Book Review: Saints and Social Justice, a Guide to Changing the World.

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Saints and Social Justice is an inspiring book.

Brandon Vogt, who is donating — tithing sounds more like it — 100% of his royalties from this book to Catholic Charities, has put the faces and stories of several saints on the universal call to social justice that comes to us from Our Lord. By doing this, he shows us how the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes and the parable of the Good Samaritan have been acted out in the 2,000 year history of our faith.

Reading this book made me want to be a better person and a better Christian.

This is going to be a short review, because I don’t need to say a lot.

Saints and Social Justice, A Guide to Changing the World is well-researched, well-written, inspiring and enjoyable to read.

I recommend it.

Book Review: The Cross and Gendercide

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It is not often that I read a book that I could have written.

It’s even more rare when I read a book that is somewhat similar to one that I intend to write.

But that is what happened when I read The Cross and Gendercide, A Theological Response to the Global Violence Against Women and Girls.

I have devoted much of my adult life, beginning when I was barely out of my teens and going right through to this afternoon, to two majors issues: The way we treat our elderly, and a search for an end to violence against women.

Elizabeth Gerhardt, the author of The Cross and Gendercide, sounds like my sister from another mother. The differences between us are obvious, of course. She’s an academician/theologian and an administrator of shelters to protect and help women who are victims of violence. I have worked almost exclusively through the political arena.

She evidently has clung to her Christian faith throughout her career. I, on the other hand, left Christianity and God altogether for most of my early adulthood. My reason, ironically enough, was violence against women.

That leads me directly to the subject of Dr Gerhard’s book. I walked out of Christianity and spent around 17 years seething with anger toward Christ and his followers precisely because of the indifference and often the hostility I witnessed within the church toward women who were victims of violence. In particular, I was almost destroyed spiritually by the response I saw in one church toward a rape victim.

Dr Gerhard approaches this topic from a more scholarly perspective than I can muster. Even today, that old rage kicks off when I think about these things.

I think Dr Gerhard’s more measured approach is needed. But I also know from experience that my take-no-prisoners way of doing things has its place is this fight, as well. We are agreed on the topic of her book. The Church does not have an adequate theological response to violence against women. And that adequate theology is not difficult to find. It is right in front of every Christian in the cross of Calvary.

There is a reason why victims of human trafficking cry for hours after seeing The Passion of the Christ. The God they encounter in that movie is a God Who can understand them.

Watching Jesus being reduced to an object and then beaten, tortured and murdered resonates with them in a way that it does not with people who have never experience these things themselves. The cross changes God from a frowning figurehead off in the distance into a brother God Who understands and shares their anguish in a way that goes beyond words and does not need them.

Through the miracle of salvation, Christ dignifies their own dehumanization and lifts them out of the shame and loss of self that scars them.

That is the miracle of the cross. It is the message of Christianity.

The other miracle, and one which the Church ignores at its peril, is that these women from all over the world, including our own neighborhoods, who are victims of savage violence are our Jesus. They are Christ crucified, right in front of us. If we ignore them, we ignore Him.

That also is the miracle of the cross. It also is the message of Christianity.

I didn’t see this for a long time, for two reasons. First, I sought solutions in creating social responses such as rape crisis centers, and in changing laws. Second, I had x-ed both God and the church off my list of possible allies. I believed they did not care about violence against women, that in many circumstances, they promoted it.

My conversion experience was mostly an encounter with the living God. It was not intellectual. But it forced me to reconsider almost everything in my life, which was, many times, a deeply thoughtful and prayerful process. The first thing I had to learn is that my understanding of the nature of God and especially my understanding of His reaction to violence against women was wrong.

I learned, through prayer mostly, the depths of God’s love for womankind. I also learned the degree of depravity that violence against women really is. To call it a human rights violation does not touch it. Our God is Jesus Christ, Who was born of a woman. Everything that is human about Him came from His mother. She is the only human being who has ever or who ever will be elevated to the status of Queen of Heaven.

Violence against women is a direct sin against Our Lady.

