A House Divided

Y’all, I’m literally to the point of feeling sick over this election.

Like, I’m reading things that are posted by family and friends (and even strangers) and I feel physically ill.  I can’t take the arguing, the “fact-checking” back and forth, the he-said-she-said, the “who’s a worse person”, the “the Church says this, not that” and “the Church DOESN’T say this, it says that”, quoting from questionable sources, blogs, & opinions.  Etc, etc, etc. picard-facepalm-who-voting-for

I’m over all the arm-chair politicians and moralists and theologians and philosophers of social media.

I’m tired of reading things and being surprised and saddened and shocked at what the people who I know and love are spewing that seem so out of character for them; that seem inconsistent with how I’ve seen them live and speak;  that are just not well-thought-out before being spoken.

But, as my dear, fellow author recently posted on her Facebook, it’s basically like this every four years, with every election.
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Memes and Miley: a Modern Day Parable

The last thing I want to do is get dragged into the Miley Cyrus / Robin Thicke VMA fiasco.  There is plenty of intelligent commentary on Miley’s fall from grace, Robin’s equal blame, and our society’s return to a post-modern prudity.  But the intelligent commentary is, unfortunately, in the minority.  For the most part, the Internet responded as the Internet does these days – in 140 characters and memes.

I want you to know that I tried, really truly tried (as in – spent far too many hours Googling every variation of “Miley Cyrus VMA meme” I could think of) to find a few of those memes that I could post here that would be funny but that wouldn’t subject you to gratuitous sex or tempt you to objectify these people more than they have objectified themselves.

I couldn’t find one.  Not. A. Single. One.

All of them were offensive, some of them were funny, and a few even gave me hope that we’re not as depraved a society as people think we are.

Celebrity reactions during VMA performance.  Dear Hollywood:  there IS a line.

Meme: Celebrity reactions during VMA performance.
Message: “Dear Hollywood: There IS a line – this crosses it.”

But there was one in particular that made me, well, sad.

billy-ray-cyrus-i-should-have-pulled-out

I understand that both Miley and Robin chose to act in a way that indicates they’d prefer to simply chew up, spit out, and take a big ol’ crap on their human dignity.  That makes me sad for them.  This meme makes me sad for us.  Just because they chose to act that way does not give the rest of us permission to forget that the individuals involved in this circus (Miley, her parents, her friends, her fiance, Robin, his parents, his friends, his wife, etc) are people with dignity and worth.

Whereas the memes using still shots of the performance are, for the most part, a commentary on reality (the performance happened, and that’s what it looked like), this one is not at all based on reality – it’s based on our discomfort.

Billy Ray Cyrus has not indicated that because his daughter made what he believes to be a terrible mistake, he wishes she had never been born.  Say what you will about his parenting failures, he has never indicated that Miley only exists to make him look good or feel good.  In fact, throughout Miley’s fall from cute Disney star to…whatever the heck she was Sunday night, Billy Ray has indicated that she is first and foremost his daughter.

We, however, as a society have indicated that Miley (and others like her) exist only insofar as they can provide entertainment for us, make us feel good about ourselves, or give us fodder for our sexual fantasies.  This meme indicates that we’re done with Miley. She embarrassed us because even we can’t believe that we have created a society where anyone would consider that performance acceptable.  She made us question our societal insistence that sexualizing women is the way to women’s liberty, that pornography is harmless, and that sexual morality is old fashioned.  Because she embarrassed us and convicted us, we think it would be better if she hadn’t been born.

After the VMAs Billy Ray Cyrus didn’t say “I should have pulled out.”  He said,

“She’s still my little girl, and I’m still her dad regardless how this circus we call show business plays out. I love her unconditionally and that will never change.”

This is an unconditional love that truly honors Miley’s dignity and worth at a time when we all most need to be reminded of it.  It’s a love that refuses to objectify her or try to profit from her.

It’s also a love that does not condone the behavior.  Billy Ray sits on the Parents Television Council with its mission to ‘protect children from graphic and gratuitous programming and to restore responsibility to the entertainment industry.’ The same Council who issued a harsh statement condemning the performance.

It’s not all that different from the love another Father has for His daughter Miley, for His children killed in the chemical weapons attack in Syria, for His son who walked into a Georgia elementary school with an assault rifle, for each one of us.

I seem to remember Jesus telling a story a lot like this one.  The father in that story didn’t say “I should have pulled out” either.

And the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation…

Never mind - found one.

Scripture + Pop Music + Meme = Blog WIN!

