Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 6. Preach Christ = Preach Christ Crucified

Where there is no vision, the people perish.    Proverbs 29: 18

 … and he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.     Mark 6: 34

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.   Luke 12: 48

 

Demagoguery is not preaching Christ.

Protecting priestly privilege is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your parishioners is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your brother and sister clergy is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to political parties and secular powers is not preaching Christ.

Protecting your career and advancement in the Church is not preaching Christ.

We are like sheep without a shepherd. In fact, we are more than like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. Telling us how to vote is not telling us how to live. It does not equip us to be the salt and light that bring the Kingdom. It does not grow our faith in Christ. What it does is gather political power to the person who is telling us how to vote.

We are lied to, manipulated, whipped up into hatred and degraded with cheap slogans instead of intelligent dialogue by the media, the two political parties and the various candidates. We don’t need more of the same coming at us from the pulpits in our churches.

We need Christ and Him crucified. We need clergy who will preach the revolutionary, civilization-building, soul-saving Gospel of Christ in all its fullness.

When clergy panders to politicians, no matter where they begin, they end by whittling the Gospels down to the parts that they can twist to support the political agenda of the party or politician they are following. They usually leave the cross over their altars, but they might as well not. Your god is who you obey. Your god is who you follow. If these failed shepherds were being honest, they would remove the cross from their churches and replace it with the Republican elephant or the Democrat Donkey.

Right-wing preachers, who toady to the Republicans, either ignore or belittle the calls for social justice that pertain to the poor in particular and everyone who is in need in general. They basically dropkick the Sermon on the Mount off the front step of their churches. They pull verses and even parts of verses out of context to justify and support blatant corporatism and the economic destruction of the people in order to enrich those who control the political party they follow.

Left-wing preachers, who toady to the Democrats, carry this a step further. Rather then using proof texts pulled out of odd places in Scripture to justify themselves, they tend to obliterate the whole book.

These folks are big on applying literary criticism to the Bible. This method of scriptural analysis is the systematic application of fantasy involving a confabulated “Q Document” and weighty-sounding but baseless judgements based on authorial style and voice. It’s a kind of web-spinning that produces wordy exegesis that is simply a theoretical construct erroneously presented as hard fact.

This convenient acceptance of literary criticism calls the entire Bible into question. It provides the intellectual gloss for what is simply cherry-picking the Gospels for the parts you find consistent with your secular values. Scripture that demands justice and sets limits on our sexual and social behavior is expunged.

Left-wing preachers drop-kick the law. Their right-wing mirror images drop-kick the prophets.

Between these two sets of bogus shepherds, there is nothing of the Scriptures left. They have successfully edited and challenged the entire Bible out of relevance to today’s society. They have obviated everything that gives them the right to hold their jobs.

Is it any wonder that everyone from atheists to zealot pro-abortionists flings proof texts at Christians? They take these verses out of context and apply them ignorantly, true. They have zero knowledge of how the whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation fits together to tell a single, albeit convoluted, story. They certainly don’t see that the Bible is always, no matter how far afield it may seem to go, about Jesus Christ.  They’re ignorant, and they can be almost comically bombastic, but it’s hard to get really mad at them. After all, they learned to do this from our own clergy.

We are not like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. We’ve got lots of preachers. We’ve got them on television, making millions and preaching a heretical political gospel of greed. We’ve got feel-good preachers, giving us a Hallmark card Jesus made of cotton candy and sticky glue. We’ve got others reviling, slandering and attacking those on the other side of whatever political spectrum the preacher in question supports. We’ve got them hanging out in their rectories, living cozy lives and getting by without ruffling feathers.

Pick your flavor. There’s a preacher out there who will give you a phony jesus to match.

Today’s church has reduced Calvary to an Easter egg hunt and a pretty pageant. It has sanitized the scandal of our God Who was subjected to the most shameful disregard society could mete out; Who was left weak and piteous, Who appeared helpless; a criminal.

The cross was shameful then and it’s shameful now. Jesus was not only wrongly convicted, he was beaten nearly to death; tortured, mocked, reviled and when He hung on the cross in agony, His tormenters stood at its foot and made fun of Him, mocked Him the more.

The cross is shameful, embarrassing, hard. Christ and Him crucified is the whole message of the Bible. If you don’t preach that, you are not preaching at all.

I think it’s pertinent to our discussion that Calvary was an actual event in history. The blood was real. The pain, humiliation, helplessness, degradation were all real. They happened. Jesus was flesh and bone, just like any of us. He felt every single bit of it. He endured both the physical pain and the psychological death of the aloneness of being weak and helpless in the hands of human monsters.

The people who did this were a bunch of lying priests and a cowardly politician, all of whom put their careers, their power, their vaunting self-importance, ahead of doing what was right.

