Post 301

Amore

A voice rings out
Long loud
And clear
As clear as a bell
Sounding through a wintry valley

So for a moment
Silence
While other voices are stilled
Silence
While they wonder
Who cries like this?

Who indeed?
It is the cry of the wolf
The wolf who for now
Will not speak
But
Who for now
Will sing her song

It is a song of pain
But of strength in pain
Not dying
Giving birth

A child is born
Exactly on time

And this child also cries
They listen again
They are confused
Why is this not the cry of a newborn one?

Oh I will tell you why
This child has already seen
Through the eyes of another
What the world has to offer

And already
This child has advanced
Has chosen
What is better

Now the wolves cry
Together
Their love is fierce and
Their love is
Forever

Do you dare come between them?
Do you challenge them?
They are not what they seem
You do not know them

They move swiftly across the snow
(A sinner must love the snow)
Fearing nothing
For they are the hunters
Seeking
Watching
Wanting

The snow silences and subdues
But these
These two continue
Shoulder to shoulder
Mother and child
Child and child
Mother and mother
Alpha and alpha
Across vast distances
Unceasing

Do you know?
Do you know what they have seen?
Do you know what they have heard?
You cannot fathom such

But if you look into their eyes
You will see
The flash and the glint
Of fire
Beauty and danger and daring and will
You will see
The sparkle
Her crown is shaped like the petals of a lily
Like petals of fire
But He said
There is also a glow

What is this glow?
Do you understand?
Do you know?

This glow is the glow of love
Pure
Steadfast
Loyalty and devotion
Unceasing
Across vast distances
Of time
Of space

Later her song will be sung
Amore
Later her tale will be told
Amore
And retold
Amore
Lasciare Suonare
Amore

But for now,
Only a voice ringing out
Over vast distances
A bell sounding through a wintry valley

 

 

Post 300

Prelude

She climbed Ben Nevis as a matter of course
The course of her life involved scaling peaks routinely
And this wasn’t the highest

Peaks in thin blue air belong
To those who begin on the ground
Where the wildcat shrieks
Where help is nowhere to be found

Peaks in thin blue air belong
To those who plan, who work, and most of all,
To those who want
Strength is given to those who want to be strong

Against temptation
Of all kinds
She fought
Sometimes she won by never beginning
Sometimes she won by finally ending
What weighed her down
Or what might

To climb is to be light
To climb is to fight, mainly, oneself
But of course there are others
Who could not bear to see her on the high ground
The high ground which couldn’t be taken from her

After all,
She wanted what others did not want
She wanted wisdom
Upon reading Solomon’s praise of it
Better than silver
Better than gold
Wow

After Ben Nevis, mountains covered in snow
Standing at one peak and looking at others
A sinner must love the snow
“Come now, let us reason together,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.”

Indeed, who had escaped the era of darkness without stain?
Had she?
Probably not.

In any case
She packed her briefcase and continued her trek.
For what was she seeking?
For whom was she seeking?
She sought for a companion for the journey
Across the millennium

And on the other side of the divide
Which began on 01.01.01
A child was conceived
A baby of and for the third millennium
Unstained by what had come before

Here words must pause
One day you will see this one
This one who accompanied humanity
As we fell down into the eschatological fold
Between the dark past and the bright future
And rose up again
One day the story will fully be told

And you’ll understand
Everything that I cannot say now
By straightforward prose
So for now only a poem
Reckless in meter
And accidental in rhyme

A poem about a girl
Who got what she wanted
After all,
She wanted what others did not want
She wanted wisdom
Upon reading Solomon’s praise of it
Better than silver
Better than gold
Wow

 

 

Post 299

Will You Leave?
Reflections on Divorce

This blog post is for you.
Yes, you.
You’re thinking about getting a divorce.

You’ve played it out in your mind, mostly.
With respect to the kids, you’re pretty much positive that they’d stay with you, so you’re not worried about that.
With respect to money, you feel quite secure about your ability to earn it, so you’re not worried about that.
With respect to dividing things up, you feel that it should be quite manageable, so you’re not worried about that.
With respect to feeling alone, or being on your own, you have a pretty solid network of friends and people to turn to, so you’re not worried about that.

“Besides, lots of people divorce all the time.
It’s not like you would be the first.
And the kids will be fine.
They’re more bonded to you anyhow.
They’ll hardly notice the difference, especially if you keep the house.
But even if you can’t keep the house, you’ll find somewhere good, somewhere close to the school.
There are probably a lot of cute places nearby, and you always have tons of decorating ideas, so you can make a place look cozy.
It might almost be fun–kind of a new adventure.

The point is that you’re just sick and tired of all of his bullshit.
And you just aren’t going to put up with it anymore.
Why should you?
If he thinks he can just get away with it, then he’s in for a rude awakening.
He’ll realize that he should have treated you better.

But you don’t care what he thinks. It will be too late. It’s already too late.
The lines of the song speak to you:
Who’s gonna walk you through the dark side of the morning?
Who’s gonna rock you when the sun won’t let you sleep?
Who’s waking up to drive you home when you’re drunk and all alone?
It ain’t me.
It ain’t me.

You know that a reckoning is long overdue.
This time, he’s gone too far.
What’s the point of staying together?
There’s no point in sticking around when there’s no future.
It’s not even good for the kids, to see you argue like this.
Besides, you could very well find someone new.
You’re still attractive.
Not too old, yet.
(Why wait?)
There are a lot of men out there.
Decent ones.
Hell, you could easily find someone way better.
Remember that one guy?
You seemed to really hit it off.
Or what about that other one?
He seemed kind of interested.

That’s the kind of guy you need.
The type you deserve.
Why stay in a dead-end marriage?
Life is short.
Why be miserable?”
says Satan.

Be gone!

There.

That’s better.

Now let’s talk.
Let’s talk about this.

Imagination is a powerful thing, no doubt about it.
But you have to keep track of what it offers you.
Don’t let it run the show, because the imagination is, well, not known for its wisdom.

I notice that there is a distinct pattern to your thoughts, and I challenge that.
This is what I see:
When you imagine a future with your husband, you see misery, emptiness and loneliness.
When you imagine a future without him, you see happiness, victory and opportunity.

Who gave you the ability to see the future?

Lend me your imagination for a moment.
Let me paint you a different picture.

I speak not from my own experience, but from what I have seen.
What I have seen is that separated and divorced women are experiencing a lot of pain.
The pain is very deep.

Fast forward two and a half years from today.

Your children are standing by the door in their coats, and the older one already has his boots on.
You’re helping your younger one, who hasn’t yet recovered from the mini-crisis at lunchtime, and the older one says, “They’re here! I see their car!”
You check yourself in the mirror. Unfortunately, you haven’t had time to have a shower yet, and you reach for your lipstick; maybe that will be enough to look presentable.
Your husband (nowadays you call him “my ex” because that’s just easiest) is walking towards the front door. He knocks, and the children are thrilled to greet him, “Daddy, Daddy!”
He says, “Hello princess!” “Hello Superman!” (He always calls him that.) You explain that the younger one was upset because she got ketchup on BunnyBunny, and you haven’t had a chance to clean BunnyBunny, but you need to wash her before she can play with her again. Your ex seems somewhat understanding, and is about to say something, but is interrupted by “Hey Superman!” exclaimed by Kaylee, his wife, who is stepping out of the vehicle. (You can’t help but notice that the vehicle is nicer than any of the ones that your husband bought while you were married.) She gives your son a high-five and a big hug, and she walks towards the front door holding your son’s hand.
She says hello to you, and looks at what you’re wearing. You suddenly feel self-conscious, because she has an obviously new coat and is holding her fancy purse (as if she really couldn’t have left it in the car!) The woman’s got an attitude — of all the people he could have chosen, he had to find this one! But it’s not as if you can exactly say anything. She glances at your living room and says, “Looks like someone’s had a busy morning!” and she laughs, looking at your husband, as if she’s made some very witty type of joke. He laughs too. “Let’s go, Princess,” he says, and he lifts up your daughter and they all go to the car.

The house is suddenly really quiet now. BunnyBunny looks at you.

Six months later:

Your children come home from their weekend visit with Daddy and Kaylee. They are full of news. “Daddy is buying a new house!” This is quite a surprise, but nowadays it seems like all news about everything important comes through the children. Where will this house be? When? Why? You try to stay calm, and you choose your words carefully, because you don’t really know what your own children will report back to others about your reaction. “Oh, really? That’s interesting.”

Nine months later:

You see that Kaylee has posted photos of their new house. There’s a picture of everything: the front yard, the back yard, and there’s a picture of the kitchen. Who needs a kitchen that big? You’re not sure she even does much cooking. She’s posted a picture of the new bathroom with lit candles all over the place (so staged!), and some of her friends have made comments, which you read. “How romantic!” “Love it!” “So jealous, Kaylee!” The whole thing is upsetting beyond belief, not that you would ever admit that to anyone, ever. You decide you’ll post some pictures of your own, of something. The homemade cake photo might be a good choice, but you’ll have to double-check it. On the other hand, maybe that’s not flashy enough.

Three months later:

The new guy that you’ve been seeing appears to be a bit of a loser. Definitely better than the last fellow, but not necessarily someone you can count on. It’s the second time in a row that he has said he needs to “meet up with the guys” when you thought you had plans. Exactly what is the issue, you would like to know. Perhaps Sonia’s free tonight, and you could meet up with her. You’ve already got a babysitter scheduled, after all. Sonia is quite understanding; she’s been divorced for something like 8 years, and has had her share of dating disasters. But she’s not free tonight, because she’s got some sort of bowling thing. Bowling! Who goes bowling these days? And you can’t call any of your married friends on the spur of the moment like this. And besides, even if they were free, you don’t really want them to know everything. Let them think you’re having fun.

The babysitter arrives (you’ve decided to go to the mall), and you find yourself talking to her for forty-five minutes, instead of leaving. She’s quite the sympathetic listener, as it turns out. She plans to go to law school, she says. You’re not sure what you think about that. The lawyer you had certainly charged an arm and a leg, as if you were made out of money. Two hundred and fifty dollars an hour! The whole divorce experience was highly unpleasant, with way too much detail coming out onto public affidavits. Your sister-in-law actually went to the courthouse and printed them all out just to read for herself, as if it was any of her business! Your ex hired a nasty-piece-of-work lawyer, who was always coming up with new angles and making the process entirely more expensive than it needed to be. What a disaster that was. And the judge! The judge, who couldn’t care less about anything that you said, just wound up giving normal visitation rights to your ex even after he read everything. And you thought the legal system would be fair! You thought it would give a damn. But you don’t tell the babysitter about that, because you feel kind of stupid for fighting so hard for so little. You finally head out the door, because, after all, you are paying her to babysit, and you don’t want her telling her parents that all you did was stand in the doorway and talk forever. You don’t want people to think you’re pathetic.

You decide to find a sensible purpose for shopping, and you’ve decided that it will be to find a birthday present for your niece. She will be turning 13, and it will be nice to have the time to find something good.

You look around for a while, going from store to store. It seems futile quite quickly. You’re so used to online shopping that buying something without reading online reviews seems like a terrible gamble. But you persist, looking for something that looks nice enough. After all, the whole family will be there, and you don’t want people to think you cheaped out. Ever since the divorce, you feel like everyone thinks you don’t have enough money, but they don’t say anything, so you can’t actually address what you think they’re thinking. Not with words, anyway.

Six months later:

You’re at the grocery store, and you run into Leanne and her husband in the bakery section. You haven’t seen her since you lived in the old neighbourhood, and you certainly didn’t expect to see her here. She’s on her way to a baby shower, she says, which makes you wonder why her husband is with her. “I injured my neck recently, and I just can’t shoulder check, so Jason has to drive me everywhere! I’ve got my own chauffeur these days!” You laugh because she’s trying to be funny, but you know that if you get sick or injured, there’s nobody there to drive you. Meeting her with her husband after all these years seems to highlight your own changed situation, and the truth is that you just want to say goodbye. But she has news. She knows someone who works with your ex, and it’s becoming rather well-known that he got his vasectomy reversed, and don’t you find that interesting?

You feel sick.

Why on earth?

This, you didn’t see coming.

Mind you, those vasectomy reversals don’t always work, do they? Why on earth would he do that? He doesn’t even like kids that much, does he? He used to complain, and now he wants more? Or is it that Kaylee wants kids? And he’s doing whatever she wants?

You feel dizzy, but you manage some more small talk (who knows what it was), say goodbye, pay for your groceries, and leave the store. This is just disgusting. Your hands are shaking, and you don’t know if you’ll be able to drive home okay.

Two years later:

You’ve decided to start your own business, because it wouldn’t hurt to have a little bit of side income. Your ex was late — twice! — on his support payments, which of course makes no sense when you know perfectly well that he has enough money for everything else. At least, that’s what it sounds like, from what the kids tell you about things. And what about that post about his fancy new barbecue, and what about the “little” trip to Cancun? If he can afford that, then he can afford to make his support payments on time, is what you think. It’s just SO aggravating (and somewhat humiliating) to remind him about it! It was far better when the payments were directly deposited into the account. In any case, a side business would probably be a good idea. Lots of people earn income on the side. It doesn’t mean they’re desperate or anything. Maybe they’re just talented.

A text comes in. Your son wants to know how many seats he should request for the school play. You groan internally, because you know that the school doesn’t have the sense to realize that maybe parents who are divorced won’t want to be seated together. You text back: “Ask dad if he is coming, and how many seats he wants.” You look at your calendar, to double check the start time of the play. A text comes in, “Dad says buy two for him.”

Sigh.

