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The Women of Nineveh

God is not going to have to bother destroying us. We’re doing fine all by ourselves, John Senior suggested. Forget the men in the famous admonition, “The women of Nineveh shall rise on the Day of Judgment with this generation” and condemn it, he says. Why? Perhaps because even they can see that a society which wades in the spilled blood of nearly 50 million aborted babies since 1970 is doing just fine destroying itself.

There are not easy answers to every problem, but the unborn baby has as much right to life as the mother has to control over her body. These are tiny lives and not simply blobs of tissue. A one-celled zygote is a living organism. It is fully human – a genetically differentiated life – and can never be anything but human.  It is a unique, individual human being. If you want an honest answer to the question of when life begins, look at a biology textbook:

“Human life begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”
–Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. pp. 16, 2.

How we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us says a lot about us as a society. And the arguments behind the laws regulating that treatment proves to be as enlightening, or endarkening, as it is mournful.

Not only the women of Nineveh, but those who will eventually call us ancestors will condemn us in the same harsh terms they use when they condemn Nazis and slave owners. They may be somewhat kind, attributing our blindness to ideology and puffed up sense of self-importance instead of the endarkened malevolence of a willful and morally bankrupt generation. Most likely they will refer to us as monsters, using the same tone when they speak of us as they do when they speak of gas chambers and mass graves. Equal rights for everyone except the one who was inconvenient! The one who was insignificant! The one who was vulnerable even in the place that should have been safest of all.

The nature of a zygote is a human, the only thing differentiating it at that point from a precocious toddler or an investment banker is its stage of growth. It is not a potential human being, it is a human being, because it is human, and it possesses being. To deny this reality is to reveal an ideological shedding of truth because the truth doesn’t support the ends of the ideology.

I believe that our progeny will be our betters, and will have the clarity of mind to see that our Declaration of Independence guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” There is no liberty without life.

 

 

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Tolkien Wept

J. R. R. Tolkien, Catholic Tree Hugger

Legend has it that J. R. R. Tolkien wept over the environmental loss that England endured at the hands of industrialization. That the creator of the Ents should be so moved is not surprising to me, as Bradley Birzer points out in “J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth” because the man loved trees, and felt as strongly over their destruction as some people felt over the abuse of animals. To gain a deeper understanding of his sentiments, simply go back and re-read Lord of the Rings, and listen to the words that he puts into Treebeard’s mouth.

Today, if you stand up for the environment over and against unrestrained capitalism, you’ll be labeled a liberal, a tree-hugger, a nature-worshipper, an eco-terrorist, and any number of other hip-pocket ad hominems. You don’t care at this point that I find this disturbing, nonetheless, I do. Why so? Because I find it ironic that many of the people who are unafraid to stand up for the unborn or those on death row display no small timidity when it comes to standing up for the environment. Maybe they don’t even know that their faith requires it.

Wait, what?

I want you to consider that something might be out of place in Catholic circles today, and that you and I may have gotten this thing wrong. To set the stage, please bear with me as I quote a few of Pope Francis’ comments about the environment for your consideration:

  • “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention to both the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations.”
  • “Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family.”
  • “An economic system centered on the god of money also needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
  • “There is a need to break with the logic of mere consumption and promote forms of agricultural and industrial production that respect the order of creation and satisfy the basic human needs of all. These attitudes, sustained by a renewed awareness of the interdependence of all the inhabitants of the earth, will contribute to eliminating the numerous causes of ecological disasters as well as guaranteeing the ability to respond quickly when such disasters strike peoples and territories.”

Pretty weighty stuff, yes? Do you think he’s off base? Was he only speaking as a private theologian? Are we obligated to pay him any attention on the matter? Before you answer, consider this: I tricked you.

The first quote is from Pope St. John Paul II, circa 1990. The second is from Pope Benedict XVI, circa 2007. The third is in fact from Pope Francis, circa 2014. The fourth and final one, however, is from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 486.

