Fish, Loaves and Houses Built on Sand

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”  Jesus 

We all have known people who claim to be Christians but we see that their actions don’t support that claim. Of course, sometimes that is us. That’s a tricky situation, because we can’t fully grasp their thoughts or their motives. They say that they believe in Christ and  they attend church regularly, but they make jokes at the expense of the poor and marginalized. And, often, before they tell a joke, they realize they must look around to scan the room before telling it.

And, that’s a problem. A big problem. A Christian should look like a Christian. People should see a Christian and realize that there is some powerful quality for good in him. Jesus compares the Christian life to a man building a house.He clearly states that hearing the words he has spoken (going to church) is just not enough. He says that, unless you act on those words there is the possibility for you of meeting a really bad end.

What types of actions build the sound house? I would think it would be the actions that most closely model those of our Lord. We emulate the actions of Jesus when we open our heart to the homeless person on the corner. We emulate Jesus Christ when we smile genuinely at a stranger. We stand up for Christ when we stand up for minorities, immigrants and other marginalized people. I would go so far as to say that, when we don’t do that, we effectively deny our faith and ignore our Lord.

Jesus saw the physical needs of people. A crowd of people came to hear him speak and after three days they were understandably famished. He called his disciples over and said “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” Among them, the disciples were able to access only seven loaves of bread along with a few fish. And, the Bible account even tells us that those fish were small.

Jesus instructed the disciples to have the people sit in orderly rows and then pass out the food. Now, certainly Jesus could have made a meal appear before each person in that crowd. If he chose to, an overflowing basket could have descended upon a  red and white gingham blanket and the picnic would have been on. Instead, he had his disciples do the work. He had them seat the people, distribute the food and manage the cleanup.

I think that Jesus does that today. He provides the material goods, being the provider of everything we call ours, and tells us to go into the crowd and share it. He gives us what we need and expects us to do the work.

The Bible account of the event tells us that “they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” Could there be a clearer message? When we tilt our hearts toward charity, when we work for justice and to effect societal change , when we see Jesus in the faces of the crowd, we can share what we have been given and we will still have much left over.

 

About a Fat Guy (part one)

I’m a fat guy. Not really that fat, just morbidly obese. I’m labelled that way on the BMI chart. Morbidly obese.

I’ve been a pudgy guy for nearly all my life. There was a ten year period where I ran a lot and was able to keep my weight down. I’m nearly six feet tall and, at the peak of my marathoning days I weighed 139 pounds. That may seem thin to you, but, I felt pudgy at that time. A pudgy 139 pounder. I felt that way because my internal body image was distorted. I felt fluffy. I wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t matter to my self image.

When I stopped running (always a mistake), I began to put on weight. When I reached 160 pounds I told myself I was at a good weight. I probably was. After all, 160 pounds is middleweight boxer territory.Who wouldn’t want to be a middleweight?

I stayed in that 160 range for awhile. Just long enough for me to begin considering that 160 was my regular weight, my best weight. I would gain four or five pounds and then lose them again. Back to 160. My best weight. After awhile I noticed I wasn’t dropping back to 160 as quickly. Eventually, I didn’t get there again. I adjusted to my new plateau of 175. It was my best weight.

I changed jobs and worked at a place where I would do a lot of walking from account to account. My boss told me that a side benefit of this job would be that I would lose a lot of weight with all that walking. I wondered why he would say that. He didn’t seem to realize that I weighed only 185, my best weight.

I didn’t see that weight loss prediction come true. Sure, there was a lot of walking, but it was always by a pizza place or bagel store. Even the outdoor newsstands in NYC sell candy! I was doing all that walking, so certainly I was fit. I just needed to update my wardrobe to accommodate me at my best weight of 200 pounds.

What a shock it was to me one day to go on an appointment that I’d made from a friend’s lead. When the client talked to my buddy about the meeting he referred to me as “the fat guy.” The fat guy? I was only 218 pounds. It was my…

I took a good, hard look at myself in a storefront window. Sure enough, it was true. It had happened when I wasn’t paying attention. I had become a fat guy. Fortunately, I was determined to do something about it. I changed my diet. I gave up soda, bread, pasta, cheese and potatoes. I bought a scale to keep in my office. I was determined. And, it worked.