We live in a world where it’s getting harder to follow Jesus with each passing day. Christians are slaughtered in a genocidal fury in many places, subjected to overt discrimination, harassment and constant fear of worse in many others.

Here in America elected officials are scolded if they mention Christ in public. The name of Jesus is subjected to public ridicule and mockery.  Rank and file Christians of every denomination feel compelled to self-censor their speech concerning their belief in Christ to avoid being belittled, shunned and perhaps endangering their employment.

This is our cross. We have been running away from it and we’ve got to stop. We must, in the name of Jesus, take up these challenges, which are the challenges of our time in history. It is not shameful to be attacked and belittled for following Jesus. it is an honor and a privilege. It is a blessing.

We need shepherds who will tell us this. We need shepherds who do not pander, are not demagogues, who are indifferent to both of the two political parties. We need shepherds who do not care about their privilege and self-importance, who are willing to put ambitions for their careers aside. We need shepherds who follow Christ, even if it is to the cross. We need shepherds who will preach Christ and Him crucified.

I give you a promise. I promise that if you stand up for Jesus, you will pay a price. I promise that if you preach Christ and Him Crucified, some of the people in your congregation will get mad at you. Your advancement in the Church may be limited due to your “fanaticism.”

For those of us who are not clergy, I promise the same. True discipleship of Jesus is, has been, and always will be about the cross. It is never a way to get rich or do well in this world.

We follow a King. But His crown was not a crown of gold and jewels. His crown was of thorns.

Today’s equation goes to the heart of the only solution that will lead our society out of its death spiral.

Preach Christ = Preach Christ crucified.

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What Did Playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ Mean to Jim Caviezel?

This is a fascinating interview with Jim Caviezel concerning his experiences playing Christ in The Passion.

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Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 1: Your Vote = Their Power

Your Vote = Their Power 

Politics is about power.

The two political parties are not political parties as we once knew them. They are consortiums of special interests. They operate on behalf of these interests for one purpose: to get and keep power.

Everything else they say is a lie.

The next time you feel like bowing down to your political party, remember this, and stand upright.

Don’t bend your knee to the R and the D. Register for whichever party, or as an independent, as you please. Vote according to your own understanding and conscience. I have no desire to influence you in that. But do not confuse your party’s trumpeting claims of moral superiority with actual moral superiority. Do not, ever, take the cross down off your mantelpiece and put the Republican elephant or the Democratic donkey in its place.

Both parties actively encourage such idolatry. They do it because they benefit from it. They win elections with the votes of people who slavishly follow them and believe in them as if they were Christ Himself. Winning elections is how political parties get power. Power is how they control the purse strings and the facilities of government. Power is the payback for lying to you.

They get power by lying to you. They keep it by almost but not quite fulfilling their promises. Holding you on a leash of unfulfilled expectations by always trying but failing to do the things they promised when you voted for them is axiomatic to making sure that you keep coming back to them again and again. If they actually did what they said they would do, the vote-getting engine would go dead. It takes showmanship and adept political choreography to create an unending series of cliff-hanger battles that will keep you focused and rooting for your team.

It also requires an excuse for repeatedly failing to deliver. Political parties have to hide the obvious. They can’t just say, sure we’re the party of life, but even after 40 years of trying, we’re still too dumb to find a way to overturn Roe. The other guys can’t say, of course we’re the party of the American worker, but we’re such idiots that after 40 years of deep thinking we still can’t come up with a way to stop exporting your jobs. Even the most besotted kool-aid-drinking party loyalist might gag on this.

So … what’s a political party to do when it has no intention of doing anything it says but it wants to make sure that the voters don’t figure this out? Easy. They tell you that the Other Party is the Devil. They claim that they are still your white knight, trying desperately to ride to the rescue, but the Other Party, those black-hearted wraiths from the deepest pit of political hell, overcome them in spite of their heroic efforts. The only way to make this work is if the two parties play off against one another so they can keep the attempt-failure cycle spinning. If either one of them decided that the thing to do was represent the people, the jig would be up.

In truth, political parties have no use for working people except for their votes. Political parties don’t care about either a woman’s right to chose or an unborn baby’s right to life. What they do care about is using those issues to motivate you to send them money and march to the polls on election day to deliver your vote.

That’s how they get power. Power is what they want, and they will tell you anything it takes to get you to give it to them.

It’s a simple equation: Your Vote = Their Power.

What about the various alliances political parties form with religious groups? You know, the lefty churches who have mutilated the Gospels one way to suit the Ds, and the righty churches who have mutilated the Gospels the other way to suit the Rs.

Here’s how that works when the television cameras are off. Religious groups don’t have the power of government. They can’t enact taxes or call up armies. They can’t pass laws or issue mandates. Those are all powers of government. However, religious groups do have a potent power of their own. People think their religious leaders speak for God. They listen to religious leaders because they believe in their prophetic and moral voice.

