How society effectively tells us women we don’t matter and how an avowed feminist is changing all that by teaching thousands of women how to properly submit to our husbands

The ridiculously long title is deliberate. This is rich…

I recently started following this blog called The Peaceful Wife, which is all about how wives are to be submissive to their husbands as is mentioned several places in the Bible.

What? Me, read a blog on wifely submission? I know… unbelievable. Well, not only am I reading it, but I’m greatly enjoying it.

Are you over your shock now? Good. Now we can move on.

On this blog, there is a powerful post written by a married man about the impact of a wife’s words on her husband’s very soul. He’s offering some advice to a wife who simply can’t get her husband to do what she wants him to do despite her nagging, complaining and yelling. Here is the part that really stuck out to me:

What you are not seeing is the kind of emotional violence you may be doing to your husband. You may feel completely justified in what you want, but bludgeoning him with scolding and shaming is neither loving nor respectful.

Let’s also realize an uncomfortable but truthful reality. Your husband is probably bigger and stronger than you. Do you notice that he does not use that physical superiority to control you? Some men do. Most women have zero chance in a physical altercation with a man. But on the flipside, women have the power to bludgeon with words in a way that many men do not.

So, in some households, the women are swinging away with their verbal and emotional fists, while their husband locks himself up, suffering the evil of being abused, and having no way to respond without being called an abuser himself. This one-sided dynamic pervades our society, where a screaming, yelling woman is perceived to be venting a legitimate grievance, but the same behavior from a man is “abuse”.

His last sentence says it all. Our society recognizes that a man in a rage yelling at his wife and throwing things around, even if he never physically strikes her, is a very scary thing to a woman, and so considers it abuse, and rightly so. What society at large fails to recognize is that a woman doing the same thing to her husband is just as damaging to him; it’s just that the damage takes a different form. It’s still devastating, though. Instead, our society views a woman on that kind of rampage as a “kick-ass” woman who’s not taking any crap from anyone, especially not her man. She’s telling it like it is, an inspiration to oppressed women everywhere to rise up and let our voices be heard.

Besides the collateral damage done to the man in the situation, the problem with this view is that a woman who does this is not coming from any kind of position of strength, power, or even dignity. Powerful people do not rage. Rage is something people do because they feel helpless. Expressing it like that does nothing to resolve the real reason for the helplessness. Going back to the collateral damage this behavior causes the husband, our society barely even recognizes that for what it is. If society did recognize it for what it is, not only would there be laws against it (which there might be) but there would be this universal recognition that this too is abuse–the same way wife-beating is universally recognized as abuse–and plenty of social pressure against it. By not recognizing it as abuse, society has given women, particularly of the raging, already helpless-feeling variety, the loud and clear message that their words and demeanor are meaningless and have no impact on anyone. Therefore they can whine, yell, and otherwise vent all they want because it doesn’t matter.

Um… thanks… for nothing!

I don’t want to knock all aspects of feminism here (beyond the scope of this post), but one prominent feature of modern feminism is a continued encouragement for women to throw off the shackles of marriage, to go through life not needing a man and saying so (even to the man she’s dating). If she gets married it’s because she chooses to, not needs to, and she’s supposed to insist on a relationship where everything is equal–if there must be an imbalance of power then preferably it’s in her favor, not his. She’s definitely not going to submit to her husband! Why, that would be going back to whatever time period it was in which she believes all women were dominated by the tyranny of marriage, where sadistic and egotistical men locked their wives up in pretty castles, and beat them with sticks just for good measure.

The end result? Lots of divorce and lots of unhappy marriages. Lots of young people refusing to even go there. Lots of women feeling more helpless, more dominated, and more powerless than ever before, especially in their most intimate relationships.

But there’s hope, according to Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife and renowned relationship coach and expert. No matter how bleak your marriage may look, you, as the wife, have the power to rescue it from the brink of divorce by doing some very basic things and refraining from doing some other things. For example, when your husband does something nice for you, thank him. Like wow! Revolutionary! Saying thank you when you receive a gift? Who knew? How about this one: When he does something stupid, don’t pile on. Don’t you know the poor man feels bad enough already? Laura Doyle says there is no respectful way to tell a man he screwed up, so you don’t. Here’s another one, more controversial: Don’t try to instruct him or correct him. As a woman I really dislike being given unsolicited advice, but I’m gathering that for a man that is a serious blow to his sense of competence. It’s definitely something he perceives as disrespect. So, don’t do it. Laura Doyle even goes so far as to say the husband, not the wife, needs to be in charge of the family finances.

Other bits of wisdom for great intimacy in marriage? Respect his choices (especially of socks and stocks). Let him make his choices to begin with. If for some reason you can’t go along with a decision he makes, simply tell him you can’t, but first check if it’s really a matter of conscience or simply a matter of personal preference. Tell him what you want, but as an end result and definitely not with instructions for how to give it to you. Take care of yourself, and let him do things for you like hold your purse or open the door (then say thank you). Let him spoil you. Deep down, that’s what he really wants to do anyway, and he will, as soon as he can harness the energy formerly spent on protecting himself from critical and wounding words.

I’ve summarized a lot, but it’s all in her book, on her website, and in her various intimacy training workshops.

But one big important truth in everything she recommends (minus parts I don’t agree with–see previous post) is that as women we have unbelievable power over our husbands and in our marriages, which we need to use wisely. Most of our power lies in our words and demeanor. We can use our power to build up our husbands and have a great marriage. We can also use it to destroy our husbands and our marriages. Laura Doyle has figured out a way to teach thousands of women how to use their power for the good of their marriages.

Another way to summarize what she has taught? The proper submission of wives to their husbands, Bible style. Really. Laura Doyle calls the process surrendering and then living as a surrendered wife, but it’s the same basic concept.

I’m not going to try to prove this–The Peaceful Wife blog has that covered pretty well. I do want to say, though, that the Bible does recognize the immense power women have. Here is just one example:

Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.

This, written during a time and in a society where the physical building and tearing down of buildings was exclusively the domain of men (similar to how it is today–not too many women in construction that I know of). And yet it talks about a woman having the power to either build or tear down her house. She has that kind of power concerning her marriage too. I’ll even go on a limb (though I’m not a Bible scholar or theologian) and say that the passage is really referring to her home life, including her marriage.

Here’s another example:

Proverbs 21:9 It is better to live on the corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife.

I read that should I choose to be contentious (argumentative) with my husband, I have the power to literally drive him out of the house. I also read that the wise man who wrote this proverb recognized and respected the destructive power of a contentious wife–to the point of writing that the husband would be better off exposed on the rooftop than staying inside with her. I believe many men still believe this, but they translate it with their behavior to look more like this: “It is better to zone out in front of the TV for hours on end than to engage with my wife who is constantly criticizing me, rolling her eyes, and telling me what to do.”

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

This, of course, applies to everyone who can talk, but since it’s an almost universally recognized truth that women are generally more verbally adept then men, it especially applies to us and the kind of power we have. The things we choose to say can kill and destroy, or they can breathe life.

Ladies, sisters… let us reject the lie that tells us we don’t matter. We actually have an unbelievable amount of power. Let’s use it wisely, for good and not evil.

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A new perspective on “Biblical submission.”

The phrase “Biblical submission” tends to be a loaded one, especially when used in reference to the role of a Christian wife. I’ve definitely struggled with it. My reasons for the struggle include plain not knowing what that actually means to painful issues from my childhood leading to current insecurities to good old fashioned pride.

Just this past week I read a book on the subject which blew me away. Suddenly it all clicks with me. The book was written not by a pastor or counselor or even a demure Christian wife and mother. It was written by an avowed feminist. The book is The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle.

First, I want to get the parts I disagreed with out of the way, just to be clear that I don’t endorse anything that goes against Roman Catholic teaching. There are two paragraphs in Chapter 20 which present masturbation and viewing of pornography as just something men do that’s no big deal. It’s been well documented that pornography is addictive and comes with all the damage and heartbreak wrought by addictions. Masturbation is just plain wrong. Then there’s a section in Chapter 23 called Hiring a Higher Power where she basically instructs the reader to create a god of one’s choosing in one’s mind and make a spiritual connection with it. She may as well have given instructions for how to carve an idol out of wood, overlay it with silver and gold and some gems and then bow down and worship it–something that is explicitly forbidden in the Ten Commandments. She’s correct in that we all need to connect with God, but let’s seek and follow the real God, not some figment of our imaginations. Both of those problem areas can be expunged from the book without the good parts losing any of their power or meaning–the good parts being basically the entire rest of the book.

The premise of the book is that we women naturally and readily say and do certain things in our intimate relationships which to a man registers as profound disrespect. When a man feels disrespected, he feels wounded. We need to stop doing those things and replace them with words and acts of respect. We’re strong, independent and controlling, and we like to take care of ourselves. This wounds and drives our men away. But if we change those controlling behaviors to acts of trust and respect, it brings out the best in us and our men. That’s what it boils down to in a nutshell.

