Never Left Behind

On the way to the studio this past week I realized something. A little over a year ago, on a Wednesday night, I picked up my phone to look at Facebook or something equally as pointless, and the words and melody to my song “Heart Of Love” popped into my head. I remember it was a Wednesday because my studio sessions are usually on Thursdays. We were about halfway done working on what I expected to be a single when I came in with my new song, knowing it was good, and knowing we had to do something with it.

Twelve songs later, I have an album, but I wouldn’t have it if God hadn’t dropped “Heart Of Love” on my head. Something every Christian prays at some point in their life in one way or another is, “Lord have mercy on me.” What I didn’t realize was that this album is an answer to that prayer. I realized this because unfortunately, our society has a few specific marks that one generally must have by about their mid twenties that qualify them as a “real” adult. What I mean by this is that our society has determined that every person has a base value, and depending on what “marks” one has by a certain age, one is determined to be more or less valuable; more or less “real.” These marks tend to be 1) if one has earned a degree and has at least a relatively well-paying job 2) one is confident and chaste as a single person (oddly enough for our culture), or they are in a steady, healthy relationship 3) one has their own apartment, or one is paying rent to their parents with the expectation and prospect of eventually moving out.

Given my circumstances, I have none of these “marks.” While it’s true that I am confident and chaste as a single woman, because it is not entirely by choice, by the estimates of our society, it seems not to “count.” This leaves me with a dilemma. I know my worth as a child of God. I have also internalized my perception of how the world sees me as a disabled woman. I know that I will not move out of my parents’ house, at least in the near future. Because my art and my skill at writing doesn’t make a tangible profit, I don’t have what society considers to be a “real” job. There have been times when it seems I have been regarded with pity or condescension. I know that this is how I have perceived things, and my perception can be faulty. Nonetheless, this gets internalized; I look at how I don’t have these “marks,” and I see myself as less “real;” less valuable than the friends and acquaintances who have these “marks.”

About three weeks ago, I got started working on an article that I initially did not want to write. I started the writing and research, nonetheless, because I felt that the Lord wanted me to write it (it’s still in the works). On Friday, I was hit once again by the fact that  because I don’t have a paying job, in the eyes of society, my work, despite the fact that it is work, doesn’t really “matter.” It’s “cool” that I write music, but because I’m not a well known songwriter or a touring artist, the compliments are sometimes perceived to come with a note of pity or condescension, whether it’s meant or not. I wrote in my last post about how our culture fosters a tendency to regard others with skepticism, and I admit, my perception is that of a skeptic.

I prayed about this before going to the studio, and it hit me that the world may not see my work for what it’s worth, and I may not see it for what it’s worth, but the Lord does. The Lord said to me, almost audibly, “What you write matters to me.” I recently wrote about the Let It Go Box, which I’ve decided to rename the Redemption Box. In short, you hand something over to God, and let Him take control of it and redeem it.

I realize that over time, though we never really talked about it, I gave Him the blog a long time ago. While working on what I thought would be a single, my friend and I prayed; we handed it over, though the Box wasn’t a concept at the time, and that single became an album. Over the past year, I’ve wondered often why God chose me to work on what I know is really His project. I realized that this project didn’t need to exist; He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need my blog or my music to save the world. He gave me things to write because that is what I’m capable of doing, because I’m good at it, and because He cares about me. He gave me something to do because He knows I love Him in a way that only I can, and because I want to help.

This is His mercy. Mercy is when someone sees another suffering, and does something about it. He sees when others devalue me, or when I devalue myself, and  He asks me to write something, or helps me write a song, and in doing so, He reminds me that what I have to say matters. He reminds me that He is my God, He loves me, and He will never leave me behind.

What’s The Real Goal?

I just read a post about how (supposedly) Christians are killing Christianity. The post largely claimed that it is due to the hypocrisy of many people who claim the Christian title, but do not live Christian lives. The ultimate problem with the article is that it suggested that Christianity has been, at various times, a respected belief system and moral philosophy, and is no longer. It went on to suggest things Christians can do in order to make Christianity a respected belief system again. I do not disagree with the claim that many Christians do not live according to Christian teachings, and this is part of the problem. The problem I have with the article is actually that its writer is missing an important point. Jesus never said that, as His followers, we would be respected. In fact, He said we should expect to be discredited, mocked, and persecuted for our belief.

