Monthly Archives: June 2014

Called to discomfort

If you are interested in being comfortable, don’t be a Christian.

This message is sprinkled throughout the Gospels, but Jesus’s hyperbole in Matthew 8 is probably the most striking, direct indication of this discomfort that we are called to. ‘Let the dead bury the dead.’ That’s intense. How would that even work?

Obviously, this statement is so over the top that it isn’t meant to be an actual command. There are others like it (love God and hate your parents, sell all you have and follow me, take up your cross…) but this one gets a lot of hang up. The basic point is, being a Christian isn’t about being comfortable.

We need to look for the ways in our life in which we are being asked to step out of the boat in faith, and we need to stop deliberating on them and act. When we act, we need to commit and carry through, because it’s going to get weird. We need to stop looking back at what we are leaving behind, and let the dead bury the dead.

Holiness, personal holiness, is a moving target, always out in front of us. This doesn’t mean we should stop pursuing it, because it is only by pursuing holiness that we end up facing Christ. The great thing about failing at it, is that, just like Peter, we are commended for having faith, and pulled up by Jesus himself.

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How to Measure

Five hundred twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.

If you know ‘Rent,’ you know where I’m going with this.

Good religion really isn’t rocket science. The militant secularist looks at practitioners of religion and lumps the entirety of practice together, so that guys who fly planes into buildings are in the same group as Mother Teresa. In some ways they are right. In both of the previous cases, I’d venture to say that love was a driving factor.

The love, in the former case, is one of ideology. To love an ideology, is to love oneself above all things, because you are the person who espouses the ideology. It is lifeless, immutable, and utterly resistant to care for other people. Any religious person is susceptible to this love, but so is any humanist / materialist. It is in our nature as humans to seek understanding, and ideologies make neat boxes to put the world in. They are easy to love, because they are simple. They are also easy to act on, because they create clear lines of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’

The actual world isn’t so neat, however. Many times, people are confused, struggling, and stuck. Not from any deficiency, or from anger, or repression, but simply from the actualities of life. This is where the second kind of love comes in. It is a love for people. A love that is alive and active. A love that doesn’t have a neat box. A love that is concerned about the whole person, not just the face we see before us. It also tends to be a very sacrificial love, but one that does not always get the recognition it deserves. Loving people is hard, because it is complex, and requires us to look outside personal gratification, sometimes even leaving us wondering if we did the right thing. It can’t be checked off the way an ideology can.

Good religion is about this love, because God is about this love.

Appearances

‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain.’ ~Exodus 20:7

Be a saint, but don’t think too much about what defines a saint.

This morning’s gospel is a tough one; Jesus is telling us that people who have worked miracles in his name aren’t necessarily even acquaintances. And before you start saying, “well, yeah, there’s this guy and that guy and that other one who…” remember the warning about judgment that precedes this statement in Matthew’s account. We’re talking about people who sincerely did these things for Christ, not just for cash, fame, or fire insurance.

So what makes the difference? Knowing God. An analog helps here; I can bring my wife flowers every day of the year, hold her and caress her every chance that I get, whisper sweet kindnesses to her whenever we have a moment alone, and by all outward appearances be a fantastic husband. I could even say of myself that that I was being a great husband. The problem with this scenario is that I’m doing the ‘right things,’ but at the expense of actually knowing my wife. All the while I’ve missed some important connections: My wife is deathly allergic to most flowers (chocolate is our acceptable replacement,) has children hanging on her all day (constant touching), and she’s more interested in adult conversation at any chance she can get it than in romantic baby talk.

Discernment is important in our lives, and though a general call for something holy might seem appealing, right, and good, it might not be a call to you. Remember that God is in the whisper, not the storm, quake, or fire. Just because something is awesomely holy, does not mean it is your calling. The only way you can get to know your calling, btw, is by getting to know God.

On Sweets and False Prophets

Don’t drink your calories.

The readings today admonish us to listen to God’s word, and not accept false prophets. Jesus tells us in the gospel reading that a prophet will be known ‘by their fruit.’ The problem, a good deal of the time, is that we don’t remember how to evaluate fruit. Too often we are looking for something sweet, something satisfying, something tasty and pleasant in the moment.

Why have a well rounded meal when you can just drive through for fast food?

Most of the time, good food (fruit) takes a while to prepare, it requires care and consideration, variety and effort. Some of it will taste great, some of it will be necessary (and will come to be a welcome taste the more often it is eaten.)

The thing about false prophets is this: bad news drives away business. You’ll never hear a negative prediction from a good fortune teller, despite what fiction tells us about them. They want you to keep buying, so they’ll keep shoveling positive tripe your way. Predictions that encourage you, that make you feel good, that teach you how to avoid suffering. In short, foods that taste great and require no effort to prepare and consume.

When you are evaluating a teaching for ‘good fruit,’ make sure there is some effort in there. Some measure of chewing required to get the full meaning. Some complexity and call to change your actions, not just your outlook.

Don’t drink your calories.

Legacy

Today is the Solemnity of John the Baptist for us Catholics. The lessons we can learn from the story of John the Baptist are much more generally applicable, however. John had vision, dedication, and combined those into a purpose. He very clearly fulfilled his calling in life, a thing many of us spend a very great deal of time wondering about, and not doing.

Ultimately, his situation is very similar to ours. We will die. The question we must answer is, what legacy will we leave. We are all preparing the way for something, even if we do great things in our life, someone will build on them to do greater things later. We have to ask, what things am I preparing the way for?

Sometimes, we have to identify the desert we are calling out in. Other times, we simple need to be aware of what we are calling out. Ultimately, we need to marry that vision and dedication we each have, and make it a purpose.

For what cause are you preparing the way?

Missing the point on Judgement

Reflecting on today’s Gospel message about the plank and the speck. (USCCB Daily Reading)

Many times it is used to stop people from admonishing their brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not the intended meaning, as most true *judgment* occurs within ourselves, and never makes it to action. When we judge others, we put them in a box and ignore the things they do outside of that box. We invalidate their broader humanity based on a single facet of their character.

How much more dangerous is this when we are guilty of the same thing we are judging them for?

It allows us to say, like the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” When we should be saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Then, when we’ve come to terms with the sin ourselves, that is when we will have the most strength to admonish our brothers and sisters. We’ll be able to say, “See, I struggled with this too, but I found healing with God.” We will see them as we see ourselves, and we can show them mercy (the very mercy we received), rather than judgment.