Media Notes- Stub

We live in times where we just aren’t sure whether the news we access is true or not. Sadly, most people assume their own version rather than even looking for what actually happened or might be the case.

That this is true is confirmed by Roger McNamee, a former facebook investor in TIME itself: (http://time.com/5505441/mark-zuckerberg-mentor-facebook-downfall/)

“On Facebook, information and disinformation look the same; the only difference is that disinformation generates more revenue, so it gets better treatment. To Facebook, facts are not an absolute; they are a choice to be left initially to users and their friends but then magnified by algorithms to promote engagement. In the same vein, Facebook’s algorithms promote extreme messages over neutral ones, which can elevate disinformation over information, conspiracy theories over facts. Like-minded people can share their views, but they can also block out any fact or perspective with which they disagree.”

Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic slowly and painstakingly explains the 2 hours over video footage that that exonerate the demonized students of Covington Catholic from the March for Life, and she explains the whole debacle:

“How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/media-must-learn-covington-catholic-story/581035/

The destroyed credibility of the NY Times, the Washington Post, and CNN as the most-respected news outlets hurts our ability to have real conversations as citizens. And it leaves normal people, like me, feeling hopelessly adrift for the means of even accessing accurate news coverage.

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Fr. TJ White on the shifting job of apologetics

From: First Things, “Catholicisim in an Age of Discontent” by Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP

“In judo, the martial artist learns to use the weight of his opponent against him. Skepticism is the weight that secular culture brings to bear upon the Church today. But this is also its weakness. Our own era is haunted by metaphysical despair. Plenary freedom for identity construction is, in the end, an empty freedom. The same goes for liberal despair over the possibility of a common purpose for political life. The negative peace of nonjudgmental inclusion fails to satisfy the natural desire for real political unity. What is at stake is the question of whether being a human person (and not just a thing the cosmos randomly begot) has any ultimate meaning. In the face of this basic question, we must put forward the very mystery of God himself. Today, Catholic theology should focus on Trinitarian monotheism. Why? Because God is the ultimate source of personhood, the principle of explanation that gives human existence its greatest intelligibility, and the source of enduring happiness.”

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/11/catholicism-in-an-age-of-discontent?utm_source=First+Things+New+Master+List&utm_campaign=ccc7c16beb-Two_Essays_Mother_Teresa_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcb60f68e-ccc7c16beb-180818573

Fr. White names the problem expertly and states that despair over metaphysical truth and a grounding for a shared, cultural understanding of the good characterizes our current discourse. I would say he’s exactly right; one despairs that it’s even possible to agree about big questions whether it’s worth pondering at all. He posits Catholicism as an answer. With this account, he/we/the Church could do it, if she can live a life that shows true unity and love for others:

“This inclusive triumphalism came to the fore in the Second Vatican Council. In the opening chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Church is defined as the “sacrament . . . of the unity of the whole human race,” that is to say, the sign and instrument by which human beings are united in authentic communion with God and with one another. Paragraphs 14–16 are key expressions of inclusive triumphalism. The axiom that there is no salvation outside the Church is stated overtly, but reconfigured positively: All salvation that occurs in human history is in some way always already in the Church, or related to her in an intimate, if hidden, way. The whole world may come to participate more or less imperfectly in the universal mission of Christ and the Church: the Eastern Orthodox churches, Protestant ecclesial communities, the Jewish people, Islamic monotheism, the great world religious traditions that are not always explicitly monotheistic, and even secularists through the workings of the moral conscience by which human beings are led to seek the true and the good.”

On Becoming a Hero: Roles, Rituals and the True Self

Yesterday at the grocery store, a man handed me a wad of cash, saying “Here ya go, ma’am. Merry Christmas.” And the fifty-year-old, tall white man wearing a black baseball hat and backpack, walked away. To be honest, I was rather troubled–I looped around odd places before driving home to make sure no one was following me.

It prompted me to consider “Why me?” I attract a good deal of attention when I’m out with my two kids pushing mini-carts in the store and a baby wrapped to my chest. My guess is that me as “mom with three kids” met some kind of ideal in his head someone working hard and “doing it right,” so to speak.

The irony of me matching someone’s ideal is such an odd thought to me, because, despite how stereotypical we are, I (and my husband) never set out to be a certain way. In fact, we’ve just sort of stumbled and fumbled our way since we fell head over heels in 2006. In truth, I have watched people my age go off, continue their education, travel and do other things that we really couldn’t and I’ve felt so massively and heavily at times that I’m doing everything wrong. Yet through no intention of my own, I align to someone else’s view of “the good life,” a “hero” in a certain sense, someone to-be-admired. Strange.