I do, however, agree with much of what the writer of the article suggested. His suggestions were as follows:

1: “Stop focusing on your position in life, and concern yourself with Christ’s position in your life.”

I would absolutely agree with this point, and I have had to relearn it many times. However, I have never thought of it in terms of making Christianity, or the Church more respected. The point is to make sure Jesus Christ is respected, and respect for His Church will follow.

2: “Realize that Christ is distinct from any other cultural influence or person.”

He goes on to explain that Christ, and therefore Christian philosophy, is outside of any cultural influence, whether that be popular media, politics, local, or the life of one’s particular church/parish. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Jesus inserted Himself into a particular culture in a particular place and time. He promised before His ascension that He would always be with us. That means that He is always involved in our culture in our place and time. He is not attached to it, and He is not influenced by it, but He is aware of it, and He does use it because He is directly involved in each of our lives. Furthermore, it’s a simple fact that there are distinct aspects of our culture that are in line with Christian philosophy, and distinct aspects that are opposed to it. I would agree that Christ is distinct from all of it in that He, and by extension, we can use all of these aspects to complete His work.

3: “Do not try to fit Christ into your culture. Make Christ your culture.”

Christians have literally never done this. It is impossible. This implies that it is possible to live entirely outside of one’s culture. What is most important is to make Christ the center of one’s life, and to structure everything else around that center. For example, Christian poets have used pagan imagery (like the phoenix) to express Christ’s beauty and greatness. Furthermore, Jesus Himself did not live outside of His culture. It was His mission to be a part of the lives of sinners in order to redeem them. That meant doing the things that “normal” people do. As Christ’s witnesses, it is our job to bring Jesus into our culture to transform it; it is not our job to take ourselves out of it.

4: “Stop looking at how “church” can better other people’s lives and look at how your life does not line up in obedience to Christ and repent.  Scripture is not a window you use to look out at other people and judge them, Scripture is a mirror showing us how God wants to transform us into the image of his Son.”

I’m not sure how much I need to expand on this because I think it really says all it needs to. I think I would just add that, particularly from a Catholic standpoint, we simply don’t spend enough time studying Scripture or actually listening rather than talking when we pray. I would also say that it’s important to keep in mind that your pastor or priest really isn’t the ultimate authority, and it’s important to know the Scriptures, but it’s also important to know Church history and tradition.

5: “We need to model our lives after Christ, not the cultural expectations of other influences.”

I would also agree with this, but it’s easier said than done. It inherently means we will be seen as strange because Jesus was seen as strange in His own place and time. It does often mean going against popular opinion. It means forgiving the unforgivable. It means giving and expecting nothing in return. It means praying for those who have offended you. It means making and staying friends with people you vehemently disagree with. It means being patient with frustrating people. It means praying for people who don’t deserve even that. People see that and are often perplexed because they have never experienced God’s mercy. This is how we live it. It doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect at it, but we have to try.

6: I am paraphrasing here, but his final point was that we need to make sure that we are following the true Christ, and not a skewed version of Him.

Jesus makes plain who He is in the Gospels, but also through the witness of the prophets, the various writers of the Old Testament, the Apostles, the Saints throughout history, and His faithful followers today. By “faithful” I here mean those who are committed to an authentic relationship with Him as their Friend, Savior, Lord, and God. To sustain this relationship we must read Scripture, we must pray, and again, as I am writing as a Catholic, we must take part in the sacraments that He has given to us.

As I said, I mostly agree with what the original writer said. The flaw, however, is that he is putting forth these points in order to make Christianity a respected mode of living. It doesn’t matter if our faith is respected. It likely never will be. As I have mentioned many times before, there are parts in the world where it puts one’s life in jeopardy to be Christian. In many cases in our own country we face, at best, rolling eyes, and at worst, scorn and ridicule, and occasionally, violence. Our purpose is not to make our way of living appear respectable. The Church is God’s Church no matter what, and though its members are flawed, the Church itself is holy because Christ the Head is holy. Our only goal is to help people come to know God’s love for them personally, and to work on ourselves to become the holy people God wants us to be so we can, with His help, make it home to Heaven.

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

The Lady At The Bank

On Friday I had to go to the bank with my brother and mom. My mom was helping my brother get a credit card, and I just happened to be there because we had just got lunch. An employee took my peeps to his office while I hung out in the waiting area. Admittedly, I have a habit of going off on wild adventures in my head when I’m bored, and I can go very far away given enough time.

