No H8ers – why all the H8?

You keep using that word...Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or avoiding ALL forms of media, you may be aware that Central Texas has been a hotbed of debate over abortion recently. A catheter and brightly colored sneaker sporting single mother who chose life has been heralded as a ‘hero’ for enacting a nearly 14 hour filibuster to prevent the passage of a bill that would prevent abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would ensure that abortion clinics had the same surgical care requirements as your local Lasik location. The bill that would protect women seeking an abortion from dying from things such as a perforated uterus was considered ‘anti-woman’. In the end, the bill wasn’t passed because of a wild disruption in the gallery of the Senate that prevented the vote from taking place prior to midnight (it was passed 19-10 at 3 minutes after midnight). ‘Democracy’ shouted those who prevented its passing.

What became clear while watching what was happening at the Capitol was the amount of anger on display – but not by those wearing the blue shirts. Reports of the chants of ‘Hail Satan’ are widely known – but there was much spitting on and harassing of those in blue shirts by those in orange. What I don’t understand is the anger?

Last night I came across a retweet of a tweet from Dan Savage. I was initially struck by his negativity and anger – oddly, I decided to go to his Twitter feed and began reading his other Tweets. Many had made the one I initially read look happy and glee filled.

Rather than simply accepting that there are those who disagree with his lifestyle, Dan Savage has become what he hates. Or, perhaps he always has been what he hates. His story about being bullied and treated poorly because of his life choices is both sad and compelling. He has, however, lost his way as a role model in his anger and vitriol. Here are some samples of Tweets from a man who preaches no H8. Warning – vile and graphic language.

And celebrating his porn contest:

This is the man that President Obama and the White House celebrated and promoted as part of their support of the ‘It Gets Better’ project. After reading some of the Tweets above, I’m perplexed as to whether it really has gotten better for Dan Savage or whether he has become stuck in the place of an embittered and unhappy human being who spends his life feeding on the negativity that he and others so openly, willingly and widely spew.

How is it that he cannot see how he has become the very thing he hates? Perhaps he does, but he doesn’t care because he sees himself being paid very handsomely for doing so.

So very very sad. A man in need of prayers.

St. John the Baptist and Religious Freedom

Today is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, otherwise known as the Jesus’ cousin and the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Today is also the first Sunday of ‘Fortnight for Freedom‘, the two week period of prayer, study, catechesis and action regarding the threats to religious freedom. How fitting that the Feast of St. John the Baptist would be celebrated during this Fortnight as St. John the Baptist epitomized the importance of religious freedom and what can happen when an all too powerful government dictates what may and may not be acceptable in terms of religious expression.

St. John the Baptist was first described to us when Mary first goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, upon courageously and obediently saying ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel when he tells her that she has been chosen by God to bear His son. In Luke, we are told

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

The baby to which the passage refers is Elizabeth’s son, John. We learn from various writings that John was a bold man who preached the truth. He lived as a hermit in the desert and was known to be somewhat eccentric. Some time around his thirtieth birthday, he began to preach fervently about the importance of penance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin – even baptizing Jesus. His following grew and grew and was a great threat to Herod Antipas. John was never one to shy away from truth and honesty – and never one to be quiet about sharing this in a very public way. As such, John spoke openly against the adulterous and incestuous marriage of Herod to Herodias, the wife of Herod’s half brother Philip. Herod had John arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against him. John’s life ended at the wish of Herodias’ daughter, Salome, who requested his head be served on a platter to her mother.

While the conditions of St. John the Baptist’s death differ from the threats to religious liberty we face today, there are similarities that can be drawn here in the US and along the lines of what Christians around the world – particularly in the Middle East – face as a result of publicly expressing religion. St. John the Baptist told the truth about Herod and Herodias. Herod didn’t arrest St. John the Baptist only because of what he said, he did so because Herod was a threat to his power and St. John the Baptist had an ever-growing ministry of followers who turned toward truth and honesty and disavowed corruption.

