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Secular Law and Religious Morality (Part III)

September 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Responsibility of Christian Officials and Activists: Benefit of the Law

I wrote two articles on this subject quite a while ago detailing my thoughts on the role of government and how Christians should aim to influence it (Part I and Part II). The recent discussions of Kim Davis’ refusal to allow issuance of wedding licenses in Kentucky reminded me that there are some other aspects of our faith and politics that are worthy of discussion. Namely:

  1. The responsibility of Christian government officials in executing their office consistent with both their faith AND their job description and;
  2. The responsibility of those Christians who choose to lobby, blog and express their opinions for freedom, logic and Natural Law to stand up (charitably) against illogical, uncharitable or inappropriate points of view claiming Christian or Biblical legitimacy.

Let me explain further:

1.)

My previous posts talked about the role of government and what I think Christian citizens should advocate for in that government. There are, however, some additional caveats for those who chose to take a position of public trust and are employees of the State (especially those who are officials of some sort). In America, government employees do have a right to express their opinions and actively seek changes to the law of the land- as private citizens. They do not, however, have the right to ignore their government appointed duties because they disagree with them. This is a responsibility that we, as Christians, should cherish and regard highly. We should love the fact that police officers are required to protect us, regardless of their personal beliefs, when we legally march for the dignity of the unborn. That the prison guard can’t just let a woman go because he feels that she is innocent, or doesn’t like the crime she was convicted of. We had the right to be outraged when President Obama decided that he didn’t like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), so he just wasn’t going to enforce it (before the Supreme Court ruled on it). Deciding not to do your job is not a constitutional right.

If rules, laws or orders change such that a person finds it unethical to perform their duties, they have a responsibility to voice their concern through the proper channels and, if necessary, step down. If the situation is so egregious that they feel allowing anyone to perform said duty would be gravely dangerous to innocent lives and/or an actual violation of laws and rules (Hitler’s Final Solution and the My Lai Massacre come to mind), then they should take a stand in whatever manner they think best, but know that they are breaking the law and subject to its punishments or relief from assignment at the very least.   Generally speaking though, our default should be to obey and enforce the law, even if we don’t agree with it. That’s why Paul instructs us in the letter to the Romans (who were not exactly the most Christian friendly regime in history) “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.   So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.  For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.  The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.  Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.” (Romans 13:1-6

Sir Thomas More is one of my favorite Saints. He was a dedicated family man, intelligent statesman (Lord High Chancellor of England) who kept his honor when all those around him were crooked even though it ultimately cost him is life. A great movie about him was filmed in the 1960s called “A Man for All Seasons”. It’s a bit long, but I found it fascinating. There was one scene though that stuck with me and seems particularly applicable to this case at hand. In this clip, More discusses the idea of the benefit of the Law, and who should receive such benefit. I don’t know if More actually said anything in this movie clip, but I think it’s a valid point either way.

Benefit of the Law

No system of government on this side of eternity will ever have perfect laws. There are some that we are going to disagree with and others that we will be grateful for. We might not like that the Supreme Court determined that same sex marriages must be recognized in all 50 states (I certainly didn’t and expressed my views on the topic here well before that ruling), but that is now the law of the land and officials of the States subject to the constitution have a requirement to uphold it. If a clerk doesn’t feel comfortable with issuing licenses to same sex couples, it should be the prerogative of that office/ governor as to whether to make accommodation for that request and always have another clerk on staff who can issue the license, or to make it a requirement of the job and wish that clerk well on his or her way out the door (or into another position). Either way, if a same sex couple that meets the legal requirements for marriage walks in to the office, they are entitled to walk out with a marriage certificate. They aren’t entitled to any particular signature or any particular person issuing the license, but they are entitled to the piece of paper and associated benefits.

I do understand that Kim Davis was in a bit of a pickle since her name was on the marriage licenses regardless of who issued them in her office. Prison did seem a bit harsh from what I could tell compared to simply removing her from office, and I’m glad that (at least as far as I can tell at the time of writing this) her name was removed from the marriage licenses and all sides seem to be at peace, but the amount of outcry that came up touting her as some kind of hero for religious rights was extremely disturbing to me. We as Christians, and really as Americans in general, must be very careful in glorifying certain acts of civil disobedience. It will likely not be long before the tides are turned and Christians are the ones just asking to be given their legal right with an atheist or Muslim official who chooses his or her own personal beliefs over the law of the land. On that day, people will look back on the way this Kim Davis case was handled/ portrayed and (rightfully) call us hypocrites if we handle it any different. Which brings me to my second point…

2.)

For those who take the time make political comments on Facebook, blog about Christian and political topics or take an active role in your political system (all of which I generally encourage), we have a responsibility to speak up when representation of our faith is being hijacked by viewpoints that fail tests of logic or universal application.

