Category Archives: Current Events

May You Live In Interesting Times…

It would seem the nation has fallen under that old and terrible curse.

Interesting is certainly one word for the election year in which we find ourselves. These “interesting” circumstances leave many voters at a loss. What is right to do? Who do I vote for? Do I vote at all?

Really wrestling with all the questions involved in voting responsibly is perhaps long overdue. If it is challenging to figure out maybe we’ll take it more seriously. The reality is though, that this year people of good will who have for years seen eye to eye on politics will make widely different decisions about how to cast their vote. Some will believe whole heartedly in a major party candidate. Others will dislike, perhaps even loathe a candidate, and yet vote for them all the same in hopes of stopping an evil they consider greater. Still others will choose to cast a third party vote, or even write in a candidate rather than support someone they feel they cannot. Some even argue that refusing to vote may be done as a positive political statement not simply an ommission.
I personally am spared this decision by my lack of citizenship. I am married to an American serviceman. I raise little American babies. I love this nation and everything it has given to me in my time here. But I don’t have to choose because I cannot vote. So it is from the strange inside/outside position of the legal permanent resident that I observe with sadness the fracturing of opinion and the increasingly angry rhetoric amongst my friends and co-religionists. And it is from this perspective that I wish to urge one thing.
Be gentle with each other. Be gentle with yourselves. We all probably have had friends on the opposite side of the political spectrum in the past. Sometimes our patience with them is tested in an election year. Yet because we believe in the American experiment, and care for each other we find a way to get along. But this year will be a different challenge. This year, those long considered political allies will fundamentally disagree with us. This may be harder to bear. It may feel like a betrayal. In some cases, it may even be one. There will be plenty of disillusionment to go around.
For the most part though, what we will find is good hearted, serious minded, God fearing men and women struggling to determine what their consciences demand and will allow. They may be confused, angry, despairing. And at the end of the day they may choose differently than you. And they may be wrong. But we need to find a way to respect and love each other through this. By all means spend now to November arguing for your point of view and trying to win over others to what you sincerely think is best for the nation! By all means reserve a decision until it is time to cast your ballot. But somehow don’t let anger enter between friends.
I live in a house with a proud American who has put his life on the line for love of country. We have spent long hours hashing out the issues of this election cycle and we haven’t completely agreed yet. Oh the hours we’ve burned debating! The many more I’m sure we will spend this summer and fall! In November that man will go out to the ballot alone and do what he thinks is right and I may hate it. I could say this about many family and friends. But I won’t hate them. Because they will still be the people I’ve known for the last 15 years who have found themselves making a tough call in a confusing year. I know they will have researched, prayed, considered and done the best they could.
In the end you are so lucky to have a vote. You are lucky to have the horrible burden of deciding what to do with it, or even if you can find a way to use it this year. Voting is a voicing of our freedom. And that particular freedom springs from the fundamental freedom, freedom of conscience. In the words of Gaudium et Spes, quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” In the end no man can tell another what his conscience demands and a man must do what his conscience dictates no matter what his friends may think. Let us acknowledge this terrible responsibility with charity for each other.

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Armcharity, Or, Let Not Your Facebook Know What Your Twitter Is Doing.

UPDATE : A rewritten version of this essay appears at Catholic Exchange under the title The Temptations of Armcharity. If you are visiting from CE after reading it, welcome! You’ll find this piece a little deja vu so feel free to look around the place for something new 🙂

Full disclosure: If I had to declare a side in the Great Refugee Debate it would be pro-refugee.  I believe that the demands of charity in this case outweigh the actual potential threat.  This is because I feel the refugee system as it relates to North America would do a decent job and is not fraught with the complications of countries living on the physical borders of this crisis.  I also think the potential for abused student visas or home grown terrorism far surpasses the refugee risk.

That being said, I’m pretty thoroughly disgusted with much of the language of debate taking place on social media.  One group accuses the other of cowardliness and lack of charity because they dare feel a responsibility to the lives God has particularly placed in their care in their children and neighbors.  This in an age where our government is wholly untrustworthy.  Of course they have legitimate concerns. Meanwhile the other side uses a candy analogy. Would you eat any of these if you knew some had poison.  Suffering people are not M&Ms!  You’re not talking about enjoying them you’re talking about saving them.  Be serious.

In the end though it is all part of the sound and fury, signifying nothing, that has become our culture.  Sounding brass and tinkling symbols.  Do you know what both of these positions hold in common? Stating them loudly on facebook takes absolutely zero actual charity or sacrifice.  Sure it sounds lovely.  “Bring over the refugees!” “Oh I only wish I could help them but I have a higher duty!” Words.  Just words.

This is the new way of things.  We sit in our comfortable homes, connect to our wifi, sip coffee and feel cozily superior while we compete to see who loves more than whom.  From ice bucket challenges, to ash tags, to debates on refugees, to awareness months, to tinting your profile picture.  Watch me live my faith!  Watch me love!  Click like or Baby Jesus will cry.  (Side note, although Jesus’ example is always important and the Gospels teach, using Jesus as an easy gotcha moment in a debate seems to border on blasphemy to me.) All the effort it takes is the ability to operate a smart phone.  Are all these things bad?  Of course not.  Awareness is good.  Inspiration is good.  But we are indulging in a kind of wallowing in easy charity, a pornography of self-righteousness, that makes us feel good as the primary motivation instead of helping others.

Matthew 6: 3-4: But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We must get back to this ideal of charity.  Advent is a time of preparation.  Let us take this opportunity to cleanse our motivations.  Take as a model that titan of the Christmas season, Saint Nicholas.  Saint Nicholas, whose legend tells of anonymous giving and a spirit of generosity to the less fortunate forever associated with the Christmas season.  His example of secret charity continues to this day, with parents the world over giving to their children while Santa gets the credit.  This year let us give alms, in secret.  Let us quietly volunteer without sounding trumpets.  Let us bow our heads in prayer for the poor wounded world at least as often as we debate what to do about it.

Does this mean never debating on social media?  Not publicly professing your beliefs? No.  It does mean making sure you have the right priorities.  It means when someone asks for prayers you stop what you are doing and actually pray if you click like under their status.  A quick Memorare at the computer screen may do.  It means that when you do a challenge or recommend a charity you do some research and donate yourself if you can and should.  It means keeping some charity as a secret treasure between you, the person you helped, and God.  A quiet experience of love of neighbor in the midst of all the noise.  It means, whatever you think about where the poor displaced people of the Middle East should spend the near future you personally invest something in making their existence there more bearable right now.

So that is my Advent challenge: to get off of the internet and do something, anything, without anybody watching.

(Image: The Dowry For The Three Virgins, Gentile da Fabriano)

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