For example, let’s say one of our appliances breaks down and my husband expresses his intention to fix it. Me, I just want to get the job done with the least amount of disruption in my life and I know my husband doesn’t have a lot of experience fixing that particular appliance, so I advise him to just call a repairman, or worse, I call the repairman myself. From my perspective I’m just being efficient. From his perspective, I’m insinuating that I have little confidence in his God-given ability and mandate to take care of his family. Yeah… I bet that feels really good–like a punch in the stomach.

Let’s say I’m trying to pay the bills and we come up short. By the way, Laura Doyle recommends that the husband take care of the household finances–no exceptions. So I tell my husband (and not even in a whiny voice) that we don’t have enough to pay the bills. From my perspective I’m just stating a fact, but from his perspective I’m insinuating that he is not adequately providing for us. Another big ouch!

Let’s say my husband tells me he’ll take care of dinner but he doesn’t get to it as quickly as I’d like. I notice there are enough leftovers in the fridge for a quick meal, so I get them out and heat them up. Another big no no. I’ve just communicated that I don’t trust him to keep his word.

Let’s say my husband does something stupid–which really could mean anything from something truly dumb all the way up to something smart but just not the way I would do it–and I inform him that he just did something stupid. According to Laura Doyle, there is no respectful way to do that, so in that moment I’ve just disrespected my husband.

Let’s say I think I know exactly how my husband should handle a situation at work. I work too. I know what I would do, and I’ve likely encountered similar situations. So I proceed to tell him what he should do. I’ve done this one a lot. All this time I thought I was helping him. Nope. Turns out I was showing him disrespect–over and over again.

What about advising him to ask for a raise or some other kind of promotion? I think I’m encouraging him. Nope. Turns out I’m disrespecting him there too.

So what’s a married woman to do? Well, according to Laura Doyle, it’s take care of myself, take care of my own business, and trust–really trust–my husband to take care of himself and his business. It’s really that simple. The book goes into details about what trust is and how a trusting woman behaves. It even gives specific phrases to use in certain situations. It’s a very practical book. You can subscribe to her website and get a few free videos with plenty of practical tips on what to do and what not to do to best nurture your marriage. When the wife changes from behaving in fearful, controlling, nontrusting and disrespectful ways, the husband quits zoning out and/or defending himself and very quickly gets in touch with that primal part of him that is built to love, cherish, provide for, and protect. It works every time. The only exceptions have to do with abuse and addiction which are detailed in the book.

Although Laura Doyle never once quoted Scripture, she successfully and thoroughly demystified Biblical submission for me. I actually know what to do now where I didn’t before. The submission a wife gives to her husband is not some archaic rule based on arbitrary roles men and women get pigeonholed into by society. It’s actually based on fundamental truths of who men and women are, how they think, and how they behave. It actually works for creating a harmonious and passionate marriage.

I’m barely dipping my toes into applying what I’ve learned and I’m seeing changes already. My outlook towards life and my marriage is much improved. I’m not saying it was bad or anything before, but it’s way better in comparison. I’m making a conscious effort to stop those behaviors that I now know to be disrespectful to my husband, and he seems to be relaxing a bit more. I asked my husband to take charge of our finances. He was surprisingly eager to take that on, despite having told me mere days ago that he was feeling overwhelmed. Laura Doyle all but promises increased prosperity to those couples where the husband handles the money. I’m still a tad skeptical but the day after my husband and I had the conversation I got paid (that’s predictable considering we just started a new month), and a good chunk of money from an unexpected source is in the process of falling into my lap. I’m certainly not getting poorer anyway!

Yesterday was annual calendar planning day for my job. Eight hours of poring over a paper copy of a Google calendar and making sure all our plans can actually work. This is the third time I’ve done it and the other two times not only was lunch provided but there were ample snacks of all kinds to get us through the day. In the rush of getting ready for this mega-meeting I forgot about lunch being provided, and quickly grabbed two microwave meals from the freezer. I then grabbed the nearest plastic bag which happened to be clear.

I walked into the meeting place at exactly the same time as my pastor–I work for my church–and the first thing he saw was those TV dinners through the clear plastic bag I was carrying. “So, you got your TV dinners?” he asked. “Lunch,” I said. The next thing I saw pained me. It was very subtle, and I’m not sure there was any sort of visible change, but I saw it and felt it nonetheless. This dear compassionate, fun-loving and cheerful priest’s demeanor deflated. It wasn’t complete or anything, and he recovered quickly, but I could see it; I could feel it. “Oh, right, lunch is provided…” I stammered, feeling quite sheepish. “Well, I’ll just put them right there… in the freezer… for another time.”

My next thought was pure conviction. I do this to my husband… All. The. Time! When you live with someone you sometimes miss those subtle changes in demeanor, but for whatever reason it was obvious when I saw the same momentary and fleeting change in my pastor who I don’t see every day, and in that moment I saw the truth about what I’d been doing to my husband and vowed to stop. To stop disrespecting him. To stop having a backup plan in case he doesn’t come through. To start trusting him and to give him the respect that as a man he very much needs from his wife.

That is the essence of Biblical submission. I’m now a convert.

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An even bigger church scandal

This essay is a bit of a sequel to an article I posted over a year ago. To better understand where I’m coming from in this post, you should first read Inside a church scandal.

I once knew a priest (former, last I checked) who blew the whistle on what had been an ongoing theft of over $300,000 worth of church offering money by a fellow priest who suffered from a serious gambling addiction. The story ended sadly for the whistle blower priest, as he left the priesthood over the situation, very bitter over the way he felt he’d been treated. I do not know this for sure, but I suspect he also left the Catholic Church altogether.

Suppose this embattled former priest went on to start his own nondenominational church. What might that church’s perception of its own history be like at the beginning, and then later in fifty years or so when all the original members including the founder were gone?

It just so happens that a different former priest, himself once embroiled in his own church scandal, actually went on to do just that. The former priest is Dale Fushek, the original founder of the LifeTeen Catholic youth movement. The nondenominational church he went on to found is the Praise and Worship Center.

So what happened?

Back in the summer of 1994 I spent some time with a good friend who was living in Mesa, Arizona at the time. That was the summer I spent in Hermosillo, Sonora, and I passed through Tucson quite a bit both before and during this internship. My friend and I visited each other a couple times that summer, and he had to take me to St. Tim’s parish, where they had this awesome teen Mass. My friend couldn’t stop raving about the celebrant priest or the teen Mass.

And so it happened that I got to attend some of the early LifeTeen Masses and listen to Father Dale’s dynamic preaching, and feel some much needed spiritual uplifting from going to Mass. Having grown up in the Catholic charismatic movement I felt right at home with the upbeat and spontaneous worship music which still managed to fit in seamlessly with the order of the Mass. It was at St. Tim’s parish that I bought my very first “New Catechism,” within months of it first coming out. I would go on to become a leader in LifeTeen a few years later when the movement spread to my own parish.

Fast forward to about fifteen or so years later. By then I’d moved to Colorado, gotten married and started my family. One very ordinary Saturday evening I walked outside of my current small town church after Mass when a couple I’d never seen approached me. They recognized me as the song leader or cantor.

“It was great to sing that song again,” she exclaimed. The song was I will choose Christ by Tom Booth. It had been a LifeTeen standard and made its way into my church’s hymnal.

“Yeah, I learned it from LifeTeen–I was a leader back in graduate school,” I replied.

“Oh were you? That’s wonderful,” she said. “We used to attend St. Tim’s parish, where it all started. We couldn’t get enough of Father Dale and his amazing preaching.”

“I visited there a couple times. I know what you mean,” I replied.

Then she dropped the bomb. “Did you hear what happened to him?”

I hadn’t.

She proceeded to tell me that a few years ago there were some allegations of sexual misconduct. That part didn’t surprise me. In the thick of the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal allegations were flying all over the place.

“So Father Dale was put on administrative leave while they were investigating, and he couldn’t preach or celebrate Mass…”

Sounded reasonable to me.

“…But Father Dale just couldn’t stop preaching. I mean, he just had to preach. So when he kept preaching anyway, then he got laicized and excommunicated.”

The paid leave came about as a result of the allegations of misconduct. The excommunication came about after Fushek founded his own nondenominational church.

The couple explained that the bishop who excommunicated Fushek was the type who was set in his ways and not open to working with others, including Father Dale. I had heard about Bishop Olmsted before through a colleague of my husband who used to live in his diocese. This colleague described Bishop Olmsted as a “My way or the highway” type of bishop.

After this encounter when I had some spare moments I looked up Dale Fushek to see what I could learn. This involved reading through some pages of the Praise and Worship website, which struck me as a fairly typical nondenominational faith community site, though with a lot more emphasis on unconditional love and acceptance than what you’d expect from a more conventional nondenominational community. It also involved reading through some stories of the allegations themselves.

It appears that out of ten allegations of misconduct only one of them got even close to a conviction–it sounds like it was some sort of deal to accept one count in exchange for the others being dropped.

The impression I got from what I read was that the most believable scenario is that at least some of the stories are true and Fushek had some serious problems while he was a priest. It certainly would not have been unreasonable for Bishop Olmsted to have believed they might be true and relieve him of his priestly duties during the investigation. In fact, that’s standard procedure. I have a church job. If someone accused me of anything like that I believe I would be suspended until my name was cleared. Humiliating and all but understandable. Those bishops who did not take those precautions would be forcefully accused, tried, and sentenced for covering up for sexual predators by the media.

