Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

I’ve pondered this budget that the new President has thrown out for consideration. I’ve listened to those, like Senator Ryan, who make claims about cutting out services as “an act of mercy.” I listened to those who voted for a candidate who is definitely not going to make their lives any better — who seem to vote in opposition to their own good. I’ve struggled with a feeling of superiority when I think I have a better way.

The source of all these ills it seems is Pride. Yup. Those currently in the White House are very proud of their own success. Senator Ryan it seems is very sure that his position and benefits are completely due to his own work. He is proud of himself and his accomplishments and is sure that those who have failed financially, relationship-wise and otherwise are simply not putting out the effort. He wants to push them to work hard and be proud. Those in coal country and others who voted for the current administration so often did so because they seek to be in a place where they can feel proud… no handouts, nobody to be as good as them, no need for a little help from their friends, no need to acknowledge that the Prosperity Gospel is not Christian Gospel.

And myself — I have to fight being proud that I don’t subscribe to so many of those ideas. Once you start thinking you are humble, you are not humble.

Yes, I believe that the government should serve the people. I believe that at least basic health care is as much a right as food and water and not being beaten up and abused by your neighbors. Yes, I think that tax dollars should support the common good such as the EPA, arts and humanities organizations, health care and food security — oh, and clean drinking water. On the political spectrum I probably tend a bit toward socialism, if that’s what you have to be to believe that the government is there to serve and protect the populace.

And still, I find that my beliefs cannot be allowed to make me feel proud and superior to those who see the world differently. These beliefs must call me to prayer. They must call me to a place where I respect others even while I disagree vehemently with them. If I let pride drive my actions, I find it all to easy to make fun of the other instead of pushing for justice.

Yeah — I know, they make it all to easy to make fun… but the results aren’t going to be any fun at all.


Blast from the past

We watched the movie “Woodlawn” last night. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I have friends who were students at Woodlawn High School (Birmingham AL) when the story took place. To them, it seemed that the movie was reasonably accurate. I was in college at the time, but my own high school years were during the opening years of mandated integration, and the closing of the black high school which forced far more integration into the two [originally] all white high schools. And this story of Birmingham high schools and football was set against some of the most violent times and places of this time in Alabama history.

But the part of the story I was totally unaware of was the back story of the “evangelist” (I think maybe a Campus Crusade for Christ “missionary” or some one inspired by a similar group). He called himself a “sports team chaplain.” He offered a simple message and challenge to a predominately “Christian” football team and things began to happen.

First off, the coach, while skeptical, allowed him access. This would never be allowed today. And, indeed, over the next 2 years, as the team began to be a single team, not a divided squad, pressure was brought, and the coaching staff pays for its choice to let this happen. And, in the story, it spreads to the rival school, Banks, and that staff pays a price as well.

There were quite a few of the opening scenes that I remembered seeing on TV first hand: George Wallace in the schoolhouse door trying to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and Bull Connor with dogs and firehoses. These are not just file footage for me — they were live.

The moment that was the real blast from the past for me, was when the chaplain talked about Explo 72 in Dallas Texas. 100,000 plus college students in the Cotton Bowl with Billy Graham. A totally dark Cotton Bowl that is finally lit up starting with a single candle who’s light is shared until all 100,000 candles are lit. Think Easter Vigil — we start in darkness and light the many small candles from the Easter Candle. I was there. I was in the Cotton Bowl. I experienced this. And, it had faded from my memory.

I listened to the message in the movie and I watched the “One Way” hand signal ( a raised hand with the index finger pointing up). And, as I listened to the message weave through the movie, I heard the simplicity of the calling of God: “You are not alone. You are loved. Come to me.” That’s the message of the Gospel that still bores it’s way through to me. I slices through church laws and practice (I’m now a practicing Roman Catholic); it overrides denominations of Christianity. And, in many ways, though not all, it moves beyond Christianity.

This movie could have been preachy, but I think it avoided that. And I’m glad of that. It showed examples of overcoming anger, fear and discrimination. It even showed Bear Bryant in a light that made me not so “anti-Bear” (I’m also of the Auburn persuasion). It was a quiet witness to the power of allowing God to work in the everyday world we find ourselves walking through.


