All posts by Dena Hunt

Who’s Your Daddy?

I read that the UK concerned itself recently about the possibility of loneliness among British citizens and conducted a poll to determine the relative loneliness of the people. The results inspired them to create a Ministry of Loneliness. Yes. Really. Sounds like something from an old Monty Python show, but there it is.  I’m not sure how it works, but presumably, there will be some sort of government-run programs to ameliorate loneliness among the population.

And meanwhile, Iceland revealed that there are no Down’s Syndrome children in that country. The reason is simple: the children are eliminated in the womb. The government really cares about the people, so much that now they have made circumcision illegal. Against their objections, Jewish parents are forbidden to have their male children circumcised.  How easily this most ancient form of Jewish identity is eliminated. Both anti-semitism and religious intolerance are accommodated and disclaimed with complete impunity.

Recently I watched one of the travel programs on NPR. I’ve forgotten the host’s name, but he was showing the viewers Norway. The old wooden churches are museums now. He said, with a shocking casualness, that modern Norwegians, taken care of by the socialist state, no longer have any need of worship spaces and spend their Sundays on recreational activities.

Northern Europe, in its modern wisdom, has found the answer to the question, Who’s Your Daddy?

There is a sad irony here about that modern wisdom. As the parents of any Down’s Syndrome child will readily tell you, their child is the light of their lives, a great blessing. And though it doesn’t match the raucous, hypersexual shows on the telly, loneliness is an almost universal forerunner to personal conversion and the beginning of the greatest love story of our lives, causing many to be forever grateful for the gift that loneliness really is. But these experiences are not a product of poll-driven state bureaucracy, and therefore, presumably, somehow not real, not valid. The Norwegian churches, open only for tourists, tell us what Norwegian faith really was about. A faith that is merely the product of charitable distributions was never really a faith at all. The Norwegians have lost nothing by closing churches for worship. You can’t lose what you never had.

There are, however, pockets here and there, mostly in the southern hemisphere and in eastern Europe, where the answer to that question of Who’s your Daddy, begins with “Our Father…,” and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

He Is Risen

He is Risen.

Small words. Nothing intellectually demanding here. No plea for pity, no guilt, no emotional indulgence of any kind.

He is risen. Not He loves you, which is lovely; not Peace I give you, which is nice. No philosophy, no theory, no cultural analyses, no political message, no revolution. None of that. Just

He is risen. And time is cloven in two. Like death, it is revealed as false, impotent. There is only eternity, there is only life. Because

He is risen.

Grendel Among Us

I taught Beowulf to my gifted high school seniors for many years. My students’ reaction to Grendel was immediate, predictable, revulsion. The first image to ponder is Grendel’s rage as he is excluded, night after night, from the singing and laughter in Hrothgar’s hall. Excluded. Night after night after night. As his rage grows, so do his atrocities.

It is not difficult to transit from that image to a more familiar one: someone seen in the halls and classrooms every day, someone who is the butt of cruel jokes and ridicule, someone who reacts to his peers’ rejection of him with adopted bravado, with feigned indifference, with boastful lies and posturing—all of which serve only to increase their contempt, their exclusion of him.

It’s also not difficult this morning to look at the face of the young man named Cruz and see Grendel—once again.

Last night, a newswoman with ashes on her forehead referred repeatedly in righteous anger to this young man as a “monster.” We create our own monsters.

I don’t do Christmas trees

I don’t do Christmas trees.

It’s not a bah humbug thing, and it’s not some kind of protest about the commercialization of Christmas or a supposed paganization of it. It really has to do with that happy sadness of memory.

I was the only child of a single mother, and we were very poor. I remember one Christmas in Atlanta when I was ten. She was working two jobs as a waitress and we had a one-room apartment with a kitchenette. There was a bathroom downstairs that we shared with a basement apartment. I remember sleeping in my coat. Mama bought one of those little plastic gumdrop trees and set it on the dresser, filled it with colored gumdrops and wrapped my Christmas present – I think the landlady gave her some paper. It was two pairs of panties. They were so pretty; one was pink, and the other blue and they had a bit of lace trim. They were nylon. I’d never had anything but white cotton panties before. They were beautiful. I don’t remember being unhappy. It was Christmas and I was ten and I was loved.

