I remember, as a kindergarten student, knowing that Saddam Hussein was a bad man and that it was right and just that we were going to invade Iraq: Operation Desert Shield turning into Operation Desert Storm was a good thing.
I remember making several phone calls to college buddies when Saddam Hussein was captured during operation Red Dawn in 2003. We laughed, we guffawed, we talked about it as an early Christmas present. This was what sophomores in college, deeply engaged in thinking and talking about foreign policy did.
I remember hearing that we had caught and killed Osama Bid Laden. I jumped out of my chair as if to cheer, but the joy got caught in my throat, replaced by the realization that celebration over the death of another is quickly followed by a feeling significantly less pleasant than joy, though no less poignant.
I remember April 15, 2013 too. I remember walking back from Canary Square, a great little bar in JP, and getting a text from the friend with whom I had just been enjoying Bloody Mary’s: turn on your television.
From the time we start school, we are taught to strive for success. This pressure to succeed is reinforced with renewed vigor in college, where suddenly we are suddenly faced with a whole new set of questions, including the biggest one: “Where will I go from here?” The success that we’re encouraged to pursue is the kind that will land us a stable job, a comfortable living, a bright future. It’s an individualistic sort of success that careens us to the top…and leaves others behind. I’ve always found success to be fleeting—as soon as I finally reach it, the bar is raised yet again and I find myself reaching…climbing toward something that I know I’m never going to obtain. I can’t help let my expectations for my own success creep higher and higher, leaving me exhausted and dissatisfied.
The Godwardness of Jesus, along with his relation to Abba, to God’s reign, and to the Spirit of the end-time, translates into definite ways of behaving toward people and definite content in his teaching.
The other day I was once again astounded by the resources that the Gospel holds in resolving any dilemma. I rear-ended someone en route to work and it was entirely my fault. The deductible on my insurance is high and my vast undergrad student debt takes human form in the name “Sallie”. That lady calls when a payment is even a day late. They might as well have let Tina Fey name such an institution “Regina”*.
Sometimes I talk about my financial struggles or ask other young people about their situation. I universally receive a head bob and, “tons of people are in the same position.” But…whomever I am talking to is never one of them. Often I read about financially moribund Americans in The Economist and I hear Obama throw us a shout out in a news clip. As I do, I envisage each journalist or the president doing the head bob because I have no confidence that these people with prestigious jobs and salient answers suffer from the debacle they comment on. While I know other people are in the same predicament, I feel as though I am the only person who did not save for a rainy day.
The popular contemporary Western conception of “love” is difficult to swallow. People talk of love as though it can only manifest itself in in a smile. C.S. Lewis says it well in The Problem of Pain:
We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.
Most of life indicates that deep love manifests itself in quite the opposite manner. The sight of my mom’s thin upper lip when she found out I was speeding on the highway or her stern glare when she insisted that I study hard was constant reassurance of her love (albeit still unwelcome). She loved me so much that she took the time to ensure I didn’t hurt myself and that I put my gifts to good use. On the other hand, I had childhood friends who were mostly let alone by their parents. They could spend money, date whomever, and stay out late. They were also fairly miserable. The absentee parent produces children who “act out” and “cry for attention.” It is so congenital to the human mind that true love must include some measure of sternness that even young children recognize its absence and take action to try to procure it.
Editor’s Note: My grandmother passed away the day before Thanksgiving and my mother, along with her siblings, have been working to clean out her house and prepare it for sale. My father scanned and emailed something from my “personal papers,” as he called them that he found there.
In the seventh grade, amidst a vicious Town Council race, I wrote an essay for one contest or another in which I highlighted the (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts of our local pastor to bring the candidates to civility. I’ve uploaded it as a .PDF here SKMBT_42314012109350. I’m also posting it below as a .JPEG (click to enlarge).
The money quote, as it were, shows a remarkable lack of doctrinal on my part development since the seventh grade:
Even if the words and warnings are ignored, I know that I noticed them and I believe that God will realize his [the pastor’s] attempts. I recall a Beatitude that Jesus gave at His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for peace shall be theirs.” Jesus did not say “Blessed are the successful peacemakers,” and even if none of our politicians listen, I still believe our pastor is a peacemaker.
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”
It’s easy to hear today’s passage from Mark and be a bit put off by the directness of Jesus’ language.
Instead of thinking of what the Lord is saying as primarily exclusionary, perhaps another angle from which to look is its expansive nature. In the coming Kingdom, family relationships aren’t based upon blood, but rather the Spirit which testifies to each’s relationship with Christ.
I love surveys that ask Americans to comment on religion: they often yield contradictory answers from a pluralistic society. Along these lines, and perhaps inspired by a series of Bud Light ads, this survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute recently asked Americans about the role of faith and superstition in the life of a sports fan. From a broad range of topics, two seemingly-inconsistent results stuck out.
First, “More than one-quarter (26%) of sports fans report having prayed for God to help their team, while more than 7-in-10 (73%) say they have never done this.” Second, only “1-in-5 sports fans (19%) and similar numbers of all Americans (22%) believe that God plays a role in determining the outcomes of sporting events.”
Huh? Why is there such a big gap between the percentage of people who have prayed for wins and the percentage of people who actually believe God intervenes? I think it’s because: (1) the first result came in response to a question asking if the fan has ever prayed for his team to win and (2) the second result reflects the realization of the irrationality of God intervening in something as contrived as sports.
I’ll admit that I’ve prayed many times for my teams, knowing that God’s got his hands full with more important things like ending famine, disease, and warfare. At one point in my life I figured, “He’s omnipotent and He can multitask. Please let Eli Manning fumble now.” However, I think the survey shows sports fans reconciling their faith with either simple logic or their own experiential understanding of sports. Sports have a zero-sum outcome, meaning that someone has to lose, and there are men and women of faith on both teams. (Well, not always.)
There were other surprises in the survey, however. Digging deeper, only 21% of Catholics reported praying for their team to win. That’sit!? I find that number shockingly low considering (a) the number of Catholic universities and colleges engaged in high-level athletics and (b) the number of Catholics who watch and play sports at any level. Philip Rivers’ family alone makes that number seem under-representative of reality.
As a Catholic, and in light of the evolving understanding of concussions, I’ve begun praying for the continued health of all players at the start of any game I’m watching. God may not care who wins the Super Bowl, but I believe He’d like to see all of His creatures get off the field in one piece.