After decades of starting organizations and passing laws and still encountering violence against women and indifference to that violence at every turn, I had a sort of epiphany. I had been too angry to see it before. In fact, it took me a long time to be able to think about it at all. And that epiphany was simply that the Church owes Jesus and Mary more than they have given where violence against women is concerned.

The victims of egregious denial of their basic human rights change from clime to clime. The group of people singled out to suffer varies from one location to the next. But no matter where you go, the one group who always has a firm grip on second place, and who is always subjected to violence and degradation of many sorts, is girls and women.

Women are bought and sold, marketed like chattel, all over the globe. With the crime against humanity that is egg harvesting, their bodies are harvested to be sold on the internet. With surrogacy, their bodies are rented out as incubators. With prostitution, trafficking and porn, they are sold and used as if they were appliances.

Women are subject to the most brutal violence imaginable in every country in the world. Women must fear being attacked for no reason wherever they go.

This is not random violence. It is a universal, global, culturally-sanctioned human rights violation that in terms of scale, persistence and ubiquity outweighs all others.

Where is the Christian outrage over violence against women? I’m not talking about a few seminars and a couple of tut-tut speeches scattered around. Where is the Christian response to this degradation of half the human race that the Cross demands?

The Church cannot sit idly by while Christ is crucified over and over again in His sisters all around this globe of ours. The Church does not dare be silent when Our Lady is degraded by this degradation of the female.

The Church needs to stand up on the whole issue of violence against women. Violence against women is a historic, endemic, universal human rights violation that spans humanity from dateline to dateline, pole to pole. It is the universal human rights violation of humanity.

The Cross and Gendercide raises the serious question of how we should develop a theology against violence against women. The author correctly points us to the cross in our search for this theology.

The Cross and Gendercide is is well worth reading. I recommend it.

 

 

Book Review: Doing for the Least of These for Lent

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Lent in the legislature is always a problem.

The Lenten season falls at a time of year when the legislative calendar is so full that I feel like I’m being drug by a runaway horse. There’s not much time for more than going to mass and snatches of hurried prayer that don’t connect up to anything resembling a coherent Lenten practice. It’s all about tired, over-stimulated hanging in there. Lent gets washed away in all this busyness.

Every stopover at mass is a sudden downshift to a slower rhythm. It is so different from the break-neck pace of the rest of the day that it jars more than soothes. Prayers at night and in the morning require an act of will; otherwise I’ll daydream through the words as I say them.

My Lent has thus been more a time of confusion than spiritual and moral clarity. In fact, there have been a number of years when I decided that doing the best I could on my job in the face of whatever came was my Lent.

Reading Mercy in the City inspired me to be more intentional about how I do Lent in the legislature. The book’s author, Kerry Weber, is a twenty-something who decided to give up the usual sweets for Lent and then added a resolution to perform each of the Corporal Works of Mercy during Lent, as well.

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. Feed the hungry.
  2. Give drink to the thirsty.
  3. Clothe the naked.
  4. Shelter the homeless.
  5. Visit the sick.
  6. Visit the imprisoned.
  7. Bury the dead.

That’s a tall order for a twenty-something with a full-time job and a dating life, but she managed to get it done. Her journey through the seven Works of Mercy is an illuminating read. Miss Weber learned a lot about other people as she handed out food, spent the night at a homeless shelter and visited with prisoners at San Quentin. Instead of just going through the list of Works and checking them off, she made an effort to learn from the people themselves, to see their humanity and their individuality.

This can be difficult. I’ve never done anything like this for Lent, but I have done some of these things at other times in my life. I can tell you that the sick throw up on you, the hungry gripe about the food you serve them and prisoners often go back to their old ways once they are free.

And yet, there is nothing in Jesus’ words equating Himself with these people that gives us the freedom of turning away from them. If you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me, He says to us. There isn’t any wiggle room in that statement for an out based on the exterior ugliness of the people you are trying to help. I imagine there were First Century four-flushers and manipulators just as there are today. But Our Lord didn’t say a word about refusing to help people because they can be jerks.

He tells us that whatever we do for them in His name will not be lost. And whenever we turn our backs on the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, or imprisoned among us, we will be held accountable as if we had turned our backs on Him.

