WHY: Politics Matter for Religious People (or, why I love the Catholic Church)

Recently, Obama went head to head with the Catholic Church. Unless you’re Martin Luther or want burned at the stake as a heretic, that’s almost never a good idea. In early February Obama announced that every employer who provides health insurance would also be required to pay for such things as contraceptives and abortion causing contraceptives. Almost immediately, the Catholic Church rose up as an institution and gave Obama  a rather emphatic “NO.”  The Catholic Church, especially in America, is often a sleeping giant. But when that giant wakes, the great institution is quite a force to be reckoned with, as Obama will be reminded through this and the continued ramifications of his healthcare plans.

Heres a bit more on the story:

When Obama announced this, a letter was written by the Archbishop for Military Services, Fr Timothy Broglio. The letter was to be read by Catholic Chaplains regarding Obama’s edict. The church, within her exercise of religious rights, denounced Obama’s proposal and explained why they and their charities would not be willing or compelled to provide care that went against religious convictions. Functioning from the church structure of top-down theology, the message was intend to alert believers under her umbrella to how the political regime had begun to interfere with religious affairs.

And the story gets better. The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains sent out an email to chaplains in the military, to inform them that the letter was not coordinated with their office and then asked that it not be read from the pulpit. The office was afraid that it might cause civil unrest. No one wants unrest. Especially not within the armed forces of a nation founded on civil unrest.

It may not seem like this is important. After all, Evangelicals gripe about policy all the time. Why is it different in this instance, except that it’s being done by Catholics? Why is it such an issue that the Army didn’t want Catholics disrupting the way things were with this letter? It makes sense, on some level, to keep religious fervor from infiltrating the military.

But it is quite a problem for believers, especially those who vote. Obama, for all his merits, championed a policy that violated the right to exercise religious freedom in their health and use of finances. The policy required Catholics and other religious groups to go against conscience. Catholics, in their institution, are rigidly pro-life and entirely against contraceptives. To force them (and others) to comply with such legislation is an attack on first amendment rights.

Not only so, but the Office of Chaplains censored free speech. If it isn’t rectified, this action could set a precedent  for future governmental actions regarding free speech. Archbishop Broglio had a right to put his pent to paper and his chaplains had a right to follow his leading and read that letter at their masses.

This thing violated rights all over the place in the First Amendment. But the Catholic Church stood up and told Obama he couldn’t do this and thus, some things have changed. Not as much as they should, but there’s been a bit of progress. Primarily, the police has taken the responsibility from the shoulders of the charities/hopsitals/etc that are run by the Catholic Church and other religious organizations. Instead, it now requires health insurance companies to cover the controversial issues, like contraceptives and those that can cause abortions. It’s a bit of a difference, but not a big enough one. It just puts the glove on the other hand since the Church is still paying for those health insurance companies….

This is why people of religious conviction should pay attention to politics and to intricate details of political power plays. If the government can censor free speech now, what might it lead to later? If they can dictate the way that a religious institution spends its money and provides for those who work within it, then what might they try to do in the future? It’s a problem of precedents, you see. It’s a matter of, if we start with this now, where will it lead?

But it’s okay, because the Catholic Church wouldn’t take it. And you don’t mess with that, especially as a politician–it’s too many votes to risk losing. Which is why, even though they do things wrong occasionally, sometimes when that ancient institution throws her weight around, it’s a really good thing. While Evangelicals are sorting out controversy over the new Calvinists, the Catholic Church is taking care of business and protecting our rights to argue: did he die only for the elect? or did he really die for everyone?

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*I do not hate Obama. I said he has merits. I think he’s done some decent things. And I’ll give him the credit he’s due for being an incredibly charismatic person. He made me hopeful when I heard him speak, standing in the cold outside Key Arena. Me, hopeful, and I’m a cynic. But this was not okay.

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musings on coloradan beauty

this was written over the period of several classes so…hopefully it’s coherent. On Monday I went for a brief hike to have some alone time and to just be outside as I’ve been cooped up with far too much schoolwork lately. I have recently been struck by the beauty of the place where I live and attempted to put words to that. This is what came out in Doctrine 1 and NewTestament 503…

I went hiking today. I went alone. I wanted the silence, though I did not know it at the time. There is a part of me that is called to the wild places of Colorado, the sweep heights so shorn by bitter winds and summer sun. I love the lands I’ve been to, I still long for the places where I’ve lived in past years. But deep in my soul is a piece that longs for the majesty of those mountain faces, and the brilliancy of snowy hillsides dotted with scraggly pines scattered amid stones and deep red earth.