It’s tempting to take the approach of letting things go when people take extreme or illogical arguments that still end up with the same opinion you have. After all, at least they are arguing on the good side, right? The problem with this mentality is that people who are opposed or independent on the issue hear that extreme or illogical argument, and they consider it the best that our side has to offer. So they consider our whole argument BS. The best chance we have is to do what we can to ensure those people hear other Christians willing to speak up and say, “I also disagree with this law, but you’re going overboard in this situation.” Or “I recognize the divine inspiration of the Bible too, but US Constitution doesn’t and we owe a different approach to the legal debates, especially in public forums.” Or “We may consider this or that to be a sin, but that doesn’t mean that we should treat ANYONE with less dignity than they deserve as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.” We will probably not drown out or overpower the voices that we feel are misrepresenting us – Liberal media is way too eager to jump on opportunities to publicize Christian arguments and actions that they know won’t stand up to logical scrutiny.  We shouldn’t set our hopes there though. Our goal should be to remain faithful and consistent (and open to correction ourselves). When we do this, we have the opportunity to convince friends that they are taking the wrong approach in defending the faith that way and will foster an environment that invites rational people with other opinions to see that it is possible for a conservative Christian/ Catholic to be both faithful and rational (and conservative) and maybe even start a conversation with us(usually a REALLY good conversation).

I should take a moment to point out directly, that the Bible is a fantastic resource for us as Christians to shape our moral compass and determine what we think should be a rule for our society. It is not, however a very good tool for convincing anyone with even the faintest idea of our Constitution, how to proceed in determining the law of the land. When we are talking about civil laws and government responsibilities, we should be arguing from universally acceptable (or nearly universal) precepts of natural law, ethics, and reason. We must acknowledge that the United States of America is not a Christian nation. Officially speaking, it never was.

The Bible and teachings of the Church may have had enough clout to pass a bill 50 or 100 years ago, but those days are long gone and that’s not entirely a bad thing. God gave us minds that can reason and dissect situations and he wants us to use them. The aspects of morality and society that have a place in civil law can and should be deduced from reason. The Bible is meant to be a light guiding us, not a crutch supporting us.

AMDG

Secular Law and Religious Morality Part I and Part II

P.S. If the clip piqued your interest, you can watch the full movie here……“A Man for All Seasons”

P.P.S. I probably should take a moment to be clear that I hold no particular educational qualifications for submitting my thoughts above and much more accomplished, learned, and dedicated theologians hold a different opinion. Here is one of the more logical and at least dogmatically justified opinions on why Kim Davis should be regarded as a hero. I agree with most of his foundational logic, just not the application as it applies to a government official conferring a civil right. Tim Staples: Kim Davis is a Hero If you read this far and also think I’m wrong, please leave a comment and convince me!

A Gracious Cycle (2 Peter 1: 5-9)

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 1:5-9

There are a few verses like this in the New Testament (and the Old Testament) that are just packed with meaning. More often than not, when I read them or hear them at church, I loose most of it because I don’t really dissect what God is trying to tell me. Despite my best effort (or maybe because I’m not really giving my best effort), I usually process these verses like the Charlie Brown teacher when all you hear/ read is generic vowels and consonants (and maybe cue a church bell or some other holy gesture in this case). I think I let myself down rather often in this regard as it pertains to my life of faith and I doubt I’m the only one. So in this blog, I thought I would take the time to look at what I think Peter is trying to tell me in these two sentences.

One advantage that I have when I read this and study it, is that I don’t need to look at it in order. In this case, I think the second sentence helps me frame the first. Peter is telling me that following the prescription in the first sentence, and increasing frequency and magnitude, will protect me from being stagnant [idle] or ineffective [unfruitful] in my relationship with God [knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ]. This relationship with God or knowledge of Christ is what many would consider to be the foundation of faith. Interestingly enough, that’s the first word in the chain that Peter discusses in the quote. Coincidence? I think not…

Before I get into the 8 specific characteristics that Peter emphasizes to Christians, I need to understand the relationship between each of them. Each of these words has a “supplement”al role to the others.

sup·ple·ment  noun \ˈsə-plə-mənt\ : something that is added to something else in order to make it complete. [Merriam-Webster online]

Other bible translations say “add to” (add later word to previous word) or “support” (support earlier word with later word). I need to think of each word that follows as something that strengthens, empowers and completes the previous word in my life.

 

So if I were to paraphrase: if you want stronger faith, be more virtuous. If you want to be more virtuous, be more knowledgeable. If you want to be more knowledgeable, have more self-control. If you want more self-control, have more endurance. If you want more endurance, have more devotion. Strengthen your devotion through mutual affection. And strengthen your mutual affection though love.

