Friday, September 28, 2012

"Into Great Silence" (2005)

Yes, I missed another Wednesday post. I was planning to write something on politics, but the words just wouldn't come. Sometimes it feels like there is just too much noise in the world, especially on the internet. What good does it do?

"Into Great Silence" is a movie about a place, the Grande Chartreuse monastery of the Carthusian order, where the noise is consciously left behind in order to draw close to all that really matters. The documentary opens with the passage from the First Book of Kings where God appears to Elijah not as a mighty wind, earthquake, or fire, but as "a light silent sound." Fittingly, it contains none of commentary and analysis typical of documentaries. Instead, we simply spend nearly three hours experiencing the lives of these monks. It is not a life most of us would choose to live, but we should be grateful that some do, bearing witness to the truth that lies beyond the noise.

"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little. It is the curse of your consciousness. You can see enough to open the door, but not enough to find your way through it. Close your eyes and the path will be illuminated soon enough."

Check out this movie on Catholic News Service, IMDb, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Learning To Fly", Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

So I started out for God knows where; I guess I'll know when I get there.
Life, faith, trust, love ... all of it is a journey without a set route or destination. It's part of the beauty of existence. And "Learning To Fly" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is the perfect soundtrack for journeys of all kinds.

"Life unfolds as it should. Stop and enjoy the process ... that is why you are here, that is why you were created."

Check out this song on Wikipedia, YouTube, or Amazon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Embracing Trust

My wife and I are flying to Kansas tomorrow. She has a job interview; I'm going along for moral support. Up until the last few years, I enjoyed flying. It was adventurous and exotic. Somewhere along the way, however, I turned into a "white-knuckle flyer." (On my last flight, I couldn't stop saying "Hail Marys.") I know that statistically I have more to fear from the car ride to LAX than the flight itself, but emotions don't always behave rationally. Besides, the odds of winning the lottery suck too, but someone wins.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my fear of flying is a manifestation of much larger fears about a vocation that constantly challenges me to surrender control of my life and trust completely in God's plan. I am called to share a revelation that I cannot make anyone believe, or even read. It's entirely possible that I am only supposed to plant a seed that will never sprout in my lifetime. As I have embraced my vocation more and more in the last few years, all that fear had to go somewhere. What activity demands surrendering control and placing trust in someone you've never met more than air travel?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I'm not alone in this situation. The reality is that we have far less control over life than we would like to think. We can allow this unpredictability to paralyze us, or we can trust that the chaos does make sense somehow. There is a reason human beings keep coming back to religion.

So tomorrow will be an exercise in trust. But I may say a few "Hail Marys" too!

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Live Like We're Dying", Kris Allen

Yesterday, The Huffington Post gave us a tragic example of of how YOLO is used in all the wrong ways. Kris Allen's "Live Like We're Dying" gets it right:
... How come we don’t say I love you enough till it’s too late?
... Our hearts are hungry for a food that won’t come. And we could make a feast from these crumbs.
... If your plane fell out of the skies, who would you call with your last goodbye? Should be so careful who we left out of our lives.
... You never see a crash till it’s head on. Why do we think we’re right when we’re dead wrong? You never know a good thing till it’s gone.
... We only got 86,400 seconds in a day to turn it all around or to throw it all away. Gotta tell them that we love them while we got the chance to say. Gotta live like we’re dying.
Life is short and unpredictable. If what you're doing isn't about love, then what the hell is the point?

Check out this song on Wikipedia, YouTube, or Amazon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You Only Live Once

One of the hidden benefits of teaching high school is an increased awareness of pop culture trends. That's how I came to know the slogan "you only live once" or YOLO. On the surface, it sounds like an updated version of "carpe diem." And as we passed through another anniversary of September 11th yesterday, such a motto seems not only reasonable, but perhaps admirable and even righteous.

But what I haven't shared yet is the context of my "education" about YOLO: a class discussion on the morality of teenage use of alcohol and drugs. You see, YOLO is the rationalization of the moment for young adult rebellion and experimentation. Which is why you're most likely to hear it being shouted by drunks at a frat party.

