Tag Archives: Relationship

Faith: “Personal” Or “Private?”

The words “personal” and “private” may cause confusion at times.  Not everything that is personal needs to be private, although some things are.  In fact, some personal things are actually supposed to be quite public.

For example, a marriage is a very personal, intimate relationship, and spouses keep certain aspects of the relationship very private.  The marriage relationship itself, however, is quit public.  Even so called “private weddings” still require public licenses and witnesses to be valid.  Christian spouses are supposed to be public witnesses to the relationship between Christ and his Church.  So, a very personal relationship is also meant to be a very public one.

One’s annual income is generally considered to be personal information that is also private.  It comes across as rude to inquire about someone’s income.  When asked, “How much do you make?” one might respond, “I’m sorry, that’s personal.”  What is really meant, however, is, “That’s private.”  One’s name is also “personal” information, but we tend to freely divulge it when asked, so it becomes both personal and public.

Privatized religion is a strange phenomenon, especially where Christianity is concerned.  It makes complete sense that one’s religious beliefs are personal, for if one’s faith in God does not impact one’s person, there is little point to it.  This, I believe, is at the heart of why many try to make a distinction between “religion” and “relationship.”  Religion is often branded as impersonal while a relationship is assumed to be personal.  The reality, however, is that religion can and must be quite personal.  The whole point of the Christian religion is to be personally transformed by God.  Yet, the Christian religion is not meant to be “private.”

Christianity is meant to be lived in full view of the public.  The Christian is to be a “city on a hill” not a “light hidden under a bushel.”  Certainly, Christianity is personal.  It should transform a person.  But, if one’s Christian faith is always private, that is a problem.  At some point, many Christians bought into the idea that being open about one’s faith is taboo.  Somehow, the very public proclamation of the Gospel became a “private” matter not to be broached in public.  “Go and spread the Gospel” became “Don’t offend anyone or draw any attention.”  This happened despite the fact that Christians were told from the beginning that their faith would offend many people and that it was supposed to draw attention from the world.  Political correctness has overruled the Great Commission for many Christians.

Now, I can certainly understand why some Christians in certain times and places might keep their faith somewhat private, at least from the powers that be.  For two thousand years many Christians have had to face death and torture for being Christian.  Nevertheless, many of them gave (and still give) their lives rather than recant their belief.  That which is deeply personal need not be private.

I have heard people say things such as, “I don’t go to any church and I don’t want to talk about religion.  My God and I do just fine together.”  My reaction is, “If your faith is such a wonderful thing, why horde it for yourself?  Why keep all of that great stuff hidden from everyone?  That seems like a selfish thing to do, especially if you claim to be a Christian.  Why not tell people about your wonderful God?  Why not proclaim what you believe, why you believe it and what difference it makes to you and to the world?  What are you so afraid of?”

Finally, the Christian faith is about community.  In a community, people give, share and exchange things and ideas.  Christianity is not about isolation.  The idea is to have a relationship with Christ and then share the benefits of that relationship with others.  Christianity is not a private “security blanket” to be clung to like the Peanuts character Linus.  Christianity is a treasure to be freely distributed to others in word and in action.

So, by all means, have a deeply personal, Christian faith.  Just don’t keep it private.  Share the joy.

Facebook And The Refrigerator

Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish.  During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away.  I asked him if he was looking at Facebook.  “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator.  You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.”  I laughed in agreement.

His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism.  The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing.  He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.”  Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us.  It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.”  Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God.  Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking.  It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave.  If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed.  We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.

Close the refrigerator door.  You’re letting all the cold air out.

Does Love Exist? The Burden Of Proof.

When I say, “I love my family,” most people respond, “That’s wonderful!”  When I say, “There is a God,” many people demand, “Prove it scientifically!  You now bear the burden of proof!”  Yet, there is more empirical evidence to support the existence of God than my love of family.  Why such doubt and skepticism about God?