How does virtue strengthen our faith? The way I see it, living virtuously causes us to actually take ownership of our faith instead of allowing it to just be something in our head. Many people claim to have faith in God, but until we LIVE that faith, it doesn’t mean much. This is what the book of James refers to in Chapter 2 when it says, “faith without works is dead.” James isn’t talking about works of the law, he’s talking about virtuous living.

How does knowledge strengthen our virtue? Much like faith can be misguided into a mere belief and therefore grows stronger or more complete through virtue, virtue can be mistaken as mere volunteerism and easily veer off track if it is not fortified with understanding of what motivates the virtuous life and what does or does not actually constitute virtuous living. Oh yeah, and it doesn’t just strengthen virtue, it will also strengthen our faith to know more about who Jesus was, what the bible and the church teaches and WHY I believe what I believe.…

How does self-control strengthen knowledge? We don’t gain knowledge overnight, and studying virtue and the faith is rarely fun. It takes discipline to develop that stronger knowledge. Come to think of it, self-control helps us develop knowledge, but is also directly beneficial to virtue and faith as well. Funny…

And how does endurance supplement self-control? That discipline and self-control doesn’t come any easier than the knowledge does, and it will take endurance to keep trying and develop the habits of self-control so that they become a part of our character. And you know what, endurance in my faith, virtue and knowledge is actually a really good thing too. I think I’m noticing a pattern…

What good is devotion to endurance? Devotion gives passion and perspective to our efforts. It’s that fuel that we need sometimes when we just don’t WANT to. All that endurance, self-control, virtue, knowledge and faith seems REALLY BORING or inconvenient sometimes. If I don’t have a sense of devotion, none of it will last long…

How does mutual affection fit in? It’s that emotional factor and interpersonal relationship with other Christians and the world at large that keeps us from becoming a selfish, greedy jerk who thinks that all of the above is “all about me”.

And “What’s love got to do with it?” It’s not an emotion (second-hand or otherwise). It’s a selfless allegiance of the heart, formed and solidified by the will. It’s a decision for the good of the other and it’s the fuel that makes the world go round. It’s the relationship that God IS. It’s how we were made, why we were made and what we were made for. If I don’t have love, I’m nothing (see 1Cor13).

When all is said and done, Peter is inviting us solidify our faith by making it a habitual pursuit of both mind and body, will and emotion. It has to be an integral part to everything that we do. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only formula that can make our whole life worthwhile.

AMDG

Secular Law and Religious Morality (Part II)

March 28, 2014 Leave a comment

I left off in the first part of this post with the statement that the primary role of government should be to protect its citizens.  This is where a government MUST legislate morality. I often hear people say, “You cannot/ should not legislate morality…” and you may have gotten the impression from Part I of this blog that this was my view as well, but I actually disagree wholeheartedly with that mentality. Morality is the ONLY thing which a government should legislate. Morality is the only metric which can be consistently applied. I should be clear though, morality and religious faith are two different things. Morality refers to the actions which logic and natural law dictate are acceptable or unacceptable. Religious faith is that which we choose to believe because of revelation by God (or a prophet).  A government cannot effectively legislate virtue or faith, but it can and MUST legislate to minimize vice. A law which requires all citizens to be kind and forgiving would be impossible to enforce, but a law which prevents citizens from murdering each other is about as basic and fundamental as we can get for legislation. Murder is illegal because it is morally wrong. Even those who don’t acknowledge or understand the bible will still generally agree with that statement.  The society needs to determine a baseline of conduct which can be applied universally – a set of morals that all citizens can be held to. The purpose of this baseline is to offer citizens the freedom and safety to act virtuously according to their own beliefs and callings.

A secondary role of government is to empower its citizens in the direction of the morally good beyond that baseline and/or contribute further to the betterment of society as a whole.  There is a big difference though, between empowering people and coercing people to do something.   When the government wishes to promote a certain good, the most positive way to do that is to remove the road blocks which keep people from doing it to begin with and incentivize the action where possible. The US government already does this in some cases, for instance providing tax deductions for raising children or for making donations to charitable organizations or for buying energy saving home accessories. I think it can do more though and it would do well for our current politicians to make this the central focus of most legal policy.