The problem is not with the phrase itself. I'm sure "carpe diem" was also used as an excuse for irresponsibility when it was first popularized. Living each day as if it were your last is a noble concept, if your definition of a good life is full of noble values. Part of what we memorialize each September 11th is the nobility of sacrificing one's life for the sake of others. We do this because it allows us to forget that every other day we are surrounded by a superficial culture, full of trivialities, that we have painstakingly created. Is it any wonder that our youth use YOLO the way they do?

What if YOLO was used instead to celebrate acts of service, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and generosity? What if YOLO was used as a sign of honor for those who, on September 11, 2001 and every day before and since, lived the truth Jesus shared with us: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." I'd say that was the ultimate YOLO.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekly Reading (9/03-9/09)

"Finding a voice for Eva"
Deena Goldstone, Los Angeles Times

"Deportees to Mexico's Tamaulipas preyed upon by gangs"
Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times

"What Difference Listening Makes"
Matt Spotts, The Jesuit Post

"Dear Democratic Catholics"
Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter

"Faithful Citizenship: The Audacity of Responsibility"
Jessica Wrobleski, Catholic Moral Theology

"DNC 2012 - Hope and Change 2"
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Friday Night Lights" (2006-2011)

In keeping with my original theme for the week, I wanted to select something football-related for today. But "Friday Night Lights" is a TV series about much more than just playing a game. I think the spirit of the show is best encapsulated by Coach Taylor's motto for his teams: "Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose!" The words speak of living with purpose and passion, but they are always spoken as a group, not as a lone individual. That is because, at its core, the show is about family: the ones we have and, more importantly, the ones we create.

There are certainly lots of great lessons to be found in the show's episodes: that grace doesn't always come in a pretty package, that life is a constant series of choices and they all count, that any relationship worth having requires work and compromise, that marriage is fundamentally an act of hope, that we all have dreams and every one of them is beautiful. But its story about family is what makes "FNL" sacred.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Check out this TV show on Grantland, IMDb, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Accepting Responsibility

With the start of the college football season this past weekend, I was planning to write a comparison of two sports columns by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: one on the well-known failures at Penn State and the other about an unsung act of honor by Caltech. But when I read today's paper, I found a more significant example of what it means to accept responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.

The story came from Times columnist Steve Lopez, who wrote about John Whitaker, a former child actor and recovering drug addict, "addressing a rally to raise awareness of cartel violence in Mexico, and he started off by apologizing to the Mexican mothers he'd just heard speak about losing children in the drug wars."
One of the steps of his recovery, Whitaker said, "was to make reparations for the harms I caused."
... "One way I can make reparation is to meet with these families, and every time I heard a name — when a mother said this is my son Rudolfo, this is my son Enrique, this is my daughter Margarita — I felt a pain.... We people in recovery, and in the consumer world, are to blame for some of it, and we've got to take responsibility."
Lopez has written other columns recently about some of these Mexican mothers and the Caravan for Peace currently taking them across the U.S. to share their stories. But he also wrote in June about the rationalizations we Americans use to keep drug violence "conveniently distant." We hear the stories, but then push them out of our minds. We recognize our connection to them, but then minimize our culpability. It is a moral failure just as great as that of Penn State, and we should be no less ashamed of ourselves ... except for John Whitaker, and those like him, who recognize in these stories not strangers, but family, and who strive to be better siblings because of it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekly Reading (8/27-9/02)

"Voting Against Intrinsically Evil Acts: A Working List?"
Jana Bennett, Catholic Moral Theology

"Dolan, Campbell at GOP/Dem conventions = bad idea"
Bryan Cones, U.S. Catholic

"God’s Work of Art"
Timothy Dolan, The Gospel in the Digital Age

"America: 'The Greatest Islamic Country'"
Katherine Infantine, First Things

"Dear Republican Catholics"
Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter

"RNC 2012 - The Road to Jeb Bush 2016"
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart