Book Review: Sex and the Vision Thing

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Our culture teaches young girls to look at themselves as meat. I could dress that up by using less harsh language, but the dressing-up would be a lie.

From the time they are babies wearing trollop fashions, to the days when they sit in sex education classes that push dangerous contraceptives on them, including the morning after pill, young girls are taught that their first mission in life is to be sexually available and sexually used.

There is some linguistic dressing up of this message. It is termed “liberation” and “women’s rights.” But it’s not. It’s about using social pressure to coerce young girls into sexual behavior that, based on what quite a number of them have told me, they don’t enjoy or find sexually satisfying. It is the old double standard, flipped over and made even more destructive.

Christian girls end up caught in a social and moral conundrum. On the one hand, they hear that sex outside of marriage is a sin. On the other hand, they hear that they have a “right” to use sex the same way that men use it.

This explanation degrades the girls, as well as the boys. Every one has a sex drive. Every one is more than their sex drive. People want things that hooking up not only can’t give, but that hooking up prevents. Things like self-worth, love, commitment, stability and emotional security.

Even Christian parents have fallen into the trap of stripping the security of  a stable home and consistent family interaction from their children’s lives. Divorce destroys basic trust and security in children. Shooting from one activity to the next like a pinball destroys family time and inner peace. I won’t even go into the tsunami of damage that drugs and alcoholism do to children.

It has reached the point that girls who grow up in a stable home with parents who give them love and attention are the ones who are out of step with the culture. They are the girls who seem odd and out of place.

When everyone else is talking trash and getting laid and doing drugs, they’re the wallflowers who spend time in their dorm rooms or at home on Friday nights, wondering what, if anything, it profits them to live lives of purity.

Sex and the Single Christian Girl is written from inside that specific experience for those girls who live it.

The author, Marion Jordan Ellis, lived the life of growing up Christian and then throwing purity over for the hook-up culture. She experienced a radical conversion to Christ and then spent over a decade as a Christian single woman living in purity in a world that disses purity. When she finally met the Christian man who became her husband, she faced the new challenge of maintaining her chastity until she said “I do.”

The thing that sustained her in those years of single chaste living, and that she didn’t have when she slid into the hook-up culture, was vision.

Mrs Ellis makes the important point that a laundry list of “Thou shalt nots” is not enough to give a person the strength they need to follow Christ in our post Christian culture. She applies this directly and specifically to the situation of, as the title says, Sex and the Christian Single Girl. But the idea is equally applicable to all Christian living in a world and society such as ours, that is aggressively hostile to Christian values.

We can’t stand up to the culture by being against it. We have to be for something, and that something must be fueled by a deep and abiding passion. The answer Mrs Ellis offers is not the right answer, it is the only answer.

We are, all of us, beloved Children of the living God. Our lives are not our own. We belong to Him.

And we are worth more than the degrading behaviors that our culture teaches us are not only cool, but necessary and our “right.”

Hook-up sexuality is self-abuse.

It’s that simple.

Drug and alcohol abuse are a living death that, if they aren’t stopped, lead inevitably to a real death.

Divorce is ripping asunder the one flesh of soul and spirit that God has created in Holy Matrimony. It damages our children irrevocably, as well as impoverishing and grieving the husband and wife.

The answer to all this, is, as Mrs Ellis says, that vision thing. We do not see ourselves as the immortal beings of light that we truly are. We do not understand that we are made for eternity in heaven and that our every action in this life either adds to that future or it doesn’t.

Young women are worth more than the value our society has taught them to place on themselves. They are, first of all, Daughters of the King. They belong to Him and to themselves and, once they pass into adulthood, they are answerable to no one else. No one has the “right” to treat them as meat, including and most especially, themselves.

When I was little, I always knew, never doubted, that either one of my parents would die for me. I knew without a shadow or a flicker of doubt that my father would kill or die to protect me and that he would not hesitate about either one.

That is how parents feel and what they do. It is what our Father in heaven has done for us. When Christ hung on that cross at Calvary, that was God, dying to save each one of us. That is, as the Scriptures tell us, “the price” God paid for us.