Roles and Rituals

It got me thinking about our roles in life, the roles we play with each other and the rituals we use to enact these roles and their ontological status–are they real? And quite honestly, the answer is yes. Many a faddish magazine dismisses rituals (religious, family or otherwise) as “play-acting.”  But the jobs we do for each other in our roles actually enact our values: as a mom, I take my kids to the grocery store, I pack their lunch, I help them decorate a Christmas tree and I snap their photo all-the-darn-time. I’m not play-acting. Yes, these jobs come with the territory of the relationship — a mom helps kids do certain things — but they are also rituals. In the words of _________, a ritual is “The story we tell ourselves about out ourselves.” I would paraphrase that to say rituals are the culturally sanctioned actions through which we enact our values.

When I pack a lunch, I am playing a role in the cultural set-up that has designated school as the socializing setting for young children; I am playing a support role to meet the kids’ basic bodily needs of eating within the cultural context of school and what that does for them and me in ordering our lives and relationships. And yes, it is a role. But it is critical, and when I participate, I enact or bring into reality my own approval and buy-in to our value system. These rituals hold our cultural, relational fabric together. To dispense with them is not to be more “real,” but to cut individuals off from relational, cultural unities and isolate them.

The roles we play then are more than empty motions, and I think people become heroes when they learn to play the roles for the good of others, to recognize and transmit the goods of community and culture. Indeed, as Aristotle said, man is a political animal. We exist in and of communities; a person alone is not fully realized. Roles and rituals function to preserve and transmit community, an essential good to human life.

To give an example, a young man to aspires to be a firefighter in order to be thought of as strong and attractive, does it for the wrong reasons. A man who serves in the job (or role) of firefighter and forgets himself as he works to save others, becomes a hero. Without his intention, he draws the admiration of others. And a person who dismisses the role of firefighter as empty, prestige-seeking has lost a sense of the fundamental value of putting one’s abilities to the service of others in a particular way.

Vocation

Whether we pursue it or not, people become heroes or attain to holiness without seeking this directly–to seek it directly would be impossible. But by intending to serve, to play roles and do jobs for the aid of others in the service of goodness, we attain to what the roles and the rituals signify–goodness, unity, love–the holy, spiritual realities immanent to the physical.

Super heroes

This same phenomenon appears in super hero movies. The hero typically doesn’t intend to go out and “be a hero.” Rather, he or she becomes a hero when she starts to use her abilities for the good of others simply because those powers are hers. Captain America, for instance, doesn’t become a hero when he gets super strength. He becomes a hero when he breaks orders to rescue the captured POWs. Peter Parker doesn’t become a hero when he uses his abilities to win wrestling matches; he becomes a hero when he recognizes that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” and he takes up that responsibility.

Heroes and Saints

So I don’t think that any of us can set out to become heroes or saints, in Christian-speak. But I think that people become heroes when we use our abilities to service of others, for the transmitting and caring for the good of others, the unity of our societies and authentic values. And this comes out most often through our roles and rituals: brother, daughter, sister, mother, firefighter, nurse, priest, teacher, planning committee co-chair, mom’s group leader, artist, ball player etc, etc, etc.

Freelance Repost: Black Panther and Unity

This lil piece of mine appeared on Popcultureandtheology.com

Black Panther and Theology: Unity and Our Call to Face the World

Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger, takes to neither unity nor isolationism, but righteous fury at the injustice in the treatment of black people, particularly in the death of his father.  Stevens’ backstory includes the former King, T’Chaka, killing Stevens’s father over the latter’s role in the theft of vibranium from Wakanda. Stevens’s father, like Stevens, was a proponent of the view that Wakandan vibranium ought to be distributed to people of color to assist them overthrowing their oppressors. Stevens tells T’Challa, “There are about two billion people in the world who look like us, but their lives are a lot harder. Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all.” Having lost his own father for the protection of vibranium and having grown-up alone and facing racial injustice in America, Killmonger presents a compellingly sympathizable anti-hero.

….

Killmonger’s dedication to his cause moves even T’Challa himself. When his throne is restored, Black Panther branches out from his father’s policy of isolation and sides with Nakia, who he then asks to be his queen, agreeing that the injustices faced by black folks are formidable and venturing to put the full heft of Wakanda’s resources towards helping them. He founds a center in America to start the work of aiding others, and finally, he proclaims the necessity of seeing others as “one, single tribe.”