Government has a constitutional right to levy taxes. I don’t always like it, but I get it. They need money in order to pay the bills that they incur to protect us and maintain order in our society. I think though, that the government would do well to use taxing power for positive reinforcement instead of punishment and coercion. For instance, instead of an individual mandate to get health insurance with increasing tax penalties, why not just offer tax incentives for signing up which decrease over time?  The government has a vested interest in people getting health insurance, because uninsured citizens usually end up sending the bill to the government through ER visits, not to mention higher chance of spreading disease etc. If the government is going to save money by a person’s actions, it makes sense to incentivize that action.  I think that statement could be applied to much of the tax structure. The government has certain fixed costs which can’t be reduced by individual actions (i.e. legislative overhead, military, emergency services, inspection and regulation etc) but much of the money that is spent by governments can be greatly offset by individual actions.  Parents who school their own children are providing a service which relieves the government. They should get a tax credit. A millionaire who hires a full time staff to take care of his estate should not be getting taxed on the money that he uses to pay those employees. The government is already getting tax money from the staff, and the millionaire is fueling the economy and putting cash in more people’s pockets who might otherwise be collecting unemployment (instead of stashing it in his hedge fund).

NOTE: I am not a huge fan of straight tax cuts for the rich with the expectation that they will spend it on things which will boost the economy. That may happen, but I think it’s more likely if you tie the tax cut directly to purchases and hiring which definitively boost economy.

To this point I’ve focused mostly on the government side of things, but religious organizations have a lot to do on their side as well. I think much of the confusion which has come about in this arena is due to the fact that there has been little to no discussion in churches about the role of government and its limits. Groups are eager to promote possible laws that can support their religious agendas (virtuous or otherwise) and horrified when laws are proposed or passed which seem to advocate conflicting views. In many cases, these reactions are well-founded, but I don’t hear too much conversation about why it is the government who should be handling the issue instead of individuals.

I think the goal of Christians and the goal of government officials should be to work the government out of as much of its job as possible. The more that individuals contribute to the betterment of society, the less the government will need to do. The more that the government promotes and fosters those activities, the more prevalent they will become.

AMDG

Secular Law and Religious Morality (Part I)

March 24, 2014 3 comments

There has been a great deal of controversy and discussion over the years in circles at every level of society about the role of religion in politics and government. I think the central cause of this controversy is that we have forgotten the purpose of both institutions and ignored the potential and dangers (and historical faults) of each of them.

Government exists for the protection of its citizens and to ensure order in society. Today in America (and even more in Europe) government has become the catch-all institution for handling the needs and wants of its people. Some consider this transition to be major advance in society. The upgrade in a sense from your basic run-of-the-mill government.  In many senses, it is easy for a Christian to appreciate this view since many of the services which the government ventures into are ones which the Church pioneered (i.e. public health care and education).  Isn’t it wonderful that the central authority of the land is now providing such altruistic services which were previously only available in the isolated locations where religious orders were available and had capacity? Now it’s available to the masses! What could be more charitable than wanting that? What could be more heartless than wanting anything else if that was an option? But I think that perspective misses a central aspect about Christianity, and humanity at large.

A truly Christian nation, by its very essence, must offer freedom. Freedom of religion and freedom for virtue.  A Jewish or a Muslim nation can look to their religious origins and see that the great leaders of their faith in their sacred writings placed their religion at the center of their civil law. Members of those faiths can understandably look to that as a model for their current times. As a Christian, however, I do not have that option. True, my sacred writings include the same ones that my Jewish brothers and sisters reference, but my faith teaches that those writings are fulfilled in the Gospels – in the life of God incarnate. The Old Testament demonstrated our fall from original grace and freedom, into slavery of sin and the laws designed to show our hearts when they were straying. The New Testament is an invitation to each individual to lead a life of freedom and virtue. Jesus made it very clear that he came to change our hearts. The law was a guide for our actions, but as long as we DESIRE to break it, our heart is where the problem lies. And Jesus came to heal our hearts.  His contemporaries expected the standard of religious rule, but instead he came humbly and offered all people a choice.

I think some Christians (myself included) don’t think about this fact in the context of modern government. I can logically see that many Jews didn’t accept Jesus because he didn’t come as a military and government leader to reestablish the kingdom of Israel on earth, but then I catch myself rationalizing that the gospel could have spread so much faster if it was part of the government. Maybe that’s true, but if it is, God didn’t want it to spread faster. If Christ wanted his religion to be a civil law, he would have shown us that in his life and the lives of his apostles would have continued that legacy.  Instead, we find that Jesus told his followers “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” We find that early Christian communities who most fully understood the gospels, “kept everything in common… no one was rich and no one was poor”   but they didn’t do it because they were forced to by the government, they did it because they were compelled by love. Christianity is a call to holiness – a call to be set apart – a call to virtue. And you cannot legislate virtue. It would be like taking a picture of a $100 bill. You can make it look the same, but it would lose the original value. The $100 bill has value because it’s backed by the U.S. treasury. The picture is not.  Similarly, acts only have value as virtue when they are backed by the intent and desire of the actor. A man held at gunpoint and forced to give someone money is not being virtuous, he is being mugged.

