Is hypocrisy really worse than a moral vacuum? How valorizing the morally vacuous hurts people.

It took a week for the memorializing and eulogizing of infamous Playboy mag founder It's only creepy if he's poorHugh Heffner to be interrupted by another Entertainment mogul scandal.

On a personal note, I cannot write about Heffner unreferential to the gruesome monster lurking in my bedroom closet: The stack of decades old Playboy magazines perched out of the reach of my childish arms. As a 17 year old, trying to have some peace of mind, I demanded my dad remove his firehazard collection of Playboys from the closet in my bedroom. My childhood bedroom was the replacement to my dad’s mancave, one that was never properly transformed. When my dad agreed to let me dump every last one of them, my mom tearfully thanked me. Playboy caused me anguish, and likely caused my mom unimaginable pain as my dad listlessly kept them hidden away at home.

You could probably do a bit of your own research into the creepy dilapidated facade behind the glitz and glamour of the playboy mansion. Proceed to links with caution

Our culture likes to celebrate the openness that Heffner ushered, but is still shocked when another Entertainment Industry giant gets caught cashing in on Hefner’s revolution. According to Weinstein, the 60s & 70s helped him feel entitled toward this sort of behavior. It goes without saying that I am disgusted with Weinstein. I wouldn’t want to stop with him. Roman Polanski had his defenders, although I am happy to say Weinstein couldn’t get away so easy. Perhaps the entertainment industry need not moralize and wag fingers at Heffner’s moral legacy, but instead hang its head in disappointment.

Playboy, the sexual revolution, and the male entitlement are often referred to as separate things. Male Entitlement and Sexual Exploitation at the filthy hands of conservatives is often reveled, perhaps because of our self-righteous need to catch others in hypocrisy. But what about the Entitled Male that practices what they preach, is not a hypocrite, and damages many victims and sexually exploits the vulnerable? Putting aside the sort of loser that becomes desperate and puts aside their moral principals to take advantage of others, instead of seeking help in their dire need… What about the person that lacks any moral integrity or personal sympathy of others? We can simply classify them as a sociopath, without the freedom to make moral decisions.

This sort of rationalizing emboldened Weinstein, likely Polanski and Cosby as well. Apparently, Weinstein became in inside joke in the entertainment industry. Some of this could be attributed to the massive amount of influence that he had, much of it could also be attributed to sexual exploitation and predatory practices being a long standing problem. The problem may have been insurmountable or unsolvable if you are in the vulnerable position. Just watch this clip of 1988 Gwyneth Paltrow with David Letterman. If you know anything of what it is to be victimized or vulnerable, you can clearly see someone desperate to speak up, but unable to. Read her body language and awkward laughter. She isn’t afraid to talk about it now.

Now that Weinstein is crashing and burning, now that Bill Cosby (once endeared as America’s beloved sitcom dad Dr. Huxtable) has crashed and burned, who’s next? the 2014 Amy Berg documentary An Open Secret exposes a few stories of pedophilia in the entertainment industry. Backed by Elijah Wood, former child star Corey Feldman alleges that rampant Pedophilia. Here’s one clip of him arguing with Corey Haim about abuse they survived. Clips of Corey Feldman are not hard to find, and I spare you clips posted by conspiracy theory pages..

Respected High Profile celebrities have received honors, awards, and nominations for the past several decades, have now been found credible. Perhaps more accusations will be taken seriously. Perhaps more young entertainers will want to come forward. Perhaps more power movers in the Industry will disappear or go overseas.

But that is just my predictions. I think that the eulogizing of Hefner and fans of the male entitlement culture that he ushered in blind us to the moral cowardice of today’s moral vacuums.

I do want to avoid a few an overgeneralization here. I think a mistake to say that Hollywood is in on it. ‘Hollywood’ is finally comfortable renouncing a predator, and will much more likely renounce more predators. I don’t want to assign a moral value of evil to some abstract concept of ‘Hollywood,’ that would be too simplistic. There has been some degree of courage to speak up about this. Besides, it is the same mistake to assume that ‘The Vatican’ is a monolithic group think institution, and this scandal shows that Hollywood isn’t so monolithic.

However, I do find it a real problem when the ilk of playboy can be shrugged or even admired, while Weinstein can be subsequently be denounced. It is a shame, that in our society, hypocrisy is somehow the worst crime. Could be having a moral vacuum be worse?