____

More at the link. Movies are our mythological stories–and I think it makes sense that our most compelling values as a society play out in them.

The Transformative Purpose of Pain

Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_edit.jpgI wanted to re-post an email devotional that I get from Fr. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. In just a few paragraphs, it sheds light on and explains something that resonates with my experience over the past few years, the transformative power and purpose of pain.

I’ve highlighted the one paragraph that stood out the most to me:

Transforming Pain
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.

Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history. The Jesus Story is about radically transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing on the pain to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it and can also use it for good, humanity is in major trouble. Because we will suffer. Even the Buddha said that suffering is part of the deal!

We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness. Please trust me on this. We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.

As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross or, as in Michelangelo’s Pietà cradling Jesus’ body. One would expect her to take her role wailing or protesting, but she doesn’t! We must reflect on this deeply. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. It’s as if she is saying, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Consider the analogy of energy circuits: Most of us are relay stations; only a minority are transformers—people who actually change the electrical charge that passes through us.

Jesus on the cross and Mary standing beneath the cross are classic images of transformative spirituality. They do not return the hostility, hatred, accusations, or malice directed at them. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery of Christianity. It takes our whole life to begin to comprehend this. It tends to be the wisdom of elders, not youngers.

Unfortunately, our natural instinct is to try to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame, where our private pain is not center stage but a mystery shared with every act of bloodshed and every tear wept since the beginning of time. Our pain is not just our own.

Church puts light on Opioid Addiction

Just a quick post here–A few weeks ago, the diocese of Arlington hosted an conference on Opioid addiction, including approaches from doctors and counselors and from a priest in recovery. I watched the talks online, a Dr. Michael Horne speaks about how addiction begins. Fr. Mark Hushen talks about his experience in recovery and the 12 Steps as a cognitive behavioral and spiritual therapy, of returning to God.

I’m posting two talks because addiction is a tough, multifaceted and pervasive problem that Washington doesn’t talk much about. It’s easier to fight over bathrooms or nominations than face something that isn’t easy to fix or name call about.

After I’ve posted two things struggling with the church, this reflects the Church on the right path–on bringing Christ to people in true need. The Church has two powerful tools: spiritual truth and a community. The Church has people and can bring people together–when she does that with grace and holiness, the transformation could be boundless.

What do you think of this? Are there other issues that the Church could focus on? Have you heard of the 12 steps? Do you agree with Fr. Hushen’s description of them as a true spiritual path?

Reacting to the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church

I haven’t said anything yet, but the recent revelations of on-going sexual abuse and its cover up in Pennsylvania since the 1970s in the church has been very troubling to me. The involvement of Cardinal Wuerl, who currently serves as Archbishop of Washington DC, especially bothered me because he is someone who I had admired. Then the even more recent news of the same thing happening Germany came out.

These have disturbed me greatly, and I want to say that I have a “response,” or what a response should be, but I don’t. All I have is a reaction, a recounting of what its been like to watch this unfold.

*First, I was shocked and horrified, heart-broken for the survivors and deeply troubled that the sexual abuses of teens and children could be so systemic among those who are supposed to guide the faithful.

*Embarrassed and ashamed. I was ashamed for the church and embarrassed to be associated with such corruption and hypocrisy.

*Doubt – all sorts of questions arose, questions I thought had been confidently answered:

  1. Could this really be the Church of God, the Church Christ founded?
  2. What if it’s really all a lie?
  3. How could the Holy Spirit really be present here?
  4. How could the Church’s sexual ethics still hold water at all? Haven’t we just discredited ourselves completely?

*Considerations — Sexual abuse may be a bane everywhere, but that doesn’t make it okay. And it’s especially bad in the church; we are called to be an example.