Now, some would argue, “OK, maybe it’s not virtuous if you are being forced into actions which we would otherwise consider good, but at least we get the result. Forcing rich people to feed the poor still results in people getting fed. Isn’t that good enough? Aren’t we achieving the proper end-state?” to that, the only Christian answer is “No, we’re missing the point.” Sure, it’s good to see that poor people get food, but Christ did not instruct us to go forth and legislate feeding of the hungry, he told us to do it ourselves.  Now, I’m not implying that the government has no responsibility here, I’m simply implying that it is not where Christians should be assigning the responsibility.

The part that really irritates me about many recent legislative attempts at solving social woes is that the generally favored solution is to pawn the sacrificial aspect off onto someone else.  Imagine if a man were driving home from work one day and saw a kid on the street starving and homeless. In the kindness of his heart, he decides that no child should endure such suffering. So he gets out of his brand new Mercedes walks over to the little one and says, “Child, I don’t know what your past is or what your problems are, but you will never starve or sleep on the street again.” With that, he grabs the child by the hand and walks down the street into a small inn. He asks to speak to the owner and when he meets her, he tells her that this child was out on the street and he would like her to make sure that this child has food to eat and a bed to sleep in for as long as necessary.  The owner is touched by the man’s generosity and, after discussing the details of expected care and supervision, asks how he would like to set up payment for this arrangement. With that, the man looks at her and says, “Oh, you seem to have misunderstood. I won’t be paying for this, you will. You see, I was generous enough to recognize the child’s need and the fact that you could provide a solution. You get to be generous enough to provide it J  By the way, if you fail to provide the standard of care we discussed earlier, I will see to it that your business fails (and yes, I have those kinds of connections).” With that, he smiles, walks out the door struts down the street and hops back into his car and drives home to his 8 bedroom mansion where he tells his wife and three cats about how generous he was today.

Over and over, our legislature seems to pass laws which it is exempt from (take for instance the Affordable Care Act), and we as voters look to solve our nation’s problems by asking other people to shell out the money or provide the services (i.e. tax hikes only on the rich to pay for our national debt or special programs that effect everyone). It may seem to make sense from a utilitarian perspective, but it does not add up from an ethical or theological point of view. Sure, I may be voting for a solution to the problem, but as a guy who makes less than $250k per year, I’m really just voting for someone else to fix my problem.

I should be clear, I don’t have an issue with tax brackets which increase at certain income levels, but voting on a measure that benefits everyone at someone else’s expense just rubs me the wrong way.

This, I believe, is the great confusion of our political age.  We seek to legislate virtue and in so doing only create a resentment for it. The surest way a government can help its society thrive is by protecting its citizens against foreign and domestic evils and empowering them to exercise virtue to address the problems of their age.

Next week, I’ll talk a bit more about what that looks like, but in the meantime let me know what you think…

AMDG

“Offer It Up”

September 11, 2012 2 comments

It seems to be something of a catch-phrase in modern Catholic culture, but what do we really mean when we say “offer it up.”? It’s more than just a religious way of saying “Suck it up” or “Quit complaining” (although that’s implied). It’s also more than a simple invitation to prayer. Those three words are an invitation to PARTICIPATE in the gospel.

It’s easy for us these days to read the bible or hear stories of how God worked in the lives of people long ago and think that it no longer applies to us. It can feel as if we got the short end of the stick. It’s tempting to think, “In the old days they had Peter and Paul and JESUS showing them the way face to face; explaining the mysteries, performing the miracles and demonstrating the example of how to live the Christian life. Now we have a book that tells us everything we missed.” What a bummer.

The reality however, is something entirely different. God lives outside of time. Jesus is Christ outside of time. He did not choose one specific instance in time to join us here in this world so that every other generation could realize what it missed.  Instead, he inserted himself into humanity after it had fallen away at juuust such a point when the example of his life, love and teachings could be fully exemplified, documented, transmitted AND PERPETUATED… That’s right, perpetuated.

The gospel is perpetuated through the written word of God in the bible, it is perpetuated in the Sacraments that Christ instituted; it is perpetuated through the Tradition of the Church; and it is perpetuated through our lives.

One of the consistent themes that we see through the gospel is that Jesus does not want to be crowned as king (on this earth) and he did not want the miracles that he performed to be publicized (before the ascension). If you cited the fact that he was “meek and humble of heart” as a reason for this you would be right. If you cited the fact that his “kingdom is not in this world” you would be correct as well. But you would also be missing something.

