Sunday, October 14, 2012

THE NEW EVANGELIZATION





fall in  L.A.
Recently my priest friend Tom Hall (who, as you may remember, just walked part of the Camino) sent me this link. It's a story about a 26-year-old guy named Nick Kleckner who, having discovered that material goods didn't nourish his soul, decided to walk 2600 miles across America, starting in Jacksonville, Florida, with little more than an ipod and a cell phone, fasting until given food to eat, receiving and giving, communing with the homeless. A kind of modern-day Peace Pilgrim, he ended up in Southern California's (of course) Huntington Beach.

From the story, by Laylan Connelly, in The Orange County Register.

He had rules when he set out. He'd only accept help from complete strangers, and he never took help from the thousands of followers who would eventually end up tracking his journey on Twitter. The only solicit he had was a cardboard sign that read "food," which he would use if he was really hungry. But he never verbally asked anybody for anything.

In Mississippi – the poorest state in America – he was overwhelmed with kindness.

"I had so much food, I couldn't carry it. I had so much money, I was worried carrying that much money around. They're just nice people," he said.

"It just hit me that I needed to give back."

So he'd give away what he didn't use or need to other people on the streets. He started handing out granola bars tied with rubber bands to a $5 McDonald's gift card and a $5 bill.

Soon, he started hearing from people wanting to send him stuff. He'd tell them to give to homeless in their area instead...


I don't know Nick Kleckner's religious affiliation, if any, but he made me think of a woman, a staunch Catholic, who approached me after one of my talks recently and demanded, "Would you vote for Obama?"

I replied, "Let's not talk politics; it's divisive."

"Would you vote for Obama?" she pressed. "Yes or no?"

I thought, Well let's see, if there were a runoff between Hitler and Goebbels and Hitler were promoting some rudimentary kind of national health care, I suppose, if I had to vote, I could consider voting for Hitler. So I said, "Well, I guess I might."

She jabbed her finger in my face and hissed, "You have had abortions and you would vote for Obama? You call yourself a woman of faith? You call yourself a Catholic..."

Oh folks, I was pissed. I had come halfway across the country; I had given this woman, and everyone else there, everything I had. My voice was shaking. I said, in no particular order, "Please do not jab your finger in my face, please do not tell me how I live out my faith, that is not the way to convert hearts, that is not how Christ converted hearts, and I'm against the violence of war, too, so that doesn't leave me anyone to vote for, does it?"

"The poor you will always have with you," she crowed [in a rather startling scriptural non sequitur]. "If you vote for Obama, you have no right to call yourself a Catholic..."

Somehow this points up what makes me uneasy about a certain sector of the "new evangelization": namely, the effort to  evangelize people not to Christ, but to a bipartisan political party. To me, the elephant, or one huge elephant, in the room of U.S. Catholics is that our power-hungry leaders, our greed-based economy, and our entire violence-based culture are so utterly, egregiously devoid of Christ that to even speak of them in the same breath is ludicrous.  We torture, we assassinate, we execute, by the most conservative estimates we spend a third of our national budget on defense, which is to say on figuring out how to murder people and destroy property. And we're worried about which party we vote for? We are looking to our executive, legislative, or judicial system in any way to help us live out our lives in Christ?

If people aren't flocking to the doors of the Church, maybe we should consider that to conduct business as usual and tack the word "God" onto it is not terribly inspiring, nor terribly honest, nor remotely true to Jesus--who, as The Misfit in Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man is Hard to Find” observed, "thrown everything off balance." That would be a good way to start the "new evangelization." I mean let's have THAT conversation.

Christ, too, lived under a corrupt government. He seems to have paid approximately zero attention to it. The point is not to be anti-government, the point is to be for Christ and to realize that those are often, if not always, very different things. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's," the implication being there's generally not a whole lot of overlap.