The recent HHS Mandate in the United States which requires that individuals, companies, hospitals – and everyone other than a Church – pay for and provide health insurance plans that cover the free distribution of contraception, as well as include coverage for sterilization and abortion inducing drugs. The only organizations exempt from this mandate are organizations that serve ONLY people of their own religion. The US Council of Catholic Bishops noted that even Jesus wouldn’t qualify for exemption under the requirements as outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services.

As a result of this mandate, 43 different religious organizations have filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (ironically, headed up by a professed pro-abortion Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius). Many believe the lawsuits are about contraception – but they aren’t. The lawsuits seek to argue that the Department of HHS steps beyond the bounds of the US Constitution by declaring the definition of ‘religious expression’. The US Constitution States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The First Amendment declares is that a) Congress may not establish a religion (keep in mind what had been happening in England at the time the colonists left to settle the United States) and, equally important, b) that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The second part of the statement is extremely broad and what the current lawsuits are using as a basis to fight the Obama Administration and the Department of HHS. Perhaps the best example describing this violation is Marc Barnes’ description he provided here:

The free exercise of religion is violated both by what you take away from a religion, and by what you force a religion to do. If members of a religion are forced by the government to perform actions contrary to their beliefs, they are no more free than dogs.

The second part of his first sentence is key – you violate the free exercise of religion not only by what you take away but always what you FORCE THEM TO DO. In this case, religious freedom is being violated by forcing individuals and organizations to pay for and offer products and services (purchased from a private entity!) against which they have a moral obligation.

Thankfully, we have a court system in the United States against which we can file a grievance and hopefully resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. Following the news in the Middle East and Northern Africa, one can see that we are truly blessed to live in a civil democracy in which religious freedom is, for the most part, respected. We must pray during this Fortnight for Freedom that we continue to be blessed with religious freedom and that our brothers and sisters here in the US understand the importance of awareness and action in keeping our religious freedom safe. We must also pray for the expansion of religious freedom to those Christians currently persecuted and dying as a result of the expression of their religion.

We can all benefit from taking a moment to asking St. John the Baptist to intercede on our behalf for an expansion of religious freedom around the world, as well as a strengthening of religious freedom here in the US. After all, St. John the Baptist knew first hand what happens when the government is free to dictate the definition of freedom of expression.

Who is being bullied and who are the bullies?

This past fall we had dealt with a situation in which our young son was being bullied at school. It had been taking place for almost two months without our knowing. What we did know, however, is that his sweet and cheerful disposition had changed and he had become prone to sudden outbursts of physical and emotional rage. His behavior had become so extreme that we contemplated seeking professional help from a counsellor to try and learn why this might be happening. It was torturous to see him so unhappy and feel helpless in trying to understand why. He’s never been one for sharing his feelings in discussion, so it was very difficult to try and determine the root cause of this change in behavior.

In late October, our prayers of understanding why this was happening had been answered. We went to our scheduled parent-teacher conference and learned that on that morning a boy had written an unkind note about our son and had showed it to him in order to have him feel badly. We spoke with our son about this note and the floodgates opened. We discovered that this had been just one in a series of incidents that had been taking place almost daily. The cumulation of this behavior by this boy had caused our son to feel terrible about himself. We, with our son’s teacher, told our son that this behavior would change and that he could freely and openly tell us about these incidents going forward. While we didn’t realize it at the time, we noticed within that very week that our son’s cheery disposition was starting to return and his moments of rage had begun to diminish.

I’ve been more alert to bullying and its impact since this happened. I admit that I had read of teen suicides as a result of bullying in the past and had wondered ‘How could the parents not know what was happening?’, and – after having our son experience someone telling him repeatedly that he was worthless for two months and not know though knowing something was happening – I can say that I now understand how I understand how they could not have known.