I actually enjoyed being on a diet. First, it made me feel good to deny myself. I enjoyed the attention in the office when I gave weight loss progress reports. Also, and I know this is not a good trait, I felt morally superior to everyone who could not stay on their diet. I kept on my diet diligently and was able to attend our company’s national sales conference at 185 pounds. I was pretty proud of myself. After all, I had gotten down to my best weight.

Those weight loss battles were twenty years ago. After I got down to my best weight of 170 pounds I stopped being so diligent. I stopped weighing myself. I allowed some “treats”. I was inching back up on the scale. I was doing it without monitoring myself. A few days before this Easter I weighed in at 237 pounds. I told my son that I was too fat. It was the heaviest I’d ever weighed. I was far from my best weight. I would do something about it right after Easter. Right after Easter.

I learned a quick, painful lesson by starting my diet right after Easter. Monday, the day after Easter, I tipped the scales at 246 pounds. I had put on an amazing nine pounds in those final few days of my feeding frenzy. To bring that into focus, it generally days a month to diet away ten pounds. So I’d set myself back more than a month because I put off doing what was necessary. I’m sure there’s a corollary there to other habits in my life.

So, I’m making a declaration today. I’m declaring war on my fat, blubbery self and freeing the fit me from the trap of morbid obesity. I’m doing it publicly because I fear that if I don’t, I will fail. Today it’s “game on.” I’m going to stick with this diet and with this topic until I succeed. I ask all you people who pray to pray for me regarding this. I won’t give you any credit when I succeed but you will privately know you did your part.

 

 

 

 

With The Clothes on Their Back

In the light of day I found many typos. Here’s a cleaner version.

BROKEN THINKING

My first exposure to Catholicism was through my aunt Thelma. My uncle Joe was Catholic also, but the image of Catholicism, for me, at an early age, was Aunt Thelma. I still have very clear images of her in the pews at St Mary of the Assumption. She was silent, attentive. My mother said she was devout. It was the first time I’d heard the word but it was an accurate one.

It was through my mother and aunt that I first encountered Ecumenism.  They were twin daughters of a Lutheran pastor. My mother stayed the course and was to remain a Lutheran her entire life. My aunt met my Uncle Joe and fell in love. He was Catholic. She converted for love. She continued as a Catholic her entire life, too. She continued because of the quality of devotion that my mother credited her with. She continued for love…

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With The Clothes on Their Back

 

My first exposure to Catholicism was through my aunt Thelma. My uncle Joe was Catholic also, but the image of Catholicism, for me, at an early age, was Aunt Thelma. I still have very clear images of her in the pews at St Mary of the Assumption. She was silent, attentive. My mother said she was devout. It was the first time I’d heard the word but it was an accurate one.

It was through my mother and aunt that I first encountered Ecumenism.  They were twin daughters of a Lutheran pastor. My mother stayed the course and was to remain a Lutheran her entire life. My aunt met my Uncle Joe and fell in love. He was Catholic. She converted for love. She continued as a Catholic her entire life, too. She continued because of the quality of devotion that my mother credited her with. She continued for love of her Lord.

The twins found it difficult sometimes, balancing their two faiths. There was a tension which they made every effort to avoid. But, they were successful. They managed their personal ecumenism well and religion never came between them. Each knew when to back off when things got awkward. I slept at my cousins’ house often but Aunt Thelma would never bring me to Mass without my mother’s permission.

Years later, the neighborhood surrounding St Mary of the Assumption was the spot where Mexican immigrants would come to live. The neighborhood had become pretty rundown. Most of the stores had closed and there was a great deal of illegal activity.  With the influx of immigrants, the previously distressed streets came alive. New stores opened. They were adorned with Mexican flags and their signs were bright green and red. A neighborhood that had been left for dead was alive again. Port Richmond Avenue was the site of a cultural and economic resurrection.

