Book Review: Coming Home to Wholeness

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Life is hard. 

Life for Americans is not only hard, it is usually frantic. 

We are frantic, almost driven, people. I did not realize this until I went to a country where people live by a different internal clock. The contrast was stunning. 

Americans are certainly not the only people who race from deadline to goal to commitment to task. And we have a sense of self about how we do it that is our special grace among the driven places on this earth. But living here is a tough boogie.

Life is hard and it is fractured and in some ways desperate. Our nation is divided between the drop outs who just sit, and the doers who never sit at all. In both cases there is a kind of desperation and overwhelmed thing going on. In the case of the drop outs, overwhelmed is where they live and what they do. But for the doers, overwhelmed is the demon they fight every day. 

Judy Valente, the author of Atchison Blue, is an overwhelmed fighter. She is an astonishingly high achiever who has managed to carve out a flourishing career for herself in two competitive worlds: free lance writing and human interest broadcast reporting. 

Her private demons are a nagging dread of death and the great bugaboo of everyone; family problems. The major betrayal of her life was being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal the year after she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on what she writes in this book, losing this job was an earthquake for Ms Valente, a wake-up call about trusting career to be the all-in-all of life. 

Her solution for her human woes is to seek the thing we lack in our American society: Wholeness. 

It is a simple fact that the abundant life that Christ offers us is based on a spiritual and emotional wholeness that the larger society (any larger society) can never provide. Anyone who wants to be whole must find a way to retreat at intervals from the squabbling bitterness of our workaday lives. Without these retreats, we slide into a kind of fractured insanity without being aware of it. I see this insanity quite often in the exceedingly fractured world of politics. In fact, there was a time, back before Jesus rescued me, when I was pretty sick with it myself. 

There is no permanent cure for this fractured-ness. It’s causes are so thoroughly woven into this fallen world and the way it treats people that no one anywhere can completely escape its pull. However, for overworked, over-stimulated Americans, it is particularly ubiquitous. We are a driven people. The fact that we in large part drive ourselves does not change this. 

Without retreats, stopping places, we become so fractured that the insanity of life becomes our own insanity. 

My retreat is simply going home. When I walk into my house and shut the door behind me, I leave the frantic outside world. Nobody inside those walls is going to attack me or betray me or go on the internet posting lies and accusations about me. Inside these walls, I am free of that. 

Ms Valente sought something akin to this when she went to the Benedictine monastery, Mount Scholastica, in Atchison Kansas.

I’m beginning to think that monasticism is a particularly good fit for writers. After all, writers are already contemplatives by nature and avocation long before the monastery bug bites them. 

For someone like Ms Valente, who is a poet and human observer writer, walking into the monastery must have been something akin to what I feel when I walk into my house. She must have known at some level that this was home. 

Atchison Blue is a lovely book written by a journalist-poet whose writerly skills enable her to tell the story without letting the poetry overwhelm it and still keep the romance of the contemplative life in the midst of the story. It’s a delicate balance; the kind of writing that probably comes naturally to a journalist-poet. 

Reading this book makes me want to pack my bags and head off to Atchison myself. I imagine it will do the same thing for many of its readers. 

Love stories are like that. They make you want a love of our own. 

In the final analysis, that’s what Atchison Blue is; the love story between one woman and monasticism. It is the tale of her homecoming to wholeness in the contemplative life at a Benedictine monastery. 

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The oblates of Mount Scholastica, Benedictine Monastery. Ms Valente is the one on the bottom right. 

Book Review: Trusting God on the Rocky Bottom of Life

To join the discussion about Rock Bottom Blessings, or to order a copy, go here RockBottomBlessings 1

Rock Bottom Blessings is Karen Beattie’s autobiographical description of finding the hidden blessings in the losses that everyone faces in life.

The rock bottom for Mrs Beattie was losing her job and her dream of adopting an Ethiopian baby.

Mrs Beattie married at the age of 40. She and her husband were both in the grip of delayed dreams they wanted to fulfill while life still gave them enough time to do it. They heard their life-clocks, ticking away the time they had to do these things.

For her husband, the delayed dream was a career change from journalism to counseling. Since his new wife had a well-paying job, they couple decided he should pursue this dream. He was accepted into a good school and received a scholarship to pursue his studies.

At the same time, the couple began trying to fulfill Mrs Beattie’s delayed dream of having a baby. After infertility treatment and two miscarriages, she accepted that she would not be able to have a baby herself, and immediately turned to international adoption.

