Saturday, December 19, 2009
Over the years, my dad and I have developed a Christmas custom - we exchange light-themed gifts at Christmas. One year it was a ball cap with lights built into the brim. Another year it was a micro multi-tool with a fold-out flashlight; this little trinket has calmed many a restless child. There was the USB-powered laptop lamp and the flashlight with a fold-out tripod built into the handle.
And to top it all off, I married a girl whose name signifies the very coming of the morning light itself (Dawn).
When the ancient Israelites were seeking their release from captivity in Egypt, God sent a plague of darkness on the land. Their pagan captors were shrouded in deepest night for three days, but the Israelites had light where they lived. They travelled through the desert after escaping Egypt, God himself led the way in the form of a pillar of fire by night to light their way.
At the Easter Vigil in the Catholic Church, we start in darkness symbolic of the tomb, and hear a reading of the creation account in Genesis. "Let there be light!" the voice of God thunders. The priest processes into the church with the new pascal candle for the year, freshly lit, and from that monstrous candle he lights a handful of small tapered candles held by nearby parishioners, who pass it on and on until the whole church is aglow in a warm, soothing light. We sing, "The light of Christ has come into the world." Then we erupt into the majestic Gloria and celebrate the Resurrection.
The Nicene Crede, in defining the nature of Jesus, calls him, "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God." John's Gospel tells us that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And shortly after Christmas we recall the oriental magi who followed the light of a star in their quest to find the prophesied Messiah. Yes, indeed, light is all throughout Scripture and the history of our faith.
As I take my bus ride home through downtown Winnipeg each workday, I am amazed at the volume and variety of Christmas lights erected. It seems they are adding more and more each day. There is the obligatory Santa, sleigh, & reindeer, but there are also angels galore, poised in symphonic symmetry lining both sides of Portage Avenue, trumpets raised to proclaim their tidings of great joy, which will be for all people.
Something about light resonates in the human spirit, even in this age of rampant secularism. As a species, deep down we bear an intrinsic knowledge that we have been lifted out of a darkness more pressing than any clouded night sky; a spiritual shroud has been lifted. On the anniversary of this singularly great event, we manifest this deep knowledge with the simple gesture of Christmas lights - for this is the celebration of the dawning of a new era; a fulfilled convenant; a holy promise kept.
The Messiah - Jesus, the Lord - has come, and he beckons us to respond. This Christmas, I invite you to revel in the Light of Christ; to drink it in and to be awash in it. Pray for holiness, pray for peace, pray that the light will spread.
Then reach out with your candle to those next to you still cowering in fear of the banished darkness. You have some very good news to share with them.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Superman Condemned by IPCC
DP - Metropolis
The International Panel on Climate Change today scolded the Man of Steel for his role in global warming. "Through his excessive use of heat vision, our computer models calculate that Superman's own cumulative contribution to global warming over the past five decades has been a full 0.6 degrees Centigrade, nearly a third of the total estimated warming in that same time period."
Scientists understand little of the last Kryptonian's physiology, but they do know that his great strength and speed, the gift of flight, and his heat vision all derive from his body's unique ability to store the energy released by our sun.
Since Superman has been fighting crime so long and in so many different locations around the world, it has been difficult to track how many times he has used his heat vision. But the best estimates indicate he uses the superpower an average of 3.1 times per day, at an average released energy of 43 gigajoules per use, approaching nearly 50,000 terajoules annually. By comparison, the Hiroshima bomb dropped in 1945 released approximately 60 terajoules.
"Superman's considerable impact on crime has been without a doubt monumental," continues the IPCC press release. "But we call on him to minimize the use and the output power of his heat vision so that we can all look forward to an environmentally stable and crime free world in the future."
Superman could not be reached for comment.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
This camp has a large part in my history and the history of my family. It was where my parents' courtship quickened, where they were married, and where they've semi-retired. For as long as I can remember, I've gone there at least once a year. I attended as a summer camper, years later as a camp counsellor, and on a college retreat. It's where my wife's parents met my parents for the first time as our separate worlds merged.