Hefner is eulogized for having created an openness, where sexuality is not stigmatized nor shamed. Hefner, and others who helped tear down stigmas are valorized, principally for not being hypocrites. Somehow Hefner is better, because he was consistent. But can I really say that a pedophile who brags about pedophilia is better than the pedophile who condemns it? Let me be more specific, likewise, is the active sexual predator somehow morally superior because he brags about his escapades? What about the inactive pedophile who denounces such practices? The reformed have little space in our cultural narrative. Somehow, Hefner can be valorized for not being a hypocrite, while the person who distrusts or outright disagrees with their own evil behavior cannot even be partially correct for condemning themselves?

I think that the sexual exploitation of others is always wrong. I don’t think that sexual exploitation can become better or worse. Specifically, I don’t think that someone who actively exploits others can make a moral case for their behavior, is not dismissed because they dislike it, nor is an active sexual predator morally superior to the one who cannot practice what they preach. Our aversion to hypocrisy is so tantamount, some would rather take the route of moral cowardice, like Harvey Weinstein, blame their culture. Some would rather avoid the risk of hypocrisy, the risk of having any moral standard whatsoever, and go the Hefner route: blatant exceptionalism.

Having a moral standard, failing to live up to that standard, being a hypocrite is too risky a venture for some. Removing personal responsibility for any moral compass is an easy way out. It would be easier for a young man to reduce himself to a bunch of sexual urges, instead of understanding when a vulnerable young women isn’t interested. The modern young person smugly dismisses the need for a moral identity. They get to do what they want when they want. But then there are no stakes or genuine personal investment. But even the ambition to be morally consistent is somehow too much of a risk for some modern men.

Not taking any risks, by being morally exceptional, appears like invincibility to the inexperienced. Hugh Hefner didn’t have the courage to live within this tension of moral responsibility, so he abandoned it all and felt better. He buttressed himself inside a withering creepy estate where his many wives provided him no genuine emotional intimacy. Weinstein believed he was above accountability, and used his status to prey upon young women making a name for themselves in the industry. Having no sense of personal moral responsibility, he is only now being held accountable. Despite his freedom at the expense of other’s dignity, he is now, likely, for the rest of his life to be held in shame.

And sure, the ‘safe’ moral ground that people today stand on is avoiding offense and being agreeable. Weinstein was behaving in a way that was agreeable, and accepted, and now the times disagree with him and reject him. Perhaps a more significant moral ground is called for then agree-ability or inoffensiveness.

 

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Movies about Saints my way

Temptation

Salvador Dali’s Temptation of St Anthony

With the Golden Globes finished, and the Academy Awards around the corner, I wanted to publish this long overdue. I often find Catholic Saints film a bore. For fifth grade catechesis, maybe, but not much for inspiration in my faith. For Greater Glory & There Be Dragons pushed the Action and Intrigue. They attempted to make Saint stories suitable for Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. In 2014, we had Biblical epics picked up by Directors who may have been atheists. The Gospel According to St Matthew, directed by atheist, marxist, homosexual Pasolini, is on the Vatican’s list of top faith films.

While many Catholics dream of big budget, suround sound, 3-D, nationally screened Saint films, I wonder what could be lost. Some saints might get their action sequences. Most saints are dealing with interior dilemmas that just cannot be communicated in the same manner as Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. You might have to talk to directors who have dealt with smaller scale, intimate portrayals, accompanied by character development. On the one hand, you might limit the audience. On the other hand you might reach an audience (that wouldn’t waste their time on a cheesy sentimental saint film) for an intelligent, thoughtful, artfully crafted film experience around a particular saint.

Classic Film Biopics often portray the subject’s life through a series of episodes. Contemporary Film Biopics typically center around a crystallizing event in the subject’s life. Unfortunately, most Saint films tend to rely exclusively on the classic biopic style. For example, Lincoln dealt with the passing of legislation, rather than entire series of episodes of his life. While the Song of Bernadette (1943) attempts her entire life, Bernadette (1988) captures the apparition event. Most Saint or Pope movies employ the Classic Episodic style Biopic.

Finally, they are portrayed as spiritually unconflicted and morally uncomplicated. That is not always a bad thing, but that would not work for many of the subjects that I haveselected. When I speak of character development, there has to be a mountain in the heart that is moved by faith. There has to be some sort of challenge that they are to face, and that is more meaningful and inspiring than watching a subject never flinch in the face of adversity. I am sure that some people would like to see movies about miracles, stigmata, or zapping fireballs at pagans (see Patrick below), but were we to be approaching stories of human persons becoming saints, it might be the most effective and powerful method. Besides, when you are focusing on covering 60 years in 100 minutes, you miss a the emotion, or you miss the passion

For my proposed ideas, some I have thought about for the past several years. A few have suggestions for a director. I have no interest in suggesting actors, so that it is clear that this list is meant to emphasize how having a skilled director could do a lot more for a film than having some attractive faces.

