The Gift and the Miracle

“Old age is a shipwreck.”

That quote is attributed to Charles de Gaulle, John Kennedy, Orson Welles and various others. It would seem that a plethora of famous folks feel that old age and its attendant ills and declines is a misery and a curse.

I am taking care of my 87-year-old mother in the weakness of her slow going home and I have to say I disagree with these famous men. Old age is a gift. It is a tenderness and a sweetness and a time of extreme clarity and trust.

My mother was a tomboy. She climbed trees and played baseball. When she wasn’t playing sports, she was an absorbed fan, watching from the bleachers or listening to games on the radio and later watching them on tv. Now, she walks with a cane, and I have to help her up and down, in and out.

My mother loved to drive her car, insisted on owning one. She got her driver’s license, in an era when girls didn’t always get a license, the first day she was eligible and she drove herself where she wanted to go every day after that. Until the day I had to take her car keys from her so that she wouldn’t hurt herself or someone else. Now, she waits for rides and comes and goes according to other people’s schedules.

My mother lit up her first cigarette when she was 17 and smoked like a diesel for the next 70 years. Until the day the doctor told her that another cigarette might shut down her copd-afflicted lungs and I had to ban them from her existence.

My mother, who was and is my most stalwart supporter, my cheering squad, my best friend. No matter what I’ve done, both good and bad, my mother was always there to back me up, stand by me and help me out. I’ve always known, never doubted, never for a single moment considered any other possibility, that she would lay down her life for me anytime, anywhere, any hour or day that I needed it.

If I needed a heart transplant, my mother would say, “Here, take mine.” If I started robbing banks, she’d get mad at the bank.

I talked about my father in another post. My parents were insanely proud of me, totally trusting of me, and they convinced me from an early age that I could climb the Empire State Building bare-handed if I wanted to.

So, why, now that my brave tomboy mother walks with a cane and is dependent on family for all her care, do I say that old age is NOT a shipwreck?

Because, well … because it’s not. It’s a time of life; a return to innocence and trust and a laying down of responsibility and worry. My mother was always a worrier, a half-empty child of the depression who knew that every silver lining has its cloud. But she’s past that now. At some point that neither one of us noticed when it happened, she turned all her worries over to me.

The same mother I’ve trusted all my life now trusts me to care for, manage and make right all the bothersome details of her life. She trusts me the way my children trusted me when they were babies. She is so sweet, so dear, so unbelievably precious, that I could never, ever, never, regard this time of care taking and leave-taking as anything but a gift.

Is taking care of my mother while managing a demanding job a “burden?” Is it something that I resent or wish was different? Nope.

It’s a gift and a blessing. All God ever wants to do is bless us. But sometimes His blessings look different than we expect. We pray, in the words of Janis Joplin, for a Mercedes Benz. We get instead blessings of love, life and the responsibilities for one another that are part of living and loving.

Old age is not a shipwreck. It is one of the times of our lives. It is a gift of grace and beauty; a return to innocence and childlike joy for the one who is aged; a time to cherish and give back for those of us who haven’t gotten there yet.

I would not miss one day of the time I’ve spent with my mother, not from the days she took my hand and walked me safely across the street, to now, when I do the same for her.

That is the gift and the miracle of love.

I am Proud of the Bishops

I am proud of the way that the United States Catholic Bishops have handled the HHS Mandate.

If the various blogs, Facebook comments and internet rants I’ve read are any indication, I would guess that the bishops have been and are subjected to a continuous dose of what amounts to verbal abuse. I wouldn’t be surprised if the USCCB and each of the various bishops has their own Crazy People File. If they do, I’m sure it bulges with emails and letters that would, as my grandmother used to say, “curl your hair.”

I don’t know how this behavior got started, but it seems that a large number of Catholics are everlastingly irate with the bishops because they won’t sufficiently hate whoever it is the Catholic in question feels deserves hating. Personally, I respect the bishops for sticking with the entire gospel of Christ.