In my neighborhood, a mile or so away, the building on the corner of my street was rented to families from Ecuador and Mexico. Most summer nights they barbecued in the parking lot. The parents were right out there with their children, playing kickball and soccer. The older boys played three on three half-court basketball under a backboard made of plywood. Walking my dog past there was a delight. In some way, this scene reminded me of my own small town childhood. It made me feel good.  I learned a bit of rudimentary Spanish and we all became friends. We ate together. We visited each other’s homes. I held a small Bible study for Spanish speakers in my home. It was, in a way, cultural ecumenism. But, it was ecumenism without the tension.

I was invited to attend the confirmation of one of the boys. It was, of course, held at St. Mary’s. The church now had a vibrant congregation of Spanish speakers. Some were documented. Most were not. I sat with the family in the pew and marveled at the beauty of the ceremony. I understood only a few words but I was impressed. Later that night, we went back to my friend’s house and celebrated with cake and a delicious traditional fish stew from Ecuador. It was served during Holy Week and had ingredients to represent the twelve apostles.

When I began to be attracted to the Catholic Church, I viewed a video presentation by Father Robert Barron, He told a little humorous story about a wealthy man converting to Catholicism. The man’s mother told him she could adjust to the doctrinal differences but it would be hard to see him worshiping with the “help.” The “big tent” aspect of the religion was something on display that confirmation night and it was something I found attractive.

My parish now is fully inside that neighborhood. Due to budget cuts another parish merged with ours. It was, of course, St. Mary of the Assumption. The merged parishes now added to our congregation three hundred or more undocumented people, drawn to worship Christ together with us. It was a clear example of the Church welcoming all. I’ve gone to a few Spanish language masses there so that I could feel unity with both congregations. And, as I looked around, I wondered, without the Catholic Church, where the marginalized would worship? Who would be there to pray with them? How would they receive communion? Who would visit them in the hospital? Who would bury their dead?

Of course, it is the Church that will do those things. It would be the Catholic Church which dedicates herself to the marginalized. She has done that throughout history.  From the early Catholics who became known for caring for the sick and providing proper burial for the dead, to Dorothy Day, to Mother Teresa, the Church has extended open arms to the poor.

And, looking around the congregation, I see the pull that my aunt felt.  I smile to know I am in her lineal parish and I’m pleased to realize I am again attending Mass with my dear late aunt once more.

 

***

From The West Wing:

With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm. And those that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here.

(President Jeb Bartlett)

 

 

 

Brotherly Love, Courses, and Exclusion

Here’s an email I received from someone who, I thought, was a friend. He is a local pastor who teaches Bible classes in his church for a fee. I was interested enough in one of the classes that I was willing to pay that fee.
Ross,
 
I trust you are well. I took a second to look at your facebook page and noticed a medical test.  Did everything turn out alright?
 
I am writing because you recently enrolled in one of our classes on Catholicism.  You and I have had a few interesting conversations about Catholicism  and frankly I found your you interjecting into many things I write to be distracting  and contentious and thus I defriended you. As President it is my opinion that you will be a distraction in our class on Catholicism. You have made up your mind on much of what will be taught and I sincerely think it would be better for you not to attend. Your motives in signing up maybe pure but the outcome will be less than that and be a determent to our other students 
 