Young women need to understand this about themselves and never forget it. Their salvation was bought at a great price that only a Father Who loved them would have paid. This culture teaches them that they are meat. But in truth and in fact, they are immortal beings of eternal light; daughters of the living God.

I recommend Sex and the Single Christian Girl to any young woman who is struggling with issues of chastity and self worth in this post Christian world. I also recommend it to parents of daughters who want to teach their girls how to live as the beautiful daughters of God that they are.

I May Fall, But I Will Rise

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses …

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This Way of Life Fulfills Me. I am Very Happy.

 

Only God would use lung cancer as a opportunity to offer a vocation.

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Book Review: Making Marriage Work

To join the discussion about Just Married, or to order a copy go here BC JustMarried 1

Just Married, The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage is a how-to book for newlyweds.

What I mean by that is that it’s a real how-to book that provides usable, common sense, profoundly Catholic measures that married couples can take that will lead them into a holy, happy marriage that lasts all their lives.

If you think I exaggerate, read the book. The things it tells you are obvious, but you don’t see them. They’re easy, but you don’t do them. And over time the lack of this not seeing and doing can shred the fabric of your marriage.

It’s clear from the moment that you begin reading it that this is the wisdom of someone who’s actually walked the road. It is co-written by Dr Greg Popcak and his wife, Lisa. The two of them together provide candid cameos into their marital life at its different phases. They talk frankly about the things they had to do and learn to have a happy, long-lasting marriage.

Even though Dr Popcak is a professional psychologist, the book is not a psycho-babble world salad. It gives advice that is simple, direct and do-able. The first thing Greg and Lisa advise is the obvious one I was referring to earlier. They tell newly married couples to make a time of daily prayer together a fixture in their lives.

I say that’s obvious because telling a devout Catholic couple to pray should be as redundant as telling a fish to swim. But in truth, even private prayer gets lost in the busyness of daily life and it’s more difficult to make time for praying together.

The book leads readers through the various stages of early marriage and teaches a bit of what to expect and how to handle each one. My one word of advice on this is don’t be surprised if you and your spouse are a bit different from the stages in the book. I’ve been married 30 years, and I don’t remember going through these stages with my husband. However, I do remember some — not all — of the flash points. We’re all individuals and newly married couples should know that their marriage will be an expression of who they are and no one else.

I think the best component in the book is the emphasis it places on giving newly married couples the tools to communicate with one another even, or perhaps most especially, when they are arguing. It also gives guidance about how to learn to understand your spouse and his or her unique ways of doing things so that you can learn to accommodate one another and grow closer. The Popcaks wisely tell readers that changing yourself to accommodate your differences with your spouse will lead you into deep personal growth.

That is so true. But it’s something you can’t know at the beginning of a marriage. That growth you experience takes time to develop.

I think that Just Married would be a great book to give young people when they are engaged and actively planning their lives together as a married couple. If they read it and learn from it before they take their vows and begin their married life, its clear and practical advice will save them many pitfalls.

Pope Francis and Politicians

Every year at the beginning of session, I find a note on my desk on the House floor from someone I don’t know. “I am (name)” it says, “I will pray for you every day.”

I keep these notes and treasure them. When the votes get tough and the debate gets nasty, I pull them out of my desk drawer and look at them.

I went through a bad patch in my work as a legislator a few years back in which I felt isolated and alone, at odds with the other Democrats. It was a chore just to make myself get in the car and drive to work.

I had a thing I went through while I was driving to work. I put aside all my thoughts of my life outside that capitol building. I shut down my softer emotions and focused on the job ahead of me that day. When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot, I was Representative Hamilton, or more exactly, I was District 89 and its people.

I left the rest of me to pick up later on the drive home.

All during this time, people prayed for me. Many of them I don’t know, since it was a sort of informal prayer chain. But I made speeches from time to time and often a woman — it was almost always a woman — would come up to me afterwards and said, “I heard about you, and I want you to know that I pray for you.”

I believe I felt their prayers. I know absolutely that there were times when I sent a text to one of my prayer warriors and asked for prayers and then felt peace come over me like a calming hand not long afterwards.