The couple ran head-on into the spider’s web of government regulations and expense which has grown up around these adoptions, but moved ahead with the process, anyway. Then Mrs Beattie lost her job, and the financial wherewithal to adopt along with it.

Ultimately, they were faced with a decision as a couple as to whose dream they would go for: The husband’s dream of changing careers, or Mrs Beattie’s dream of international adoption. They chose to go for the career change.

I won’t spoil the book by telling you what happens next. What I will do is say that the needs of children are being lost in these adoption regulations.

While we debate what are essentially red herring issues such as whether or not homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt, we ignore the overwhelming adoption issue, which is the red tape and expense we have hung on this process. This spider’s web of regulations often make it impossible to place children in loving homes.

The truth is, children languish in situations which are destructive to them as human beings while their potential parents grieve because they can’t adopt.

Private adoptions have become fraught with the peril of emotional devastation for adoptive parents. So much so, that many people simply won’t try it anymore. I personally know a couple who arranged a private adoption, only to have the birth mother change her mind later and take the baby away from them.

This is hell for the adoptive parents, and hell for the baby.

I do not want to see young women coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. But neither the birth mother nor the birth father should be able to change their mind after the baby goes to the adoptive home. I also think that we need firm limits on how long parents who have had their children taken from them for drug addiction or mistreatment of the children will have to demonstrate changes in their lives. If the parents do not care to change, these children should be placed for permanent adoption so they can have a chance at life. 

This is a difficult issue for the simple reason that social workers are sometimes ham-handed in removing children from homes. I know of instances where this was done for trivial or even bogus reasons. Other times, they leave children in abusive situations so long that the children end up getting killed.

There is one thread running through all of this: The needs of the children come last in our system.

We have developed a “rights based” system of government in which children are not given the power of “rights” of their own to defend themselves.

Mrs Beattie’s book is a small window on this world of adoption. That is not the book’s primary focus. The main storyline of the book is Karen Beattie’s attempt to grapple with the disappointments of her life through her Christian faith.

Don’t be bitter. She admonishes herself at one point, which is good advice for all of us. She struggles to understand how God can love her and still deny her the gift of children.

All in all, the book is an interesting read. The narrative moves well and keeps you interested as you wait to see if this good woman will be able to realize her dream of adopting a child.

Working People

Our corporate media lines up hard against working people. They extol the virtues of the rich and proclaim the necessity of robbing the worker in every situation, from maintaining an unequal tax structure that permits some to pile up great wealth while forcing workers to pay more than the Biblical ten percent on every loaf of bread and gallon of milk they buy.

They yammer constantly about the totally fallacious “necessity” of cutting Social Security or putting it into the stock market where the wealthy can get a bite of it, but they say nothing about the vast corporate welfare and “privatization,” (Which is just a form of graft that attaches corporate profits to the tax base.) that is actually bankrupting the country.

You would think, listening to them, that a living wage was robbery and robbing retirements and social security so that we go back to the practice of putting our elderly people in poor farms was righteousness.

Who are working people?

I believe that would be you and me. And a few others in our past and present.

 

 

The War on Girls: Egg Harvesting and the Exploitation of Young Women Results in Death

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Eggsploitation, or, as I call it, egg harvesting, is a deadly new form of prostitution, made possible by a combination of modern science, doctors who are willing to exploit, sell and endanger healthy patients in order to make money for themselves and a culture that regards women as a commodity to be bought and sold.

A recent death in India highlights the dangers:

SAN RAMON, Calif., July 13, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – News is just breaking in India aboutSushma Pandey, a 17-year-old young woman who died in 2010, two days after her third “egg donation.” Her death is being attributed to the procedures used to extract eggs from healthy, desirable young females like Ms. Pandey. These eggs are often resold to affluent westerners for use in commercial production of their children. Her post-mortem report states she had “one abrasion, four contusions and a blood clot in the head, plus six injection marks” as well as “congestion in the ovaries and uterus.” The possible cause of her death was listed as shock due to multiple injuries.

This most recent exposure of the daily exploitation of females offers yet another wake up call to the truth of the real, repeat, and often lethal harms of invasive egg removal procedures, which masquerade under the lie of donation. These transactions are anything but “donations” as young females — nearly children themselves — all over the world, desperately fall prey to offers of money like those made to Ms. Pandey. (Read more here.)

Here in the United States, egg harvesters run ads on Craigslist, college campus newspapers, Facebook and other social media, enticing healthy young women to undergo this dangerous procedure and allow egg harvesters (i.e., “infertility doctors”) to harvest their bodies for their eggs. The eggs are then sold for embryonic stem cell research and for “family building,” usually for gay couples.

