Monday, May 12, 2014

What I like...

Lately I've been on a detective novel kick.  As I've always been a book snob, this new-found obsession embarrasses me no small amount.  And, it is an obsession.  Seriously, I've read ten detective novels in less than three weeks.  I'm practically freebasing detective novels and am in need of a twelve step program.

Back to the embarrassment factor.  I've always put a lot of stock in appearances.  I'm not saying that like it's a good thing because it's clearly not.  It's shallow, really.  But, in the case of something like "the kind of books I read," it's shallowness masquerading as something deep.  You know, the old "I couldn't possibly waste my time reading anything but the classics or histories or really depressing stuff because I'm deep like that."

But, maybe it's even a little deeper to try reading something I wouldn't normally read because, hey, maybe I'll like it.  Maybe I'll end up loving some hard-boiled detective novels, and maybe I'll tell people about it.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

"By acting like a man in love, he became a man in love again."

Summer is upon us.

Okay, so that's a little optimistic.  I'm counting my chickens before they're hatched.  I'm jumping the gun.  I'm lapsing into all those clich├ęs that I warn my students about.

But, I am looking forward to summer and its restorative powers.  I need a little time when there are no more papers to grade, no more lessons to plan, no more offices to hour.  That last part didn't work, perhaps because "hour" just isn't a verb.

And, while it's true that simply doing nothing has its own restorative power, I don't want to do nothing the whole time.  For the record, that's not an invitation to ask me to clean your house, sit your dog, or do any other task that you'd rather not, though I am a pushover, so do with that what you will.

To avoid falling into "The Great Time Suck of Summer 2013," I've started making a list of things I want to accomplish.  Some are goals I'd like to achieve; others are things that I want to make a habit of doing.  As for the second, I began thinking over which kinds of spiritual practices I'd like to work on making more habitual. 

A confession: I'm terrible about reading my Bible.  I mean, I don't do it nearly enough.  Sometimes I (gasp!) don't want to.  For real, people, I'm lousy at keeping up with Bible reading.  So, I thought I'd make a goal of reading my Bible _________ number of times per week.  I'm leaving that blank for now, but, as I read, I'll check it off so that I have a record.

A moment after I've schemed this out, something inside me recoils.  This feels so forced, so inorganic, and I wonder if this plan is all wrong.   It feels as if a desire to read my Bible should develop naturally and as if forcing the point isn't being honest.

But, then I think a bit longer.  I think this plan is actually a good plan.  I don't always feel like doing the things I should do.  To be more honest, I rarely feel like doing the things I should do.  I feel like doing their exact opposite.  The only thing that changes that is to make (however unnaturally) those things a part of my life. By doing the things I should do, they become the things I want to do, and, even if the beginning feels forced, what I'm doing is, in and of itself, good.

This little internal debate reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from a film, the "Bastille" scene from Paris, j'Taime.  The film is made of little vignettes, each taking place in a different arrondissement of Paris.  I highly recommend you watch this.  I also highly recommend you keep a tissue nearby while you do so. :)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Responsorial Prayer and the Hot Sting of Tears

On Sunday, I had a baptism to go to.  It followed the 11 o'clock mass, which is the same time my church starts, so I decided to just go to mass at my friend's church.

I arrived, as usual, a bit late, and, though it looked like the only option would be to stand throughout the mass, a kind older man came up and told me that there were seats in the choir area and that he'd show me the way.

Sitting, standing, kneeling.  All in my odd little perch near the front of the church but, thankfully, enough removed that I was inconspicuous.  

Then came the responsorial prayers--the prayers for community, country, causes both large and small--with our united response of "Lord, hear our prayer."

I recognized the prayers because, even though I'm not Catholic, I've been to mass enough to remember which petitions are usually made.

But, one seemed different.  Maybe I'd heard it before, or maybe I hadn't.  Maybe I was really hearing it for the first time.

It was a prayer for those who had fallen away from their faith.  

Then I felt it.  The hot sting of tears and the lump in my throat as I tried to get out the words, "Lord, hear our prayer."