The snow had been stripped down on the rocks, blown across by daily wind till it was carved to fine edges and smooth glittering surfaces. The snow looked like worn sandstone whose years are beyond measure, cut away in curves on the edges of the ridge like smoothed shale that sparkled like diamonds in the ever present sunlight. The ice crunching beneath my feet, broken by the borrowed boots was the only sound heard above the howling wind.

I sat on a ledge, over looking the narrow valley before the hogback, watching the sun rise over a city that never truly sleeps. The red boulder beneath me was scattered seeds of the pine tree at my back, shaking in the wind that tumbled over the mountains. THe seed will never take root. The pine will still shake off its bounty though it will come to naught. The wind plummeted o’er the heights and pushed forward a storm that would not take root until Thursday. But the wind knew the coming blessing and hurried on her way out to the Eastern plains.

I  watched the earth sit solidly amid the chaos that raged beneath the heavens, and for a long while I just rested amidst it all. It was  loud but it was silent, for I was deaf to all beyond me, to all the bustle of the thing we mistakenly call life.

The majesty overwhelmed me. The idea that a hand had carved the great monoliths and paint thee hillsides that dwarfed my insignificant sent. Who am I that you should take note of me? I can hardly climb to these great places, and he could have but breathed and it would come to be. And there I sat, small against the world. School work far from mind, bills and rent seemed to not exist and I could think of nothing but the beauty of the wild places and the glorious One who made it all.

WHY: Lent

If you read the post in December regarding Advent, you may be getting the idea that I like the idea of a Church Calendar, or Liturgical Seasons. It’s not a bad assumption when you put that post alongside this one. But then, it is a rather odd thing for someone like myself to be so engaged with, after all, I wasn’t raised in any liturgical contexts. I thought I ought to give a brief background, then, on how I came to this appreciation of the church calendar before telling you why I love Lent as much as Advent.

My first exposure to anything like a church season was in high school when students discussed what they were “giving up” for Lent. I had only the faintest idea what that could mean based on a few years in Illinios in a predominantly Catholic farming town. But I had no concept of Lent and being governed by a calendar within the church. I think I thought the entire thing was a rather ridiculous Catholic doctrine, probably similar to Indulgences and trying to buy or earn your salvation. I was a pretty strict Protestant who thought you could only make Catholics into Christians if you converted them out from under Papal authority. The students at school didn’t help much either. They were giving up rather arbitrary things for this bizarre season of 40 days. Everything from chocolate to masturbation was going to be put on hold for just over a month. Try explaining to a fifteen year old how refraining from those somehow pleases God! The only student I knew who was serious about this whole thing was a weird Catholic in the back of my Spanish class who was a humble know it all (not like the sarcastic group I was in) with brown frizzy hair and shirts that didn’t fit properly. When she showed up the day after Mardi Gras with grey soot smeared on her forehead, I knew for sure I didn’t want anything to do with this Lenten thingy.

But in college I went to my first Ash Wednesday service. It was a rather beautiful service, we read through some of Joel that bespoke the longing for someone to come and save the people of Israel. The reader sat down and a professor gave a brief homily on the passage and he said that we too are waiting. We know that Christ has come. In fact, we know how the Lenten season ends–with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Yet, we still experience longing, dissatisfaction and a deeply holy discontent. The professor reread Joel and whispered from the pulpit. We’re waiting.

Always waiting.

College was an interesting season of life for me. I loved my foray into Academia, I loved Seattle and I loved the rain. But there were other things in college that made the three years long and hard. In many ways it was a dark season, only punctuated by brief bursts of light. People speak of college as thought it was the greatest time in life, as though they wish to return. I had the opposite feeling. I wanted out of college, and it couldn’t end soon enough. I knew prolonged dissatisfaction in those days, I knew it more deeply than I do now. Something inside of me resonated with the speaker that day in the chapel across from the Loop on campus. I was waiting, just as much as the Israelites were, for someone, someone to come and rescue us.