Shoot, looks like I let myself get dragged in after all…

Relevance or Truth? (circle one)

I usually love Bad Catholic Marc Barnes’ blog. I love how he is able to be smart and witty at the same time and that he writes at above a 7th grade level (while most blogs seem to fall below that mark).  On many days, I agree with him 100% and can point people to his writing and say, “Read this!  He speaks for me – and does it much more eloquently than I!”

Today is not one of those days.

In his typically eloquent response to a horrid opinion piece in the Washington Post called The church young Catholics want, I think Marc misses the mark.  In the WaPo piece, the author demands that the Catholic church become relevant to the youth today, and in her opinion, relevance means toeing the cultural line on issues like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and women’s ordination.

Marc argues

Relevance is the worst factor for determining the goodness of a thing since we dunked witches in the river to see whether they’d float.

After railing against youth ministry that uses skits, contemporary Christian music, and social media, Marc concludes:

Kill relevance, seek transcendence.

While I think Marc is absolutely right to rail against “relevance” to the exclusion of everything else – including the Truth – I think his piece is missing something.

This is not an either/or situation, but a both/and.

We do not have to reject true relevance that goes where youth are.  And yes, social media IS where they are.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks to their life experiences.  From the very real experiences of suffering, sin, and grace they encounter as youth to the real experience of listening to One Direction and texting during class.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks their language.   The only way they can learn the rich vocabulary of theology and ecclesiology in the Church is if we help them translate it.

The combox kills again

I think what Marc is trying to say is that people who do crappy youth ministry, who water down the Truth in favor of a pandering, cheesy theology, and who do it all in the name of “relevance” are missing the boat because their watered down, effeminate, pansy gospel is actually irrelevant.

Unfortunately, if that is what he is trying to say, the message is lost.  If he’s arguing for both relevance and the Transcendental, if he’s arguing for us to consecrate (as we are called to do by virtue of our common priesthood) the world in which these youth live instead of condemn it, if he’s arguing for us to just be more cautious in our use of the secular and to temper our desire to be relevant with good, solid catechesis and sharing of the Truth, then I’m not the only one who missed it – so did most of the commenters in his combox.

I’m fifteen, and “happy happy joy joy” Christianity just ticks me off. In an attempt to be hip and cool, all formality, reverence, and beauty is muffled.

I don’t want relevance, I want reverence!

From her article: “We do not need answers; we need to engage the world.” False. They need solid catechesis and sufficient explanation.

If I wanted a church that was “with the times” and “relevant” I would become one of those non-denominational hipster Christians.

Relevance AND Truth

The Gospel can be shared in a way that is relevant without being watered-down.

Good youth ministry can catechize and still include skits, and even KLove on occasion.

Good youth ministry can be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and can evangelize in those places and teach the teens to be evangelize there as well.

Good youth ministry is first and foremost about sharing the Truth with them, but it also must be relevant.

After all, Jesus showed us over and over again how to be relevant without losing the beauty of the Truth.  He started where the people were (oftentimes in the midst of sin and in sinful places), they used the life experiences of the people to teach (parables of shepherds and farming) and to share the truth.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus walked with those two disciples (they were going the wrong way), asked questions, and really listened to them before he spoke a single word of Truth to them. And when he did speak Truth, he answered the questions they had, and spoke a language they understood – he was relevant.

What do you think?  How can we better balance the need to be relevant while at the same time sharing Truth and allowing them to opportunity to experience and reflect on the Transcendental?

Veep Debate: Snapshot of Political Discourse

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I’m interested in American politics – duh, as most of us are. I’m not super interested, but I do care, and I pay attention out of the corner of my eye. I regularly vote, and I try to read up on issues and make sound decisions backed up by the (hopefully) well formed conscience that has grown through my Catholic education and my ongoing prayer life and learning. I’ve been enjoying, in a matter of speaking, the debate funness going on. The Vice Presidential debate, in particular, caught my attention. I wasn’t overly excited to watch it, I didn’t catch the entire thing – about 2/3rds of it, but I thought it sort of gave us a snapshot of a typical political discussion in ‘Merica these days.

There is a reason barbers and restaurant servers try not to talk about religion or politics – you very well may upset someone, and you want a good tip from your customer. That’s our state – we’re afraid to talk about what we think are incredibly important things, because we may offend someone or we may get caught having to defend our position with facts we’re not all entirely sure of. And too often these facts are from various news channels that all seem to have different agendas and don’t usually represent issues (especially religious issues) with any thoroughness or real accuracy.

