Southern Hospitality

So this week I am in Mississippi, visting my wife’s family. It is always such a culture shock for me to make my way to the south, because as a native Californian, there is so very little I have in common with the people down here. You see, where I am from, to say “Yes Sir” is almost insulting. Here it is an insult not to. Where I am from, it is very uncomfortable to talk about your faith, where as here in the south it is the standard conversation. (Well, at least right after sports!) It is a different world, and I feel alien here. The funny thing is, I have lived here before and have never been able to acclimate, it’s just not in me.

There is however something deeply comforting about the south, and that is the simple, decent respect that everyone gives one another. They may call it “Southern Hospitatiy”, but I prefer to think of it as human decency. You see, where I am from, it is perfectly acceptable to completely ignore the gas station attendant. Here, it is far more normal to begin a conversation with them. This small change is not so small at all.

 Human decency is not so much about the big issues like abortion or euthanasia. It is about the reality that every human person is just that, a person. It is accepting the reality that though you may not know the person standing in front of you, that person has a life and being that is all his own, and given him or her by the grace of God. It is about seeing the divine spark in every single person you cross paths with.

This is the difference I feel in the south. Yes, there are still class barriers, just like everywhere else. Yes, racism may still be an issue sometimes. Yes, there are the haves and the have nots. Under no circumstances however is it socially appropriate to deny the humanity of another human being. It may not be enough, but I think it is a great step indeed.

 We could all use this lesson, especially those of us who populate cites, where this seems to be the first nicety to go. I am the first one to say that being “nice” is not always a good thing, but for most of our daily interactions, it sure would be a great start.

What does this mean in our lives in faith? How deeply do we really see into the humanity of other people? It is a question that plagues me often, and worries me greatly.

I have an exercise I often do when I’m out driving around, or walking in the mall to help me with this. I try to mentally delete everything I see but the people. So if I’m walking down a city street, or shopping in a store, I try in my mind’s eye to make everything but the people disappear. We small beings are truly beings of light, and so I invision everyone around me this way. I try to delete their cars, their houses, their clothing. I try to delete every single thing that could get in the way of their basic humanity, until all I can envision is the bright light that every human being is, walking around. It’s kindof like the movie “the Matrix”, and it makes me a little dizzy.

This little exercise of mine is to illustrate a single point. Our nature as spiritual beings, made in the image and likeness of God is the only true reality we have. It is so easy for all of us to see only our masks, and never actually look into our true natures. We see only our likes and dislikes instead of seeing our brothers and sisters.

So all told, maybe I’m not an alien down here. In fact, I’m fixin to grab myself some ham and black eyed peas, so ya’ll come on down and fix some up for you too.

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

I am pro with my scapular. Yes, many faithful Catholics wear the scapular, and I am ever so proud whenever I see it creeping up someone’s back, or I see it hanging out of a child’s shirt. But let me ask you this, how quickly can you knot it so it won’t fall off while you are swimming? Like I said, I’m pro.

All levity aside, today is a very special day for me. It seems my entire life as a Catholic has revolved around our Lady under the title of Mt Carmel. You see, I was born on the feast day of St John of the Cross, and my patron saint is St Therese of Lisieux. I even began formation as a Secular Carmelite for a few years before I decided that road was not mine to travel. Truly, I deeply love Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

So today on her feast day, as I was preparing my reflection for a communion service I have today, I could not help but feel sad when I remember how few Catholics wear her scapular, sad to think of the many who do not even know of this powerful prayer. Rather than go through the trouble of explaining what the scapular is, if you are not familiar with it, I suggest you look here to find out all you need to know.

Now wearing the scapular is not really supposed to be just an act we perform, neither is it a mere devotion. While there are also promises of our Lady attached to the scapular, it is not a “get out of hell free” card either. The scapular, above all, is a prayer.

This can often be hard to understand at first. How can just wearing a couple silly little pieces of cloth be a prayer? I mean, we are used to thinking of prayer as a conversation, often one sided, between us an God. We think of prayer as our endless rattling off of words and requests. This is not untrue, but this form of prayer is just one kind of prayer, the prayer of our active mind. Just as we are more than a collection of thoughts though, so should our prayer be.