That’s a heavy kind of instruction. It should weigh on our hearts, and not just during Lent. We will be judged by how we treat the “least of these.” All our Amen-saying is for nothing if we don’t help those who can’t help themselves. More to the point, each and every one of us began life as someone who could not help themselves, and if we live long enough, we will be people who can’t help ourselves again. That is the human condition.

The pitiless among us want to solve these problems by killing those who need help. Just pick up the needle or use the vacuum aspirator and be done with them. But Jesus tells us clearly and without equivocation that we are called to something more than that.

The same God Who authored all life, tells us to honor life by caring for one another, especially when it’s not easy and it costs us something.

Mercy in the City is a well-written, entertaining look at one young woman’s attempt to do the seven Corporal Works of Mercy for Lent. If you read it, it will give a lot to think about and may inspire you to do the same thing yourself, which makes it excellent Lenten reading.

Book Review: The Scientific Pretensions of the New Atheism and Absolutist Propaganda

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I haven’t read every single one of the various atheist books by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, et al. But I’ve read most of them.

I’ve also read the historic atheists such as Russell, et al.

What amazes me is that anyone takes them seriously. Even when I was deep in my anti-God period, I could see that Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian (which says everything worth saying that is found in any of the other books, by the way) used self-refuting arguments. If you followed his line of reasoning to its end, you would have eliminated the existence of 2 billion Christians who are on the globe today.

The illogic of his logic actually led me to believe that if atheism had good arguments, they weren’t being advanced. This is telling because I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be convinced by atheism.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the crude and nasty atheists of today’s public forums are the way they are for two simple reasons. First, their philosophy, such as it is, is so hopeless and nihilistic that it is crazy-making. Second, anyone who reads one of these “four horsemen” and is convinced by them (much less goes around quoting them and pretending their ideas are your own) is either an adolescent, or they are an adult who is stuck is permanent adolescence.

The Four Horsemen and their progenitors are not thinkers for grown-ups.

I’ve just finished reading a book that addresses this adolescent thinking from the viewpoint of a fellow scientist. David Berlinski is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He has written such books as A Tour of the Calculus and The Advent of the Algorithm. What that means, aside from the fact that he’s got the chops to address the scientific hubris of the new atheism from the inside, is that, unlike most of the professional new atheist apologists, he doesn’t just go around writing hate screeds for a living. He actually writes and thinks about something else.

I wish his book on the scientific pretensions of the new atheism had a less lurid title. The book is of a higher quality than its title. However, I know that titles sell, and publishers make these decisions.

The book is called The Devil’s Delusion, Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.

If you haven’t read it, you should. Berlinski writes with dry wit and clarity of the scientific gibberish that makes up the framework of new atheist arguments. The book is not, as the atheist books are, a vicious screed against those who disagree with him. It is rather, a gentle poke in the ribs.

Berlinski (who is not a believer) disassembles the house of cards of atheist scientific arguments against God, based entirely on the sheer outrageousness of their claims. There are no calls to insult people or attack them in the book. It doesn’t make totalitarian arguments that scientists should have their children taken away from them for the “child abuse” of teaching their kids what they themselves believe. There’s no trippy conflab about flying spaghetti monsters, and not one word of building a Christian revenge movement to drive atheists from the public square.

The Devil’s Delusion simply points out a few of the many over-the-top claims that atheists make in the name of science and calls them what they are: The attack polemics of a blind and absolutist faith. All of which is to say that the scientific claims by atheists are propaganda. They are not science at all.

I recommend The Devil’s Delusion. I hope that you will read it. If you’re been reading the adolescent rants of the new atheists, I especially hope you read it. It’s a great palate cleanser.

Book Review: Elvis Presley Never Grew Up

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Elvis Presley never grew up.

He hit the big time when he was still a relatively unformed young man, and based on what I read in Gary Tillery’s biography, The Seeker King, remained emotionally at that age for the rest of his days.

Sudden success on the scale that Elvis achieved can and often does become a prison for those who experience it. The constant hammering from well-meaning fans exerts enormous pressure to withdraw from normal life.