Here is the final one, that might perhaps grab our attention:

  • Insofar as it is part of the Church’s moral teaching, the Church’s social doctrine has the same dignity and authority as her moral teaching. It is authentic Magisterium, which obligates the faithful to adhere to it. The doctrinal weight of the different teachings and the assent required are determined by the nature of the particular teachings, by their level of independence from contingent and variable elements, and by the frequency with which they are invoked.

I liked Benedict XVI more than I like Francis, from a personal perspective, but we are Catholic and the Pope is our Pope. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church laid out the arguments for environmental involvement long before Francis penned Laudato Si. Pope Benedict was actually the most vocal about the problem, and was called “the green Pope” long before Francis was presented to the world. But Wojtyla, Ratzinger, Bergoglio…all of their words have fallen on deaf ears because they weren’t saying what we wanted to hear. The Pope is not our puppet, and I’m sorry that we haven’t gotten the message, but we are as bound to accept the Church’s social doctrine as we are to accept her moral and spiritual doctrine. It is all magisterium.

What has been the consequence of the lack of a strong Catholic presence concerning human caused global warming (there it is!) and environmental devastation? As great as if Catholics had never been involved in or interested in the pro-life movement. As great as if Catholics had never stood praying during a Death-Row vigil. Instead, some of us actively subvert the work that others are doing. Aligning themselves with partisan politicians at cross-purposes with the Faith. Acting as if we were not all called to solidarity with the poor, who are the most adversely affected by the environmental devastation caused by our consumption, our pollution, and our destruction. There is a void, a senseless void, within the environmental movement because Catholics have been peculiarly absent, or actively hostile to it. Nobody with a strong voice is there to counter the Malthusians. Nobody with the wisdom of two thousand years of experience with dynasty change and seemingly “event horizon” level disasters has been visible at Rio or Paris. It is ridiculous.

They took down the trees and replaced them with belching smokestacks. And Tolkien wept. He understood that there are only three relationships we can have as human beings. With God, with each other, and with nature. Sometimes we are pretty good at the first and second. Time will tell about the third.

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Unconsummated lives

In the second chapter of “the Restoration of Christian Culture,” aptly titled “The Air Conditioned Holocaust,” John Senior wrote, “Archaeologists rate a culture by the quality of its ordinary pots and bottles, not just by its ‘serious’ art but the everyday utensils preserved by the unprejudiced democracy of its dumping grounds… If future generations exist and think of us at all, they will say, digging in our ruins, ‘this is a people who lived unconsummated lives.” His meaning is deeper than apparent on the surface, I think. What does consummation mean? Yes, the first image that came to your mind was probably of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold on his honeymoon. That may be the most perfect mental image, because consummation has to do with bringing something to perfection. But something that matters. Something of value. Something like life or love. It is a pinnacle experience which by no means suggests the end of the matter. One consummates a marriage on the honeymoon bed. A child  consummates Christmas Morning by tearing into the prettily wrapped presents beneath the tree to finally, finally see what is inside (and then by going to Mass!). One consummates a mortgage by signing his name two hundred times and then receiving the long coveted key to the front door, and then by sticking the key into the door and turning it.

What did Senior mean by stating matter of factly that our lives are unconsummated? In the next paragraph he says that it wasn’t long ago that our grandparents “lived for something other than themselves…” Without getting into whether he was specifically thinking of rampant consumer culture, disposable plastic utensils (including straws), or the Me Generation, it is clear that we have become what my small group leader at the Army captain’s career course called “self-licking ice cream cones.” In short, we have stacked so much “stuff” on top of the things that truly matter, that we’ve lost them in the trash pile. I think at this point that there are stark differences between living “the happy life” as opposed to “the meaningful life” or even “the examined life.” If you have browsed at some lines among the Great Books of the Western World, you may have come across the concept of “the good life” and continuing discussion on what that truly is. Jesus was called good, and he singled out his rich young accuser and interrogated him. “Why do you call me good?” he responded to the question of what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.

“None is good except God alone,” our Lord told him, then rattled off a list of commandments in response to his question.  It is hard to imagine Jesus being startled by a response, possessing foreknowledge as he did, along with the ability to read our souls.”