However poorly knowledge of sexual misconduct by priests may have been handled by bishops in the past, even the hint of such allegations is taken very seriously today. Bishop Olmsted didn’t do anything unreasonable in temporarily suspending Fushek.

But anyway, Fushek got through the legal proceedings, kept running his church, and wrote a book all about his experience and how the Catholic Church, especially Bishop Olmsted, who he claimed represents all that’s wrong about the Catholic Church, treated him horribly and was out to get him all along. His church is well attended and seems to be thriving. Dale Fushek is still a dynamic preacher and the music is fabulous.

I personally will never know the entire story, and I don’t really care to. One thing I am absolutely certain of, though, is that Fushek and those who followed him to his new church  and their spiritual descendants are going to hold to a different version of what happened than Bishop Olmsted and all those who played some part in dealing with the difficult situation resulting from one of the stars of the diocese being accused multiple times of sexual misconduct and then not following their directions.

Fifty to a hundred years from now individuals will be able to decide for themselves what kind of person Dale Fushek was and they can shore up their position by choosing the version of history which best suits them. Some will believe that he was a renegade and rebel and eventual heretic who got exactly what he deserved (or rather, got let off easy compared to what might have happened, say 500 years ago), and that the Catholic authorities in his life did the right thing, especially the part about how they made repeated attempts to work with him on a resolution before taking the nuclear option. Others will believe that the power hungry Catholic Church (as usual in bed with the local authorities) once again couldn’t handle a maverick and very effective pastor and they attempted to stifle his calling as preacher by censoring him and sending the police to bully him, that he was mercilessly excommunicated and that much like the prophet Jeremiah who couldn’t hold the words of God inside he simply had no alternative but to (reluctantly) found his own church so he could preach freely once again. After all, one of Fushek’s more famous quotes is: “I feel like I never left the Catholic Church. They left me.”

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Frozen heroism

After my children’s school talent show featured at least two of the movie’s songs, and I’d heard bits and pieces of “Let it go” sung multiple times around the house, a couple days ago I finally watched the movie Frozen. Warning: spoilers ahead.

My husband had seen it earlier, having watched it with our daughters one day while I was at work. My oldest daughter had already seen it in a theater with some friends. My husband expressed some consternation over the way these Disney-Pixar movies typically portray the male characters, and he’s convinced it’s getting worse. Now that we have a son, he’s deeply concerned about the message he will get should he watch those movies. I’m wondering what kind of ideas of manhood our daughters are absorbing.

My husband is right in that the movie Frozen pretty much sets the men up to either be villains or failures. The character Kristoff, who helps Anna with her quest to go find her sister and bring her back home, despite having made his living by braving the winter elements up to the point at which they meet, from that point on blunders his way through the elements only to have Anna repeatedly save his butt by her quick thinking and athleticism. This, despite the fact that up to that point Anna pretty much spent her life locked up inside her castle.

In the climax scene Kristoff is just about to perform the heroic act of true love which will save Anna’s heart from completely freezing, but is prevented from doing so by random movie stuff–I had a difficult time following that particular scene but it involved a lot of snow, ice, and wind. He was close, so close, but Anna beat him to it, actually sacrificing herself to save her sister Elsa’s life. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the movie–it all ends happily ever after. Later on, Kristoff has a chance to vindicate his love (Anna) by confronting the villain who cruelly took advantage of her trust, but Anna brushes him aside and goes and punches the villain herself.

I don’t have a problem in principle with a woman confronting her own villain, but it bothered both my husband and me to see her go about it in a way that showed utter disrespect to the good man, the one who actually did love her. I realize that in real life, we women often make the mistake of treating our men that way, but we don’t need to have that behavior reinforced in our movies.

The movie was actually set up more to be a girl’s quest. Elsa inexplicably shuts Anna out of her life, and runs away when her emotions get the better of her and she can’t control her power to freeze everything around her. Anna goes after her to find out why, as well as to bring back summer. Although poorly developed, there is a story line about how Elsa has closed herself off from Anna for fear of hurting her, but Anna doesn’t know why, but finds out during the course of the story. They have to both learn to trust each other, work with rather than suppress their feelings, and they discover that love conquers all, even the power to create an eternal winter. All of this could have taken place without involving any men at all. The loud and clear message was that they didn’t need any men to help them in the slightest. So why bring the men in? My husband says the men were put there in order to be brushed aside. And I can’t argue with him on that point. It would be better to leave men out than to bring them in for no other reason than to insult and otherwise dishonor them.

My issues with the movie are a bit more general than decrying the disrespectful way the heroine treated the man in her life. I’m not as concerned about how men in particular are treated, but I had some real issues with how people in general were treated in that movie. It happened that the man Kristoff took the brunt of such poor treatment, but it’s applicable to men and women alike.

The scene in the movie which bothered me the most was the troll scene. When Elsa strikes Anna once again with her freezing power, that time it hit her heart, which would in the end kill her. Just like Anna and Elsa’s parents had in the beginning, Kristoff takes Anna to see the trolls, because they can help.

The trolls do help–they tell Kristoff and Anna that only an act of true love can unfreeze her heart–but not until after they thoroughly demean Kristoff to Anna. They believe that Anna is Kristoff’s lady friend and they take it upon themselves to inform Anna about every last weak, annoying, or disgusting habit Kristoff has. No detail is left out. The trolls do say that even with all those qualities Kristoff is a good and likeable guy, but primarily, he’s a “fixer-upper.”

The humor in the trolls’ song stems from the fact that many of the habits and characteristics mentioned do tend to be more the habits of men. They were poking fun at the ways in which men often behave privately in ways they wouldn’t behave publicly.

But that’s the crux of what bothers me. We all have things about ourselves we’d prefer others not know. We all have bad habits and secret sins. We are all a work in progress, or to borrow the terminology of the trolls’ song, “fixer-uppers.” When two people get to know each other more intimately than most others, as in having been raised together, or gotten married to each other, then they will know about more of these private matters about each other.

A loving sibling or spouse or best friend will protect the dignity and honor of the loved one by not broadcasting the loved one’s secret faults and weaknesses. A loving person will not set out to deliberately humiliate the other by sharing all those details with someone the other person considers to be special.

And yet that is exactly what the trolls do. They sing a very long and torturous song detailing all of Kristoff’s faults. It’s clear that they and Kristoff go back a long ways so they know about these things. Both Kristoff and Anna weakly protest this litany of Too Much Information, but in the end they find there is nothing they can do but shrug it off. Trolls will be trolls, I guess.

Although the trolls have behaved in an unloving manner towards Kristoff, and it’s clear that this is how they normally behave, they are the ones who know that ultimately, it’s love which will solve Anna’s problem (and along with it all the problems of the world). They can rattle off in a most unconvincing way this line about it taking an act of true love to unfreeze Anna’s heart, but it’s clear they know absolutely nothing about such an act because they don’t practice even basic love. They treat someone they love in a most disrespectful manner. After the song you are left to believe that either Kristoff is incredibly stupid for having allowed them to get so close to him, or they have utterly betrayed him. But the movie acts as if none of that is any big deal. They get the secret to unfreezing Anna’s heart and the story moves on.

It’s a little bit murky what the ultimate act of true love ends up being because there’s so much action surrounding it. The best I can gather is that Elsa is fending off her pursuers who want to kill her by throwing ice at them. Anna, although much weakened from the cold and her heart being more and more frozen, somehow manages to catch up with Elsa and puts herself between her and one of her would be killers. Meanwhile, Kristoff, who’s riding as fast as he can on his reindeer, just can’t get close enough. Elsa, aiming for the killer instead hits Anna and she freezes solid, while the killer’s arrow bounces off her now frozen hand.

When Elsa sees what happened she immediately breaks down crying and hugs Anna. And it’s that breaking down in tears, that regret over what she’d unintentionally done, which turns out to be the act of true love. Anna then thaws out and Elsa from that moment on miraculously knows exactly how to control her powers. Somehow, though, that same regret and tears expressed the very first time Elsa accidentally hurt her sister as a child didn’t have any kind of positive effect.

From the point of view of the epic story, I found that epic act of true love to be lame at best. Crying over your mistakes and realizing how your actions have hurt someone you love is a very good start, but it is not the sum total of true love. Nor is true love something you’re suddenly going to learn to perfection after an entire lifetime of being decidedly unloving.

And finally, you don’t make the epic transition from selfishness to sacrificial love while still maintaining all your other unloving characteristics. Anna may have been willing to die for her sister, and for a few seconds of screen time, she actually did, but there is no indication that she cultivated that kind of love in her ordinary dealings with the people in her life, and certainly not Kristoff. Once the dust (or should I say, the ice?) had settled, she was back to disrespectfully brushing Kristoff aside, as she with perfect technique punches the villain so hard he falls off the bridge into the water.

In the end, Anna and her sister are close again. Elsa figures out overnight how to control her powers. It turns out her parents’ advice to stuff her feelings as a way to control her power was the worst possible thing she could have done. She needed to let herself feel her emotions and most of all, to rein in this power with the greater power of love. Anna recovers physically from the exertions involved in her epic sacrifice but gives no sense of heroic love having in any way changed her into a more habitually loving person.