Grandpa & Grandma's old yellow beachfront cabin is long gone, supplanted by a house moved in from a nearby town and subjected to major renovations and additions. With it and the workshop/bedroom combo across the road as well as all the lawn space for campers and tents, it's not unusual for my parents to have 25 people - or more - staying there during family camp.
The camp itself is coming up on its 50th year, and is a ministry of the Free Methodist Church of Canada. That is the branch of the Christian tree in which I held membership before my conversion to Catholicism. Let me tell you something: Free Methodists can sing. The worship services at the old "tabernacle" are renowned for their heartfelt praise, especially the Sunday morning service signalling the end of Family Camp. There's nothing quite like participating in the multi-part harmonies of hundreds of willing, talented voices rendering "How Great Thou Art" or "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" when the singers mean every word of it. It brings tears to my eyes every time I get a chance to experience this type of fellowship.
As a Catholic, I am obligated to attend Mass every Sunday. In a major city like Winnipeg, my options for what time of day to attend Mass vary from the Saturday vigil Mass at different parishes at 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and on Sunday itself I'm aware of Masses at 7:50 AM, 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 12:00 AM, 4:00 PM, 4:30 PM, and 9:00 PM. Contrast that to the humble country chapel of St. Rita's Parish in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan. At 37 KM distant, it is the closest Catholic parish to the camp, and the priest services three other rural parishes as well. There is but one Mass to attend, and it usually conflicts with the main Sunday worship service at the camp. And the music there... well, when you are led in worship by an old lady pressing "play" and "stop" on a tape recording pieced together from cassette versions of the Catholic Book of Worship III... let's just say the music there leaves something to be desired.
So when visiting my family, I routinely miss out on the grandest worship experience I could have with them in favour of fulfilling my Sunday obligation to attend Mass. But don't think that just because it's an obligation that I'm not eager to be there. The miracle of the Eucharist would draw me there even were it not an obligation. And I know that I could find a priest with low enough standards to give me dispensation [permission] to skip Mass because of the fact that I'm traveling.
I keep coming back to the Gospel of Matthew (13:44-45) where Jesus describes the kingdom of Heaven as a treasure in a field, which a man finds and sells all he has so he can buy the field. Usually I think of this in terms of what else the buyer received when he bought the treasure - mud, weeds, serpents, and other yucky stuff. But this last week I've been thinking more deeply of what I've given up (the "all he has" part) in order to gain this treasure. With rare exceptions, I've given up participating in worship with a building full of eager believers, all of whom are willing and able to put their praise into song. For the most part, I've given up being able to study the Bible with people at a similar or greater level of knowledge than myself. Don't get me wrong: there are Catholics out there that do know and love Jesus personally, who can and do sing, and who read the Bible studiously. But we are the exception, and we're outnumbered by Catholics who are at Mass because they have to be.
God is renewing his Church; of this I am certain. I am also certain that he has a plan for me as part of that renewal. And I know that his reward for any losses I incur will more than compensate me (as if I'm entitled to compensation at all). So I thank God continually for bringing me to this deeper level of Truth and for making it worth the journey. I thank him for the gift of Jesus, both on the cross and physically present in the Church.
It has been worth it, Lord. As much as I am aware of that which I have lost, I have no regrets.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Speaking about God the Father is a daunting task. Jesus himself spoke of God his father over fifty times in the Gospels, which to me says that there is a lot to say.
Approaching the topic from the perspective of an earthly father, while a narrower focus, is probably even more challenging. I must admit, having children has transformed my understanding of love and selflessness. Yet it is impossible for me to ponder the mystery of the heavenly father without being made very aware of my own parental shortcomings.
God’s love is perfect, after all. The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) illustrates this most clearly, and it is the one burned into my mind’s eye with the most clarity. If you’re not familiar with it, here it is in a nutshell: the younger of two sons wants his inheritance early – basically implying to his dad, “I wish you were dead.” His dad grants him the money, and he takes off and lives a wild life, partying, drinking, sleeping around, and doing things which would scar him for the rest of his life, until one day the money runs out and his party friends abandon him.
