Ravi Zacharias on the most precious things in life.
This has been the year of two living popes.
It’s been a year of new mass shootings, government shutdowns, spies turned whistleblowers and the revelation that our government is doing everything but looking up our skirts and down the fronts of our blouses in its efforts to spy on and criminalize the entire American populace. I’m not ruling the skirts and and blouses part out, but we have no confirmation of that.
It’s been the year when the Supreme Court drop-kicked DOMA and took gay marriage off the leash, the year when we the people actually got our fill of senseless war and stopped the bombing in Syria. It was the year when the economy rotated in place and a big piece of my part of the world was blown to smithereens.
There’s been the flop of the Obamacare start up; the push for gun control and a nervy stand-off in Texas over a commonsense pro life bill that would simply require abortion clinics to provide the same levels of safety to their patients as any other free-standing surgery clinic.
My brother-in-law died, leaving my sister as one of the walking wounded. My mother has been in and out of the hospital.
And me, I’ve just kept on passing bills and writing blog posts. I still haven’t lost weight and I still can’t make my hair do one single thing that it doesn’t want to do. I have taken up piano lessons, and I am the proud possessor of a new camera.
Life, as they say, goes on.
One surprise to me has been how hard it is to blog about matters of faith and still keep my religion. I’ve spent years dealing with that very thing as a legislator. The process of getting whammed around because of my beliefs has toughened my faith and made it stronger. But I’ve also found, as I’ve started writing about it, that it has made me more than a little impatient with people who aren’t as willing to go out there on the ice for Jesus as I am.
I’ve forgotten how I was before the pro abortion people made me the target of an orchestrated campaign of character assassination. They forced me to choose over and over between them and Jesus, between the Democratic Party and Jesus, between having friends at work and Jesus, between anybody even speaking to me on the job and Jesus. I’ve forgotten what it was like back in the days when I hadn’t been called every ugly name I can think of.
Who was I back then?
I honestly can’t remember.
All I know is that talking about these things with you good people here at Public Catholic and witnessing your attempts to work through them yourself has acquainted me with the simple fact that I’m different now than I was before these things happened to me. I see the world differently than I did before I chose Christ in an active way during adversarial politics.
One of the purposes of this blog is to provide a forum where we can work through the process of finding our voice in the face of the often daunting ugliness of attacks on the faith in this post-Christian society of ours. It’s ironic how often the blog and I get targeted by people who make it their business to attack Christians and Christianity. That can be disruptive to what I’m trying to accomplish here, but it is, in its own backhanded way, a great privilege.
Whenever anyone targets me for personal attacks and vendettas because of my stand for Jesus, I am blessed.
But this blessing leads me to the faith challenge that has troubled me most of this past year. It is easy to get caught up in these attacks and start feeling besieged. Instead of drawing me closer to Christ, that kind of thinking can build a barrier between me and Him.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of regarding these things as being about me. It’s also easy to fall into the parallel trap of trying to deal with them on my own.
One of the surprising pitfalls of blogging about faith is that I can spend too much time talking about Jesus and cheat myself of time spent talking to Him. It seems some days that the more I talk about Jesus the less I talk to Him.
This tendency to talk about Christ without talking to Christ is a dangerous road to take. I think it would lead me inevitably down the path of becoming my own little g god. I could eventually come to a point where I lose my relationship with Jesus and begin to lecture and hector about Him without any guidance or input from Him. These attacks from the Christian-bashing peanut gallery — and my own temper — push me hard down that path.
That would be disaster, not for you who read the stuff I write, but for me. I can not allow anything to come between me and my relationship with Christ, even if that thing is my attempt to stand for Christ. I can’t because to lose Christ is to lose life itself and all that matters.
The only way I know to avoid this is by retreating. I don’t mean by not writing this blog. I mean by not making the writing of this blog into what passes for my relationship with Christ. The life of a Public Catholic should be mostly Catholic and only a little bit public.
What I mean is that any public statements or actions about my faith should be the outflow of a fruitful walk with Christ that is mostly hidden and that is nurtured, sustained and informed by the quiet times of simply being with Him. If most of my faith is what people see, then it is an anemic and ultimately destructive excuse for real faith. The way to achieve this kind of fruitful walk with Christ is not by pushing on, but by making regular, nourishing retreats away from the public part of life.
This is similar to the lesson that I learned in how to live a real life while in public office. I had to withdraw and go home to my real life. You have a real life by living one. By the same token, you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ by spending time with Him.
I am not talking about going to mass, although going to mass and partaking of the Body and Blood of Our Lord is essential. I am talking about spending time in prayer, and by that I mean mostly just being with God. I certainly don’t mean dumping out a laundry list of wants and needs and then going back to your busy-busy life. Prayer is, or it should be, mostly companionship. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a wonderful way to get some alone time with God. But it’s not necessary, if it’s not do-able.