There's something about praying for someone.  There's something about being in a position in which you can pray for someone.  It's a gift to be able to pray for someone.  It's a heavy weight to be the one who needs prayer.

In hearing the prayer for those who had fallen from their faith, I heard the prayers that must have been prayed for me for so very long.  I felt humbled--both the shame of my falling but also the immense gratefulness of knowing that, at my worst, people had prayed for me.  Those who knew and loved me prayed for me, though it must have felt useless at times.  And, somewhere, maybe in the same church I sat in Sunday, people I didn't know prayed for me too.  

During that short, simple prayer, I was hit with the understanding of how much I had needed each and every prayer offered on my behalf, though, while those patient petitioners offered up their pleas, I never would have known the depth of my need.

I understand now, and I will always be grateful and overwhelmingly humbled that the Lord hears our prayers.

On being more


It's not a word I like so much. It's not a feeling I enjoy. But, today I was reminded that it is the last who shall be first, that it is the least of these who are the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

It's a different kind of currency. It's a different way of looking at everything. 

I always hoped I would do something great, be something great, be known for something impressive. I always hoped to have a stockpile of the coin of this realm, in whatever form it might take--for my taste, most probably the form of intellect or some such thing, really any thing that would make me better, stronger, more than what I feel like I am. 

 But, it's an exhausting thing, trying to amass an earthly fortune, and there is always the knowledge looking overhead, reminding me that earthly fortune lasts only as long as I do. In some cases, earthly fortune is even more fleeting, gone in an instant, worthless in less time than it took to gain. 

So, as I sat in church today, hearing that dreaded word "humble," I thought of my desire to be more, how impossible it feels. And,then I realized that there is a way to be more. That way is to become less. Even if I spend all my time trying to be more, it will never be enough. But what if I focused on being more in the Kingdom of Heaven? Might I then have a reward that is eternal? And, might my striving to be more in Heaven result in my focusing more on doing God's will here on earth? 

So, now I am (surely with many falls and missteps) trying to be more and trying to be less. It's a paradox, but it's something that actually, finally makes sense.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Courage of our Convictions?

One of my favorite authors, Peter Kreeft, has taken a very different but very good turn in writing a recent essay. I recommend this essay to anyone who is interested in pro-life issues,and, basically, I'd recommend this to anyone looking to better understand the intersection of faith and the pro-life movement (and what that means to the individual).

Kreeft, who has a talent for making complex moral debates comprehensible (often through the use of a dialectic method, sometimes in the form of a play), has written an essay entitled, "Pro-life or Pro-happytalk?" Stylistically, this essay is nothing like his previous work, a point he remarks on. But, in this essay, I felt like I got a better understanding of Kreeft's own struggles to "do the right thing" in response to his deeply-held beliefs in the sanctity of life and his feelings of conviction as a committed Christian who took a look at what he had sacrificed for his beliefs and found his sacrifices paltry in comparison to what he could do.

It's a position that most everyone has been in, regardless of belief structure or religious creed. We look at what we believe and what we do to further those beliefs, and (when we're really honest with ourselves) we're embarrassed by the dearth of action we've displayed in response to our convictions.

Kreeft encourages us to look at how bold we've been and how bold we can be, how we can use our God-given talents in support of the cause of life. It's an amazingly revealing and compelling essay. So, go read it!

Just in case you're not convinced, I'll give you a little bit of Kreeft's essay. This is the part that was my moment of "a sword will pierce through your own soul also." Or, in plainer language, this part really got me:

"But we do know what will happen in the next world if we do respond, because God has clearly told us that. He has told us that when we die and meet Him, the Judge that no one can ever escape, we will hear these words: 'I was hungry and you did not feed Me, I was thirsty and you did not give Me to drink, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' That is not my opinion, that is His clear, literal, word for word divine revelation and warning. Do you honestly think He will not add: 'I was slaughtered in abortion clinics and you did nothing to rescue Me'?"

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Still Wanna Dance With Somebody

It was a day toward the end of the 1980's, and I was a young girl, standing in a Kmart, trying to fend off boredom as my mom and I waited for a prescription to be filled. Over the store's loudspeakers played "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." I barely knew what this music was because we only really listened to oldies and Christian music. Whitney Houston wasn't someone I listened to much as a kid.

