Monday, May 27, 2013

The Death of Convenient Catholicism

Convenient, Comfortable, Cultural Catholicism is dead in America.  The body may still be warm, perhaps even a post mortem twitch or two.  But it’s dead.  Soon enough, and perhaps sooner that you think- you’ll agree.  Why do I assert such a thing?  Simply put, there is no longer a place for it in the culture.   Soon, “Catholic “will be incompatible with comfortable or convenient.  You need only follow my premise to its logical outcome to understand why.
First, the New Evangelization is under way in earnest in this country.  The Church’s leadership, and numerous apostolates, anchored in the person of Jesus Christ in fidelity to His bride, the Church, abound.  Jesus is remaking His Church, transforming the faith-life of countless Catholics.  The New Evangelization is breeding Catholics who love Jesus, are bold in their faith, and courageous in their convictions.  The call in the New Evangelization is serious and not for the faint of heart.  And if I’m right, we will need every bit of that mettle.
Secondly, our own government has become hostile to all who subscribe to differing beliefs.  The HHS mandate has effectively pushed the matter of faith out of the public square and into the confines of “private life”.  Religious liberty has been deeply damaged.  The IRS scandal has demonstrated that the government will use its legal muscle to pursue political ends.  The fact that any specific demographic would be targeted is unconscionable.  And then, there is the rest.  Homeland Security is running terrorist drills with Christians and homeschoolers as the terrorists.  The FBI, who was apparently too undermanned to keep an eye on the known radical Muslim brothers in Boston, did find the time to visit some of the same people harassed by the IRS.  
A Texas business woman, who applied for tax exempt status for two political organizations, not only found herself under scrutiny for those, but subsequently the target of IRS audits of her personal and business returns.  Then, the FBI paid her several visits regarding her “political” activities.  In the end, she also found herself visited by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, since her company holds a license to manufacture firearms, even though it doesn’t.  
Our own government has clearly crossed the threshold of a willingness to intimidate its own citizenry in order to achieve its purposes.  The Church’s voice will speak for the rights of individuals, for the common good, and against injustice and evil.  The trajectories of our culture and (apparently) our government are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The government has already put pressure on the Church.  The Church (and Christianity in general) is already viewed as an obstacle to be overcome.  Catholicism will soon cease to be a prop, and then, the convenient, cultural, comfortable Catholic will find it too inconvenient, too dangerous, and too uncomfortable.
A smaller and more vibrant Church is being birthed in our midst.  And She will be the light in darkness.  She will share in the trials and persecutions of which Paul spoke.  She will shake off her slumber, and will run and not grow weary.  These are exciting times for the Church, but it will look different than we expect, perhaps quite different.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The American Death Camps

Margaret Sanger was a fan of Adolf Hitler’s eugenics program, a plan that would rid “Aryan” Germany of the socially and genetically inferior.  Hitler’s program began by marginalizing and restricting the rights of Jews in the early 1930’s.  As the years passed, the marginalization of those seen be inferior, increased.  By the time Hitler’s “Final Solution” was implemented, the culture was anesthetized to the persecution of these groups.  It was easy to hide the murderous atrocities “in plain sight”.  The horror was so great that even many Jews did not believe what was occurring in the death camps until the evidence was overwhelming.
The stench of Margaret Sanger’s own special death camps is wafting in the wind of the American landscape.  Just as the atrocities at camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka occurred, for a time, with little public notice, and under the cover of “greater good”, so has been the case with America’s abortion industry, and men like Kermit Gosnell. 
Kermit Gosnell, who butchered live born babies by snipping their spines with scissors, who put live babies in plastic bags to die, who allowed babies to drown in toilets, and who stored the bodies dozens (and perhaps hundreds) of aborted babies in his clinic,  is not an aberration among abortionists.  Reports are beginning to pour in about similar practices and conditions across the country.  This horror has been occurring in our cities and communities for decades, right under our noses.  The reality has been there for anyone to find if they cared, but also “hidden in plain sight” by euphemisms and political and legal maneuvering.   
 And this, of course, brings me to a question to which I, sadly, cannot answer.  Will we, like Germany, refuse to believe the horror of the Auschwitz’s and Treblinka’s in our own country?  Will we even have the courage to look at it?  Or, will we turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to those on the margin and unable to protect themselves?  The choice is ours.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Dreamliner" or "Dreamliner Experience"