In fact really, the overall though rather subtle message I get from the movie is that love is basically cheap and meaningless until some substance to it becomes necessary to move the story. The trolls can talk about love right after acting very unloving towards their friend. Elsa finally gets in touch with her inner pain and that’s called love, and in the movie it’s powerful enough to thaw an entire frozen person as well as end the eternal winter–at least the second time around when it was convenient to the story line.

There’s also the more harmful message that no matter how unloving you might be in normal life, when the opportunity to demonstrate epic love comes your way, you will quickly rise to the occasion and do it unflinchingly… and then go back to business as usual. Although I do believe heroism can happen like that, and yes, people do rise to the occasion even with no prior moral preparation, I don’t think it is smart to count on that happening. Heroic love is actually a choice you make and a way of conducting yourself every day of your life. Most of the time it manifests in the ordinary things, but those ordinary things prepare you for the extraordinary epic moment if you get one. First of all, we don’t all get our epic moments, but we are all called to love. The choice to not love in the ordinary matters could be a choice to not love at all. Second, for every unexpected hero who does rise to the occasion and act heroically even after not having lived heroically up to that point, there are probably hundreds who completely blow it.

Heroic love, like anything else, needs to be practiced. There may be the occasional prodigy, but most of us are going to behave in stressful times just in a more exaggerated manner as we normally do. If I’m not practicing love in my ordinary moments, odds are good that I will completely blow my epic moment when it presents itself. Rather than encourage me to practice love day in and day out, the movie Frozen instead encourages me to selfishly fantasize about being some big hero in some hypothetical future epic moment while making no effort to actually prepare myself for that moment. And unlike in the movie where love won out in spite of the characters’ lack of virtue in ordinary affairs, in real life not cultivating virtue in ordinary life is more likely to lead to an eternal winter of frozen heroism.

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Contemplating Baby Jesus

This may be odd timing from the point of view of the Liturgical calendar, this being Holy Week and all, but it makes sense every time I interact with my little son.

Baby A is nearly one year old and on the verge of walking. He began rolling over onto his tummy at four and a half months and has been efficiently moving through the baby stages—staring at, then using his hands, creeping, army crawling, crawling, and pulling up to his feet using the furniture or my legs, letting go of his hands for a second or two to stand on his own. None of this is anything unusual. It’s what babies do. And yet it’s cute and worth recording and celebrating. OK, I’m terrible at scrapbooking or even recording events, so I couldn’t tell you the specific dates that A reached certain milestones, just that he did reach them. Still, I’m eager to be there with him as he reaches the next big milestone—walking on his own.

When A was just a few months old and still spending lots of time in a sling on me, my good friend’s preschool aged daughter asked her mom if she could “pet Baby Jesus.” I was right there and she could see the top of my baby’s head, the rest of him being covered by the sling fabric. Her mom explained that it was A, not Baby Jesus, while I stooped down so the little girl could pet him.

Ever since then I’ve been thinking about how Jesus really was a baby once and how He too went through all the important baby milestones and did all those cute and adorable things that babies do—the things that my baby A is doing right now.

When Jesus first came into the world He was pretty helpless and completely dependent on His mother for everything. He couldn’t even pick up His own head. If He got hungry or needed comfort, or needed His diaper attended to, He couldn’t speak a word, but instead had to communicate through the intense mother-baby bond.

He must have spent long minutes simply staring at His mother’s face as all newborns want to do. Then He probably nursed and fell asleep.

The One who brought the entire universe into being by speaking the words, the One who Himself is the Word of God, as a baby could not speak one single word. If His mother missed His earlier cues He might have had to resort to crying.

The One who fed His people manna in the desert and brought water out of the rock to satisfy their thirst was fed by His mother’s milk.

The One who holds the world and everyone in it in the palm of His hand had to be carried everywhere He went.

Of course, as He grew, Baby Jesus learned to do a few simple things for Himself, like reach out and grasp an object within His reach and pass it from hand to hand. My own baby went through a long phase where he would stare at his hands as if they were the most fascinating things he’d ever seen. I wonder if Jesus ever stared at His hands like that? Did He know that one day those hands would touch hurting people and heal them? Did He know that one day those hands would impart His entire self into a piece of unleavened bread on Passover and would ordain His own disciples to do likewise? Then shortly after those hands would be pierced and nailed to a cross. Did He have some kind of special knowledge about His future? Or did He have to learn His path one step at a time as all other humans do?

One day, baby Jesus rolled over. A few months later He figured out how to use His arms to pull Himself forward and get from one side of a room to the other. Then He crawled and became truly mobile. Then  His mother had to put the dangerous and fragile items out of His reach and watch Him a bit more closely. Did Baby Jesus ever get into stuff He shouldn’t? If so, was He perfectly obedient to Mary’s redirection or was that something He had to learn too? The Bible says He learned obedience. Did it start with submitting to simple redirection?

My baby A loves to make talking sounds. He’ll say simple words like “yeah” and “uh oh.” Other sounds he makes sound like “mama” or “Okay.” He seems to know that when I say “hugsies,” he should wrap his little arms around me and rest his little head on my shoulder. He often does that when he’s tired or just feeling extra affectionate. He smiles and laughs a lot, and the simplest things can entertain him (or me) for a long time. He loves to interact with me, my husband and my daughters. They each have their unique ways of loving on him and playing with him.

I think of Baby Jesus laughing and cooing at His mother and father, getting tickled by them, playing little games with them.

I think of His mother trying to get some household tasks done, perhaps cramming them in during Baby Jesus’ naptime, but being slowed down because the little guy needs to be held and does not want to be put down. Maybe she slings Him up on her back and keeps going. Maybe she holds Him on her hip and keeps at it one handed. Maybe Joseph is able to lend a hand but since they’re poor, he probably has to spend a lot of time in his shop earning a living through his carpentry work. On other occasions I think of Baby Jesus as perfectly content to play with a few toys while His mother works nearby.

And then I wonder if Mary ever fell behind on the housework because she’d nursed her precious baby to sleep and just couldn’t take her eyes off His sweet peaceful face or stand the thought of laying Him down. Let me hold Him in my arms for just a few more moments; then I’ll wash those dishes, or fold that pile of laundry.

I have to wonder at how much Mary knew about this child she had birthed into the world. Sacred Scripture would indicate that she at least knew the basics. He was conceived in a most unusual way—the Holy Spirit overshadowing a virgin. He was announced by an angel. The angel told her His name and that He would be given the throne of David and be called the Son of God, that His kingdom would have no end. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth called her “the mother of my Lord.” Mary knew that because of her Son all generations would call her blessed. When the shepherds visited them shortly after Jesus’ birth, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them about Jesus—that He was the Savior, the Messiah.

The most haunting revelation about Jesus, though, came through Simeon, the old man in the temple who had been previously told by God he would live to see the Messiah. He recognized Him in the eight day old infant and declared he was now ready to die in peace for he had seen God’s salvation. He went on to tell Mary that her child would be opposed by many and that her very soul would be pierced by a sword.

So, if she didn’t already understand it by that time, Simeon’s words to her made it abundantly clear that being the mother of the Messiah as well as the way He would obtain salvation was not going to be all roses for her.  By the time her Son was eight days old, she was informed that His work would be established in suffering—hers as well as his. It strikes me as appropriate that she heard this prophecy on the occasion of Jesus’ circumcision, perhaps His very first human experience with suffering at the hands of men. Despite what people say, circumcision is a painful procedure when performed without anesthesia, and they didn’t keep any around in the temple.

Although Mary might not have known the details—nowhere in the infancy narratives are the words “Crucifixion,” “scourging,” or “crown of thorns” mentioned—by the time her baby was eight days old she knew that He was God, and that He would suffer greatly, and that meant she too would suffer greatly. I ponder this and wonder what it would be like to nurse, hold, and play with my own baby while knowing those kinds of things about him that Mary knew about Jesus. Would it take away from the joy of raising this child, or would it add depth to it? We also know from Sacred Scripture that Mary surrendered herself completely to the will of God which included offering up her Son to die as He did. Her fiat to the angel Gabriel beautifully foreshadows Jesus’ own words to His Father indicating His human acceptance of Good Friday’s cup of suffering.

I ponder what it means to surrender myself completely to the will of God for my life, the way Jesus did and the way His mother did. Holding my precious little son, I think about how Jesus was once the exact same age and adorable in the sense of being cute (in addition to being worthy of our adoration). And like Mary I find I have a lot to ponder in my heart while contemplating Baby Jesus.

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Interior what?

I mentioned previously that the most important component to one being able to effectively evangelize is an interior life. So what is an interior life?

Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in his tome Three Ages of the Interior Life states that a genuine interior life begins when a person’s intimate conversations within himself turn towards God. Those conversations running through one’s head are a good place to start because we all have them. They can involve replaying a recent conversation with a coworker that didn’t go well, or one that went exceptionally well. They can involve rehearsing an upcoming confrontation that must take place, or reliving a pleasant memory. They can also involve dreaming about and planning for the future, or simply mentally composing a shopping list.