But, somehow I remember her. I think of that song, and I immediately picture Whitney in that pretty pastel dress (was it lavender, or was it pink?), shaking her blonde curls as she danced. I'm not sure I'd seen anyone light up like she did while singing or have such a brightness and joy--all while maintaining perfect tone and pitch. She was one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen in my life, and she had that voice.

Whitney wasn't just a singer. She was a standard, a benchmark of what a voice should be. The beauty of her voice was in its strength. A classic mezzo soprano, Whitney could belt out the higher notes, but she rarely gave them too much vibrato. She owned those notes, took hold of them and didn't let them go until she was finished.

Sadly, the last few years of her life were mined for tabloid fodder, and unscrupulous paparazzi kept the public supplied with embarrassing pictures, video, and anecdotes of a woman struggling with substance dependence. I, like many others, find it all too easy to click on those little "news" stories while reading up on the day's events, and I, even though I should know better, overlook the fact that I'm engaging in gossip when I do that.

Lately, I've started to feel really conflicted about those habits. It's easy to separate a news story from the actual human being who's written about in that story. Celebrities begin to look less like real people and more like things that can be discussed (dissected, probed, exploited) for our amusement because, well, they knew that's what they were signing up for when they aspired to this fame. It's the sort of excuse for bad behavior that rests on the idea that "they were asking for it."

When I say it like that--the way it actually is--I can't really justify my urge to click on those stories. The first couple of verses from Psalm One come to my mind.
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." And, I don't want to be one of the "scoffers." I don't want to allow the personal troubles of another person to be my entertainment. Mainly, I don't want to think that I spent (or, actually, wasted) my time doing something that didn't honor the dignity of another person's life.

So, this is how I want to remember Whitney. I want to remember that light, that beauty, that voice. I want to think of her with the same grace and love that Christ had for her and has for all of us, even in those times when we feel the least deserving.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Patience (or a lack thereof)

When I was young, I wasn’t much of a reader. Now I read all the time. Perhaps I even read a little too much now, but when I was a kid I didn’t have much use for books, didn’t see any real point to reading.

Part of that not reading was due to my suspicion that the really good books would come later, when I was older, abler, whatever it was that I needed to be to read those big books with small print and no pictures. Those, I thought, were what reading really was.

It’s a familiar story, a kid wanting to be a grown up, not content to be just a kid.

I think part of what makes that story so familiar is that so many of us struggle with the patience it takes to live right now without thought to the future or without the expectation that the future holds something better. Or, maybe that’s just me.

The other day in church the sermon was about the Prodigal Son. Actually, it was about several parables, but, as always, it was the Prodigal Son who stood out to me. He is a little bit me, as I am a little bit him, as we all are a little bit prodigal.

When I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son, I’m usually moved by the grace that his father shows; that’s what I focus on most. But, this time I was thinking about something different. I was thinking about patience. As one who has no patience, I think about patience a lot, as one who has lost something valuable remains fixated on that object until it is found. Fixated on the how and why and where that object has gone.

However, I’ve never had patience. My patience is not lost. It is simply nonexistent. And yet, I know it should be there. And so I think about it.

Patience stood out to me precisely because of the Prodigal Son’s lack of patience. He wanted his inheritance. Now. Not later. The son had plans for now, and those plans could not wait for later.

His request for the inheritance obviously goes against tradition. However, inheritance, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It is what the son would have been entitled to and his father’s heir. In that way, the inheritance itself is a financial benefit for the son and is also more or less morally neutral. It did not cause the moral decay of the Prodigal Son any more than it could edify him.

To me, the problem is not the inheritance. It’s the timing of the inheritance. The Prodigal Son received his inheritance before he was ready for it. Though money alone could not corrupt him, it could give him the means to pursue his baser desires, to move away from the safety of his family to a place where he would be free to do as he chose. He was not ready for such freedom because his heart and soul and mind were focused on his own whims and needs, not on those things that would provide a firm foundation for a life.