Augustine
One of my saint film disappointments in recent times was Restless Heart about Augustine. As an Augustinian, I certainly had high hopes. The central theme of Augustinian Friendship as a communal discovery of Truth was absent. The sort of personal conversations among confidants was missing. Sometimes I wonder if you had a director like Richard Linklater, you might be able to capture some of the banter which is essential for a film portraying Augustine. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an Augustinian scholar brought on board to consult, as they do in many other historical pieces. We are, after all, entrusted by the Church with the Spiritual and Theological Legacy of Saint Augustine.

Martyrs
Almost any group of martyrs in the history of the Church could be portrayed as a compelling drama for the big screen. Unfortunately, most Catholics filmmakers are more interested in making something that is okay for children. Films have been made portraying violence while minimizing gore, this would not be that hard. I do think of Cecilia, Felicitas, or Perpetua as possible protagonists if we are dealing with early Rome. Alfonso Cuaron, of Gravity and Children of Men has taken on complicated nuanced dramas, and I could see something like this being taken on by him.

Antony of Egypt
Lets face it, the early desert monks don’t look good on a vintage kitsch prayer card. They are not pasty-skinned enough, dainty blonde enough. Think, weathered face, squinty eyed (Clint Eastwood). The Temptation of Antony is one of the oft-repeated paintings throughout art history, and I wonder what an intelligent film director would do with it, and add his twiest. Because, let’s face it, a film like this could subvert the modern cultural paradigm which sees temptation as either insurmountable or as pleasurable. Out of the other ideas mentioned, this one wouldn’t lend itself easily to lighthearted humor. David Fincher and Tim Burton are two completely different director’s, who would take this in very different directions, but could do something awesome with it.

Francesco d’Asis
Many people’s visions of Francis are as a gleeful sprite gracefully prancing around Assisi singing like Snow White to the little birdies. They completely miss the fact that he left behind his urban dandy of a cloth-merchant old man for the callous hands of a wild and rugged stone chapel. Francis was a short man, kind of like X-Men’s Wolverine. I do believe that a Francis movie can find a good way of mixing playfulness with manliness. After seeing Prince Avalanche, something I would like to find in a Francis movie, David Gordon Greene might be able to pull something similar.

Thomas the Apostle
Christianity has existed in Southern India within a century of Christ’s crucifixion. All of the Eastern Christian Churches often appear different than what we expect Christianity to be. Having a film portraying early Malabar or Malankara Christians would, in many ways, be earth-shattering for our stereotypes of Christianity as a Western Religion. This could even be an enthralling story with Thomas as a supporting character or catalyst, rather than a protagonist. Slumdog Millionaire was a joint operation in England and India, and this would be what I would hope for with something like this, however, I wouldn’t want to see Danny Boyle (who did a work about Saints in Millions), as much as a local director.

Patrick
A few years ago, I saw a Saint Patrick movie, where he was going around zapping pagans with fire. There is a desperate yearning to make a Catholic movie into a big screen spectacle. I find my heart moved by his story, and would prefer to have something more dramatic. Years ago, there was a little Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells (2009). It portrayed a group of Christian Monks creating the Book of Kells. It had its share of fairies and folklore, and was meant to be for children. I have wondered what it were like to have short stories of some of the important Irish Saints: Cuthbert, Brendan, Brigid, and of course Patrick.

Mother Theresa
Here is someone that is still in the popular imagination among Catholics, as well as some secular humanist types. Younger Catholics don’t know who she is. I admit, that I am not a card carrying member of her fan club, and there could be a moment or two in her life that is worth capturing. I am impressed that she caused a ceasefire, she got a Nobel Peace Prize. These could be instances. It is also known that she did not feel internal spiritual consolations for the last part of her life. This is the sort of thing that works good on film. I don’t know that I have an idea of a director for this one (as I am not as familiar with her), but one person suggested Parish Hilton should be cast to play her.