The doctors who do this in Oklahoma misrepresent both the dangers and the suffering involved in submitting to egg harvesting. I assume they do this other places, as well. Based on conversations I’ve had with many of them, the young women in question often experience life-long health problems, including subsequent infertility, as a result of allowing doctors to harvest their bodies for eggs.

Jennifer Lahl, of the The Center for Bioethics and Culture is a remarkable woman who is fighting this evil. I have had the honor of working with her on legislation in the past. She is selfless in her dedication to end the exploitation of young women at the hands of unethical and predatory medical professionals. You can learn more about her work here.

The Heresy of Little g gods and Running Runners Who Run Away

 

Don’t be alarmed by defecting Christians.

It’s just the Holy Spirit, pruning the dead wood.

Christianity in America suffers from a blight that is choking out the Word and covering up the Light of Christ.

That blight is the heresy of conflating Christ the Lord with partisan politics. This has gone on so long and become so endemic that a lot of people actually think that they are following Christ by how they register to vote.

Even worse, people who confuse Jesus with the R and the D always seem to end up lopping off parts of Jesus in order to make Him fit into the partisan box. If you’re an R, this has historically meant that the Sermon on the Mount is just jesus (little j) blather that comes from the First Century and doesn’t mean much. I’ve had the experience of using the phrase “If you’ve done it to the least of these, if you’ve done it to Me,” in debate and seeing the bored, patronizing expressions cross those Republican faces.

They don’t want to hear it.

Likewise, anyone who has ever gone into a Democratic Party what-not with the idea that gay marriage or abortion or any trendy social sin is not a “human right” is going to learn what the word “cut” means in the Victorian sense. They will cut you dead. And that’s if they’re in a good mood.

My point, which I’ve made over and over again, and which I’ll keep on making until it’s no longer pertinent, is that the R and the D aren’t Jesus. Party platforms aren’t the Gospels.

We are now living with the inevitable consequences of this decades-long heresy of political jesus. People are increasingly sick and tired of the heresy. They find — quite rightly — that it is a sham and a flam and that partisan politics jesus is a bogus god not worth their time.

Many outspoken Christian leaders have maintained so loudly and for so long that this perversion of the Gospels that they’ve been preaching is, in fact, the true Gospels of Christ, that they’ve managed to convince not only their besotted followers, but the larger population, as well.

A lot of people believe that political jesus; political party apologist jesus, mean and heartless django jesus, is actually Our Lord.

Why do they think this?

Because Christian religious leaders and their followers have been telling them so for decades.

This group of disenchanted, disaffected-with-Christianity reactors to political django jesus, has grown to the point that they are now able to affect the outcome of national elections. Which means that they are now players.

That also means that the same political parties who’ve used and abused the name of Christ for so long are now trying to get shed of Him. The stampede for the exit ramps among politicians and professional Christians of every stripe has become such a crowded field that it is a parody of itself.

The National Review published a whimsical essay today titled “A Form Letter for Defecting Conservatives.” This humorous article is an accurate representation of what is happening and the flabby, flimsy lies these runners are using to explain themselves.

What interested me the most, however, is that the National Review’s title underscores the heresy I’m talking about. The “issues” these running rabbits are dumping are the same issues that traditional Christians have fought for these past decades. They are the issues that put the Rs in the winner’s circle. Hence, the use of the word “conservative” to describe these folks.

However, what they are, are sham Christians who’ve used a faked fealty to Christ to win elections or build big careers in publishing, think-tanking or some other moneyed and powered endeavor. As anyone who isn’t wearing a mental blindfold can tell just by looking around, they haven’t done much good. But they have certainly done well.

The reason they are hitting the door on these “issues” now is because they never believed them in the first place. I’m not saying that people can’t experience a change of heart, that they can’t be converted. But this mass stampede of political opportunists for the higher ground of a different take on traditional Christian teaching has nothing to do with conversion. It is pragmatic people being pragmatic and taking care of themselves.

They never believed it in the first place, and whatever they tell you now, they don’t believe that, either.

The heresy here is that none of this — none of it — has anything to do with Jesus. By conflating politics with the Gospels, we have corrupted politics and defamed the Gospels. These aren’t “defecting conservatives. ” The reason they aren’t is that issues like the sanctity of human life and marriage are not issues. They are truths. The sanctity of human life and marriage are not “conservative” values. “If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me,” is not liberal spin.

These are the law and the prophets of God Almighty. They are the teachings of Christ the Lord.

We are beginning to reap the whirlwind that we have sown by lying about the nature of God for political gain.