“I have kept those commandments since my youth,” the rich young ruler replied. Jesus seems to take pause at this. And this is critical because you and I are that rich young ruler. What happened that day? Jesus turns toward us, his Sacred Heart inflamed with love for us and says, “Yes, I’ve seen you struggling to master my commandments. I’ve cheered your victories in self-mastery and picked you up and dusted you off when you battled for the good. But if you want to settle the matter, if you truly want to know how to keep my attention, then shed everything. Everything. Any claim you have on person or thing. Let them go. Give them away. I will supply everything you need when you need it. Leave it all behind and follow me.”

We walk away sad because we are very rich.

Or are we? Is this love more valuable than silver or gold? Is communion with God more beautiful than flawless diamonds? Then why have we lost sight of our calling, covered as it has become by plastic cutlery, styrofoam packaging, and water bottles? For us, the consummated life is nothing, if it is not a mystical union with the Lord who still waits in that silent space before the “big reveal.”

“Give all that worthless stuff away, I’m what you want. Come to me…”

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Eleven Years

RestoreI started blogging back in 2007, the year I quit a good paying factory job building transmissions at Chrysler, and I could tell a thousand and one stories based on events that happened during those months. But I won’t. The blogging was sporadic and didn’t gather much of a tribe. Most of it is still hosted on WordPress, except for the posts that were excruciatingly bad. I deleted those. Today, however, I wanted to go back and visit one of those posts, because it’s subject has remained evergreen in my life. It is about a book by John Senior called “The Restoration of Christian Culture.”

Whether Senior knew it or not, his book truly is a blueprint for the restoration that must occur in the West, if the West is to retain what it means to be Western. After a decade of reading and underlining it, studying and praying over it, I’ve decided that the time for me to act has come. And so, with this post, let it begin. As I see it now, my participation and involvement will occur via two initiatives. The first is this blog, and I’ll be at it regularly. The second is a periodical tentatively to be named “Good Soil Magazine.” The magazine may go through several formats until its final form is achieved, but its reason for existence will remain constant. To press Senior’s vision into matter. Will you join me?

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Solemnity of the Sacred Heart

I love how the liturgical calendar shapes life, if you let it. Mass this morning was succinct, beautiful, and powerful. What does the world need more today, right now, than to hear repeated again the words St. Margaret Mary Alacoque heard from Jesus: “Behold my heart, which has so loved men, and from the greater part of them I receive in return ingratitude.”

“Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that fount of heavenly gifts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Lord, make my heart beat with yours.

 

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Close to the Kingdom

Question! “Which commandment is most important?”

If a religious leader were to approach you today and ask you this question, what would your answer be? Which commandment in the Judeo-Christian worldview is the most important? Which one captures the essence of what is truly important?

I think a lot of people today would say to be nice to people, because everyone has problems and we shouldn’t add to them. We live in the Be Nice culture, but it is only supposed to apply to everyone else. If we are nice to everyone, all the world’s problems would go away.

It lines up pretty nicely with The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But there are still detractors who insist that that’s too old school. We should treat people the way they want to be treated. But The Golden Rule the epitome of the Judeo-Christian worldview?

Or maybe some would say “do whatever you want, but don’t hurt anybody.” They would say that there are too many busybodies in the world worrying about what other people are doing when in the end, come on, they’re not really hurting anyone. Maybe we’re supposed to float around without bumping into anyone else, fearful that the slightest misconstrued gesture might offend.

When Jesus was asked that question, “Which commandment is the most important” he gave a straight answer. Maybe the questioner was referring to the Mitzvot…the 613 commandments explicitly listed in the Old Testament. Maybe he was referring to the Ten Commandments given to the Israelites through Moses. But Jesus was precise. You can count them on one hand and still have a couple of unoccupied fingers.

*Love

*Love, and

*Love

Love God with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

There were no references to going along to get along or disinterested or dispassionate friendship, trending toward the opinion of the great Humanist who enamored of the concept of humanity but hated people.

It is just love. The love due to God alone must be immediate and enlivening, like the sap to the tree. Every. Fiber. Of your being.