Bonus: Hipster Pope Benedict
Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazi youth. He deserted, broke the law by going to the seminary, and became a priest. It could be a sort of wartime star crossed romance, except falling in love with God, and perhaps enjoying beer and having a friend cat. This wouldn’t go through the rest of his life, in fact becoming the pope would be irrelevant to this story that could be wrapped up in the climactic event of him being accepted into the seminary.

iWorship and the Analogical v Dialectic Imagination

judgmentOne time I went on a rant about iWorship. I saw the thing come up in my Google Play store. I just threw up my arms as another indication of how evangelical christian culture has for decades recycled pop culture gimmicks in order to create a family friendly bubble.

I am referring to all the media, music, books & tshirts which take an item, image, slogan, or idea in pop culture, and spin it for Jesus. While rebranding something as Christian, or Jesus, they will take the exact graphic design, color scheme, or jingle to “give God the Glory!

Nearly 2 decades ago, an LA-area rap group LPG (for living proof of grace), would spend time rapping at non-Christian venues. They went to open mics, and had a lot of street cred. On one of their records, they made the claim that you shame God with lousy art. Being prophetic while maintaining street cred, I imagine it would be difficult to gain a foothold in either the pop culture entertainment industry or the Christian media industry which had become pop culture’s hapless wannabe fangirl.

So there is, among non-Catholics, plenty of contention. The position of favor is still lopsided for superficial swapmeet knockoff media. These sort of debates just do not happen among Catholics. In addition, there are just no noticeable Catholics trying to create an alternative family-friendly media industry. Perhaps there are Catholics who like this alternative family-friendly bubble, perhaps there are self-identified Catholics without backbone who are complete sell-outs to the culture. Perhaps most Catholics don’t guess that there is a dichotomy between faith and culture, and there may be some evangelicals that presume that there is.

I have referred to the way some of these debates have played out in terms of “Whether Reform Rap Music is Valid.” There are just not debates among Catholics on what is an appropriate means to proclaim the faith. There are old Catholics who just don’t get the New Evangelization, but may still support it, and there are young Catholics looking for creative methods to Evangelize. The Dichotomy between believers and the world is not a central issue.

I do believe that some of this is rooted in Calvin. I also think some of it is rooted in what Theologian David Tracy refers to the Analogical v Dialectic Imagination. Although there are many exceptions, and things can get very complex, the Protestant Christian has traditionally put emphasis on the Proclamation of the Word of God, while Catholics (as well as Orthodox & some other non-Catholic Christians), have emphasized the Sacramental encounter with the Living God. Whereas the Analogical Imagination emphasizes the ineffable and what is beyond the senses, the Dialectic Imagination emphasizes what is immediately before you. While the Analogical Imagination keeps things open ended, the Dialectic Imagination attempts to be conclusive. The Analogical Imagination rests on a liturgical & sacramental encounter of cosmic proportions, while the Dialectic Imagination rests on a very clear and quantifiable proclamation of the Word of God.

Both have their strengths, and benefits. Set apart, the two can become problematic. Vatican II has attempted to help most Catholics rediscover the Dialectic through an emphasis on the Word of God, the accessibility of Church Documents, and the New Evangelization. Many smaller visionary non-Catholic Christian communities have attemptedto recapture Liturgy, Ritual, the Season of Advent.

One place where the chasm between the Analogical and Dialectic has reached its extreme would be Evangelical Mega-Church Christianity.

When a group of devout Evangelical non-denominational Christians get together and make a movie, they hope to create a movie with major box-office appeal. Christians gather at special screenings hosted by Churches/Christian Communities across the country. Critics of film dismiss the movie. Christians consider it the manner of the world to “hate Jesus” or “hate Christians” or whatever.

While most basic students of film know that what makes film true art is the ability of a filmmaker to tell a story with a wide variety of strong images. Instead, the Dialectic Imagination proclaims. It does not conceive of communicating itself through images, symbols and emotions as much as by explicit words. It does not imagine the possibilities that are crafted subtly and expressed with nuance on film.

Although anyone with a balanced imagination will make room for a variety of expressions, some Evangelicals might believe that it is good to proclaim Jesus explicitly. That if Jesus name, or the Sinner’s Prayer, or the right formula of the Proclamation of our Salvation is omitted, somehow people will not come into a personal relationship with Jesus. If it is not spoken, it cannot be heard. The analogical imagination will admit that there is much that can be heard without having to be spoken.

To continue, a mega Church might have a Cross. Crucifixes, Statues, frescoes, mosaics, and the like or generally forbidden. Jesus is not venerated with the eyes, therefore nothing as heartfully enthralling as the Sinai Christ could occur in a Mega Church. You might get this. But most likely, you will have powerpoint Praise & Worship lyrics over altered images of grandiose nature.