It is complained that “Religion has caused wars, deaths and oppression.”  Has not love triggered the jealousy of many a murderer?  Has not love broken the hearts of people and led to crimes of passion?  Was it not love for a beautiful woman that launched a thousand ships and led to the destruction of Troy?  Isn’t it love that people seek after, often to the point of despair and anguish?  Isn’t it really a longing to love and to be loved that imprisons and oppresses many a heart?  Why do we not hear anyone demanding that the existence of love be proved scientifically?  Why has the burden of scientific proof not been placed on those who love?

Can love ever be scientifically proven to exist?  Is it simply a chemical reaction or a firing of nerves?  Where does love come from?  What exactly is a “broken heart?”  How many people would be satisfied by a scientific explanation of why their lovers were unfaithful to them?  Is love simply an evolutionary adaptation for human mating?  Why am I able to love people that I cannot or will not mate with?  Why am I able to feel love, or affection or sentiment towards a childhood toy?  Why form attachments to inanimate objects or places?  When I say, “I love being here,” no one responds, “Prove it!”

A woman may want a man to prove his love for her.  He may try with all his might to no avail, or he might succeed.  The outcome depends on the woman and her level of trust.  Different people will draw different conclusions.  Does he love her or not?

It has been hypothesized that there is no such thing as pure altruism.  Every good deed has an ulterior motive no matter how generous or self sacrificing it may be.  A good deed is partly done to make the doer feel “good” in even the slightest way.  Hence, the act is not purely altruistic, since it contains the least bit of selfishness.  So, can love really exist at all?  Are we all just walking around foolishly believing in something that does not even exist?  “No,” says the lover.  “My love is real.”

The belief in love is not based on science but on faith.  We give and receive love in good faith, all the while risking the possibility of a broken heart.  Why is it so hard, then, to believe in God?  The poet who writes, “I’ll say goodbye to love” has done so from a broken heart.  Those who reject love have been hurt.  I think the same applies to God, for God is love.  God does not cease to exist, but, in our wounded state, we may reject his existence.  Science cannot resolve such a dilemma any more than it can conclusively determine if, or exactly how much, I love my family.

Rebel Without A Cause And Fatherhood

Last night I was channel surfing and trying to dodge commercials by flipping between shows.  It usually doesn’t work very well since every station knows to play commercials at exactly the same time.  (It’s a maddening conspiracy, I’m sure of it).  Then, I came across Rebel Without A Cause on PBS.  It was right at the opening credits.  Although I had already seen the movie piecemeal over the years, I couldn’t recall ever watching it all the way through from start to finish.  Here it was commercial free and I didn’t have to rent it.  If not now, when?

It’s hard for me to watch Rebel without thinking of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan’s Island thanks to the pop culture contributions of Mr. Jim Backus.  Nevertheless, it is a good, classic flick.  James Dean never loses his coolness factor in the passing of time.  It sure paints a stark contrast to the Happy Days portrayal of the 1950s.  Between Happy Days, American Graffiti, Rebel Without A Cause, and Grease, it’s not easy to discern what the 50s were actually like.  (I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, although I really like a lot of 50’s music).  In any case, being an adolescent can be tough no matter what era one lives in.  As Judy’s mom said, “It’s the age when nothing fits.”

No doubt Rebel Without A Cause has been analyzed into the ground over the years, but it gave me my own impressions.  The biggest thought it left me with is the importance of fathers.  Fathers are important to the formation of daughters and sons.  It’s just part of how we are designed.  Mothers are important, too.  Since I am the father of a son and a daughter, the movie spoke to me mostly about that.

I don’t have statistics to present here.  But I believe it has been well established how important fathers are to families.  The first step is for fathers to actually stick around and not abandon their families.  Plato’s father did not stick around (nor did his mother).  The fathers of Judy and Jim were present, but unbalanced in their approach to fatherhood.  Judy’s father was strong, but was at a loss when his daughter needed his tenderness.  Jim’s father was tender but lacked strength and decisiveness.