Two weeks later:

You’re early, and you settle yourself in one of your designated seats in the school gymnasium. Your ex walks in, with Kaylee, who is apparently in a talkative mood. She sits between you and your ex, and if the seating arrangement makes her feel uncomfortable, you would never know it. She’s got lots to say, about her new job as a teacher’s assistant, and about how she is really fed up with her housekeeper. You wonder if it’s just you, or whether everything she says is intended to rile you.
At one point during the conversation, you catch the eye of your ex, and you notice that he’s looking at you, not her. You’re taken aback, and for a moment, you find it difficult to concentrate on what she’s just said. (Something about getting a puppy?) The lights go dim and the play begins. Now comes the part where your son is in the spotlight. When he triumphantly finishes his lines, you and your ex openly look at each other, being proud in the same way. It’s a very strange moment, and you don’t have time to process everything you are feeling.

When the play is done, your son finds you in the audience. He’s flushed and very happy with how he did. You take photos of him and you ask your ex to take photos of you with him while he’s still in costume. Another photo: your son, you, your daughter, this one taken by your ex. Then a surprise. Your ex takes a selfie and produces another photo: your son, your daughter, you, your ex.

You take back your phone and you recognize it immediately for what it is: a family portrait.

Was that the moment? Was that the moment that something within you changed direction? Is that all it takes? A photo?

You ask your son to take another photo.

You put your arm behind your ex, and he puts his on your shoulder. Does he realize what you’re doing? Does Kaylee?

Here it is. It’s done and you’re both smiling.

You show it to him, and you smile your very best smile.

Am I flirting? you ask yourself.

Oh yeah. This is actually happening. This is actually what you’re doing. You almost feel as if you’re watching someone else, someone who has a very clear idea of what she’s doing.

You say to your ex, “Our Superman sure can act! I wonder where he gets that from?” He looks like he’ll say something, but he doesn’t; maybe it’s because Kaylee is right there. So it becomes one of those rhetorical questions. “Our Superman” — you reflect on your words.

When the night is over, when you get home, you look carefully at the photos. Would getting back together even be possible? How would that even work? Does he still love you? Do you still love him? What would people say?

Obviously, friendship must come first before anything. And besides, you rationalize, it’s good for parents to be friends anyway. Better for the kids. Everyone says you should be friends if you can.

Oh! What a strange romance you contemplate. The children would approve, of course. But what if you argued again? Surely that would happen. Would we have to get divorced again? Would we be like those Hollywood celebrities who remarry someone they’ve already divorced? Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?

You don’t want to be ridiculous, but on the other hand, what have you got to lose?

You’ve done crazier things.

Or maybe not.

But maybe this one is worth doing.

I can’t believe that I’m seriously considering flirting with my own husband, you say to yourself, forgetting to call him your ex.

I was definitely flirting tonight, you say to yourself. Never mind “considering flirting;” I’ve already done it.

You go online and upload the photos, and your daughter studies them. “Why did you really get divorced?” she asks. What a moment for such a question! You reach for the typical words, something that begins with, “Well, honey, sometimes people just . . . ” but now those words sound like avoidance. You say, “I don’t know,” and are surprised that this answer sounds fairly reasonable.

You post three photos. One of your son, one of the four of you, and one of you with your ex. And of course they need captions, because you always write captions. The first caption is easy. The second is trickier. How about “us without Kaylee”? How about “How things used to be”? You decide on “Family.” The third photo should be harder, but you already know what you’re going to write. You post, “Still my favorite guy.”

You click ‘post photo’ before you have a moment to change your mind.

And then you freak out.

“What on earth have I just done?!?!” You are mortified and shocked and horrified at the same time. The dam of lies breaks open, and you are immediately tormented with lies that everyone will think you are a total desperate idiot who has no business wrecking another household years after your own divorce. Everyone will think you have gone mad, and that you can’t cope with your divorce. Everyone will think you are pathetic and a loser and unable to find anyone half-decent to date (some truth in that one). You can NOT believe you believed it was a good idea. Your face feels hot. You wonder if anybody has seen it. Maybe you could just delete it. Should you delete just the last one, or all 3?

You hold up your phone and look.

He saw them.
He saw them!
He saw your posts, and
And he liked them,
All of them!
All three!

He liked them!

“Oh this is SO weird!” you say out loud. And your daughter, in the next room, says, “What’s so weird?” Should you explain?

Three years later:

It’s Saturday. It’s lunch time. It’s battered fish and french fries, all from the frozen section of the supermarket. The morning has been busy. Your son is assembling his social studies project but the kitchen table needs to be cleared before anyone can eat. Your daughter is writing a book report and doesn’t come when you say that lunch is ready. You’re thinking about a million things and then it happens. The bowl with the ketchup in it tips over, and the ketchup splatters all over BunnyBunny. A crisis. Your younger daughter, who has learned to talk quite early, says, “BunnyBunny all dirty all over!” and you bring BunnyBunny to the sink for a wash up. Your husband says to her, “Don’t worry honey. BunnyBunny will be fine. Your Mommy and Daddy know all about making things like new again.”

 

Tell me

Who knows the future?

The grace of God flows through a sacramental marriage.
What appears to be empty can become fruitful.
What appears to be dead can come back to life.
What appears to be the end of the story can be just the beginning.

 

Post 298

A Small and Neatly-Folded Flat World:
Reflections on Idolatry

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

When ‘experts’ consider the art and objects left behind by those from prehistoric times, they make huge errors, because they begin with the notion that prehistoric people were quite a bit different from themselves. There is a snobbishness that prevents them from recognizing themselves in a prehistoric setting.

Most art historians concern themselves with the “who” and the “when” (by whom and when was this made?) and they feel pretty safe with the “how” question (what was used to create it, what techniques were used?), and outside of modern art, they also feel comfortable with the “what” questions (what is being depicted?).

However, the biggest question — the most interesting and important question — is “why”? Why did these people build this? Why did they draw this? Why did they bury people with this type of object? Yet it’s the most difficult one, and is so often answered with some vague guesses which show more about the academic trends within art history or within anthropology at that very moment.

Decades ago, I read about the cave paintings at Lascaux, France. (They were discovered in 1940 by some boys who were rescuing their dog from a hole, according to my textbook, which doesn’t tell me whether the boys were successful in rescuing their dog.)

Do you like cave paintings? I do. I dislike caves, of course, but I think it’s really interesting to see what has been preserved on the walls. I like, for instance, the stencil handprint art that appears in caves all over the world. Wikipedia says that “the oldest known cave painting is a red hand stencil in Maltravieso cave, Cáceres, Spain. It has been dated using the uranium-thorium method to older than 64,000 years and was made by a Neanderthal.” I remember seeing a picture of a child handprint adjacent to an adult handprint. So cute! And then, of course, there are animal pictures. People keep finding more, and as the technology for determining dates improves, the dates are revised, and get earlier and earlier. “The oldest date given to an animal cave painting is now a bull dated circa as over 40,000 years, at Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Before this discovery, the oldest known cave painting was a depiction of a pig with a minimum age of 35,400 years, at Timpuseng cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia.” (also from Wikipedia’s “Cave Paintings.”)

With respect to the cave paintings at Lascaux, also made tens of thousands of years ago, experts cannot understand very much about them. It is only recently, for instance, that technology has revealed that the best drawings are often the oldest ones. And here art historians are in agreement that those with the highest level of realism are the most impressive.

I shake my head at the theories surrounding the creation of the art. H.W. Janson’s third edition of History of Art says this about the images:

Hidden away as they are in the bowels of the earth, to protect them from the casual intruder, these images must have served a purpose far more serious than mere decoration. There can be little doubt, in fact, that they were produced as part of a magic ritual, perhaps to secure a successful hunt. . . Apparently, people of the Old Stone Age made no clear distinction between image and reality; by making a picture of an animal they meant to bring the animal itself within their grasp, and in “killing” the image they thought they had killed the animal’s vital spirit. Hence a “dead” image lost its potency after the killing ritual had been performed, and could be disregarded when the spell had to be renewed. The magic worked, too, we may be sure; hunters whose courage was thus fortified were bound to be more successful when slaying these formidable beasts with their primitive weapons (27).

Notice how Mr. Janson adds “there can be little doubt,” “in fact,” and “we may be sure” to his theory, a theory that strikes me as really stupid. To say that a group of people “made no clear distinction between image and reality” is quite a stretch. The evidence for all of his theories is only the hidden location of the art! There are quite a few reasons a cave painter might choose a particular location. Some of these reasons would be based on practical considerations, and some would be a matter of personal preference. Did you hear about the artist who painted an entire ceiling instead of a wall?

It’s rather irresponsible to declare “Magic, magic!” with such little evidence. That edition was printed in 1986. The more modern editions of this book, headed by Penelope J.E. Davies, are similarly filled with a LOT of loose and wacky theories. It is absolutely exasperating to read. I threw the 2010 edition out because of the blasphemous bits, so I can’t give you the page number where she discusses the small markings which accompany many of the animal paintings at Lascaux. Her book says that these marks are probably drawings of traps or insects.

You see how the experts have no clue. A trap is a very different thing from an insect. And it doesn’t explain why the markings look nothing like traps nor insects.

And turning to the most up-to-date theories, the Wikipedia page about cave art demonstrates that the wild guessing continues, with a theory, for instance, about a shaman entering the cave in a “trance state” and painting alone in darkness (how impractical!), about obtaining power from the cave walls, about magic to increase the size of herds.

Why do these experts so quickly assume that these ancient civilizations were so weird? Entering into a trance and then doing art? Why such a theory?

That’s the thing with experts. They study a thing so long and their theories get more “deluxe” and improbable. They begin to believe that if they say something normal, their theory won’t sound educated enough.

But seriously, we should start with the basic reasons anyone would do anything. A child draws and paints without being asked. Why does the child do this? It’s a human desire, to depict what we see as accurately as we can with whatever equipment we have. An adult draws and paints. Why does the adult do this? Well, it’s for the same reason, but adults do it because they want to express themselves, and/or because they’re hoping or expecting to be paid. Let’s start there.

And I’ll tell you my theory about the little marks that are found near some of the animals.

One of the first steps in communicating with someone who does not speak your language is to settle on some basic nouns and verbs. For a child, you point to a picture of an elephant, and say “elephant,” even though the elephant is merely a foam cartoon version of an elephant. When you teach your language to those who don’t know it, you point to a picture of a bus, and say “bus.”

The cave at Lascaux served this purpose too. It would have been used by people to communicate about the animals that they have seen and hunted. After all, I can easily point to my arm if I want to express something basic to you about it, but I cannot easily point to an antelope to tell you that I saw a whole herd. How do you know that I am referring to this horned animal and not that horned animal? A picture comes in handy. A picture bridges the gap between people who are trying to communicate.

Pictures would have been drawn and painted on other surfaces before the cave drawings, and when the idea of making such a collection surfaced, the best artist(s) would have been chosen for the task. I doubt payment was involved; fame was probably enough.

About those little collections of lines and dots, I say it’s writing. I say it’s a depiction of the image in a written symbolic form.

A glorious dictionary.

Instead of redrawing the whole mammal again, those who understood this code would be able to use the shorthand version, and save themselves a whole lot of time.

When meeting a trustworthy new group of people who speak a different language, it would have been possible to bring them to this hidden place, the place of the dictionary.

I’ve never come across such a theory, mainly because the experts have all decided that there was no written language at that time, because nobody was intelligent enough for that.

Is that a racist theory? (Nowadays people like to accuse each other of racism.)

As for the evidence that these paintings were hit with spears, you can imagine all of the half-baked theories that exist. I disagree that it was some sort of religious preparatory ritual on the eve of a hunt. I think it was just goofing around, probably by later generations who didn’t know the artist. See if you can hit the animal with your spear from here. See if you can hit it with your eyes closed. Oh, let me do that again. No, it’s my turn.

The word “ritual” is used by art and anthropology experts too often. If they don’t understand why something is a certain way, they invent a religious ritual, adding in whatever details they want.

The end result is a strange combination. The makers of these ancient artifacts are presented as rather one-dimensional survival-based people who care only about hunting and fertility, yet they also supposedly have really complicated and abstract religious practices. When it comes to art, they make it and interact with it only as part of their religious rituals.

So there’s hunting and mating — everything else, including art, goes into the religion bucket. Handy!

The modern expert lacks the whole picture.

The truth is that those who lived long ago did pretty much everything we do. They laughed and danced, and joked around and teased each other. They wore jewellery (have you seen the bracelets from Mizyn, Ukraine, intricately carved from mammoth bone at least 20,000 years ago?) and decked themselves out when the occasion called for it. Of course, religion would have been part of society, because people are spiritual beings, but we don’t really know much about their belief systems, and the expert’s opinions are often just guesses (and cannot reflect on the individual moral state of anyone). It is safe to say, in any case, that people from long ago were able to cooperate and be kind, but they were often competitive and envious too. They loved each other and hated each other. They argued and fought and betrayed each other, but not always. Sometimes they were better than that. They had God’s grace too, after all. And they thought about small things and about big things. The thoughts about big things “does not happen with animals. Inner life means spiritual life. It revolves around truth and goodness. And it includes a whole multitude of problems, of which two seem central: what is the ultimate cause of everything and — how to be good and possess goodness at its fullest” (Karol Wojtyła’s Love and Responsibility, 22-23).

And when they slept, they dreamed.

In short, they were just like us. Never mind about homo habilis and homo floresiensis. Never mind the latest theories, to be challenged in the very near future. People are people, and you’ll be further off the mark by beginning with an assumption of ignorance and difference than with an assumption of intelligence and similarity.

Fewer people believed the earth was flat than is commonly believed. Many civilizations knew the earth was round, but we overlook this, almost as if we prefer to believe those who have gone before us weren’t as ‘advanced’ as we are. (We routinely dismiss people as inferior if they are from an era with different technology or different scientific theories.) Yet we advanced sorts have a tendency to flatten everything. We have a tendency to imagine ancient people as less than human, and we do the same thing to saints and to Jesus, by which I mean that we imagine them as static characters lacking the full range of emotions and behaviours that we have. We have in our minds a caricature of the saint, just as we have a caricature of Homo neanderthalensis. The saint never raises his voice. The saint never swears. The saint never shows anger. The saint never feels lust. The saint never overeats or oversleeps. The saint never gets bored at Mass. Of course, and of course. Such views are problematic because they make sainthood seem absolutely out of reach. The Church says we are all supposed to be saints, but such a declaration seems absurd if every saint has always been so static, so perfect.