My home parish, the San Gabriel Mission has stations of the Cross painted by the local indigenous of the 18th century. Jesus had brown skin, and the Roman Soldiers wore the armor of Spaniards. A Catholic Church in Lagos & A Catholic Church in Nagasaki will look very different, but they will both attempt, with what is sensible to the locals to reflect in wonder at the possibilities of the Divine. A Mega-Church outside of Austin TX & a storefront Pentecostal community in Baldwin Park CA may appear as different structures, but are still the same humdrum structures. Neither admits a structural purpose to communicate a unique wonder of the possibilities of the Divine.

iWorship can only bud in a lopsided Dialectic world. Swap meet knock off Christianity is nourished where no credence is given to art, imagination, or poetry. That’s why there are many non-Catholics who love Jesus madly and refuse to take part in these shenanigans, while also recognizing that the Secular Pop Culture is not as antagonistic towards Christianity as they were told.

But for all the Catholics reading my post, wonder if they are in danger of getting lost in Analogical Reasoning? Hardly.

My experience is that many American Catholics have become lopsided and thoughtless Dialectics. The Analogical is so absent today, that I can’t even think of the dangers of it’s extreme unbalanced realization. Many Catholics have tossed out their Analogical Imagination, with it’s mystery, poetry, and ineffability for clear expositions of Doctrine & Morals. Many Catholics have forgotten brilliant fiction Flannery O’Conner, Graham Greene & Evelyn Waugh, and opted to experience their faith exclusively through the Catechism, Theology of the Body, or the Blogosphere. While I am glad there is still interest in Tolkien, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit has banalized the masterpiece. In the same way, most Catholics are too timid of contamination to thoughtfully engage in art, film or music.

American Catholics are desperate to have it all spelled out conclusively, and are quick to banish as heresy, heterodoxy, or vaguely suspicious anything without a preface stating absolute obedience to the Magisterium. It is as if the standard ageless profession of faith cannot be taken seriously these days, because some Catholics have failed to keep it. Likewise, they are so jaded by modern failures in art, that they imagine truth or beauty exists in some scientifically quantifiable medium that ought to be revived, such as baroque or polyphony. Unfortunately, they are not always doing so to be captured by the magnificence & beauty of long forgotten forms of liturgical worship, as much as they are looking for an objective standard by which to crusade against and banish folksy washed-up-flower-child-happy-clappy-Masses.

To an even greater extent, Catholics that dismiss dogma, are radically Dialectic. They dismiss the dogmas traditionalists defend with their own dogmas of modernism, peace, tolerance or social justice, that are primarily Dialectic. Dialectic Reasoning too often relies on antagonism. Our faith is only consequently antagonistic with the flesh, because it is primarily a love affair with the Incarnate Son of God.

Yet, the Dialectic Imagination is not in itself awful. It has become the exclusive obsession of Evangelical Mega-Church Christianity, and sometimes among American Catholics. Even in our faith, it has it’s time and place, and is not hierarchically subservient to the Analogical Imagination. The two can be mutually complementary, but the Analogical Imagination is all too often dismissed. It may very well be that an academic work by a Catholic on the faith be subject to the CDF, but it would seem a categorical error to subject an artistic work on the faith to the CDF.

I once read a quote that “Atheism is having a broken imagination.” I think that many Catholics have a broken imagination if they can only imagine Dialectical. If you find the thought of the Analogical Imagination terrifying, you might be a child who can’t swim in an ocean. No one who has masterfully explored the ocean would blame the terror exclusively on the ocean as much as the child who can’t swim or navigate it with the proper equipment. The Analogical Imagination is always a little risky compared to the Dialectic Imagination’s risk management. However, the Dialectic Imagination is still a very small world often unbalanced of wonder as the Analogical Imagination.

Viral Video Charity & Trendy Hashtag Causes

ice-bucket-challenge-e1408505819382Anyone remember Kony 2012? Or was it 2013? Invisible Children Lately? Or specifically, the Ice-Bucket challenge of 2014?

I am very glad that the internet makes it easier to raise awareness (or money) for an issue.

Next month, there will be a new viral video, and in ten years VHI will have a special with celebrities talking about the Ice Bucket thing. They did good, they raised awareness. They raised money. Maybe there is more work to be done. As for myself, no thank you.

