of dialogue and theological trump cards

In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision regarding marriage, I’m re-posting a link to a blog post I wrote ten years ago about what works — and what doesn’t — when in dialogue about hotly contested issues:

pulling out the theological trump card

A snip:

I’m aware that the Church’s teaching about sex and marriage is not received as “good news” by many in the homosexual community. And my personal view is that the Church has not been very effective in demonstrating how her teaching does not oppress, but actually liberates the person with same-sex attractions. To do so, I think the conversation has to shift from the sinfulness of certain acts to the question of what, intrinsically, a sin is (missing the mark) and how the activity in question misses the mark. It has to address the question: what is the goodness, truth and beauty of striving toward that mark? Sin has become such a loaded word, carrying a heavy emotional payload not because of what it means, but because of the way it is sometimes used, as leverage over and against other people, as a spiritual trump card of sorts in an argument. It would be helpful to move beyond this way of talking about sin, which is surely not producing much in the way of fruitful dialogue.

The rest is here.

joy and sadness: a world turned Inside Out

Joy and SadnessI saw Inside Out last night. It is a remarkable work of cinematic art. I don’t have time at the moment to write the review I would like to, but Steven Greydanus has more than ably said many of the things I would want to mention, and some that had not occurred to me. As I began thinking about the movie’s themes this morning, a passage from Henri Nouwen came to mind, which I had written down in my journal some twenty-four years ago.

“I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a man has been born into the world. So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.” (John 16:20-22)

Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our life. It seems that there is no such thing as clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of its limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness.

Joy and sadness are as close to each other as the splendid colored leaves of a New England fall to the soberness of the barren trees. When you touch the hand of a returning friend, you already know that he will have to leave you again. When you are moved by the quiet vastness of a sun-covered ocean, you miss the friend who cannot see the same. Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you can’t find words to capture your complex emotions. But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude, “In Expectation”

A few further thoughts: Toward the end of the movie, there are moments that, while not in the least didactic, are instructive not just for children, but for all of us who share the human condition. Our lives are constantly marked by the reality of being in statu viae — “on the way”… In this life, we are never at home in the sense of a place of final rest. Our lives are shaped continually by hellos and goodbyes of various kinds — with other people, with places, and with places within.

While this is true of all people without exception, we sometimes feel isolated, believing that, while we can celebrate the hellos together, we cannot grieve the losses together (even with those we love and who love us). Yet sadness expressed can be isolation overcome. Paradoxically, grief shared can become sadness transformed and touched by joy, because our greatest need as humans is not to experience unqualified and perpetual joy, but to experience life in communion with others. If we understood this, and lived this, our relationship to the sick, dying, poor and elderly might be transformed. And with those relationships transformed, our world could be turned inside out, in the best possible sense.

celebrating Mom

mom_letter_400wIn celebration of Mother’s Day, here’s an idea for a future Mother’s Day gift: a letter of memories and gratitude from all the kids.

Several years ago, shortly after my Dad died, one of my sisters initiated a Christmas letter from my siblings to my mom, and it turned out to be a great way of honoring her. I think, with our Dad’s loss fresh in our minds, we realized that we didn’t want to wait until she was gone to send up some words of appreciation.

Here’s the idea as my sister presented it. She collected our letters, which were based on the following format:

  • Identify the top 2 things you like most about mom and why they’re meaningful to you. Add up to 3 more areas that you admire or like about her, (optional)
  • When you think of mom, you think of __________(from 2 words to 2 sentences)
  • Two important things that mom has taught you. (Can be more) This can be by her example as well, etc.
  • Most important gift mom has given you.
  • Favorite day, moment or memories with her (this is not limited but can expand as far as you’d like- beyond just one moment, day, experience too)
  • Funniest or silliest memory of her (laughable moment/s).
  • Your hopes, prayers or dreams for her now-what you would hope she will have/experience, related to her fulfillment.
  • (Optional) One thing she doesn’t know about you that you’d like to her to know (it can be anything, silly or serious-the point is sharing something here with her that she doesn’t know yet know about you or your life, that you’d like her to know).
  • Thanking her for … (Personal thanks for whatever comes to mind) (Some of these things may overlap but that’s fine).

A sampling of the responses from my nine brothers and sisters is posted here.

My own contribution:

The two things I most appreciate about Mom: her generosity and her receptivity. She defines what it means to be recklessly large-hearted, and fearless of the pain that might come from making herself so vulnerable. And by receptive I mean welcoming, not in any formal, dutiful way… but genuinely ready to open herself to whoever would present themselves to her. And then there’s her sense of humor, generally self-deprecating but always alive to the incongruities of life and all that is inherently silly… without caving in to the temptation of being ironic or sarcastic in any form.