Jesus kept his miracles and power on the down-low because he knew that they would attract the wrong crowd. You will notice that in EVERY instance of Jesus performing a miracle; it was as a result of faith ALREADY present or a result of compassion distinct to the person or people who he was helping. It was NEVER an attempt to win believers or disciples. “Why not?” you might ask. It certainly would have been effective. Even when he was trying to avoid it, the miracles and authority with which he taught brought many to him, but I suspect they were the same that left him when his teachings became difficult to accept.

The Jews had experienced centuries of pain and subjugation at the hands of foreign rulers and they had been promised a messiah who would be their redeemer and savior. We see those terms very spiritually and theologically now, but to most Jews of Jesus’ time, they were very physical and legal ones. Much of the Old Testament is filled with a circular theme: God’s people turn away from him; He warns them and then allows them to fall into bondage by a foreign nation; they repent of their infidelity; God rescues them and brings them prosperity (until they fall away again and the cycle continues).  Each time, when His people turned back to Him, God redeemed them and saved them from their bondage in a physical way. When Jesus walked the earth, Jews were the subjects of the Roman Empire and they were greatly anticipating a savior, redeemer and king who would overthrow the Roman government, establish peace, freedom and prosperity in Jerusalem free from pain, hunger and disease. They were missing the point…

This cycle of bondage and redemption that we observed in the Old Testament was only the symptomatic outbreak of a much more pervasive disease – their bondage to sin.  The peace and prosperity that the Jews were looking for (and all of us are looking for too if we are honest with ourselves) cannot exist in a world that is still in bondage – a world that isn’t free to love. This is the subjugation which Christ came to save us from and the freedom which he came to redeem us for. Jesus consistently pointed to the fact that he wasn’t here to remove our suffering – he was here to remove our sins (which causes our suffering). God could have chosen to remove the suffering of His people as He had done in days past. Instead, He did something much more profound – He gave it value. He took Satan’s currency and placed the image of His son as a seal on top of it.

As a result of the Crucifixion, our suffering isn’t gone, but it has meaning – or at least it can. Christ demonstrated by suffering on the cross for our redemption that it is possible for the pains we encounter in this life to be applied as grace to other people or causes greater than ourselves. When we suffer, we have two options: (1) Complain and ask God to make it go away, or (2) thank God for the gift of His son and unite our sufferings to His for the redemption of the world or any specific cause in union with His holy will. Christ said, “Anyone who wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Saint Paul invites us to, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord.” He also mentions how he “makes up what is lacking in the cross of Christ.” All of these statements point to the same reality. The Gospel is not just a series of books, it’s an invitation to a transformed life that participates in the good news of our redemption.

That transformation will show itself in every aspect of a genuine Christian life, but it will shine most brilliantly in the way that we handle suffering: Do we see it as a burden or an opportunity? Are we focusing on ourselves or on God? Is it a chance to complain or a chance to grow in humility, virtue and appreciation of the cross? Will it cause us to worry or to trust, to hate or to love? Will it bring tension to our relationships or union with Christ? Will we allow Satan to claim that instance in our lives for his purpose, or mark his coins with the image of Christ crucified and place them in heaven’s treasury?

 

If this is a foreign concept to you and you want some practical steps or suggestions here is a quick step by step:

  1. Recognize an area in your life which is not ideal.
  2. Pray: Thank Jesus for the gift of his life and offer your inconvenience, pain or suffering in unison with his cross for any cause which he puts on your heart (possibly someone else’s wellbeing, your vocation, a virtue etc.).
  3. Quit complaining: Resist the natural urge to be unhappy about your situation and instead reflect on the cross and be grateful for the spiritual currency to affect your cause. Choose to be positive regardless of how you feel.
  4. Make it a habit: As you go through your day and your life, start conditioning yourself to take every situation that is less than ideal and offer it up in thanks to God for the good news of our salvation and the opportunity to grow closer to Him.
  5. Don’t give up: you may not see results immediately (or ever in this world) for the causes that you are offering up. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that is the end of the story. Remember, God’s timing is much better than ours.

 

That which we desire least has the power to unite us with Him who we desire most. The suffering in our life has the ability to unite us more closely to Him who suffered everything for love of us. I pray we don’t waste the opportunity…

 

AMDG

 

AMDG

June 14, 2012 Leave a comment

I wrote this a little while ago. I would like to say that I am a better man now, but I think the only honest assessment I can offer is that I am still a man struggling to give God glory. Each time I sin, I miss that mark. I pray this post will give my brothers and sisters in faith who read it some perspective and strength in their own struggle…

I’m a hypocrite.

I love God. At least, I say I do. I think many times I do. I want to.  But how far is my mind from Him sometimes! It struck my like a 2×4 across the face and I had to just put it in writing….

