Monday, April 27, 2009

Talking Politics

Something very strange is happening in my life right now. It is strange in the sense that two months ago I could not have completely imagined it, and two years ago it was nowhere even near my radar screen, let alone on it.

It's sort of like a plant that you discover growing in your garden, and you give it space and care for it, but you aren't quite sure just yet what it is.

So, I did the Tea Party thing, where I stood up and confessed to the crowd of hundreds that I don't even like politics. And it is true.

Now, with the help of Catherine from the local once-was-Ron-Paul-meetup, I am pulling together a group called Steubenville for Liberty, to discuss and become educated about issues of liberty and constitutional government.

And I've spent a few hours over the last few days talking to complete strangers about the "Audit the Fed" bill and collecting signatures. I'm learning there are lots of people out there who really want to talk about things that are on their minds. Tomorrow I'm off to our Congressman's local office to deliver petitions.

It's all very interesting. While I'm processing this and some new reading I've been undertaking, I'm thinking some new thoughts:

  • For many, many people, politics is about anger, or at least some tempered version of "righteous indignation." As people perceive me as "being interested in politics" they seem to share with me things that anger them, and then look at me a bit tentatively when I don't get angry with them. It's not that I don't know how to get angry. I haven't quite figured out this dynamic yet, but it happens repeatedly and keeps striking me as odd.
  • For me, my interest in liberty is completely born of a passion for human dignity. I believe it is really born of my own passion for my own human dignity, something which has left me theologically fumbling over the years, but which Fr. Giussani has more recently helped me to grasp more fearlessly and with more clarity.
  • I am realizing that there is an intense link between unschooling and my deep affinity for liberty as a "political" persuasion. I guess I mean that for me, personally, not for unschoolers as a whole or liberty-tarians as a group. But perhaps what I mean to say is that the truths by which I seek to parent I am seeing as applicable truths by which to govern nations. Truths are the same; the scale is just grossly different.
  • Speaking of liberty-tarians, I have been puttering at reading Libertarian thought. It is a problem that as a party, the Libertarian platform is pro-choice. However, the most well-reasoned political defense I have read for the right to life of the unborn also comes from the pro-life Libertarian camp. (This dichotomy goes to extend my dislike of partisan politics.)
  • A book I am currently listening to on tape, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is fascinating listening (even if the narrator has the irritating tendency to end too many sentences with a raised inflection). It brings a completely different face of Republican politics and policy to light than most pro-life voters are used to thinking about (hint: it is not positive).
Ok, so that's a pretty random list of thoughts. No dramatic conclusions to share.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Gaze of Christ

I want to think some more about that gaze that Peter and John had for the beggar (mentioned in this post). What is that? Clearly, it was the gaze they had known from Christ, and it was the gaze they were enabled to have because of the power of the Holy Spirit. It was a fully human gaze. It was a gaze that penetrated to see the ultimate destiny of that beggar, the ultimate meaning of that beggar as one made for relationship with God. As one made for intimate communion with God. Not as a notch in a belt: "Here's another sinner we can reach for Christ." Not as a mess to clean up: "What a shame he's here begging. Let's heal him so he can be productive for a change." Not as a pawn to exploit: "Hey, convincing him he's healed could make waves for us around here. Just think of the PR possibilities!"

The man initially receiving this gaze misunderstood it. He expected goods. He expected the sort of thing he begged for daily. The disciples also largely misunderstood Jesus' gaze, didn't they? The "sons of thunder" wanted to call down judgment on sinners. Peter wanted to be Jesus' manager. Judas wanted to carry out his own greedy plans. The apostles had had time to reflect on their imperfect following of Christ, and Pentecost had revealed to them the difference of not only having this divine gaze physically upon them, but now also the power filled them from the inside out. I think they understood, from their communal failures, what was in a man, just as Jesus had known it by the divine power of his gaze.

The gaze Peter and John had for the beggar led the beggar to encounter Christ. And this encounter had a significant ripple effect, even limiting ourselves to what we know from what was recorded for us. Who knows what effect this encounter had on the man's friends, relatives, on all who happened to be at the temple that day.