Sometimes at the mall, a person with a clipboard will ask me if I want to help protect the earth, or whatever. I tell them I already am. Maybe not in the precise manner they advocate. Those who know me, will understand what I have done in this area, and I don’t want to brag about being eco – ma – logical.

I am certainly no Saint, no Dorothy Day. I have committed  at times to giving 10% of my vow of poverty stipend toward some cause (Sometimes it has been New Media Evangelization, Hip Hop, and of course my favorite children’s home in Tijuana). I give proceeds from my own hip hop music to charity. The Religious Community I live with gives money to charity. I really don’t want to go into detail about this.

Neither do I want to go into detail about my life given over to service. It is genuinely unremarkable, and quite ordinary.

I do not believe that Jesus is calling me to CURE EVERY DISEASE, RESTORE EVERY SINNER, FEED EVERY POOR PERSON, DONATE TO EVERY CHARITY. I believe that Jesus is really calling me to Love a few people that I meet, rather than “love” a cause.

I am not against people giving money for whatever is trendy to give to at the moment. I highly encourage people to consider Disaster Relief when it arises. Unfortunately, the bandwagon mentality of giving money to the trending hashtag cause makes it difficult for charity to actually become a developing relationship, one in which the poor enrich us.

I also find it highly problematic when people (often pro-life) will steal a trendy hashtag or viral video meme, and switch it around for themselves. It doesn’t make them look better or help their cause by hijacking someone else’s creativity.

So, if you are already committed to giving time in service to a community, a cause or a charity, (or even money), then feel no guilt in declining to participate in an ice bucket video, a trendy hashtag cause, or whatever. I won’t. You shouldn’t either.

Sisterhood, Reality TV about young discerners

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns is a reality show on Lifetime candidly chronicling 5 20-something women discerning a call to Religious Life. I joined the Augustinians in my early 20’s, and thought I could attest to the validity of what these women go through in the course of the series. However, there were only two noticeable differences that I will comment on briefly. However, instead of commenting overall what seems true for almost anyone, I would rather comment on what I have related to in one way or another discussing each of the Sisters, and what they are going through.

“God or the Girl” Reality Show about Priesthood Discerners?

But first, a reminder of why this show is effective from the outset. A couple of years ago, there was an awful reality show about young men discerning a call to the priesthood (not religious life). At no time were they together. At no time were they actually put in situations of serving others or showing compassion or charity to others. One of the guys had to make a pilgrimage (Traveling across the country with no money and little resources, dependent on the generosity of others). Another had to drag a cross around in a literal imitation of Christ’s Passion (I mean really?) Dramatic demonstrations of “devotion,” are much more difficult to test commitment for attitudes and motivations than placing someone in service of inconvenient and needy people. Instead of challenges rooted in the Gospel, they were giving challenges that looked good for reality television with competitions and tests of faith. None of it entailed actual discernment. Besides, choosing Consecrated Life as a vocation is not a dichotomy between God or the girl, it is choosing your fullest self, even if romance and marriage are not part of it. None of the young men applied to seminaries after. I was impressed, because this show actually gave the young women challenges that are rooted in the Gospel, but are practical for Religious Life. I am also convinced that the producers received input from the Sisters of the convents that hosted the girls

Personal Difference One: Age

I joined the Augustinians at 22, and lived in a community of Friars that included elderly retired Friars, Friars in full time ministry, and one other pre-novice / postulant who was 19. The young man left within a few months, and I didn’t have people my age to share my journey with. The following year of Novitiate had me move across country, except I had 3 other men in novitiate with me, and only one was younger (that did not, in any way mean we got along). Nowadays I can’t count on one hand the 20-somethings in our Order across the country, and I’m not in my 20’s. I also had two good friends join the Order as I was completing formation.

Personal Difference Two: Cellphones

When I joined, I never used text messages, and smartphones weren’t the standard phone. Facebook wasn’t around. You might have made a call when you had time, and I didn’t use every night to make or receive phone calls. I never had my phone confiscated. In my first year, I was encouraged to visit my dad when I could. In my second year (in WI), I couldn’t but called him briefly at least once a week (mostly to tell him I was alive and wasn’t miserable). On the flipside, from about 16-26 many young men have an overwhelming desire to establish themselves independently, while many young women have an overwhelming desire to bond deeply with the important people in their lives. It is not that women cannot, or never want to establish themselves independently, it is that on average men more often mature by independence followed by bonding, while women do so with bonding and then independence.

