Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”
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Recalling my first Ash Wednesday, an uncomfortable day

[This essay first ran on Ethika Politika. Full article available there]

My first Lent, I wandered around campus wondering if anyone would notice the smudge on my forehead. I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and had recently stumbled across the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her seemingly outrageous claims to truth. Encountering both the man who would become my husband and then the Church Fathers had led me to the troubling realization that maybe everything was not relative: that perhaps man’s darkness was real and that there was a real salvation, that perhaps God did exist and that truth, goodness, and beauty were more than romantic ideals.

A disinterested rationalism ruled the day on campus, the idea that all traditions and practices are something the educated person stands apart from, that she observes from a distance and perhaps with curiosity. This was well-known to any “critical thinker” and to the newly, ardently atheistic coeds in my residence hall. Actually to take part in a tradition, to claim it for oneself, is the only modern-day heresy there is.

Though intellectual commitments are often frowned upon by universities, they are inescapably human. All of us are born into complex networks of family, national, ethnic, religious, political, and other relationships that modern man tends to dismiss, viewing humans only as atomized, disconnected units. It turns out that claiming a tradition is not so radical after all.

Full Article Here:

What was your most memorable Ash Wednesday experience? Or even just a time that you saw someone wearing ashes. I’d love to hear from you!

Advent: The Reason The Traditions We Hand Down Matter

My latest article from the Truth and Charity Forum is about Advent and why the traditions we institute with our kids matter so much. It’s not about feeling guilty for not doing a million things; it’s the opposite actually. Sometimes we need to do less but with more heart. Are we teaching consumerism or faith? What do we say Christmas is about? All this has been closer to home than ever for me as my oldest is three years old and fully able to absorb what we teach this year.

“in families, we transmit an understanding of reality, of good and evil, of values and truth. It is so abstract sounding that words often fall short, but it is real. So the arrival of our children and the role of parenthood, which we inherit, are immensely transformative, and they should be for both us and our little ones. As parents, we will build the framework that forms their entire lives, even if we cannot always see it.

AdventCandles“In the new book “The Choice of the Family,” which is an interview with Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the interviewer quotes him a passage from Karl Wojtyla’s (who became Pope John Paul II) play The Jeweler Shop:

When they [children] grow up under our eyes, they seem to have become inaccessible, like impermeable soil, but they have already absorbed us. And though outwardly they shut themselves off, inwardly we remain in them and–a frightful thought–their lives somehow test our own creation, our own suffering (p. 167).

“This captures it so well; because children first encounter the world through the lens of their families, it is true that they “absorb” us, in a sense. And their lives then become tests of us. It’s not that the outcome of our children is our fault or responsibility, it’s that the tools and habits we consciously or unconsciously teach them as they grow will come to manifest in their adult lives, just as the lessons from our parents came to manifest in ours. We will have to take responsibility for the tools we transmit, and they will have to reckon with the tools they receive.”

And “Advent is the time of preparation, of waiting for the coming of our Lord, of God made flesh who made the world and desires to draw us back to himself. It is this God who bestowed our life, who bestowed the lives of all children, who came into physical reality within a family himself. It is his introduction to this family that we await in Advent. He who authored all families, broken or whole, came like us, into a family himself in order to restore wholeness to us all, who are all at varying levels of brokenness without him. And he encounters us to the extent that we let him, for God forces no one. This is what we believe, and this is what we have the opportunity to joyfully share.”

Full article here.

So what do you do with your kids? What did your parents do with you? Did you change the traditions that you grew up with or hand on the same ones?

First Things Lecture: Yuval Levin’s The Perils of Religious Liberty

I had the pleasure of attending First Things’ lecture last night in Washington DC. Yuval Levin gave the address entitled: The Perils of Religious Liberty

A few big points I took away:

-Conservatives call for toleration based on freedom of religion, but the English tradition this harkens back to is more a personal freedom of worship, a freedom to believe as one wills, not actually a freedom to live in accord with those values. The latter requires a broader defense.

-However, the complicity required in supporting contraception or a wedding vendor serving a marriage he or she objects to is less like simple civic duty, and more like compulsion to cooperate with a belief system (if not a full fledged religion) that he or she does not agree with. It is therefore almost like the official establishment of a non-religion that is forced on all people

-The response then should be a defense and offense of the goodness of living our own values in communities, in groups and institutions that mediate between the individual and the state such as families, churches, clubs, etc.

-A defense of the freedom to live a traditional way of life will also include a proposal of the goodness of values, of virtues, of striving to live for a certain type of good. In this way, we can offer an alternative narrative and show a different way of life designed to attract, not to compel others.

-At stake is an important conception of the good. Goodness is not simply freedom from all constraints, as all societies put limits on behavior. Goodness and freedom is more importantly the freedom for formation, for moral and character development to become good, flourishing humans. This older notion of freedom is hard to defend because we lack the vocabulary in modern discourse, but it matters. I like that this provided an alternative to a completely relativist libertarianism that eschews all mention to values in order to avoid any coercion

-Traditionalism is repeating old truths in modern parlance. (I loved this; this is what I am about).

-It’s also not about being perfect or telling everyone else how wrong they are; it is about the ardent struggle to live well in accord with truth. No more and no less.

I am very grateful that First Things has taken the initiative to start hosting events like this that bring people together. It is the start of an alternative ordering of intellectual life outside of the universities. That could end up being a strong service to society.

Would you go to a event like this? Did you watch the talk? Do you have thoughts about the relationship between the individual, the state and mediating communities?