But then what about the human part of it. How many of us see ourselves in that enlightened way Jesus spoke of? Love your neighbor (and we know who our neighbor is) as much as you love yourself. Ah, the great leveling. Weighing my needs against… His needs. And her needs. Seeing injustice and acting. Seeing lack and abundance and striving to be a leveler. No head raised higher than the other in dignity. Seeing the divine spark in even the most hate crusted soul.

But then, this snapshot of a conversation in which Jesus bent toward the Scribe and said, “you’re not far from the kingdom of God.” There was an emendation after the Resurrection, after Jesus was tortured to death one one of the most heinous devices ever built by men. After he lay in the tomb, stone cold, until the day after Sabbath. Until he arose victorious over death.

“Do you guys remember when I told you to love your neighbor as yourself?” he asked the disciples.

“Yeah, we wrote that one down, Lord. Right after Love God…”

“No, what I mean is… I want to caveat that ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself’ thingy. That was before I showed you how to love, before I did for you what you couldn’t do for yourselves,” Jesus continued.

“Give me the notepad, John. Okay…scratching out “as much as you love yourself,” Peter sighed.

Jesus looked around at all of them and said, “Love them… as much as I have loved you.”

A tear dropped from Peter’s cheek and onto the notebook. He wiped it away and began to scribble.

“So number two refers directly back to number one?” he asked.

“Yes. You can never out-love me, but go ahead and try! If you love me with every fiber of your being, I’ll fill you up like a pitcher with the same love with which I love the Father. And that is the love with which I want you to love others. Not your own natural love (though I can work with that, too), but with the love that I have for you, which has been tested in the crucible of death and resurrection, refined by fire, and which a short time from now I will pour out on you in the most inspiring way.”

God, if we would only love like that.

 

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Goody Two Shoes

They’ll call you naive. Unsophisticated. Goody two shoes. If you want to retain even a modest level of goodness or purity or innocence.

They who have succumbed, hate innocence because it reminds them of what they’re not. What they’ve lost. Possibly what was taken from them.

But in their unguarded moments goodness attracts them.

When you dig beneath the surface of their intent, you quickly see why the gospel calls us to be separate. Consecration. Holiness. Otherness.

It is the only way to maintain innocence. Yes, it is a balancing act on the edge of a razor sharp sword. It has to be. How can you help others if you don’t get their dirt on you?

If you don’t hate sin, you can’t help them.

If you wouldn’t rather die painfully rather than to be separated from God through sin, your resolve will break, and you will become that which you are not.

Trust me.

If you value your soul’s eternal destiny, get purity. Get innocence. Be the goody two shoes.

 

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The Build-Up

I do traffic, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. At least not for now. I recently traded life in a state where trees are seen as an enemy, for life in the state with the greatest amount of Appalachian Trail mileage.  The Governor of Indiana, which I recently left, funds the Department of Natural Resources by selling clear cutting rights in the state forests, mostly along trails. Much of the harvest was in Yellowwood State Forest, the last pristine tract of old growth in the state. It is gone now, and so am I.

The last long hike I did in Indiana was the Tecumseh Trail, weeks before the logging started. It winds through the Yellowwood old growth. I got to see it before they dropped it.  Trail and forest lovers begged and petitioned the government not to log it. The pleas fell on ears deafened by ignorance and greed. I can remember a time when conservatives actually stood for conservation.

So I moved to a built-up area (known in loving shorthand as the DMV – D.C., Maryland, Virginia) partly to be in a place where they see trees as something more than uncut lumber. Funny thing is that my commute here takes about as long as the one I left (Shelbyville to Bloomington, Indiana and back every weekday). My Indiana commute took me through rolling forested hills. At the end of my return commute now, I gaze upon the hazy Bull Run and Blue Ridge Mountains. Front Royal and Shenandoah are less than an hour away by car. Harper’s Ferry, the Maryland mileage, and Pennsylvania are close.

I go nuts if I can’t get to the woods, and the mountains whisper to me. To like-minded souls I would say “do what you have to do, to be where you long to be.”