In one sense, beginning an interior life can be as simple as becoming aware of our interior dialogues. Who are we talking to, really? Our own self? A friend or loved one we imagine to be there? A negative inner voice running us down?

Once we become aware of our interior conversations, the next step is to direct them to God. Instead of talking to ourselves or some other person we imagine to be there, we can talk to God. Talking to God is more commonly known as prayer. Prayer is the basis of the interior life. It also changes everything. If we are truly talking to God, well, he’s not part of us in the same sense that those other voices are. This means that we can’t just fill in his response. If we are truly talking to him, then at some point we have to listen for his response, which means we also have to learn how to “hear” him when he speaks. At that point, God’s presence is making an impact in the way those interior conversations go. We have made the transition from simply talking to ourselves to prayer. From that moment on we have an interior life (as opposed to just interior noise).

Once we have entered into interior prayer, even the most basic form, we have opened ourselves up to God making His presence felt, making Himself known to us, and making His mark on us, even going so far as to completely transform us from the inside out. But prayer itself is its own science as it were. There are guidelines on how to pray well, how to open ourselves up to God’s presence safely (meaning being sure we are interacting with God and not some deceiving spirit). It’s one thing to begin addressing our thoughts to God. It’s another thing to become tuned to God where we are truly listening to Him, and where we truly recognize His voice when He speaks. Developing an interior prayer life takes time and goes through fairly predictable stages which many Church approved Christian mystics such as St. John of the Cross and St. Tereas of Avila have written about. Practicing and learning the art of prayer is developing that budding interior life.

Although prayer is a deeply personal and often individual activity, it does not take place in isolation. Our personal prayer life must be firmly grounded in the life and teachings of the Church, beginning with prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. The Bible is a collection of books written by various inspired human authors over a long period of time and which have undergone a discernment process where they were determined by humans acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be the words of God. The canon of the Old Testament was in place when Jesus entered creation. The canon of the New Testament was settled in several Church councils near the turn of the fourth century AD. The bottom line for us is that we can trust what the Bible says to be true, especially when we respect the Church’s interpretation of its overall meaning. When we believe God to have spoken to us through His word in Sacred Scripture, and what we heard conforms to Church teaching, we can trust that He really did speak to us.

Once we have made the connection in prayer with God, then God Himself will guide and direct our prayer and our interior development with the ultimate goal of completely uniting us with Him. This is where the various stages of the interior life come in. Actually being united with God is much more than expressing the intent to be united with God. It’s also much more than feeling close to God during an especially wonderful prayer experience. This union, when it happens, would be consistent and unhampered by our own sin and impurities.

As could be logically deduced, the early stages of developing an interior life where the soul is moving towards complete union with God are going to be heavy on the purification process. God reaches out to us and initially accepts us at whatever point in life we happen to be when we find Him (or rather, when He finds us). There is no need to first get our lives cleaned up or made acceptable for us to begin the journey. Rather, we bring ourselves to God as we are now, including all our sins and imperfections. God loves us so much and is so happy to see His love returned even in the most imperfect and frail way, that He looks right past all our interior garbage and warmly welcomes us. He is like the father in the famous parable of the prodigal son who has been waiting and watching for a long time for our return, and upon seeing us runs towards us to embrace us.

Next comes the celebration. I’m referring to that interior sense of well being and comfort one gets upon first beginning the prayer life. Everything seems amazing and brand new. Being with God is just awesome and you can’t get enough of Him and the wonderful blessings He is pouring out on you.

At some point, though, God in His great love and wisdom begins to purify the soul because all those sins which God was so happy to overlook initially really do get in the way of the soul reaching its full potential. If you think of total union with God as two puzzle pieces fitting perfectly together, or a key fitting into a lock, then imagine how that union would be inhibited if one of the pieces of the puzzle were seriously deformed, or if the key to the lock was damaged. God cannot change to conform to us and our unique manner of damage, which means that we must change to conform to Him. The sin needs to be systematically removed, and the damage repaired.

We ourselves can do nothing to heal our own damage, so God does not require us to do so. However, He does ask us to fully cooperate with Him as He does the work of healing and purifying our souls. The soul begins to feel God’s purifying action in various ways which include suffering and a sense of dryness or even boredom in prayer, and otherwise less than pleasant experiences. It’s actually a really good sign when prayer which likely was very easy at first becomes more difficult and unexciting, so the best thing to do is to persevere in prayer and keep one’s focus on Jesus. The suffering (which could be big or small–but it all matters) while unpleasant is actually accomplishing a very important work, and so should be welcomed, or at least tolerated with an attitude of complete trust in God who knows what He is doing, and who does everything for our good.

Sin runs deep in a soul and pretty much taints everything, so it’s a big job to get rid of it. Purification can take many years and won’t feel good, but it’s an important part of the process. We won’t be able to be completely filled with and united with God as long as we continue to hold onto sin. When we become aware of sin, the best thing to do is turn away from it and bring it to sacramental confession as soon as possible. God imparts His grace to us through this sacrament in ways that we may not realize or understand at first. Sacramental confession works closely with personal prayer and suffering to purify us of sin. We can think of these as specialized tools Jesus uses in His delicate work of soul repair.

In my own life I try to consider every last bit of suffering I face, down to the seemingly trivial matters, as a means to my goal of growing in holiness. It’s not that I look for suffering (life throws plenty of that my way without my help), and it’s not that I enjoy it or anything. But when I recognize that I’m feeling pain, I turn my thoughts to Jesus and ask Him to use it to accomplish His work in my soul. I also ask Him to help me to cooperate with what He’s doing. I remember what it is I most want in life, which is full union with God, and that helps me to see whatever it is I’m going through as a means to that end. I think about Jesus Himself, and how much I long for Him and love Him, and I turn my inner self towards Him. He is always there with me. Sometimes I feel like I have connected with Him or felt His presence, but sometimes I have to simply take it on faith. Either way, though, Jesus helps me to remember what it’s all for, and why as the expression goes, it’s all good, even the experiences that don’t feel good.

Growing an interior life–a relationship with God leading to full transforming union–has many challenges along the way. The first is that after an initial period resembling a honeymoon where everything is easy and wonderful, it gets more difficult, sometimes boring, and it involves all kinds of suffering, because quite frankly, getting rid of sin hurts. But it’s worth it when you consider the ultimate goal.

Another challenge is that it’s very easy to get deceived in prayer because it’s not as if we can see or hear God with our natural senses. It’s easy to carry on a conversation with God where we ourselves are filling in His part of the dialog rather than really listening for His responses. Also, God may not always respond to us in predictable ways and we could totally miss it or substitute it for what we want Him to say or what we think He ought to say. That gets very tricky, and many sincere souls have fallen astray by thinking they heard God speak in a certain way and then getting attached to the message and acting on it in ways which led to further error. It can be a really nasty vicious circle.

This is why it is very important to be grounded in the Church. This means attending Mass, going to confession, actually reading the Bible during prayer, and educating ourselves about Church teaching, especially moral teaching. A concept which really helped me came from the book Holy Abandonment by Dom Vitalis Lehodey. There are two general ways in which God expresses His will to us. The first is His signified will, which covers God’s basic laws. These include things like the Ten Commandments, the moral teachings of the Church and any other way in which God guides us through His Church. God’s signified will is non-specific, in that it applies to everyone and is not specific to the individual circumstances of one’s life. The second is His will of good pleasure, which covers those things God wants an individual to do and include specific vocations or ministries, and details such as what kind of house to live in or which job to accept or which geographical location to live in.

In a lot of ways, God’s will of good pleasure is more exciting and interesting because after all, it concerns what God is calling me (and only me) to do. For this reason, we are all tempted to skip over attending to God’s signified will and instead concern ourselves with His will of good pleasure. However it is very important to know and follow God’s signified will because His will of good pleasure will always fall within the boundaries of his signified will. He will never tell you to do something which goes against His signified will. A common extreme example that people are fond of using to illustrate that principle is the absurd notion that God would ever tell someone to go out and rob a bank. God’s signified will indicates that stealing is wrong, so therefore His will of good pleasure for an individual will never include stealing. If you ever feel like God is telling you to do something contrary to His signified will, then you need to assume that you are not hearing Him correctly. Hearing God wrong is OK; it just means you have more growing ahead of you. It only becomes a problem when you get attached to the message you think you heard and place the message above God and hold onto the message even when it clearly violates His signified will. It also follows that the way you begin discerning whether a message is actually from God is that you know and value His signified will and you automatically reject anything contrary to that. For the Catholic, that means we strive to live in conformity to Church teaching–all of it. When we discover an aspect of our lifestyle to be in disagreement with Church teaching, we don’t insist that the Church change; we allow ourselves to be changed. But in order to find those discrepancies, we need to study God’s law and surround ourselves with people who also value it.