Lent, then, is about waiting. Most of the church seasons are about waiting, Lent, Epiphany, Advent they are all looking forward to something that is yet to come. They all hope for the future. Each one has a specific event in mind which the believer is meant to be prepared for through the season.

But Lent is more than just preparation and excitement.

In Lent we enter the desert.

This is why we “give up” something that we hold close and dear. Last year my roommate and I drank only water for forty days. I discovered how much I really love coffee. We enter the desert by sacrifice, and that sacrifice should be something tangible. Some of my fellow young adults will give up Facebook. I understand that they see it as ann addiction and that this is the reason for relinquishing it for forty days. But at the same time, you can survive easily and comfortably without Facebook. It’s different to give up something that almost defines who we are. For me, that is coffee (and other drinks). My social life revolves around “coffee dates” or “grabbing a drink.” To give that up means I will have to indulge in more solitude, or standing out while in a crowd of friends at the Old Mill.

But that is, at the very least, rather simplistic way of entering into the Desert with Christ.

Jesus, I think, dwelt in many deserts during his time on earth. He gave up the expanses of heaven, for one, to be settled in a tiny scrap of land off the coast of the Mediterranean in an era without plumbing, air conditioning or convenient transportation. He gave up freedom, in a way, because he came knowing the end of his life would be horrific and nearly unavoidable. He endured the worst kind of hypocrisy among his fellow human beings, they were rejecting him at the same time that they claimed to worship him!* He was patient with foolish and slow learners. He was angered by injustice and he lived a menial existence. He was a lower middle class carpenter for crying out loud.

Of course, Lent does not necessarily recognize each of those as the desert into which we enter but rather that of Jesus when he endured his temptations. It also centers on the path leading to the cross–the interminable wait, the agonizing steps to Jerusalem when he set his face toward the holy city and knew there was no turning back. It is the descent to the cross. The song of the coming suffering.

This is what we engage when we too attempt to give up a part of ourselves and dwell in the gap before the cross. We reflect on what sent him to the cross, and looking hopefully to the resurrection. Self denial forces us to be emptied, so that we may then be filled. But self denial is hard–which is what makes it good.

It makes us aware of our distinct and unfortunate human nature that is so easily entangled by the world. It reminds us that Jesus has given up everything to secure our final place with him. It foments in our minds the joyous burden of suffering and perseverance that we too may be counted worthy if indeed greater trials should ever arise. And it reminds us that this life is not what it was meant to be, not what life was supposed to look like. It forces us to look at each day and remember that there will come a time when things will be put to rights.

Jesus is coming, you see. He already has come. We’re walking with him now, to the cross of our salvation. But we hold that in tension with the fact that those we now celebrate a historical fact, there is something else coming, something greater, something fuller.

But we’re waiting.

All we ever do is wait.

Waiting for the glorious resurrection and hoping for the consummation of the ages when Messhia comes back and leads captives in his train and gives gifts to men who have long awaited his triumphant rescue.

 

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*without realizing it was him. instead they claimed they knew the real him and told him to stop blaspheming (against himself, technically). wrap your head around that kind of betrayal.

timing and lyrics

I’ve been trying to stay away from updating on my personal life in the way that I used to. I don’t need this blog to be a foray into my personal world. I don’t mind writing about school, or about God and what I’m learning. But I don’t care to update the internet on my relational status, my hurt and woes, my personal triumphs as I stumble through life.

But today, I thought this was worth sharing. You see, God has confused me lately, he gives things briefly, takes them away, asks for more patience, gives greater gifts than the first. I’m learning he’s not only the God of my personal life but of my church, my nation, my world. It’s taken a great deal of pressure off of my shoulders and it has also made me immensely grateful for the little moments when God seems to clearly sweep into my world.

He did that last weekend. My roommate had gone to a concert given by JJ Heller and her husband. I would have gone if I hadn’t had class, and if I’d wanted to splurge a bit on my social budget. But I went to school and I saved my money. Saturday morning, however, my roommate and I ate breakfast together and she put on some of JJ’s music that she’d bought the day before.

