Saturday, January 31, 2015

Protestants Should Be More Catholic, But Catholics Should Be More Protestant… Here's What I Mean

One of the most tragic things about the divisions within the Christian Faith is just how much it weakens the witness of individual Christians. The common complaint (and understandably so) among those who are not Christian is to point out how these divisions undermine the general veracity of the Christian message (chalk it up to another confused myth, right?). What's worse, when it comes to religious extremism, there really is no unified front to offer a rational/positive alternative to the crazy behavior, in part because Christians themselves are going in a hundred different directions.

Thus, in a spirit of Christian Unity, I would like to offer a few suggestions as to how we might all draw closer to one another. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, prayed to the Father "that they (his disciples) might all be one". Yet what he said after that was even more telling. He prayed for their unity, not simply because unity is a wonderful thing, but in order that "others might come to believe that you have sent me". In other words, unity = credibility/believability of said message.

And if that weren't important enough, he then went on to point out that he wanted all of this to transpire so that everyone would "know that you (the Father) love them, even as you love me". Hence, why is this Christian unity so essential, not simply for our own pleasure, not simply so the world would believe the message, but most importantly, that the 'world may know how much God loves them.' Consequently, to not work towards Christian unity is to prevent the love of God from entering the lives of countless individuals. In light of this, we have no choice but to look at ourselves and be as self-critical as is warranted, and furthermore to find ways to draw closer to one another, without compromising what we believe to be essential to being a Christian.

Below I present five ways that we can look across the divide and find something that we may previously have considered an obstacle to unity, but instead should perceive as a kind of bridge. Disclaimer: this post applies in a general way, Protestantism is obviously not monolithic, but I do nevertheless attempt here to address those things which divide Catholics and those who identify themselves with the Reform traditions.

5 Ways Catholics Should Be More "Protestant"

1. Yes, I know we believe that the "netherworld" will never prevail against our Church, but we must take greater ownership of our parish/church. Let us not behave like spoiled children whose parents will always be there to wipe our little noses. Protestants tend to be truly involved in their church communities because they realize their indifference does not mean status quo, but rather death. It is true the Church as a whole may always be there, but if Catholics do not involve themselves more deeply in parish life, that church, along with the faith of those parishioners, will not.

2. We must stop exhibiting an embarrassing degree of Biblical illiteracy. Ignorance does not equal hilarity (there are those who see this as humorous). Some will even go so far as to make fun of Protestants for knowing their Bible, as if it were a badge of honor to know nothing about the Word of God. This is shameful. In this regard "protesting" is correct. If Catholics do not know their Bible they can hardly be good Christians. St. Jerome put it best; "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

3. We must stop acting like it is only the priest's job to be holy, and that everyone else may go about their lives without the slightest thought about what it means to live their own vocation. Everyone is called to live the priesthood of Jesus Christ according to their own unique "call". Priests have a "vocation", yes- but so also does every baptized Christian. In this regard Luther was right to place an  extra emphasis on the "priesthood of all believers," and not simply focus on the ministerial priesthood.

4. A student of mine once asked me whether or not I agreed with Martin Luther when he criticized the practice of selling indulgences. I said "Yes, absolutely. To whatever extent there is abuse in the Church it is to be condemned, regardless of who is responsible, and regardless of who is doing the criticizing." When it comes to scandal, abuse, and the need for genuine reform, Catholics should be more "Protestant" than anyone; that is, they should protest the lack of holiness in the Church, and press for reform wherever it is truly warranted. Catholics should reject the kind of clericalism that would seek to excuse sinful behavior in a misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the Church. That being said, they should also avoid exaggerating the extent of the bad behavior. As much as possible the criticism should be proportional to the degree scandalous behavior.