I experienced the profound conversion that changed my life while I was driving my car on the way to Enid Oklahoma to make a speech. God is with you, always. You only have to start talking to Him.
I’m still learning the blogging ropes. At the same time, I’m also trying to learn how to live my first vocation, which is simply and always to love Jesus and let Him love me. The challenge to my faith in 2013 has been the surprising reality that I need to learn how to speak about Jesus in a public forum and then just go home to Him the rest of the time.
I think talking about this on this blog is highly appropriate. It is, after all, called Public Catholic and is dedicated to helping all of us, you and me both, learn to live our faith in the public side of our lives. We live in a society where the public debate, the media and most educational institutions are dominated by an anti-Christian viewpoint that is not the least bit ashamed to engage in Christian bashing that rises to a discriminatory level. We have reached the point where at least in some quarters verbal abuse and hazing directed at Christians is considered a form of righteousness.
Every one who stands for Jesus is going to pay a price.
The only way this blog can help to empower Christians to find their voice for Christ in the face of that overt and ugly resistance is if we talk honestly to one another. We need, all of us, to base our efforts to speak for Jesus on a real faith that is nourished and sustained in the private side of our lives.
Nobody told me this rock was out there under the blogging water when I began doing this. I did not realize that I would learn that I had to repent of my self-sufficiency. I had to hit the rock of spiritual dryness and feel the unpleasant thunk all on my own.
For all I know, the other Christian bloggers here at Patheos have never come up against this. I tried a few months ago to talk to a priest about it because I thought that, of all people, a priest who has to go out there and wear his faith on his collar all the time would understand. He just stared at me like I was speaking Klingonese.
I decided then that I was on my own with this, or, rather, I was on my own with Jesus. But that’s how I became a Christian in the first place; just me and Jesus.
What that means for me is making time for the simple things: Pray the Rosary, read the Bible, go to mass. I can leave the heavy lifting to the Holy Spirit. I don’t have to sustain my relationship with Christ by my actions. All I need to do is stop ignoring Him in my zeal to defend Him and simply talk to Him. I am a child of God, and like all true parents, He will always answer when I call.
During the next couple of weeks, I’m going to review my favorite things we’ve done in 2013.
This is my absolute favorite You Tube.
God bless this young man and his conversion from gansta to Christian rap. His talent is incredible.
These words of Pope Francis are especially important to those of who are living in post-Christian America.
Jesus Christ is the world’s greatest revolutionary.
People who believe Him and follow His teachings are empowered on every level of their existence. It is impossible to be a true follower of Christ and not realize that you are worth something, no matter what the larger world has to say to the contrary.
This revolutionary aspect of Christianity is most evident in its impact on marginalized people, including women.
The women who are part of the “untouchable” or “Dalit” class in India are currently experiencing and demonstrating this powerful revolutionizing effect of Jesus Christ. It begins, as Christian revolution always does, with one individual who says “yes” to Jesus. This “yes” starts this person on the life-long walk with Christ that slowly changes who they see themselves to be and what they want to do.
Jesus doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do. And by changing that, He works through you to change the world.
This power of conversion is what is so sadly lacking in the hearts and minds of tepid Christians here in the West. The rich-kids Catholic school in Seattle that I wrote about earlier today is an example. These people are salt that has lost is savor and is no longer of any use in the work of Kingdom building.
On the other hand, the Spirit is moving and empowering the “untouchables” of India to be more than their society has allowed them to be. That is the power of Jesus Christ. He levels the mighty and elevates the cast-offs.
Perhaps no one is more cast off and marginalized than the women of the bottom tier of a caste society. India is a caste society where women are so far down the scale that baby girls are routinely murdered both before and after birth simply because they are girls. A Dalit woman occupies the bottom of the bottom in that world; the place from which there is no arising.
Yet, by the grace of God and the leavening influence of Jesus Christ, these women are rising. They are seeking education, buying homes and reporting domestic abuse. They are exercising their freedom as full human beings made in the image and likeness of the living God.
That is the revolutionary force of Christianity when we live it as it is given to us instead of trying to shape it to fit the society in which we reside. We each face a choice every day of our lives as to who or Whom we will follow. We chose. And we make this choice one day, one moment, at a time every day of our lives.
In course of living out our choices, we become what we do. You can not turn your back on God when it is socially convenient and use Him for your puny purposes when you need a dose of feel good. That is an illusory Christianity, a “cheap grace” as Bonnhoeffer called it, that avails nothing.
From CNA/EWTN News:
From CNA/EWTN News:Rome, Italy, Dec 20, 2013 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A researcher at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University has found that impoverished women in India are more likely to improve their economic circumstances after converting to Christianity.