So I think this debate was all too typical, but not necessarily at debates, more like at bars and coffee shops and gatherings of friends and family. I think no matter what political party you affiliate yourself with, you have to admit that VP Joe Biden was less than polite. He interrupted regularly (82 times, according to a count by Republicans- I didn’t see another count anywhere), he laughed dismissively when Ryan was speaking, and he generally gave the impression that Paul Ryan had no idea what he was talking about. During a discussion about nuclear weapons in Iran, Biden thought it appropriate to laugh. My point isn’t to pick on Joe Biden, it is more to point out the dismissive, “I’m right and you’re a fool if you really believe what you’re saying” sort of attitude.

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I have no doubt that Biden was presenting what he would like us to believe are facts. The problem is that I honestly don’t remember the words the candidates said during the debate this many days later. I watched the entire first Presidential debate and paid a great deal of attention to it, and I can only remember a little of what was said – instead, I remember the overall emotions and reactions I had to what they said. In watching parts of the subsequent debates, generally the same thing – snapshots, and in my muddled brain basic perceptions I left watching the debate holding of each candidate. My point is that Mr. Vice President Joe Biden did not make a positive impression on me with the attitude he took.

Candidate Paul Ryan was clearly nervous, was definitely a man thrown into an unfamiliar situation, but he also came in armed with information that he claims can be backed up by fact and by various studies – information that he hopes we take at face value. He took deep breaths, he drank lots of water, and he came across as thoughtful. He seemed to want to be accurate in his responses, and he kept his emotions in check throughout, even though it was obvious from the get go that maintaining his calm was going to be difficult and crucial through the interruptions and laughing and dismissive behavior. He tried to display a respect for when Biden was speaking, though he clearly disagreed.

How often, when we’re in a political or religious discussion do we become the Biden? How often do we dismissively shake our head, and laugh derisively at the person we are disagreeing with? Are we authentically listening to the ongoing discussion, or are we too busy preparing our response? Do we get angry, interrupt, get louder and more vehement in our reactions? I am 100% positive that I have had the exact same demeanor as our Vice President in arguments with people over politics or theology, and probably lots dumber things – and now I see that I totally failed as a Christian in these situations.

I’m not convinced that either Joe Biden or Paul Ryan really listened and thought through what the other was saying – and maybe that isn’t really what can ever happen at a debate at this level. Rather, while their “opponent” was speaking, it is almost sure that each was preparing his own response.

My grandmother used to have a saying: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” The arguing, the getting louder, the repetition, the disrespect for the person we are talking with will not truly change any minds or hearts.

20121029-201956.jpg

We are definitely called to be discussing serious issues in our world today – be they religious or political. It is not something to just shy away from. But we are not called to win arguments. Because honestly, who ever really wins an argument? Rather, lets enter into real discussions about these serious issues that are close to our hearts. Lets have information that we have researched for ourselves instead of relying on tidbits from Fox News or CNN.

Above even the information and the party lines, let us approach political and religious discussions with love and respect for who we are talking with. Because that person you are talking with has Christ within them. And respecting and loving that Christ is far more important than winning any argument.

Post note: this is not an attempt to direct your voting decisions, or even a way to approach these crucial decisions. For more on that, see the write up by my much smarter blog-mate, Kristin.

The Changing of the Seasons

It’s often considered “the most wonderful time of the year.”  To many people, even more wonderful than the ACTUAL “most wonderful time of the year” (the birth of Our Lord and Savior).

It’s the changing of the seasons.  And, no.  I’m not talking about the weather-related changes from the warmth and sun of the summer to the coolness and colors of the fall.

Supporting a team while keeping things in perspective

No, I’m talking about the changing of the sports seasons from baseball to football.  Or, as most people understand it in my state, from “not football season” to “football, y’all.”

It’s hard not to love football when you’ve spent your entire life living in the greatest conference of the NCAA and having your entire society revolve around one of the greatest team rivalries in college football.  Some might even argue that this is, in f act, the greatest state FOR college football (at least, in the past decade or so).



(NOTE:  I’m not saying that it IS the greatest state for it, I’m saying that many in this state might argue such.  So, anyone from Texas, Buckeyes, Californians, Sooners, and whoever else disagrees need not send me hate mail or comments touting your state’s glories.  I know there’s lots of great college states out there.)



Anyways, I have to admit that, yes, i DO in fact love football season.  Maybe it is because of the changing temperatures and getting to break out my jeans again.  Maybe it’s the beat of a drum line on a Friday night, echoing across high school campuses.  Maybe it’s the tailgating, wearing your team’s colors, and uniting with fans of the same team, even if you don’t know each other. Read More

Cardinal Dolan, President Obama, The Dinner, and A Lesson

So, for the most part, we here at The Catholic Realist have stayed away from discussions about politics – even Catholic politics.  I can’t speak for my fellow realists, but I often find that political discussions, no matter how well-intentioned – end up divisive and destructive.  However, every so often a story grabs my attention and I feel like it’s worth a comment.