Stacey, 26 NY: Sharing Your Life

When I look at young men who visit and discern with us, a major question I have is “Would I want to live with him?” We are not merely looking for people to staff our institutions, we are looking for people to share our life with. I have indicated to our Vocation Director, when we have a visitor/discerner, who would be awful to live with. One thought I have with Stacey is that she would be the person who easily passes this test. She is receptive, attentive to others, while also being lighthearted and serious. I had noticed that in someway she wasn’t being provoked by the producers to talk about issues as much, and she stood out as someone who was really present to the moment, present to the other young women, and present to the people she served in the ministry settings. Were she to have a vocation, any convent would easily be blessed to have her.

Christie, 27, CA: Intentionality & Prayer

I met this girl at a party once. She didn’t talk about Jesus visions. In fact, they played this up with her at the beginning. I do not find it unusual. I did a study on Medieval Christian Spirituality, and found something: While Male Saints tended to write systematically on Spiritual Theology, Female Saints tended to write vividly, descriptively, imaginatively and sensuously. I believe it is much more normal for men, and especially women, than this program let’s on, to experience Jesus in a personal way. In her case, it is often romantic. What I am struck by her is her focus on prayer and intentionality. She wants to spend more time in the chapel and in prayer. Often, Catholics use the busy-ness of ministry as a way to escape the vulnerability that intimate prayer requires. I have been there. But on the flipside, I have also had plenty of times, where I felt like the odd man out wanting there to be more prayer (ie suggesting repeatedly to have more Adoration, or Quiet Prayer in the Chapel as a community). I think that the producers have had a challenge portraying her as the crazy woman with the visions, because in social situations she is actually one of the most fun and well-rounded of the bunch. If she does seem like she could be more balanced (more structured common prayer), I believe that she could experience that naturally in any formation program. Again, I could easily say that she would be a blessing to any convent.

Eseni, 23, NY: Being Broken

Eseni joins this series as one of the most conflicted, in that she is currently in a relationship. I don’t think you could be accepted into any formation program if you left a significant relationship that far in the air as she did. Since she is doing a discernment program that is much different, and I don’t see her as problematic. Further, even though she often comments about trying to reconnect with God and her faith, she has also been haunted by the idea of becoming a Sister for a very long time. If you look over my tips on Discernment, I would say that she has good reason to do a deliberate discernment program as such. Whether or not she stays, it is clear her boyfriend may never understand this calling, as there are people who will never understand it. Were I to encourage her personally, I think she should open her heart to the adventure, instead of getting trapped inn expectations. For myself, I wasn’t in love with someone before I joined, but have fallen in love a few times since then. I suppose I will fall in love again. Married people fall in love with other people sometimes. Falling in love is always a reminder to make a choice with God’s guidance rather than being a slave to whims and feelings. I can also personally relate to Eseni, because she is quite aware of her brokenness, I can’t count the many times I have had to put aside my feelings of brokenness and unworthiness in order to discern. I can also relate to having a person (or in my case several), were anticipating me leaving, or giving me the ultimatum of choosing a friendship with them or my vocation.

Augies

Augustinians in formation ~2007. You can find me on the left with my arms crossed.

Francesca, 21, NJ: The Importance of Spiritual Mentors

Francesca is the youngest, and obviously the most emotionally volatile. I guess I was closer to her age when I joined then some of the other women on this show. She is made to stand out, probably by the producers, for wanting to run away, for wanting to call her family. Unfortunately, she is portrayed perhaps too unfavorably on the show. When you are in formation for religious life, you should meet regularly with mentors, a Prior, a Formation Director, a Spiritual Director. These people are there not to give you easy answers, but to help you process the difficult decision you have to make, as well as your own Spiritual & Ministerial Growth. Finally, opening up to members of your community can help you cement bonds. I remember I had a few times I would visit family during Summer or Christmas, and would get caught up in the drama of some of my old friends. Often, I felt as if I was the only student / seminarian who had to deal with the kind of stuff that I was, so it was difficult for me to reach out for understanding. Maybe Francesca has a lot to learn, and some maturing to do, but much of that is because she is still young, so I wouldn’t be too hard on her. I can appreciate her struggle. I imagine the cameras following her around, as well as taking the risk of appearing amount to a lot of pressure for any 21 year old girl. She is the kind of person who would probably benefit from a check-in each week by Superiors for the first couple months, (ie, one on one time for her to be able to process). I also think that her family has had their share of challenges, and is understandably tight knit. Maybe her vocation would actually flourish if she had a few visits from her mother during the beginning of her formation, were she to have a calling. Of course, I come from the Augustinian background, where Augustine’s Rule permits that each person’s needs are addressed particularly, depending on where they come from. Some other religious communities would disagree with this approach.