“Conversion actually helps launch women on a virtuous circle.”… said Rebecca Samuel Shah, research fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Shah presented her initial findings of a pilot study looking at “patterns and directions where conversion had an impact” on Dalit women in Bangalore, India at a conference on “Christianity and Freedom” held in Rome on Dec. 13-14.
Dalits are considered the “outcasts” of or “pariahs” of society in India.
“One is actually born a Dalit, you cannot leave a Dalit status. You’re born and you live and you die a Dalit,” Shah explained. “Dalits are employed in the some of the worst jobs…they scavenge, they sweep, they’re tanners. They do the smelliest, dirtiest work, and therefore they ‘polute’… they’re ‘untouchables.’”
… Shah’s study yielded some surprising results about the impact of Christian conversion on the lives of Dalit women in “a very violent urban slum.”
The majority of Hindu, Muslim and Christian Dalit women interviewed were illiterate. Many belong to a microfinance program which gives them access to loans which they then use towards their children’s education or to run a small business.
The first “unexpected pattern” Shah encountered was in housing. “The converts converted their loans to purchasing houses, and turned dead capital into resources to generate additional capital.”
… The impact of home ownership is crucial, since “by being able to own a house, these poor women were able to get bank loans, commercial loans, which they didn’t have access to before that. When you have a house you can get a loan at 3 percent, instead of from a money lender at 18 percent. So having a house is a very important investment in your future, so you can have access to very affordable credit.”
The second “dramatic” finding in Shah’s study concerned domestic violence.
A national family health survey in India in 2005-2006 indicated that 86 percent of the women interviewed nationally had never told anyone that they had been abused.
According to Shah, this large scale study indicated that a woman’s religion was an important indicator of whether or not she would seek help. “Only 24 percent of Hindu women sought help, and 22 percent of Muslim women, but 32 percent of Christian women sought help,” she noted.
Shah’s own study “echoed” the national health data, in that “57 percent of women – a very large number of women – actually tell their pastor” about domestic violence.
… “It was a unique finding. We were not looking for this,” added Shah.
The Georgetown researcher then pointed to the underlying factors that accompany an improvement in circumstances after conversion.
“Conversion activates in the converts a powerful new concept of value and initiative,” she explained.
It offers “a radically different way of seeing themselves: seeing themselves as a new creation, a new identity, made in the image of God, seeking a better life for themselves.”
“Poverty is inherently depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s debilitating. It breeds hopelessness: ‘why bother?’” she reflected.
Yet with a new Christian vision, “The future is not terrifying. It can be achieved. Because God is with them, they can invest in the future. It’s not something to ignore, not something to be terrified of.”
According to news stories, Eastside Catholic High School in Seattle dismissed its vice principal because he was a gay man, ‘married’ to another gay man. This action resulted in what news stories have characterized as a walk-out by students of the school.
I looked on the school’s website and found that tuition at this school is almost $19,000/year. The motto, Discover You, is emblazoned on the web site. That motto would seem to fit in with the overall sense of entitlement that goes with privileged kids, whose parents pay high tuition to buy them an education that shapes them to fit into a narcissistic secular world.
It also points to a failed Catholic school. Based on the behavior of its students, this school appears to have failed in what most people think is the real mission of a Catholic school, which is raising up young people who can stand for the faith.
We live in a post Christian America and we need Catholic schools to equip our young people to follow Christ in a hostile world. From the behavior of these students, I would guess that this school has been equipping young people to follow the world within the Church. It would appear that it has succeeded so well that their first loyalty is not to the Church, but to the trendy morality of the larger culture. That equals a failed Catholic school in my books.
This post ties in rather nicely with an earlier one about the Vatican’s call for Catholic schools to maintain their Christian identity. Based solely on the behavior of its students, along with photos and verbiage on its website, I’m guessing that Eastside Catholic has fallen rather short of this. Their website portrays a glitzy school with high tuition and white bread students who are being prepared to fit in with the secularized Christian-bashing post Christian larger society.
I wonder if any of these students at this school are being prepared to follow Christ and be the leaven that actually converts the world?
The students who have walked out should be dismissed from the school. If that means temporarily closing the school, or maybe even lowering the tuition a bit so that a less entitled group of young people can study there, so be it.
According to Eastside Catholic attorney and spokesperson Mike Patterson, Mark Zmuda has violated a signed contract that states he would follow the official teachings of the church. Patterson maintains that gay marriage is against the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
After meeting with Patterson, Zmuda resigned his position – for personal reasons – with the school, effective Friday, Dece. 20, 2013.
Zmuda was a good administrator says Patterson, and they plan to give him a good reference.
Students are outraged, and have protested the resignation by walking out of school on Thursday.
“We are standing outside the school protesting for equality in the church, and equality everywhere,” high school senior Alex Kovar said.
The students say Zmuda is a great man and a great faculty member.