While I wasn’t on a wild mind quest this time, I was sort of staring into space and making patterns with the tiles on the floor. There was another man sitting in the waiting area, and another employee came over to help him with something. She took him to her office, but had to come back out to do something. When she noticed me, she asked my mother in the nearby office, “Is she with you?” The employee was standing right in front of me. I didn’t hear her, but my mom answered in the affirmative. Then the employee looked at me and said, “Just checking. Hi.” I said, “Hi,” and she walked off.

What I wanted to say, and what I should have said, is that when you see someone in a wheelchair, regardless of where they are or how odd it might appear they are acting, you don’t ask someone in another room if that person is “with them.” By doing so, you are making assumptions about a person you don’t know, you are being rude, and most importantly, you are stripping that person of a degree of dignity. It is exactly like seeing a dog and asking a person nearby if that dog is “with” them; if that animal belongs to them.

That employee was ignorant, and I can forgive ignorance. I want to make an attempt now to correct some of that ignorance. Only about fifteen percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. These range from anything from psychological to physical. Obviously physical disabilities are much more noticeable, and unfortunately, physical disabilities often do come with issues like Downs Syndrome. That means that people sometimes automatically assume that this is the case, and assume that people with physical disabilities will not be able to communicate with or understand them.

I want to touch on another issue, too, however. A huge mistake people often make is essentially doing one of two things to people with intellectual disabilities: things like Downs, Autism, etc. They either have a tendency to treat the vast majority of them as though they were less than human, or if someone with one of these issues does something that seems “normal,” they are turned into a hero. At worst, people with intellectual disabilities are often the victims of cruel humor. Though we preach that this is wrong, our society still accepts it because many assume that the people being mocked don’t know they are being mocked.

In any situation when interacting with someone with any kind of disability, start by assuming the best. Recognize that the person in front of you is firstly, a stranger whom you know nothing about, and secondly, they are likely capable of much more than you might assume. Understand, too, however, that every human being perceives the world in their own individual way. I, for example, do not like crowded areas because I am always sitting and I can get somewhat claustrophobic if I have many people standing around me. This is also due to the fact that I’m simply introverted. Another person in an almost identical situation as me might love crowds and large parties simply because they are extroverted.

Lastly, I have noticed from time to time, that disabilities can put people on edge. I can only attest to this from personal experience, and it happened more when I was younger. I think people were sometimes afraid that they would offend me if they said the wrong thing or asked the wrong question. Again, this is a subjective issue, but I am not offended by questions about my wheelchair, or my disabilities. I’m not offended when people point out that I’m “driving” badly, because sometimes I’m not paying attention, and I know I drive badly. Lastly, and this is particularly for parents: don’t pull your kids away when they’re curious about a wheelchair. It’s good for kids to be curious, and it’s good for someone like me to be able to assure them that I’m just a regular human trying to survive like everyone else. I would like to emphasize that. I am weird and quirky, but that’s because I’m a writer, not because I use a wheelchair.

Legality And MOrality

Before I start this post, I would like to explicitly say that I am Catholic. What I mean by that, in this particular case, is that I believe in the Authority of Catholic doctrine and hierarchy. I wanted to say that first because this is the first of two posts having to do with two major teachings of the Catholic Church that I don’t entirely understand, or am still uncomfortable with. The first is the teaching on gay marriage. The second is the roles of spouses in traditional marriage. Some might wonder why I follow a church with certain teachings I may not entirely like or understand. I believe in the Catholic Church for historical reasons, logical reasons, and theological reasons which I won’t go into here, but I do want to explicitly say that I believe in Catholicism and not any other denomination of Christianity because this is where God has led me.

Now I’ll get into the uncomfortable stuff. The truth is that a few teachings on marriage make me uncomfortable. When I was a little bit younger I thought I wanted nothing more than to get married. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is for creating a family, and for growing in holiness together in a particular way. The Church also teaches that the family as an institution of sorts is the basis for society. Lastly, the church teaches that the sacrament of matrimony actually takes place when the couple (forgive the explicit language) has sex for the first time. Furthermore, the Church teaches that such an act has two purposes. The first is procreation. The second is pleasure. If such an act is incapable of accomplishing either of these affects, then it’s wrong. Therefore, gay marriage is not allowed in the Catholic Church because procreation cannot be accomplished.