5. Because there is a set form of worship in the Catholic Church, there is also the potential for a lemming mentality, a kind of mindless zombie-like approach to worship. By contrast, because Protestantism tends to be more individualistic, it naturally tends to lend itself to a greater degree of self-involvement and participation. While there are some aspects of worship that are non-negotiable for Catholics, it might be advisable to provide a greater space in the life of the parish for those other expressions (i.e. a community within the larger community of worshippers). This is not completely foreign to the Catholic Faith (the Anglican Ordinariate, private devotions, and 3rd Order religious immediately come to mind), for in times past the Church was often at the center of the social life of the community. Perhaps there is too much either/or when it should be both/and. Is there not room for a more individualistic spirit, without compromising the integrity of the universal? The particular focuses of each Protestant denomination could ideally work within a Catholic milieu in this way. I sometimes fancy that that is precisely why certain gifts are lacking in the Church today, not because they are not there, and not because they do not belong within the Church, but rather because they are like an appendage of the Body of Christ wandering about imagining that they are completely autonomous to it.        

5 Ways That Protestants Should Be More Catholic:

1. Individual expression is essential, but individual expression alone can/will ultimately turn into a form of idolatry and self-worship. Thus, it is important not only to consider how we may want to worship God according to our own preference, but also consider how God Himself might like us to worship him. The romance of religion is not a one way street, but rather implies the prerogative of two. Hence, on the night he was betrayed, he did have a request as to how he might want us to worship him, and God forbid we should fail to "do this in memory of him".

2. It is of essence to do everything in our power to make sure that the Faith is relevant and "up to date", but we dare not do so at the expense of the Gospel itself. If there is no immutable truth to preserve, and truth is merely a matter of conformity to the spirit of the age, then we are not believing in the Gospel, but rather the age. Hence, the Faith must be more than a reflection of the times, it must in some sense be indifferent to them. God is immutable, and thus our communion with him (i.e. our worship and belief) should reflect that reality. Subsequently, Protestants must re-discover Tradition, that is, they must take under consideration the aspects of the Catholic Faith that really are trans historical, and really can trace their roots all the way back to the beginning. Part of this would involve reading the great thinkers of the Church, not to mention the early Church Fathers (viz. those who wrote in the generations following the apostles).

2a. We should not be an either/or Church, but a both/and Church. Should we be a contemporary church, or one that learns from its spiritual fathers and mothers throughout history? Yes. Should we look at Scripture and interpret it for our times, or should observe what the Church has said throughout the ages? Yes. Should we be a local church with unique characteristics which distinguish it from others, or one that is universal and united in the essentials of Faith? Yes? Should the Church be more individualistic or communal? Yes. One should never "petrify" the faith, nor should they simply see at something in constant flux. The Faith is, in a metaphorical sense, the Tree of Life, ever ancient and ever new, ever growing and developing, and ever rooted in its apostolic origins.

3. If you are Protestant it should be a positive Protestantism, let it not be a negative one. In other words, if you are Presbyterian, be the best Presbyterian you can be and know why you are what you are. There is a dreadful trend out there, which seeks to discourage Christians from holding real convictions about the Faith. What we are seeing today is a kind of Christian relativism that essentially has no regard for real Christian convictions. What is the consequence of catering Christ to our own personal whims??? Well, the most obvious result of this is reducing Christ to a kind of "Build-a-Bear". What we get is a complete genericization of the Gospels in a misguided attempt to accommodate everyone. This would seem a clever compromise in light of all the divisions, until you realize you have reduced the Christian Gospels to a book of sayings and parables. Be a Protestant, but know why you are, and more importantly "believe what you believe." If you don't believe it, do not despise those that do have conviction, rather find something that you do believe with conviction.

4. The world has enough noise and entertainment simply for entertainments sake. Silence and contemplation are the proud heritage of the Catholic Church and her saints. The notion that we ourselves must develop our spiritual muscles, not simply through sensual stimulation, but through prayer and meditation, is essential to growth in the spirit. Possessing the capacity to sit in silence before God, or to worship at a liturgy without all the frills of modern technology is- in my opinion- the very essence of divine intimacy. How impressive is it when a couple sits in silence at dinner, but only does so as a consequence of having nothing to say, or as a result of staring at their smartphones? By contrast, how beautiful is it when a couple sits in silence, but not for the aforementioned reasons, but rather because they staring lovingly into one another's eyes. This would seem to be the difference between the noise that sometimes masquerades as worship, and something that is akin to true worship and praise of God.            

