Monday, June 29, 2015

Addiction (A Poem)

If I could flee the foot-worn path
Into contemplative retreat,
And shield my heart from Cupid's wrath,
My seeming joys would seem complete;

But all I have to flee the pain
Of love for you, yet unrequited,
Is to be numbed by self-disdain
Through revelry, yet not delighted.

For your embrace is more like wine
Than wine itself, and feeling it
Rush through my veins is form divine
Unmatched by any counterfeit.

Then slay each straying thought, and look
Once more at me, and cast a net
Into my heart, where I mistook
So many things before I set

My thoughts on you. And here I'm bound
To reel on dreams of opium,
Until, with you, at last I've found
Endless store of delirium.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Choirboy's View on Same-Sex Marriage

I want to start off this post with a little backstory on my relationship to homosexuality. From the time that I have been in high school, I have had gays, lesbians, and bisexuals among my closest circle of friends. This isn't surprising since I was in choir and band, and then I spent a good deal of my time after high school discerning for the Catholic priesthood. If you don't think you will run into a lot of homosexuals while discerning for the Catholic priesthood, you are gravely mistaken. ALMOST all of them are celebrating the decision made by the Supreme Court last week, and I have been watching my Facebook feed blow up like a cross between a three year-old with finger paints and a Care Bear stare. It's raining rainbows, and that's not even possible.

Now, among my group of friends, I would say that I am in the absolute minority in opposing the civil recognition of same-sex marriage. I respect their feelings on the matter, and I do not fault them for them, but I am a 1000% certain that most of  them do not have the same respect for mine; many of them don't probably even know that I am opposed to it.

But let's back up. First off, I want to say that I am absolutely against ANY discrimination against a person on the mere basis of their sexual orientation. I am against this because my Catholic faith leads me to believe that every person is in the image of God, that they were made with challenges and talents (sometimes the same thing) just like everyone else, and that they have the right to pursue holiness and happiness just like everyone else. My Catholic faith loudly proclaims:
"They (homosexual persons) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (CCC 2358)

It is for this reason that I generally conceal my opposition to same-sex marriage. If in any way my views or opinions on the matter prevent me from helping or being a friend to someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, trans, bi, or other, I want those to be minimized and to simply be present to that person as a loving Christian. On the other hand, I genuinely believe, and this is based on both faith and experience, that LGBTQ individuals will be happier, healthier, and more integrated if they adopt a lifestyle based on the teachings of Christ in the Catholic faith. That doesn't mean that they must try to "change their orientation", hide their identity, or that they will never fail. It simply means that they will integrate their view of sexuality with that of believing it to be a participation in the creative mystery of God. The Lord knows I fail on this almost constantly myself, so I don't expect anything different from anyone else. That's why, in the Catholic Church, we put Reconciliation and Healing at the center of our worship.

On the other hand, it seems almost ludicrous to me that, at the head of most movements raising the banner of "the sanctity of marriage" are Churches that are full of second, third, and fourth marriages, as if something can truly be sacred which is violated by almost every Christian denomination. As a Catholic, I can't help but think that unions, often even celebrated in Churches, which amount to no more than "I promise to file joint tax returns and have sex (+ contraception) with you until I can't stand you any more" aren't really any better than performing a same-sex marriage at the same altar. Same-sex marriage is rooted on the same philosophical premise as pretty much 85% of the marriages performed in this country, so it shouldn't really surprise anyone that the Supreme Court ruled that they should have the same protections.

I am worried about the effect that this will have on the relationship between religion and public life, particularly in places (like the South) where religion has enjoyed a position of high respect and privilege. In fact, it seems to me that the particular concern the founders (of both the nation and the states) showed to give religion that place of privilege in civic life, preclude us from judging those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, merely because those objections come from their religion. As the civic life, because of this ruling, takes on more and more of a different flavor from that which most of the populace is seeing and hearing preached in their Churches, we should expect those churches to do one of two things: either dwindle as fewer and fewer people are able to square their experience inside the Church with that outside the church or change their doctrinal stances to accommodate civil society, in which case they will also dwindle as ordinary people begin to see them as meaningless or extraneous. While I cannot agree with the institution of civil marriage as it previously existed in this country, I also can't agree with changing it, as changing it will, in general, lead to irreparable harm to the prevalence of religion in this country. Only if individuals' opinions were changed freely, through a fair and democratic process (not litigation), should an institution as ancient and venerable as marriage have been altered to accommodate those changes in perspective.
St. Aelred of Rievaulx, pray for us!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Confederate Flag: My Story

Lately there have been a lot of rumblings on the news and in social media around the Confederate Battle Flag. Essentially, these hinge on whether this is a symbol of hatred or bigotry and whether it ought to be removed from public spaces or even banned outright. I thought I would add my voice as a (mostly) white, Southern man.

