Monday, July 27, 2015

An All-Season Love

Summer love makes all the headlines and captures the imagination of song writers.  But an all-season love is what people deeply desire. 

Each season brings its own unique flavor of love, of course.  Summer love is about energy and light.  Autumn love is a matter of reaping the harvest that’s been sown.  Winter love involves a hunkering-down and a tending of the fires.  Spring love rekindles and renews.

But an all-season love delivers the faithfulness and constancy needed in each passing season.  It gives witness to the supra-seasonal fidelity of the Lord, whose own love is mediated in and through the phases of our lives.

An all-season love knows that changes are not always linear and sequential. Sometimes they even seem to spiral in and through each other, according to some predestined double-helix design.

An all-season love speaks not only to passion and purpose, but also to desolation and even death itself.  More than merely riding the swells of a stormy sea, or grasping white-knuckled in the face of life's vicissitudes, an all-season love provides the baseline and the underlying rhythm which provides stability amid the daily fluctuations on our journey home.

An all-season love perdures because it alone is eternal.  It is the alternative to the using and the abandoning of worldly desires.  An all-season love saves us from being chewed up and discarded like last year's mulched leaves.

An all all-season love sees itself not in terms of choosing, but in having first been chosen.  It is defined not by its own thinking and acting, but by its primary stance of receiving and responding to the other. 

While a seasonal love is by definition a passing fancy of some sort, an all-season love embraces the gift of existence itself.  It breathes a quiet "Amen" to L. Guissani's insight, "I am because I am loved."

Monday, July 20, 2015

5 Steps to an Ecological Conversion

Laudato Si'
“'The external deserts in the world are growing,
because the internal deserts have become so vast'.
For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.
It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians,
with the excuse of realism and pragmatism,
tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment.
Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent.
So what they all need is an 'ecological conversion',
whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident
in their relationship with the world around them.
Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue;
it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience."
LS, n. 217)
Is Pope Francis stretching the sometimes rigid boundaries of his brothers and sisters in Christ?  Or is he striking a bold new path between various extreme positions regarding care for our common home? Thankfully, the answer is "yes" and "yes". 
Of course, allowing ourselves to be stretched or daring to head down a bold new path is never a painless process. Here are five steps to begin that journey:
  1. Begin with an examination of conscience--both personally and collectively.  Have I ridiculed environmental issues because they don't fit neatly within my current political or economic opinions?  Have I ignored an authentic "human ecology" which is intrinsic to real concern for the environment, e.g., by embracing political positions which support the destruction of the innocent or the harvesting of human life itself?  Have we been passive participants in our tired cycle of over-consumption, complicit contributors to what Pope Francis calls our "throw-away" culture?

  2. Look for daily ways to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle :)  In one way or another, we have all been seduced by "the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one's own immediate interests" (LS, n. 122).  Dare I identify one area of my life where I could cut some consumption?  Might I look for ways to repair older items rather than just replacing them?  Could we dramatically cut the demand for sweatshop labor if we were bold enough to shop for second hand clothes?  Finally, if the mere act of recycling bottles, cans, and paper products has seemed like a bridge too far, might I start with this small step across a new bridge to a fresh start?

  3. Identify our present predispositions about ecological issues. Laudato Si's call for an ecological conversion invites each of us to examine where we fall on the following spectrum:
    "At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited" (LS, n. 60). Does the myth of progress tempt me to resist addressing the ethical considerations implicit within the current ecological crisis--or to deny that deep change is necessary?  Or have I bought into the myth that elimination of human beings is the solution to all of our problems?  Pope Francis acknowledges the destruction caused by a misguided modern anthropocentrism, but he also argues that this "need not necessarily yield to 'biocentrism', for that would entail adding yet another imbalance" (LS, n. 118).

  4. Channel the Poverello within.  Like his namesake, the "Little Poor Man" Assisi, Pope Francis has captured the world's attention with his consistent and relentless defense of the least, the outcast, the marginalized.  In complete conformity to the grace of Christ, St. Francis lived in communion with both man and beast, through a life of evangelical poverty.  Inspired by this witness, Pope Francis is challenging those obsessed with Mammon as he proposes the Catholic view of "social issues" with both passion and compassion.  If we are open to following Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis, we will see that "a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" (LS, n. 35; emphasis in the original).

