When the Nightmare Is Real

I was having one of those dreams last night.  You know the kind.  They usually happen right before time to wake up, and are inspired by anxiety from the waking world leaking out of the subconscious.

I’ve had variations on this one hundreds of times. but this one took a turn.  Let me tell you about it.

I was in college, and I was late to class.  In fact, I think the class was almost over by the time I arrived.  As I tried to enter the room quietly, I saw that the desks were strewn about the room in no discernible arrangement.  People weren’t in their right seats, having abandoned their stuff at one desk to go sit elsewhere.  So it was hard to determine where I might sit, and I had to walk all the way across the room to find a spot.

The teacher was explaining an assignment, the details of which were pertinent and funny but which have sadly already slipped away from me.  I do remember that, naturally, I couldn’t find a pencil, or paper, or my textbook to help me.  As I settled down to finally start writing, I noticed that the guy next to me had decided to just write a poem instead.  The classroom was in complete chaos, with the teacher, who was sometimes at his desk glaring and other times completely absent from the room, alternately ignoring us and yelling that we would fail the class if we did the assignment wrong.

You probably saw this coming a mile off.  Here’s the teacher:

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Credit: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

And then I woke up.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

 

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Lorelei and I had the opportunity this week to join in a local march in support of refugees and immigrants.  This peaceful and patriotic event began in Market Square–Knoxville’s downtown gathering spot–with a silent vigil.  Then all of us–over 1,100 people, in the middle of a weekday!–marched to the City-County Building for a brief rally before a delegation carried letters opposing the President’s Executive Order to the lawmakers within.

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As we made the 25-minute drive from our home to downtown Knoxville, I made sure Lorelei understood what we were marching about.  We talked about the signs she had made and what they meant.  We talked about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount.  I told her that when we turn away immigrants and refugees, we are turning away Christ.

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But we didn’t just talk about religion–we had a civics lesson too.  We talked about the principles our country is founded on, and how it isn’t unpatriotic to try to hold the country to those values.  We talked about the importance of letting our representatives know our position on this and other issues, and on how people coming together can bring about change.  I told her about Yassin Terou, a Syrian refugee who found success here as a restaurateur and has made it a point to give back to his adopted community.  We talked about the message on the Statue of Liberty and about the American dream.

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This wasn’t Lorelei’s first protest–she has taken part in many a March for Life–but this is the first time she knew what she was protesting.  She’s 12 years old, with little patience for or experience with being silent, but she made me proud.  She remained quiet, paid attention, liked pointing out all the signs (she was our sign-maker), and enjoyed the chanting we did at the end of the march.

Lorelei carried this sign:

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It was inspired by the lyrics of the Marty Haugen song.  It’s slightly heretical for singing in church in my opinion, but some of the words seemed tailor-made for this occasion:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live . . .
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place . . . 
Let us build a house where hands will reach
beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

My favorite part of the gathering happened almost at the end, when we recited The New Colossus together.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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I can’t recite that under the most ordinary of circumstances without crying, and those were not ordinary circumstances.

After that, much of the crowd dispersed, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” And it is.

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When Did Liberals Start Quoting Scripture?

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That’s what a Facebook friend of mine asked the other day.  It’s no secret that there are lots of liberal Christians but in recent years they’ve been loath to use the Bible to make political points.  The reasons are many, ranging from a strong belief in the separation of Church and State all the way to simply being on the side of an issue that Scripture doesn’t support (which is why faith should transcend party for Catholics, just saying).

But in the present heady moment the “liberals” have all the Scripture on their side, and pretty explicitly too.  Conservative Christians suddenly find themselves in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar position of being targeted by the very pointed words of Christ when they try to defend the recent Executive Order.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’  Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’” ~ Matthew 25:41-45

So perhaps it’s very natural that religious folks who lean liberal politically are excited to be able to demonstrate that they read the Bible too, and that they’ve taken these parts of it to heart.  Many American religious leaders have been quick to speak out against the Executive Order, which actually violates the religious freedom of American Christians who are called to welcome the stranger and are being prevented from doing so.

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Can We Learn to Listen?

Flipping through the monthly missalette to pass the time, back in the days when I was a child and Mass seemed to last forever, I’d sing the songs in my head and read the prayers on the back.  One prayer struck me so much that I committed it to memory.

I haven’t thought of it much in recent years but it came to me suddenly today–perhaps through the prompting of the Holy Spirit?  It’s a prayer we could all use in these troubled times.