Again, I hope you are well
I deleted the two instances where he identified his “school” by name. Other than that, the email is as he wrote it.
I had taken a class at his church on the Church Fathers. I was still a Protestant at that time. The class sparked in me a wonder about what actually happened right after the Ascension of Christ. What was the early Church like? Who were the “thought leaders” of that day? The course was amazing. It covered a great deal of the persecution of the day and the heresies that were fought against. It covered the process the Church went through in establishing the Canon. But, the course leader, the “dean”, did something that strongly aroused my interest. I had never realized it before but his determination to never use the word “Catholic” made me see for the first time that the original Church was Catholic! I know it shows my ignorance but I’d just never considered that until that course on Early Fathers opened my eyes.
Now, what my erstwhile pastor friend was afraid of is beyond me. I took that course, saw an obvious anti-catholic bias and never uttered a word. I never asked a question. I never answered one. I never spoke. I never felt it would be appropriate to challenge the “dean” on anything. At least, not in a church setting.
I did interact with the pastor on his Facebook account. I did it because we were friends. He asked a question and my answer differed from his viewpoint. I never thought that would be a problem. He did chastise me immediately on that page so I apologized and asked if we were okay. No response was forthcoming for awhile so I asked again. This time he responded:
Ross, thanks for your words but I wasn’t at all offended. I attempted to write back explaining I understood your bemusement. The message didn’t send because I was in my basement. It will appear below. You and I are good.
So, for some crazy reason, I thought that he and I were “good.”
Apparently, we weren’t. We weren’t good. He defriended me on Facebook without ever telling me that he had an issue with me, without ever going to me as he often preached should be done. Jesus Himself is quoted in the fifth chapter of Matthew as saying that you should resolve conflict between yourself and a brother before even presenting a gift to God. That seems to make relationships between Christian brothers pretty important. Yet this pastor cut me off without warning, without an attempt at resolution and after assuring me that we had no problem between us. It was as though he, as another pastor friend of mine said, “believes the lie that they (pastors) are special.”
And how, I wonder, could it be that although my motives may be pure the outcome “will be less than that?” And how can my mere presence in a classroom where no one knows me be a “determent”? Is this voodoo/Christianity? That’s the only reasonable assumption to a position that asserts that a person purely interested in learning, committed to silence and unknown to anyone else would cause a less than pure outcome.
The amazing part of this is that he was using a textbook that I consider to be fair and objective in its description of Catholicism. So, it can only be that he was planning for the course to deviate from the book and would teach untruths about Catholicism. He was afraid I’d call him on it. I assured him I wouldn’t have.  And even though I’d promised to not speak, the thought of me hearing the lies taught as truth was too embarrassing  for him to bear.
I know that his actions are in no way typical of my Protestant brothers. I will continue to side with Pope Francis when he says that the only acceptable term for a Protestant is “brother.” I will continue to want the best for this pastor. Because, as Pope Francis also has said, any division between Christians is of the devil.
I want to get along with him because we are brothers and the way for brothers to relate to one another is clear. And I don’t ever want to believe the lie that I am special.

Ann Feinstein,Credibility and Trust

Recently, my daughter Bethany was looking for an MLM opportunity. As the mother of my young, (beautiful), grandchildren, she wanted an opportunity to run a small business from her home. She started her research.

My son and I had recently stopped doing our MLM project. We’d had some minor success (he more than me), but there was something that we didn’t care for. what we were doing didn’t get us excited nor did it resonate with us on any level. So, we got out and thought we’d washed our hands of the MLM business model entirely.

I did contact someone on Bethany’s behalf. He was a friend from the first MLM venture. What are you guys doing now, I asked. I told him my daughter was seriously looking for an MLM opportunity. Shockingly, he didn’t tell me what he was doing, he directed me to his website. That wasn’t the response I was looking for. I didn’t go to check the site.

A little time went by, I wasn’t looking for anything. And then, Ann Feinstein called Ross Jr. We knew Ann. She was a legend in the MLM world. She had accomplished a lot in business. We admired her and trusted her.

Ann had shown herself to be a great, compassionate person. Our island had been ravaged by Superstorm Sandy (see Bill Nighy, Yellow Boots and About Time) and she was among the first to respond. We hadn’t set up a charity, there were no tax deductions for donations, only a GoFundMe account and a promise to get the donations to those in need. That was good enough for Ann. She drove to Staten Island with beds and bedding (she knew the Red Cross had refused to supply the local children with dry beds) and joined us at the distribution hub Ross Jr. had set up. She came with a crew and she came with money. She and her husband David came with us along with other members of her company and the two of them negotiated great discounts from Kohls, Loew’s and Home Depot. We were able to really get a good start in helping our neighbors.