What I love best about the Catholic Church’s approach to politics is that it has steadfastly refused to be the moral apologist for either right or left wing nutso politics, but has instead insisted that the whole of the faith be adhered to and followed. In today’s political world, that takes guts. It can and does get you attacked and slandered. However, it is the only way to be part of the political debate and follow Christ.

One of the most important facets of leadership is that you have to lead. You cannot just parade around under the halo of your own self-importance and take positions of pragmatic cowardice. What this means to people who are in positions of Christian leadership is that they are required, REQUIRED, to follow Christ, even when it puts them at odds with the powers that be. That often means that they have to do things that, in the world’s way of thinking, are just plain stupid.

In my own position as an elected official I’ve had to cast votes, make speeches and take stands that were moronic by smart politician standards. I’ve been forced to call the lightning down on my own head over and again by putting myself out there in the face of angry advocates with blood in their eyes. I’ve had to go against my own political party one day, and then turn around and oppose the other political party the next.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the firmament, but I am smart enough to know that, from a political standpoint, what I am doing is stupid. I sometimes joke with my friends that I’ve been called to be a fool for Christ. After years of getting kicked around, I’ve come to accept it. Jesus didn’t call us to follow the world. He called us to follow Him.

We have a saying in Oklahoma politics: “jump out in front of that lynch mob and turn it into a parade.” That’s a colorful way of describing the fine art of getting in front of popular opinion and pretending to “lead” the mob where it wants to go. The most sophisticated application of this principle in today’s politics is the egregious practice of using polls and focus groups to determine what party positions should be and what the puppet people political parties run for office should say they believe.

This kind of flim-flam political campaigning has become the way the smart folks do it. The reason is that it nearly always works. The flim-flammers get elected. This  is not leadership. It’s craven callous manipulation of the electorate to gain power by any means.

It is also something that a Christian leader may never do. Christian leadership, like all leadership, requires you to lead. But Christian leadership has the added requirement that before you lead, you must first follow. In this way, Christian leadership is not so much a matter of being a good leader, as it is being a good follower. Christian leadership must first and always be predicated on following Jesus. It doesn’t matter if your leadership is as a bishop, or a politician, a corporate head, a shop foreman, parents raising a family, or as a young person among your friends. If you are a Christian, your leadership must be lived within the confines of the gospels of Christ.

This means following both the Ten Commandments, AND the Sermon on the Mount, not some truncated half-Christianity that has been trimmed to fit your political party or life situation. It means following Jesus first, then adding whatever particular wisdom or skills you might bring to the situation on top of that.

Which is why I am so proud of the American bishops. The politically smart thing, the easy, cheap thing to do would have been to kiss Caesar’s ring and accept this mandate. Other bishops in other countries have done this with similar mandates just recently. They acceded to the government, took the money, and refused to lead their flocks for Christ. To their everlasting honor, the American bishops dug in and decided to fight.

They are fighting in a Christian way. Not by slandering individuals, but by standing up for the right of the Church to live its teachings. They aren’t trying to destroy people, including the people who are trying so hard to batten down the Church. The United States bishops are leading in a positive way. Their fight is a fight for religious freedom and that is what they are talking about.

I am proud of the way that the United States Catholic Bishops have handled the HHS Mandate. Proud to follow their leadership.

Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus

What would it take to make you deny Christ?

Would you deny Jesus to save your life? Would you deny Him to save your child’s life?

What would it take for you to turn your back on Jesus?

Christians die for their faith all over the world, right now, this minute. Christians are raped, splashed with acid, stoned, beheaded, sold into slavery every minute of every day because they refuse to deny Jesus. They are the martyrs of our times, and we, who are not facing martyrdom, do very little to support them.

That doesn’t mean that those of us who are safe, fed and fat are not challenged in our soft and cozy faith. It just means that the challenges come at us in more subtle, less costly ways that we  don’t always recognize. Take, for instance, the insistent request in certain circles that we not “offend” people of other faiths or no faith by talking about our Jesus. This kind of gentle push to deny Our Lord can come from surprising sources, sources which disarm us by who they are.