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When I think of conversations nowadays online interactions come to mind.  Much of our discourse on important matters is virtual now.  We listen with our eyes and minds and not our ears as we read the posts and comments and articles in our feeds.  But don’t we still fall prey to the same errors the prayer mentions?  Haven’t we all read something too quickly and made uncharitable assumptions in our rush to respond?  Have we thought about the feelings of the person reading our witty, snarky comebacks?  Are we listening and trying to learn or simply planning our next salvo?  Are we having conversations–exchanges of ideas–or are we fighting battles with words as our weapons?

God comes to us through the souls we encounter–this we know.  And they encounter Him through us.  Are we allowing ourselves to be channels of His peace, or of something else?

For my part, I am going to say this prayer every morning before I fire up Facebook.  Will you join me?

Protest is Patriotism

Protesting is as American as the Boston Tea Party.  The First Amendment to our Constitution includes the rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to petition our government for redress of grievances.  That sounds like a pretty good description of a protest march like the Women’s March in Knoxville which I attended today.

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Dictionary.com defines patriotism as “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.”  Today’s pre-march ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance.  Many marchers carried American flags.  (I heard one of them expressing concern about whether it was disrespectful that his flag was getting wet in the rain.)  

Can I rage for a second here?  Protesting is NOT whining, it’s NOT being a sore loser, and it’s certainly NOT unpatriotic.  People gather in peaceful protest BECAUSE they love this country, because they believe in its ideals, and because they want it to be better. (Our new President has spent the past two years talking about how terrible this country is and how we need him to make it great again.  Was that unpatriotic?)

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On January 27, 2017, pro-life marchers will gather in Washington to voice their disagreement with this country’s abortion laws.  These marchers want abortion legally banned.  They disagree with Federal, State, and local laws allowing abortion and deplore Supreme Court decisions which have upheld those laws.  They believe in the ideals of this great nation–the ones guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–and that they should apply to everyone, born or unborn.  They think the United States of America can and should be better.

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I’ve participated in more local Marches for Life than I can recall.  I’ve slogged through rain and biting cold on behalf of the unborn.  (I’ve also marched against the death penalty, for what it’s worth.)  So I think that gives me the moral authority to tell you that the only difference between marching today and marching next weekend is what participants are protesting.

Women (and lots of men!) marched today to protest potential policies of the incoming administration, based upon the political promises of the President.  They marched for many reasons: for healthcare, for equal pay for equal work, for compassion toward immigrants and refugees.  And they also marched against things:  sexual assault, discrimination, prejudice, hatred.

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“Give him a chance,” people say.  “He hasn’t done anything yet.”  All the more reason for us to stand up now, before he has a chance to implement any policies, to assemble and use our right to speak freely and let him know how his proposals will grieve us!  Why wait to protest until after the fact?

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Putting Christ in Christmas

When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.

From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas.  At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests.  (Never happened, naturally.)

I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents.  And that first year, it worked.  Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts.  My memories of that Christmas are idyllic:  Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.

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Of course it escalated from there.  And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program.  Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.

That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.

The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think.  Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there.  Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas.  We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!

Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home.  Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.

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Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family.  Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.

Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book.  So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes.  The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts.  We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns.  It takes HOURS.  It teaches patience.  And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.

This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop.  You can read other posts by clicking here.

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Good People?

My high school French teacher, Sister deLellis, had a favorite saying that popped into my head today: “Tell me who you go with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

For the past year, many of my friends who termed themselves reluctant Trump supporters assured me repeatedly that all his flaws would not matter because once he was in office he would “surround himself with good people.”  Since the election, they keep saying, “Give him a chance.”

In the disorganized mess that is the Trump transition, rumors abound, each one worse than the last.  But I don’t deal in rumors.  So far Mr. Trump has made only a few official appointments that I am aware of.  Are they good people?  Let’s take a look at some of them:

Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor

If you haven’t already read more than your fill about Mr. Bannon and his alt-right associations, this opinion piece provides a fairly balanced view with links to more.

Jeff Sessions, Attorney General

Mr. Sessions was denied an appointment years ago to a federal judgeship for alleged racist remarks.  He has denied the remarks, but he can’t deny that he said he isn’t sure that grabbing a woman’s genitalia is sexual assault.