Desperate, this young Jewish man finds a demeaning job tending to pigs, which are, in the Jewish tradition, among the most “unclean” of all animals. He finds his mouth watering as he watches the pigs eat their slop, and then suddenly he gets a brainwave. “I can go work at dad’s house and at least have a full belly.” In my mind this is another example of his selfish mind because even after all the hurt he has caused his father, he is still only thinking about himself. Yet, he goes home.
This is the part that really gets me.
The gospel says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” When I read this, I get the sense that his dad was watching, waiting. He had been the whole time. I picture an old man standing on the roof of his house so he can get a good view, and when the servants finally coax him down in the evening he sleeps in a room with an open window facing the road. While he sleeps, he leaves the candle burning to project his welcome, and faces the window to be better attuned to the first sound of footsteps. At daybreak the servants find him on the rooftop again, watching the distant road, trying to recognize his son’s gait in every passing traveler. They take his food to him there but he eats little. His mind, his body, his entire being is wrapped up in the fate of his lost son.
This, by the way, is what I think of when preparing for the sacrament of confession. It reminds me that God burns for me to come and to restore my friendship with him.
Finally, one day, his vigilance bears fruit and he sees his son. I imagine him flinging a plate of food off his lap, and opting for a faster descent than the stairs by jumping off the rooftop. He lands awkwardly and twists his ankle but the pain means nothing to him; he runs, runs, RUNS to his son, sobbing, embracing, kissing, shouting words bursting with love and deepest affection. The son starts into his prepared speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you…” but the father cuts him off and calls out for a robe and sandals and rings for his fingers and, “Kill the fatted calf, for tonight we celebrate!”
This son, who was hoping to live out the rest of his days quietly as a servant in a back room and without calling attention to his quite open shame, is restored to his place of honour and dignity in the father’s house. I don’t think it’s what he wanted, but it’s what the father had for him. He was not perfectly penitent, but he was back, and that allowed the father to shower him with love and blessings, which more than compensated for his imperfect act of contrition.
This is the love of a father for his son. This is the love of God the Father for you. For me.
It is difficult to step out of one’s adult or teenaged mind to accept this love. We are conditioned through countless influences to be self-sufficient, to be strong, to show no sign of weakness. Yet my young children are a continual reminder to me of the simplicity of a child’s love. My four daughters, ages two through eight, love me and actively show it through cuddles, kisses, words, and a desire just to spend time with me. My newborn son I’m sure is at least somewhat fond of me, and I am confident this will blossom into that same kind of love as he grows.
Often after receiving communion at Mass, I am holding one of my younger daughters. Every now and then she’ll be especially cuddly and cozy and will nestle deeply into my arms, head tucked down, gentle eyes blinking contentedly. She hopes that moment will never end.
In those moments I am reminded of Christ’s words in Matthew 18:3: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This was his answer to the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants us to trust and love his father with all the simplicity of a child’s mind.
So in those moments after communion, I try to visualize myself, a frumpy, overweight, awkward man, nestled snuggly in the arms of my heavenly father. It’s a funny mental picture, I admit, and the instinct to reject it is strong. But deep down I know it’s how God loves me; I know he longs to shower me with his affection and he wants me to spend time with him.
Let’s look a little deeper at the types of fatherly love shown in the tale of the prodigal son.
- There is the love which endures abuses and insults, yet does not fade. It abides the “I wish you were dead” moments.
- There is the love which respects our free will. The father does not prevent his son from leaving, nor does he go out with a small army to bring his son forcefully home. His desire for our genuine act of free love drives this respect.
- There is the love which watches, undying, vigilant, ever-hopeful. Nothing can shake the father or distract him. He is singularly focused on the moment of his son’s return. Now most of you, if you’re here, you’re here because you’ve either already returned, or else you never left. But you must acknowledge that before your baptism and the restoration of your human dignity, at one point the father watched and waited for you.