*My Developing thoughts:

  1. Why be Christian anyway? Because I can’t escape the necessity of the idea that there is meaning and a goodness infused into the universe by a Creator. And because the idea of a loving, healing God — the Christian narrative, incarnated in Jesus– changes my life. The historical case and moral philosophy aspects are particularly important to me.
  2. Now what? Well, maybe its time to re-examine certain thoughts, disciplines, unofficial traditions and the way we teach them and live them. For instance, historically, priests have been allowed to marry and Eastern rite Catholics marry today and are still in communion with Rome.
    1. Time to put away inordinate “delicacy” and talk about hard topics–like sex abuse and what sex even is– because they are volcanoes erupting all around us, whether we address them or not.
    2. The role of ritual and the sacraments is pivotal to being Catholic. Let’s keep that and work on making church a truer “hospital for sinners” as Pope Francis has called it. It would benefit the Church, I think, for parishes to welcome people with problems more openly–because we all have them. Too often, the social atmosphere is stiflingly aware of staying within certain boundaries of moral righteousness. (Not that doing bad things, sin, is okay—we just have to be honest and helpful about the fact that everyone needs help and that help is available–rather than always trying to look like we are sinless).
    3. The Church is about Jesus, as Bishop Barron reminded us recently–it’s not about the mistakes of its members. To get through this, we (I) have to keep Jesus in sight.

So what do you think? How has the news affected you?

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator” by Gary Noesner

Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage NegotiatorThere’s a part of me that loves superheroes and detectives–this book was a real life tour of the role negotiators play in saving lives and ending hostage situations from terrorism, kidnappings, prison riots, barricades and threatened suicides.

Gary Noesner tells page-turning story after story of tense, walk-the-line between life and death stand-offs and how he and/or the FBI crews on scene handled the situation. It starts with a domestic dispute that escalated when an aggrieved ex-husband kidnapped and held at gunpoint his ex-wife and son. Noesner then describes his own career path, and details Waco, Ruby Ridge and other notorious government failures while also including tales of successful negotiations that talked the perpetrators down without any bloodshed.

He lauds the successful balance between tactical (armed SWAT) units and the negotiators and also what he thinks went wrong in Waco and other bloody encounters. Noesner’s main focus is importance of negotiators and the centrality of both teams working together instead of an over-reliance on force, which he blames for unfortunate outcomes.

The main things that struck me about this book:

  1. It is tense and thrilling–better than a movie.
  2. The power of words. In so many desperate situations, cool-headed negotiators were indeed able to establish contact and communications with the would-be violent leaders and then get people out safely. A well-placed word can save lives and an ill-placed move can lose them. Guns and tanks seem all powerful sometimes, but often a caring, patient tongue can be more effective.
  3. (less important) Noesner’s career path seemed so straight forward. He wanted to work at the FBI; he applied and he started. Getting jobs today hardly seems so accessible.
  4. Normal people overwhelmed by emotions committed most of the kidnapping and threatening. It goes to show how strong emotions can be and how critical it is to manage them properly. Further, it’s something that none of us is better than.
  5. Calm communication can solve most issues–even in everyday life. Noesner even says towards the end that “all of life is a negotiation.” Relationships, rapport, calm, understanding and seeing the needs of the other person are the tools negotiators work with–and their our tools too with each other. Success is in seeing the humanity of the other person and wanting their good–in short, loving them (as Jesus calls us), rather than over-powering them.

Stalling for Time is a fascinating combination of psychology and true crime and true heroes.

Would you read a book like this? Have you ever seen communication strategies work well/poorly in your own life? 

Are there other books detailing the heroics of law enforcement? What about the darker sides of force and government power?

Retractions: Finding an authentic self-love in Christian language

It’s come time that I would like to discuss Christian language about losing the self and about self-love, and do so by revisiting something I wrote a few years ago called “The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood.” 

In this well-intended piece, I wrote about how motherhood requires giving up of the self in order to be purified. Some of that is accurate, but some of what I wrote is off-the mark, and falls into the category I’ve come to despise in mom-devotionals: rationalizing our legitimate needs away. 

I wrote this: “But the false self who feels buried, who thinks we are above drool and spilled cereal, who wants everything to be easy, without sacrifice, and who wants accomplishments for accomplishments’ sake must die in the desert of motherhood.”

And to this I would now reply: Hold on. It’s true that no one is “above drool” and the mundane pieces of life, but neither should anyone be confined to the mundane aspects of life. Perhaps this “self who feels buried” doesn’t need to “die,” but rather is in a real need of being resurrected, cared for, and set on a path of purpose–in short, loved and healed by Jesus.

Yes, in the Gospels Jesus says that “He who seeks to gain his life shall lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall gain it.” And this is very true, but I fear that I’ve misapplied it myself and seen it wrongly applied quite frequently.  God loves us and wants good things for us. He gave us emotions, and when they are severely out of balance, it’s a signal that something needs to be fixed. Following God is meant to be a fulfillment of who we are called to be and of putting our gifts into his service. It is not the squelching of our abilities, moods and value. When we “give up our life,” this is a call to put our gifts at the service of God rather than selfishness.