The movie reminded me that my family needs my presence (physical and emotional), my strength and my tenderness.  Jesus and his family are models of presence, strength and tenderness.  The Holy Trinity is a model of presence, strength and tenderness.

My daughter and my son need their father in similar yet different ways.  Every day I have to resolve to step up to the plate and give it my best shot with the help of God’s grace.  Even as I write this, my kids are beckoning me to play a game with them.  Time to step up!

Teaching Children To Fly: Parents As “Flight Instructors”

As a flight instructor, it is important for me to be aware of and make use of the four levels of learning.  It is equally important for me to set an example for my students.  The attitudes and behaviors I exhibit will impact the type of pilots my students become.  Flight instruction has similarities to parenting.  Parents are the primary instructors of life in general, and of the Catholic Faith in particular.

The first level of learning is “rote.”  Rote learning is the ability to repeat back something from memory.  I can tell a flight student how to turn an airplane.  “Apply coordinated aileron and rudder with slight back pressure on the yoke.”  If the student can repeat that back to me, rote learning has taken place.  However, this does not mean that the student can properly turn an airplane.

Next is “understanding.”  Why will the airplane behave a certain way when the student applies coordinated aileron, rudder and slight back pressure?  The student must gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of flight.  Why must the ailerons and rudder be coordinated?  What will happen if they are uncoordinated?  Understanding is a higher level of learning.  Yet, the student may still not be able to properly turn an airplane.

“Application” begins when the student is in the airplane and actually attempts to turn the airplane.  When the student can perform turns well, the level of “application” has been accomplished.  It is possible to turn an airplane without understanding aerodynamics.  However, it is preferable to have a learning process that promotes understanding prior to application.

“Correlation” is the highest level of learning.  When the student can properly perform turns while climbing or descending, for example, then correlation has been achieved.  The student has taken the skill and incorporated it into more complex maneuvers and situations.  Turning the airplane has become “second nature,” and the learning has been “transferred” to other maneuvers.

During the learning process, the instructor must instill good attitudes in the student.  If the instructor is casual or noncompliant with safety concerns, for example, the student will not learn how to be a safe pilot.  The instructor must exemplify the “culture of safety” expected from all pilots if the students are expected to be safe pilots.  An apathetic, careless instructor tends to produce apathetic, careless pilots.

Parents are the primary instructors of their children.  This includes the Christian Faith.  For example, parents must teach children certain prayers (rote), what the prayers mean and why they are praying (understanding), how to pray (application), and how prayer affects all aspects of their lives (correlation).  In order for children to adopt a “culture of praying,” they must also see their parents praying.  The parents set the example just like flight instructors.  Parental attitudes and practices regarding the Faith are very important in teaching the Faith.

One thing I quickly realized as a new instructor was that teaching is the best way to learn.  Before I could teach a lesson to a student, I first had to teach myself.  I had to make sure that I personally had achieved the highest level of learning with each lesson before teaching it.  It would be no good for me to explain to my student how to perform a maneuver if I could not properly demonstrate the maneuver myself.  It would not be helpful to insist that my student learn FAA regulations if I myself did not know the FAA regulations.  I needed to constantly be teaching and re-teaching myself in order to remain proficient as an instructor.

Parents must teach themselves the Faith if they expect to teach the Faith to their children.  Parents cannot rely solely on the Church or Catholic Schools to teach children the Faith.  If parents are “stuck” on a lower level of learning, they will not be able to teach their children effectively.  For example, if parents only have a rote level of learning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Rosary or the Mass, they will not be able to take their children beyond a rote level.  Children will not gain an understanding or be able to apply those things to their lives in meaningful ways.  The Mass and prayers may become meaningless rituals that are shed by the children as they seek meaning in the world beyond their families.

When parents accept their responsibility as teachers of the Faith, everyone benefits.  The children learn their Faith in meaningful ways that transfer to real life.  The Church and the Schools are better able to pastor and teach the children that already have a fundamental grounding in the Faith.  The parents learn and strengthen their own Faith by teaching it.  Families grow closer as they learn and explore the meaning of their Faith together.  Love, compassion, empathy, discipline, togetherness, all the things families crave are realized in living the Faith genuinely.  Society benefits from having faithful, ethical Christians that are able to live and apply the love of Christ.  Everyone wins when parents learn and teach the Faith to their children.