- There is the love which restores us to our dignity at the slightest glimmer of our return to the father.
- There is the love which perfects our imperfect remorse. It completes the inarticulate cry of our soul; it tells on our behalf the whole story of our sorrow, for we are often too mired in our sin to comprehend it fully ourselves. You only need to start the process and turn to God to cry, “Help!” He’ll do the rest.
- There is the love which retains the temporal consequences of our sins despite the perfect forgiveness we receive. Later in the tale, the father tells his elder son, “All I have is yours.” The inheritance which the younger son squandered is gone forever, despite the father’s open re-acceptance of him. This may seem illogical, but look deeper and you will realize that it actually reflects perfectly the dignity to which we have been restored. The father’s standards of good behaviour have not changed, despite our sin or his forgiveness. We are still expected to follow his commands and to reap the harvest we have sown.
- There is the love which perceives the pain and disunity the sins of one cause to the family as a whole.
- There is the love which rewards the faithfulness of the father’s elder son in the next life. “My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.” It is a better thing never to stray from his love.
- There is the love which rebukes the arrogance of the self-righteous ones who scorn the return of the sinner, reminding them that there is more cause to celebrate the salvation of a lost one than the fidelity of the faithful.
Pondering this parable makes me wonder if my own love for my children would be so perfect were one or more of them to stray from the faith.
In those moments I draw strength from the love God the father showed for me, for I know that I too have been lost and have returned to his embrace on many occasions.
If, heaven forbid, a child of mine turns from the love of God, I pray that God will give me the strength and depth of fatherly love to sit on my rooftop, watching day and night. After all, he did it for me.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
It begins the third sentence in: "The 81-year-old pope tripped as he climbed up to his gilded chair on the loggia, but recovered without incident and delivered his speech to the crowds below."
It's almost like the reporter is secretly hoping for a trip which results in a plummet off the balcony, or at least a nasty gash to the forehead.
It goes on: "Benedict celebrated Easter Mass after presiding over the solemn, three-plus-hour Easter Vigil ceremony Saturday night. At the end of that service, Benedict sounded hoarse and looked tired. But the pope — who turns 82 on Thursday — appeared well-rested by Sunday morning and held up well throughout the Mass."
Everybody, use your most patronizing tone and say it with me: "Oh, good for him."
Is this really news? An 82 year old man naturally can't be expected to retain his voice after presiding over a 3+ hour Mass. There's a guy named Joe in our church who has got to be pushing 90. Why not a gripping exposé on how he did for the Easter Vigil?
He really seems to have enjoyed writing the account of the Resurrection.
And I don't mean strictly from a spiritual sense. I mean that, if you read it closely enough and remember that we're talking about a translation from a foreign language whose culture was 2000 years separated from our own, there seems to be a bit of a dig at the Apostle Peter.
Take a close look (emphasis added):
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.
Maybe I'm way off base on this, but it almost seems like John is sending a subtle jibe against Peter. It's like he's saying, "When we heard the tomb was empty, Peter and I ran towards it. I beat him there. Sure, he went in first, but I beat him there."
This is the type of friendly banter which two dear friends can engage in. Peter, being considered the first Pope, naturally commands the respect of John, but it's clear that their friendship transcended the hierarchical structure of the Church.
What do you think? Does anybody else see that joke in there?
I am all I know.
Despite my intricate intimacy with my wife, my profound knowledge of the character of my children, my participation through childhood with my siblings, and even my knowledge of the three persons of the Trinity, formed through decades of reading Scripture, the teachings of the Catholic Church, the writings of the saints, and the various smatterings of wisdom from my brethren in Christ over the years... in the beginning, I am all I know.
And yet as well as I know myself, the knowledge that God has of me is far deeper. Even the great Saint Paul wondered why he did the things he didn't want to do; I too am continually puzzled by my impulses. What makes me tick?
Literally, God knows.
For in the beginning - the REAL beginning - God was. If I believe the words of Scripture, he formed me from my beginning. For some reason, he deemed it appropriate that my originating sperm cell, among millions (yay Dad!) should unite with the ovum, and here I am.