Christ didn't call the power-mongers and the pollsters; he called sick people and sinners. The follower of Christ doesn't "win"; the follower of Christ suffers, for love. The mark of a follower of Christ is not that he's willing to kill for "freedom"; it's that he already lives in total freedom because he's given everything away.

Which brings me back to the walker. If anyone is going to be authentically evangelized, it will be by people like this: a stray voice crying in the wilderness; a pilgrim who, like Christ, serves a very different Master than the world.

I second-guessed myself to kingdom come, as I always do with conflict, after my exchange with the Obama woman. I hoped I wasn't harsh. I hoped I wasn't proud. And I kept thinking of a book I read recently by another priest who walked the Camino. He said the difference between a spiritual tourist and a spiritual pilgrim is this: Tourists demand; pilgrims thank.


35 comments:

  1. Yeah, it's definitely divisive. I think it's important to note that having even the best of intentions does not negate anger, righteous or otherwise, from brewing inside us. Then it becomes all too easy to unleash it toward the nearest inappropriate target. The only way I'm able to sleep at night is through the words at Calvary: "Forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." Fortunately this is one quote that applies to everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pearls before swine; it sounds like to me.
    Still, keep casting them pearls, lady!

    The swine might eventually come around...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Thank you Heather! Printing this one out to pass along!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I just found your blog this morning. 'First post I've ever read of yours. But I was once a finger-jabber. By God's grace, I'm different now. Always respond with love. Remember when you meet people, as vicious and violent and decisive as they may seem, they are suffering under the weight of their "Rightness", and God isn't finished with them yet. What they need from all of us, is calm, loving firmness. What they need is for us to very quietly stand sure in the Light of Christ, and always reflect not our thoughts, but His Heart to them. By this, they will know Him in his Truth, and in His Love, and in His Peace. God Bless You.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've been arguing along similar lines for a long time now. Thank you for stating it far more eloquently than I can.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for this essay. have you ever read Ignazio Silone's classic novel Bread and Wine? Set in pre-WWII Italy, it addresses the issues in your recent Blog.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A couple of points/Qs:
    1)That person was indeed rude. I'm a lifelong Catholic and a professional political operative, and that sort of thing is out of bounds for me.
    2) Popes, saints and bishops have all said that there are "non-negotiable" things when it comes to voting; abortion is one of them, as is embryonic stem cell research and euthenasia. Catholics cannot support these policies by voting for these candidates, because these are always intrinsic evils.
    3) Catholics subscribe to just war theory and the protection of the state. The CCC recognizes the right of states to protect their citizenry. We are a big country. A large military is necessary to maintain our borders, keep us safe, and also do things around the world that are non-war, so to speak.
    4) Yes, war is a moral failure. But sometimes war is justified. (see just war theory)
    5) So if you have one candidate who supports infanticide (as the president does) and one who is pro-life, we cannot support the one who is pro-abortion.
    6) How big should our national defense budget be? It's a 1/3 now. OK. Personally I like knowing there are people to defend my country and myself and my family, when the need arises. Catholics in good faith can disagree about how big the military should be, and what we should do with it. But things like support for abortion are *not* negotiable.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "YES OR NO?" is the demand of a torturer. Its speaker is ripe for a road-to-Damascus moment.

    (Signed as one who still has moments of clenched-fist rectitude.)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi folks, oh this stuff is hard as I am prone to be such a finger-jabber (if usu. only mentally, though maybe that's worse) myself.
    David, thanks, I have read that Silone book Bread and Wine years ago--should re-visit: I know it was one of Dorothy Day's favorites.

    Emily: the problem is EVERYONE wants to feel "secure" and protected (as St. Francis of Assisi said, "Do you think God cares only for Italy?"), which inevitably leads to violence, and is the very situation that, to me, Christ came to address and upend...

    I should think what's REALLY non-negotiable is "love thine enemy"...Here's another elephant in the room: The U.S. government is not remotely guided by the teachings of the Catholic church and the just war theory. It wages war under an entirely different banner and with an entirely different orientation, aim, ground, agenda, heart if you will (or lack thereof), and morality, if any...so the questions are thorny, is the point, and we all try to puzzle them out by our best lights...