My friend and fellow public catholic, Linda Cavanah, is an example. Linda is the founder and director of All Things New, an Oklahoma ministry which engages in the life-saving work of rescuing, sheltering and healing women from sex trafficking and prostitution. Linda makes a lot speeches about sex trafficking and prostitution in many different venues. When she was asked to speak at a large mainline church near one of Oklahoma’s two major universities, she assumed that this particular speech would be on Christian-friendly grounds.

A few days before the speech the church’s assistant pastor emailed her. He asked her to avoid mentioning Jesus or talking about her faith in her speech. He said that people from many faiths, including people of no faith, would be in the audience, and his church didn’t want to offend them by talking about Jesus. Linda emailed back, telling him, no, she couldn’t do that. If that was his requirement, he would have to find another speaker.

When the pastor did not reply to her email, she sent another. When he didn’t reply to that, she was in a quandary. Was she supposed to show up for the speech or not? She finally decided to go ahead and show up and see if they still wanted her to speak. She went, prepared to leave if that was what they wanted.

When she got there, no one told her to leave, but she wasn’t exactly welcomed, either. The associate pastor who had sent the email and his senior pastor huddled on the other side of the room, glancing at her while they talked and rolled their eyes in what anyone who’s been treated this way would recognize as distaste. Despite their obvious contempt and woeful lack of hospitality, they let her speak.

She talked about how Jesus had saved her from the same thing from which she was working to rescue other women. She said straight out that her ministry was based on faith in Christ. Of course, she also (and mostly) talked about the horrors of sex trafficking and what we can do to stop it. No one in the audience raised any objections.

So. Two “pastors,” men who are supposed to be shepherds of Christ’s flock, try to stop a woman from saying the name Jesus while speaking to a gathering in their church. They do this in a church that has the image of Christ in its stained glass windows and the name of Christ on its altar. I could do a whole post on that. But the real point is that my friend didn’t let them bully her into silence about Jesus. She stood firm. She refused. She got dissed by two “men of God” for her effort, but I have to think that God Himself was pleased with her.

This leads me back to my first question: What would it take to make YOU deny Christ?

Assuming that you are not one of the people who is facing death for standing for Jesus, what would it take to make you deny Him?

Would you do it to keep your job?

Would you do it to keep or get government funding for your ministry?

Would you do it to satisfy government regulations that conflict with your faith so you could keep your ministry’s doors open?

Would you do it to avoid having your classmates, co-workers, even your family, belittle, mock and make fun of you?

Would you do it to avoid the humiliation of a public trashing on the internet and by media talking heads?

Would you do it to avoid being labeled a “bigot,” a “hater,” or a fool?

Would you do it to get into a fraternity or sorority?

Would you do it to get a date with the best looking, most popular guy or girl in school?

Would you do it to get an “A” from that professor who talks about “theists” and claims that only atheists are rational?

What would it take to make you deny Christ? Before you answer, consider this: You’ve already done it. I have. You have. We all have.

I don’t think there’s one Christian in our entire American culture who hasn’t at one time or another gone along to get along in matters of faith. We’ve kept quiet; at family dinners, political gatherings, in the classroom, on the job. We’ve laughed at jokes belittling God or Christians, even when we felt dirty for doing it. We’ve joined in and repeated these jokes ourselves.

We have all denied Christ in the simplest way possible; by what we’ve said and what we haven’t said. I’ll talk another time about how we deny Him with what we do. For now, let’s just stop and consider how many times and in how many ways each of us has denied Him with what we’ve said or not said.

Public Catholics get pushed every day to deny Christ. We are bullied, badgered, belittled, mocked and shamed for our faith as a matter of our daily work. In the case of politicians, most of this is a not-so-subtle attempt to change the way we vote on issues of public policy. The interesting thing is that it works. Not with me. I’ve kept my mouth shut to keep the peace when I shouldn’t have. But nobody ever bullied me into voting against my faith. I just won’t do it.

Linda Cavanah is also a Public Catholic. She’s not an elected official, but her work and ministry place her in the public eye. She passed the test with that speech. I’ve seen her pass the test over and over again.