We live in a country where the way you get control of the power of government is to win elections. You win elections by getting lots of people to vote for you. You can’t win elections by telling voters “I’m going to go in there and represent special interests and do things that will take away your livelihood, cost you your home and that fly in the face of every moral belief you cherish.” That’s not a winning strategy. So, they lie.

But lies, when they are such obvious lies as these have become, need a cover. What better cover than the moral gloss of religious leaders, lending their prophetic and moral voice to your self-serving, special-interest-supporting agenda?

Party leaders don’t care about religion and they don’t respect the religious leaders they con into supporting them. I know this. Let me repeat that: I know it. I’ve seen heads of denominations go in to talk to legislative leaders. These preachers are all puffed up and sure of themselves when they walk in. They are certain that these men who they got elected and who promised them, gave them their word, that they would be for something like, say, pro life legislation, just don’t understand what they are doing when they are killing this legislation. These religious leaders are sure they can set things right. I’ve had them tell me so in just those words.

“I’m going to talk to him and set things right,” they say. They are so sure, so certain of themselves and their relationship with these powerful men.

Then, I’ve seen them come back out of those meetings on their knuckles and their knees, totally bamboozled and beaten.

What’s even more disheartening is that I’ve never, with the single exception of the Catholic Bishops, seen even one of these religious leaders stand back up like men and go to war with the legislative leader. They smarm around to me and tell me things like “I’ve got to maintain contact with the Speaker,” or “I don’t want to lose access.” One of them even told me, “He lets me have his personal cell phone number.”

They keep on supporting these liars. What’s worse, they let them kill the pro life bills behind closed doors and never call them to task over it. They support them in the next election, proclaiming as if it was true that this is a 100% pro life politician.

I want to emphasize that I have seen and heard this myself. I’ve seen it not once, but over and over with different legislative leaders in different sessions of the legislature. If you want to know why nothing ever changes, this is a big part of the reason.

This is painful to witness. It hurts. I’ve argued with these religious leaders and tried unsuccessfully to get them to grow spines. I’ve railed at these legislative leaders for being hypocrites and bullies. When I do this, religious leaders hang their heads and shuffle their feet. The politicians usually turn mean and try to take revenge on me inside the process somehow. As for me, I go home and pray and go to confession and then pray some more.

I cling to certain scriptures. One of my favorite Psalms has the words, “If I fly to the highest heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in hell, You are with me. Your right arm sustains me.” Another one begins, “Contend, Oh Lord, with those who contend with me.” And a third says, “Oh Lord, how many are my foes … many are saying to me, ‘There is no help for you in God. But you are a shield around me.”

I pray these Psalms and I ask God to remind me of my own sins, to not let me sink into the pit of self-righteousness or bitterness, but to help me remember that I am just an instrument in His hands, to be used as He sees best.

That’s how I get through it. But it is difficult, and it’s getting more so. The government is doing more and more harm to the people. It is even attacking the Constitution and our basic freedoms. Religious leaders who have allowed themselves to become shameless political groupies for the two parties feed the contempt that supports a surging secularism. There is a war on, and we are losing it.

If you are a Christian, the only side you have in this war is Jesus’ side.

We all want someone else to come in and do the dirty work for us. We want “them” whoever they might be, to save our country, protect our freedoms and work in our interests. That’s probably why we are so eager to believe the absurd, repetitive lies the two political parties tell us. But the fact is that if we want to be saved we’re going to have to do it ourselves, and some of the first people we need to be saved from are both these pernicious political parties and their lying manipulations.

My first bit of advice as I wind down Part 1 of this series is to take down the donkey or the elephant and put the cross back up on your home altar. Give up your false idol of political party and turn back to the Only God, the only One Who can save you, and me, and our great nation, America.

 

 

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Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 8. Hate-Voting = Using the Devil’s Weapons Instead of the Armor of God.

Hate-voting for Christ is an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Hate-voting is the fine art of defaming the people you disagree with in order to punish, diminish and hurt them. Hate-voting destroys your Christian witness. When you say you are a Christian, other people will judge Jesus by you. When you spout a steady stream of invective aimed at people you disagree with politically, you are telling the world that following Jesus means being full of hate, rage and engaging in slander.

Hate-voting destroys your witness for Christ. It also separates you from Him in your heart.

I have no right to attack other people in the name of Christ and neither do you. As the bumper sticker says, we aren’t perfect; we’re forgiven. Stop for a moment. Think honestly about your own sins. You deserve to go to hell. So do I. We are saved, by the horrible price of the cross, from getting what we deserve. We owe a debt we can never repay. We who have been forgiven so much, do not have the right … we don’t have the right … to put ourselves in the place of AlmightyGod and viciously attack other people made in His Image.