    Christ never promised us security in a worldly sense. He never said that was our "right." He promised something better: that we would come awake in love...and of course possibly get killed for it...

    ReplyDelete
  10. It seems to me it doesn't really matter who you vote for. The electoral college decides, not the popular vote.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The problem I have with this is that Emily's point number 2 is key and the implication from glossing over it seems to be "I'll have Christ but not His Church."

    Catholics believe the Church teaches in His name, as Emily noted. And the Church has been clear about non-negotiables. Having our own version of what is non-negotiable (or what's REALLY) seems to me to be driving a wedge between Christ and the Church. Of course, love our neighbors. But also, hear who hears the Church hears Him. That's also non-negotiable. ALL of the Gospel is not to be negotiated, right?

    And, I'm sorry, but the that's being political or bi-partisan line strikes me as rhetoric.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oh I don’t have a problem with saying voting for a certain candidate is non-negotiable. I have a problem with saying that’s ALL that’s non-negotiable. Under the circumstances, I think it should be just as non-negotiable not to vote for the other candidate either.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Heather,
    Your post today and your responses have been characteristically brilliant. And your article in Notre Dame Magazine was remarkable in its insight. I learn so much from you. I find myself saying, "yeah, yeah, it's like that..." But I can't express it the way you can. Please keep writing!
    Linda

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Heather,

    That woman's wagging finger was not the New Evangelization. She had no business asking you about your vote. I am sorry that happened to you. May God keep continue to bless you in your work! What courage it has taken for you to reveal yourself in such an honest way. I think it is inspired -- not to be used to judge you nor to be used as a weapon against you. I have read all of your books now. I read them so fast that I have to go back to inhale what you said because I read so fast. I felt while reading that God has gifted you to us for these times. You are an incredible blessing. May God help you to know that!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Heather,

    Just to your last comment, does that mean not voting at all? I'm honestly just wondering and struggling with these ideas and decisions as well.

    I remembered you wrote a piece on this a while ago and I went back and looked at it. You wrote this:

    "I’ll take my conscience with me. If I can’t say yes when I mean yes and no when I mean no, I’ll leave that box blank. I’ll take a sample ballot I filled out myself. I’ll take a heart that I’ll pray is pure: not begrudging but joyful, not in opposition to but in solidarity with, not hateful but hopeful."

    I think this is really good, but I'm also wondering if this leaves very few times when you can actually vote, as it's tough to ever say a wholehearted yes to a politician, especially a presidential candidate as they seem to simply toeing party lines that leave much to be desired on both sides. I just don't know butI'd love your thoughts on this, not in terms of who to vote for but just is compromising worse than not voting or the other way around maybe? It seems very tough.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Heather, I love your blog and your occasional writings for the "Magnificat." Your thoughts are inspiring and refreshing. I agree with the general point of this post. People should never be uncharitable in expressing their opinions. However, there is one thought of yours that puzzled me regarding Christ seeming to not pay attention to politics. Christ spent the better part of His ministry engaging in politics. Christ spent His life engaging and opposing the Pharisees who were the political power of that time. Christ flipped tables in righteous anger in the temple in direct protest of the Pharisees. Christ debated with and made these politicians angry. Christ died at the hands of these politicians. Christ did not separate Himself from politics. Christ used politics as one of the tools to achieve His Heavenly goal. His statement about giving to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and to God what is God's, is Christ acknowledging that politics is a fact of life. We must give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's, while at the same time giving to God what is God's and remembering God comes first. We can never separate the circumstances and actions of this life from our faith. This includes politics. Not everyone, thank God, is called to be the light of Christ in politics. But that does not mean the rest of us separate ourselves from politics in the name of our faith. Sometimes God calls us to do things we really don't want to do. We always need to be vigilant and ready to answer God's call in all areas and circumstances of this life, even the ones we most detest. I hope the above makes sense. Thanks for listening. May God continue to bless your work!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks, Robert, no, no, I wouldn't purport to tell anyone else how or whether to vote, other than that we are of course bound by obedience to the Church, and by our Church-formed conscience.