How do I offer that gaze? How do I look with that gaze that Peter and John did? First, I need to be looked at with the gaze of Christ. I wonder -- is the perceiving of this gaze with the "eyes of flesh" (as we used to say) inescapable? Are we bound to always misunderstand at first? Or perhaps at some point we can simply be satisfied to lack an understanding instead of taking the wrong one. I think it is an issue of purity of heart.

But then, having experienced the gaze of Christ to some degree, what do I do? I see with new eyes. There is an intentionality with which I look. There is a desire with which I look. There is a love that does not originate with me but which flows through me with which I look. And it seems to me a significant danger if I get selective. If I want to see with the gaze of Christ (or so I think) when I'm looking at one person or group of people, but not another.... Somehow, that's not how a pure heart gazes. The gaze of Christ looks with love, tenderness, compassion, interest, on all. "If you love those who love you, what recompense will you get? Do not the tax collectors do the same?" (Mt. 5:46).

So, again I beg for a pure heart. Not for my own consolation of beholding God's face, although surely that will follow. But so that salvation may be announced through my gaze, through the gaze of the Church, as Christ as willed it.

Lord, melt the impurities from my heart that keep me from looking, that keep me from the gaze of love. Open my heart to your presence and your call in every person.

Walking and Leaping and Praising God

On April 15, a few hours before the Tea Party, I went to Mass. The first reading of that day blew me away. Here is the Scripture and some notes I made later that day:

Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o'clock hour of prayer. And a man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple called "The Beautiful Gate" every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus the Nazorean, rise and walk." Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the one who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10)

I can relate to the man crippled from birth. I wonder about those people who carried him every day to sit and beg. They meant well, I'm sure, and they did what was in their power, but it was through these relationships that the man had learned to define himself. He was a beggar for things. For coins, for money. These things sustained his life, and maybe if he were successful and the people in Jerusalem generous, these things helped sustain his friends' lives, too. Peter and John looked at him and were attracted to something, something the average person did not see. They saw some kind of beauty, and they saw his bondage. They had compassion. What did they say? "Look at us." They provoked him to seek something more than things. But he looked, still expecting only things in return -- really good things. What Peter and John gave him, in Jesus' name, was himself -- his liberty, his healing. When Jesus comes to people, people become more fully themselves. This is what fills the people with amazement and then causes them to ask, "What has happened here!?" And this sends them seeking after the Church -- Peter and John -- and Christ.

I have been that beggar, but the scarce commodity I have sought was not gold or silver but human companionship. There is a way that I have treated attention from people as a thing that I've felt I've had to beg for. And I have also known a certain sort of gaze that made me think I was going to get what I craved from some person. (And this reminds me of my post on prostitution.) But I have also experienced a gaze like this beggar did from Peter and John. It is the gaze of Christ, through the face of His Church on earth. It is Christ encountered in persons here. I can trace the impetus I experienced to pursue this Tea Party business through the provocation of a friend to find the face of Christ in my daily life, to finding that (because I was so intent on showing her it was possible!) to following that encounter in its many nuances. In the process, I have found myself "walking" on what I once experienced as lame feet and ankles. I see the Lord's saving hand, and I'm pretty astonished.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Big Things

The Tea Party is over; my son has received Confirmation and First Holy Communion; my daughter has turned 4. My in-laws went home. Laundry is cycling, left-overs are aplenty, and I'm trying to figure out how to dive back in to blogging about what has transpired in my life over the last month.

Well, here's how. I'll write about the experience of one naru hodo moment that happened a few weeks back. One morning early on in the Tea Party planning process a thought came into my mind with an entirely new level of understanding. The thought was this: I am made for big things. Let me clarify this, and quickly. As a child, I had an occasional teacher who would tell me something of this sort. As an adult I've also had a particular priest tell me this in confession a couple of times. But I could never receive it or even think about it because of how my mind translated "big things." Hearing "big" I thought "prestigious, important: especially more prestigious and more important than things done by 'normal' people." But on this morning when this thought came to me, I understood the truth of it. I am made for big, unwieldy, ambitious, challenging, hard things. Yes. It was like seeing pieces of a puzzle show their picture for the first time.

