The Catholic Weekly

I so imperfect

resentful

You can start over even if you’re not sure God loves you. You can start oven even if you’re not sure He should.

And you don’t have to run. You can shamble over resentfully. You can sidle in doubtfully. You can skulk in with fear, doubt, despair, or even rage. As long as you go because you’re acknowledging that things are not good as they are, then that is good enough. It may not feel like it is enough, but that is what Christ has promised.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: photo credit: trepelu toes (detail) via photopin (license)

The Catholic Weekly

Oh, such depravity. Tell me more!

What interests me is how eager so many people were to believe that the sick, twisted, evil of California just got a little sicker, more twisted, and even eviller. There is a very fine line between drawing back in horror and swooping in with glee, and thousands of outraged readers, bloggers, pundits, and shock jocks vaulted right over that line.

Why? Because evil isn’t content with prowling around like a ravening lion, looking to devour this and that. It wants us to sit on the sidelines and cheer it on, munching popcorn as we enjoy the spectacle.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly here.

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So I says to God, I says . . .

mad mama

The following story is not for the squeamish.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much this week. This is mainly because I, and several members of my family, have been hit hard with a bug that is taking its sweet time meandering its way through our intestines. In short, we have turned into incredible pooping machines. I seriously didn’t know it was possible to poop this much and still function, but there you go. The baby, of course, has it too, which means that I’ve been spending most of my waking moments racing back and forth between the bathroom and the diaper box. (No, she’s not getting dehydrated.)

Friends, it is all shit, all the time.

Then, a few days ago, one of the little guys messed with the dog’s electric fence transmitter, and the poor dummy got zapped just for coming out of his crate. So he got all shell shocked, and refused to go outside. This went on for a little too long, and the inevitable just happened: he crapped all over the house, and his crate, and his giant spongy cushion, and everything.

So, like the reasonable adult I am, I hollered and screamed at him, threw him outside, and cleaned up the mess. Picked up the shrieking baby, sat down to nurse her, and what do you know? She pooped all over my lap.

At this point, I did what any pious housewife would do. I yelled at God, “YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY TO ME?”

And He said, “Yeah, go to confession, dummy.”

FINE. Some people need to be drowned in poop before they even start looking for a shovel.

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Do Christians do good because they fear Hell?

satan drawing

Imagine that I go for a walk in the mountains. Halfway up, I come across a little unexpected stream, with bracing cold water that sparkles over the mossy stones. The sweet smell of the waving weeds intoxicates me, and for one giddy moment, the shadow of a falcon races over my path. There are berries and wildflowers, sweet breezes and a new kind of birdsong, something wild and delightful that I’ve never heard before.

So I tell everyone about it. Most people say, “How beautiful! I love the mountains, too.” But one guy sneers, “Yeahhh, I’d scuttle up there too, if I shared your primitive fear of carnivorous valley monsters.”

I go, “Huh?”

And another guy goes, “Why, I don’t blame you a bit. It’s probably emotionally healthy for someone with your neurotic anxiety over coronary disease to take an aerobic uphill hike.”

And I go, “Yeah, but—”

That’s kind of how I feel when I talk about being a Catholic, and two different types of atheists respond. When I posted about my little girl’s belief in God, the first type berated me for “[t]elling a 5-year-old they need to obey a magical ghost who lives in the clouds or else terrible things will happen to them.”

And I’m like, “Huh?”

And the second one is like the much more civil atheist, who said that he would have had a far less polite response to the first atheist, speaking “as someone who doesn’t worry about going to hell for doing whatever I feel like.”

And I go, “Yeah, but—”

These two atheists have something startling in common: They both assume that a major feature of Catholic life is a constant fear of Hell.

Now, I believe in Hell. And I do fear it. At least two of my daily prayers specifically ask God to preserve me from that fate. But does a fear of Hell motivate good behavior?

When someone is nasty to me, my first reaction is to respond in kind (and too often, I give in). My second reaction, though, is to say, “Wait, wait, wait. Can I do a little better?” And why would I do that?