Since I know I have non Catholic readers, I want to address something really quickly. As a a Catholic I consider myself to be bound by Catholic Church teaching, including rules such as having to attend Mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening). Obviously, non Catholics do not consider Mass attendance to be applicable to them. I’m not going to argue that point here–we will disagree. I just want to state that many similar disagreements between Catholics and Protestants essentially boil down to a difference in perspective concerning whether a given matter has to do with God’s signified will or His will of good pleasure. A Catholic sees Mass attendance as God’s signified will, a non-negotiable. You don’t even consider skipping Mass unless you’re ill. A Protestant (who isn’t anti-Catholic) would view Mass attendance as part of God’s will of good pleasure–something which clearly doesn’t apply to them but which He may be calling at least some Catholics to do. Ditto for being Catholic. We Catholics believe that Jesus really did establish the Catholic Church and that it’s His will for everyone to be a part of it. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that God calls some people to denomination A, others to denomination B, and for some incomprehensible reason, He even calls certain ones to the Catholic Church! Attempting to resolve this difference in perspective goes beyond the scope of this essay, but I wanted to at least acknowledge it.

Going back to the original purpose of this essay, which is to give a very basic overview of the interior life, I can summarize it by saying the interior life is a general term used to describe a soul’s genuine relationship and interactions with God. Not everyone who claims to be relating to God is actually doing so; therefore an interior life, while individual in nature, has to be lived out and discerned in the context of the Church which has through inspiration and experience set out principles for safely navigating the spiritual world. The Church context includes Church teaching and practice, sacraments and community.

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Soccer season

The Northern Colorado plains at the base of the Rocky Mountains boast three seasons: Summer, winter and windy. According to the calendar, windy season happens towards the end of winter and for that part of springtime that isn’t so hot that it blends in with summer. When I refer to springtime I’m talking strictly about that calendar period of time spanning from March 21 to June 21. The calendar says it’s spring. We experience it as wind.

Soccer season for the kids begins right around the Spring Equinox and goes for about six weeks. Practices twice a week on the field in front of the elementary school. Games every Saturday morning. Children and coaches in the field running around, kicking balls already buffeted by the wind. Minivans and SUVs parked in neat little rows with parents inside. Some of the parents are texting; others are playing games on their smart phones. I am writing this essay, while hoping my baby keeps calm in the car seat. We are all staying safe from the wind which is causing our vehicles to sway.

My good friend is in the minivan just twenty-five feet away. When the weather is better we can both be seen by the playground supervising our too-young-for-soccer children, catching snatches of conversation when our children will let us. Today we’re both in our vans, while her daughter and my daughter make their way to their water bottles, holding hands against the wind. I think about moving to my friend’s van so we can visit, but it’s too much trouble to move the baby, and I have some work to do. My own van is way too cozy. It’s kind of like my waterbed in the morning when I know I should be getting up but instead stay put for another five minutes of sprawl time. She has a preschooler and a toddler in her van, so she too stays put.

The wind blows and the children brave it while attempting to hone their ball handling skills. My van shakes. I type another sentence. My baby moves and coos but seems content.

The wind is only the beginning. I’ve had children in soccer for three years now. They have practiced and played in rain, sleet, snow, bitter cold, and more wind. Occasionally they’ve enjoyed a sunny day for a practice and game. The league provides oversize jerseys which can be worn over coats on game days. On the sunny warm days they look like dresses. Either way, they help the parents and referees keep the teams straight.

If some extra terrestrial visitors were to fly over the soccer field today, they would probably assume that we earthlings engaged in a unique form of child torture. We make them get out and run around in the wind while we sit inside our warm vehicles playing with our electronic toys.

On the other hand the children don’t seem to mind. My preschooler who is not on a soccer team is also out braving the wind. She came back to the van to tell me she’d made a new friend. They are happily sliding down the slide. We’ll be here for an hour and a half or so. Then we’ll go home and make dinner. I might treat my crew with hot chocolate. I’m hoping the wind succeeded in helping them expend some of their boundless energy and that they will all sleep very well tonight.

Kids, coaches and balls out in the field braving the wind. Moms, babies and electronics in the neatly parked vans. First game this Saturday. The local insanity we call soccer season is well underway.

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My quest to be a good witness

Christian evangelism is a bit of a touchy subject these days. Non Christians are understandably uncomfortable with the thought of being viewed as one of their Christian friends’ “projects.” Examples of ways to evangelize badly are numerous, and it seems so many approach it as a war to be waged. The recent movie God’s Not Dead from the Evangelical Christian world is one example, as reviewed here. In the Catholic world, the sheer abundance of online pages dedicated to proving us as the True Church and shoving it in the faces of our Protestant brothers and sisters is actually embarrassing to me as a practicing Catholic.

Unbelievers are uncomfortable with this for fairly obvious reasons. Christians are uncomfortable with this too but may not realize there’s a better way. And so we sadly come to the conclusion that evangelism is simply not something we are called to do. We might feel guilty about it, assuming that our unwillingness to shove our faith into others’ faces is due to a fundamental lack of fervor and courage on our part. Or we might conclude that when Jesus commanded us to go out to all nations and make disciples, He didn’t really mean us, or if He did, He surely didn’t intend for us to actually use words to do it. We even have a quote attributed to St. Francis which goes something like this: “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.” For the record, St. Francis never said that, and he actually used a great many words to preach the Gospel in his day.

I personally was stuck in the midst of this cognitive dissonance for many years. I didn’t want to be the sort of Christian who used the Bible as a weapon or shoved my faith in people’s faces, because I don’t like being on the receiving end of this. Being a Catholic who has spent my entire adult life hanging out with Evangelical Christians I have run into my fair share of the anti-Catholic variety. I have gotten into debates with such people in which my entire life of faith (imperfect as it is) and my own knowledge of Scripture and my own experience of God were smugly brought into question and repudiated, and somehow the fact that try as I might I couldn’t find one single thing about my faith which truly contradicted Scripture made me a complete idiot in their eyes. It’s not a fun place to be. More importantly, it’s not a conducive environment for conversion of any kind to take place. Needless to say, I do not wish to return the favor.

In the course of my life I noticed something interesting. I do not have a lot of friends who have become Catholic as a result of anything I said or did, but there have been a few. There have also been a few friends who became Christian and something about me, my words or my actions, played a role in their conversion. None of those converts were people I ever intentionally set out to evangelize or change in any way. We had a fairly normal friendship, hung out together, talked, shared, laughed. In some cases we hardly ever interacted. I once had a classmate stop me on my college campus and proceed to pour out her life story to me, chronicling many problems which were very much over my head. She ended the conversation by explaining to me that she knew I had a connection to God and could help her. I was dumbfounded. This conversation actually led to the two of us studying the Bible together for several months and God miraculously resolving many of the problems she originally came to me with before we lost touch a few years later.

In the mean time people I was more deliberately trying to evangelize remained unconverted. It almost seemed like the less effort I put into evangelizing, the more likely it was that my friend would convert. And yet, there were also plenty of people in my life who I never tried to evangelize and as far as I know they never converted to a life of faith. In other words, it seemed like this truly random and uncontrollable thing. Trying too hard was definitely not fruitful. Not trying at all occasionally led to someone’s conversion. The overall results weren’t that great, but I definitely saw a better chance in not trying than in trying. So I more or less developed this philosophy that evangelism was something that was completely out of my control and that I shouldn’t try to do. If someone was drawn to Christ because of me, then that was wonderful. But I had no idea how to go about improving the odds of that happening. And I honestly didn’t know anyone who knew, or at least I didn’t think I did.

I didn’t give evangelism much more thought until a few years ago when the new pastor at my husband’s church started talking about it from the pulpit. Like many evangelical Christians, he believes that souls will by default go to hell unless they come to faith in Christ. From that perspective the world is just teeming with people who are destined to be forever lost unless he (and all Christians) personally set out to reach them. I learned a couple things about myself from listening to such sermons. The first was that guilt was a poor motivator for me. The thought of my loved ones, friends and neighbors going to hell unless I do something doesn’t bother me. I don’t mean that I don’t care about where they go after they die. I just do not find in me any ability to hold myself personally responsible, and even if I could work up some feelings of such responsibility, those feelings do not motivate me to change anything about the way I relate to them. What it really comes down to, is that I cannot be externally motivated into acting in a way that is unnatural to me, and randomly popping a question along the lines of “Do you know where you will go after you die?” is 99 percent of the time going to be very awkward.

The other thing I learned about myself is that I don’t actually believe that people will automatically go to hell unless they in some way I can comprehend place their faith and trust in Jesus. I believe hell is certainly a real possibility, and honestly the risk alone should be good enough reason for Christians to set out to reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ. But I don’t see it as an automatic thing because I may simply be unaware of the way God has been moving in their lives and in their heart. In other words, it is not my place to say one way or the other. A more accurate way of expressing my view is that I have a really difficult time with the sense of urgency or guilt that often accompanies that view (when people really stop to ponder the implications). Oh my goodness, people are dying every day and they go to hell unless I right now go out and do something! It sounds too much like panic to me. It’s certainly a lot of pressure.