As most of you know, I went to a school whose mascot was the "Rebels". Confederate imagery was everywhere. People brought Confederate flags to the games; the fight song was Dixie; and the school colors were red and grey. You can see a Confederate flag depicted on the sign in front of the school and, in my time at least, it hung proudly in the gymnasium.

That flag basically meant different things for different people in the community. For some of the more history-conscious folks, it represented Southern heritage and pride in our former status as a sovereign nation. It had a lot the same connotation as IRA symbols in Ireland: complicated, but still something that represented regional identity. For others, it was a symbol of rebellion against the "cultured" people up North. It was a statement that we were backwoods, gun-totin' rednecks and we were here to stay--and, perhaps, when we sobered up, "rise again".

For the vast majority of people in my community, neither of those things were the case. It was generally just intended as a symbol of our school, and the people from outside of our area who misappropriated it for nationalistic, racist, or even redneck imagery were seen as strangers who just didn't get it and who were likely to get us all in trouble.

As a young, (mostly) white man in the South, and as someone who had plenty of friends both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, I was keenly aware of the cultural difference between Southern and Northern states. This difference cannot be reduced, or even characterized, by an increase in racism as you journey to Dixie. In fact, I never heard such racist comments as what I heard out of middle-class white people once I moved to Michigan and then Massachusetts. Where I had come from racism was a--to use a term I wholly disapprove of--"white trash" thing. I openly adopted the Southern banner as something that symbolized my country and my people. I owned one myself and hung it in my dorm room, much to the annoyance of some of my friends at Hope College.

After many highways and byways, I come to the present day. Not too long ago I dated a young African-American lady, and, in sensitivity to her feelings on the matter, removed my Confederate flag from my room. For her, the flag symbolized institutional racism and a history of slavery to others on the basis of her skin, and I felt (and still feel) that I needed to respect that. So, down it went, to be replaced proudly by my Arkansas state flag. (I know some are raising a fuss about that now, but really, it's a DIAMOND. We have diamonds in Arkansas.)

With all that in mind, let's take a look the main issue at stake here. Is the flag a symbol of racism, of states rights, or of Southern heritage? If my story tells you anything, it ought to be that the flag has many different meanings to many different people. Stating that one meaning (because it is negative) ought to preclude all other possible meanings seems simplistic to me.

Certainly, the flag can be used in a hateful, racist way, and it is, in fact, justifiably a complicated symbol due to its history. Yes, the Civil War was fought over slavery, despite what so many people argue. Just compare, side by side, the United States constitution with the Confederate States constitution. There are no additional provisions to maintain state sovereignty. There are only two substantial differences: the Confederate constitution provided for a President elected for one term of seven years instead of a repeatable four-year term (not that big of a deal), and the Bill of Rights therein included a provision that protects slavery as an institution for all time. If the states indeed fought for states' rights, they certainly didn't decide to state it in a legally binding document. Instead, they enshrined the right of people to deny other people their rights.

Again, we can look at the history of the Confederate flag as a symbol in places like South Carolina, where the flag was never flown on state grounds until the Civil Rights movement began in earnest. Here, the flag was definitely being used to intimidate the African-American community, to solidify the unjust system of segregation, and to ally the state with the Dixiecrat movement. It must come down.

All that being said, it seems to me that we also have to believe people when they tell us that the flag is not being used in a racist way. If we are to respect people's freedom of expression, if we are going to accept that individuals have enough sense to vote, to drive cars, to fly planes, and to pay taxes, we ought to at least take them at their word, until their actions prove them false. If a person displays the Confederate flag in a hostile or racist manner, sure, make them take it down; but if, on the other hand, the descendants (black and white) of Confederate veterans, the rednecks, the cultured Southern gentry, want to display it (peacefully) as a symbol of regional unity, then by all means let them, and leave your judgments at the door.

Let's not be na├»ve, though. In many (if not most) instances, the use of the Confederate flag is inappropriate in a civil context. The South needs to find new symbols, perhaps even ones based on their predominately Christian beliefs, to symbolize regional unity. We need a banner that all of us, black, white, Latino, or other, can unite around, because Washington bureaucrats are waging a war on our key cultural values, and we are going to need every person, regardless of color, creed, orientation, language, etc. to work together to stop them.