Watching the news the past few weeks, I have seen examples of bullying take place in very public ways and it has been appalling to watch. A bully is defined as ‘A person who uses strength or power to intimidate those who are weaker.’ and the act of bullying is ‘Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.’

The most prominent example of this blatant bullying took place when prominent anti-bullying advocate, Dan Savage, founder of ‘It Get’s Better‘ (widely endorsed by the Obama administration) took the opportunity to use his pulpit at a teen journalism conference to speak horribly about the Bible and Christians who believe in the validity of sacred scripture. During a lengthy anti-Bible rant, Savage noted that

We can learn to ignore the bulls-t in the Bible about gay people.

He went on to refer to those who, offended by his behavior, got up and left by calling them names like ‘pansy-asses’. It is astounding to me that a young gay man who has been the subject of much name calling and criticism of his choices in life – so much so that he would start a foundation to speak out against it – would be so hypocritical to exercise the same behavior he abhors to a group of teens who thought they were coming to hear about journalism. Dan Savage has become the bully (we become what we hate?).

Sadly, this behavior is being exercised from the top down by our own President here in the US as ‘Obama for America’ had the audacity to publicize the names of donors to the Romney campaign whom they deemed to be ‘questionable’. The point here isn’t to discuss the merits of whether or not Romney has ‘questionable’ donors, or even to point out the hypocrisy of President Obama doing so when his own list of donors contains their own questionable characters (John Corzine?, Jeffrey Katzenberg? George Kaiser?), but rather to illuminate the poor example it sets for our children when the highest office in the land to abuse its position of power and threaten those who speak out (or donate) against it. Isn’t this considered intimidation of those weaker than the office of the President – which would be essentially everyone in the US.

I’ve been doing my very best to stay away from being political on this blog… I really have! Reading this story yesterday, however, combined with the revealing of Savage as a bully prompted me to write this today. The story reveals how the publishing of questionable and inaccurate materials on the Obama for America website about Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. has cost Mr. VanderSloot significant business deals. Other articles regarding the matter indicate that Mr. VanderSloot is considering libel lawsuits – and rightly so. The first line of the article states

Here’s what happens when the president of the United States publicly targets a private citizen for the crime of supporting his opponent.

It is saddening that we would find ourselves with the individual occupying the highest office of the land speaking out against bullying, and then using the same tactics he criticizes in those who bully in an attempt to hold on to that office.

How can we teach our children the importance of respect for one another and treating those with whom you may disagree with dignity and respect if those who occupy prominent places in the media don’t do the same and exemplify that behavior? Its even worse when those who speak out against it turn around and do the very thing against which they speak.

Thankfully, there is always the opportunity to share with our children the idea that Jesus taught us loving others as He loves us.

‘How can you refuse him now?’

As He hung there on the tree

He prayed for you and He prayed for me.

There was no one his pain to ease,

Before he died, he faintly cried,

Father forgive them please.

After arriving home exhausted on Holy Thursday, I fell asleep for about an hour and then received a text from a client who was having some issues with their email. I had wanted to go back to sleep until the next morning and deal with it then, but I couldn’t sleep and got up to call the 24-hour support provided by the web and email hosting company. After two hours, we felt we resolved what we could and I got off the phone with them shortly before 2 am and tried to get back to sleep. I was wide awake so I watched TV for a short while to help my mind come down from the whirlwind it had been on for the previous 2 hours. In hindsight, I should have prayed.

I awoke on Good Friday at 8 am and realized that what we *thought* had been resolved hadn’t and got back on the phone with the support people for another two hours. By the end of the two hours, again we felt we had resolved the issue. Later that morning, I discovered that the issue *still* hadn’t been resolved. This was causing a great deal of anxiety for my client, and for me. We were doing what we could with the hosting company, but we were dependent on them for much of the troubleshooting and to find a solution.