What makes me uncomfortable about this is that the Church teaches that gay marriage should not be legal, even in society at large. To some extent I understand why. If a traditional family (mom, dad, and kid(s) is the basis for society at large, then a marriage that is incapable of naturally growing a family would seem problematic. However, this raises another question that I would like to touch on. I am asexual. In fact, aside from a biological perspective, I can’t really think about that without feeling uncomfortable. I am also disabled in a way that would make procreation impossible. Recently, however, I’ve entertained the idea of adopting a child when I get older. I don’t know if the Church would permit that. I would like to clarify here that the Church does not teach that any sexuality is in itself sinful. Only certain actions and choices are sinful.

That being said, it could be argued that things like gay marriage should be allowed from a strictly legal standpoint because other things that are considered immoral or sinful are perfectly permissible in larger, secular society. For example, lying, while generally considered wrong, even outside of Christian circles, is completely legal even though it tends to hurt the one lying and the one being lied to, in the end. Of course there are cases in which lying is not legal, like in court, for example, but generally speaking, it is so commonplace that it’s almost expected. Along this line of thought, one might argue that something like gay marriage should then be legalized because the worst that could happen would be that the couple breaks up. It only hurts the two people involved.

The fact of the matter is, we live in a democratic republic, not a theocracy. Our laws are only loosely based on a Christian moral code, and increasingly less so. Therefore, our laws and lawmakers do not recognize sin as something real. However, I think it is safe to say that most Americans, regardless of their belief system recognize that humans have a soul, or a spiritual aspect of their being. That being the case, it would seem that a moral code is necessary to protect that aspect of our being. This again poses difficulties because America is a very diverse country, and not everyone living here is Christian. However, if most people recognize that we do have a soul, we need a moral code to live by, even if we are not legally obligated to do so, to protect our souls. If this is the case, it would seem that our laws do need to enforce this moral code.

The question then is, where would this legal moral code come from? The problem with our laws today is that they try to determine right and wrong from an atheistic standpoint. I simply mean that our laws do not have a standard for the ultimate good. If they do not have a standard for the ultimate good, they also do not have a standard for the ultimate bad, or the ultimate evil. Without a standard for good and evil, one eventually finds that, in the end, even the most straightforward laws become arbitrary. We need to know what the ultimate good is for the human soul, and we need to live up to that ultimate good. That is why, though some of its teachings make me uncomfortable, I believe in the Catholic Church, and I believe it is right.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.

Politics

I didn’t vote. Many of you will be incredulously wondering “Why?” For me it was a matter of conscience. I did not feel that either candidate deserved my support. Of course no one is perfect. Everyone has some “dirt” on them. However, it seems to me that Mrs. Clinton is far too untrustworthy, and Mr. Trump has said far too many offensive, and quite frankly, disturbing things about far too many people, and I for one, believe that language matters.

What has been more disturbing to me, however, is how this election has affected relationships. Long-lasting friendships have fallen apart because of a presidential race. The fallout has even reached my fourth graders. Truthfully, I don’t know much about Hillary Clinton outside of what I’ve seen on TV, but I thought she gave a really great speech today and accepted her defeat honorably. I can honestly say I’m proud of her for that.

What I would love to see is the rest of society doing the same. I don’t like Trump, but the fact of the matter is, he’s my president. That isn’t going to change now for at least four years, so whether you’ve been a life-long Democrat, young progressive, Independent like myself, Republican, or anything else, it’s time to face facts. It’s time to band together. Our president is not our country. We are our country, and we make America what it is. Quite frankly, I don’t like the party system. It makes politics exactly that: politics. It takes the focus away from real people and real issues and narrows in on the superfluous competition. It becomes a question of who will win and who will lose, rather than, what can be done to make our country better.

What will make our country better? The short answer is: love. The longer answer is uncertain. It’s really up to us. Among other things, we certainly need to be kinder on the internet. We need to pay attention and learn what it means to be good Samaritans; we need to really see people. We need to recognize the significance and effects of language. We need to forgive. We need to be ready to speak and fight for what we believe in, and be kind while doing it. We need to learn how to take a hit. We need to learn how to graciously and quietly accept defeat. We need to laugh. We need to accept that jokes are meant to be taken as jokes. We need to celebrate. We need to read. We need to have fun. We need to stand behind our president and support our government when they make good decisions and be ready to fight when they don’t. We need to recognize, love, and use our freedom.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!