My advice is don’t be alarmed or dismayed by all these recanting Christians and born-again nihilists.

Let them go their way and don’t worry.

The Holy Spirit is pruning the tree of life so that it can bloom anew.

 

Here, from Monty Python, is an anthem for the runners.

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After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?

It reads like an article from The Onion.

But it’s not.

It’s a serious pseudo scholarly article published in the supposedly serious journal Medical Ethics, whose tagline reads “An international peer-reviewed journal for health professionals and researchers in medical ethics.”

I’ve long maintained that “ethics” as a scholarly pursuit is just the dressing up of the fine art of doing whatever you want to whomever you chose. Ethics, without God, is incapable of morality and shows no mercy or compassion. “Ethics,” as discussed in our learned journals and our various think tanks is an empathy-free zone; an elaborate mis-use of language to justify a world where the biggest and the meanest get to make all the rules.

After all, who makes these various judgements that “ethical thinkers” pass down but the biggest and the meanest? These ideas come from the royal jelly schools where a select few are groomed to take home all the prizes at the expense of everyone else. They are housed in enclosed, almost hermetically sealed environments where people never face the realities of the terrors they have wrought. They are sheltered and shielded, petted and pampered. And the “thinking” they produce is, far too often, an extension of the deep narcissism reflected in this kind of living.

“After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” is a product of this kind of thinking and tawdry ethical posing.

This scholarly paper, makes the case for killing children after they are born if “circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion … we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the cases where abortion would be.”

In other words, they are saying that we should be able to kill newborns because we want to kill them. That this is “ethical.”

The authors of this paper take the same tack used by a lot of people who argue for abortion on demand on this blog: the “fetus is not a person.” They argue that newborns aren’t “persons” either. They say,

The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.

It is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.

… Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject to a moral right to life.’ We take a ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence is a loss to her.

This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that not all the individuals who are in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.

… Although fetuses and newborns are not persons, they are potential persons … If a potential person, like a fetus or a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then … there is no harm at all … The alleged right of (fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality … is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being.

We take a ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value. In other words, you aren’t a ‘person’ as these scholars define it, and you don’t have a right to be alive, until you can speak up and fight for yourself. If you’re helpless, you aren’t a person, and anybody can kill you, anytime. The authors only apply this to newborns in this paper, but if you can’t see where this is heading, then you aren’t, as we say here in Oklahoma, “too swift.”

It’s interesting, but not surprising, that the authors also claim that “many non-human animals” have a right to life, which newborn babies do not. This same line of reasoning has been employed by other ethicists who have advanced killing babies after they are born, many of them until the child is up to a year old, but are vociferous in their fight for animal rights.

In fact, there is nothing new in this article. It references the deadly Groningen Protocol, concerning the practice in the Netherlands of murdering disabled newborns under the guise of euthanasia.

Here in the United States, this line of logic comes, as I said earlier, from the royal jelly portions of our society. It is the privileged set who keep pushing the boundaries on allowable murder, notably Peter Singer of Princeton University, Michael Tooley, who got his PhD from Princeton and now teaches at the University of Colorado. Dr Singer is famous for advocating for animal rights at the same time that he advocates killing children after they are born.

Despite the fact that these arguments read like they were written by a pro life comic who is making fun of pro abortionists, their authors are serious about them. We need to remember that most of the things we find abhorrent in our society today were sold to the general public in just this way. The demand for legal abortion did not begin in the women’s movement. It began in think tanks, composed almost entirely of men, many of whom were frank misogynists, who published scholarly articles.

Our society takes these royal jelly people far too seriously. We do not consider their remove from reality when we look at their ideas. The thinking in After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live? is just a hatched up bunch of nonsense designed to allow people who have the power to kill other people who can not defend themselves.

All this blather about “actual persons” belies the fact that the authors are creating a construct for killing people at will on the basis of the fact that the killer wants to kill them. It is a philosophy that justifies the biggest and the meanest, making all the rules, nothing more.

It is exactly what you get when we remove God and His Commandments from human decision-making. When we remove God from our considerations, we become what Dawkins et al claims we are: Beasts.

Life in this brave new world becomes, as Hobbes said, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Make no mistake about it, the same royal jelly people who are telling you that you can kill your own babies when they inconvenience you, will eventually be telling someone who is bigger and meaner than you that they can do the same thing to you.

Shacking Up, Gay Marriage and Now Wed Leases: Is Marriage as the Larger Culture Lives It Dead?

Shacking up, gay marriage and now wed leases.

Given all this, I’m inclined to say as so many people do these days Why bother?