I was facing the task of calling the half bearded kid. I had to know what was going on. Two dates, family hang out time and then a sudden plummet of activity. It’s a daunting moment, to finally call someone and ask them what the heck they’re doing to your heart when you haven’t even given it to them. In the midst of knowing that would be an awful conversation that would either end well (and embarrassing) or would end with disappointment; my roommate’s playlist moved to my favorite JJ Heller song. Molly, of course, had no idea. But I think that’s sometimes how God works.

I needed to hear it. And without knowing it, my roommate gave me a great gift that pulled me quite a ways through my afternoon when the phone call ended in incredible disappointment. So here are the lyrics to said song.

He cries in the corner where nobody sees
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Her office is shrinking a little each day
She’s the woman whose husband has run away
She’ll go to the gym after working today
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed
And she says…

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said
“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew.

{JJ Heller, Love Me}

There are times when you can’t even pretend.
It’s like laying in the snow and saying it’s not cold.

{Stacey}

Via Negativa

I wrote a paper recently for my four day excursion into Eastern Orthodoxy.

It was a rather academic experience, this paper.

The last paper I wrote on Orthodoxy was more like art. I spoke of the scent in the room, the spice of incense and the watering of my eyes in the smoke as the Father blessed the image of God in all the parishioners. I wrote of the chanting, the calls back and forth and the sweet sound of confessions being whispered nearby. I spun stories of the children that kissed icons as they mimicked venerable grandparents, the toddler who had her hand kissed by a grandmother and pressed against the face of a saint that wavered in flickering candlelight. I sang praises for the liturgy, the long hours that we stood, the moments that flew past while we thought we stood in company with all the saints who have gone before. It was ancient to stand in that church. It was holy.

The paper this time, was not so beautiful.

But in its own way it was beautiful. I wrote about theology and I wrote what could  be one of my best academic papers thus far. For the Orthodox, there is a huge emphasis on the diversity within God. While most Protestants and Catholics focus on the unity, the single-ness of the Godhead, the Orthodox take a different approach as they find incredibly deep meaning in the community of the Trinity.

To me, this is beautiful. The idea of God as the pure essence of community is a great invitation to be joined to that community. The mystics were drawn to this. Their lives were caught up in the pursuit of being one with this God who is Love and Truth and Beauty. Protestants always say that as we grow to know more about God, we realize how much we don’t know about God. It’s true. But the mystics had a different way of explaining this.

Most begin believing that we can know of God through everything. All the world speaks of God’s glory, his majesty, his love, his creativity, his entire being is expressed in the world around us. The mystics knew God in this way. Everything spoke to them and revealed God to them.

Yet, as they progressed in their visions, their experiences, their dark nights within the depths of their souls and the brilliant glory of illumination, as they moved through the spiral of mysticism towards greater experiences with God, almost every single mystic would end with the belief that nothing could speak to them of God. He was too great, too immense to be known and described by such a thing as the finite created world which will soon be passing away. So they came to what we call apophatic knowledge or the via negativa. God could only be known by what he was not. He is only infinite because he is not finite. He is just because he cannot be unjust, etc.

This intrigues me, this idea that we can know and experience God primarily by knowing what he isn’t. How does that play into the concept that we can experience the divine nature and participate in the divine community? How can you participate and know something or someone that you can’t really know?

The mystery of the Eastern Orthodox confuses me but it enthralls me. I love the way the church so earnestly desires to be one with God, to know him and participate in the divine nature. Everything speaks to us of God, even the architecture in the church is designed to point us heavenward to contemplation of the divine. And yet, the Orthodox give God space to be infinite, transcendent and beyond our total comprehension. This is what I wrote of in the 12 and 1/2 pages that came together slowly but surely last week. The chance to know God as an immanent lover, while keeping him respectfully at arms length to enjoy his otherness. The scent of the incense, the encircling of the Triadic community, the sound of the chants, they were all there; simply buried deep in lines full of multisyllabic words and a cumbersome thesis. It was beautiful, even if the words themselves did not evoke the image of the liturgy but rather described the beautiful thoughts behind it.

somedays, I think I was born for Academia.