So, when Ann asked us to join her in Fuxion, her new project, we were all ears. Ross Jr. was the first in. I joined before I saw the products! If Ann was in, that was good enough for our family. Bethany followed. We had so much of that excitement that we’d always been coached to have but really had never experienced. It translated to an immediate adding of people into the business. We were off and running.

People make the difference in life. If my first friend had had the enthusiasm Ann had we might be working with him. But then, we would have missed the Fuxion opportunity with Ann and David Feinstein. And I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!

 

http://soyfuxion.net/decker

https://brokenthinking.net/2015/06/08/bill-nighy-yellow-boots-and-about-time/

 

 

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Abortion, Dignity and Consistency

by Ross Decker Sr

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.”

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” Mt2:16-18

This was the reading on December 28, The Feast of The Holy Innocents. For his homily, my priest made the clear connection between those verses and abortion. But he didn’t stop there. He made the case that we, as the Church, should be aware that the abuse of innocent children doesn’t end there. It extends to children born in poverty. Children born in areas of the world where deadly disease spreads unchecked. Children who are killed and maimed because they were born in a country where the adults wage continual war. Children who meet that same fate as refugees trying to flee to safety.

It made me grateful to be in a Church where the Sanctity of Human Life is championed daily, not just on a single snowy, cold day in late January. And it made me grateful to be part of a Church where pro-life means more than just stopping women from getting abortions.

I always felt that there ought to be more to the pro-life movement than being anti-abortion. I learned that from my friend and pastor, Kevin Rhodes. In February of 1982, I invited Kevin, half in jest, to attend a conference for women with me. To my surprise, he accepted and we went there together. One speaker was a young man, a young college professor who spoke about how important it was for women to have access to “easy” abortions. Kevin, sitting next to me, boiled. He was convinced, and was able to convince me, that this guy’s entire agenda was built around creating an environment where it was not only easy to get an abortion but also easy to get college girls to have sex with young college professors.

Kevin felt the need to do something about what we’d seen and soon, the two of us were putting together the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in our borough of New York City. All services were to be free, no board members would be allowed to picket at abortion clinics and there would be nominal material support for mothers who elected to keep their babies. They would get diapers and clothing for their babies. And each year, around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we sent a board member around to each Evangelical church on our island to remind our brethren about the sanctity of human life.

And then, I became Catholic!

When I entered the Catholic Church I got the chance to see what it meant to be pro-life everyday. What it meant to be pro-life, not merely anti-abortion.

From the start of that Crisis Pregnancy Center I saw the need to take care of the mother who didn’t abort. Now, I saw the need to get her counseling, formula, diapers and baby clothes. If we were going to ask a woman to do the right, though hard, thing, it was our responsibility to help her. We had to stick with that mother because it’s important to be as pro-life with a baby once born as it is to care for a pre-born baby. That’s got to be part of being pro-life.

The woman who had the abortion needs care too. There was a lot of stress, fear and confusion that led her to make that choice. Having an abortion doesn’t sort that out. She still needs to be cared for because of the human dignity God gave her. The care of that woman is a pro-life issue.

After becoming Catholic I learned some things about the Church’s compassionate nature that surprised me. I learned that the first AIDS clinic was started in New York City by Cardinal O’Connor. Why did he do it? Because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

I’ve learned that being pro-life means that we hope for fair immigration laws. Families come to America because they are hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. They’ve always heard that America can offer them a great opportunity. The decision to enter as undocumented isn’t made on a lark. There are real risks in going to America. But there is a dark future in their own country. We want families to be able to hold together. We advocate for fair treatment of immigrants because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We see the human dignity in the marginalized. We seek to bring them in from society’s outskirts. We care that the worker gets a fair wage and is able to provide for his or her family because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We advocate against the death penalty because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We see war as a last resort because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

Yes, we know there’s a second amendment issue to gun control but we need to see gun violence addressed because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We want to see the LGBT community treated with Godly love and respect. Why? Yes, because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

There’s so much more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion. Being against abortion certainly is an integral part of being pro-life but the issue is greater than that. When I came home to the Catholic Church I learned that the Catholic position on the pro-life is the most comprehensive and consistent position of all.