I think people underestimate the powerful talent possessed by artists such as Elvis. His ability to connect with and hold his audience through decades of ups and downs was not just a manifestation of press and hype. There is an ability to touch people on a visceral level in these great stars. They have something in them that reaches through the screen or down from the stage and connects with the people watching them in a way that those of us who are unaffected by it don’t really understand.

This kind of magnetism does not admit the normal limits that exist between performers and their audiences. It creates a fusion between the artist and his art that leaves no space for the person to exist.

Elvis was young and naive when he rocketed to fame. He was a high school graduate raised by adoring but impoverished parents in the rural South of the great depression. His parents’ love gave him the sense of self necessary to step out as an individual at an early age. Their unquestioning support was, in a very real way, the loft beneath his wings.

But nothing in his background prepared him to deal with the onslaught of fame that took over his life when he was barely out of school. He fell, as so many of these young talents do, into the habit of isolating with a group of paid cronies. Sadly, he was introduced to mood altering prescription drugs by physicians who were, to a great extent, just another part of his entourage.

Despite all this, he retained the generous and gentle spirit, the courtesy and spirituality, that were his trademark. Elvis was intelligent and sensitive enough to hunger for more from life than empty fame. Based on what I read, it sounds as if there was a bit of esp in Elvis’ family, and that he had a good dose of it himself.

He grew up in the Holiness church of the 1930s and 1940s South. The beliefs he found there didn’t leave him as an adult, but he seems to have hungered for an understanding of God that went deeper than that simple theology.

The book draws its name from Elvis’ constant seeking after spiritual truth. This quest ran through all the years of isolation that became his life after he achieved stardom.

From his first hit record, Elvis ceased to live as a free person. I think that his plight, including the increasing and ultimately fatal dependence on prescription drugs was, to a great extent, the product of surrounding himself with hangers on whose livelihood depended on keeping him caught.

It must take great self-awareness, courage and determination for a person this famous to build an independent, healthy life for themselves. Elvis came to his fame from a background that did not give him the skills or associates to handle what his life became. He was so young when he became The King that he was still figuring out who he was.

It’s to his credit that Elvis Presley stayed a nice person despite all this. He was, in many ways, an innocent until the day he died. That’s because Elvis Presley was hermetically sealed in the capsule of his fame and the entourage that formed a protective barrier between him and the outside world.

Elvis died from what amounts to medical malpractice by doctors that he trusted. It is bitter irony that this man who didn’t drink and who abhorred drugs was hooked on prescription drugs and ultimately died from that untreated addiction because he believed that if a doctor prescribed something, it had to be safe and medicinal.

I recommend The Seeker King to those who are interested in Elvis Presley. It is also a good case study in the deleterious affects of fame on the lives of public figures.

 

Book Review: Things That Go Bump

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My husband and I have knocked on a lot of doors.

I can drive up and down the streets in the district I represent and tell you who lives behind most of the doors. I know their faces and thoughts. They’ve told me their fears, shared their joys and come to me for help, sometimes when they were at the extremities of life.

This is a deep privilege, knowing these people in such depth. Their trust is a gift.

I don’t spend a lot of money on my political campaigns. I substitute knowing them and letting them know me for the piles of cash that other candidates use to get elected. Every time I have a campaign, I go to each and every door and ask them if they will vote for me again. That’s a lot of doors. It takes time and effort and the expenditure of calories.

My husband has knocked on almost as many doors as I have, a lot of them for me. He comes from a political family. He cut his teeth on campaigns.

We got into a discussion a few weeks ago about the phenomena almost every politician who has done this knows. When you walk up to a house, you know if there is someone inside it. They can be asleep or watching tv, but you know if there is someone inside that house. By the same token, if they’ve gone to the grocery store, you know that no one is home.

The question is, how do we know that? Why does a house without a person in it give off such different and identifiable vibes than one where somebody is home?

I don’t have any idea how we know. I don’t even have any idea if this is something that is peculiar to people like politicians who knock a lot of doors and are deeply attuned to observing and understanding people on an unspoken level, or if it’s something that happens to most people.

I only know that we know. And that this knowing has been confirmed time and time again when we knock on the door.

This phenomena fits my personal belief that there is far more to us than you can find in an autopsy lab. In fact, there is far more to us than science will admit.