Every letter I write, every note I post, every email, every journal entry and everywhere else I can think to insert it into my life, I put the letters “AMDG”. They stand for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. Latin words meaning “For God’s Greater Glory” or “For the Greater Glory of God.” It’s a saying that I borrowed from Jesuit tradition that I think is important for keeping perspective. I want everything that I do, say, or write to bring God glory. It’s a fitting footnote to everything in my life, because if it isn’t giving God glory, it has missed it’s mark. If you read something of mine and it doesn’t give God glory, you have either misread it, or I mistyped it.

I put it everywhere and I’m sure people see it and associate me with it, but it is the farthest thing from my mind in all of my sin, but especially with my lust that occupies so much of my thoughts. All my distorted fantasies, all my daydreams and ill-motivated internet searches. When I look into my soul and am honest with myself, it’s all for MY greater glory. I know what will give God glory, but I choose what I think will satisfy me instead. I put my “gratification” ahead of God’s glory. I know in my head that it will only bring me more emptiness, but my heart still falls for the lies. I am God’s creature,  made for His glory. The only satisfaction that I will ever find in this life is when I accept my place as His praise-giver, His servant, His son through Christ. He showed me the meaning of love when He sent His son to rescue me from my sin. He came down to my level and showed me the way home, gaining nothing but the cross for it. The King of Kings chose a crown of thorns. Immortal God accepted death. The very Armor of God is poured out and passed on to us through His pierced side. To love someone is to lay your life down for them. To put them ahead of yourself. To CHOOSE them even if you want – especially if you want – something different for your own benefit. A selfless allegiance of the heart, formed and solidified by the will.

That’s the real question I have to ask myself when I’m confronted with temptation. Do I care about my glory or God’s? Who’s it for?

AMDG

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1COR 10:31

Manly Modesty- Protecting her heart (and yours)

March 17, 2012 1 comment

Modesty is something of a catchphrase in some circles. Among many of my Christian friends it’s actually discussed pretty regularly. That being said, in all of the conversations that I’ve heard, I can’t recall one instance when it was discussed as something that applies to men.

I wrote a blog a while ago discussing modesty in which I defined the virtue as the will to help others love you as they should. From this baseline, many of the recommendations for women logically flow. When a woman covers her body, it allows me to pay more attention to her as a whole person instead of focusing on specific body parts. “Loving” a woman only – or even primarily – for the sum of her physical parts is an insult to her dignity and to the love that I am called to. Looking at her and appreciating her rightly is my responsibility as a man, but in dressing and acting modestly,   she has demonstrated concern for my spiritual well-being by making that responsibility less difficult.

So the question then becomes, “As a man, how can I make her responsibility less difficult?” On one level, the same rules still apply. I shouldn’t be walking around half-naked in hopes that women will notice me and appreciate me for my body. But I think most of us can agree that women don’t struggle as much on that level.  At least not in the same way.

Sometimes an easier way to identify something is to search for its opposite. What if I asked the question, “How can I distract a woman from loving and respecting me as the individual and brother in Christ that I am?”  I would probably start by emphasizing my body which goes with the paragraph above. I would hit the gym all the time just to get that perfect beach bod, and hit the beach all the time to show it off. If I can get a girl to see me as a “hot” guy and take interest in me for that alone, I have managed to become an object of her use instead of a subject worthy of love. I would call this a violation of physical modesty, but let’s not stop there (after all, girls aren’t as visually stimulated as guys are). I would go a step further by associating myself with material things, like wealth, possessions and influence. I would buy drinks and meals and offer rides in my sweet car. I would be the guy with the VIP booth in the Gucci suit.  If I can make her associate me more with my prestige (and her material gain) than with my dignity as a human being I’ve once again managed to distract her. This would be more an assault on material modesty.  But what about the girls who aren’t into material things? What about all the girls out there who just want to be appreciated and admired and secure. For these I would just give them what they want. I would just shower them with all of the affirmation that they want (and deserve). I would be the guy with all the sweetest pickup lines who always knew the right thing to say. It’s a risky bet, but if I play my cards right, I can get her to appreciate me more as a provider of emotional  benefits than as a human being worthy of love for my own sake.  This final travesty would be an insult to emotional modesty.

Now, I really hope that you found something (if not everything) about the paragraph above a little unsettling. The statement above is only half of the story. If I ended the blog here, you might think that the truly modest man is one who (1) takes horrible care of his body and/or makes himself look ugly. (2) has no sense of style , hoards all his wealth where no one else can benefit, and drives a crappy car. And (3) either insults or makes no effort to affirm the women in his life.  That’s not exactly virtuous either. So let’s examine each type of modesty more closely.