Much later, not so poor and a lot older, we were still like children together at Christmas. She loved decorating and giving presents. I always had a lot of gifts; she’d even wrap a can of coffee she knew I liked and put it under the tree. This continued after her divorce and after my own. I always made it home for Christmas. It would have devastated her if I didn’t. It was Christmas and she was 70 and she was loved.

The last couple of years of her life, it was a struggle for her, especially that last Christmas, but she tried for my sake, and I tried for hers.

Mama made the most beautiful beaded ornaments and gave them to everyone she knew. I had a zillion of them, and in the first couple years after her death I decorated a Christmas tree with them. But it wouldn’t do. I gave them all away.

A few days ago, I met a friend in the parking lot at church. She lost her husband almost two years ago, and she was crying. “You said I’d get to a place where it wouldn’t hurt so much. Well, I’m still not there. It’s the memories. I hate them!”

“You will get there,” I said. “You’ll know you’re there when the memories don’t make you cry, but make you smile. And then you won’t hate the memories but cherish them.”

For the past several years I haven’t bothered with a tree; after all, I have no ornaments now. But this year, I think I’ll put up a small tabletop tree in the living room window with just some white lights. I’m pretty sure it will make me smile.

Hurricanes and Raptures

I am in the emergency room waiting for the second injection in the rabies vaccine series. (I tried to rescue a squirrel during the hurricane on Monday, and he bit me.)

A lady, who said she was 65, stopped me as I walked to my seat in the waiting area. She wanted conversation, but she often started to cry when she spoke. When I asked her if she was all right, she said, “Oh, yes, this is just tears of joy—because of my Savior.”

She interjected Scripture frequently into her conversation about the hurricane, her family, and her grandchildren—of whom she is very proud: “She got a full four-year scholarship to the University of Georgia. I thought my heart was going to burst when she walked across the stage for her diploma. Praised be Jesus Christ in whom we live and move and have our being.” She referred to the rapture a couple of times. This went on until I was called away, and as I left, she said, “We will see each other again. This world is not our home.”

She is what some people call a “fundamentalist.” The doctrine of “the rapture” is not universal among fundamentalist Christians, and judging by the small number of her references, it’s not of paramount importance to her. What was important were the passages she chose to interject, those that occurred to her as she spoke; they were all passages of praise, gratitude, and deep faith.

I noted that she did not ask me whether I was a Christian before she spoke. I was glad she was apparently unconcerned about whether I might be “comfortable” with her Jesus talk. For her, the reality of Christ was absolute; one’s comfort with that was not significant. Indeed. One’s relative degree of comfort does not alter Truth even a little bit.

I am a Catholic living among Protestant Christians. This is not the first time I’ve wished the Holy Spirit were as welcome in my local church as he is in some of theirs. I know there are pockets of anti-Catholicism here, but it’s like white racism, remembered only in the stories of generations ago. I hear about it mostly from my fellow Catholics, who, like some die-hard black racists, seem to have a vested interest in perpetuating victimization.

 

But hate is like love. Love comes from the lover, not the beloved. So does hate. And we choose. Just as surely as you can choose to love, you can choose to hate. Either way, your choice says nothing about your object—but it says a great deal about you. “By their fruits shall you know them.”

Why Doesn’t Pope Francis Speak English?

In the Catholic Herald this past Thursday, Matthew Schmitz explains the hostile attitude of the Vatican toward the United States:

 

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/july-28th-2017/why-rome-doing-battle-with-american-culture/

 

Schmitz interprets the barely concealed disdain Pope Francis has for the United States in a broader, more historical context that’s much more illuminating than my mere reaction to the Pope’s refusal to speak English. It’s more than disingenuous to suggest that he simply never learned the language. English is the second language of all western countries and most Eastern countries as well. It would be difficult if not impossible to avoid learning English for any educated person, even for those who are minimally educated. No. He doesn’t speak English because he chooses not to.

From the smallest social setting to the largest media-covered event, it is never courteous to refuse to address someone in their own language. It is an insult that expresses an attitude of superiority and a contempt for one’s audience. From the moment Pope Francis first addressed an audience of English speakers in Italian, the content of Schmitz’s article was inevitable.

One and Many on Pentecost           

(On the One vs Many theme again)

Just as the great private event of the Resurrection “began” Christianity among a small handful of persons, the great public event was the Pentecost. Until Pentecost, Judaism was a communal faith, social in nature, a religion for a people. But look what happens at Pentecost:

The Holy Spirit divided and settled on each of them, and each of them was transformed by it. They had lived in fear, hiding in a group in the upper room to pray. But then the Holy Spirit came and baptized each one of them and they each experienced a new reality, and spoke in languages that had been alien, foreign, to them: A revolution of consciousness happened in each one of them: Their faith became personal, intensely so, and Christianity was born.

And so it happened for everyone who was open to it. Imagine being in a place where no one understands you, no one knows you; you cannot communicate with anyone, you are isolated, invisible to everyone around you. And then you hear yourself being addressed personally in your native tongue. You are no longer invisible, no longer alone. No—you are personally known, and personally forgiven—and you are loved, personally.

There are socio-political forces literally everywhere (including the Church) who would have us believe that all things good are communal. That may be so—I don’t know. I do know that communalism is the useful and necessary stuff of political and social theory. I also know that Christian faith is not a faith in political or social theory.

“Good” and “God”

I’m not sure how I got on the mailing list of the newsletter from the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC, but many of the brief articles reporting on the Institute’s activities and research are quite interesting.

Take the one-page “Good Without God?” for example. The Institute’s director, Fr. James Heft, SM, has a conversation with the USC chaplain, former Evangelical minister and now secular humanist, Bart Campolo. The two discuss the nature of morality for people of faith and people of no faith. Of course, the discussion depended on one’s definition of “goodness.” Campolo said that being good meant “how we treat our fellow men and women” Fr. Heft agreed but said that belief in Christ helped him to be a better person.

Most Christians with any self-honesty at all, sooner or later, confront the fact that Christians have no franchise on goodness. People of other faiths far surpass Christians in goodness very often; likewise, people of no faith at all, people with just a belief in goodness, whether they call it “secular humanism” or not. The notion that there are Christians and then there are “bad people” is not only naïve and childish but downright destructive, even sinfully so.

Scripture references abound: the Pharisee praying next to the breast-beating tax collector in the temple is not just an admonition against self-righteousness or a lesson in the virtue of humility; it’s also a profound caution against comparing oneself with others. And that’s a much harder lesson to learn in a culture that constantly compares (read: competes in) just about everything—including goodness.

Father Heft seems to think that being “in love … forms the deepest foundation for moral behavior.” Perhaps. But one can be in love with humanity, or even with goodness itself, thereby creating a false god. Many saints have been in love with God and not exhibited goodness in any particular way. Not all saints are replications of Mother Teresa; some live their whole lives in strict enclosure.

It may be that goodness is simply, in secular language, an innate trait of some people, varying in degree and having nothing in particular to do with religion of any kind. In Christian language, perhaps goodness is a grace, a gift from God, who reserves for himself the right to choose those on whom he will bestow it. Rather like rain—another Scriptural reference given by our Lord himself, or the healing of a Syrian from leprosy while many Jews were left unhealed.

I think, for Christians, the notion of comparing is far more deserving of our attention. When we compare one thing with another thing, what is our purpose? That’s a more serious question and far more worthy of meditation: Why are you comparing? Is there some kind of contest going on? Who is the judge?

One Benedict Option

Several years ago, I was repeatedly distracted by the idea of one-vs-many. It seemed to present itself in all sorts of contexts, the way something does when it demands admittance into our consciousness. I even wrote several posts on the subject, seeing the conflict (for that is what it was) in several different guises. When that sort of thing happens, we usually find the source of the disturbance in our own psyche, and so I searched for it there, found its personal manifestation, and set about resolving the conflict in my own life.

But it’s not merely personal. That’s increasingly obvious. It has pervaded our lives, not only in the United States, but abroad as well. It is at the root of the political unease in Europe, the religious intolerance, cultural chaos, and loss of identity. The economic success of the EU has kept the thin fabric of society together, but the edges are fraying. Brexit in the United Kingdom came as a shock; so did the phenomenal unexpectedness of Trump’s election in the United States.

It is also manifested in the Church under our current pope, whose excursions into national political and economic issues outside the Church are unprecedented in the papacy, and whose unusually reluctant and vague incursions on matters of Church doctrine have been extraordinary—as noted even by secular observers. It has almost become a cliché among Catholic journalists to correct secular reporters with “What the Pope really said was … “ His recurring theme is community, sometimes varied by references to unity. The Catholic in the pew is taught that he must not perceive himself a Catholic person, but only a part of the Catholic Church, perhaps with ecclesial, social, economic, political, racial or sexual markers attached to give him his group identity, since there is no individual identity. The notion of selfhood exclusive of these tags is sinful, hence, the reluctance of the Holy Father to refer to matters of personal morality, and his eagerness to talk about group morality.

It seems to be the reigning desire everywhere to dissolve distinction into some kind of amorphous unity. Yet this rush to “inclusiveness” has only bred intolerance, now grown to an alarming degree—such that anyone of a different opinion is not even allowed to speak but literally shouted down. Examples are too numerous to mention. The term individualism is pronounced with a sneer at best; it’s most often used to explain away the apparent evil of withdrawal, non-participation, or even just a different opinion.

This affects us on all different levels—offices and faculties, parishes and families, and of course, all media. There is no escape from the omnipresent demand for conformity, including, sadly, in our churches. Because the gospel of “Community” sounds so Christian, rather like the ease with which the Christian “God is love” was inverted to the secular “Love is God,” and opened the door for all sorts of crimes against the dignity of the human person, all in the name of love.

The many have declared war on the one, and in some way or other, we are all combatants in that war. I remember a teacher who said she loved teaching—she just couldn’t stand the students. And I remember a young assistant priest who was at our parish briefly. He was very popular, “cool,” and older parishioners were thrilled by his appeal to the younger crowd. He often remarked that he loved being a priest. One evening he held a “faith-sharing” group, and an older lady (not one of his crowd), so excited by the long-awaited opportunity to share her faith, talked about her encounter with Christ in prayer. But the priest wanted us to encounter Christ in each other, in “community.” He interrupted her with: “That’s good, Anne, but let’s give someone else a chance to speak.” The hurt on the woman’s face was visible. She didn’t say another word, and neither did anyone else, so the cool young priest was able to light the candle he’d brought with him and play his guitar for everyone. A shepherd loves his flock—it’s just those annoying bleating lambs that get in the way.

And a good pastor is now defined as a good administrator; thus our parishes become just another club we join for family or group social activities, and we are made to feel guilty for the smallest timid request for personal human kindness. We learn to curb our “expectations.” After all, “it’s not about you.” It’s especially not about you if you’re not influential in some useful way that would help the parish grow, or diminish its debt for the new social hall. And it’s most especially not about you if you’re an unattractive, unintelligent, unconnected, old, poor, lost, lonely, sick—sheep. Go away. And many do just that.

Fortunately, some Christians have learned not to confuse “pastor” with “shepherd.” And the result of the painful invisibility that comes from the gospel of community is that we seek—and then are found by—the Shepherd. He always seeks out those of us who don’t matter, for it takes a sheep to recognize the voice of the shepherd. We know him because he calls us by name, individually, personally. He does not call communities—groups, clubs, families, parishes, nations or tribes. He calls persons.

All the foregoing is the local, personal, picture; the larger and more global picture is called The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. I haven’t read that controversial book, but I’ve read the reviews, and it sounds as though someone has seen with an eagle’s eye what I have seen with my snail’s eye.

The many have always despised the One. I don’t know why. But whatever their reason, it’s the same reason that Christians are the most aware of the conflict and the same reason that Christians are persecuted now more than any other time in modern history. Ideological totalitarianism is anti-Christian by its very nature, for even though it expresses frequently as the misnomer “anti-Semitism,” it’s always been simply hatred of the Jew.

For Fans of Father Brown

I always enjoyed the PBS series “Father Brown” (Chesterton’s character)—when I could catch it. Scheduling seemed erratic. For other F.B. fans, I’m happy to tell you that Netflix is now showing all five seasons, 60 episodes in all.