In thinking of the story in this way, I’m reminded all the more of the importance of the virtue of patience. There are so many times when I wish for something—perhaps an actual thing or more likely for something to happen in my life. I wonder why those things don’t come immediately, why there has to be waiting. So, now I’m trying (with gritted teeth) to remember that waiting has a purpose. Sometimes God makes us wait, knowing that we don’t yet have the capacity or strength to handle what He has for us, knowing that receiving all of our gifts at once—before our own hearts and souls and minds are focused on what is good and right and true—will lead to a squandering of fortune.

And so, I wait to read the story He has written for me, the one with the words I don't yet understand.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Why I've Gone (just a little bit) "Team Sheen"

By now, the Charlie Sheen sound bites are ubiquitous, quickly becoming a part of our collective knowledge, as Charlie Sheen, via every available media, brings us such terms as “tigerblood,” “rockstar from Mars,” and “winning” (in its new Sheen-ian usage).

We know these terms mainly due to the fact that they’re played repeatedly. Those sound bites are good for ratings. We eat up anything laced with schadenfreude, and, for better or worse, even “serious” journalists are willing to serve up such stories, despite the harm they might do to their subject or to our communal spirit.

We wouldn’t watch it if it wasn’t there; they wouldn’t report it if we didn’t want it. A cyclical argument that gets nowhere fast and bears too much resemblance to the arguments for and against certain fast food chains sporting golden arches. Let’s just say, this media circus is supersized—perhaps because the supply is inflated, perhaps because demand is high. It’s an interesting argument, but I’m not worried about it. Like I said, it gets nowhere fast, and I just don’t want to go nowhere.

I think there’s a more serious issue within this media frenzy, one that is getting overlooked. The fact is, for the past seven or so years, Charlie Sheen has been playing a character not so dissimilar to the man we’re seeing almost constantly on the news—a womanizing bachelor who takes pleasure, even pride, in his hard-partying lifestyle. The thing is, on television, this character is played with a wry smile and hints of a debauched side that the viewer never fully sees, and, though his antics speak to a shallow well of narcissism, he’s the guy everyone likes because he is fun and because, at his core, there is some good.

Conversely, when the real Charlie steps out and displays the kind of behavior that his TV character hints at, the same people who write, produce, and direct his show are quick to distance themselves; they’re quick to censure him, to tell him that this sort of behavior reflects poorly on the show and to, essentially, let the public know that Charlie is acting in ways they do not approve of.

That his behavior is bad is common sense to those of us watching at home, but I do wonder if the outraged parties realize that it is precisely this type of behavior that they’ve profited from for years, even if it was mere fiction created for a sitcom. The antics and humorous asides his on-screen bad behavior leads to is where they get their laughs and, in turn, their big payouts.

Again, that Charlie Sheen is behaving badly isn’t news to anyone. What seems to surprise the powers that be at CBS is that such bad behavior has negative consequences. It’s okay to draw a character that acts like Charlie; it’s not okay when that character is an actual human being, possibly struggling with the physical and mental stresses that accompany substance abuse. The message they send is, “We want Charlie to act like that, not actually be like that.”

But, the character they’ve created, while fictional, survives by perpetuating an even greater fiction—the fiction of a selfish, substance-using playboy who miraculously exists without inflicting lasting psychic damage on those who love and care about him. He makes mistakes; he messes everything up, but, in just the length of a TV episode, everything is back on track. However, anyone who knows, loves, and cares about someone struggling with addiction, sees through that fiction. Anyone who knows, loves, and cares about someone struggling with addiction has had to deal with the very real damage that such a struggle causes. The damage isn’t funny, can’t be solved in thirty minutes, and certainly doesn’t come with the sort of profit a hit sitcom does.

So, maybe in the midst of this media blitz I’ve become a bit “Team Sheen.” Or, if not that, I’m feeling more strongly that the entertainment makers should be a little more responsible with the images they create. Their fictions are some of our real lives, and, as we see more of the Sheen story unfold (or, perhaps, unravel) the only laughter is canned.