The Angel Effect is about this simple fact. Scientists have a tendency to dismiss a whole side of human potential as delusion, or worse, confabulation.

There are things we can see and do that simply do not line up with the limited, one-dimensional understanding of who we are that science tries to project onto us. The Angel Effect is about one small aspect of that great sea of human dimension that scientists have tried to either ignore or bully into silence.

The author called this the Third Man in an earlier book he wrote about the same phenomena. In The Angel Effect, he describes his own experience with the third man, and then goes on to share with us what are the beginnings and somewhat tortured “explanations” of various people of science concerning this phenomena.

I, for one, am gratified that scientists are at least moving off their ludicrous contention that this is all either delusion or lie. The idea — which I’ve heard proclaimed as fact all my life — that literally billions of people throughout history from all over the globe who do not know one another are telling the same stories because they are having delusions or making up the same lie is preposterous. It’s hubris, not explanation.

The Third Man the author talks about is one isolated phenomena in a whole range of human experiences that fall outside conventional explanation. The Third Man is when a helpful other, a person or being, appears without explanation to offer assistance in times of stress.

The author lumps all sorts of experiences of the other in this category, things which I think are discreet and different from one another. For instance, I don’t think Marian apparitions such as what happened in Fatima are the same as the Third Man. For that matter, I don’t think the experiences people sometimes have of seeing their dead loved ones are the same as the Third Man.

Here’s a for instance. Loretta Lynn wrote in her book, The Coal Miner’s Daughter, that she heard her father for a moment. She was on the west coast, while her father was all the way across the country. She learned later that her father had died at the same time she heard him. In another instance, Sebastian Junger wrote in The Perfect Storm that one of the small children of one of the fishermen who died in the storm saw their father at about the time he died.

Something a little bit like that happened to me when my father was dying. I woke from a deep sleep when I heard my father’s voice say “Becky!” I called my parents, and my mother told me that Daddy had suddenly become desperately ill.

Loretta Lynn, the fisherman’s child and I weren’t in distress when these things happened. We didn’t seek them. They came to us.

How does this happen? Is it our brains, reaching out across the miles at the time of our deaths or, as in the case of my Daddy, when we are in great distress, to communicate to the ones we love? Or, in the case of those who have died, is it our immortal selves, making a stop on the way to that next place to say good-bye?

We’ll all know the answers to these questions in good time. But in the meantime, it’s enough to say that there are too many of these occurrences for them to be delusions or confabulation.

The point I’m making is that there is a lot more to us than our current understanding of who we are will admit. An admission that the Third Man phenomena actually happens is a baby step in the right direction of understanding ourselves for real.

I could go on for a long time, describing things that people have seen and heard. After all, I am the mother confessor for tens of thousands of people. But that would violate their confidence.

What I will say is that these things I’ve described are just the tip of it. We are immortal beings with an eternal lifespan. There is in us the transcendent. God has given us brains to match that. Not only can we conceive of eternity, we have within us the equipment, both spiritual and — I am convinced — physical, to reach out to it.

I look forward to the day when science begins to understand how our finite brains can do these things. But I also know that scientific explanation will never touch the essential knowing of the transcendent that our experiences reflect.

The Angel Affect is one man’s attempt to explain his own brush with transcendence. He looks at the nascent attempts by a few scientists — mostly medical people — to explain the Third Man experience. He also seems to find a lot of people who are not religious who these experiences have happened to. I wouldn’t be able to do that in my community, since almost everyone is religious, whether they go to church or not.

However, the fact that this happens to all people, whatever their beliefs, is just a reflection that this is a human and not a dogmatic experience. We are all made of the same earth and the same breath of God. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, we are endowed by our Creator with certain abilities and ways of knowing that reflect that.

I have put the author’s first book on hold at the library so I can read it, too. The Angel Effect is a thought-provoking book that raises more questions than it gives answers. If you ever wonder why and how you know the things that you don’t have any way of knowing, or if you’ve ever felt the presence of a helpful Other when you were in trouble, then it’s definitely worth your time to read it.

Book Review: Living Life Catholic

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“You’ve gotta have a horse to ride.” That’s a saying from politics, meaning you have to have a candidate who can run the race and win. It comes from horse racing, where the meaning is obvious: Horse races are won astride strong, fast horses.