The challenging part of organizing this Tea Party for me was that I was accountable to no one else and nothing else besides the desire in my heart. I could have done the same work as a member of a committee who had had these tasks delegated to me, and it would not have been anywhere near the same. It would not have required the same self-giving. Most of the jobs I've done have consisted largely of repetitious manual tasks. Some have also required writing and communication skills. But for the most part, at best these have provided me with an avenue to live comfortably in my mind, and at worst they have fed my pride. This work I've just finished has been a lot like parenting, so it forced me out of my mind (hmm, that has a ring to it) and has provided ample opportunity for mortification. Except it was on a super-intense, compact, public level.

But something has become very evident to me from this experience of undertaking a big thing. Jesus tells us in the gospel that "whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt. 10:39). This is true. I've experienced it. There were many instances in which I had do things ("had to" because it was required by my heart's desire, and for no other reason) that caused me some pretty intense mortification. Phone calls, pleas for help made to people I don't know at all or don't know well, trying to sound eloquent in public interviews .... these but topped the mortification list. But I find now that it is so much easier for me to obey the Lord's command to be myself. It's a bit mysterious in a way, but Jesus' promise really does ring true. I have myself in a way I did not before. I have myself in a way that makes self-giving extremely attractive. I've said this dozens of times over the last weeks, but this really has been like childbirth. Even though there is something very painful about it, there is something far more marvelous, far more transformative, that draws me to say I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

But another key here is that I am not necessarily talking about, or foreswearing, another Tea Party (that's for a different post). I'm talking about the same kind of big work. Even though I'm talking about the desires of my heart, I know it is far more than just my choosing. I can't create a desire like this one in my heart. I don't make myself. But I have no doubt there is One who makes me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


About 17 years ago I purchased the ring shown in the picture above, and I've worn it constantly since that time. I bought it even before I had entered the Catholic Church, and I bought it as a stark reminder to myself to live in reality instead of the dreamworld I was so good at fabricating for myself. Reality then seemed harsh. The cross reminded me to stay in reality even when it was not as numbingly comforting as my dreamworld.

Well, you know how when you see something every day, you sometimes don't really see it, or rather, it takes something special to really see it again? Tonight at the Easter Vigil I was sitting with the choir, listening to one of the long readings. I looked at my ring and began to remember back to when I first started wearing it. And suddenly it hit me. The reality I longed for, the reality I truly needed in order to be called out of my dreamworld, IS right there on that cross. It has been with me always, constantly. It is Love, and Love has been waiting for me to see that harshness is not the essence of reality. Rather, the harshness I've experienced comes from the loneliness of living in a dreamworld.

Monday, April 06, 2009

God's Workmanship

"Laura who has no blog" passed along this video to me today. I believe I have seen it before, and perhaps you have as well. But when I watched it today it struck me as being a rather profound metaphor for my life right now. Consider Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Our freedom and God's plans really do bear no tension of contradiction because we are His creation and He is love. What strikes me is that God truly does create us, design us if you will, to be His co-laborers, and this we are when we are faithful to what He calls us to, that is to be whom God has created us to be. And God does not only call individuals to live little individual lives for His glory, he masterfully orchestrates His whole Church. So watching this movie reminds me of the Holy Spirit at work.

I had a taste of something that touches this in choir yesterday. We were practicing a certain piece before Mass started, one that I have mastered as long as I am carefully counting the beat and the value of each note. Well, I was not paying close attention and I got lost, and quickly the entire alto section derailed. We ended up using all the time we had left to do it over. It showed me the value of doing my part.

Tonight, I sang at the chrism Mass with most of my parish choir and several others who comprised a "city choir" for the occasion. When we finished, one woman from another parish stopped me and thanked me emphatically, saying "you're very easy to follow!"

It's late and I'm buggy-eyed with my need for sleep. But what I see is that as I follow where Christ leads, I discover that He has purposes in His leading me that are for others in ways that I can't begin to know. So as I love carefully, I discover that my life belongs to everyone else.

This has been one heck of a Lent for me.

Here's to You, Mr. Jefferson

I would prefer a different "Ron" featured at the end, but otherwise it is catchy...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Anniversary of our First Date

I would have liked to have written this post yesterday, but c'est la vie.

The reason is that yesterday was both the actual, calendar anniversary and the "liturgical" anniversary of my first date with my husband.