Parents do not need to have degrees in theology to teach their children.  There are plenty of reputable resources available through books, CDs, DVDs, the internet and Church programs.  All it takes is for parents to claim the responsibility and step up in faith.  One resource I have found is a series of DVDs for children called “Brother Francis.”  My three year olds love them and I have learned from them as well.  Just start with the basics and build upon them.  Teach yourself.  First and foremost, pray for the grace to be the loving Christian your children need to see and follow.  Any parent with children of any age can do that!  Teach your children to soar on what Pope John Paul II called “the wings of faith and reason!”

Another Great Reversion Story (Plus Marriage Tips)

I came across this post and was impressed with how applicable it is to the American Catholics of my generation.  I identified with much of her reversion story.  It is not a short read, but every bit of it resonated with me in some way.  If you are a Catholic born in the 60s or 70s, chances are good that you share at least part of her story.  If you are a Catholic that left the Church (or know Catholics that have), this story is also for you.

Her blog also has some interesting marital information from a woman’s perspective worth checking out.  If any of you have read the books she mentions, I would love to hear your opinions since I have not read them.

http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/11/this-is-my-story-it-might-be-your-story.html

 

Peace!

A Therapist’s Question

The question that is famously associated with therapists is, “How does that make you feel?”  There is a time and a place for that question (or a variant of it), but answering it is certainly not all there is to therapy.  There are many questions to be asked and processed.  One question that seems to probe the heart of the matter quite often is, “What are you afraid of?” or “What are you afraid will happen then?”

So many people are driven by fear.  I don’t mean the healthy kind of fear that causes one to avoid genuine danger, but a nagging sense of emptiness or discontentment (I am not necessarily discussing anxiety disorders here).  It is a fear described by Tillich as a fear of “non-being,” although few people draw that conclusion as they move through their fearful lives.  People generally attempt to ease the fear by means of acquiring material goods, pleasures, or by investing in relationships.  Since people, pleasures and things are imperfect and finite, they will eventually disappoint, deteriorate or disappear.  Therefore, the fear remains below the surface.  It is Thoreau’s life of “quiet desperation.”

I have seen many couples, for example, that found in each other what they initially perceived to be the antidote to their fear of non-being.  Yet, they failed to resolve that fear in each other.  They discovered that it is not possible for one person to be “everything” despite what the lyrics of romantic songs may suggest.  They have somehow failed to “complete” each other and now they sit before me, their therapist, wondering what is wrong with their relationship.  Generally, each partner wants me to change the other partner into someone that will ease their underlying fears and make them feel whole.

One of the most repeated phrases in Scripture is, “Fear not,” or, “Do not be afraid.”  Having created us, God understands us to the core.  God also knows that our fear of non-being cannot be entirely eased by people, pleasures or things.  Only God can fill that void.  We are designed that way.  Hence, people of all places and times have turned to some form of religious expression.  As St. Augustine said, “We are restless until we rest in You, oh Lord.”  The admonition to “fear not” is a constant reminder to be adequately unattached to people, places and things, and to place our ultimate “OK-ness” in God alone.  Having placed our trust in God, we become free to fearlessly enjoy God’s gifts without desperately clinging to them as our source of being.  Relationships, pleasures, places and things take on new meaning.

The beauty of Christianity is not that it is one religion of many that seeks after God to resolve the fear of non-being.  The beauty is that through Christianity, God seeks after us.  God, knowing our fear, has revealed Himself to us as the antidote for fear.  We do not need to scratch and claw our way to the peace of God.  God has come down to us, embraced us, and told us to rest in Him.  Jesus shows us that we can live lives of faith, not fear.  There is more to our existence than this short life.  Through Christ we can live abundant lives instead of quietly desperate lives.