It’s not all our fault. We’ve been deliberately manipulated into hate-voting by political pros who make extraordinary amounts of money for getting us revved up and full of hate. Remember the first equation: Your Vote = Their Power? That’s what this expensive manipulation of little ole’ us is about.

Political demagogues abound in our world. They mouth hatred at us from their “news” desks in the corporate press. Faux religious leaders, bent on gaining political patronage, follow suit, declaiming slander from their pulpits. Over in the cheap seats, bloggers chime in by passing along scandalous lies and making up a few of their own.

The political candidates themselves wage campaign battles focused on personal attack and talking about the other guy. We almost never hear one of them talk about what they would do with the power of government if we gave it to them. Even when they do, they confine their discussion of “the issues” to bullet points and bumper-sticker-speak. Both sides do it. Every election.

So, hating isn’t 100% our fault. Anyone who spends too much time listening to the loony hate-filled invective that passes for political discourse in our country today will find hate-voting hard to resist. However, no matter how much we are provoked, no matter how skillfully we are incited, each one of us is responsible for what we say and do. We’re not children. Children don’t hate-vote. Hate-voting is, by definition, the act of a legal and moral adult. I don’t think the old “the media thou gavest me” tempted me excuse will work for us any better than it did for Adam.

Hate-voting gives us the fruits of another, darker, spirit than the one we claim to follow. It’s fruits are bitterness, anxiety, self-righteousness and grandiosity.  It’s like a drug that clouds the mind, and like all mind-altering drugs, it is highly addictive. Hate-voters become addicted to the satisfying sense of power that comes from hurting other people, the grandiosity they feel from elevating the person they oppose to demonic status and then seeing their vote as a high moral drama with themselves as the hero of the story. This sense of power and grandiosity is the high of the drug hate-voting.

The search for another hate-vote fix leads people to keep on piling on the invective between elections, and then to continue hate-voting over and over, election after election. The names and faces of the candidates they oppose change, but their self-righteous certainty that this person is the devil incarnate transfers from one candidate to the next.

Hate-voting is the antithesis of how a Christian should approach their responsibilities as citizens in a democracy.

There is something evil in each of us, me included. None of us escapes original sin. We take nasty delight in repeating vile accusations. We enjoy the feeling of camaraderie that comes with being part of the crowd that hates together.

On the other hand, we do not like the aloneness of being the one who says “Wait a minute. I disagree with this person, but I don’t think he or she is a monster.”

Anyone who takes this stand will immediately find themselves on the outs with the hate-voters in their world. It is never enough for hate-voters that a person is willing to stand and fight for the issues they both believe. They will only accept people into their tribe who are willing to cast aside their thinking faculties and join them in their invective and hate. It is a tribal thing, and it has nothing, nothing, to do with Jesus Christ.

The cost of refusing to join in with the gang hate-offs that inspire hate-voting can be, will usually be, the loss of that cozy in-with-the-crowd belongingness that feels so good to most of us. Following Jesus almost always means standing for Jesus against the crowd. It just does. This is true even when the crowd in question is a group of professing Christians.

The surprising benefit to it is that refusing to hate-vote tends to clear your mind. The addiction to hate, bitterness, and slander fogs your brain. It swings the door to your heart wide open and lets the devil sashay his way in to control of your life.  From what I’ve seen, the more you focus on other people’s sins, the more you forget about your own. The more you forget about your own sins, the more self-righteous you become. The more self-righteous you become, the further away from God you move.

Refusing to hate-vote doesn’t mean you also refuse to say the truth of the situation. It doesn’t mean that you make excuses for sinful acts and give up your intellectual and moral capacities to weigh, evaluate and decide the right or wrongness of policies and behavior. It simply means that you focus on the wrong that is done, and not the person. This will make you more effective in your stand for what you believe, not less so.

The early Christians were confronted with living the Gospel in a world far more hostile and pagan than our own. It must have been tempting for them to turn to violence and terrorism. But St Paul told them to follow another way. “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil,” he said.

And what is that armor that he spoke of? Was it swords and shields and clanking breastplates? No. It is righteousness, truth, peace, faith, salvation and the Holy Spirit.

There is not one word in this about calling other people names or tearing them down to build someone else up. St Paul further said, that they — and we — are not engaged in a war against people. We are fighting “powers and principalities.”

We can not defeat the devil by using the devil’s weapons. That is why I am so emphatic that we must stop attacking persons and begin talking about the ideas and ideals that we believe. We must lay down the sword of defamation and put on the armor of God — truth, peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and true righteousness born of a humble awareness of our own sinful state.

This brings us to our final equation. It’s simple to understand and hard to accept. But if we want to live as Christians, we must make the effort.

Hate Voting = Using the Devil’s Weapons Instead of the Armor of God

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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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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