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Going out with REI

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 10.47.24 PM.pngMy #OptOutside excursion was a hit this year. Salamonie State Forest in northeast Indiana is one of three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir projects completed in the 1960s to reduce flooding on the Wabash River. Dams were placed on the Roush, Salamonie, and Mississinewa Rivers. The area surrounding Salamonie Reservoir is a testament to the area’s glaciated history, where creeks tributary to the Salamonie River cut steep draws into the hillsides, sending water sluicing over exposed limestone waterfalls up and down the river valley.

IMG_3146

My hike consisted of a series of poorly marked loops along horse trails and fire roads, but I hiked the forest extensively as a Scout in my teens. It had been thirty-five years since I’d hiked it with any granularity, and it felt like coming home. What makes the hiking easy even without navigational aid, is that you’ll run into one of two features to put you back on course, either the sheer 80-degree grade down to the Salamonie River to your north, and the county roads to your south, one of which is the main state forest road.

IMG_3120The sky was nearly cloudless and the temperature reached the upper 40s, which is perfect for going out in a t-shirt and merino sweater. I munched on Cracker Jack when I got hungry and drank just under half a gallon of water. Gaia GPS says that I hiked 8.4 miles, and that seems accurate. I carried a full pack as I usually do to keep my training realistic, with a total weight just over 20 pounds. My biggest problem was the muddy areas where hooves have decimated the trail. Being compliant with Leave No Trace philosophy did in my Under Armor trail runners, which were on their deathbed to begin with, but they went out in style; if you believe mud is stylish.

IMG_3148My biggest thrill was the amount and diversity of the wildlife I encountered. Top of the list was the many white-tailed deer. I also ran into a couple of ladies on horseback who were out enjoying the weather. Other than the muddy low areas on the horse trails, the path was in good condition. Hiking through the open grassy area south of the main forest road near the entrance brought back memories of hiking with old friends as a Scout. Over the years I had forgotten which state park or forest the area belonged to, but being out in it again purchased instant recall.

I realize that REI’s #OptOutside is a marketing gimmick, but it is a damn good one. That they shutter their stores on Black Friday and encourage their employees to spend the day in nature aligns well with my worldview. I am always more than happy to oblige, and if you scroll through their hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see a couple of pictures from my hike (also available here).

 

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Back to Benedict

prostrateIn 1983, when I was a high school junior, John Senior released his now classic The Restoration of Christian Culture. Chapter Five is titled “The Spirit of the Rule” and focuses briefly on his visit to Fontgombault. The pilgrimage of this humble professor of humanities left an indelible mark. Senior’s heart yearned to be buried there. The Abbot reminded him that he should be buried next to his wife, and he departed weeping.

Restoration is the work of a keen intellect and his precision in identifying what must be done to renew the world for Christ centers around that phrase the spirit of the Rule. If we choose not to adopt such a spirit, we will languish until someone finally does.

This year, Rod Dreher released The Benedict Option and I cannot but surmise that Senior greatly influenced him to pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, which was reopened in 2000 after being closed by Napoleon in 1810.

What attracted them both to their monastic experiences? Not simply book research, I hope, but to see the Rule in action, and not simply read from the page. Senior went to Fontgombault to fulfill a dream, I think. Dreher perhaps went to Norcia because the completion of The Benedict Option required it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m glad both went and both wrote about it. And while I was moved by Senior’s wish as he departed Fontgombault, my focus tightened on Fr. Cassian’s words which Dreher used to close his third chapter: “Those who don’t do some form of what you’re talking about, they’re not going to make it through what’s coming.”

What is coming is nothing more or less than what has been coming for decades. We now live in a post-Christian America. More than that, we live in a post-moral America. The West, it seems, has disowned it’s past and now cares next to nothing about truth, goodness, or beauty. We live, as Pope Benedict XVI stated so starkly before his elevation to the Papacy, in a dictatorship of relativism. Eternal truth is mocked, individuals are atomized and unmoored from the steady influence of family and community. Authority is always suspect, obedience is shrieked at, and chastity held in derision.

The saddest part is that for our part, we have had our hand on the rudder. We have watched the sails billow and the compass point toward the Bermuda Triangle, and have whistled all the while in the whipping wind.

Now is the time for repentance. Now is the time to fall prostrate before our Lord and cry out with David: Create a clean heart in me, O God…

Then the work can begin.

 

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