5. One of the best things about having a liturgical calendar is that it not only brings variety to one's spiritual life, but it aids contemplation of the various mysteries of God. Yet there is always some scoundrel out there that will argue that Christmas or Valentine's Day should be every day, and that we shouldn't need a special day on the calendar to be romantic or generous. Perhaps this is true in some other-worldly sense, but as for those (like me) who still live in the world, I need prompting and liturgical space to consider the mysteries of God. In this regard the Church understands the natural rhythms of life, striking the right balance between feasting and fasting, between triumph and tragedy, between waiting and enjoying, between romance and sacrifice. If humans are thus inclined to devise secular calendars on this account, wouldn't it make sense, given our spiritual nature, to do the same for the divine?

It might go without saying, but the truth is some of the most faithful Christians I know are not Catholic, so this blog post is certainly not about indiscriminately celebrating one group of Christians while criticizing another. What it is about, however, is getting to the heart of the dispute and encouraging both sides to heal the rift where it can be immediately healed. What it is also about is remembering what the point of emphasis should always be in any ecumenical discussion. Whoever this person Jesus Christ is, it is imperative for us to know and worship him as fully as we can. Therefore, if this debate is to go anywhere, we must avoid shallow bickering, and instead see it as an opportunity to love God (and each other) more convincingly. When I disagree with my wife on anything, wishing away the disagreement in silence or in shouting only exacerbates the problem, but attempting to understand where the primary concern lies usually leads to some kind of reconciliation. If that can be our focus, then greater unity, by the grace of Jesus Christ, seems all the more possible.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The 21 Most Evocative Meme Themes of All Time...

Memes are a magnificent way to summarize the cultural zeitgeist with a popular image that most everyone recognizes. Thus, in this age where attention spans are so minimal, we have this clever forum which is able to speak volumes about what is rolling around in the collective consciousness of society, all while demanding that we all keep it pithy. Yes, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but for better or worse, when it comes to memes, it is our job to summarize that picture in the most comical and concise manner possible.        

1. The Morpheus Conspiracy Theory Meme

Whenever you detect a conspiracy somewhere, it is best to couch that "conspiracy" with the words of Morpheus in the Matrix films. However, there is only one slight problem with doing this, Morpheus never actually said these words. Consequently, here's the most "matrixy" thought of all: who is responsible for implanting this idea into our minds? Because I could swear he did say those words!

2. Sad Keanu on a Park Bench Eating Lunch Meme

Speaking of the Matrix... What happens when you combine a famous movie actor with the "outlandish" un-Hollywood like practice of eating lunch on a bench alone? Of course the obvious punishment for this kind of infamy is the creation of a meme to highlight his shame, one in which he looks like a pitiful, lonely, homeless-looking fellow, who must, in every incarnation of the meme, be accompanied by any number of similarly sad looking characters, who are naturally photo-shopped into the picture for the effect.

3. The Keanu Reeves Bewildered Look from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Meme

Continuing with Mr. Reeves, we have this great meme-tacular character whose expression invites us to consider an interesting cross-section of ideas. In other words, what do you get when you combine a burn-out with a bunch deep thoughts that really aren't very deep at all? This meme.

4. Stoned Senseless Guy Meme

By contrast (sort of), the following stoner isn't even trying to think any deep thoughts, rather he isn't thinking about a damn thing at all. Everyone remembers this guy from high school/ college, but nobody, with a lick of sense, ever wanted to be anything like him. You know the type of guy I'm talking about- the one who found it sooo hilarious to be literally crocked out of his mind, all while preserving just enough of his wits to be able to successfully mooch all of the food from your refrigerator. He won't remember it, but I will.    

5. And the Biggest Loser Award Goes to this Guy Meme

You could probably find a guy like this in just about every school district, a guy who smelled like an entire bottle of cheap cologne was dumped indiscriminately on him, a guy whose fashion sense was more than a little perplexing. Was he going for  gangsta? Was he going for rich white suburban drug chic? What??? What we did sense was just how slimy and sketchy this guy was- a general consensus which is somehow is embodied in the general message of this meme. The guy in the original photo may be a saint for all we know (mmm… I'm not so sure), but what is certain is that he is representative of  something quite unpleasant that lives in our collective consciousness, the type of person that we would just as soon forget, or in this instance, ridicule.  