You’ve gotta have a horse to ride.

That is equally true with books, blogs, essays, poetry and such. In this case, the “horse” you must ride is the writer’s ability to string words together in a compelling fashion.

By that criteria, The Thorny Grace of It has a fine horse to ride. Brian Doyle, the author of this book, can write. His book, which is an anthology of essays he’s published previously in various magazines, hangs together on the power of his writing.

There is no single issue or idea in this book. It is not a book of argumentation. There is nothing didactic or issue-oriented about it.

It is, rather, a series of reflections on living life Catholic that are given to us in lyrical prose that can, at times, almost cross over into poetry. As such, the book moves your emotions first, long before it touches your mind. The essays, which range from a beautiful thought poem about a handmade rosary, to a hilarious description of an older brother tutoring his much younger brother (the author) in how to approach his first confession, are glimpses through a window into another person’s life of faith, family and love.

The author comes from a large Catholic family and has lived his life as a Catholic. His essays reflect that cradle Catholic, generational Catholic reality. The book talks about life as a Catholic schoolboy and life as a mature man who faces the loss of a brother to cancer. Much of the book is centered on the mass in a highly personal first-person stream-of-conciousness narrative of experiencing the mass from the pew at the back of the room.

Mr Doyle’s power of description paints word pictures that translate into visual pictures in your mind as you read through these essays. You “see” the light coming through sanctuary windows that land as bars of butter on the church floor. You feel the lesson of the waspy priest who hides his blindness, and you experience the poignance of taking a drive with a dying brother.

I wish I could write like Mr Doyle.

But I can’t.

What I can do is tell you that if you love beautiful writing about living life Catholic, then this small book of essays is for you.

 

 

Book Review: Doubt is Just Another Way to Say You’re Thinking it Through

To join in the conversation about Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt, or to order a copy, go here.

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Christians often behave as if they’re afraid of their own questions. 

Perhaps this comes from preachers to don’t want to face the same questions in themselves and who attempt to answer the anguished “Why?” of a suffering parishioner with platitudes or, occasionally, accusations of a lack of faith. 

But the truth is, there is a reasonable basis for these questions.

“Life,” as President John Kennedy famously said, “isn’t fair.”  

Sometimes the rich get rich, the good die young and bad things happen to good people. 

That alone is enough to drive any sensitive person to take a good long look at claims that God is all-powerful, all-merciful, all-loving, all-knowing and all-just. 

If that is true, why aren’t the baby rapers of this world piles of ash? Why didn’t Hitler die along with so many others in World War I? How is that the heads of big banks can bring down whole economies and get paid off with our treasure to refrain from finishing the destruction they created?

I could go on.

And on. 

But the point is made.

This God of ours, with His long list of “alls” can seem a poor fit for the reality of what is often cruel and difficult human existence. 

Sensitive, thoughtful, nerdy people, as Kyle Cupp, the author of Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt describes himself, are bound see the conundrum and ask themselves their own little whys. These questions are not the Why of a mother whose son was murdered in front of her house, or a girl who was raped and beaten and left for dead. They are the confused questions of a bystander who sees this and cannot balance the two columns, one a column listing God’s attributes, the other a column listing the many instances of “where was God?” that they see around them.

People who are caught in the snares of life’s anguish don’t ask these questions, or if they do, they don’t ask them in the same way. The irony of dwelling in doubt is that the doubts tend to vanish when you are confronted by the hardest realities. There is no choice then but to live by faith or to die psychologically. More to the point, these deepest pits of human suffering are when the Holy Spirit meets us most reliably and in ways that undeniable. 

Backward as it seems, intense suffering, which sparks doubts in those who witness it, often increases faith in those who endure it. 

Mr Cupp has had his own life’s hardships. He’s dealt with them by living in faith, all the while shadowed by nagging doubt. But difficult as the things he’s borne, they do not reach the level of all-eclipsing cataclysm such as sometimes happen to people.

There are things that are not survivable without God. It is possible for some people to survive them physically, but without God they will never be intact again. 