We all know the worst seat on a plane-  the middle seat in the very last row of coach,  the non-reclining one gainst the bulkhead.  Directly behind your head is the…well, head, where the aroma of blue bathroom juice swirls in the air.  Add the constant rattling of accordion bathroom doors and cattlecar service, and you have a sensual experience worth forgetting.  Oh, to be a first class passenger, sitting in a cushy wide seat, with warm hand towels, complimentary drinks and the intimacy of personalized service.
Now, the new Boeing Dreamliner is a beautiful airplane.  She oozes grace and style, even sitting on the tarmac.  She is a technological marvel.  She is arguably “THE” airplane!  Yet, if you hold the boarding pass for the middle seat in the last row, it won’t be a “Dreamliner” experience.   Give me a first class seat on a commuter jet instead- anytime!
You see, the sensual experience is an important thing.  As Catholics, we should understand this.  The Catholic faith is meant to be lived sensually, where the lived experience in our body connects to our soul and spirit.  Viewing Michelangelo’s frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a sensual experience of art that moves the soul.  The soaring architecture of cathedrals is a sensual experience of architecture that inspires awe.  Matt Maher’s music is a treat for worshipful ears.  Incense touches our sense of smell.  Yes, Catholicism is, and is meant to be, a sensual experience.
But, when you ask fallen away Catholics why they’ve left the Church, it’s almost never a matter of theology.  It’s about the experience.  Common complaints are bad preaching, bad music and uninspired liturgies.  The architecture of many churches is pitiful, and sacred artwork almost non-existent.   Essentially, nothing in their EXPERIENCE of the Church connects them to their soul and spirit.
You might be crying, “Foul.” at this point.  “We have the Sacraments, and we have real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.”  On behalf of my non-Catholic brothers and sisters, I have only one response to that- “Dreamliner”.  She may ooze grace and style.  In Pope Francis’ words, “a tidy Church… a Church that is nice to look at.”.  But, if the experience of her is the center seat on the back row, many will opt for a first class experience on a commuter jet.
It is to our shame that we excuse poor preaching, pathetic music, uninspired liturgies, bland architecture and amateurish artwork (think banners) because we “have” the Sacraments.  We do not own the Sacraments- they are a gift from Heaven.  Because of the Sacraments, because of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, because the sacrifice of the mass is the source and the summit of our faith, we should accept nothing less than the best.  It should be a sensual experience of music and word and sight that agitates the soul to worship, directing our entire being toward a more intimate communion with God.
The Catholic invitation should not merely be to “Fly the “Dreamliner”.  The Catholic invitation should be nothing less than “Have a “Dreamliner Experience”.  Big, beautiful, bold, expressive, and every seat first class.