So we have to be careful. We can’t make the saints or Jesus or Mary into flat cardboard cut-outs. Their experience of life as a human on earth was just as complicated, difficult, and unpredictable as ours. Although they may have been shown the broad outlines of some future events, they rarely knew what was around the next corner; each of their days were filled with the strange but typical mixture of happiness and sadness. They had countless interactions with all types of people, and these people were that strange but typical mixture of good and bad. They lived in a big round messy world where things were always changing, and where people were being born and dying. Sometimes we picture the Holy Family as wearing halos as they moved through their earthly lives, surrounded by gentle adorers the way that a church statue is surrounded by pilgrims, but it wasn’t like that at all. Jesus got his toes stepped on, both by accident and on purpose. Mary got jostled in crowds. St. Joseph would be shortchanged by customers and have a hard day at work. Just like us, they were routinely thwarted in what they wanted. Just like us, they wanted various things and suffered when things went sideways. To imagine Jesus as untouchable and free from all the bumps and bruises of daily life is to deny his human experience and possibly his humanity as well.

I used to be quite surprised at all of the references to idol worship in the bible. It struck me as quite strange that people would make or obtain some figure, and then proceed to worship it, or believe that it had any power of any kind. I said to myself that this was so nonsensical, and yet I would read how time after time, the Israelites would be tempted to imitate nearby cultures in this way. While Moses was gone from the people, they wasted no time in collecting gold jewellery, melting it and worshipping the resulting mound of gold, shaped like a calf. This is the sight that confronted Moses as he descended from Mount Sinai, holding the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. “And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32:15-16).

I like the vividness of the details, describing the realization of Moses and Joshua as they reach the camp: “When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear” (Exod. 32:17-18).

To say that Moses was rather displeased would make him sound like an English gentleman. He was furious! And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (Exod.32:19).

Moses was astonished, mortified, and extremely hurt that the people had done exactly what would displease God the most. He was especially dismayed by Aaron, asking him about his terrible leadership: “What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?” (Exod.32:21)

What was the first Commandment written onto the tablets which Moses had just received?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.

— Exod. 20:2-4

It is not that all images are prohibited, but that the context or intention matters. Sometimes images are appropriate: “Already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2130).

It is in the discussion of the first commandment that the Catholic Church warns against idolatry:

2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of “idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” These empty idols make their worshippers empty: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.” God, however, is the “living God” who gives life and intervenes in history.

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.

2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.”

These words talk about the idols of false pagan worship, but they go beyond the worship of objects. There’s a mention of idolizing a race, and idolizing the state. There’s a mention of idolizing ancestors.

And it has always seemed appropriate to me that we would hear of cautions against idolatry in these more abstract forms, because as I looked around, I did not see anybody actually worshipping objects. I didn’t hear of people talking to objects as if they had feelings, or, worse yet, powers.

But nowadays, people are tapping on their books to wake them up, and they are holding object after object in order to observe the reaction in themselves. Sometimes they make a point of holding the object very close to themselves, to feel something. They are talking to their objects, saying “Thank you for your service.” They are putting love into their objects while smoothing them with the palms of their hands.

This is just not okay.

Yet it seems that we are not allowed to say that this type of behaviour is “woo-woo, nonsense,” which it is. Indeed, those who criticize such practices are viewed as being woefully ignorant of the big picture, as if a big picture reason could justify such behaviour. Don’t you realize these ideas are rooted in Shintoism? they scold, as if old belief systems can’t be wrong, as if one cannot criticize a belief system if one didn’t practice it. They scold: you haven’t taken the time to understand this method and its religious underpinnings. If you weren’t so stubborn, you’d profit from “interreligious learning.” Many rush to the defence of this type of animism, and hope, in the process, to appear cultured and open-minded. But look: it doesn’t matter whether your excuse for talking to your broken vacuum is rooted in ancient paganism or something you made up yesterday. If an idea is wrong, it’s wrong. Tapping a book to wake it up is weird at best, and idolatrous at worst: “Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise!” (Hab. 2:19)

Saying that inanimate objects deserve any level of reverence, love and honour is leading people directly into idolatry.

Do not pretend that there is anything divine, magical, or powerful contained within the objects in your home. They are just objects, meant to be used.

I watched Marie Kondo’s visit to the home of Katie Couric. I didn’t see her enter the home, but you may already know her entrance ritual. Sometimes when she enters a home, she carries a large armful of huge boxes (to avoid an ecstatic hug from a hyper fan?) and she invariably bows, in order to pay homage to all of the kami (gods) within the objects in the house. Ms. Kondo worked for 5 years at a Shinto temple as a miko (priestess or temple maiden).

These are some of the things she said:

“It’s really important when we’re going through these items to really hold them in your hands and then put them against your body and feel for yourself whether you’re going to feel as if all of the cells in your body are raising. And a feeling of joy.”

“So one important thing to do before you let go of an item is to say ‘thank you’ to the item.”

“One very important thing about folding is that you use the palms of your hands to pour love into your clothes. Thank you for keeping me warm.”

”I love folding. Folding to me feels like I am having a conversation with my clothes. I see it as an important opportunity to show my gratitude towards the clothes.”

“And as you do it [folding], you really start to understand these sensations within you.”

A sympathetic therapist should feel sorry for a person who confides, “Folding to me feels like I am having a conversation with my clothes.”

I don’t have a problem with her folding and organizing techniques. Use them if you want, but if you do her first step, which is to visualize the kind of life that you want, please answer the question without reference to your objects or even your current home. That, after all, is the problem with this question. Those who answer it are thinking about decluttering and getting organized, so their answers are about being able to find things, and about not feeling weighed down by things. They want to entertain guests in a clean space; they want to be able to walk through a clean room. They are thinking along those lines.

Think more broadly. Make your world bigger and rounder than that.

At the end of the day, life is not actually about how you organized your stuff, and how you treated your stuff. It’s about how you treated those around you. To focus on objects, going so far as to imagine (or heaven forbid, believe) them to have life, is to live a flattened life. It is a sad distortion of both earthly and spiritual reality, one which reduces what is important and dynamic (the human person, community and God), while elevating and expanding what is merely man-made. Psalm 135 says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” This quote says that you will make yourself like the thing that you idolize: you’re making yourself more similar to that neatly folded bed sheet than you should. By paying excessive amounts of attention to objects (the designated idols are apparently already in our homes — no need to purchase them or melt down any gold), a person reduces his life experience to a cardboard version of the real thing. Sadly, a person overly concerned with objects begins to view people negatively. People aren’t as fun: they’re less controllable and predictable and they aren’t tidy. Even worse, those who idolize objects begin to use the same standards on people that they use on objects. It is both disturbing and telling that in her introduction (visible via Amazon’s preview function) Ms. Kondo writes:

A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming. I mean it. Here are just a few of the testimonies I receive on a daily basis from former clients: . . . ‘Your course taught me what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.’

Yikes and double-yikes.

A person must not be evaluated based on his or her usefulness. This quotation celebrates a flippant attitude towards matrimony, and suggests that “feeling better” justifies the decision. Divorce is almost always painful, and it is often tragic.

But let’s talk about this issue of results. Those who criticize Marie Kondo’s methods are always met with a response something like this: “Well, I used her methods, and now my place is tidy, so you’re wrong.” The unspoken (and probably unconscious) and illogical argument here is that Ms. Kondo’s methods are effective, and therefore she is right about everything. But the truth is that Ms. Kondo is right about all the little things (how to fold garments, for instance), and wrong about all the big things (why to fold garments, for instance).

As it was with the cave paintings, the most interesting and the most important question is “why.” Why do you fold these towels? Why do you fold these socks? Why do you arrange your shirts in rainbow order?

Please have a reason that’s bigger and broader than the object itself. You can think, for example, in the style of St. Josemaria Escriva, who said take care of your tools. That’s part of your work, and your work is your offering to God. Or you can consider home organization and storage as part of your life of service to those around you. We are all called to a life of service, and those who are married and those who are in families are called to serve them. Keeping a tidy home is one aspect of this (but not as important as some things, such as keeping everyone fed). And if you live alone, you can still have many sensible motives for doing what you’re doing. Perhaps you want to organize your things so that you can find what you have more quickly. That’s enough of a reason. Perhaps you think the shirts look prettier when arranged in rainbow order. That’s fine. That’s enough. You can stop there. You truly don’t need to whisper gratitude to your garments and kitchen utensils when putting them away or discarding them. Don’t add layers of idolatry into the mix. Come back to reality. Give thanks to God, not objects.

I could not have predicted, years ago, that one day I would, in all seriousness, ask people to stop treating objects as if they contained a live spirit. I thought that this type of strange behaviour was confined to the past, but you see, we are no better than those of long ago, and the Catechism is so right in saying that idolatry “remains a constant temptation to faith” (para 2113).

We may not believe that the world is flat, but we’re ready to take large steps towards odd practices of idolatry because it’s popular, and because we’ve heard of or experienced “the life-changing magic.” In so doing, we run the risk of making our lives one-dimensional.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods!’”

Exod.32:7-8

To summarize, Marie Kondo’s empire is based on telling people to improve their relationship with their objects.

I say that’s not good enough.

That’s too small and too flat.

You’re bigger than that.

Improve your relationship with your spouse. Improve your relationship with your children. Time is short. Life is precious. One day, you may not have these people in your life, so use your time well. Do things with them and for them. You will never regret acts done in love.

Improve your relationship with God. He loves you, and wants everything for you. Open yourself to him, love this invisible yet mighty God, and your life will begin to change in all the right ways. Some things will change quickly, and other things will change more slowly. He will give you the grace to overcome problems, and he will help you achieve what does not seem possible now. He is a living God, and loving him will make you more alive. Moreover, he knows what you want even better than you know, and he has the power to make these dreams come true, if you would put your trust in him.

Be open! Expand your horizons!

Post 297
To Our Lady, who waits with us

November 23 & 24

This is the third anniversary
Of something sweet
The beginning of a new world
That turned some lives
Upside down and right side up
All at the same time.
Jesus, we trust in you.

This is the third anniversary
Of first secrets revealed
Of promises made
And companionship in the darkest hour

Two years filled to the brim
Of the unexpected, the undeserved and the extraordinary
Oh the thoughts of the dog!
The thoughts of the dog

Two years filled to the brim
Of spiritual stuff you couldn’t imagine
Of words you didn’t make up
Like the thoughts of the dog

And then a third year
Steadier, stronger
Budding and blooming
Victories, successes and garlands of flowers

A third year
That is nevertheless
Understood best
As another year of waiting

Ah yes

This is the third anniversary
Of looking at the sky and looking at the sun
And the stars and the clouds and the moon
And wondering when
It will all come true

Oh Jesus, I trust in you!

Post 296

A Chat Meeting:
Reflections on a Bunch of Stuff

Let’s pretend
Let’s pretend I’ve come over to see you, and you’ve brewed me some tea
Oh where do we begin?
So much to cover
Your life, what you’ve done, what you’ve thought
About everything
I want to know what you think about
Trump
Isn’t it incredible?
Every day is another day for the media to go wild
He says anything
Whether it’s true or not
The man gives liars a bad name
You’ll say, but don’t you support him? Didn’t you prefer him to Hillary?
There will be a slight pause, and I’ll wonder
How you would know that
You’re not a reader
Are you?
But we’ll continue, and I’ll say to you that I’m not a fan of Trump
Not that I liked Obama or Bush or Clinton either
Reagan I barely knew about
Are you a fan?
I don’t like Trump’s friendliness with Russia
Because I don’t like Russia
Because I don’t like what they have done in Ukraine
And what they are doing in Ukraine
And do you know what they’re doing in Ukraine?
The arrogance of Russia is extreme and very evil
I don’t like Trump’s readiness to say anything just to get an advantage in the moment
And the news of his infidelities was icky because it was true
Is lecherous the right word?
Yes, that would be the one
On one level you feel sorry for Melania, but on another level
You don’t
Remember the time she wore that jacket that said she didn’t care?
Her spokesman said it was just a jacket
As if people were “reading something into it”
As if people weren’t just reading the words printed onto it
You’ll say, you read the news?
There will be a slight pause, and I’ll wonder
Why you would ask that
You’re not a reader
Are you?
But we’ll continue, and I’ll explain that I was receiving the MSN news feed for a while
But yeah, it’s far better for me if I don’t see the headlines
It’s just depressing to see Trump all the time
And I can’t tell if he’s messing up as badly as the media says he is
Because I don’t follow him like they do
But when I watched the video of him inspecting the troops with the queen
I felt that those who had said he blew it
When he rounded the corner ahead of the queen
Were being a little too strict
Besides
When he actually couldn’t see her
It was very, very funny
And I don’t think he needs to give her any special respect
(But if he was late on purpose, that’s no good
If he was late by accident, that’s kind of funny)
The Americans don’t swear an oath of allegiance to what the English call royalty
Which is fine, though I think the American revolution was a terrible overreaction
It’s like Chesterton says
These revolutions keep going long after they should
The revolutionary apparatus gets set up, and the power intoxicates
Next thing you know, those who have upset the status quo
Come to love the status quo, which is to be in the process of upsetting the status quo
I can’t support the common man blocking streets using burning tires
Can’t support that
I can’t support the common man marching towards the government buildings
Holding homemade weapons and pieces of the cobblestone streets in their hands
Can’t support that
The aggression is unnecessary and immoral
The people in the government buildings are people too
They have families and they don’t want to die
This afternoon
But power intoxicates
The feeling that you are surrounded by many
That you are part of something momentous and massive
Can bring out the worst in men, don’t you think?
So what do you think about him?
Better than Hillary?
Yeah, I think so too
But it’s so good we’re not American
Aren’t you glad?
Everything there is so divided
It’s like a religion for them, isn’t it?
If you’re on one side, you’re supposed to believe everything said in favour of everyone on your side
As if you relinquish your right to think independently once you say you’re a Democrat
Once you say you’re a Republican
Seems like that, anyway
Seems like there are only two narratives, constantly in conflict over everything
But anyway
Then you’ll put on some more tea
And I’ll say
Oh, but I want to know
What do you think about Meghan Markle?
No, seriously!
No, you go first!
I really want to know!
Oh, totally!
No kidding. Those are exactly my thoughts!
Wow, we think alike
And did you watch that interview that she gave right after they were engaged?
Until I saw that interview, I didn’t have super strong feelings either way
But watching the way she navigated the questions
While looking at Harry to make sure he was gonna back her up was just kind of eww
Line after line
Spin doctor
Meghan said something like, “I didn’t know about him, and he didn’t know about me”
As if to suggest that they met just person to person — just two individuals, and
As if there was an equivalence about their backgrounds
As if anybody would expect him to know anything at all about the television show she acted in
As if she’s had decades of world fame, like Elizabeth Taylor or even Julia Roberts.
Her former best friend said that Meghan owned a book about Princess Di, and loved the commoner-to-princess element of the whole story.
Didn’t know much about Harry because she’s American, yeah right.
And then there was the part where she said something like “My ONLY question was, ‘Is he nice?’ because if he’s not nice, then what’s the point?”
Oh give me a break
Give me a break
As if she wouldn’t be intrigued and eager no matter what
He’s a prince
If the answer was, “Well, you know, he’s okay, good days, bad days, you know”
Would Meghan have said
“Hmm, I think I better just forget about him and go back to my husband”?
And then you’ll pour the tea, and say that you didn’t know that I was that much of a royal watcher
And I’ll say, that no, I wasn’t, but that I grew up knowing who the characters were
Anybody buying groceries sees the magazine covers
Let’s see
There was the mom, the queen, Elizabeth
And this guy who was her husband but who wasn’t a king
That part didn’t make sense to me, because the fairytale always has a king and a queen
Not a queen and some guy
But anyway, the queen has some kids
Most of whom really don’t matter because they’re not in line to the throne
The one who matters is named Charles
Charles doesn’t seem to get married forever, which puts everything into Jeopardy
He finally marries a blond woman and I’ll admit that I liked her poufy wedding dress
Made of ivory silk taffeta
Though it was ridiculously long, come to think of it
So this blond woman is Diana, and she tilts her head down just like this, and
Wears eyeliner right on the inside rim of her eyes
She looks demure, but she’s wily, and the palace is always trying to contain her
She sneaks off in the night to Do Good Deeds
Yikes.
Charles and Diana have two boys, and we all start seeing pictures of them
The first is named William, which seemed like quite the odd name at the time, but not as strange to the modern ear as
Henry
Which soon became Harry
For real?
It didn’t sound very fancy
Not quite what I imagined as a name you’d choose when there are so many good choices
But not long afterwards, the world finds out that
Charles liked a woman named Camilla better than his wife, and
We all hear about how much he likes this nondescript woman
Diana does an interview exposing tons, and chooses, vengefully, to have it air on Charles’ birthday
The name Camilla is forever ruined for baby girls everywhere
Then Diana, whom you feel sorry for on one level, starts dating, and
We hear the name Dodi for the first time
Dodi and Diana
Oh dear
But they get murdered in a car crash by those who opposed the romance
(Just don’t assume that the royals were behind it
There was opposition to Diana from the Dodi side too)
On hearing the news, I am stunned
Thought I’d hear about Diana for decades more
So her two sons grow up
William starts dating a girl with long brown hair
She’s Kate
Okay, that’s fine, whatever. I wish them well
But I perked up when the wedding happened
I was interested in her dress, because I love a fairytale
What did you think of her dress?
I thought it was a little unfortunate, because I didn’t like the bodice
The shaping and strong division between the lace on top and the rest of the dress
I don’t know
I didn’t think it was that great
And that was when Pippa Middleton made her appearance
So then William and Kate began having children and faded mostly out of my mind
Their kids are fine, but everything was pretty much according to script
But then Meghan arrives on the scene, and I start seeing her picture on all the magazines and tabloids
(“We just don’t read them,” she said in her interview, a little too quickly and pointedly for me to believe her)
Who is this?
Nobody knows who this woman is, hence all the Google searches
Living in Toronto because that’s where she works, but actually an American
Dating a chef even though she’s married
Which came first, the divorce or the dating?
I don’t know
Then dating a prince
Did the chef know about the prince?
Did the prince know about the chef?
Which came first, the breakup or the date with the prince?
I don’t know
What I do know is that it’s all very messy, messy, messy
I don’t like a story where the prince marries a woman who has already been married
Whose husband is still around
What kind of story is this?
Get married, get divorced, meet the Prince, and live happily ever after?
Marriage is a temporary state
Until you meet Someone Better?
And I won’t even get into the situation with her father and her half-siblings, only to say that it’s all ugly
Would I invite such relatives to the wedding?
If I were the relatives, would I want to be invited?
Meanwhile, everyone is tripping over themselves to sidle up to Meghan and whomever is in her good books
Oprah gives kumquats to Meghan’s mom
All of a sudden, Meghan’s mom is really worth Oprah the Billionaire’s time
Go figure
It’s America, where royalty doesn’t matter, right?
And what did you think about Meghan’s wedding dress?
I was astounded at how boring it was
I was actually confused
What?
That’s it?
The woman could have had any kind of dress, and that’s all she did?
The preacher made the wedding about himself, and watching the royals trying not to laugh
Was really funny
Especially when you watched it on mute
I found it telling that Meghan chose to schedule her wedding when Kate was recovering from having her third child
Kate had a few short weeks with her new baby in the spotlight, and then she had to be on public display
Women do not like that
No woman in the modern western world wants to be photographed while her face is still pudgy from the excess weight, while the abdomen is still settling down
So Kate shows up wearing an outfit that looks nearly white
At some point, Kate’s sister Pippa marries a guy with a small head atop a long neck
Couldn’t she do better, after all that attention?
(Turns out, he’s due to inherit a title when his aunt or someone dies)
Kate and Meghan then alternate with being in the spotlight
Kate runs across the field and kisses or hugs someone when her husband’s team wins at some sport — a polo match?
Soon afterwards, magazines feature Meghan kissing Harry after his team wins at some sport — a polo match?
Alrighty
Lots of affection in front of the cameras
It’s at this point that I say to myself, I really need to not know anything more about these characters
And for a while, I avert my eyes
But then Eugenie gets married, and I want to see the wedding pictures
Princess Eugenie is the daughter of somebody, and has a history of looking bad, along with her sister
However, on the day of her wedding, she looks good, and I’m happy for her
Her husband looks pretty good too. I was happy for them
What did you think of her dress?
I thought it was quite nice. It had a deep V in the front and back, which, in principle, I don’t really love, but the overall effect was flattering
Did you not see it?
Oh, and Sarah Ferguson was there
That’s the red-haired woman who married into the royal family a long time ago.
She was some kind of hurricane that blew in and out of it
She has extreme gestures and facial expressions
She raised her arm in a fist shape as she greeted onlookers
Some kind of victory gesture
As if she had accomplished something by attending her daughter’s wedding
Meanwhile, Camilla skipped the wedding because she had to attend a “harvest festival” at some elementary school that day
We’re supposed to believe that it’s because, as her spokesman said, it’s not as easy as you think to reschedule things
Oh, the lies that people tell!
Do not become a spokesman if you care about truth
The reason Camilla wasn’t there was simple: she didn’t want to be there
But tell me, I will say
What do you think about royalty, in general?
Do you think it’s a good thing?
And you’ll tell me that you really haven’t thought about it much
So then I’ll ask you to think about it right now
And I’ll have some tea, which has finally cooled off enough to be drinkable
You say that you really don’t know
I’m not sure if you really don’t have an opinion or
If it’s because you think that I’ll have one
And you want me to go first while you decide
So I tell you what I think
It’s not so good
It leads to certain temptations that would not exist otherwise
People are tempted to marry people who have little else going for them
People are tempted to change their religion for reasons unrelated to religion, and, conversely
People refrain from changing their religion for reasons unrelated to religion
People are tempted to do things to keep themselves in the spotlight
People are tempted to do things that keep others out of the spotlight
But more importantly, this business of having titles warps family life
And family life is a very precious thing that should be spared from such pressures
You see, people keep track of their position in line for the throne
And each new baby who is born is resented
If that baby’s birth causes them to fall further down the line
Baby news is actually quite devastating in royal circles
Unless that baby is yours
I read that Meghan and Harry announced Meghan’s pregnancy
Right at the wedding reception of Princess Eugenie and husband
That’s not right
That’s stealing the spotlight in an extreme way
Don’t tell me that it couldn’t have been done at another time
So that’s what I think
The emphasis on closeness to the throne throws everything off kilter
Some people become ‘worth’ more
One person must bow or curtsey to another
One person must walk behind or stand behind another
One person must not begin eating before another
The tiniest preferences and whims of those who are ‘higher’ affect far too many
And instead of these things being set aside in the hidden world of family
They are brought into sharp relief there
Everyone needs to bow to grandma, because, well, she’s the queen
Curtsey, underling!
We laugh
Oh well
Nobody asked me how to set things up
Nobody asked me if I wanted to have a queen
I was born into a country that had a queen, and at one point
I even took an oath to serve her and her heirs
I don’t know how consensual that oath was, come to think of it
But anyway, at least the queen is over there and not here
She’s on my money but she’s not in my country, thank God
It’s good to be Canadian
Oh, but that reminds me!
What do you think about the legalization of cannabis?
Ha ha, I thought you’d say something like that
Isn’t it amazing how the language surrounding the use of pot has changed, almost overnight?
Now government and educational institutions speak about it so cheerfully and nonchalantly
As if they were never opposed to drug use in the first place
As if they wouldn’t be so
Backwards as to see it as a bad thing
I won’t change my views about it
Marijuana is not a plus
Drugs are not good, and their use should be discouraged by the government, somehow
But nobody asked me
The new Correct Attitude shows how people take their cues about what’s right and what’s wrong from the law
But something being illegal isn’t the same thing as something being immoral
Some things are illegal which are not, in fact, immoral, and some things are immoral but legal
The worse the government, the more mixed up things get
So now Canadians can buy marijuana openly, but raw milk only secretly
The legacy of Justin Trudeau is shameful
Hey, did you see all those photos of him and his family playing ‘dress up’ in India?
What’s the word for that?
Immature?
Narcissistic?
Laughable?
All of the above?
He and his family wore elaborate traditional Indian clothing repeatedly,
And posed with their hands like this
It was exciting for him, but his popularity back home plummeted as photo after photo started appearing on our computer screens
THAT is my Prime Minister?
What on earth does he think he’s doing?
He’s not as stupid as he seems, which makes the whole thing more problematic
Talking about weed makes me think about addictions in general
The thing about addiction is that people still have their free will
As long as they’re able to think, they still have the ability to escape
The difference is that by choosing to begin an addicting behaviour, a person gives the enemy a huge advantage, increasing, manyfold, the power of the temptation
And the enemy is Satan, obviously
You know your catechism, right?
You’ve got your phone, right?
Search “Catholic Catechism” and “drugs”
There it is
Paragraph 2291:
The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to moral law.
So there’s that
Man. I love the wisdom of the Catholic Church
I love the Catholic Church
And yes, I heard
Of course I’m unhappy to hear of those who abuse their position within the Church for their own financial gain, or for their own perverted pleasures
There are many, many men who became priests for the wrong reasons
They wanted to avoid questions about their lives, about their
Lifestyles
And so they joined the priesthood to avoid scrutiny
Once inside, they began doing their damage
Harming those who were entrusted to them
Shame on these men and
Shame on those who covered the actions of these men
The notion that one cannot criticize a priest has led to immense harm
I will criticize a priest, if he has done wrong
You agree
There will be a slight pause, and I’ll wonder whether you’re agreeing with my last sentence or the one before, and I’ll wonder if you’ve read those few posts
But we’ll move on
And I’ll say
Speaking of all things Catholic
Have you heard about that Catholic parish in Edmonton with 24 people on the payroll?
It rakes in a lot of money, but can’t balance its budget
Employing 24 people to do the work that other parishes do with 4 people is expensive maybe?
Go figure
That parish even hires people to teach RCIA, something which, in other parishes, is done by volunteers
Teaching RCIA is not difficult
It’s fun, in fact, if you do it for the right reasons
But it’s work when you’re paid to do it
They pay people to do everything, but the bathrooms aren’t even predictably clean
What’s the word for that?
Irresponsible?
Scandalous?
Who was on duty while that parish hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired and hired?
David Matwie?
Father Andrew Bogdanovich?
And who was on parish council approving this excess
This squandering of donations collected?
I wouldn’t donate to a parish that seems to exist for the sake of employing people
Why encourage mismanagement?
What a disgrace
We’ll sit back for a moment, just shaking our heads
Then I’ll ask you about that guy who drove that armoured personnel carrier through Richmond Virginia
He said that he was just following military orders when he took it through the streets of the city “to test police response”
Did you see it?
The video of it went everywhere because it was so bizarre
He wasn’t going fast, which made the entire thing very, very funny, because there was a whole fleet of police cars following him, and they just looked, well, ridiculous and inept
The story was widely popular, and almost everyone was cheering for the ‘tank’ driver
Once he parked, the befuddled police decided that this fellow needed to appear in court on July 11, 2018, and I was wanting to see how it all turned out
I even searched online, but the story appears to have been frozen, without anything further, and everyone who laughed and watched incredulously are acting like they didn’t, because the internet has now agreed that he’s not cool
But I’ll admit that I laughed
I laughed a lot
Joshua Phillip Yabut, I wish you well, wherever you are, whatever you’re driving
So we’ll drink our tea
Then I’ll ask you what music you’re listening to these days
You didn’t know I cared about music
But I do
As a matter of fact, I’m the first one to admit that it’s powerful stuff
To be handled with care
And maybe taken in small doses
Music brings you somewhere else
With someone else
Makes you want what you shouldn’t want
Makes you sad
Makes you lonely
Makes you happy
Makes you confident
Makes you remember
Makes you forget
Don’t say I don’t get it
I get it
I get it
Sheena said to me “You’re not the dancing type”
As if anybody isn’t the dancing type
If you’re human
You’re the dancing type
I still like “I Can’t Feel My Face” (The Weeknd)
And I still like “Love Me Like You Do” (Ellie Goulding)
And Shawn Hook’s “Sound of Your Heart”
You clarify
You’re listening to the radio?
Since?
Last year.
And?
And that’s all.
So you think these songs are inspired?
Inspired?
There will be a slight pause as I consider the question —
The kind of question a reader might ask
Hell, no! I’ll say.
(Or maybe I won’t
You might get too freaked out to hear me say “hell,” like that
Some people are sensitive,
And some people like to pretend they’re sensitive)
These messages, these lyrics, no
I’m not saying they’re inspired
I’m saying I like them
And I like Taylor Swift’s song “Delicate,” the first song by her that I’ve liked
You won’t be sure what to say
So I suppose the topic would die and we’d find another
Would we talk about travelling?
Would we talk about cooking?
Would we talk about food?
Would we talk about people we know?
Would we talk about family?
Would we talk about aging?
Would we talk about God?
I don’t know
The only thing I know is that
We won’t talk about the fact that
You’re a Reader

Post 295

Oh Pinocchio! Reflections on Lying

I once looked into the story of Pinocchio. I was familiar with it only through the Disney movie version, so I was interested in the book when it crossed my path. I didn’t get very far, because it struck me as a dreary and pointless collection of adventures. Interminable would be the right word. But I bring it up because of the nose. The key thing to know about Pinocchio is the thing about the nose. It grows. The nose grows whenever Pinocchio lies. I’ll return to this.

Do you stay awake at night remembering the embarrassing things you have said and done? I have finally stopped wincing at the recollection of a lie I told. I once planned to make a cherry cheesecake for a dinner party, but I found that shopping for the ingredients was expensive. The recipe called for a lot of Philadelphia cream cheese, for instance. I stood there looking at the brands and the prices, and after a long pause, I went for the cheaper brand. I made the cake and the people at the dinner party really liked it. Another guest, Ruth, turned to me asked me, point blank, whether I had used Philadelphia cream cheese. I was kind of stunned. I was quite new at cooking and baking, and I didn’t know whether it was very bad for me to not have used Philadelphia cream cheese. I said yes.

Some would say that it was a ‘little white lie,’ but I don’t want such a defence. The best defence I could give myself would have to do with the element of being surprised by the question, and being put on the spot in front of others. But even that is not a full excuse. The truth is that there isn’t a full excuse, by which I mean that there isn’t an excuse that absolves me completely of my responsibility. My failing reveals that, in the moment, I was more concerned about my reputation than the truth. I was worried that people would think that I was a stupid cook, or a cheap cook, or both.

Nowadays, I don’t think I’d bring a homemade cheesecake to a dinner party. What if the host has prepared a chocolate cake? You don’t want the desserts to compete. Mind you, I suppose it’s possible that I had volunteered to supply the dessert. I can’t remember much about the event, other than this conversation that everyone else has forgotten. Everyone is so busy remembering other conversations that they’ve had.

As for Ruth herself, she may think, to this day, that I used Philadelphia cream cheese. Or maybe she knew I was lying. So maybe I’ll just come out and say: Ruth, I’m sorry I lied to you about the brand of cream cheese.

Ruth?

Are you there?

(Bloggers must always assume, almost simultaneously, that nobody is reading, and that everyone is.)

Oddly, I tell this story before telling you that I have strict standards when it comes to telling the truth. And, until quite recently, I felt that I was in very good company in this regard. Isn’t everyone else doing their best to always be honest? Isn’t honesty the norm?

Our society does still have a Judeo-Christian outlook about the essential things. Dishonesty is still considered bad. When people observe that President Trump is a liar, they mean it as a criticism, not just as a neutral statement of fact.

So people don’t want to admit that they have lied. The exception to this is that they will admit it when they expect that their listener will applaud their deceit. “I told the officer blah blah blah, and he totally believed me!” Cue chuckling.

And thus you wouldn’t know, from looking around, or from talking to people, that they lie, frequently, repeatedly, almost habitually. They use it as a means of getting through life in the smoothest way possible.

But I am so tired of it! I am tired of all of the versions of this. I’m tired of the big-boastful-in-your-face lies, and I’m tired of the smiley, fake-ity, I’m-so-nice lying! I am exasperated by the people who pretend that they are entirely on your side, but unable to lift a finger to assist you when you need it. Their hands are just, well, tied. They just, well, can’t. “Sorry! I’m so sorry! I wish you the best! I can’t help you this time or the next, but I’m really so nice, and I’m really so caring!”

The truth is that when you care, you will actively seek for a solution. You may be limited in what you can do, but you will exert yourself. You won’t be sighing and smiling and blaming this circumstance and that policy; you’ll just make an effort. People are creative when they are motivated. When someone cares, then they will apply their intelligence to figuring out how they can help.

The most exasperating of all, of course, are those who cast themselves as holy, and yet who won’t do anything to help those who need it. Indeed, they are the most practiced of all in appearing concerned and helpful while being entirely dismissive. The only question for them is how much effort they need to expend in appearing to be ‘good,’ before they can get back to their lair and their favorite apps. And sometimes it’s worse than this. I remember being told by someone, “I’ll pray for you,” and when I questioned that comment, which was quite out-of-keeping with the context, he apologized, because he knew that he was using this line in the worst possible way (almost as a curse).Those who are the most publicly holy are often the quickest to put on a smile, but behind it, there is nothing. There is no empathy, and there is no kindness.

This phenomenon is as old as the hills. When Jesus told his Good Samaritan parable, you notice that the ‘holy’ characters act badly when nobody else is watching: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32). (A Levite is a priest’s assistant.) And Jesus rebuked the pharisees, who burdened others while doing nothing to ease these burdens. They burdened others by making new rules, and by appearing, themselves, to set an example of holiness. Their techniques worked, in that others felt badly for not being able to attain such high standards. The average person couldn’t be bothered with setting aside one-tenth of the kitchen herbs for the Lord, and consequently felt like a sinner compared with the Pharisees, who always acted righteously, or so it appeared.

Nowadays when we say the word “Pharisee,” we know that we are talking about the ‘bad guys,’ but it wasn’t like that then. Back then, they were seen as the holy ones, the ones who had been abundantly blessed by God as recognition for their upstanding lives and pure hearts. For Jesus to criticize them was absolutely astonishing.

Who are the new Pharisees?

They are everywhere. Some are in the pro-life movement. Some are doctors and teachers. Some work at your local church. Some preach. In every corner of the world, finding someone who is widely perceived as ‘good’ and ‘holy,’ is all too often a case of finding someone who looks great from the outside, but is entirely rotten underneath.

Do I exaggerate? Or am I simply saying that the phenomenon, existing in Jesus’ time, condemned by Jesus, continues today?

And right now, I am saying that you can see it in the lying. The lying face smiles, and tells you that she really, really, cares about you, but can’t do a thing to help. The lying face nods sympathetically, but forgets about you the moment you turn your back, or worse: actively hopes for your undoing.

The phenomenon was captured perfectly by the VeggieTales song, “Busy.” Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/UsqruZS4nyM

The lyrics are:

Archibald (Mayor): I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You’ve no idea what I have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.

Larry: Oh, I see.

Archibald and Doctor: We’re busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You’ve no idea what we have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.

‘Cause we’re busy, busy, frightfully busy
More than a bumblebee, more than an ant.
Busy, busy, horribly busy
We’d love to help, but we can’t!

One of the interesting indicators of lying has to do with facial expressions. I once came across the phrase ‘micro-expressions,’ or something to that effect. Ah yes, an internet search just now shows me that I have remembered the right phrase.

Here’s what Wikipedia says,

“A microexpression is the innate result of a voluntary and involuntary emotional response that conflicts with one another. This occurs when the amygdala (the emotion center of the brain) responds appropriately to the stimuli that the individual experiences and the individual wishes to conceal this specific emotion. This results in the individual very briefly displaying their true emotions followed by a false emotional reaction.”

Do you understand? Have you seen it?

Sadly, I have seen it many, many times. I notice it quite often when someone in a service-industry related job, usually in a receptionist-type of capacity, is quite happy to deliver bad news. There’s that flash of a smile that’s gone very quickly, and replaced by a sober expression telling you that the booking you need is unavailable, or that you’ll have to pay an extra service fee.

One of the most memorable examples for me of observing a micro-expression was in a conversation where a man was telling his friends, a husband and wife, that he had landed a new job, and was now working for the same big employer that they were working for. There was a look of horror on the face of both husband and wife, replaced almost instantaneously with smiles and words of congratulations. It was quite remarkable, and really quite creepy as I reflect back on it.

I speak about these micro-expressions because they are commonplace, and reveal surprising things. They show that people habitually disguise their very negative real feelings in order to project a much more positive image.

Now you’re asking whether there’s any harm in that. You’re saying that the world would be far worse if people didn’t fake it.

I understand your point, and I agree that it would be really grim if the airline guy started laughing upon saying your plane is delayed until tomorrow.

But the line must be drawn at LYING. It’s just not right for people who don’t care to say that they do. It’s just not right for people to say that they wish it were otherwise, when they don’t.

Is this a Canadian problem? To some extent, I think it is. I think that Canadians are particularly concerned about appearing ‘nice’ from the very first moment of meeting (meaning that, arguably, things can really only go downhill from there), and are particularly prone to stepping in with a lie. I also believe this is a Christian problem. Christians want to appear to be ‘nice,’ and will speak words of support and solidarity when all they really, really want is for you to fail.

You say that I rant.

Let’s say that I don’t even go for the obvious first line of defence, and ask you to define a rant. Let’s say I accept that, and let’s say that I want to talk about that.

First, does the notion of ‘ranting,’ (unending, and almost irrational or hysterical complaining) as a way of describing human expression, not in itself show that we, as a society, are highly uncomfortable with a genuine exploration of topics? Does it not show that we, as a society, would really just rather if we all stopped saying anything in order to resume the smiling façade?

And second, may I ask: Are some things worth ranting about? Is there something wrong with expressing strong dissatisfaction when something is, in fact, amiss?

If addressing a problem in a long and detailed fashion is a rant, then sign me up for ranting, provided that I have a free moment or two.

Truth needs to be given more respect. We must challenge the notion that it’s fine (or even noble) to lie in order to spare someone’s feelings. It’s not. It is very, very, wrong.

A trusting person can go for years, or decades, believing that he or she is surrounded by the Very Best Kind of People, because none of these people will ever reveal otherwise — not intentionally, that is. The false front misleads, as it is intended to. The pretense of kindness or holiness creates an artificial world, and this can be sustained for a very long time, provided that those who are deceived do not question too rigorously, and provided that those who are deceived always give ‘the benefit of the doubt,’ to the liars.

You see, the reason that Jesus needed to expose the evil of the Pharisees was because the Pharisees were successful in their deceit. They really did have the people convinced that they were earnest, humble, devout and full of love for the Lord. Anybody who wondered about the inconsistencies in the behaviour of the Pharisees would not speak up. And, as a matter of fact, a person critical of such holy people would even doubt himself; he would say to himself that the apparent flaws of these good men must be due to his own sinfulness.

So when Jesus ‘went public,’ he condemned these ‘holy’ men openly. He needed to release the common people from their awe and admiration of these deceivers. He loved the common people, and so he gave them the truth.

The deceit never goes on forever. Sooner or later, God allows the mask to fall, and you see that the deacon is a thief and a liar. You see that the priest was an abuser and a liar. You see that the mother-figure was a fraud and a liar.

Notice that in each case of problematic behaviour, you will always be dealing with someone who is a liar. Lying is what creates the context and opportunity for further evil.

Satan is the father of lies. He has no power other than to tell lies.

To the extent that you tell lies, you are imitating his example. You are being his follower. I don’t care how you dress it up or ‘reframe’ it in your head. The fact is, you’re doing it. You are telling people that you really hope for this, but you in fact are hoping for the opposite. You say that you want this, but you want something different. You tell people that you don’t care about that, but you do.

In addition to the I’m-so-nice-but-unable type of lie, people often tell stories where they are the innocent victim.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is such a thing as an innocent victim. The Old Testament account of Job is not a fiction.

But I want you to think, for instance, about all of those stories you’ve heard from the wife about the husband. In all of those stories, the wife is the innocent and selfless victim of an uncaring brute of a man. The truth is, most couples are equal. When you hear one spouse complain about the other, you would be quite right in assuming both are to blame, usually equally, over the course of a week. When you hear the woman complain about her husband, I warrant that in 99 cases out of 100, she is omitting the details about her own contribution to the problem.

I spoke to a lawyer who worked for the federal government. Her responsibility was to write cheques to victims of residential schools. In other words, she was charged with distributing the settlement funds. She listened to the stories of victims, and the worse the account of the suffering or abuse was, the bigger the cheque she would write. She shuddered at the stories that she heard.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this?

In this context, some of the stories would be motivated by money. The teller of the story would say to himself or to herself that the alleged perpetrator, being dead, wouldn’t care what is said now.

As I said, don’t get me wrong. There is such a thing as an innocent victim. The Genesis 37 story of Joseph and his scheming, dastardly brothers is not a fiction. In the case of children institutionalized or otherwise put into the care of uncaring or predatory adults, this is appallingly frequent.

But sometimes, people make up stories. They think that it doesn’t matter, that they aren’t hurting anyone. However, every offence against truth is an offence against God. Every lie is a very serious problem.

And speaking of lawyers, I recently attended a function where a lawyer told me about his past addiction to crack cocaine. I can’t remember how he worded it, but he referred to his addiction in such a way that made it sound as if he really had no choice in the matter. I challenged him on this. Was the choice of beginning the crack cocaine not his? He really didn’t like this, and his hackles went up. He said that I was berating him, and extracted a promise from me that I wouldn’t berate him any further if he told his story of how he got addicted in the first place. I said okay, though I think, on reflection, that I conceded too much with my promise. I should have used the obvious first line of defence, and asked him to define ‘to berate.’

So this is his story. He is in court with a female client charged with a crime. When the court session ends, she asks him to drive her home. He says no initially, but she says that her back and such-and-such make it difficult for her to get home. He agrees and drives. While he is driving, she begins using crack cocaine. The car fills with smoke. He angrily asks her to stop, but she doesn’t. He is instantly addicted. He reaches what she gives as the destination, about which he said to me, “it was probably a crack house.” From then on, he is addicted, but after great efforts through various agencies, he frees himself from his addiction.

I asked him how he got his own crack cocaine. He had a three-part answer.

(Beware of multi-part answers. “I couldn’t come to watch your performance because just when I was almost out the door, I was made to do more cleaning for the worthy charity, and my car was in the shop for repairs.  Plus I was still recovering from a bad case of the stomach flu, and I didn’t want to make anyone else sick.”)

The first was that “there are crack houses everywhere.” The second was that “she took me to a crack house” (so he knew where it was thereafter), and the third was that, “when you’re addicted, you’re addicted — you’ll find it.”

So do you believe his story? By being a nice guy, and agreeing to help a woman in need, he winds up, through no fault of his own, with a crack cocaine addiction.

The problem with being a criminal lawyer is that a lawyer may be tempted to steer the client in the direction of the ‘best’ story. The lawyer knows which facts are most damning, and hopes that those facts don’t surface at trial. The lawyer also sees that if certain other facts were to be introduced, then the case would go better for the client. It becomes a dangerous game. Every lawyer likes to win a case, and a record of winning cases improves your reputation and your business.

But any lawyer who encourages his client to lie is violating his professional duties and is being immoral. Indeed, he may bear more guilt for misleading the listeners than the criminal, because the lawyer chooses the path of deceit in a more calculated way, and because he takes the position of adviser. Those lawyers who find themselves seeking the gray area, where truth is obscured, should find a new line of work, asap.

By contrast, a good criminal defence lawyer does not reinvent the past. There are ways to pursue a rigorous examination of the prosecution’s version and evidence without introducing what is false. Indeed, the dedication to the truth must remain of paramount importance for defence lawyers, who are tempted to win cases, and to help their clients. There is a limit to how much one can help. There’s a limit.

In the same way, there is a limit to how much we can ‘be nice.’ There is a limit, and that limit is truth. There’s a line. On this side, there’s what’s true, and on that side, there’s what’s false.

In North America, many people live by the rule (at least while outside the home) that “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” It’s a problematic concept, and not necessarily Christian, for that matter. Review the New Testament if you don’t believe me. How many times would Jesus’ words be condemned by the modern world as being less than ‘nice’?

It should be: “If you can’t say something true, then don’t say anything at all.”

Being ‘nice’ by lying, by pretending to be who you are not, by pretending to feel what you do not, is wrong. When repeated over time, such lies can add up to paint such an enormously false picture of a person, institution or situation.

Yet these false pictures will one day be exposed. So be honest. Don’t say what you think sounds good; don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Eventually, the truth will come out (because God is merciful and will not allow the charade to continue) and the relationship will be in shambles.

Those who work in service industries, who in fact do not care at all for the people they serve, should also reconsider their line of work. Don’t be a receptionist if you don’t like people. Don’t work for an airline if you envy the people who travel. Look for a new job asap. Some types of work involve many hours of interaction with inanimate objects. Do that instead.

So now I return to Pinocchio. You’ve heard, I think, that the human nose continues to grow even after one reaches adulthood? In fact, they say that the nose grows one’s whole life. Others disagree, and say that it isn’t the case that the cartilage continues to grow; it is merely an issue of gravity making it appear larger. Does it matter whether or not there is growth if the consensus is that it appears larger as we age? The larger appearance, whether real or just perceived, contributes to the increasing ugliness of aging men and women. We all begin with a cute little nose, but years later, it looks really quite different.

As I learn more and more about the human heart and the woeful choices being made generation after generation, I can’t help but wonder about this too.

What if people’s noses do grow (or appear larger) in direct proportion to how much they lie? A lie at a time, and a fraction of a millimeter added on, day after day, week after week, month after month. Uglier and uglier. Maybe it is this way. Maybe it is some sort of visual indicator of lies told. Stranger things than this are true.

But of course, I don’t know. I don’t know if the nose knows. I don’t know if the Pinocchio story has this dimension of truth. What I do know, however, is that God knows. God knows that you often leave the truth aside, and that you don’t need to.

So for the sake of your soul, and maybe your nose, if you can’t say something true, then don’t say anything at all.

Post 294

Sent

The theme for this Sunday’s Mass involves the idea of being sent to deliver a message that God wants delivered. Of course, God could deliver the message himself, but 1) God likes to share, by which I mean that God involves us in his plans. An obvious example of this is that God could have made new humans without the cooperation of humans, but his design involves our participation. 2) God’s request to send a message forms a test for the one who is sent: Will you be faithful to God’s wishes for you to say what he wants said? and 3) Sending a regular person as his messenger forms a test for the ones who hear the message: Will the listener(s) discount or even despise the messenger that God has chosen?

In the first reading (Amos 7: 12-15), we don’t hear the long, long warning that Amos delivers to Jeroboam II and the Israelites. What we do hear is Amazi’ah telling Amos to stop prophesizing in that location. Their names start with the same letters, but Amos is the good guy and Amazi’ah is not. Mind you, Amazi’ah clearly views himself as the Protector of Everything Good. He fulfills the role, played by many throughout history, of defending the status of a corrupt leader, of protecting the status quo, of ‘standing with,’ as we now say, those who need to repent and take the truth to heart. He tells Amos that he is not being appropriately respectful towards the location, which is the home of King Jeroboam II, the king of Israel. Amazi’ah informs Amos that this “is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amazi’ah is ‘educating’ Amos, telling him that it is not a good idea for him to prophesy here. Amazi’ah doesn’t tell him that he cannot prophesy, but he says that he can’t do it there. He tells Amos to move along, move along. He says, “Go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there.” In other words, get lost.

In response, Amos does some educating of his own, informing Amazi’ah (and us) that he isn’t a prophet. He isn’t even the son of a prophet, he says. In other words, it wasn’t his idea to stand there and say things like “Your wife shall be a harlot in the city and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword.” (Those lines are actually just after the reading for tomorrow, so I feel slightly guilty for colouring outside the lines, but there you have it.)

I find Amos’ reply in defence to be quite endearing and even poetic. He says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees.” A sycamore tree has big low branches, and if you tend it (“dress it”) properly, the tree will do a good job of producing something like figs. When Amos talks about his work, he talks about it in present tense. We call him a prophet, and Amazi’ah calls him a prophet, but Amos doesn’t see himself as a prophet. He says “I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.” He doesn’t say that he was a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees. He says “I am a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees.” Amos doesn’t know what the future holds, so I suppose he is expecting to return to that work.

I wonder what kind of flocks he had. Sheep? Goats? I find it amusing that when I type the word “goat,” my computer offers me a picture of one. Here he is: 🐐. And here’s a sheep 🐑. Baa.

Distracted? Me?

So anyway, in his humility and simplicity, Amos describes what happened: “And the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me,`Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”

The words describing God’s actions are quite simple, yet they are strong. God is described as ‘taking’ someone from one place and giving them an entirely new direction: “Go” and an entirely new responsibility: “Prophesy.” The imperative form of the verb is being used here. It’s not “Could you please go?” and it’s not “I would really appreciate it if you would go.”

God says “Go.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus repeats this pattern. He calls those whom he has chosen (“and he called to him the twelve,”) and then he sends them (“and began to send them out two by two.”) He gives specific instructions. Wear sandals and bring a staff (a practical thing, but also shepherd imagery for the future), but don’t bring money, a bag, food or an extra tunic.

Imagine if he were speaking to the modern audience. North Americans can’t go across town without bringing a water bottle. (Drinking water to stay Hydrated = virtue itself.) Jesus would say, “Don’t bring a backpack or a suitcase, wheeled or not. Don’t bring a hat or pants that can convert into shorts. Don’t bring a water bottle, energy bars or a propane stove. Don’t bring a tent. Don’t bring your phone, your credit cards and don’t pack any cash . . . ” Honestly, I think some people would refuse to go, just on the grounds that they couldn’t bring their coffee. (Pun not intended, initially.)

He also gave instructions about what to do if people would “not receive you” and “refuse to hear you.” That was, of course, what happened to Amos. He wasn’t welcome in Bethel, where he went to warn the Israelites and their king. Jesus directs, “Shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” It is interesting to see that there is a response that is not only permitted, but commanded if the one who is sent is rejected. The response is physical, but it signifies something big: God’s displeasure with those who were supposed to receive his messenger and his message.

What was the message? The message was that it was time for people to repent. (“So they went out and preached that men should repent.”) To repent means to evaluate what you have been doing, and to understand that your excuses for wrongdoing are unacceptable. It includes making amends to God, and, in some cases, making amends to people against whom you’ve sinned.

Looking at the Psalm (a section from Psalm 85 will be read this Sunday), there is the idea of listening to God, and God wanting to communicate with us: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts” (85:8). Interestingly, the description of the audience has three parts. Are those three different groups, or are they different ways of saying the same thing? It refers to a) his people, b) his saints, c) those who turn to him in their hearts.

The answer is that God will speak to whomever will listen (“Let those who have ears, hear!”) wherever they are in the world and wherever they are in their life journey. This includes, most importantly, those who are not typically or traditionally viewed as being part of “his people” or “his saints.” When the truth is revealed, won’t everyone be so surprised to discover who has been, in fact, open to God’s message and who has not? Who would have expected that the herdsman over there was paying such close attention to God? In the same way, it will be quite surprising to discover who cares about God and who doesn’t. Picture the seller of braided string bracelets who sits at the street corner, hoping to interest some tourists. Maybe she is the one who is actually attentive to God’s call. Picture the young university student working late into the night. What do you know about her response to God’s call? Then there’s the bus driver who spends his days navigating the bumpy roads in the interior of his country. What does a prophet look like to you? Someone with white hair and flowing robes? Someone standing on the street corner with pamphlets? Ultimately, those who “turn to him in their hearts” (i.e., those who genuinely love and care about God on the inside, as opposed to those who act as though they do, for the sake of gaining admiration or other benefits), are “his people.” They are “his saints.”

And then we have St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about St. Paul lately, and it was all because I was wrestling with the readings for this Sunday. My issue is that St. Paul’s writing is always really loaded. It’s chock-full of words and phrases. I came to realize, in the end, that you don’t have to be concerned if you can’t digest all of it. In almost all cases, even the tiniest portion of a letter from St. Paul is crammed with so many intricate sentences with clauses upon clauses that you would have to read each sentence three, five or ten times to get your mind around even the grammatical structure of each sentence (Where’s the main idea here?). And hearing it read at Mass means that it goes by very quickly. You’re fortunate if you can grasp a couple of concepts as the words zoom past you. There’s a reason that the Church serves only thin wedges of his letters at one sitting.

St. Paul’s letters are, of course, valuable. “They’re letters from a Christian to other Christians, and we’re Christians,” as WiseOne put it. They show the issues that were confronting Christians at the time, and they contain explanations about what the Christian life is supposed to be. Having said all that, St. Paul’s intention was quite focused: he was writing to certain communities, keeping the connection and wanting them to persevere in the faith. His letters are different from the Gospels, for instance, which were intended as a more-or-less public record of the life of Christ.

I spent a long time trying to understand why his writing is the way it is. The style of the letters make the letters quite ‘heavy’ and almost rigid. For this reason, when St. Paul says, “Rejoice,” you can barely appreciate it, because he says it in such a solemn, sophisticated and, well, often long-winded way. It’s not just that the letters are complicated. Complicated things can be very exciting in the way that they reveal the truth. I like the mystical style of St. Pope John Paul II, and I like the philosophical style of Pope Benedict, and I like what I’ve read of Pope Francis’ writing. Their writing styles are rich and full, and although they are often complicated, they’re not circuitous or boring. St. Paul’s writing, on the other hand, doesn’t yield the same proportion of “aha!” moments and “wow, that’s really well put!” moments in relation to the amount of effort one must exert to comprehend it.

That’s my take, anyway.

Let’s go talk to St. Paul.

Blogger: Good afternoon, St. Paul.
St. Paul: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! — You can just call me Paul.
Blogger: Call you Paul?
St. Paul: Sure, yes; we almost always drop the “saint” when we talk to each other in heaven; we’re all saints, so we —
Blogger: It’s understood?
St. Paul: Exactly!
Blogger: Makes sense! Makes sense. Having said that, since I’m, well, still on earth, would it be alright with you if I keep the “Saint” part?
St. Paul: Oh, sure, sure.
Blogger: Just habit, I suppose.
St. Paul: I understand. And, don’t get me wrong: It’s a wonderful title, “Saint.”
Blogger: Well yes, of course. It’s a great title. Better than Mr.
St. Paul: Or Dr.
Blogger: Or Ms.
St. Paul: Or Sir
Blogger: Or Your Highness
St. Paul: Or Your Grace
Blogger: Ooh, yes, I suppose so. Food for thought, there. But anyway, let’s get started. I’d like to review this portion of the reading for tomorrow’s Mass. We’re starting in at line 3 of your letter to the Ephesians.
St. Paul: Not with the salutation? Did they lose the salutation?
Blogger: It’s here, but I guess the salutation isn’t part of the Mass readings this time.
St. Paul: I was just joking.
Blogger: Oh.
St. Paul: I knew they didn’t lose it.
Blogger: Right. I get it! Now let’s jump into it. Looking at the first line, why don’t you do the honours and read it?
St. Paul: Of course; my pleasure. I wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Blogger: And then you added–
St. Paul: Yes, I wrote: “He has blessed us in Christ.”
Blogger: That’s nice.
St. Paul: Yes, yes. I wanted to remind the Ephesians that our blessings flow from and through Christ.
Blogger: And then you mentioned the ways that God has blessed us.
St. Paul: Yes. God blessed us in Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
Blogger: What did you mean by, “in the heavenly places”?
St. Paul: This is a reference to the many types of spiritual blessings that God wishes to bestow upon us. Also, I liked to remind everyone about heaven. People liked to hear about heaven.
Blogger: And then you talked about the idea of being chosen.
St. Paul: Yes, yes, that was the heart of this part, and that’s probably why the Church chose this part of my letter for tomorrow. I wrote, “He blessed us even as he chose us, in him.”
Blogger: The “in him” part is referring to Christ?
St. Paul: Yes, of course.
Blogger: So you’ve mentioned Christ three times now.
St. Paul: Can’t go wrong there!
Blogger: It’s clear whose side you’re on, for sure. Nowadays we typically don’t mention Christ’s name as often as you do in your letters. I mean, there are some people who try to emulate your style, but they’re often going for a ‘look.’ A look of holiness, you know.
St. Paul: Ha ha, yes! I understand. I understand.
Blogger: And then you’ve got this part about “the foundation of the world.”
St. Paul: Ah yes, that’s when God chose us. God chose us “before the foundation of the world.”
Blogger: Sort of a sweeping phrase?
St. Paul: ‘Sweeping’ phrase?
Blogger: The phrase sounds grandiose.
St. Paul: Ah. (Smiles.) Thank you.
Blogger: You seem to like throwing those in.
St. Paul: ‘Throwing’ them in?
Blogger: As in, you like to add phrases into your writing that remind your audience of the significance of the topic, and of the Christian way of life.
St. Paul: Ah, yes, well, of course! Of course! It’s necessary. The Ephesians, well, you know, they were like everyone else. It’s necessary to remind, to teach always. When you are not there in person, especially it is essential to teach constantly. Every word is an opportunity. Every phrase is a chance, not to be squandered.
Blogger: And then you wrote that God chose us “to be holy and blameless before him.” And here, you’re not saying that you and the Christians, new and old, are holy and blameless, are you?
St. Paul: Well, we try to be.
Blogger: But you’re not bragging, are you?
St. Paul: What do you mean, ‘bragging’?
Blogger: Are you being boastful? The modern ear, you know, is on guard against boasting, especially from Christians.
St. Paul: I boast only in my infirmities.
Blogger: Ha ha. Good one!
St. Paul: (Smiles)
Blogger: Just to interrupt myself again. Do you joke around more now that you’re in heaven? I mean, in comparison to how you were while on earth?
St. Paul: Heaven is very fun. A “blast,” as people say. Lots of joking around; lots of laughing.
Blogger: Were you a serious fellow, while on earth?
St. Paul: I was.
Blogger: Not so much joking?
St. Paul: Not so much, but I was joyful on the inside.
Blogger: Seriously?
St. Paul: Of course! (Smiling)
Blogger: You wrote what God chose us to be.
St. Paul: Yes, I wrote a good section here. I wrote: “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Blogger: That’s quite a mouthful.
St. Paul: Mouthful?
Blogger: It’s a lot — you know, a lot of concepts in there.
St. Paul: It is, but I really wanted it to be complete. A person has to exert an effort, you know. These letters — these letters had to last a long time. I couldn’t write every day. I needed to put in as much as I could. To teach constantly, that was my way.
Blogger: Here you mention “the Beloved,” that’s—
St. Paul: Yes, that’s Jesus.
Blogger: And I see the phrase “according to.”
St. Paul: According to, yes.
Blogger: You really like that phrase, didn’t you? In the lines for Sunday, I see it a lot of times. You wrote, “according to the purpose of his will” and “according to the riches of his grace” and “according to his purpose” and “according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things” and “according to the counsel of his will.”
St. Paul: It’s a connector. It’s to help me explain how things are and how they came to be that way.
Blogger: You weren’t worried that it was too complicated?
St. Paul: Oh, no, no, no. Not too complicated. It explains. The more information, the better. If a person doesn’t understand it the first way, perhaps they will understand the second way. If they don’t understand the second way, then perhaps they will understand the third way.
Blogger: And then what about this: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.”
St. Paul: Ah yes, that’s a good part. And it presents even better in the original.
Blogger: Was that section intended as —
St. Paul: Yes, as educational, to teach, to remind them of everything that God has given us, through Jesus
Blogger: And then —
St. Paul: Then it is: “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Blogger: Whew! That’s a lot!
St. Paul: You think so?
Blogger: Yeah!
St. Paul: You would have preferred it shorter? Simpler?
Blogger: Well, I mean, the heart of the sentence is rather hard to find.
St. Paul: But they liked long letters.
Blogger: They liked long letters?
St. Paul: I think so.
Blogger: Well they really are pretty long. Did you know that there are websites with statistics about the Bible, and I found out that this letter of yours is 2,422 words long?
St. Paul: Really!
Blogger: You’re surprised?
St. Paul: I’m surprised that someone would have counted. A person doesn’t have much time on that side of heaven.
Blogger: Well, it would have been counted by a computer.
St. Paul: Ah, of course.
Blogger: But don’t you think that’s a lot of words?
St. Paul: It’s a good length.
Blogger: It must have taken a while?
St. Paul: Yes, but it was worth it. I’m just glad that the letter didn’t get lost on the way, after all that writing.
Blogger: Did that ever happen?
St. Paul: Yes.
Blogger: Oh, that would have been a disappointment.
St. Paul: It was hard at the time, but I never lose things anymore. (Smiles.)
Blogger: No, I guess not!
St. Paul: Heaven is really incredible. It’s even better than I said.
Blogger: I bet it is.
St. Paul: You should come!
Blogger: I will! But first I have work to do.
St. Paul: Blogging?
Blogger: Yes, and other things.
St. Paul: Like what?
Blogger: Gardening, cooking, to name a couple. And with cooking, I’ve been trying a new thing lately.
St. Paul: A new thing?
Blogger: Yeah, it’s really exciting. I switch countries as I go through the week. Sundays is Polish and Ukrainian food, and Mondays is Spanish and South American food. On Tuesdays I do Korean and Asian food, and so on.
St. Paul: No Mediterranean food?
Blogger: Oh yes, that’s on Thursdays. It’s usually Italian, but last week I did Greek.
St. Paul: I like olives.
Blogger: Do you eat them in heaven?
St. Paul: Of course! All varieties, including some I had never tasted while on earth.
Blogger: Wow.
St. Paul: It’s pretty amazing. Eye has not seen.
Blogger: Ha ha!
St. Paul: Seriously, you should come.
Blogger: I will, I will. I just want everyone to come as well.
St. Paul: Don’t worry. They will, eventually.
Blogger: Sigh. Yeah, but to watch them, you’d think they have no plans.
St. Paul: Ha ha, I know. But God has plans; it’s okay.
Blogger: And he’ll get his way!
St. Paul: Absolutely!
Blogger: Okay, I guess we should keep going. Where was I? Oh yes, I was saying that the sentences are so dense. Take the last sentence, for instance. Pardon me for saying it, but by the time I get to the end of the sentence, I feel like I’ve lost the thread.
St. Paul: Really?
Blogger: Maybe it’s just a different style.
St. Paul: A different cuisine.
Blogger: More olives?
St. Paul: More olives.
Blogger: And feta.
St. Paul: Can’t forget the feta. Goat cheese is always a classic.
Blogger: And was it a Jewish style? I have heard that in the oral tradition, it was typical to rely on repetition. The speaker would say things three times in order to make the details stick?
St. Paul: Well yes, of course. It’s a good tradition. Always repeat. Repeat and repeat. People need that.
Blogger: People get distracted, and they forget.
St. Paul: Exactly!
Blogger: But to return to this sentence, it seems to me that the heart of it is: “For he has made known to us the mystery of his will, to unite all things.”
St. Paul: Yes, things in heaven and earth.
Blogger: But your version has so much extra. Yours is: “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
St. Paul: (Smiles) It’s a good sentence.
Blogger: But it could have been more simple, easier to read!
St. Paul: Each sentence should be an elegant meal. I have included all of the ingredients and combined them just so.
Blogger: You wanted to make beautiful, elevated sentences?
St. Paul: Precisely! To encourage, to inspire! I poured myself into those letters. Like a libation.
Blogger: But you don’t talk like that now.
St. Paul: I could, but I’m talking to you, and you, well, you aren’t drawn to that style.
Blogger: No. It’s kind of, well —
St. Paul: But you do use a lot of words.
Blogger: Well —
St. Paul: 2,422 words is a short blog post for you.
Blogger: But they’re not complicated words, with so many clauses! Not usually, anyway!
St. Paul: Ah, I see.
Blogger: Are you allowed to tease people when you’re in heaven?
St. Paul: Ah, well, interesting question. The verb “to tease” is not complicated, but the subject can be. Jokes in heaven are never offensive, and are never hurtful, but there are jokes in abundance. Friendly, funny banter is a source of great amusement, and we enjoy each others’ sense of humour. We’re all really relaxed and we laugh a lot. Jokes are part of the fun. Ear has not heard . . .
Blogger: Sounds delightful. But I should continue with your letter, because those parishes that read the longer version will read verses 11, 12,13 and 14 as well. Shall we proceed?
St. Paul: Yes, please!
Blogger: In the next section, you make a distinction between the very first believers in Christ, and those who have come to believe later?
St. Paul: Here I have used two parts, but the reward is the same.
Blogger: It says that those “who first hoped in Christ” have been “destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory,” and that those who believed later, are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Then you switch again to the “we” form, saying that being sealed with the Holy Spirit is “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.”
St. Paul: Yes, we all share in the reward.
Blogger: Of the promises of Christ.
St. Paul: Of the promises of Christ, and, through Christ, his bride, the Church.
Blogger: Heaven being one of the promises?
St. Paul: Heaven being one of them.
Blogger: How does this excerpt from your letter fit in with the Gospel and the other reading and Psalm?
St. Paul: I thought that was for you to figure out?
Blogger: Well, yes, I was working on it, but since you’re here . . .
St. Paul: Very well. Christ has chosen some to hear the word first, but of those who believe, there are some who are then sent to bring the message to others. We see that Amos was called in a unique way, and Jesus also sent the twelve out with specific instructions. Yet in another sense, everyone is ‘sent,’ because we are all called to bear witness with our lives that we are faithful to Christ, in accordance with our state in life and our circumstances.
Blogger: You said “in accordance with.”
St. Paul: It’s a good phrase.
Blogger: I’m at 4,334 words.
St. Paul: Can I add something?
Blogger: Of course.
St. Paul: The other element here is the overflowing goodness that God has in store for those who turn to him, which are shown by the words of the Psalm, “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” The imagery suggests both bounty and providence, for it says, “our land will yield its increase,” and accordingly, about the ground, the psalmist says, “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,” and about the sky, the psalmist prophesies: “Righteousness will look down from the sky.” It is about an end to corruption and unfaithfulness. The psalmist says, “Yea, the Lord will give what is good.”
Blogger: You say that the psalmist “prophesies,” so this is intended to tell us about the future, or has it already happened, with the arrival of Christ?
St. Paul: The words of the Psalm are mysterious; certainly the arrival of Christ is a fulfillment of the words, but the Psalms are never ‘exhausted,’ as it were, and all who believe in him can look forward to “our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,” as I told the Ephesians. The words of the Psalm can be understood as describing not only the reign of Christ but also the Christian inheritance, the idea of “heavenly places.”
Blogger: I understand. Thank you, St. Paul.
St. Paul: You’re very welcome! Thank you for having me. Best wishes with your cooking, and all else!
Blogger: Thank you!

Nice fellow. Very congenial. Surprisingly easy to talk to. I like him.

And I like Amos too. Amos, herdsman, dresser of sycamore trees, prophet.

🐑 🐑 🌳 🐐 🐐 🌳 🐑 🐑

 

Post 293

Seven Steps: Reflections on Being a Prophet

Here’s my WikiHow guide to being a prophet, inspired by the readings for tomorrow, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Without intending it, I’ve got seven steps on the seventh day of the seventh month.

Step One
There is no step one. There is no reliable way to be ‘prepared.’ You never know when God might call you. More importantly, you never know how. By that, I mean that God’s plans for you will very likely run in a direction quite opposite to the one you thought you were going. When he calls you, he may ask you to begin doing something that you didn’t think you would ever do. Moses viewed himself as someone unable to speak well, yet he was called to speak to the Egyptian pharaoh, and he spoke many, many times after that, to all of the people of Israel. David was a shepherd boy when he was anointed king. St. Joan of Arc was thirteen years old, standing in her father’s garden, when she received visions of angels. There are so many examples. Furthermore, only God will know whether you are the type of person he wants for a particular mission. You may not think you are good enough, but he has plans for everyone.

So carry on. Do whatever you are doing. Preferably, do what you’re supposed to be doing, but God may still call you to be his prophet even if you’re doing what you’re not supposed to be doing — just ask St. Paul.

Oh, and another thing. Know that God calls everyone for something. He may not call you to be a prophet in the specific Jonah-in-the-streets type of way, but there are many job openings in God’s business, and he is always hiring. Wherever there is a scrap of good will, God will use it. You are mistaken if you believe that you are ready to do God’s will, but that he hasn’t yet noticed. He knows, and he will use you to your full potential.

Step Two
Receive the invitation. In the first reading for tomorrow, God says to Ezekial, “I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The people also are impudent and stubborn.” (Ezekial 2:3) God is complaining that his love for his people has not been returned, that everything has been entirely one-sided. He is, in many ways, a lonely God. He confides in the one he sends.

The invitation may have supernatural qualities. (Generally, the more unusual the mission, the more likely that it will be accompanied by supernatural elements.) You may be shown a vision of something or you may hear God’s voice. When you have a vision, it can be that you picture it vividly in your mind, the way you can picture something in your imagination when you want. The difference is that when you imagine something, you are the artist; you are the director. You decide what elements to include and exclude. You make it the way you want. When God gives you a vision, you do not choose what the elements are. It appears before you as if you are watching a story. As a result, you don’t always know the context. You don’t know the context because you didn’t build the scenes. Most significantly, there is no date-stamp on visions. You almost never know when these things will happen. Indeed, a vision can include information about something that has happened, is happening now somewhere you cannot humanly see it, or something that will happen if certain other things do or do not happen. A vision is mysterious in the sense that it signifies more than can be understood by the recipient. Like a poem, some of the meaning is obvious and other parts are perplexing, but complete understanding is elusive, and may not come for quite a long time. Moving on to the idea of a voice, sometimes called “interior locution,” God’s voice is usually not audible on the ‘outside,’ through the sense of hearing. Yet it is best understood as hearing because usually there are words. These words could, in theory, be written down as they are received. However, sometimes the meaning is made clear, but in order to write it down, you would have to choose your own words to reflect the meaning. For this reason, you will see that the saints will use phrases like, “I was made to understand.” It’s a way of expressing that God revealed or explained something, but that the words are your own.

The reason that God uses supernatural signs and wonders to begin a mission is that they signify, in a memorable way, an alteration of the normal course of events. They serve as a way to strengthen and prepare the one he has chosen, and over the course of time, the memory of the supernatural invitation can serve as a comfort when things become more difficult.

Step Three
Follow the instructions that God gives. These instructions may be quite specific, but they may also be open-ended. He may set you loose upon the world to do what seems to you to be right to do. He may even reassure you that your own preferences and instincts (for lack of a better word), are in keeping with his will, along the theme of “love and do what you will.” Both styles of mission, the specific and the general, have their challenges.

Step Four
Enjoy the interaction with God. In this one verse, at 2 Corinthians 12:7, St. Paul twice wrote the word “elated,” when describing how it felt to receive “the abundance of revelations.” While it is true that people can pray and try to understand what God is saying in response, often this is difficult. Personally, I used to regularly consult people who I felt were wise and holy. It was comforting to be able to question someone in person. I believe that it was a good practice and supplement to prayer, and I am thankful that God used those people in my life as a source of advice. When you approach someone with good faith, hoping that God will speak through them and enlighten you, then it is unlikely that you will be disappointed. In any case, prayer is, for most people, hard work, because you have to concentrate on what you are trying to say to God, and when you think that you know what God wants, you may still question whether your understanding is correct. We perceive a ‘divider’ between us and the supernatural God — you could call it a veil or a lattice. What a change, then, when this veil is moved aside somewhat, for just a moment or on several occasions. What a change to be able to converse with God in an easier way, where answers are more distinct. Of course St. Paul is elated.

Step Five
Experience the suffering. When people talk of the suffering of a prophet, they refer to the idea of being kicked out of town, or generally hated. We’ll get to that, but right now I want to explain something else. In the same way that there are supernatural gifts, there are supernatural sufferings. God does not give supernatural gifts without a counterbalancing component of supernatural suffering. This suffering is not the typical kind, that we all receive as we live out our lives. These are sufferings which are hidden and painful for an entirely different set of reasons. As an example of a type of supernatural suffering, I could give the example of heightened sensitivity to sin and evil — supernatural vision, if you will. That may not sound too bad, but here’s my analogy. When I was a child, I once asked my father whether he thought it would be neat if we could see (with our unaided eye) germs (bacteria, viruses). He said no. And indeed, if you stop and picture it for a moment, you can see that it would be horrible. But you see, sins are like germs, and being able to see them more clearly can be a kind of supernatural suffering. But there are many other types of supernatural suffering. St. Paul refers to the way that he suffers, and the following words have caused a lot of speculation: “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).” People wonder what kind of suffering he had. They have latched on to the word “flesh,” and said that probably St. Paul suffered from some type of lustful temptation. That’s not it. Lust is a normal temptation, along with greed and envy and all the other germs. It’s normal to be tempted by lust. I think for a man, hormones produce an almost-constant background noise, and for a woman, hormones produce a powerful cyclical gift/problem. St. Paul was not referring to this. The word “flesh,” is there to show you how close the problem is to him, and how painful it is. He’s making an analogy for something which is so difficult to express: “A thorn was given me in the flesh” is something that people can understand, even if they cannot understand the spiritual version of it. Who wants to have a thorn in the flesh? Being pricked by a rose thorn is painful; imagine if the thorn stayed there for any length of time. St. Paul is referring to a kind of spiritual suffering, and I think it is the constant harassment of a spiritually evil being, a demon who is given permission to harass and annoy with all manner of methods. The description that St. Paul uses is, “a messenger of Satan.” I don’t know what type of harassment he received from this being, but it was bad enough that he asked God, three times, to remove this suffering.

Step Six
Experience the suffering. And yes, I repeat this intentionally. In addition to supernatural suffering, there is, invariably, suffering which is not viewed as supernatural, because it is familiar. It happens. The life of a human person does involve a lot of suffering — ask Jesus. We too often forget that, as a person, he would have experienced all of those problems that we do. He would have had, at some point, the hiccups, and not known how to get rid of them. He would have sneezed; he would have coughed. He would have gotten cold and had goosebumps. He would have gotten too hot and had beads of sweat on his skin and in his hair. When he drank water, sometimes it would have gone down the wrong way. He sometimes would have stubbed his toe or gotten a pebble in his sandals. He would have dropped things and had things fall on him. He would have been thirsty and he would have been hungry, sometimes. He would have had skin rashes and scrapes. God allowed him to experience all of our weaknesses. But in addition to all this, he suffered all of the hardships associated with being a prophet. He would have suffered all of the rejection referred to by St. Paul: “insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Notice especially the word “contempt,” in the Psalm. Contempt means something more than hating. It suggests hating something that is beneath you. The hater perceives himself or herself as ‘above’ the other. When you feel contempt for someone, then you have no mercy, and you feel that there is no need to show any kind of respect. In Psalm 123, the speaker begs God for an end of this kind of suffering: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Too long our soul has been sated with the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud.”

In the Gospel, Jesus experiences suffering of this kind. Notice that Jesus “marvels” at how people in his home town reject him. Amazement is also a human experience, and Jesus clearly experienced it sometimes. God is all-knowing, but God did not reveal everything to Jesus all the time. Jesus also experienced the ‘veil’ of separation from God. Jesus was not quite expecting the experience that he had in his home town. Naturally, in addition to being amazed, he was also saddened, both for them and for himself, and would have felt the feelings described in the Psalm. (It is no accident that the Psalm is paired with this Gospel reading.) Jesus was not someone without feelings. He was not untouchable. Both physically and emotionally, Jesus could be hurt.

The people of his home town rejected him because they knew him. They believed that they knew everything that there was to know about him, and so they were confused about the gifts that they saw. Notice that they speak among themselves, and do not ask Jesus their questions. They acknowledge his gifts and his abilities: “And many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands!” (Mark 6:2) However, Jesus is spoken about in the third person. They do not speak directly to him, because they do not want to praise him or even interact with him. So their questions remain unanswered. If their hearts were not clouded with jealousy and contempt, they would have seen that there are two possibilities to answer their question. The first is that Jesus had more abilities than they realized, that these gifts had been hidden for many years. The second is that Jesus was called for a special mission.

Exclusion is a powerful tool, and is often immoral. It is, for example, always immoral to banish or forcibly remove someone from their homeland. Our home country is closely tied to our identity, and to require that someone leave the region that he calls home is a violation of human dignity. Exclusion from a group is also serious, and those who exclude wrongly, pleased with their own power, will one day have to account for their actions. It will not go well for them, because, in addition to answering for the suffering they caused the one who has been excluded, they will also need to answer for the gifts and graces which they lost the group as a whole. We are, after all, meant to share our gifts with one another, and those who prevent this from happening will have a great deal to answer for.

What I find quite interesting is how painfully OBVIOUS it is to the home town detractors that Jesus is nobody special. They feel that their proof is conclusive: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” They are so entirely certain that they’ve got him completely figured out. The fact that they can name his parents, his relatives (incidentally, “brother” in Scripture ≠ “brother” in modern usage), and his occupation translates, for them, into knowing who he is and what he can do and — more importantly — shouldn’t be allowed to do. What arrogance! Who can really know another person? Who can really know how another person is called? By putting Jesus into a box, they put God into a box. In the same way, if we wrongly discredit a prophet, or someone who is called by God for a particular role, judging that they are acting of their own accord, and not in accordance with God’s will, then we limit God. You say, “Certainly God would never choose him; he’s a such-and-such.” You say, “Anyone can see, from such-and-such, that she is sinful,” but you are blind to the truth, and the kingdom of heaven has caught you unawares. Trust me, God can paint with colours you haven’t seen, and speak with words you’ve never heard. Who would have predicted that the rosary would one day include the mysteries we call ‘luminous’? Similarly, maybe one day there will be not just an Old Testament and a New Testament, but also a whole other section, making it a tripartite holy book. I can’t say; I’m just saying that the future is impossible to predict, and God can do what is so unthinkable that we don’t even stop to consider whether such a thing would happen or not. While we’re wondering whether the answer will be A or B, God suddenly brings about Δ. And the corollary to this is that God uses whomever he chooses. When we look at Scripture, or read about the saints, everything seems normal now, and we can tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, but when it was happening, everything was far less clear. There was no Voice-Over Narrator or Ominous Music. Events and individuals were not yet unpacked. Nobody knew that the sea would divide, and nobody knew that the girl was going to lead an army. Believe me: God loves the element of surprise, and he loves the element of Right Under Your Nose. He can hide his chosen people in plain view. Bethlehem was bustling the night Jesus was born. When the King of Kings entered the world, who paid attention? And consider Mary, who went about her day without fanfare. The Mother of God had no paparazzi.

Jesus’ words, in the face of rejection and disbelief, were about the plight of the prophet: “And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house'” (Mark 6:4).

Step Seven
Receive your reward. By “reward,” I do not mean a human reward. There may appear to be no human reward at all. Look at the readings. In the first reading, God says that the people may not listen. He says, “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that there has been a prophet among them.” God is no fool; he knows that the people may refuse to hear. In the Psalm, the psalmist talks about receiving contempt over an extended period of time. In the second reading, St. Paul talks about weakness that shows no signs of leaving: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” And in the Gospel, Jesus leaves his home town without much in the way of miracles. You would say, in all these cases, that the missions have the appearance of failure.

Yet the prophet is not motivated by a reward. The prophet is motivated by a desire to do the will of the God who sends him. Sometimes God sends his message through angels, sometimes there is a miracle, sometimes people have dreams, and sometimes there is writing on the wall — just ask Belshazzar. And of course, there are more ways; God is not limited to a certain number of styles or formats. Being a prophet is about cooperating with God to say what God wants to say at a particular time to a particular individual or group of people. For the prophet, the message is actually secondary, and so are any of the supernatural benefits or sufferings. The prophet’s focus is on saying or doing whatever God wants said or done. It’s for this reason that St. Paul can write, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me . . . when I am weak, then I am strong.” Living this is difficult, but he knows the proper response.

Nevertheless, God is good, and he doesn’t forget his prophets, who look to him. He doesn’t forget about those who have done his will. Having learned not to put his faith in human beings (I sometimes say, “They’re all bad, but none of them are all bad”), the prophet looks to God for mercy, and hope in God is never misplaced. Despite what appears to be excessive delay, God is eager to help those who look to him. As a matter of fact, he is the generous gift-giver who can hardly wait for the day that you open your gifts.

The Psalm talks about the servant watching and waiting for God to act. The servant here represents the prophet, who attentively watches for any sign that the time has come for his promised reward. Between you and me, I might be tempted to suggest, instead of the word “servant,” the word “dog,” because it would help with the visualization — is there a creature as attentive as the indoor dog, who watches your every move for a sign that it’s time for a walk or a treat? — but the point is that the prophet waits. “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he have mercy upon us.”

Post 292

Canada Day 2018

Someone found me yesterday
I was the one who had sent a letter at Christmas to his father
Year after year
His father died in 2002
But I sent my greetings not knowing
That the man who had married my aunt had been buried at sixty

Merry Christmas I said every year to the Hindi man
Who had smiled a wide smile many years past
“Baby Duck is just water” as he filled up the glass

He couldn’t find me on Facebook couldn’t find me online
But he carried a folder with received letters and photos
The address was there; maybe she was here?

This man from the east
Stopped people on the street
Showed them my photo as he got nearer and nearer

Have you seen this woman?
He asked two different people
Because my address confused — a place and a way and a wynd

They looked at him — elegant garments, gemstones set in golden rings, and an iPhone for each hand
They said they’d never seen clothes such as these
Where are you from?

This man is from India
He brought me overly generous gifts in multitudes of three
And we talked until nearly midnight

At midnight there were signs in the sky
Fireworks to mark the day of a different kind of birth
He apologized for not telling me the news of the death
He wanted the letters to arrive uninterrupted
The letters that said Merry Christmas to the Hindi man
Year after year