I think the reason the two of us are so stubborn about this is that Jesus forgave us for so much. He loved us from death to life and we know it. Deny Him? Deny the One Who saved us from the living pit of our self-made hells? No. The very thought is anathema.

If you came to Christ by an “easier” way, you may not realize quite so graphically what He saved you from. You may not feel to the marrow of your bones that you owe a debt you can never repay. You may even think, as some Christians evidently do, that it was God’s lucky day when He got you. It may be easier for you to overlook the seemingly small requests to accede to the larger culture and keep quiet about Jesus. Maybe, down deep where not even you know it, the truth is that Jesus doesn’t matter to you as much as the good opinion of the people around you.

Besides, you ask, what good would it do? After all, you are just a drop of faith against the tsunami of secularism and nihilism that is rolling over our society. What does it matter in the great scheme of things what you do?

The answer is simple: It matters to Him.

We are called to be the leaven, the mustard seed, the light and salt that brings the Kingdom. It does not matter who you are or what you do, you will be faced each day with opportunities to speak for Jesus or keep silent. You will decide a thousand times in every thousand days you live to either stand up for Jesus or sit down and say nothing. That may seem like a trial, but it is in reality the great opportunity to speak for Christ which is available to every one of us in our present world. It is your chance to do something that matters for Christ.

I am not talking about being strident. This is not a call to lecture, hector, speechify. What I am suggesting is that we, all of us, every Christian man, woman and child, stop being silent when Our Lord is attacked, when our faith is belittled, when the only Hope of humankind is drug through the mud of incivility and debasement that has become our public debate. Most of the time, all you have to say is, “I am a Christian, and I am not comfortable with this discussion.” That will cause an uneasy silence, but it will also make the point.

Every once in a while you may come across one of those devil-driven souls who feel a sense of self-righteous entitlement when it comes to attacking Christians. They may turn on you and say ugly, degrading things to you and about you. If you are female, they may even band together with others of their kind in an attack on you as a girl or a woman.

I can tell you from personal experience, that is hard to take. I’ll blog another time about Christian men who stand by and do or say nothing while this happens. It’s enough for now to tell you that I have been called every degrading name our misogynist culture uses to attack women, including all the vicious names for women’s body parts. Ironically, most of this was done in the name of “women’s rights.” It was a way of punishing me for converting to pro-life.

It hurts. It has to hurt. But remember: They did the same thing to Jesus. He warned us about this. He said that if they did it to Him, they would do it to us, too. It is not a curse to suffer for Jesus. It is a privilege. As Jesus told us, “rejoice and be glad,” when people attack you for standing up for Him. They are giving you the Kingdom of Heaven.

There’s an old hymn that goes, “Stand up, stand for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross.”

In our world, we might better sing, “Don’t be embarrassed by Jesus. Don’t be ashamed of His Name.”

Pray, Study, Take Action for Religious Freedom

This is a link to the story in our local newspaper about yesterday’s Rally for Religious Freedom OKC. If you have time, take a moment and read the nutso comments of the Christian-revilers. Don’t let their invective make you unhappy or angry. Just take a moment and pray for their conversion. God loves them just as much as He does you or me. He will change them if they let Him.

Oklahoma Catholics, Protestants, Rally for Religious Freedom

Then, resolve to never let nasty-mouthed bullying cow you into silence when it comes to standing up for Jesus. I’m not suggesting that you start fights with the kind of people who verbally harass and attack Christians. In fact, I’m not even suggesting that you go online and argue with them.

There’s a lot to be said for avoiding arguments with people who are not in their right minds. These folks’ comments aren’t so much comments as factually inaccurate sloganeering and slandering. I imagine that if you stood directly in front of one of them while they were spewing this, you’d end up with a face full of the spit that’s coming out with their high-volume verbiage. My guess is that they are mindlessly repeating what they’ve heard and what they say when they’re with people who agree with them.

Since they’re speaking mindlessly, what’s the point in trying to argue with them? They’re not in their right minds. Or at least I hope they’re not. That would be sad.

The point here is that it’s a waste of effort and an exercise in misery to try to talk to anyone when they are behaving like this. So …. don’t.