    The post isn't about voting: it's about the error of trying to reduce our faith to a single political issue. What's "non-negotiable" is love. Thus, if we're against abortion, we have to ponder deeply the nature of the underlying love by virtue of which we know abortion is wrong. And then we have to live in every single area and to the smallest moment of our lives in, through, and by that love. That's the mark of the authenticity of our stance toward abortion, and of our faith. That's also a minute-by-minute process of discernment, undertaken in fear and trembling. This side we see only through a glass, darkly. We don't have all the answers. We can't make the edges match up.

    But we can know and do know, that violence IN ALL FORMS is antithetical to the love with which Christ loved us and by which he commanded us to love one another.

    In The Abbess of Andalusia, author Lorraine Murray writes of Flannery O'Connor, "She explained that she herself on principle disliked force, but might find herself using it, 'in which case I would have to convict myself of sin'". I like that, partly because it reminds me of the many ways I am violent myself, and partly because it showcases that to feel we have no choice but to use force, and convict ourselves of sin is a very different proposition than shrugging "The poor you will always have with you" and, say, dropping a nuclear bomb on 100,000-plus civilian men, women and children.

    To insist that the single most significant mark of a Catholic is to be anti-abortion, and in the same breath to consider it a God-given right to kill other people's children, and grown people everywhere, surely betrays an intellectual, philosophical, theological, and spiritual inconsistency that is unworthy of Christ and his Church.

    More to the point, it betrays deep suffering. In Breathing Underwater, Richar Rohr says that in over forty years as a priest he could say "of many well-intentioned Christians and clergy that their religion has never touched them or healed them at the unconscious level where all of the real motivation, hurts, unforgiveness, anger, wounds, and illusions are stored, hiding—and often fully operative. They never went to 'the inner room' where Jesus invited us, and where things hid 'secretly' (Matthew 6:6)."

    I think this is the real sorrow: our own wounds that make us so fearful, so quick to build up arms, so desirous of erecting a barricade, so violent with ourselves.

    And as Pope Benedict XVI noted last year on the Third Sunday of Lent, in an address re the cleansing of the temple:

    "The casting of the merchants out of the temple has also been interpreted in a political and revolutionary way, connecting Jesus to the movement of the zealots. They were 'zealous' for God’s law and ready to use violence to make it respected. In Jesus’ time they were awaiting a Messiah that would liberate Israel from Roman rule. But Jesus disappointed this hope, so much so that some disciples abandoned him and Judas Iscariot betrayed him. In reality, it is impossible to interpret Jesus as violent: violence is against the Kingdom of God, it is an instrument of the antichrist [italics mine]. Violence never serves humanity, but dehumanizes...

    With Easter Jesus initiates a new form of worship, the worship performed by love, and a new temple which he is himself, the risen Christ, through whom every believer can worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

    Dear friends, the Holy Spirit began building this temple in the womb of the Virgin Mary. By her intercession, we pray that every Christian may become a living stone in this spiritual edifice."

    ReplyDelete
  18. In your last post, you expressed what has been just beyond my ability to express; thank you. And you remind me what my catechist said: to say that violence may be justified (as in, say, killing someone as a last resort who is attacking and about to kill your family) is not the same as saying violence is ever a good. We are called to good; we are called to love. Thank you for always bringing us back to that, Heather.
    -KC

    ReplyDelete
  19. Dear Heather and Reader Commenters,

    THANK YOU for having the heart to dig into this. Helpful beyond any words of mine. You have articulated so much that was there but hard for me to put into coherent sentences.