The mystery of Christ's suffering and death on a cross makes this truth all the more powerful. For if God knows me better than reality lets me know myself, and if he should suffer and die to free me from my sins and to welcome me into everlasting bliss, does this not elevate my (or reveal my elevated) status as a human being?
An old hymn says:
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
The paradox of Christianity is that I can acknowledge fully that I am a worm of a man: sinful, lost, careless, hopeless, loveless... and yet once I accept the warm embrace of Christ, restoring me to the love of God Almighty, I am a king and a priest; a heavenly nobleman. My worth comes from the fact that in the beginning (my beginning), I was spawned into existence because God willed it.
This thought occurred to me after receiving Communion at the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. When it all comes down to it, it's just me and God. Everything else fades to black when I ponder his love for me. Everything else in my life could vanish - my wife and kids, my job, my blog - and if I am left with nothing but my knowledge that God specifically called me into existence out of nothingness, I will still be blown away by his love.
For I know that my redeemer lives.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
So growth is happening. Some would call it maturity.
The last time God brought me through such an intense phase of maturity was right before I met my wife. As a teenager, I was constantly lovesick. I needed a girlfriend in the worst way. I knew I was a catch and couldn't figure out why the young ladies I knew didn't seem to realize it. My desperation reached a frenzied pitch until one day God led me to a book called "Wide My World, Narrow My Bed" by Luci Swindoll. In reading it, he challenge me to abandon the hunt for a girlfriend/wife and instead to be content being single.
It took me some time, but I got there. Then he really rocked my world.
"Now James," he said to me, "I want you to be happy being single."
That was a difficult step. "Content" I could do; peace comes easily to me. But "happy"... that was another thing entirely. It meant giving up my quest for what I thought would bring me happiness and to surrender not just my heart to Jesus but my mind as well. It meant to find joy in what I had up to that point perceived as the ultimate despair: being alone.
So I rebelled. Not openly, mind you. I was never the kind of guy to sleep around or go drinking or experiment with drugs. But in my spirit, I said NO to God. I turned away, and although I kept up appearances, for a time I abandoned the concept of believing that God loved me. Over the course of several months, he wooed me back, and I did reach that point where I was able to think about the single life and genuinely smile about it.
God appreciates irony, and it was about two weeks later that I met my wife. Although I was puzzled at God's timing then, it makes perfect sense to me now. He does want me to be happy, but he wants my happiness to come from following his plan for my life instead of my own plan. If I had met Dawn in my own frantic search for the perfect woman, I would not have been wise enough to know I had found her.
Anyway, the point of that story is that right now I'm at a point in my current life where God is saying to me, "You enjoy your down-time and your relaxation, but I want you to give those up and take on the work of the kingdom. I want you to sacrifice your own idea of what will bring you rest and trust me to provide rest for you. You say you don't want to be one of those people who takes on too much; I want you to abandon your idea of what is too much and respond to my call."
So here I am. I am struggling not to rebel against this new direction.
I believe that part of this journey will require me to become more capable in my public speaking, so I am joining a local Toastmasters club. This morning I came back from my second meeting. At the end of the meeting, we all cast ballots on who was the best speaker, best evaluator, best dressed, etc. Today I won an award, and I suspect that I shall be a frequent recipient of this one:
In case you can't make it out, it is the award for Best Humourist. The trophy itself is a horse's rear end.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Bush always held his composure, and never let it get to him. Just watch the cocky look in his eye at the end of the video: You can almost hear him thinking, "Nyah nyah, you missed me!"
Obama, though, strikes me as something more severe than a country bumpkin. He was presented to the world through the slick party machine as a smooth talker, a profound thinker, a savant. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Now even his teleprompter is turning against him.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
I ran across an interesting article in New Scientist magazine online which attempts to explain away belief in God by saying that our brains are hardwired to believe in him. Specifically, scientists have always viewed children's brains as revealing more of a default state of the human mind than adult brains, and children's brains are naturally more open and receptive to the concept of God. They explain:
...babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.
[Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University,] says the two systems are autonomous, leaving us with two viewpoints on the world: one that deals with minds, and one that handles physical aspects of the world. He calls this innate assumption that mind and matter are distinct "common-sense dualism".
The body is for physical processes, like eating and moving, while the mind carries our consciousness in a separate - and separable - package. "We very naturally accept you can leave your body in a dream, or in astral projection or some sort of magic," Bloom says. "These are universal views."
So this is the default state of the mind: we process irrational phenomena in the natural world around us by referring to it as driven by supernatural powers. We do this without any training or formation; every culture in the history of the world comes to this conclusion.
Some say that any culture that experiences science above its own level of discovery naturally refer to it as magic (like gunpowder to the early North American aboriginals, for instance), and it's a fair point. Not everything that's seemingly driven by a supernatural force is truly so. But it is illogical to maintain that if A=B, then C, D, E, F, G, etc must also equal B.
Consider this point made in the same article: "...a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body [is considered] to be the default setting of the human brain. Education and experience teach us to override it, but it never truly leaves us." To my knowledge, this is the only example in modern sociology when science would have us accept education and experience as a reason to override the brain's natural affectations. If one is born with homosexual inclinations, we are told it is unhealthy to suppress those as it's "who we are." If a man feels he has always been a woman trapped in a man's body, we are expected to offer state-funded surgery to release her. But if a grown man - especially one who embarks in a career in modern science - states that he has believed in God for as long as he can remember, he is mocked, ridiculed, and generally not taken seriously until he renounces his faith. There's a serious double-standard being applied.
I regard such militant athieism as a great danger to those who promote it. For if they are wrong in their blatant rejection of God, they stand to lose their very souls at the Last Judgement. But if I am wrong in my fanatical acceptance of God, then I merely rot in my grave if I'm wrong, and I lose nothing. I'm right, I gain every reward in Heaven. And if the athiest is right, his reward is maxed out at rotting in his grave.
He doesn't even get to say, "I told you so."
Monday, February 09, 2009
There is a form there (under the Prayer Vigil menu, select Vigil Sign Up) which you can use to sign up for the peaceful prayer vigil.
Monday, February 02, 2009
It's the same answer as to how there can be a Heaven when there is still a Hell.
The (first) question is, how can I be a positive, uplifting, sane worker in the pro-life movement when our sole purpose is to lobby and pray for an end to a new holocaust on the unborn?
The answer, to both questions, is that God's glory is more glorious than the deepest, darkest, horrific evil we can imagine. And I, for one, can imagine some pretty messed-up evil. Even in the presence of such wickedness, we can bask in the presence of the beautiful face of Jesus and be filled with joy.
In short, God's good beats the devil's bad.
Because the devil didn't actually create anything; he stole God's good from us and corrupted it, then sold it back to us at the cost of our souls. But God's good beats the devil's bad, and when Jesus died, he untwisted the devil's work throughout all of history, present, and future, and made it possible to receive God's good directly from him again.
That's how I can be pro-life and happy. That's how I can acknowledge that the incredible light of an unborn baby is snuffed out every six minutes in my country, and yet still know that God is good.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
I won't use up all the good ones, but I can't resist this:
"It would cost about, it would cost about the same as what we would spend, over the course of 10 years it would cost what it would cost us... ok... all right, ok, we're going to... the - it would cost us about the same as it would cost, for about... hold one second, I can't hear myself... uh, but I'm glad you're fired up though, I'm glad! Heh heh."
Winner gets a trip to Sarah Palin's inauguration in 2013.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Indeed, I've had the same discussion with many people. "What's right for you isn't necessarily right for me," they say. Hogwash. Truth is always True, and no societal, cultural, situational circumstances can ever change it. We must follow after this Truth relentlessly and at the sacrifice of everything else in our lives. This is what drove me to become Catholic, even at the risk of alienating many friends and family.