Friday, May 10, 2013

God is My Enemy... Part II

It’s a scary thing to admit that you’ve made God your enemy.  I can almost hear the internal denials as I write this.  But, that makes it no less true.  Every man makes God his enemy, and every woman, as well.    Pope John Paul II put his finger on it when he said, “...the key to interpreting reality...Original Sin, then, attempts to abolish fatherhood...”  The implications are staggering, but create an amazing lens through which to view our relationships with God.
I make God my enemy, following the Holy Fathers’ logic, because I do not believe that God is a good Father.  Because we do not believe in His goodness, we do not trust Him.  For a woman, her mistrust may look like a belief that God does not “see” her- she is invisible to God.  For a man, it is often a belief that God will not come through for him if he surrenders it to God.  In that case, a man’s failure is complete- he didn’t have what it takes on his own, and he didn’t have enough for God to respond to his plea for help.  When you think like this, the thought creeps in, “Well, who needs a God like that anyway?” So, how does a man (or woman) arrive at such a place in their heart? 
First, they have forgotten where they live. Especially in this modern world, we tend to think that “Life’s a Beach!”, and the beach is bathing suits, manicured white sand, umbrella chairs and pina coladas.  And indeed, life is a beach, or more accurately, a BEACHHEAD.  Like Normandy Beach on D-Day- bombs, mines and bullets, blood, death.  The world you and I were born into is a battle zone, the result of sin.  The enemy has been dug in and waiting since he was cast into the world from heaven (Revelation 19).  His singular purpose is to kill your soul and condemn you to his own fate- eternal isolation, eternal abandonment and eternal loneliness.
Second, people forget who they are.  The enemy projects his ill intent and malevolence onto God.  This leads us to mistrust.  Since we do not trust God, we do not trust what He has to say about who we are.  God says that we are beloved sons and daughters, but we do not belief because of the difficulty of our person circumstance.  Instead of viewing our circumstance in light of God’s nature, we belief our circumstance reveals God’s nature.
In this desolation, it is important to understand God’s nature.  Is He the punisher and withholder, the maker of trouble?  In Genesis, we learn that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, a place of perfection.  They were “naked and unashamed” because purity and holiness was their experience.  After the fall, shame and the awareness of being naked came in.  They went from being physically “uncovered” and spiritually “covered” to physical covering and spiritual exposure.  Despite the loin cloths that we see on Church crucifixes, we know that Jesus was stripped naked when he hung on the cross.  Jesus was tortured, shamed and humiliated, including the indignity of being naked before others.  This act of selflessness untwists Adam’s sin, restoring us to righteousness (right standing).  Jesus sacrifice demonstrates that God holds nothing back, not even His own divinity. 
It is the enemy that has made your trouble in this broken world.  As you grasp this truth, you can examine your life from a different perspective, through a completely different lens.  The painful memories and experiences of your life will look different.  You might even find yourself thinking, “Now I get it.”  As these lies are revealed, you are ready for healing.  Say to Jesus, “I see now where I have believed wrong about you, where I didn’t trust you.  I repent, and I reject the lies about you, and the lies about myself.  Jesus, I invite you to speak your truth to me.” 
In the deepest, darkest recesses of your heart, where you’ve been hurt, God can heal, God can restore.  I’ve seen it and experienced.  Burdens and lies, carried for decades, wash away in an instant under the touch of Jesus’ hand.  There is hope, despite hopelessness.  There is healing, despite hurt.  Because, as it turns out, God is not my enemy, nor yours.

Monday, May 6, 2013

God is My Enemy...Part I

I had a disconcerting epiphany recently.  I know where I strive, where I hold on and grasp, where I don’t trust God.  Every man (and person) has at least one place where this is true.  Just look for your repetitive sin,  insecurities and fear- that’s where you'll find yours.  For me, the lifelong struggle to trust God has been in my professional life.  While grace seems to flow in my marriage and many other areas of my life, trusting deeply in the Lord in the area of provision has always been a challenge.
Not surprisingly, this striving in my professional life is related to a deep wounding that left me believing that I was “on my own”.  From that grew a deep seated self-sufficiency, trusting only myself to take care of things.  Even as I’ve come into deeper relationship with the Lord, I viewed this self-sufficiency in a benign way.  I knew I didn’t fully trust God, but it didn’t seem like too big a deal.  Then came the revelation of how insidious and scary this really was.
I found three distinct levels in my mistrust.   Level 1:  God is not actively engaged and advocating for me (in my case- material needs).  My life experience (or my perception of it) tells me that God’s goodness has not been overly abundant.  Now, there is truth in this, but not the one I perceived.  The truth is that God’s grace has been pretty hit and miss in this part of life.  But,not because He doesn’t care or isn’t engaged.  It is because I’ve locked him out.  I’ve largely taken care of it on my own, consulting my own wisdom, my own desire, my own strength.  I’ve left Him without much room or opportunity to bestow grace!
Level II mistrust is a bit deeper, a little more malevolent.  Not only do I not trust God to “do me good”, neither do I trust Him to protect me from harm.  Basically, He is an absentee God.  The scripture that says God goes before, stands beside, but I do not believe.  He has abandoned me to my fate.  You may recognize this as a “heresy” in theological terms.  It’s also a heresy of the heart.
Finally, the deepest mistrust of all is the place in my heart where I have made God my enemy.  First, He’s benign, giving me little or nothing that is good.  Then, He’s absent and fails to protect me from bad.  Finally, I impute ill-will or evil to Him.  He is the ‘Withholder’, the ‘Punisher’, the ‘Maker of Trouble’.   At a deep heart level, God is the author of my hardship.  He’s on the other side.  He’s the one who is responsible for my hardship.  Here, in the deepest recesses of my heart, I have found God, and He is my enemy.  He is, in my heart, the author of my pain and suffering.  He is not my “strong fortress”, but the very source of my pain.
Find your own deep pain, your own mistrust, your deepest fear, your own wounding that time and again unsettles you, and you will find the place where you treat God as your enemy.  And when you find it, you’ll know…because you will want to run!  But once you find it, healing and freedom can finally come.   That, in Part II