A great example of this is the Sign of the Cross that we make as we begin every prayer in our daily lives. This is a prayer of the body, a prayer of identification with the Holy Trinity, and even though it’s words are few, its meaning is very deep and profound. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we are professing symbolically our very identity, marking ourselves as Christians, taking the cross of our Lord upon ourselves, and submitting ourselves to His rule in the Kingdom of God. Yes it is short, but its meaning transcends its mere words and gestures.

In a similar way, wearing the Scapular is like wrapping yourself in Mary’s garments. It is accepting that you are a child, and not just any child, but HER child. It is physically taking a submissive role to our mother, and physically feeling her protective mantle around you. So it is less a prayer of words, and more a prayer of emotion, a prayer of solidarity.

As I go about my day, my scapular often gets in my way. I can feel it riding up towards my neck, or it will get twisted around. As I fix it, I remember that it is there, and that she is there, watching over me. When I take it off to hop in the shower, I again feel myself tugging at her skirts like a needy two year old as I put it back on, and know that she is my Lady. These little actions, these little heartfelt remembrances call me home, and remind me of who I am. Not every prayer has to be wordy you see.

If you wear the brown scapular of Carmel, wear it a little prouder today. Take the time to remember what it means in your life. If you don’t wear it, learn more about it, and see if this devotion is one for you. After all, one can never have enough connection to our Blessed Mother.

Also, today, say a special prayer for those who spend their lives praying for us, most especially that most blessed order of Carmelites.

Versatile Blogger Award

There are few blogs that I follow regularly, in fact, there are less than ten. So when one of my personal favorite bloggers sends me a recognition of some kind, I can’t help but be thankful for the notice from someone I personally read so regularly. You see, I’m a homeschooling father, and to be honest, I’m not all that creative. It’s not so much that I’m not artistic as much as I’m never sure quite what to do when it comes to the kids. So they knit. A lot.

Insert Jennifer at Crafolic.com. She has so many ideas over there for kids that it will make your head spin. I have told her repeatedly that she needs to write a book, and if she doesn’t then many families will simply miss out on her, and I don’t want that to happen. Not only that, but her husband has a beard, and I respect any woman who loves a man with a solid beard.

So if you have kids and are looking for something special and fun to do, check her out. If you are a grandparent, always check her page when you know the kids are coming over to stay. I can think of few better ways to have fun with them that so clearly helps to solidify the faith of children.

So, to the award. I am supposed to nominate some other bloggers for this “Versatile Blogger Award”, as well as tell you seven things about myself that I haven’t mentioned already. Well, I’m not sure who I would nominate for this award, I would just take the time to go through my blogroll. Most of those blogs are written by solid Catholics, and are all worthy of some notice. That is of course why I put them there. To be honest, most of the blogs I follow would not be all that interested in a small little blog like mine taking notice of them, I am after all, a very small bug in the world of blogging.

That being said, I’d love to pass the award to other blogs that follow me, I’ll link them as I get word:

TJBurdick – Adorationality.wordpress.com Check out his title, it’s hilarious. Definitely check out his article on Confusing White People. I do this too, just with Latin.

Now, seven things about me.

1. I failed skipping in kindergarten. All I could do is gallop. This would be the only test I have ever failed in my life. My kids love to make fun of me for this.

2. I’m deeply interesting in native cultures, regardless of the nationality. I always wanted to be a cultural anthropologist, specializing in native cultures. I am simply interested in how people lived when they lived as naturally and close to the earth as possible. I often sit back and dream of fishing and hunting all day, and I’m sure my prayer life would be a lot better if that was all I had on my plate!

3. My sister is also my cousin. Dead serious. No incest here, so I’ll have to explain. When my mother divorced my father, her next husband was his cousin. So she’s my half sister through my mother, and my cousin through my father. I still think that’s funny every time I say it.

4. I love watermelon. When I was a little boy, I would go and visit my father in the south every couple years. Every time I went, it was summer, and my grandfather would take me out on the farm in his tractor first thing, so that I could get my watermelon. We would roll through the oppressive heat to find the perfect one, and then he would toss it on the ground to break it open, and I would eat the whole thing right there. We would of course grab another to bring home, but he always said he loved watching me eat that watermelon.

5. Bald is sexy. (At least that’s what my wife keeps telling me!)

6. I can play almost any instrument you put in front of me. I can play the didgeridoo, the ukulele, the Irish flute, you name it. I come from a musical family, my parents even have a rock band!