WHY: I’m Sticking Around

I almost left my church. It was going to be a pretty blasé yet really epic decision. I mean, I like new things. I used to have an obsessive desire to start over, try new things. I used to try to do that every 8-12 months. I leave churches, housing situations, groups of friends, etc. It’s good fun, you see, never being tied down. It’s easier to leave a little dust on your shoes and keep moving up the trail towards what seems better things. So it was going to be blasé. Not a big deal.

But it was going to be an epic decision because I’ve been at this church (off and on, of course) for about six years. I have long struggled with the established, institutionalized church. While that is a different post entirely, it has to be acknowledged because this part of the reason I loved my church. They’re really laid back and wonderful. On Sunday, we canceled church because the roads were icy. The church I work at had a solid sheet of ice for a parking lot. From the nursery windows I watched old women slide, wrenching their husband’s backs as they grabbed for anything rather than tumbling to the ground. My church family, on the other hand, seemed to care more about our safety so we canceled. Or there’s the time my roommie and I took three girls from our apartment complex who couldn’t sit still and who tried reading the Bible out loud, in broken English during service. No one minded that. No angry glares, no whispers to hush us up, nothing. Just a few glances of endearment towards the children between us and nods of approval to me and Molls. I don’t think that would’ve happened at a typical church. I fit in this church in some ways, because it’s easier and there are no expectations. So it would have been a massive shift to head back to the stereotypical church like the Southern Baptist congregation I had visited with its pews and hymnals.

But I’d been unhappy for awhile, you see. I was hurting and frustrated. I may have even  been beyond frustrated, I was exasperated because I didn’t know where to go or what to do to make things better. I felt that we didn’t talk about sin because we were afraid of hurting feelings. I felt shut out because I was actually pursuing Jesus and righteous living, because I wasn’t the same girl as a year ago, and I felt that some people resented that. On the flip side, I didn’t know where to put in effort or where to build into community. I felt that few people wanted me and I struggled to see how leadership was actually helping to build community or spur us on to a race well run. I was fed up. For weeks I talked with friends about leaving. But I kept thinking there was something wrong, something that didn’t seem right in my decision to peace out of a congregation that so frustrated and endeared me.

So I met with my pastor.

I emailed him for two months. We would find a time, then cancel, then not find a time because of school and travels,but finally, we settled on a bright Monday morning at 9am. We even went to the Seminary which was convenient for us both and offered hot coffee in the student center. We sat down after a brief (and somewhat awkward) hug.

And then I talked. We went over niceties at first. Was I dating anyone from Seminary yet? How were classes? Was I making it financially? Was I worried? Did my roommate and I talk about deep things? But ten minutes in I’d blazed through those questions and we were on to the real reason I wanted to see him.

I apologized first, because I’m pretty insecure and I don’t feel like I’m allowed to have complaints and frustrations. So before I laid into my list I apologized and swore that I wasn’t trying to just complain. So he sat, and he listened to my explanation of where I’d been hurt, where I was confused or felt misled. I pointed out specific things in leadership that had been difficult and confessed that I’d been really bitter about a variety of situations. My pastor sat there, the big hulking man with a bald head and scruffy chin, he took it all in, nodded and interjected only occasionally.

And when I was done he said one thing.

“I’m sorry.”

I decided, in that moment, I was sticking around.

Because he looked me in the face and he said he was sorry. He said that as a pastor he hadn’t always done a good job, he acknowledged that they were having to clean things up, and he said he was sorry for the way I was caught in the crossfire. I was sort of dumbfounded. I’ve never had someone say that, never had someone take responsibility and be genuinely sorry for how I, as a lay person, had been poorly served by the church.

There was more to the conversation, of course.

He challenged me about some things. He was gently rebuking in a few of my bitter moments. He told me I should be praying for people, and looking for how I could be a blessing to those people I had been hurt by. I think he could have quoted Matthew and said it was me praying for “those who have persecuted” me–even those in the church. But he didn’t. I think he knew he didn’t need to give me scripture. He just needed to remind me that it was written and I should be doing it, if only for the good of my own soul and the obedience we owe to Jesus.

And then he left. I went back to homework.

So this week I’ll be at church, celebrating Big Table and cheering on my awesome roommie when she shares about the ministry at our apartment complex.

At least for the moment, until I think that God has called me elsewhere, I am here. I’m sticking around.