Prayer is a force. It plugs us into the engine that drives the universe. The help it gives extends far beyond what the person who prays sees.

Pope Francis gave a homily at morning mass yesterday that every elected official should hear. He described exactly what servant leadership is for a politician. It is not about the elected official at all. It is about the people they serve. It is about trusting God enough to jump off those political cliffs and cast the hard votes that get you clawed up and attacked simply because you know that this is what the Gospels require of you.

Politics is a lion’s den of sorts, and politicians who follow Christ have to go into it with the spirit of Daniel. They need the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before the fiery furnace when they said “Our God will deliver us, and even if He does not deliver us, we still will not bow down to false gods.”

This takes, not ego, but humility. It is a humbling thing to love someone else who does not truly love you back to the point of true service to them. It is a humility of the soul to trust God rather than yourself and do what everyone, including you, knows is the stupid thing in order to follow Him.

The smart thing for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have been to bow down to those idols with their fingers crossed and then ask for God’s forgiveness later. After all, they might have told themselves, being bound and tossed into a fiery furnace would just make us burnt ash, and we would be of no use to God like that. It is better that we live to serve Him another day.

But if they had made this obvious and smart compromise, they would have weakened the buckling faith of all God’s followers, everywhere. By taking the stand they did, they became a source of hope and strength.

I am sure they had no thoughts of all this at the time. I imagine that for them it was a moment of deepest humility. They laid their lives before God, “even if He does not save us,” and they took their chances.

That is what everyone who follows Christ in this life must do. It is required of elected officials that they do it over and over in a public arena where the arrows of hatred hit them from every direction.

They need our prayers. And we need to pray for them.

It is impossible to pray for someone diligently and continuously without at some level taking on their pain. It isn’t something you try to do or even want. It is a natural outcome of the grace of prayer. Praying for someone stills the demons that attack your own soul. You may not approve of the wrongs the people you pray for do, but you will not be able to hate them. Prayer shifts the whole scenario, turns the wheel, so that it is no longer about you vs this other person. It is about doing God’s will.

Praying for someone is a mercy, and like all mercy, it is, as Shakespeare said, twice blessed. It blesses the one who is prayed for, and perhaps even more profoundly, it blesses the one who prays.

Pray for our elected officials, including and most especially the ones that make you the maddest. Pray and don’t stop praying. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it is that you will never come to the end of the surprises about what God can do with a human soul.

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Book Review: Coming Home to Wholeness

To join the discussion about Atchison Blue, or to order a copy, go here

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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. 

Pope Francis Discusses the Dignity of Work

 

In one of his morning homilies a few months ago, Pope Francis talked about societies that put company profits above human dignity, or even human life. “What point have we come to?” he asked.

This kind of talk disturbs cafeteria Christians on the right, just as the Church’s insistence on the fundamental right to life of all human beings and the sanctity of Holy Matrimony disturbs cafeteria Christians on the left.

Each “side” of the culture wars wants the Holy Father to affirm them and their half-Gospel as righteousness so that they can use what would amount to an amputated, phony Jesus to score “gotcha!” points off those on the other side of the various political debates.

But Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ, not the apologist for the false idols of various religious/political heresies.

Jesus was a worker. A carpenter. By doing that, He elevated work far above the animalistic fight for survival that those in power often try to make it into for working people.

Human beings are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. As such, we each have a transcendent dignity that extends beyond this life and into eternity. The things we do here, including the work of our heads, hands and hearts, is an expression of that innate, God-given dignity.

All people are entitled to the privileges of owning private property and to have the labor of their lives respected. Part of that respect is a living wage and decent working conditions. When these values are compromised by a moneyed few who mis-use the powers of government to seize the treasure of a nation to satisfy their personal rapaciousness, then those who govern must oppose those actions.

Elected officials who do otherwise may profess Christ with their mouths, but they deny Him by what they do.

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History of Labor Day

 

History of Labor Day.

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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.

 

 

Catholic Sisters in Their Own Words



God calls unlikely people. He always has. What surprised these young women about their vocations?

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