Physical Modesty:

Once again, if the goal of modesty is to help others love me as they should, then physical modesty starts with showing the same respect for my body that others should. If my body is a temple, then I should take care of it with the reverence that it deserves as carrier of my soul and the house in which I manifest God’s love and glory to the world. Hitting the gym (and the beach) isn’t the problem. The failure in modesty (for guys and girls) arises when I showcase my body in a manner that gives it more emphasis than it is due.  Often, my physical immodesty begins not when others start seeing my body as an object, but when I start treating my own body as an object to leverage.

Material Modesty:

Material possessions ARE objects for me to use, so here my problem is a bit different. I am a very strong advocate of guys picking up the tab for girls when going out. Whether I’m on a date or just a group going out as friends, I think it’s an appropriate sign of appreciation and recognition of the wonderful blessing that those women are in my life.  That being said, I also have a responsibility to ensure that those intentions are clear and that I don’t present myself as a means to other ends. In essence, material modesty requires that we show humility even in our generosity.

Emotional modesty:

This is the really tricky one. I need to be careful when dealing with the emotions of my sisters in Christ. Some are more delicate than others, but almost all are more complex than my own. Modesty in this arena is still something that I struggle to understand and regularly fail to live. My insight here is limited, and I would greatly appreciate more help from my female friends out there in understanding this aspect (as well as the others), but here is what I have gleaned from my experiences and often times my shortcomings.

I’ve held the opinion for quite a while that guys in general suck at affirming the women in our lives. It seems to me that the only time many women receive compliments and affirmation from us is when the guy is romantically interested in them. Similarly it seems that in some circles the level of physical interaction that is appropriate between friends is limited to a handshake or awkward side-hug. I’m not a fan of either of these facets of our society, but I must take them into consideration when interacting with women.  I want to tell every woman that I meet that she is beautiful. I see that as inherent truth that is part of her dignity as a woman. However, I also need to realize that if I go up to a woman and tell her that she is beautiful, she will probably take that in the context of a romantic gesture. Further, even if I say that I am only telling her that as a friend and because it is true, I am still possibly  one of few places where she hears those words that she longs (and deserves) to hear. That can inflate my value in her mind, and if I make a constant habit of flattering her (especially when I’m first getting to know her) that can BECOME my value in her mind. Similarly, I need to make efforts to ensure that my physical interaction doesn’t project my value as merely someone who provides a physical affirmation or sense of security. The right balance of physical and verbal affirmation is unique to each relationship and each individual, but I think that it’s important to ensure there is a balance. Or maybe that’s just my problem…

In all three of these areas, I am dealing with something that God has given me. When I use it rightly, it should be attractive to a woman. The role of modesty is in placing that item in its proper place so that it doesn’t lead others to be attracted disproportionately to that part of me. My body is a gift that God gave to me and it is a part of who I am, but it is only a PART. I shouldn’t dress or act in ways that encourage people to see that as my entire source of dignity.  Similarly, I may be fortunate enough to have wealth which God wants me to enjoy and to share generously, but modesty reminds me to enjoy and to share humbly; not flaunting my wealth or expecting anything for it. Finally, when addressing the women in my life, I know that I have a responsibility to affirm them and lift them up – to remind them of their worth and how much I appreciate the grace of their presence. But I also have a responsibility to revere the emotional facets of a woman and the effects that I can have on them.

When I wrote the first blog to the women who were reading, I offered some tips. I suppose I should do the same for the guys.

  1. Don’t show off- it’s one thing to acknowledge the blessings that you have. It’s another thing to flaunt them.
  2. Take it easy- there’s a proper place for generosity in every aspect of life, but don’t go overboard when giving to an individual. Especially when you are first getting to know them.
  3. On a similar note, make a habit of saying one or two affirming things to the women in your life when you see them. But stick to one or two short and meaningful comments instead of multiple loaded statements unless a specific situation warrants.
  4. When possible try to make it a group thing. It’s a lot easier to affirm women rightly when it’s a group of guys that pay for dinner or walk the girls to their cars or even offer a compliment.
  5. Your actions should reflect the depth that has already been reached in a relationship (not the depth you want it to attain).
    1. At one extreme, you can look at sex which is the complete physical union of two persons and is only appropriate AFTER that union has been made emotionally and spiritually through marriage.
    2. On the other end of the spectrum is a hand shake (or a hug in some circles) which is an appropriate greeting for a relative stranger
    3. Everything in between requires a balance that you have to discern but should do so with a sense of restraint.
    4. In the words of a better friend than I deserve, “, I, like every other woman, am watching everything else and know when I am loved and valued without physical affection….”

In all of this, I can say with absolute certainty that I am a man who has a long way to go in this virtue, both in understanding and in practice. If any readers out there have any more insights, PLEASE for my sake and that of anyone else reading – share.

AMDG