Here are some suggestions of what you might do instead:

Say a prayer for them and resolve to do at least one thing to help your fellow Christians get their collective heads out of the sand and stand up for Jesus.

Rather than trying to reason with people who sling accusations and bumper-sticker-speak like a gatling gun, invite a couple of your friends from church out for lunch. Bring along some information and enlist them in the fight. Ask them to take two of their friends out of lunch and enlist them.

If you are gifted with words, write a letter to the editor. That will give you the opportunity to state your views intelligently. If your letter gets published, don’t be upset if these same commenters come at the letter with their tripe. Don’t let it bother you if they get personal and ugly. Just concern yourself with getting your message out there. In fact, you might take this as an opportunity to write another letter re-stating your views in a courteous manner. Make the point that you aren’t engaging in ad hominem attacks. You are defending the Lord of all life … Who loves these people who are attacking Him and wants them to come to Him in repentance.

Host a letter-writing party for your Christian friends. Ask everyone there to write all of their elected officials of both parties. Leave no one out, including local officials. Tell them about the HHS Mandate. Say you oppose it.  Ask them to do the same. It’s ok for people to bring their computers and send emails. It’s also ok to write the letters on notebook paper by hand. You are their constituent. It’s their job to listen to you. You don’t need to be eloquent. What matters is that you care enough to write.

I’m deliberately suggesting non-confrontational ways for people to take a stand for Christ. I know that most people haven’t had years of getting publicly attacked for their faith like I have. I know it’s scary at first. But I also know that there is no greater honor than to be called an ugly name for standing up for Jesus. Don’t back down and don’t run and hide when people attack you because of Him. If you do that, you are not only allowing the Christian-haters to take over the public debate, you are cheating yourself of the chance to suffer, in a small way, for Christ.

No matter who you are or what you do for a living, you can do these small things for Jesus.

Remember: Standing up for Jesus is your vocation. It is the vocation of every Christian.

So, pray for a renewal of religious freedom in America and around the world. Study the HHS Mandate so you can talk about it intelligently. And take action by talking about it with your friends and family.

Stand up for Jesus! Do it now and do it every day for the rest of your life!

Walking Between the Labels

My husband and I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes Saturday night. The hero ape, after a lifetime of gentle living at the hands of benevolent humans, was cast into a cage of swinging, screeching, fist-banging members of his own species. As we watched his shock and dismay, I remarked to my husband, “That kind of reminds me of going to work.”

The reason my husband thought that was funny is because I had mis-matched the labels. If it has hair all over its body and walks with its knuckles dragging on the ground, it is not human. The knuckle-draggers among us are labeled “apes” and we know that no matter what the ape might be, it ain’t us.

This primal ability to distinguish “us” from “them” keeps us alive. It helps to know the difference between a rattlesnake and a cabbage, between giant spiders and your grandma. Labels not only keep us safe, they allow us to live together and cooperate with one another in how we order our society.

Unfortunately, people are smarter than they are wise. Whatever ability we have, we always seem to find a way to apply it for evil. Labels can be used to ostracize, punish, degrade and manipulate other people. Used this way, labels become shorthand slander. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the political world.

Political discourse has devolved down to scandal-mining one another’s histories, gaffe attacks and label slinging. Never mind the problems besetting our nation and the world; if you can catch someone using an off-color word when they thought the mike was off, or if you can get enough people to label them a “communist” or a “fascist” or whatever, why then you beat them at the polls. You can win the election. Take home the prize. Get your hands on the state treasury and the power of government.

The standard way for politicians to survive this is to pick a side and stick with that side. “Your” side will then stick with you. They will label, gaffe report and scandal-mine your opponents for you. They will be your tit for the other guy’s tat.

The one thing no politician in their right mind would ever do is venture out from under the cover of “their” side. With no one to protect them from the hail stones of public excoriation, they will be beaten to a pulp and carted off the field in nothing flat. The only way to survive in politics is to, as Okies say, “dance with them that brung ya.”

There comes a point in every political career where sticking with your side means doing things you know are wrong. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative or a liberal, the day will come when your “side” expects and demands that you chose them over everything else you believe.