    God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Melissa, the Pharisees were religious "politicians," not civil politicians (which we're discussing here) no? Whatever the case, Christ engaged with everyone but he never tried to establish his reign by means of either kind of politics. "My kingdom is not of this world"...That doesn't mean we're not squarely in the midst of, and obligated to participate, insofar as conscience allows, in the things and systems of this world. It means that, through Christ, they attain their proper significance...

    Christ engaged with everyone but he engaged not as a citizen, but as a prophet. He knew no mere head of state could address the dilemma of human existence, the mystery of suffering, or our conflicted, anguished souls, athirst for meaning and love.

    And look what he said to the "politicians"! Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. You hypocrites. You bind up heavy burdens. You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. You make my fathers' house into a den of thieves...He challenged them, he didn't fritter away hours, days, weeks--he wouldn't have frittered away an instant--debating whether to vote for the guy who was for executing people only on Tuesdays as opposed to the guy who was for executing only on Wednesdays.

    In fact, the violence that passes for contemporary politics--the name-calling, back-stabbing, hatred, vitriol and contempt--only hardens our hearts and further predisposes us for the very violence that killed him.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Ahhhh now I'm sure whether to vote!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Politics is not a source of enlightenment. It’s a process used for a singular purpose, to obtain and maintain power.

    In the context of this conversation, the power in question is that used to rule or govern a highly pluralistic society of @ 310M, in a world of @ 7B.

    Answers to the questions/issues discussed herein will never be found in or through politics.

    There is only one source of enlightenment, one source to the answers we seek.

    We know this, but we’re weak, plagued by questions and doubt, and as a result, easily misled.

    Politicians know this and position themselves as the arbiters for those questions and doubt.

    Consequently, many of us find ourselves foolishly defending the indefensible (i.e. war, abortion).

    The best that politics can ever achieve is to provide for and protect the social context for discussing these issues.

    ReplyDelete
  23. It always comes back to the question of violence doesn't it? Rightfully so I think. It is this issue which separates our species from animals. We say violence is instinctive in animals so it is the natural order created by God. So it is good. It is good for them but not for us humans. We are created in the image of the creator but we have violent tendencies and our species has a history of violence.

    The other thing is that most Christians today will agree and science indicates that we humans are descended from lower primates. The creator intervened in the evolutionary process and infused this animal with a soul but a bump in the road (original sin) created an impediment to the attainment of our highest nature which is semi-divine i.e. in the image of the Creator. So the struggle continues to be all that our Creator meant us to be which includes non-violent.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Dear Heather, I'm very sorry you had to endure this from a fellow catholic. Stay the way you are, I admire you immensely. You are an inspiration to me because of the way you truly live the catholic faith with love and joy! I never tire of your writing, you are blessed by God. Thank you for sharing your gifts. Sincerely, Christine

    ReplyDelete
  25. Heather, This is off topic but I'm wondering if you've heard that St. Hildegard of Bingen has been declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict VI this past October 7th. I'm very pleased about this. She was an amazing person, she was a mystic (German), who lived in the 12th century. I looked up her name on your website but didn't find any references to her. Just an FYI! Peace and Blessings, Christine

    ReplyDelete
  26. Dear Heather,

    We loose something, don't we, when we become more project than people minded and even more is lost when people become projects according to any formalized, politicized agenda - including seemingly good ones. This is perhaps my own post-evangelical-Protestant knee jerk reaction but I've seen too much of people become project to not feel some hesitancy.