Like last Christmas Eve, when she and I spent a good hour traversing back and forth across Clark Fork looking for the Holy Grail of plumbing: a toilet plunger for the overflowing facility at Sacred Heart.

When I think of Mom, I think of lilies of the valley and sailboats, two things she’s fond of. Mom is like those delicate, fragrant flowers that change the whole aroma of the place without drawing attention to themselves, and like a sail open to wherever the Spirit might blow, and constantly tacking to see where the Wind might want to lead next. I think that’s how she taught me the value of discernment: testing everything, and keeping what is good.

Favorite memories include the lunches we shared together at the Burger King at Vine Hill and Highway 7, when I was in junior high school. I was just attending the junior high on a part-time basis, spending the rest of my time homeschooling. Generally, a bus would pick me up midday to take me to East Junior High. But from time to time, Mom would offer to drive me, so that we could have lunch together. It was just as the era of Home Covenant School ended, and during these undivided times shared with Mom, I felt I was getting to know her all over again.

My hope and prayer is that in this particular chapter in her life, she can look back with satisfaction on all of the artistry she has co-created — not the least the family she raised and nurtured with Dad — and look forward to all the new expressions of creative love that she has within her, waiting to be revealed in the days to come. She’s an artist of the human heart, with a canvas that has stretched as far as the eye can see… and a lot farther, I’m sure. There are realms of that canvas for her to revisit, and others to explore for the first time.

So I hope she’ll hop on her pontoon sailboat, so to speak, find the Wind like the expert sailor that she is, and set the course anew each day… touring that entire canvas, that whole work of art that is her life. It’s going to be a joy to watch.

communicating the family: a privileged place of encounter with the gift of love

The VisitationThis year, World Communications Day takes place on May 17.

My observation is that special days in the Church — such as the World Day of Peace and the World Day of Communications — often pass us by without making even a ripple in the Church or in the culture. It seems to me that we often do not make a proper preparation for the celebration of these days. And yet the Church does suggest a time of preparation; the Pope’s messages for these events are released months ahead of time.

With that in mind, for the month of May, I’ve decided to dedicate my blog to the theme of this year’s World Communications Day: communicating the family: a privileged place of encounter with the gift of love.

Here’s a short passage from the message, as a teaser:

We can draw inspiration from the Gospel passage which relates the visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56). “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.” (vv. 41-42)

This episode first shows us how communication is a dialogue intertwined with the language of the body. The first response to Mary’s greeting is given by the child, who leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Joy at meeting others, which is something we learn even before being born, is, in one sense, the archetype and symbol of every other form of communication. The womb which hosts us is the first “school” of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarize ourselves with the outside world within a protected environment, with the reassuring sound of the mother’s heartbeat. This encounter between two persons, so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication. It is an experience which we all share, since each of us was born of a mother.

Click here to read the entire letter.

virtual and real community

sjz-holyfather004Inspired by the recent Catholic New Media Celebration in Atlanta, I’ve decided to upload the audio from a presentation given last year by Sister Judith Zoebelein, FSE, who was the webmaster of the Vatican’s website when it first appeared in 1995. In February of 2007, she spoke at a LIFT conference in Geneva about the use of the internet in creating virtual and actual community. She has many insights into the way in which the internet is being used, and how it can either increase isolation or foster actual relationships. The New Media Celebration in Atlanta was a great illustration of how a virtual community can become actual… and will, I think, bear good fruit for the new evangelization.

Audio (presentation and informal follow-up interview)
You can listen to the audio, which includes both a presentation by Sister Judith and an informal interview which followed, below.

UPDATE: In the summer of 2009, I had the chance to visit with Sister Zoebelein in Rome; she was no longer working on the Vatican’s website, but she agreed to meet with me to offer some counsel on a website project I have underway. I will always be grateful that she took the time to meet with me and share her ideas and wisdom about the internet, its challenges for the Church and its possibilities. I believe she is truly visionary in her understanding of these matters. And she also schooled me, in a most gentle way, about the pitfalls that can arise in blogging. During the following summer, I painstakingly reviewed all of my content from five years of blogging and deleted over half of it, because I realized that much of it could not stand a confrontation with the face of Christ. I’m in her debt for this. And I can certainly relate to Dr. Robert Moynihan when he describes his encounter with her:

“Get rid of all the lies. Tell the truth, and first of all, to yourself. It’s hard. But you must do it. We all have to.”

In 2011, Sister Zoebelein was recognized by Pope Benedict XVI for her pioneering work in founding the Vatican’s website. Details here.