When I read Sacred Scripture I see God doing many things, but He rarely seems to be in a hurry to accomplish anything. He allowed His people to live in slavery for several hundred years. When He rescued them, he then allowed them to wander in the desert for forty years after they had complained one time too many, and made it clear they weren’t ready for the promised land. He put up with years of wicked kings and all kinds of sin, and then allowed His people to be conquered and forced to live in exile for seventy years. God eventually entered creation as Jesus, but only “in the fullness of time.” God is infinitely patient. I don’t see Him in any sort of panic about the many people in this world who are suffering and dying without knowledge of Him, and yet I do not question His love for them. While my own love for them is surely lacking and imperfect, I do not see any reason that anxiety, pressure or panic should necessarily have any part of my love being made complete and perfect. And at this point I tend to associate the anxiety with the “they go to hell by default” view, so I reject the view at the moment.

But none of this is to say that I don’t care about souls who might go to hell or about evangelizing them. This same pastor has rightfully pointed out that many arguments against taking the Great Commission literally are more about making excuses for our own apathy. All of my previous points could very well fall under that category so please don’t take them as anything more than me sharing my story. I’m speaking of my own journey, not trying to convince you I’m right.

In any case, regardless of how I might have rationalized my own ineffectiveness as an evangelist, none of these arguments could withstand something that was starting to grow deep inside me, something that I can only describe as a growing hunger to reach souls, a growing desire to go out and share my faith, unspoken words that were just starting to burn within me, threatening to grow into something I would not be able to keep in or contain.

I was blissfully unaware of these stirrings within me until one fateful day I went to talk to the pastor about something I thought was strictly administrative. I had offered to help out with a particular ministry I was already involved with and he had reservations because he saw the role I was seeking as evangelistic in nature. We had already gone over ways in which as a Catholic I do not resonate with the evangelical Gospel message so he didn’t want to put me in an awkward position.

Without realizing it I had knocked on a door into a world of evangelism, and was told I couldn’t enter. It was actually truly devastating news as in that moment I became aware of this deep desire to evangelize burning inside me like a fire. At that point it could no longer be contained.

It was only a matter of time before I would ask myself the question: “How do Catholics evangelize?” At the time I really didn’t know. Catholics have developed a reputation of not evangelizing, of not even talking about their faith. And the ones who do are rather obnoxious about it–people like Michael Voris and authors of many snarky online sites dedicated to teaching those heathens (and Protestants) a lesson about the True Church. But normal Catholics tend to say their faith is such a personal matter that it’s really not something you can just put out there for anyone to trample on.

This last point I have found is actually very true. My faith is a deeply personal matter. It is the thing about myself I most cherish and treasure. The thought of someone heartlessly cutting it down or trampling all over it makes my heart sick, enough to make me want to keep silent even when I need to speak. I have, however, come to the conclusion that as painful as it is to have one’s faith rejected, that is not a good enough reason to avoid sharing it. Jesus Himself was cruelly rejected and He reached out anyway. So I recognize that anytime I share my faith I’m putting my heart out there and yes it might come back to me in a wounded and bloody mess, but sharing my faith is still worth doing.

I put the question to Google and came up with a few interesting initiatives which were all going on somewhere else. I even contacted the director of one of those initiatives and asked if he offered training for people so others could do what he was doing, and he didn’t have anything like that.

Then the thought came to me: “Surely there is something going on in the Archdiocese of Denver!” So I opened up the website and sure enough I found the office of evangelism and contacted the director inquiring about what kind of evangelism was going on in Denver and Northern Colorado. He put me in touch with Aimee Cooper, who is in the process of developing the Catholic Gospel Project, a work borne out of many hours spent taking the Gospel message in the fullness of the Catholic tradition door to door.

It didn’t happen immediately but Aimee and I eventually connected and I started taking her classes. This coincided perfectly with accepting a position at my own parish where I essentially get paid to evangelize.

I was expecting to learn some specific methods of evangelism, and I did learn a little bit about methods and techniques. But mostly I learned about my own faith, the faith handed down from Jesus and His Apostles and faithfully kept and transmitted through 2,000 years of history so that it could reach me. It’s not that I learned anything new exactly–I’d studied my faith and knew all the components. I’d just never heard it presented in such a beautiful, compelling, and concise manner before. I couldn’t wait to make the message my own and start sharing it with everyone I knew.

But here’s the rub. I also finally understood the reason for my previous largely ineffective efforts at evangelism. The Catholic Gospel Message, like the Catholic faith it summarizes, is attractive and compelling. When I first heard it I found myself pondering it for many days afterwards, something I’d never experienced after hearing the Evangelical Gospel Message. However, although anyone could in theory memorize the words and speak them to someone else, and that someone else could be moved to faith by hearing it, the power of the message appears to be highly dependent on the interior life of the one sharing it.

What is an interior life? It is the inner spiritual life of a person whose life is completely given over to Jesus–the process Jesus takes his or her soul through to get to a point of complete union with God. It is something that those truly serious about their walk with God have. However, it is not mere fervor about the tenets of faith. In the Catholic world there are many people who have deeply studied theology and apologetics, but that doesn’t mean they have a deep interior life. There are others who may engage in prayer-related activities for many hours in a day but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are genuinely connecting with and being transformed by God. I don’t mean to judge anyone, but it is important to note that an interior life isn’t a sure thing just because someone attends church, knows a lot about the faith or even is very fervent about it.

The interior life is that place where one’s soul interacts–really interacts–with Jesus (really, with God, as in each member of the Trinity). It is that point where Jesus comes in and makes real changes in the soul, to where the person is truly transformed following the encounter. It’s not about a person making a mental shift, though that can be part of it. It’s a soul change that is just as real as a physical change, and which will reverberate throughout the person’s life, affecting the way he or she lives and behaves.

The interior life happens through prayer–the type of prayer which goes beyond either reciting memorized prayers or petitioning for one’s needs, but ventures into meditation on God’s word found in Sacred Scripture and contemplation of God Himself. This prayer is anchored in the sacramental life of the Church, as in relies on the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, and it follows a generally predictable series of stages (as observed from hundreds of years of the experiences of the saints who have walked this road) while also being unique to each soul. A true interior life also appears to be anchored in suffering, as God uses the imperfect and often painful circumstances of a soul’s life to refine and shape that soul to His liking. The initial stages for sure involve a lot of suffering from the sheer process of refinement and transformation, as a soul that is broken and wounded by original sin (as well as a history of personal sin) is repaired and remade into the way God planned it to be without the mark of sin.

It was this that was missing from my life for the greater part of my adulthood. It’s not that I didn’t believe in God; it’s not that I didn’t attend church or pray or study Scripture. That’s what’s so tricky about it because you can “do all the right things” but still have your soul ruled more by pride than by God’s love, and still have the door of your soul closed to Him really moving in. This situation doesn’t make you bad or “unsaved.” It may not even be your fault, as in no one ever told you there was more to the Christian life. But it does mean that God has some challenges in truly reaching you, and you are not going to be operating out of His full power, and your work for Him will lack the kind of effectiveness that should be your inheritance as His child.

In my case what it came down to was that my soul largely followed my own leading, rather than God’s. My will was king, rather than God’s will. I would put decisions in my life before Him, even ask Him to reveal His will for me. But it was my will which prevailed. If it happened to agree with God’s will, then that was a bonus. But I didn’t realize how very un-surrendered to God I was.

And there really wasn’t any way I could change that. God Himself had to show me, and He had to do it in a way that did not violate my free will but yet made it clear to me that He wanted me to freely give Him my will and take His instead.

This did not happen all at once but over the past couple years I took the epic step of giving Him my will and surrendering my life and my being to His will. Then I took a couple classes on prayer and suffering which essentially confirmed the process God was already taking me through as well as helped move things along much faster. He started speaking to me through others or directly about how my life wasn’t really my own, He prompted me to a place of making regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and then He helped make me more accepting of the whole idea of suffering (as well as the reality). It’s been a process, and I feel as if it is just beginning, but at least it’s getting off the ground and going somewhere. I am definitely growing.

Interestingly enough, a huge part of what has brought me to the place of deciding that it’s really worth going through the pain of dying to my will in favor of living in God’s will was the realization that doing so would ultimately make me truly effective at evangelizing other souls. Clearly at some point the desire to win souls for Christ became an overriding one.

And it remains an overriding driving force in my life. I think about the people in my life who I do regularly share my faith with–mostly people at my church who actually listen to what I have to say (yes, there are a few). In the past year I’ve shared the Good News of Jesus with people who really didn’t know, I’ve shown people how the Bible is structured and how to read it, I’ve even begun to share more openly about what Jesus is doing within me (mainly because I know He longs to do the same for them). And the entire time I’ve grown in a deep awareness, in a joyful non-pressured sort of way, of how important it is for their sake that Jesus completes what He is doing inside my soul. It’s almost as if they are watching the process or something, and I want them to see a real good example. And I want them to have every reason to follow my lead and entrust their own lives to Jesus.

It’s one of these full circle sort of things. A deep desire to evangelize got awakened within me, and this led me to begin to experience that elusive interior life (it shouldn’t be elusive, but for a lot of modern Catholics it has been, and that’s a whole ‘nother story), which is just barely beginning to bear fruit in the sense that I am now aware of something real and potentially powerful backing up my evangelism efforts. And that fruit is also motivating me to open my heart and soul even more to Jesus doing whatever He wants to do in me (regardless of any pain or discomfort His action within me causes).

