out of the window in a fit of fury, we realize something: it's not that Ferris' best friend's father doesn't love his son at all; it's that the father loves his car more ... which, of course, is not much of a consolation.  Nothing hurts more than realizing that someone who ought to love you simply doesn't love you - even if they've promised to love you, or are bound to love you.  Sometimes they love you to a point, but they love other things more - their car, their job, their house of cards, false friends who thrill them more than true friends do.  And yet we know love is real.  We know love is God.  We know that if love ever really died out the whole world over, then somehow existence itself would end.  But parents neglect children (even in the posh neighborhoods), husbands cheat on wives (in every kind of neighborhood) and friends abandon friends (everywhere).  We live for love - all of us - but the light of love grows dim - as we prefer darkness to light, the better to cloak our evil deeds (John 3:19).

  • Almost everything that happens at Mass, and I suspect at most Protestant services, is fake.  We hear platitudes from the pulpit, and generally shallow ones at that.  We hear music that wouldn't be played at a "gay wedding" much less at a Mass.  We see ugly statues and art, unless the church has been denuded of anything artistic.  We are surrounded by an architecture and an atmosphere that smells more like shopping mall than sacred space.

But somehow through all this, He survives.  He and His Church should have died long ago.  In fact, He did and It did, many times over.

And we die a little every day.

For this is part of what it means to be a Christian.  He is held in contempt, and if we are true to Him, if we follow that thin thread that takes us through the maze, overcoming the monstrous Minotaur (for Christ is that thin and barely perceptible thread), we will know the cross as He did.

Be true to Him even if your bishop betrays Him.  Be true to Him even if your spouse betrays you, your friends revile you and your dog leaves you.  Be true to Him even if half the people around you are busy nailing Him to the cross while singing sappy hymns about how much they love Him.

Be true to Him, for this is what it means to be a Christian - fidelity through pain, through the desert, through absurdity, through contempt.  

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1 Cor. 4:11-13)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My New Blogging and Facebook Policy!

Hat tip to my son, Colin O'Brien, who is advising me on how to maintain my sanity while navigating the internet.  The problem is worse on Facebook than on this blog, but either way, I must hang on to what thin threads of emotional stability I have left.

And thanks to my friends who were helping me work through this.

Readers may email me if they feel compelled to - (kevin -at-  But from here on out prospective commenters will see the following ...

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