7. I don’t like reading the bible. I know, that’s just stupid. I love to quote it, and I love what it teaches me, but every time I sit down to read it, my eyes glaze over. Don’t get me wrong, I have forced myself through every book, but I’m actually better at reading books about the bible, than reading the bible itself. The office of readings is about all I can handle in a day. Go figure.

And there you go. Seven random things about me for your amusement.

(Just a note for any bloggers that follow me, if you would like me to link you on this page and send you this award, let me know, and I’ll hop right on it.)

Supreme (Court) Frustration

I have been pretty quiet over the last couple weeks, I just haven’t been inspired to write. It’s not that there haven’t been issues to write about, I just haven’t felt that there was anything that I really needed to say.

I do however feel it is my duty to write something about the decision rendered by the Supreme Court on the HHS mandate. That is not however a very simple task. I’m not a lawyer you see, and neither am I a political man. In honesty, I never really see myself as having an option to be politically minded due to the great evils in our nation that I am required by my conscience to vote against. I can’t really sit back and be thoughtful about the economic recession for example, because I have to vote against the holocaust of abortion. This puts me well out of practice for this kind of task.

I should say right up front that I do not believe the federal government should have this power. I hold to the idea the founding fathers had that no greater power should do what a lessor power can do for itself. I feel the Supreme Court was designed to protect the people from a large federal government, and that it has failed miserably in that duty, especially by allowing so much law to be passed under the commerce clause. In fact I find it shameful they have allowed so much power from the states and counties of this country to be handed to the larger and less trustworthy federal government.

All that baggage aside though, I realize that this Supreme Court decision is a landmark one, and as it directly deal with Catholic issues, I know that I must weigh in with my small voice. I have purposefully not read any other opinions on this matter, so any similarity with other thoughts is not intended.

I think there is no job in this country I would like less that to be on the Supreme Court. It is such a bad job, that I think I would actually prefer even being President to being on the Court. And that is really saying something, because I would never, ever want to be President. Let’s take a serious look at what the Court actually has to do here. Their task is to lay aside any and all personal reservations, and do their absolute best to follow the letter of the law as it relates to the Constitution. I’m not saying that’s what they do, but that is what they are supposed to do.

That is why I’m not disappointed in Roberts here. At first blush, I admit I was really pissed off, I had really hoped that this would just end this problem once and for all. All the other conservatives on the Court voted against it. And then I had the sense of betrayal as I found out that it was Roberts that was the swing vote here. Dangit, I thought this one was going to be on our side, and I felt he flat out left me hanging.

Then I actually took the time to read what he said. Check this out.

“Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

In other words, “America, this is your idea. It’s not my job to tell you you aren’t allowed to push your car off a cliff if that’s what you really want to do.” So while at first I was downright ticked off that this decision didn’t go my way, I have to admit, he’s right. It isn’t the Court’s job to protect us from our own stupid mistakes.

Now I’m going to pass on whether or not this is an issue against religious liberty, as that was not what was brought to the bench. Neither am I going to get all pissy because the Court decided that since the law called it a “penalty” and not a “tax” that it doesn’t go against the Anti-Injunction Act, yet at the same time the Court held up the power of mandate because it WAS a tax, and Congress has taxation rights. Yes, only a lawyer could get away with such double talk, and I’m sure in their minds that makes perfect sense. (It of course, makes no sense at all.)

The real issue here is we have made our bed, and we have to sleep in it. We can’t really expect to allow this kind of nonsense pass through Congress and expect the courts to save our tush for our stupid mistakes. We have to fight this from the ground, and fight it with all of our might, at the very least, until we are allowed to follow our Catholic consciences within our Catholic institutions.

Personally, I would like to see the whole health care plan go out the window, but that is because I just don’t see health care listed in the constitution as a federal responsibility. (Remember? No greater power should do what a lessor power can do for itself?) If such laws are needed, I just don’t feel it’s the federal government’s responsibility to enact those laws. I do however take great issue with the idea that they can sweepingly violate so deeply the 2000 year old moral conscience of the Catholic Church. I think it is flat out evil. So we must continue to fight this, continue to write letters, continue to make this the main issue. We can’t let this just slide by, as it the first step of many, that must necessarily end with Catholics being martyred in the public square.