6. The Magnificent and Morbid Sarcasm of Willy Wonka Meme

Few characters in film history have been so wickedly funny as Gene Wilder in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And this image, coupled with his priceless expression, seems to sum up, not just who he is as a character, but how we all feel sometimes when we want to offer our "two cents" to someone who has gone off the rails, but figure that it will probably be completely lost on them.

7. The Most "Interesting Guy in the World", though no one is exactly sure why Meme

Sometimes you simply have to scratch your head and wonder why a commercial and/or idea is so universally appealing, much like the commercial that is associated with the above meme. Perhaps people find his fake accent and tan humorous, or maybe what appeals to them is the popular catchphrase; "I don't always drink beer, but when I do…"? Could it be that he exudes a kind of James Bond air about him? He does, after all, seem to have his fair share of women and adventure. I myself would contend that his appeal all comes down to our general nostalgia surrounding Ricardo Montalban and Fantasy Island.

8. Unimpressed with Anything in the World Olympic Silver Medalist Girl…

Not since Veruca Salt have we seen such an ingrate as the girl who won the Silver Medal in the Olympics and was "not impressed" by her success. Now if her disappointment was on account of her displeasure with her own performance, than we might be a little more sympathetic. Unfortunately, what appears to be the case is something much more akin to sour grapes. True champions, win or lose, carry themselves with dignity, while sour grapes, win or lose, are "ripe" for satire.  

9. Boromir and Any Sort of Difficult Undertaking that Is Easier Said than Done Meme

Anybody can speak boldly of things which are difficult (like venturing into Mordor, dropping the ring into Mount Doom, and leaving unscathed). Consequently, this meme exists for the express purpose of calling out those who seem to believe that stating the mission is the same as accomplishing it. And what better example could there be than a circumstance wherein you find yourself in a Mexican restaurant, complaining that you have spoiled your appetite as a result of eating too many Chips and Salsa, only to have some genius point out to you that you should have shown more restraint. Thank you, oh great sage of the salsa!

10. Hippie Hypocrite Superior Dreadlock Girl Meme

We all know this type of person- the one who is supposed to be the embodiment of open-mindedness and tolerance, but is actually something akin to Attila. In fact, so uptight is she that you even fear speaking to her, much in the same way that a soldier fears walking into a minefield of hidden explosives. She cares not a lick about what offends you, but somehow it is your job to burn a hole in your stomach worrying about what gender title she prefers. She would not ever shoot you to death with a gun (for she hates guns), but if you displeased her enough, she may have you sent to a special re-education camp- not to change your mind about something- but rather to help you see things as they really are. Thank you, open-minded girl!

11. Ermahgerd Girl Meme

This meme/photograph is the embodiment of a phase in life that almost of all of us went through at one time or another (except perhaps the coolest kids), the point at which gawkiness, unattractiveness, bad haircuts, poor clothing choices, and bad complexions seemed to team up in a whole maelstrom of awkwardness that can only be described as a kind of divine imperfection. Thank you, "Ermahgerd gerl" for herping mer to remermber mer yerth!

12. "First World Problems" (Part 1) Meme

If you ever start to feel like you have gotten the short end of the stick in life, simply spend a little time considering what you're complaining about, and compare that to the type of problems the rest of the world is enduring. That will generally help cure you of your self-pity. And if that doesn't work, perhaps creating your own meme, using this template and that boys expression, may just be the tonic that we all need.

13. "First World Problems" (Part 2) Meme

Perhaps one of the greatest fears I have about the future is not simply the fact that affluence has robbed us of our motivation to strive for excellence, but that affluence and entitlement have rendered us so soft that even the most minor inconveniences are regarded as a crisis (check out all of the news stories surrounding things like "fast food" customers calling "911" because some McDonald's ran out of Chicken Nuggets). If a minor shortfall provokes some (or many) to lose their head in these instances, what will happen when there is a major crisis?

14. First World Problems (Part 3) Meme

Welcome to the male edition of "first world problems" Dawson's Creek style. Women complained in prior generations (or so I've heard) that men were not sensitive enough. Well congratulations ladies, you now have your man... in spades. Unfortunately, instead of having a real man, this little tyke must be bottle fed and cradled in your arms, lest he soil his diaper and curl up in the fetal position.

14. Satire of Nerd Genius and His Fantastic Penchant for Throwing away His Career Potential All in the Name of Escapism and Useless Technological Entertainment Meme

Perhaps at another time in history such an intelligent mind might have been compelled to use his intellect and creativity for more constructive purposes. Alas, in our day and age he is given a free pass and thus permitted to live in his parent's basement well into his thirties. But don't tell him he's not working, for in his minds it takes tremendous dexterity and skill to do what he does. He may not be getting paid for it… but dammit... he should! Sadly, he resides in a world that doesn't appreciate sloth to the level that he does. Level? Did someone say "level"? What "level" were you talking about?

15. Creepy Obsessed Wide-Eyed Excessively Smiley Stalker Girlfriend Meme

Nothing like a good old-fashioned story of the girl next store turned psycho, Big Brother,  surveillance, stalker, helicopter, "every breath you take, every move you make", "I'd did without you!!!" And just think, it started out with such potential, didn't it?

16. The Woman's "E-Card" for Every Occasion Meme

Messages like this provide further evidence that men really are in a "lose lose" situation with women. Our biggest mistake is that we think that we can actually solve the problem that so vexes our beloved. A little advice for you men: you can't, you won't, and you're not supposed to! When a woman says (and she will), that you can't possibly understand what she is going through, do not argue with her! Resistance is futile. Simply respond that "you know you can't possibly understand what she's going through, but that you are trying your best", and leave it at that. Thank you, oh women's E-card, for admitting as much.  

17. Cloying Teacher Tendencies Meme

Ah, there are so many possibilities for this one, but I decided to go with, what I think, is one of the most annoying "teacherisms" of all time. One of the reasons I am particularly fond of this meme is the fact that the teacher in the picture carries herself in such an affable way, and yet she clearly is a pain in the rear end. Indeed, just because a teacher presents herself/himself in an easy-going manner does not mean that they are genuinely easy-going. In fact, I would argue that every teacher has the "Nazi factor", and it is the student's job (if he/she wishes to excel), to figure out what that is and thus avoid it… no matter how unreasonable it may seem.

18. Bad Luck Brian Meme

"Bad luck Brian" is a guy that is little bit overly earnest and needy to the point of obliviousness. He is the type of young man who is looking to go to whatever lengths necessary to fit in in with the guys. But no matter how hard he tries he just cant's seem to catch a break. Thus, when he gets a pet rock "it runs away". When he finally manages to get a note from the girl that he likes, it's "a restraining order". And when he gets an invitation to a "senior party", he quickly discovers, after his initial enthusiasm, that the party is for "senior citizens." His problem is not that he is too nice for everyone, but rather that he is too naive to realize that all of these unfortunate incidents are not simply the result of misunderstandings or bad luck, they are the result of something far more tragic, the fact that the universe itself rejects him.  

19. The "Buddy Jesus" Religious Meme

This image of "Buddy Jesus" was derived from a film called "Dogma", which sought to satirize the Catholic Church and its efforts to "hippify" Jesus. Obviously some of the images of Christ that the "meme world" produces are offensive to Christians (and Buddy Jesus is no exception), while others, like the one above, are a bit milder, and may be more palatable to some.

20. The Pope Francis Meme

Memes like the ones involving Pope Francis demonstrate just how weird, complicated, and political some of them can get (especially when they involve popes and religion). In the hands of one person they can suggest one thing, in the hands of another, the exact opposite. Here are a few examples:

Here the pope is being celebrated by those who not only like him because, as they say, he adheres to the Gospel, but because they believe he is the enemy of "conservative Catholics" (i.e. those who support doctrine and authority).

Then again, there are those out there like this that would be suspicious of the pope no matter what:

All in all- the memes for Pope Francis are generally on the positive side, the same however cannot be said for Pope Benedict emeritus:

21. The Dwight Schrute Dose of Reality Truth Serum Meme

In a world of excessive sentimentality and unnecessary irony, everyone needs a Dwight Schrute around to provide a little dose of literalism. "All you need is love? WRONG! You need water and rations!"