“We’re all here because we love him and we want to feel like we can accept people for who they are here at Eastside, and I think by firing him because he’s gay is not portraying that message,” Eastside Catholic senior Julia Troy said.
The students say it is widely known that Zmuda is gay, and they aren’t sure why the school has decided to act now.
“What a lot of us are questioning is why it took them this long to decide to fire him, because this man has, and continues to make a really big impact on our school,” Troy added.
All grade levels are reflected as dozens of students currently stand outside the school, and voice support for Zmuda.
Scott Hahn describes a conversation he had with a Muslim scholar. The point for me in this conversation is the great beauty of what Jesus did for us.
Jesus is God made Human. He gave up His deity to become one of us in order to redeem us. By doing this, He became the Way by which we can enter into genuine communion with Our Father Who Art in Heaven.
No other faith has an empty tomb. No other faith has a Brother God Who has suffered as we suffer, been tempted as we are tempted and who understands with the knowing of personal experience what it is to be human.
There is no other Way except Jesus. We are the children of God, and He tells us to call Him our Father. Think about that, and rejoice.
It sounds easy. People often claim that they have forgiven, when, in fact, they are a long way out from anything that approaches actual forgiveness.
To forgive when there is no love is a practical impossibility. To forgive when the person or people who have harmed you refuse to admit that they’ve done anything wrong can seem as if you are agreeing with them. To forgive when they are actively continuing to harm either you or other people feels as if you are cooperating with your own abuse.
The greatest challenge of forgiveness in the face of truly horrific harms against you as a person such as rape, battering, murder and prolonged, vicious slander is that it raises the specter in your mind that you are in fact acquiescing to the thing that was done.
Too often, people say they have forgiven when what they are doing is becoming passive in the face of crimes against their own person. Forgiveness of horrific crimes against your humanity has to count the cost and know the full measure of the crime which is being forgiven.
People oftentimes push forgiveness on a victim of great violence and trauma far too soon. Everyone deserves the dignity of their anger. Anger can cleanse and heal. It can be an assertion of your humanity in the face of actions and people who have denied by what they have done to you that you are human. Anger is a necessary claim to your own worth and to the fact that those who hurt you were and are deeply wrong to do this to you.
It harms people to try to deny them their anger and push them into a faux forgiveness. When this happens, the forgiveness is not real, and the anger festers and turns inward.
Forgiveness comes after anger, not before it. Anger comes after numbness and shame and denial. Anger is the first step out of the darkness, and it is, at this point, a righteous assertion of your right as a child of God not to be treated this way.
But anger, if it takes on a life of its own, can become pernicious. Anger, if you stay there in it and just wind and rewind yourself around the shame and bitterness of what happened, becomes a cancer, eating at your soul. It can separate you from God. It, and the denial it feeds, the shame it covers, can isolate you in a small room with what happened to you. Either that, or it can push you into little enclaves of fellow sufferers who seem to be the only people who “get” you, who understand what you’re about.
The antidote for this illness — and at this point, your anger and shame have become a spiritual and emotional illness — is to face what happened to you in its full, hideously painful ugliness, and forgive.
But how to forgive without implying that what was done to you was nothing? Many times, victims of violence, in particular such things as rape, are faced with a world that belittles both them and what happened to them. They are sometimes called liars, or told that it was their fault. People back away from them and treat them as if they are not the same as they were before.
Rage is the only defense they feel they have. The humiliated rage of the victim is a shield against the claims that what happened was nothing and that they are nothing.
How do they lay down this shield of rage, which has been for many of them their only defense? When anger and resentment are the slender shards of broken self-respect that you hold onto in the face of what feels like public disregard, it can be more than you can face to lay them down and forgive.
That is the point where the grace of God is your only friend. The human portrait of that grace is Jesus, your fellow sufferer of injustice, shame and pain, hanging on the cross. The grace you need to forgive is found in the memory of God, almost bled out from a savage beating, staggering under the weight of the cross on which He was going to be murdered while the crowds jeered and the soldiers beat Him more.
You don’t need a circle of fellow sufferers to understand you and what you are going through.
And because He forgave those who murdered Him, because He forgives you now of everything, including your anger and the hurtful things it’s made you do, you can forgive too.
Forgiveness, at this level, isn’t an act of will. It is an act of trust.
That trust is in Jesus Who tells you that even the hairs on your head are numbered, that there are many mansions in His Father’s kingdom, and He has prepared one for you.
You are a child of God, and this brutality you have suffered is an offense to God.
The world needs forgiveness. Without it, we will eventually destroy everything we love, including our civilization.
On an individual scale, you need forgiveness. We need to forgive one another and lay these heavy burdens of shame and bitterness down. We need to forgive. And we need to be forgiven.
This is Advent. Emmanuel is coming.