Perhaps the one such encounter that everyone must face is their own death. Without God, death means annihilation. People can pretty that up or, more often, just dismiss it from their thoughts when death appears far off on a horizon they don’t expect to ever reach. Most people who talk blithely about dying without God do not, in their hearts, really believe in their own mortality.

But actually facing death your own death for real is quite another matter. The blithe burbling dries up and your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth.

It is the time when people make the final choice as to whom they belong, the point at which that choice becomes eternal. 

Everything — every grief and small annihilation we face in our lives up to that point — is a practice session in making the eternal choice. Doubt is not a sin. It is not a lack of faith. It is simply thinking it through. 

What matters is not so much the question, for in essence all these questions are only one, what matters is our answer. Dwelling in Doubt is simply the question in whatever form your life experiences direct it to.

And that question, directed to Our God Who made us, is, “can I trust You to be Who they tell me You are?”

The answer is either living by faith or going the opposite direction and turning your back on the only hope you have. 

Kyle Cupp writes an honest book with Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt. He lays bare many of his own sorrows and weaknesses. By his own confession, he is a nerdy, introverted man. But his prose reveals a strikingly honest person who is not afraid to admit that there are days in which the faith he lives by dwells in doubt. 

Book Review: People Pleasing, Miss Perfection, and Following God

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There’s an old story about Abraham Lincoln and his horse. It seems that the president was trying to get on his horse, but the horse started hopping around and got his back hoof hung in the stirrup. Lincoln stopped, looked at the horse, and said, “If you want to get on, I’ll get off.”

I think that God sometimes says something similar to us. Women, in particular, are afflicted with the Miss Perfection syndrome. I think it comes from our strivings to be good girls. We share an all-too-human craving for approval and validation from the people around us. For women, this is intensified by our intuitive understanding of others.

Make no mistake about it, women are better at people skills than men. When it comes to human interaction, we have a whole other level of intelligence that is just not there in most men. This intelligence can cripple rather than empower if we turn it on ourselves in the guise of people-pleasing.

The truth is, if we are trying to please others 24/7, then we aren’t in sync with the God Who made us. We aren’t doing what He made us to do. Read the Scriptures through from “In the beginning” to “Come Lord Jesus.” You will not find admonitions to make people pleasing a life’s goal in there anywhere.

On the contrary. We are a exhorted to please God, even if it displeases other people.

That’s a tough order for most of us with double x chromosomes, wired as we are with antennae that respond to the slightest change in the emotional weather of those around us.

Renee Swope wrote a book from her heart to other women when she wrote A Confident Heart. The subtitle, How to Stop Doubting Yourself and Live in the Security of God’s Promises, says it all.

Mrs Swope talks directly to women with this book. She frames her message by sharing the life lessons she has learned, first from growing up in a broken home with a distant father, and then walking the high-wire act of care-giver, mom, writer, ministry leader.

The truth is, the average American woman’s life is an insanity-making brew of conflicting demands based on conflicting roles. Most women work almost non-stop at their various jobs, and most women feel that they are failing at least a little bit at each of those jobs. We live, as Henry David Thoreau said, “lives of quiet desperation.”

We drive ourselves to get it all right, at least on the outside, and often end up neglecting the inside of our lives and the lives of those around us. Miss Perfection doesn’t have time to follow God because she is too busy trying to prove something that can’t be proven to people who really don’t care all that much, anyway.

We are not the sum of our successes with our failures subtracted to give us a net worth. We are children of the Living God, and He loves us, just exactly as we are.

People pleasing is a poison that drives us to drink deep of the unhealthy brew of perfectionism and pretense. God pleasing is simply being who we are.

People pleasing perfectionism is all about lying on the outside, hiding the flaws that make us human and hoping that no one ever finds out. It is about self-isolating fear and fraudulent living under the whip of our own demands. God pleasing is a matter of letting go and simply knowing … accepting … that He is God. God pleasing is as simple as saying yes in a long sigh of relief.

We don’t have to do anything for God to love us. No matter what we accomplish, He will not love us any more. No matter how often we fail, He will not love us any less.

Unconditional love is the answer to people pleasing, and the only place we will ever find it is at the foot of the cross.