    Dear Anonymous (though I don't know which Anon or if all the Anons are the same person - um, obviously [and side bar note: I really wish people wouldn't do that. Choose even a fake name as KC.Anon did so at least we know which Anon we are addressing]),

    Thank you for noting this, " St. Hildegard of Bingen has been declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict VI this past October 7th." I have been so out of on-line touch that I hadn't heard.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Dear Owen, My name is Christine. I use the anon option because it's easier, and sign off using my name. Thanks for the comment and your website is very good, I'm a subscriber.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Ah Heather, I'm so sorry it happened, but then again, it will happen, more and more. Thank you for being silent when the world wants you to speak and for speaking when the world wants you to be silent. Thank you for not lowering your expectations. I love that this comes right after Sunday's Gospel about the rich young man - so easy to be replete with self, so difficult to stay stretched in desire. As Chris said, keep casting the pearls!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Did you all see the reflection by Maurice Zundel in today's Magnificat? That is so totally on point?:

    "The most perfect conformity--like that of the Pharisees denounced by Jesus--may be profoundly immoral.

    Without love, works are nothing.

    Which does not mean that works are not necessary in the service of love; but that love is the alpha and omega of the whole moral life.

    One may be obliged, of course, to impose an external discipline, to defend a social order, against the anarchy which would render life in common impossible; but to limit the mind to that discipline and order would be a betrayal of the Spirit.

    No act except loving God can fill full that capacity for the infinite which orders our will to the sovereign Good.

    It is therefore an outrage against our liberty to tie it down within the rules of what is done and what is not done; unless all our action is identified with love as its expression."

    [Father Zundel, d. 1975, was a Swiss mystic, poet, philosopher, liturgist, and author].

    And Elizabeth--I will just say Bless you.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Good post Heather, although one nitpick: we spend 20% of the budget on "defense and international security assistance." We spend a third of the budget on health care and safety net programs. This is from the Center for Budget Priorities, a group that left-wing economist Paul Krugman endorses and says is accurate. (Chart here). 20% for defense is still too much, in my opinion, but at least it's not a third.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Yes, I think this is what God has been trying to tell me lately.

    I've been reading the Catechism with others at Logos Bible, and Andruw Jones said this about one passage:

    This confidence about speaking about God to all men with all men seems to be based on a universal recognition of human reason as a path to truth of some sort. In post-modern thought, however, reason itself has come under suspicion, and any assertion to the validity of reason is more often than not seen as a dissembling strategy of power. To the post-modern mind only violence has fundamental reality. How does this change our approach to the world? I think we need to propose a rhetoric of peace as a substitute to that of violence. If we can convince the world that peace is real, convincing them that reason is valid, and so that God is real should follow.

    "Very Heather King-ish," said a friend.

    Plus I just finished NT Wright's, "When God Became King" and Wright makes the case that Jesus became king at the point of crucifixion, not at the Resurrection or Ascension. The latter "power" events were merely confirmations, signs of the real victory.

    ReplyDelete
  32. As Thomas a Kempis writes, “Why do you want to change the world when you cannot change your own soul?”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2012/10/be-self-centered-its-good-for-you.html

    ReplyDelete
  33. Voting for Romney is not going to end abortion either. Both parties have the same investors, which means they will play the culture wars to win an election, but do not expect legal action, which belongs to the courts alone.

    The pro-life movement has made progress being a grassroots movement changing minds and hearts. This is a cultural issue, not a legal one.

    Instead of fighting over legal abortion, why not come up with ways to help women who do not want to have abortions.

    The only thing that bothers me about Obama is his assault on Catholic institutions. Does the mandate really have the potential to shut them down if they do not go along with it.

    I am Canadian, so I do not know how far this is true.

    Could somebody shed some light on this issue.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Heather, when you said earthly security isn't our right I was reminded of something said by a dearly respected (and now deceased) pastor here in Michigan. He said that "when we insist upon our rights we only hurt the Son of God". When we expect and demand that which we feel entitled to (including security) we are telling God that our way is best; that we know better. I'm not sure this relates to the rest of this discussion, but I just want to point out that we, as a nation, seem to feel entitled to so much - that which we label "our rights". Just a thought... I'm not sure how much it's worth!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Yes, Alicia! I'm always spouting a Simone Weil quote: "One cannot imagine St. Francis of Assisi speaking of rights"...

    ReplyDelete

I WELCOME your comments!!!