  5. Make time not only for reflection but also for resolution.  My brother-in-law once argued that "Main Street drives Wall Street": So, what if my personal "household ecology" drives our "human ecology"?  Would I commit to any of these next actions, in solidarity with Pope Francis?

    *Sign the Petition to Support the Pope's Call for a Human Ecology.
    *Check out this short blog post with resources from the USCCB's Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.
    *Explore Natural Family Planning Awareness Week in light of the "green sex" revolution, which has the capacity to open hearts and minds even amid great confusion about human sexuality and the reality of marriage.

Let's start shrinking our "internal deserts" by making the words of St. Francis of Assisi our own, "Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs" (LS, n. 1)!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ex-Apes or Artists?

G.K. Chesterton
Would Chesterton have been amused, outraged, or wearied by the sign I recently passed on a college campus? It promoted a lecture about human beings under the title of "ex-apes," alleging to address new insights about our understanding of evolutionary processes.

In a brilliant chapter of The Everlasting Man entitled "Man in the Cave", Chesterton lays out a withering critique of theories which want to reduce the human person to not much more than a mere beast.  This "Apostle of Common Sense" roots his reasoning not on mere hypotheses, however, but firmly in the facts. 

Just as the fact that there is something rather than nothing should compel us to look for answers outside of the closed-system of our physical world, so the fact that the first human beings painted pictures on the walls of caves should point us toward the deeper mystery which it reveals.  After all, a merely materialistic view of evolutionary processes cannot account for this quantum leap forward among all living beings.  Here's G.K.'s brilliant commentary for your enjoyment and reflection:

"...That is the simplest lesson to learn in the cavern of the colored pictures; only it is too simple to be learnt. It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fertile Soil

If my soul were fertile soil,
I would commit to regular weeding.
I would remember to water
and would look forward to pruning.
If my soul were fertile soil,
I would worry less about other people's gardens.
I would celebrate my successes
and would frequently ask for advice.
If my soul were fertile soil,
I would trust that the fruit to come in due season.
I would be grateful for both sun and rain
and would value the seasons of life.
If my soul were fertile soil,
I would share my harvest with many friends and neighbors.
I would want not, would fear not,
and would compost regularly.
If every soul is fertile soil,
it is because the Gardener specializes in redressing dense underbrush
and toxicity and desertification.
If no plot of land is too exhausted to be renewed,
it is because humble souls are willing to cooperate
with the tireless work of the Gardener.

Thank God for the Gardener,
and for the chance to annex our small plots of land onto his expanding new Eden!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Obergefell and a Tale of Three Cities

(Washington, D.C., 2015)  Nietzsche rules!  Through a narrow majority ruling of the high court, the "will to power" carries the day throughout the USA:  Marriage is no longer something, but is anything those in power want it to be.
The Court's decision implies that children no longer need to be bound together with their mother and father; despite sociological and psychological evidence to the contrary, society as a whole must now say that any combination of partners can do an equally effective job raising children.  Thus, the re-defining has more in common with un-defining:  What once was something, and now is anything the powerful want it to be, in reality has thus become nothing.  Marriage and family have effectively been de-constructed.

"Equality," reduced to mere "sameness," requires the elimination of anything that suggests difference.  "Love," reduced to mere sexual attractions and desires, demands the social acceptance of any and all sexual behavior, even as it denies the possibility of chaste friendships rooted in mutual affection.  A politically correct version of "inclusion" ultimately requires intolerance toward anyone who appears to be "exclusive."

Thus the Obergefell decision looks eerily analogous to previous Supreme Court decisions which attempted to re-define reality--e.g., "human beings" in a way that excluded African Americans (Dred Scott), or  "choice" in a way that included a right to kill the unborn (Roe v. Wade).  The least and the powerless suffer at the hands of the prevailing whims of those in power.  Presumably, this decision also lays a legal foundation for preventing future "discrimination" against polyamorous or incestuous relationships.  After all, how can the state deny equal treatment to those who demand it?

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the deconstructive force of the "will to power" can provide the peace and joy and hope which eluded Nietzsche himself.