Mrs Swopes takes her women readers through a discussion of the gifts of the spirit and how they apply to their own lives. That is the one place where I part company with her in this book. Catholics and Protestants both encourage people to spend time looking for what God wants of us. Catholics call it discernment, Protestants call it seeking God’s will.

I think — and I realize that I am almost alone in this — that all we have to do is just follow. Follow Christ. Obey the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes and trust Him. You don’t need to chase yourself around, looking for God’s plan for your life. It has been my experience that if God wants you to do something, you won’t be able to get out of it.

It is a mark of how much this book got to me that I say that. I got engaged with it, and found myself in quite a few of the things that Mrs Swopes wrote. I did this to the point that I found myself dialoging with the author — and now the people reading this blog — in my head.

A Confident Heart is designed to be used either in personal reading or in small group settings. It comes with a dvd to help the study group setting.

If you are a woman who is struggling to find spiritual balance in your life (which of us isn’t?) then A Confident Heart is a good place to find some answers.

I’m going to offer a free giveaway of this book to three of Public Catholic’s women readers. It will be very simple. The first three women commenters who ask for it, will receive a free copy.

 

Book Review: Building Christian Family by the Sacred Rules

To join the conversation about Six Sacred Rules for Families; A Spirituality for the Home, or to order a copy, go here

BC SixSacredRules 1

Family life will either be the salvation of America, or the death of it, depending, almost entirely on whether or not American Christians begin living their home lives like the Christians they say they are. 

That has long been my opinion about both family life in this country and the future of the country itself. We are imploding as a nation because we have allowed our homes and families to implode along trendy lines. 

The authors of Six Sacred Rules for Families; A Spirituality for the Home, have written a simple how-to book for husbands and wives who want to create true Christian family and home for themselves and their children. There is no more important work than the rearing of little children to be strong, Christian adults who can take their place as the shepherds of the next generation after themselves. 

That is what parents are: Shepherds of the home. If they fail with their little flock, then nothing else they do in life matters. 

Let me repeat that: If you fail in raising your kids, then all the other things that seem so important — career, houses, cars, expensive vacations — all of it is for naught. I don’t believe that God ever created a person for the purpose of having a big house, driving an expensive car and taking lavish vacations. Those things, if they come your way, are the garnishes. They are not life. 

Child rearing is becoming a lost art. We are inundated with childcare books for the early years, when things are easy, and a stale silence for the drug-infested, sexual-experimenting later years of childhood, when they are not. Our cultural role models are all about dissolution, parental selfishness, broken homes and designer babies. 

True parenting is not about taking. The me-first, kids-are-tough-and-can-take-it philosophy has led us to the where we are today, which is the place where a huge number of our young people are not able or willing to form families and raise children of their own. From the throwaway kids of the inner cities to the trophy children of the rich and shameless, family life has far too often devolved down to a sad manifestation of the narcism of self-satisfying adults. 

How are Christians, especially those who were themselves shaped by this malformed and malfunctioning social milieu, going to learn the techniques for raising their kids in a true Christian home?

Possibly, from books like Six Sacred Rules for Families. 

This is not an in-depth book. It is rather, a faith-filled starting point. Sue and Tim Muldoon wrote a book that shares both their personal experiences of child-rearing, and the humility they faced in having to accept that they would not have children of their bodies, but would rather adopt children of their hearts. All this is informed by their professional work in the areas of faith formation and counseling. 

They built the book around six rules that can get parents started in a dialogue about how best to build a Christian home. The rules are:

  1. God brings our family together on pilgrimage.
  2. Our love for one another leads to joy.
  3. Our family doesn’t care about ‘success.’
  4. God stretches our family toward His Kingdom.
  5. God will help us.
  6. We must learn which desires lead us to freedom. 

If you want to learn what these rules mean, you will have to read the book. I will say that I found number 3, “Our family doesn’t care about success” thought provoking in a personal way. I’ve got some changing to do myself, and reading this book helped me see that. 

We’re going to have to be Christian in new ways in this post-Christian society. Perhaps the best way to begin that project is by resurrecting the lost art of Christian homemaking. Six Sacred Rules for Families provides simple direction on how to start down that path. 


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