Indulge me for a moment, won’t you?

According to reports, Dolan has extended an invitation to President Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner in New York City. The president, reportedly, has accepted.  The dinner is one of the most prestigious political events in New York City particularly during a presidential election year and candidates from both parties usually attend.

Known for its lighthearted political speeches, the major speakers deliver a series of self-deprecating jokes while ribbing their opponent at the same time. In October 2008, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama both attended the dinner, accepting an invitation by Cardinal Egan of New York. During the dinner, Cardinal Eagan expressed his “delight” that Obama and McCain had attended, called them “outstanding exemplary Americans.”

But this year, some Catholics are surprised to hear that Archbishop Dolan had invited Obama, now that he is president. Should the Archbishop associate a fundraiser for Catholic Charities with a leader whose administration remains defiantly opposed to Church moral teachings?

It’s not unprecedented in a presidential election year for a candidate not to be invited. In 1996, Cardinal O’Connor did not invite President Clinton or Senator Dole to the dinner and, in 2004, neither Sen. John Kerry nor President Bush were invited.

Obama’s attendance at the dinner this year could be awkward, particularly since the Catholic Church’s relationship with Obama has been severely tested in the battle over his administration’s contraception coverage mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Dolan, Obama assured that his administration would not “impede” the work of the Catholic Church. But once the mandate was issued, Catholic bishops publicly denounced the move, calling it a threat to religious freedom.  What’s worse, administration officials who met with the bishops about the mandate refused to compromise in any meaningful way.

– From Crisis Magazine

“Obama’s attendance at the dinner this year could be awkward…” Awkward?  Talk about an understatement!  The invitation itself has inflamed the ire of Catholics across the country.

Jason Jones, Catholic film producer and advocate for the dignity of human life around the globe had this to say:

Man-up Catholics! We should be plotting a coup d’etat not inviting the enemy of the Church to our parties!

Michael Hichborn of the American Life League said:

Regardless of what they’ve done in the past, it is unthinkable for a Catholic charity to invite the man [President Obama] seeking the destruction of religious freedom in America to a fundraising event. This sends the wrong message to pew-sitting Catholics, who are anxiously looking to our bishops to stand up and fight against this clear enemy of the Church who will be joining them for dinner.”

Even Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life got in on the anti-Obama action saying,

“I’m all in favor of protocol and understand the difference between respecting the president’s policies vs. respecting his office,” he said in a statement. “But there comes a time when the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal.”

There’s a whole group of Catholics who have started an online petition begging Cardinal Dolan to rescind his invitation to the President.

We find it to be an outrage and a scandal that in light of ongoing court litigation due to President Obama’s HHS Mandate forcing Catholic organizations to violate conscience, shut down ministries, or pay an excessive tax to continue operations, that one of the most recognizable Cardinals in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama at an election year event that the world will be sure to receive as you giving him your tacit blessing.

We the undersigned prayerfully implore you to halt this travesty immediately and call on you to uphold the sacred mission of your Catholic Diocese. May God grant you the courage and wisdom to do what is right.

Matthew 5:22 my friends…Jesus had something to say about anger that is destructive and unnecessarily demeaning.

Those of you who know my tendency toward argument and my proclivity for contradiction won’t be surprised to find that I respectfully disagree with these fellow Catholics. Read More

Put Down the Camera…and Slowly Back Away

I recently attended the last Mass of the school year at my kids’ Catholic school.  For those of you not familiar with the Catholic elementary school culture – each week the whole student body attends Mass together.  One of the classes “leads” the Mass by doing the readings, bringing up the gifts, serving, carrying up the processional cross, etc.

This week, it was the 4 year old Kindergarten class that finally got its turn.  They can barely (if at all) read so the readings were done one sentence at a time – and, I suspect, memorized.  The typical Kindergarten Mass characters were present including:

  • The girl who doesn’t believe the microphone will pick up her voice, so she shouts her line.
  • The shorty whose hairline is barely visible above the top of the ambo.
  • The boy who forgets how to pronounce at least one of the words on his construction paper mounted sheet.
  • The teacher frantically motioning that the children holding the psalm response poster board have it upside down.

It may not have been the highest of liturgy, but it was cute – and there certainly is something moving about watching 15 Kindergarteners belt out every word to “I Love You, Lord” and know (because I know their music teacher) that they understand it to be a song of praise to our God.