We see the human dignity in the faces of all God’s children. Why? Because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

 

http://www.soyfuxion.net/decker

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000942703561

History, Hubris, and Hook Shots (Part two)

When last we met, I was with Protestant friends on the golf course lamenting the “lost” fifteen hundred years of Church history. In fact, I was still a Protestant myself at that time. But that would not be the case for much longer. I’d been in a Protestant church for more than thirty five years and had grown accustomed to seeing everything through a Protestant filter. Protestants had succeeded, and would for a time even after my entrance into the Catholic church, in making the events of the last five hundred years the default position of any discussion.
The Reformers were the definitive experts. Where is that in the Bible?
How does your position supported by applying Sola Scriptura?

For me, for those thirty five years, it was a prison.

Toward the end of my time I began to see holes in the Protestant position. First, and most obvious, there was no canon of Scripture for hundreds of years after the Resurrection of our Lord. Nor were all the books and letters of the Bible even completed for decades. People learned about the Gospel by speaking with those who had been there. Or with those who’d learned from someone who’d been there. They did not learn about it from reading Scripture on their own. I don’t think it’s by accident that Romans 10:14 says “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” It’s all about hearing, being taught, being discipled.

It seems so obvious to me now that Jesus promised us that He would leave us a Church, not a book. While He told his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, never once does He say, “write this down.”

For fifteen hundred years, the Church followed sacred tradition. It was the Church that was the authority in the believer’s life. Paul wrote, “but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” He, while writing what the Church would later affirm as Scripture, identifies the Church and not Scripture as the pillar and support of the truth.”

There is so much more that shows that the Church is responsible for bringing the knowledge of God to her people. If I was a theologian, you’d see a bunch of examples. But, I’m no theologian. I’m just a former Protestant who has had his awareness challenged and is now finding his way through religious life using a more accurate map. And, it would seem to me, that rather than accusing Catholicism of changing things from Scripture to create a “man-made” religion, it would fall upon the Protestant to show why he would change the way God’s people worshipped for fifteen hundred years.

Why would the Protestant suddenly say that a priest can no longer hear confessions? Why would we relegate the Mother of God to a bit player in salvation history? Why would we assume that, after 1500 years the Eucharist is no longer the actual Body of Christ (as it has always been understood to be) and is merely a symbol? Why were these things, and others, changed after the Church accepted them for 1500 years? Wouldn’t that sudden change be the very definition of “man-made” doctrine?

So, I began to think that it fell to Protestants to justify the major changes to 1500 years of church history, not, as so many of us felt, the responsibility of the Catholic. When I could find no justification, I could see it was time to go where God was leading me, into the arms of Holy Mother Church. There were some rocky moments in the course of my conversion, to be sure. But, It was the right decision and I’m glad I made it.

History, Hubris, and Hook Shots (part 0ne)

I stood on the 10th tee waiting to tee off. The group ahead of us was in the fairway so I couldn’t hit just yet. Tom, my playing partner, was an Evangelical Christian who didn’t like that I was thinking about entering the Catholic Church. As is often the case with Evangelicals, the reason for his dismay was Sola Scriptura.

We’d been speaking about the Church Fathers on the earlier holes. The Church Fathers were, to my way of thinking, integral to seeing what the early church believed. I argued that these were the men who passed on the faith exactly as they heard it from those who learned it at the feet of men who, in turn,had learned it from men who walked with the Apostles. My contention was that these men were presenting the gospel in a way that was closer to what Jesus taught, since so little time had gone by since the Resurrection.

I stepped up to the ball, ready to begin my backswing. “Think about this, Tom. Just before Jesus returned to the Father, Jesus advised the Disciples that the Holy Spirit would be coming. He said that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. For Protestants to be right, the first thing the Holy Spirit would have done would have been to send the world into 1500 years of darkness.”