If you are a Public Catholic, this day will come soon and be repeated often. If you think you can hold elective office and never be forced to choose between God and your party, God and your friends, God and your “side,” you need to think again. You will have to choose, and you will have to do it over and over and over again.

If you chose Jesus, if you decide that the “side” you’re on is the Jesus, Joseph and Mary side, there will be payback. Your payback is that both sides will come at you. “Your” side will do everything they can to punish and purge the “traitor” in their midst. The “other” side will join in where they can and wish them success. You will be alone.

Public Catholics have to walk between the labels. They’ll call you a “communist” one day, and a “fascist” the next. What they really mean is that you are not “one of us.” It won’t be long before everybody on both sides is slander-mining your history, gaffe-reporting your speeches and labeling you everything but a nice person.

You will be maliciously misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted, and just plain lied about.

The only comfort you can take is that this is exactly what Jesus said would happen. It’s how they treated Him, and if you truly try to follow Him, it’s how they’ll treat you. Their labels don’t fit you. You’re not a “conservative” or a “liberal.” You are a follower of Christ in a world that hated Him then and hates Him now.

You follow a risen savior Who was beaten, mocked, tortured, despised and murdered. You follow Jesus. And His label is the cross.

It’s the Last Week of Session

It’s the last week of session.

What that means to me as a person is that I make arrangements for people to keep my mother entertained, kiss my family goodbye with promises of all the fun we’ll have “when it’s over,” and pack up my Timbuk2 messenger bag in much the same way I pack a carry-on bag for an ocean-crossing flight.

I know and my family knows that I will come home long after they’re asleep and wouldn’t be fit company for civilized people even if they did get to see me. The fights and conflicts I encounter this last week of session keep me so jazzed that I can’t converse or even think about anything else for days after it ends.

The last week of session is every bit of conflict and angst that the entire process has engendered, stuffed into a few days’ time. It beats me up emotionally, physically and spiritually. Not only is the work load overwhelming, but this is the time when all the ugliness comes down.

The last week is when leadership passes the bills with the hidden zingers and out-front corruption. It’s a week when crony capitalism takes over and we do the really big deals for the special interests. It’s a week full of “Swahili moments” when legislators refuse to hear that what they do affects millions of people. This is when we make the laws that make the rich richer, the poor poorer.

After seeing the things I see during the last week of each legislative session, I always feel as if I need to have my mind washed out with soap. Fighting and losing these fights year after year wears at me, leaves me half sick with indignation and anger. It takes a while after the session is done to get over it. I know I’m going to have to go to confession to cleanse myself of the anger I will bring home from my job. I do every year.

So I pack my messenger bag with my personal version of legislative survival gear, including things to use as a distraction when the tension gets so great that I have to pull back from it for a moment. Surviving this job requires that you learn how to take a break in place, sometimes in front of the television cameras. It’s a trick of the mind, of absenting yourself from the fight while still being engaged in the fight. I can’t begin to tell you how to do it. You just learn how, or you don’t make it in this job.

The last week isn’t a fashion show. I wear my most comfortable shoes and least binding clothes that can pass muster as “professional.” I usually start the week in slacks and end it in jeans. The “professional” part comes from the ubiquitous three-button blazer I pull on over the jeans and shirt.

That’s not exactly Vogue photo quality, but this is Oklahoma where most of the male legislators show up for work in cowboy boots and Stetsons. My sandals, shirt, jeans and jacket never cause a ripple in this crowd. We all know the work load in front of us. Besides we spend so much time together that we’re kind of past that.

In addition to packing a messenger bag to the point that its weight makes me walk lop-sided, I always, no matter how long the hours, pray the Rosary each day. I ask God to use me for His purposes and to not let me do anything really stupid. Then, I trust that I am under His protection and head out for battle.

I have no idea if I’ll have time to blog this week. I probably shouldn’t even try since there is no way to predict what I might say in the midst of a week of full-bore legislating.

So, I guess I’ll close off for a few days with the same promise I make to my family: I’ll be back, and we’ll have a lot of fun when it’s over.


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