The result for now is that for me, evangelism is becoming less of this random unpredictable thing of great unease, and more and more something that I just do, not because I’m saying anything in particular but because I am starting to be aware of Jesus’ life flowing out of me. OK, so right now that flow is a mere trickle, but there is outward movement, and great potential for even more outward movement. Mostly I feel like I am living out the Gospel on the inside and basically beginning to show it to the people in my life, which makes the words I speak make a lot more sense, at least to me, because they are backed up by reality (as opposed to mere theory). This makes me more comfortable saying the words in the first place.

I’ve spent a lot of time and used a lot of words to describe a process inside me that can probably be best summed up by the following principle: it really helps to be actually living out what I am preaching.

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Do you have a request?

My children’s sense of justice is growing rapidly. They are quick to point out when something is not fair. An accumulation of unfair events can push them over the edge.

They long to right the wrongs. As a result I have listened to many heartfelt and tearful statements along the lines of “K had two turns sitting in the front seat and I haven’t gotten a turn,” or “L always gets to play on your tablet first and that’s not fair!” or “I never get to have special time with Dad but E always does.”

I generally try to not be a defensive person, but there is nothing like the direct or implicit accusation of having perverted justice to turn on my big capital D defensive lever to full throttle. Oh that cuts deeply to the heart, that I, their own mother, have engaged in such an epic miscarriage of justice. I usually don’t entertain thoughts along the lines of what a terrible and inadequate mother I am, but the accusation of being unfair can bring to life depressing thoughts I never knew I was harboring. Oh the horrors!

When I was a child the response I most remember hearing from grownups when I brought forth my own complaints about injustice was “Life is not fair.” A group of old friends from my elementary school once got chatting on Facebook about our school days, and a few of them remembered a teacher who very often would say: “Life is not fair. Repeat after me: life is not fair.”

I tried that line with my children once and it fell completely flat. They somehow did not make the magic connection between life being generally unfair and it being OK for their life to be unfair. I needed to find a different approach.

One of the younger children is still learning about the importance of saying please. It’s not just about the magic word, it’s about having a polite tone of voice, making a request rather than a demand. She forgets so her dad and I have taken to reminding her by asking: “Do you have a request?”

Usually that is enough of a reminder for her to rephrase her “you better give this to me, or else!” demand no one wants to meet into a sweet “can I please have this?” request no one can resist. But sometimes she needs us to rephrase it for her so she can repeat it. Sometimes we’ll ask her to repeat it three times for practice.

Like many parents I struggle with the first world problem of children who are picky eaters. My children aren’t extremely choosy, but they do seem to rotate through disliking ordinary foods at an alarming rate. I fix a meal. They tell me they don’t like it. I tell them they have two choices: take it or leave it. They’re not convinced. I lecture them about having a grateful rather than complaining heart.

If they get too much into the complaining part, I retell one of the stories of the Israelites complaining in the desert, playing their part in the most obnoxious whining voice I can muster: “Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in this desert? If only we could go back to Egypt where we could eat cucumbers and leeks! Here all we get is this manna, and we’re gonna all die of thirst anyway. Why can’t we have meat for a change?” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it. Whine, whine, whine. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Complain, complain, complain. Whenever you are reading the stories of the Israelites grumbling in the desert, you have to put on the most whining voice possible–it really makes the story. There’s also this great song by Keith Green that makes fun of the different ways they might have complained.

When I was younger (definitely before I had my own children) I thought God was rather tough on His people just for a little complaining. After all, their needs were real and at times quite desperate. At one point they were completely out of water. Everyone knows you can’t survive long, especially exposed to the elements, without water. What’s wrong with asking God to give you water when you’re thirsty?

The answer is nothing. There’s nothing wrong with asking God for water when you’re thirsty, or your favorite meal on your birthday, or a brand new sports car, or a million dollars. There is nothing wrong with making a polite request to God about anything. If you say please, it’s even better.

God would not have minded if the Israelites had asked Him for food when they were hungry, asked Him for water when they were thirsty, and asked Him for meat when they felt the need for more protein. He clearly wanted to give them all those things as shown by the fact that He did. The part He hated was the way they asked Him. His people were not making requests; they were making demands and accusations. They accused God on more than one occasion of intending to kill them all from the beginning. They demanded He give them what they wanted as if He owed them something.

After fielding similar demands and accusations from my own children (“you just want to make my life miserable!”), I can totally relate to the burning anger. Sometimes everything I most value about my motherhood can be brought into doubt by one particularly rude demand. And I don’t like it one bit. And yes, my anger has burned against them as a result. And I won’t even pretend it was a holy anger either.

One morning a few days ago my seven-year-old came to speak to me. The expression on her face and her stiff posture told me she was geared up for a fight. She started to chronicle all the previous times that her older sister had gotten to sit in the front seat of the van and the many times she had been “forced” to sit in the back. She ended her litany with an emphatic: “And that’s not fair!”

My mind started to run through some defenses and refutations of what my daughter had just said. I certainly felt as if she was holding me personally responsible for all this misery and injustice. I opened my mouth to say something, and what came out was: “Do you have a request?”

She looked at me blankly. I prompted her. “It sounds like you really want to sit in the front seat of the van. Is that what you want?” She nodded. “OK, how about asking me for a turn sitting in the front seat.”

“Mom, can I please sit in the front next time we drive somewhere?”

“You sure can. Just remind me when we’re loading up.”

And that’s when it hit me. My parents and teachers were right when they told me as a child that life was fundamentally unfair. I realize now that what they meant was that a state of unfairness is life’s default option. And it helps to know and understand this. However, we don’t have to accept life’s unfairness all the time. We have a very powerful recourse at our disposal. It’s called the polite request, you know where you ask nicely and say please.

Did a sibling get an extra cookie the last time there was an odd number of cookies to divide up? Would you like the extra cookie next time? Then how about asking for it? Has it been a long time since you had some special one on one time with a parent? Then ask for some special time.

I have found that while my children do occasionally ask for truly impossible things, for the most part their wants and needs are quite reasonable and I’m happy to do what I can to fulfill them. I just find myself getting off track when those wants and needs are presented to me as demands and accompanied with accusations. The demands and accusations feel like an attack and my first priority becomes to ward off the attack, which unfortunately also means warding off the core want or need if I can’t separate the two.

The question “Do you have a request?” is a great way for me to gently put the responsibility of separating the two back onto them, and giving them the opportunity to express their desire in a way that is more likely to get a favorable response, whether they are asking me, a friend, a future adult coworker, or God Himself. If “please” is the magic word, then “Do you have a request?” must be the magic sentence.

If the Israelites had phrased their petitions to God as simple requests, I believe God would not have been so angry with them. In fact, He would have delighted in meeting their needs in amazing and miraculous ways. As it was, He did meet their needs in miraculous and amazing ways, but it clearly wasn’t fun for anyone.

If requests get a much better response (even when the answer is no, at least no one’s anger is being kindled against anyone), then why is it that often my first instinct whether I’m dealing with my children, my husband, or God, is to make a demand, and a loaded one at that?

I think the reason is that it’s actually difficult to make a polite request. It’s not so much saying the words–that’s easy. But there’s a certain attitude that must be in place for the words to seem natural. This attitude includes a releasing of any sense of entitlement that might go along with the request. This comes into play most often when there’s some sort of ongoing conflict. Maybe my husband told me he would do a certain thing for me but he forgot and his forgetting inconvenienced me. Maybe this happens once a week (or translated into my filter, All. The. Time.) The challenge for me lies in the situation where I will once again ask my husband to do this particular thing and refrain from unloading the baggage of all the previous occasions when I make my request. There is a time and a place for dealing with the baggage, but it’s not when I’m making the particular request.

I tell my children that sometimes when they ask me for something like a glass of milk, if there is a lot of chaos or the baby suddenly needs a diaper change, I might completely forget all about their request. I tell them they need to ask me again just as politely as they did the first time. I really don’t want to hear all about how I didn’t get it for them the first time they asked.

When there have been previous requests that went unanswered (for whatever reason), making a polite request again becomes an act of faith and hope, as well as one of forgiveness. It’s also an act of humility. Humility is many things, but one of them is a conscious decision to not insist on one’s legitimate rights. When you make a polite request, you are choosing to let go of whatever may be owed to you (either in your own mind or truly legitimately). You are in a sense laying down your rights. You are giving the person a fresh start because you are not holding a score card in front of them when you simply ask. It is an act of unconditional love.

Those qualities of faith, hope, forgiveness, humility and especially love are not generally default qualities and so must be cultivated and worked on. If we don’t really have those qualities in us, then making a polite request will be more difficult. I think it’s general lack of virtue that makes the act of making a polite request feel awkward and unnatural. But the good news is that making requests is something that can be practiced, and such practice will open up the possibilities of growing in these virtues as well. So if the virtuous life seems out of reach, we can all at least practice making polite requests. And this goes for prayer too.

When I go to pray to God about a particular situation that is upsetting me, sometimes I will find myself beginning to make demands, then justifying them by telling Him all about what He owes me, then accusing Him of something terrible if He won’t give me what I want (after all, it’s the least He can do). Then I can almost hear Him cut through all that grumbling and complaining with one simple question: “Do you have a request?”

Oh. Right. Rewind.

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