What the heck is a liturgical anniversary, you ask? Well, see, it was Saturday, April 4, 1998 and it was also the Saturday before Palm Sunday.

Erol and I had been friends who kept showing up at the same events for about four months at the time. (We were both grad students.) It seemed that all the group conversations we got into all hit on the charismatic renewal, and Erol mentioned a few times that this was a bit foreign to his upbringing. Hmmm, I wondered. The charismatic renewal is pretty darn central in my formation. But he's really rather cute. Is this really a problem?

So one night after a gathering it entered my mind that I could invite Erol to the upcoming Festival of Praise with me. This is a monthly praise gathering at Franciscan University. (Yes, there was one last night, but we were both so bushed we decided to sit this one out.) With my typical trepidation I eventually picked up the phone and called Erol. I asked him if he'd like to "partake in a cultural experience," which I thought would be a winning approach. The fact that he agreed before I even told him what it was was likely a winning sign as well. Ok, so we were set for the end of that week.

A few days beforehand, Erol called to ask if I'd like to get something to eat with him before the FOP. I agreed, sort of surprised at this. I figured we'd go to the snack bar and grab a quick hot dog or something a few minutes beforehand. He showed up two hours before hand in a suit, and I met him dressed in khakis and a T-shirt. Ok, so that was a little awkward. He took me to the now defunct Riverboat Room, which was not my normal grad student fare.

I described the scene later to my friend as two cats hiding under separate beds. It was like having a huge zit in the middle of my forehead, so painfully aware was I of how our conversation clunked along. Then I accidentally stumbled upon one of Erol's favorite ice-breaker conversation topics (regional accents), and when he talked on and on about it, I felt it was a sure sign that he had just given up hope of my talking and decided to fill the dreadful awkwardness.

We went to the FOP, and frankly I don't remember much about it. Afterwards, Erol suggested we go to Dairy Queen but this is Steubenville and the sidewalks get rolled up pretty early, so by the time we got there it was closed. On the way back to my apartment I remember forcing the words out of my mouth: "Uh, I don't know how to say this but, uh... what sorts of things are you interested in?" Erol stopped bracing himself and developed a smile in his voice, and he said something or another about things I couldn't relate to, and then he dropped me at home.

I went to Mass the next morning unable to shake the feeling of being a complete doufus. But a line from the gospel riveted its way through my soul: (Jesus was instructing about finding the colt) "The Master has need of it." This line reverberated through my heart, and somehow I knew that this was true of my experience the night before. To prepare the way of the Lord, to prepare the way for the kingdom of God in my life, the Lord had need of my little attempt to reach out, even though I was completely mortified by what felt like abject failure.

We dated a bunch more and in less than four months we were engaged. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Faithful, Regardless of Feelings

I so needed to hear this today!

To read more about these monthly messages, visit this site.
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April 1, 2009


My beloved apostles, please know that you obtain a constant stream of grace for the world. You do this by serving so generously. Your generosity obtains for others sublime graces of calm and peace, sublime graces of charity and truth, and sublime graces of conversion and perseverance. When you see how heaven has used your service, you will rejoice that you gave so willingly and consistently. My friends, you should not be distracted by your feelings. Your feelings are like the smallest stems of grass blowing in the wind, so quickly do they pass. Do not be tormented. Simply allow feelings of temptation to move along and concentrate on the truth which is that you have remained in My holy company. If you do this you will be less distracted. You will be able to say, “Today I am sad, tomorrow I may be happy, the next day I may feel fear and afterwards rejoicing. What difference does it make as long as I am united to My Jesus and serving His kingdom.” Yes, many in this time find that they are so distracted by their feelings that they question their decision to serve at all. This is the ultimate degree of temptation. If I did not wish you to serve, I would not have called you into service. I need My chosen ones to remain closely tied to their decision to bring My light to others. Only in this way will the renewal push further into the world. Submit your feelings to me. When your feelings make you doubtful, sit with Me and together we will examine them, one by one. If examined in My company, you will see that your feelings in no way change My truth which is that you have been formed to serve Me and truly, I need your service. Please be loyal to your decision for heavenly service as you live your time on earth. If you remain faithful, I can do many things. I am with you. I am directing all that occurs in your life. We walk together and together we will triumph over all temptations."