This passage from Orthodoxy struck me most poignantly. Bear in mind that this book was published exactly 100 years ago:
An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.
It's somewhat comforting to know that the lies of today are not actually of today, but are as old as man's rejection of the timeless Truth.
But I got to thinking: if indeed some moral code - such as the one governing sexual ethics, for instance - were indeed different in the 1800s than it is in the 2000s, what would happen were a modern sexual amoralist suddenly and quite accidentally hurled backwards through time? Would he submit to the rigid structure of temporal moral relativity and suddenly become the strictest adherent to chastity, in recognition of the dominant moral code of his new era of residence?
I rather think not. He has lived his whole life according to a certain standard and is not about to change simply because of the date on the calendar. Neither, incidentally, would I ever think of changing my standards simply because it's 2009.
And if you ask this man, trapped in Victorian culture, why he will not submit to Victorian morality, he will eventually confess that he believes that the standard by which he had lived is perfectly fine - and thus timeless.
It is at this point that his argument against Christian sexual purity begins to crumble, for when he acknowledges the existence of any timeless moral code (even his corrupted version of one) to which he must adhere in the face of overwhelming disapproval, he is drawing a line between right and wrong. Should he still retain possession of his sanity, he will insist that he is on the side of the right, and will thus try to win others over to his point of view - both for his own company and for the intrinsic human desire to reveal the known truth to everybody within one's sphere of influence (which is the definition of evangelization).
And if he is truly honest with himself, at some point he will be forced to ask himself why he believes what he believes. He cannot possibly honestly answer that he is following some higher power in his pursuit of loose living. It is then that he will inevitably have to answer, "Because I prefer this belief," or even "Because it is easier for me to adhere to this belief than to a harder belief." That confession reveals himself as the self-declared arbiter of right and wrong, which unpleasantly flies in the face of his recent realization that Truth must be timeless. For if Truth is indeed timeless and does not vary from age to age, how then can we claim that it can vary from person to person? And how can a lone man dare to say to the Truth, "You are inconvenient, and I therefore reject you"?
If, having started down this road of honest self-examination, he refuses to measure his own beliefs against the rule of Truth, he will most certainly go insane. But should his ability to reason remain intact, the process of discerning moral absolutes as revealed by Truth will inevitably lead him straight into the arms of Mother Church and the fullness of Christ.
Or, in the words of our Lord, "Seek, and you will find." My prayer is that all will seek.
Friday, January 09, 2009
I also know that many of my readers may not support the pro-life cause; in that case you may simply disregard this post and wait for one which does not offend your sensibilities.
For those who remain:
Mark it on your calendar - Lent 2009, from February 25 to April 5, Winnipeg (and Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal) will be hosting 40 Days for Life.
What exactly do we expect you to do?
Two things: Primarily, unite your Lenten sacrifice with this cause; fast and pray for an end to abortion this Lent. This is the single greatest act you can do. In the Divine Math, the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16).
Second, sign up for an hour of silent vigil outside the abortion clinic in Winnipeg. We will have an easy way to do this shortly, so stand by for that. We will have somebody at vigil 24 hours a day for every day of Lent. Yes, you read that correctly. Be one of them. The Lord calls you.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
I know a bad idea when I see one, and had no intention of signing up. I also thought it would be nice to get off the mailing list for that company. So I called the toll-free number on the application form.
Bear in mind, I spent 7 years in a call centre, and know a thing or two about the way things work at the other end of a toll-free number. I know that companies legally have to remove you from their mailing lists if you ask them to. Nonetheless, I fully expected to encounter some bumps along the way to getting my request fulfilled and promised myself that I'd try to enjoy it.
Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I've decided to share it with you.
I was in the process of getting supper ready so I dialed the number using my cordless phone and set it on speakerphone, placing it on the counter so I could keep my hands free.