I made my backswing. Tom said, “I do think the Holy Spirit plunged us into 1500 years of darkness” and, in shock,I hooked my tee shot into a shallow stream running by. Tom smirked. “Maybe you better start tracking your strokes on those little beads they have at your church.”

The 1500 “missing” years became a problem for me as I wobbled to the end of my time in Protestantism. Now, I love my Protestant experience. Protestantism taught me to be able to find my way around the Bible. I learned a deep reverence for Scripture. I agree with pope Francis, that the only word that describes a Protestant is “brother.” But, I began to realize that Christianity didn’t start in the 16th century. I wondered about the Church Fathers, about why we, in the Protestant church, didn’t seem to care who they were and what they had to say. Taken a step further, I noticed that we didn’t seem to care what Luther had to say, either. Or Zwingli and Calvin. I began to see Protestantism as a religion that lived, not in the totality of history, but in the last twenty minutes.

I asked my friend, a youth pastor who was playing with us that day, why this was. Why didn’t we talk about the early church fathers? He told me that he’d come across them in seminary but that they were mentioned only briefly. He thought that most “modern” Christians wouldn’t be interested in what they had to say. In fact, he thought, with all the commentaries and development of theology over the last hundred years or so, he thought it might be more accurate to describe the Church Fathers as the Church Infants.

I left that golf game very disturbed and one step closer to my eventual conversion to Catholicism. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen the very definition of hubris.It was the crazy and common thought that someone reading about an event nearly two thousand years after it had happened would understand it more completely than someone who’d heard a first hand description. I thought that it just couldn’t be possible.

To discount what the Fathers had said so readily didn’t seem thoughtful to me. After all, Tertullian said it was the blood of the martyrs, not the blood of the scholars,that was the seed of the church.

Agendas, Terrorism, and Dignity

I’m so disappointed that people are using the recent San Bernardino shooting to launch into finger pointing about Islamic Extremist Terrorism. The shootings reinforced their desire to see tight restrictions put on Muslims, to justify their opinion that we should not take the Syrian refugees into this country, and pretty much proves them right for being suspicious of the Muslim community as a whole. I get it, I understand their point, but it is very discouraging to see.

I’m equally disappointed in those who, with every incident involving Muslims, rush to provide statistics to show that white Americans, particularly Christian white Americans, are a bigger cause of terrorism than Muslims. As with those who blame Muslims for all terror, let me say that I get it, I understand their point, but it is very discouraging to see.

When I was about to enter the Catholic Church, I went through a course called The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). When the course got to explaining the Sacrament of Reconciliation we spent a good amount of time learning about the importance of making a good confession. We learned to examine our conscience by pondering the ten commandments. How had our day stacked up?

The answer, of course, was “not very well.” The deeper we thought, the larger was the pile of our sinful shortcomings. One thing struck me, though. Many of the sinful thoughts and actions of any given day were related to a single category. Not respecting human dignity.

Was I angry with someone? It was because I failed to respect their God-given dignity. Did I have a sexual thought? It was because I’d not respected human dignity, either my own or the one I’d thought about. Did I look the other way when someone needed money for food? Human dignity. Did I dismiss someone because they were liberal, republican, democrat or conservative? Human dignity again.

So, that’s what troubles me about the categorizing of terrorism that’s so prevalent today. It’s a failure to respect the dignity of another human. Sometimes that human is the white American Christian. Sometimes it’s the dark-skinned Muslim. Sadly, though, it’s always the victims. In our rush to blame the one who fits our agenda, it often comes down to a failure to respect human dignity. We cling to our agenda because we really don’t respect the human dignity of the victims. We don’t respect the dignity due their families. We fail to see them as human. They are merely ammunition to wage a name calling war. But they are casualties of a real war.

Terrorism is real, of course. And the victims are as dead whether the attacker is male, female, dark skinned or light skinned. People die from bullets fired by Christians as easily as they do from those fired by Muslims. So, if we are to devote ourselves to an agenda on terrorism, let’s champion the agenda that is devoted to ending it, not in just assigning blame. Because, only when we respect the human dignity of all will we be able to take a significant step toward peace.