Friday, July 20, 2012

Evil's Dark Heart

Like most of America this morning, I woke up to the horrifying news of the movie theatre massacre in Aurora, Colorado. I’m in shock as I watch the reports on television. I have so many friends who love going to these midnight showings of the sci-fi and comic book movies. My heart grieves for those suffering from this tragedy.

I’m trying to post a new blog everyday to get back into the practice of writing. It starts with theme ideas that I jot down before I go to bed. Then, early the next morning, I jump onto my computer and begin writing.

Last night, with the excitement of the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises swirling in my head, I prepared for a blog entitled “Of Course, Superheroes Aren’t Real.” Sadly, super-villains are.

Once again, evil has raised its dark heart in our world. When something like this happens, many people look to the heavens and ask “Why?”

There is no answer to the question. Evil just happens, indiscriminately, any time, anywhere. Ours is an open society. We like to feel that we can safely enjoy ourselves at movie theatres, concerts, sporting events — any public gathering. Today we can only shake our heads and perhaps shudder from the cold chill of this darkness.

Comic books are today’s mythology. Our Dark Knight and Man of Steel are the Hermes and Hercules of the Greco-Roman pantheon. As mythology, we are enthralled by the fantastic stories that revolve around these amazing characters who teach us metaphorically about the hero’s journey.

By its very nature, comic book violence is cartoonish. Unfortunately, when it becomes real as it did in that Colorado theatre, there is no superhero to come to the rescue.

The media is already looking for connections and answers, and I will leave that to the news commentators. In fact, I’m going to turn off my TV right now. I’m not sure if I can take much more of this non-stop event coverage.

Instead, I turn to God in prayer. Yes, despite the apparent omnipresence of evil, I still believe in God. Why does God permit such horrifying evil to happen? It’s not a question of whether God “permits” evil, or whether God is powerless against it, or if there is even a God at all. Evil in our world is related to our freedom of the will, which is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. Unfortunately, by granting us this gift, God takes the risk that some people will abuse it and choose evil. Let us remember that evil also touched Jesus. God’s Son was falsely accused and put to death for no apparent reason.

I wrote about this a few years ago on a Spirit & Song blog that I am going to link here: The Problem of Evil

There is no easy answer to all of this. I’m not even trying to offer one. But I do know that this is a time to come together in support and prayer for the victims and their families. As the President just said in a televised address, “Our time here is limited and precious. We will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another. We do know what makes life worth living.”

Amen. Won’t you please join me in prayer?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven . . .

May God’s kingdom someday be fully realized.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Come, Let Us Go Before God

Christianity has been criticized as being outdated and out of touch with today’s world. Historians argue that the Church’s heyday may have been during the Middle Ages, before the Protestant Reformation. In those Dark times, life was a challenging routine that was centered on hard work in an agrarian economy. Because of disease, famine, and generally poor hygiene, one’s life expectancy was short and fleeting. A band of marauders might sweep through an unsuspecting village at any time, bringing mayhem and murder. Death was a daily companion.

Here is a website that paints a detailed picture of those times: Medieval Life

In the midst of this insecure world stood Jesus Christ, around whom the calendar was recalibrated to reflect his centrality in human history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Or, as Saint Irenaeus expressed it, “God became human so that humans could become like God.”

Christianity was a haven for the medieval person. Sundays offered rest from the drudgery of work. Holy days brought celebrations and festivals. Christ’s suffering and cross gave meaning to the ills and uncertainties of life. His resurrection gave hope and strength when friends and family were dying — or when one was personally at death’s door.

Those were simpler times, but one did not need education to enter into the mysteries of the Incarnation or the Trinity. The great stories of faith were celebrated year after year at liturgy and became interiorized in the medieval soul. And in the Eucharist, one had intimate union with Christ himself.

Of course, there was much disparity in lifestyle between serf and feudal lord, between the faithful and the clerics on the altar. Nevertheless, Christianity offered a spark of hope that could lift up a believer from the trials and misery of everyday life.

In our time, we have seen how modern science and medical advances have pushed us forward in ways the people of the Middle Ages could not even imagine. Life expectancy has increased with each passing generation, from 30 years in the medieval world to 80-plus in the 21st century. Many of the plagues and diseases that wiped out whole populations are now eradicated. In countries with a system of law and order, anarchy no longer reigns. Democracy has empowered the people to take ownership of the policies that govern their lives. At least in the First World, common folks have access to a wealth and lifestyle that would make them seem like lords to the medieval serfs.

In short, we no longer have to die to experience “heaven.” Have modern times rendered Christianity obsolete?

Such is the fallacy of the modern rationalist. While it is true that, for the most part, we no longer fear hunger or disease or anarchy, we nevertheless are still marching toward death, no matter how long we stretch out our life expectancy. We can be struck unexpectedly by cancer, ALS, or any number of debilitating illnesses. Accidents and natural disasters do happen. As anyone who travels by plane can attest, the threat of terrorism looms. Most glaringly, not everyone is fortunate enough to live in the First World. For a multitude of people, poverty, backbreaking work and oppressive governments force them to still live the medieval lifestyle.

The temptation of today is to become deluded into thinking that we have already become like God and are now in absolute control of our destiny. We’re not. I believe faith can give us the perspective to avoid that delusion. But we have to take care to not filter Christianity through the lens of political ideology. As Saint Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified — a stumbling block for Jews and utter foolishness to the Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)

If we’re going to be Christian, let our focus be on Christ. His teaching transcends cultures and historical eras, helps us cope with the uncertainties of life no matter where we live and, for those who believe, offers the gateway to eternal life.

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"Come, Let Us Go Before God" is a song from my recent DOXOLOGY album. With a medieval-style melody that shifts between minor and major modes, Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen’s beautiful hymn text sings of the compassion of God, who creates us, redeems us, and sanctifies us in a loving Trinitarian embrace.

Click here to listen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dear Younger Self . . .

A lot of people are making videos to their younger selves. You see it on Twitter or Facebook. Interesting concept, so I thought I would try it in this blog:
a letter addressed to my 15-year-old self.

Dear Kenny,

You are young and bright and so full of potential. Why are you so uptight and wound up? Lighten up! It’s not a perfect world; never has been and never will be. It's not all black and white.

You have latched onto the Church and joined a seminary to give your life some sense of structure. That’s all fine and well but in the process you are losing touch with your family. I think you may have left home a tad too early.

For heaven’s sake, don’t keep it all inside. Confide in a mentor. Broaden your friendship circle. Take a risk and let people get to know you. Why so serious? Laugh more!

Go out and have fun! Do some mischief; get into trouble sometimes. It’s okay. Read Catcher in the Rye. Yes, there is more to life than what you are experiencing in the seminary. Be open to other possibilities.

Truth to tell, all your inhibitions are only going to come back to haunt your older self. But one thing I do admire about you is your faith. Where did that come from? There is an earnestness in your relationship with God that is unusual for someone your age. I wish I were half as dedicated to prayer in my old age as you are at 15.

By the way, keep up the good work in music. All that practice you are doing on the piano and guitar might seem tedious but, believe me, it’s going to pay off big time!

Your Older Self