A reader sent me a copy of the Washington Post opinion piece excerpted below. The author, who is a divorce attorney, suggests that, given today’s revolving door marriages, we just set up marriage as a lease arrangement and forego all that “til death do us part” nonsense at the get-go. He sees it as a simplification of the court-laden bitterness of today’s divorce culture.

My first thought was that the guy deserves a couple of stars for innovative thinking and his willingness to legislate himself out of a job. But then I thought that he’s probably as sick of doing divorces as every other attorney I ever met. Setting up wed leases for his clients (His suggestions would require quite a bit of personalized legal tailoring for each couple.) would probably end up being, if not as lucrative as a high-dollar divorce, still a good living for an attorney, and without the need to Xanax.

So, I guess he’s not being entirely selfless.

However, he has put his finger on the truth of what is happening in our society.

We’ve trashed marriage to the point that it no longer means much of anything. Gay marriage is the end of marriage as a legitimate institution. Now the flood gates on redefining marriage are open and you can bet that a lot of garbage is going to trot through them. Of course, none of this would have happened if heterosexuals hadn’t trashed their marriages (and their kids, homes and finances along with their marriages) for so many years.

Christians who want to follow Jesus instead of the world are going to have to make a decision about their marriages. Are they entering into Holy Matrimony, which is a life-long union on which God rains down sacramental graces? Or, are they entering into an elastic “so long as we both dig it” legal contract endowed by the state with nothing much but a lot of misery and legal gas?

The truth is, marriage, as it is practiced today has nothing — and I mean nothing — to do with the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as Jesus created it and as the Church has provided it for 2,000 years.

Which is it Christians?

Have you and your spouse entered into a Covenant before God Almighty that bonds you together in sickness and health, for richer and poorer until death does you part? Or are you just play-acting with some legally created contract that you can breach or nullify anytime there is sickness or poverty or you just don’t feel like it today?

For centuries, the legal definition of marriage corresponded closely enough to the Christian understanding of Holy Matrimony that the two could function almost as the same thing.

No more.

In today’s brave new world, “marriage” is a legal construct. At best, it is a contract. At worst, it is a sham. Many times it is both — a sham contract.

Holy Matrimony, at least as the Catholic Church and some other denominations do it, remains unchanged. Outside of those churches that still treat marriage as the life-long Covenantal relationship between a man and a woman that God intended, there is no Holy Matrimony in our society today.

Christians who want to follow Jesus are going to have to learn to make this distinction, first in their own lives, and second as they regard the “marriages” in the wider world. There are things that redefining the law cannot change, and this is one of them.

True marriage, which, to distinguish it from the legal contracts of the wider society, I have decided to call Holy Matrimony, is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is up to you, my Christian brothers and sisters, if you want to be married in the eyes of God in Holy Matrimony, or you want a legal contract for sex and shared finances. If you want Holy Matrimony, then you must begin with the Church as the cornerstone of your marriage. By that I mean you must be married in the Church and you must make Christ the head of your home.

I do not think it will be possible for Christians to be the light the world so badly needs if we continue down this path of half Christian/half worldly.

More and more the world itself is demanding that we, as Joshua demanded thousands of years ago, choose this day whom we will serve.

Choosing to follow Christ begins in the individual heart, and it is first acted out in the home. The creator of home is Holy Matrimony.

Everything else is dead legalism.

From the Washington Post:

We all know that far too many marriages end in divorce, yet this institution does not adapt. Indeed, most Americans today want to expand conventional marriage to include same-sex couples.

So why is there no effort to improve the legal structure of marriage, when it shows itself to be deficient?

Marriage is a legal partnership that lasts a lifetime — one lifetime to be exact, that of the first of the spouses to die. Generally speaking, that is a long time for any partnership. People, circumstances and all sorts of other things change. The compatibility of any two people over decades may decline with these changes to the point of extinction.

In real estate, one may own a life estate in a piece of property. This is comparable to the term of a marriage — a lifetime. And in real estate, one may hold possession of property for shorter terms through a lease.

Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a “wedlease.”

Here’s how a marital lease could work: Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

Voice of the Martyrs: Christian Persecution Around the World

“In most cases, the persecution could have been averted if they had simply denied Christ. But they won’t.”

“The persecution of Christians is not a human tragedy. It is a spiritual reality facing the body of Christ.”

If these people refuse to deny Christ in the face of such suffering, how can we allow ourselves to deny Him in order to keep a job, or to avoid harrassment from aggressive unbelievers?

Pray for them and take every opportunity to stand up for Jesus here.

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