It rang, there was a brief introduction, and I pressed 1 for English. The disembodied voice said it would transfer me. I waited... silence. The silence lasted for about 60 seconds, and then there was a brief musical interlude. It wasn't hold music; it sounded like company theme music, and only lasted about 3 seconds. Then there was about 60 seconds of silence again, and suddenly it disconnected. The phone shouted "WREH WREH WREH WREH" at me until I hung up.
I smiled, thinking that if I had really wanted to sign up for that credit card that I'd be getting frustrated by now, and dialed again.
This time after I pressed 1 for English and it transferred me, there was legitimate hold music. But what a nasty selection - it sounded like thrash metal, and over speakerphone it sounded even worse than thrash metal. Every now and then a recorded female East Indian voice (she had obviously gone through accent neutralization training) said, "Thank you for your patience. We spend as much time with each customer as possible. Please remain on the line and your call will be answered as soon as possible."
I had to question the wisdom of "spending as much time with each customer as possible" - I think they meant to say "as necessary" but who am I to judge?
This went on - a steady alternation of speakerphone-rattling thrash metal, and barely-accented poor word choice - for about 8 minutes while I chopped salad and popped a lasagne in the oven. Finally my call was routed to a live rep who started to recite his call opening script. I dropped the oven mitts and picked up the cordless, switching it back to regular phone mode. The change in sound must have confused the rep, for he stopped in the middle of his script.
"Hello?" I intoned.
"Hello!" he replied.
"Sorry, I had it on speakerphone and switched it to regular phone when you picked up."
"Oh, OK, no problem. How can I help you?" he asked, in his Indian accent. He, too, had obviously gone through accent neutralization, although the recorded lady's accent was hidden better than his was.
"I got your credit card application in the mail, and I don't want to sign up for it. Could you remove me from your mailing list?"
"OK, do you have a pen and paper available?" he asked.
This caught me off guard; I wasn't sure how writing something down would help me to get less mail. Perhaps it was some sort of magic spell or incantation, or some choice words for the mailman?
I found a pencil, and I had the application right in front of me. "Yes," I answered.
"OK, please write this down..." and he gave me another toll-free number. Was I supposed to shout it at the mailman? He continued, "You'll need to speak to customer service to be removed from the mailing list."
"So you can't do it yourself?"
"No, I work in Registrations."
"All right. Can you transfer me there?"
"Yes, I'll transfer you. I gave you the number in case you get disconnected so you can call them directly."
Smart move. He must have tried calling his own toll-free number at some point and knew that being disconnected was always a risk. But I also detected a hint of the infamous call centre AHT measure - Average Handle Time. The shorter your calls are as an agent, the more calls you can take, and your company becomes more efficient and makes more money. So agents are pressed to do everything they can to reduce the length of their calls. So instead of him explaining that only customer service can do mailing list removals and that I may need to call them directly if I'm disconnected so I should make a note of their number, he has learned just to give people the phone number. This shaves precious seconds off his AHT. But it's a really inhuman way to treat people (that theme being the main reason I got out of the call centre industry).
He transferred me to Customer Service, and happily they had normal hold musak so I put it back on speakerphone. After about 3 minutes, Chelsea picked up the phone. She was not from India, that much was plain; she didn't skip a beat when I thumbed the cordless off speakerphone mode.
"I want to be removed from your mailing list," I explained.
"Sure, I can do that," she replied. "I'll need your name and address." I gave them to her, and asked her where she was based. "Ottawa," she said.
I started my call centre job in Ottawa, so I was curious and asked her, "Do you work at Convergys?"
"It's a call centre."
"Oh. Never heard of it. I work for the bank." She changed the subject. "So it can take up to 90 days to get you off the mailing list entirely." Companies tell you this because they know there's probably another marketing scheme being hatched right then and that your name will already be on the mailing list for that one. Companies also will rarely permanently remove you from their mailing lists, and this one is no exception - she adds, "And your removal will expire after 3 years and 31 days."
"3 years and 31 days?" I repeat.
"That's kind of an odd number, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess it is."
We ended the call, and I checked the time on my phone - 14 minutes in total. Not bad.
But I'll have to do it all again sometime after February 8, 2012. Nuts.