We went to the 3 pm Stations of the Cross that afternoon and as I sat down, I prayed for a few moments to be still. I prayed that I could shut off the outside world and be immersed in the story of the Passion of the Christ as we walked through the 14 Stations of the Cross. I felt at peace and free from the anxiety that had plagued me earlier in the day. While I was tired, I felt alert and relaxed at the same time.

As the Stations finished and we left the Church, I went back into anxiety mode trying to determine what would need to happen next in terms of helping my client. Throughout the day, I had realized that this experience was one of ‘small suffering’. It was one in which I needed to stay centered and focused. I needed to maintain my composure and not let my anxiety get the better of me. At the same time, I would need to try and find the balance between contemplating Christ’s time on the cross and my practical daily experiences that were presenting themselves.

Later that afternoon, my prayers were answered as I received a text from my client to inform me that the hosting company had finally resolved the problem we were having. He was frustrated with the whole experience, but knew that I had done all I could and had felt comfortable with the idea that there were some configuration issues well beyond our knowledge and that the hosting company was entirely responsible for ensuring that they needed to be correct. I was able to finish cooking dinner and get ready to head back to the Church for the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord.

The Liturgy of the Word was beautiful, but I was particularly moved by the second part, the Adoration of the Holy Cross. The first time I’d experienced this, I thought it unusual and – truthfully – a little weird. The idea of holding up in honor, a crucifix, seemed unnecessary to me. I went ahead with it in past years, but – in keeping with the Holy Thursday appreciation of ‘experiencing’ the Triduum instead of just merely ‘participating’ – this year was different. Earlier in the service, the Priest had given a beautiful homily and one phrase jumped out at me:

Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection

I had heard this phrase countless times before and I knew what it meant. I understood completely that to fully enjoy the good in life, we have to also experience the bad. Often times, the good can only come from clawing our way through the bad. The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from a book written by Stephen King, provides a beautiful – yet also gross – analogy of this when Andy, (warning – spoiler alert!) the character played by Tim Robbins, claws his way through a 1/2 mile long tunnel of raw sewage to find his freedom at the other end as he escapes from prison.

Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.

None of us has found true happiness in our lives without some form of suffering. The two go hand in hand. In the case of Christ, He suffered the horrific scourging and then a painful death on the cross in order that He would be resurrected. Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection.

Christ lived the prophecy and prayed for each and every one of us. He took on the sins of the world so that we may be free.

He was spurned and avoided by people,

a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,

one of those from whom people hide their faces,

spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

 

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,

our sufferings that he endured,

while we thought of him as stricken,

as one smitten by God and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our offenses,

crushed for our sins;

upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,

by his stripes we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,

each following his own way;

but the LORD laid upon him

the guilt of us all.

 

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted

and opened not his mouth;

like a lamb led to the slaughter

or a sheep before the shearers,

he was silent and opened not his mouth.

Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,

and who would have thought any more of his destiny?

When he was cut off from the land of the living,

and smitten for the sin of his people,

a grave was assigned him among the wicked

and a burial place with evildoers,

though he had done no wrong

nor spoken any falsehood. – Isaiah 53: 3-9

It is, therefore, important that we recognize the significance of the Cross in Christ’s willingness to die. Christ hung on the Cross so that our sins may be forgiven.

Behold the wood of the Cross,

on which hung the salvation of the world.

Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection.

An update on Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

Pastor Nadarkhani had been on my heart recently and I did a Google search to see if I could identify any updated information regarding his status. From what I can tell, he is still alive and being kept in captivity.

In my search, I came across a great piece on Patheos;

The idea that the fate of Youcef Nadarkhani will be a marker of Iran’s future is rarely expressed in Christian writings on his situation, but I believe it is a powerful reality. Nations that have killed their citizens unrepentantly over matters of faith have invariably courted chaos, terror, and internal weakness. This is historically true however we choose to account for it. It would take a kind of open-ended courage for Iranian decision-makers to let Nadarkhani live, on his terms, but any other decision will invite calamity for their people and themselves.

Please continue to keep Pastor Nadarkhani in your prayers.