Mike Flynn, National Security Advisor

A retired general and a registered Democrat, Flynn is on record as having made extreme remarks against Islam–not just radical Islamic terrorism but the religion itself.  “Islam is a political ideology…it definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion,” Flynn said in a speech at the annual conference of ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the US. “It’s like cancer…a malignant cancer in this case.”

Predictably, these picks have raised an outcry of rage from Democrats, but several prominent Republicans are not brimming over with enthusiasm over Bannon’s role in particular either.

But guess who does like Mr. Trump’s appointments?

Bannon, Flynn, Sessions — Great! Senate must demand that Sessions as AG stop the massive institutional race discrimination against whites!

Tell me who you go with and I’ll tell you who you are.  

We Didn’t Start the Fire . . .

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Tennessee is on fire and Donald Trump is the President-Elect.  The haze that hangs over Knoxville matches the haze in my head and my heart.  It’s hard to think and hard to breathe.

On Election Day  many of us headed off to the polls excited about a bright new world full of promise and possibility and without glass ceilings.

The next morning we awakened to an America we didn’t recognize, a country we used to love but feel that we don’t even know any more.

We are grieving and we are discouraged and the conservatives I know (translation: almost EVERYONE I know, here in red East Tennessee) think we are crybabies and want us to get over it.

In October, I cleared out our fire pit, planning for crisp November evenings.

The pit remains empty and cold.  My bonfire dreams are dead like so many other dreams seem to be. Most of East Tennessee is under a burn ban, and this will continue until just a few days before winter begins.  Tempers are flaring too, and those flames may be harder to dampen.

I am intimately aware of the destructive power of fire.

But fire, controlled, also warms and illumines.

I love candles and every evening before we sit down to watch our show I light several.  I wait for the moment when the flame from the lighter catches the wick and the candle begins to burn on its own, its flame swelling to life.

My family visited Mammoth Cave recently. After gathering us in a large room, our guide turned off every light and left us to wait in complete, impenetrable darkness.   Then he lit just one match and the entire cave was illuminated.  Our eyes can grow accustomed to the deepest darkness.  One small flame becomes enough to see by.

Dark nights of the soul are steps along the journey to spiritual enlightenment.  By all means we SHOULD curse the darkness we see in the world around us right now.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t light candles.  We can burn. We can shine.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light . . .  (Ephesians 5:8)

 

Why is This Election Different?

On the eve of the 2012 Presidential Election, I put up a post about how I would be voting, and why.  By now, if you’ve been keeping up, you know whom I will be voting for tomorrow.  And I’ve even explained how I approached making this decision, as a Catholic.

What you might still wonder, though, is what is different about this year.  In 2008, I didn’t vote at all.  In 2012, I wrote in None of the Above.  What has changed?  Did I just convince myself to vote for Hillary Clinton because I love her so much and because I’ve always secretly yearned to vote for a Democrat?

Actually, I would have liked to have voted for President Obama in 2008.  I preferred him to McCain and I wanted him to win.  I would have liked to pull the lever for the first black President.  But I couldn’t find a proportionate reason to do so.

By 2012 I had serious reservations about our President, but his policies were still more agreeable to me than Romney’s were.  Yet, again, I did not vote for him.

What is special about this election?

Two words: Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is my proportionate reason for voting for Hillary Clinton.

Don’t misunderstand–I LIKE Hillary.  I don’t believe most of what the conservative media says about her.  I agree with nine-tenths of her ideas (and I don’t think I have to explain to you which ones I don’t agree with).  And I find a great deal to admire about her.  Plus she’s the most qualified person to ever run for President.

But if Jeb Bush were running, if John Kasich were running, if John McCain or Mitt Romney were running, I might be voting for one of them or writing in None of the Above again tomorrow.

Donald Trump CANNOT and MUST NOT be President.  I believe he poses a clear and present danger to the residents of this nation, to everything it stands for, perhaps even to its very existence.  All the harm he would do as President constitutes–for me–the proportionate reasons my conscience demands.

Now, as you may know, I am in Tennessee, which I have no doubt Trump will win tomorrow.  I’m not in a swing state, so why am I “endangering my soul” by the remote material cooperation in evil of voting for a pro-choice candidate?

It would be hypocritical for me to expect other pro-life Catholics in swing states to vote against Donald Trump if I refuse to do the same.  My vote may not go directly toward defeating Trump, but it may encourage others whose votes have that power.  I will also be demonstrating, through my vote and my testimony about it here and on my blog, that while there is a Catholic process for choosing your candidate, there is no one right choice for every Catholic.