If you can stand another analogy, imagine that I’m sitting at a table with a beloved friend and mentor—someone who has always been kind and patient with me, and who is always secretly fixing things up to make my life better.  Today he has prepared a delicious meal, with all my favorites: five courses, perfectly matched wines, everything fresh and prepared with love and skill.

So I’m enjoying this meal tremendously, talking, laughing, having a wonderful time. Suddenly my host looks out the window and says, “Oh look, it’s that guy who commented on your post! Why don’t you wrap up one of these extra rolls and toss it to him?”

And I say, “NO!!! No, no, NO! It’s mine, all mine! I’m too tired! He’s a jerk! Why should I! Nobody cares about me! I can’t spare it anyway! I can’t believe you expect me to do that! Wahhhhhhhh!” and I fall to the floor, pulling the tablecloth with me, and lie there in a puddle of spilled gravy and broken glass.

Or, I could say, “Ehh, it’s just a roll, and I have this huge feast. Okay, buddy—my host seems to see something in you that I don’t. So here you go.” And I do it because I love my host. Am I afraid that he might cut me out of his will if I don’t share the roll? Maybe—but in practice, the relationship just isn’t like that. I worry less about his wrath than I do about my own foolishness: When I behave badly, it’s because I’m not thinking of him or his generosity at all.

Most of the time, when God asks us to do something good—to do something better than our original impulse—we do it not out of fear of punishment, but because we recognize that God is so good to us, so generous. And most of the time, all he asks us to do is to toss the other guy a roll. It’s not fear that motivates good behavior. It’s because we realize that God has given us a tremendous amount of love, and the least we can do is to pass it on from time to time.

Is the fear of Hell a useful way to control my sinfulness? Sometimes. But most often, if I commit a mortal sin, it’s when my heart is halfway in Hell anyway—so the fear of going there is not much of a deterrent. I behave much better when, rather than trying to avoid Hell, I’m trying to act more like I’m already in Heaven. I’m much more likely to share the wealth if I take a minute to look around and realize what a feast I have in front of me.

So yes, I fear Hell. No, fear of Hell doesn’t usually do much to change my behavior. Believe it or not, atheists, but that’s how it goes!

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This post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2011.

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What About Behavioral and Spiritual Arguments Against Vaccines?

PIC vaccine

As we can see from Tuesday’s post and the response to it, it’s not necessarily clear what we mean when we say “science” or “medicine.” So let’s put science and medicine aside entirely for a moment, and let’s focus on two arguments against vaccines that I keep hearing — arguments which don’t appeal to science at all, but which are spiritual and behavioral.

Read the rest at the Register.   Note: any snark, condescension, lack of charity, arrogance, self-pity, logical fallacies or otherwise insufferable behavior in this post is unintentional. If you think I’ve missed the mark, please pray for me and respond with as much kindness as you can, because I really am trying here.

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Catholics with a Past

“The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?” says Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He may be onto something. When we look for insight and understanding, we go to someone who has been wronged, and who has come out stronger and wiser: survivors of wars, genocide, concentration camps; people who have overcome massive disabilities; people who have been abused and outcast, and who have responded with love, gentleness, generosity, and wisdom.

But what about the man who caused his own suffering? The man who has been selfish, foolish, ugly, cruel, and who has suffered because of his own willful sins?  What can he possibly know, anyway?

Read the rest at the Register.

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At the Register: Worry, and Other Unappealing Temptations

PIC snake eating itself

 

When we are tempted to fall into chronic worry, free-falling anxiety, brooding, endless guilt, and despair, we are falling for a lie. We are turning our hearts over to a false lover, an abuser who wants to control us and make us whimper, make us pay.

There are things to worry about. There are reasons to fear, reasons to dread. These things are true, and there’s no point in telling myself, “There is nothing to be upset about.”  There is plenty to be upset about, and there always will be, as long as the earth keeps rolling its tired way around the tired old sun.

But it is not the only truth. It is not the final truth. The final truth is that, after the tired old sun sets for the final time, there will be darkness for a time, and then there will be a sun that rises and never sets, never stops warming us, never stops bringing us light, and light, and more and more light. There is a lover who sees everything that we are and wants to hold us forever in His arms, never wounding, never chiding, never turning us away to spend our nights in agony and alone.

Read the rest here.