Who Knew? Or encountering God in strange places

I read the readings before mass this morning. I listened to them again. I listened as [Fr.] Bruce reflected on them, and how each represented an encounter with God that made a permanent change in the person who had the encounter.

Isaiah — now he sees the Lord in the temple. That is is a powerful encounter, and a fairly frightening image of an ember touched to his mouth/tongue. But, it occurs in a house of worship, it seems. A place where we might expect to meet God. I found myself singing [in my head] a refrain from my experience in pentacostal circles:

We see the Lord. We see the Lord
And He is high and lifted up and his train fills the temple
He is high and lifted up and his train fills the temple
The angels cry “Holy”
The angels cry “Holy”
The angels cry “Holy is the Lord!”

Enter Paul and his description of how his encounter with Jesus changed and transformed his life in unimaginable ways.

But, the one that almost made my laugh, just because of the almost day to day ordinariness of the situation was Peter and the fishing trip. OK, the scene as I felt it went something like this:

Peter and his coworkers have been working all night. Yup, at work. Ordinary, regular, making a living, feeding the family work. Along comes Jesus and climbs in the boat. He hitches a ride out from the shore, so he can teach the folks on shore without being overwhelmed. Peter and crew go along with this. Then Jesus says – “Hey Peter, head out to the deep. We need to catch some fish.” At this point I can just hear Peter sighing as he grouses at bit. “Jesus, we’ve been working all night, and we have nothing to show for it. Are you nuts? But, OK. If you say so, I’ll do it.” It wouldn’t surprise me to see this said in a sort of “I’m not really thrilled with this, but if it will make you happy, I’ll give it a shot.”

Whoa! A catch of fish beyond belief. Riches beyond any expectation. A change in vision for Peter. The very idea of becoming a “fisher of men” is born.

Sometimes God catches us in the most mundane, boring, un-fun points in our life. All he asks is that we be open to the occasion.

Photo credit: Image was found on Fr. Dan Borlik, CM’s website

Trinity Sunday

Jack’s homily today touched heavily on a sequence of orders given in the Gospel reading. It seems that Jesus admonished his followers to 1) go an make disciples of all 2) baptize and finally to 3) teach.  His observation was that the church seems to have gotten this a bit upside down. We do lots of teaching and put great resources there. We do quite a bit of baptizing — infants and even older folk. We seem to have somehow lost the first priority, which is to make disciples. I can definitely see that there are a large number of well taught baptized [Catholic] Christians. It is more difficult to see that same number of disciples.

I’m trying not to be judgmental. But, if we were all disciples in love with God, I would think that there might be more evidence in the world. I’m sure I would make a bigger impact if I were more of a disciple.

Be that as it may, there was another thing about the Gospel that caught my attention. Jesus tells the disciples to go [back] to Galilee and go to the mountain. Back to Galilee — back to where Jesus himself began his journey and ministry. Go to the mountain: as Jack reminded us, the mountain is always “close to God.”  If it was good enough for Jesus, I guess it has to be good enough for me.

This week, I think I’ll try to get to Galilee and spend some time trying out that mountain. Maybe it will work, and maybe I won’t know if it worked or not. The “knowing” about whether it works is not so important as the willingness to go there.

Time to get walking. Time to head up the mountain. Time to remember that God beyond all names has filled us with Her Spirit.


What kind of greeting?

Today’s gospel is one of those where the angel Gabriel comes to Mary:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

I have to admit that I’ve had this reaction — someone greets me with a smile and a message that is sooooo positive. And my first reaction is one of suspicion. What does she want from me? Anyone/anything that happy to see me must want to eat me for dinner. The list goes on from there, but you get the idea.

And so, I look to Mary for the followup. She hears the rest of the story and ponders it a bit. And then she simply asks – “How can this be?” That is where I fall short, it seems. I hold my questions and suspicions close and don’t reveal my hand most of the time. I can only ask for Mary’s simple courage as she wonders aloud “How?” She doesn’t try to sidestep the issue, she doesn’t play at false humility — she just goes with it.

It seems I must accept that the questioning is essential, but so is the acceptance.