And we can know that this is accurate because of the greatest commandment. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves if we have no love of self. Fr. Jacques Philippe, a well-known priest and writer on the spiritual life has written:

Love travels along two paths that are inseparable in the end: love of God and love of neighbor. But as this text suggests, there is another aspect of charity—love of one’s self. (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”) This self-love is good and necessary, not egoism that refers everything to “me,” but the grace to live in peace with one’s self, content to be what one is, with one’s talents and limitations.
– Called to Life, p.69

Christian devotionals sometimes wrongly attack self-love and self-care as selfishness or indulgence. But they are not always the same. Being a self, caring for ourselves is actually what allows us to give to others.

In true humility, we recognize our gifts so that we can give them! True humility doesn’t pretend that we are worthless wretches with nothing to offer anyone, cowering in a bedroom feeling low. Yet, it always maintains the other side of the truth, which is that none of us are ever perfect and that it’s good also to recognize our shortcomings and sins and aim to get better.

So I retract my portions of my essay. The intensity of my negative emotions meant that something needed to change. For me, I started working outside the home. Maybe this isn’t the path for everyone, but it has made me feel that I am using my gifts at the service of others and answering a call.

Encouraging Scrupulosity – Another problematic theme I see in some devotionals

And now, if I may, I have seen an entire genre of mom-devotionals in which frankly I see scrupulosity encouraged alongside this downplaying of the legitimate needs of parents.

In one recent post, the author found sinfulness in her social media latte post. She declared that she was a hypocrite, posting her shiny, “best life” photos while avoiding the stickier interior issues. Maybe that’s true, but I’d had enough of this style and unsubscribed. The post had also included that this was a break after a long stretch of busyness for her, and I just couldn’t shake the ill-feelings that this was precisely the sort of Christian-mommy post that finds sin where it isn’t and overlooks some other legitimate goods. These things are misleading and frankly unhealthy.

Here’s what bothers me about this genre of devotional:
1. Finding sin in innocent actions encourages scrupulosity. I don’t want to discourage examination of conscience, but neither should we obsess over all the minuscule ways we might be sinning. There are more loving, healthy, helpful, Jesus-centered things to do instead.
-2. A coffee break can be a healthy impulse–as a mother, a little alone time is necessary for sanity. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves–the “ourselves” isn’t optional. As I mentioned earlier, if we aren’t caring for ourselves appropriately, we cannot care for others. In humility, we see our own value interconnected with the value of others. Humility is not acting like we are worthless and don’t need to recharge or manage our own needs.

If some time out with a coffee is self-care, it is pernicious to look for sin in an innocuous action.

3. Where does this self-critical confessional stem from? Honestly, (and I’m speculating here)  I think it stems from a sense of guilt at life going well. Sometimes, we are so accustomed to speaking of the cross, that we forget the joy and the resurrection. I’ve spent time reflecting on this myself–what to do when things are going well. What is there to “offer up” so to speak?

The answer, I believe, comes as forgetfulness of oneself, not as worthless, but in seeing opportunities to love others. Instead of continuing to look inward, we can turn our gaze outward to help others–to give back some of the goodness that we have been so lucky to receive from God.

4. God loves us. He does want us to live good lives–to have “life abundantly”–and while we do need to realize our sin, we need to also see our value, that we have gifts we are called to share. Fussing over lattes isn’t one of them. When life is going well, something isn’t necessarily wrong. It can be a time to share blessings.

Perhaps the author’s quiet cup of coffee strengthened her to jump back into the parenting fray or gave her a chance to write something which would encourage others.

Only the individual and God can say what is indulgence and what is self-care, so I can’t claim to know the state of her soul.

[For the record, I do not intend anything like the “prosperity gospel” here; I do not believe that God heaps material goods on people for being Christians. What I do mean is that when we do have abundance, we should be grateful and share it instead of looking the gift-horse in the mouth, so to speak, and seeking out problems with it.]

There are legitimate goods that are okay to celebrate and enjoy. And I believe that we live the Christian life when we focus on what we can give. In Bishop Barron’s words, “your life is not about you.”

When he speaks of the great values of God and teleology, Bishop Barron says: “None of this is meant to be crushing to the will, but liberating. When these great values present themselves to our freedom, we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive. “

So–what do you think? Have you had any turn-arounds in thought? Do you buy the distinction I’ve made about self-love and selfishness?