What’s not so moving:  15 parents in the back of church running around with video and digital cameras trying to capture every cute moment for posterity.

I have little kids – I have the boy who shouted into the mic when it was his turn to read part of the 1st reading last year, and I anticipate my daughter will be one who holds the poster upside down (she can be a little ditzy) – so I certainly understand the desire to capture the moment.

But at what cost?

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The Big Change (A Rant About A Societal Norm)

WARNING:  This is going to be a ranting blog.  I just wanted to warn you.  If you get easily offended, you probably shouldn’t read any further.
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This is going to be a big year for our family.  It’s been coming down the pike for awhile and now, finally in 2012, the Big Change will be happening.  After 7 years of full-time youth ministry work, I will be “retiring” so that I can stay home with my son (and, by the end of the year, 2nd baby who is on the way).

Yes, I am 32 and I will be retiring.  But, in actuality, I won’t be retiring from anything – I’m just going to be making a career change from full-time paid Church employee to Stay-At-Home-Mom.

I am not going to write about all the prayer and discernment that went into making this decision.  Suffice it to say, it was a lot.  In fact, this has been a decision that has been almost 2 years in the making.  And, we, as a family, feel like now is the time to make the Big Change.  I still love and believe 100% in the importance and value of youth ministry.  But, it’s time for someone else to take it on in my stead.

I have mixed emotions about the whole thing, but mostly I am really excited about the change.  But, something that’s been happening is really frosting my cookies…

Here’s where the ranting begins.

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I Hate the Easter Bunny…

It’s that time of year again…the Triduum.  It’s the time we enter in to some of the richest liturgical experiences of the year.  It’s the core celebration of the central mystery of our faith – the Paschal Mystery.  Or, as one of my Facebook seminarian friends called it “the intergalactic Victory lap of the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant for all time” (told you he was a seminarian).

Yes, it is all those beautiful things…but for a Catholic family with young children it’s also the time of year for the awkward discussion I most dread with my children: The Time of the Easter Bunny.

We work very hard on getting an answer the question, “What do we do at Easter?” that at least mentions Jesus, the Resurrection, tombs, salvation, etc instead of bunnies, eggs, and candy.  My kids go to Catholic school.  Catholic…in other words, the school is reinforcing this understanding of Easter with stations of the cross, Resurrection garden projects, and Lenten and Easter prayers.  School…in other words, they have Easter parties (before Lent is over) with eggs, baskets, loads of jelly beans, and discussions among the other kids about the Easter Bunny.

Now, I want to make an important clarification.  A lot of families who are anti-Easter bunny are also anti-Santa.  Not so for our family!  I love Santa and everything he stands for.  I love helping my kids make the connection between Santa and St. Nicholas.  I love the message of unadulterated generosity that Santa stands for (no elf on the shelf in my house, Santa gives presents just because he loves you and wants to give you something that will make you happy…just like God!).  I love connecting the hopeful anticipation of the Advent season in our Church with the building excitement children experience as we approach Christmas.  I love Christmas and I love Santa.

He's a male bunny who lays eggs...clearly there's something genetically wrong here.

But the Easter bunny? I can’t find a single legitimate connection to our faith or to the liturgical calendar between Easter Sunday as a celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and the Easter Bunny.  It’s more than that though – there’s something more deep seated and disturbing about my distaste for the rabbit. Read More

I’m More Catholic Than You

“It is dangerous to make everyone go forward by the same road, and worse to measure others by yourself.”  (St. Ignatius of Loyola)


Dear Fellow Good, Practicing Catholics,

Please stop trying to “out-Catholic” others all the time.

I get it, you know the faith really well.  You’ve read some (or maybe many) books and watched some faith-based shows and movies.  You’ve heard some great speakers and been on some highly spiritual retreats.  You’ve had deep encounters with God and maybe have a deep understanding of one thing or another.  Perhaps there’s someone in your family with religious vocation or you are good friends with a priest or a nun.

Maybe you are able to get to daily Mass.  Or have a daily Holy Hour.  Perhaps you serve the Church in some form of ministry.  Possibly you have a deep devotion to Mary or one (or many) of the saints.  Novenas might be a regular form of prayer for you or perhaps you never miss praying your daily rosary.

Uh-oh! I made a joke about holiness...i must not be very Catholic!

You might be an activist who stands outside of Planned Parenthood every Saturday morning to pray for the end of abortions.  Or, maybe you write letters to your congressmen on a regular basis trying to get laws changed.  Maybe you vehemently oppose all things secular or use Facebook as a platform to preach the word of God.

And, every one of those things are good and noble.  But, they don’t make you a “better” Catholic than everyone else.

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