So tomorrow I will cast my vote for Hillary with a clear conscience and the firm belief that Donald Trump and everything he represents must be repudiated.

 

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Catholic Voting 101: A Guide for the Confused

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Image Credit: Donkey Hotey

It’s come to my attention that many (maybe even most?) of my fellow Catholics are a bit confused on the issue of voting.  How do I know this?  Because FACEBOOK, mostly.  If any Catholic is on Facebook telling any other Catholic that he or she is in a state of mortal sin or hellbound for voting for Hillary Clinton (or Donald Trump, for that matter), that Catholic clearly needs a refresher course (maybe a first course?) on Catholic voting.

I can see why some of them would be confused, too, when you’ve got deacons preaching about whom to vote for and Bishops and priests making ill-advised and incorrect statements in the press and people putting unauthorized flyers in parish bulletins.  I’ve seen and read about all of this, and you probably have too, and I’m not going to link to these folks to give them any more undeserved attention and the opportunity to spread more misinformation. (By the way, here’s what our Bishops have to say about such activities.)

Some of you have probably also seen voting guides from Catholic Answers or EWTN, and have (understandably) assumed that you could trust such well-known sources.   But the ONLY authorized voting guide (and that includes this blog, which is why my advice to you is going to be backed up by authoritative links) is the Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, published in every election year by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  That’s the ONLY document with the authority of the Magisterium behind it.  If you haven’t read it yet, you haven’t done your homework and you shouldn’t cast a vote until you do.

You might also want to familiarize yourself with Catholic Social Teaching.  And you are certainly going to want to read the section of the Catechism which deals with the formation of conscience.  And it goes without saying that you should read about the candidates and their positions on issues of importance to Catholics, of course making sure to check your sources.

Frankly, I think the Church and its members would be in a lot better shape if we all spent more time reading the above documents and less on Breitbart News and Occupy Democrats.  Particularly in matters of faith I would suggest spending more time on the Vatican and USCCB sites and less on LifeSite News and HuffPo Religion.

Anyway, I’m going to paraphrase some of this,  but I am not a theologian and this is not an approved voting guide so you really ought to go to the links provided and read for yourself.

Short version:  You can vote for anyone you want to, but not for the wrong reasons.

What does this mean?  Here’s an example:  We all know that Hillary Clinton supports legalized abortion.  Abortion is an intrinsic evil that deserves the highest level of attention from Catholics.  So if you vote for Hillary Clinton BECAUSE she supports abortion, that’s wrong.  If you are a Catholic, you can’t do that.

Every candidate running this year has certain positions that run contrary to Church teachings.  YOU CAN STILL VOTE FOR ANY OF THEM, as long as you are voting for the DESPITE these positions AND in the presence of PROPORTIONATE REASONS.

Back when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict explained how this works.  He’s a scholar and used lots of big words, so here is the simplified version: Voting for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil (like abortion or racism) requires the presence of a proportionate reason.

In her wisdom, the Church so far has not defined what these proportionate reasons might be, although if you Google you will find plenty of Catholics expressing their opinions.  But they are only opinions, and everyone will reach his own conclusions about this, according to his conscience.

But Trump is just AWFUL, you say.  How could there be ANY reason proportionate enough to justify voting for him?   Well, maybe a Catholic voter is convinced that Mr. Trump really has had a conversion of heart and is truly pro-life.  Our next President will probably have the opportunity to appoint several Supreme Court justices.  Mr. Trump has said he will appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  Faced with the possibility of ending the evil of abortion, this person feels he cannot in good conscience fail to vote for a candidate who might achieve this.

Still can’t understand it? Guess what? You don’t have to! It’s not your business how your fellow Catholics vote.  It’s not their business how YOU vote! You don’t get to tell them they are going to hell and they don’t get to tell you that you are excommunicated.

One more quote from the Bishops: “We strongly urge all parishioners to register, to become informed on key issues, and to vote. The Church does not support or oppose any candidate, but seeks to focus attention on the moral and human dimensions of issues.”

And from our Holy Father, when directly asked what the American faithful should keep in mind while voting: “In electoral campaigns, I never say a word. The people are sovereign. I’ll just say a word: Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.

Being accused of being more Catholic than the Pope is not a compliment, y’all.  Can we all take our cue from the Bishop of Rome and mind our own consciences–and our own business?

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Photo Credit: Getty Images