Claire, 26, IL: Loving Other People

Claire comes from a homeschool family in Joliet, IL. I assisted with an Augustinian Parish near Joliet, and could have run into her at some young adult gatherings in Joliet that I attended. (At least I don’t recall). She seems to have had a rigorous faith formation, and in some ways has never come across the challenges that have shaped the other young women on the show. In some ways, it appears that the producers picked up on this early, and have been digging into her for comments about the other young women. In religious life, we often use our opinions of other people to distract ourselves from what God is calling us to. Sometimes I would rather be persnickety because some other brother is failing to live up to our ideal in Religious Life than do so myself. Sometimes I would rather make a judgment about another than about myself. I remember during my novitiate, I sat across from the computer room. I made a decent effort to avoid internet use during the day (I was literally sending hand-written letters to friends, as well as reading a lot of awesome books). I struggled, because I had a clear view of the other student Friars entering the computer room with frequency. I also struggled because I was the only student who took up a hobby, or who exercised each afternoon, instead of watching all the Harry Potter movies. I was also perceived as too blunt by my classmates that year (even in comments that were not about them). So I can relate. I just remember learning that I also had to be a contributor to community life, toward it’s delight and enjoyment. Certainly, loving my brothers could be a higher penance than fasting or abstinence, but that I was also to be involved in the delight and flourishing of others (rather than mere toleration). Yet, as the show progresses, the more she immerses herself in the life and service of the sisters, it lessens her noticing the flaws of others.

*** UPDATED: Spoilers ahead for those who have seen the whole series ***

As I said, Reality Shows are often more competitive, and so the dynamic is about stirring conflict and controversy. I believe that the producers didn’t go as far as normal shows, and I believe that the girls sincerely did not attempt to go at it this way. That doesn’t stop it from happening. I am seriously convinced that the Producers took the Sisters at each of the convents, and their wisdom and input, very seriously. I believe that they set the agenda for the girls, and the Producers accepted it.

Some people might balk at the young women speaking candidly about their sex lives on national television. Some Catholics might find it unnecessary, or disgusting that they would. I have found that sexualized images of nuns are a problem on tumblr. I also find it off that in our pornographic culture, people generally feel entitled to that sort of information. Whether or not there were cameras rolling, they would have talked about this stuff. Whether or not the producers had a say, it probably would have happened. It is one of those sad states in our culture. However, their conversations rotated around their past, not about their future. One has no reason to believe that any of them think that a Consecrated Sister should subvert her own Vows of Chastity. I think it also gave one of the girls an opportunity to talk about Chastity as redemptive.

When the girls conclude the discernment program, they end up better off. Some of the girls take their discernment to the next level. Only one walks away from discerning religious life, and she is ends in a better position for herself then when she started. One of them invites some of the sisters over to meet her family. It is very important for anyone discerning religious life to make sure their family is connected. All the parents assume that entering a convent means that their daughter WILL NEVER, IN A MILLIONS YEARS ASSOCIATE WITH THEM. If they actually got to know the Sisters, they would feel happier with them and more at ease.

8 Reasons Why Augustine & The Confessions still Matter

20140826_152853I believe that plenty of people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or renounced their Catholic faith are not irreedemably damned. I believe that not so much because God doesn’t damn people, but more, because many of them just think that they are atheists, agnostics or not-Catholic anymore. Augustine, as he describes in his Confessions, makes it clear that God drew close to him, in spite of Augustine’s sinful life, and drew him back.
Augustine was taught about Jesus as a child, by his Mother, Saint Monica. He was not necessarily raised pagan, he was just never baptized. He even would search for the name of Jesus in pagan literature. He drifted, joined a cult, became a skeptic, and eventually found his home in communion with the Church.

  1. God is not some bearded man in the sky who created the world in six 24 hour days, so many people leave the Church, and declare that they are agnostic or atheist. Augustine was deeply troubled by a literal interpretation of Genesis, probably just as troubled as many intelligent adults are by Modern Evangelical Fundamentalists. Augustine describes this in his Confessions.
  2. Young People swear that they had religion “crammed down their throat.” Augustine took a Sea Voyage at Night, from Africa to Rome, to get away from his Mom who wanted him to be Catholic.
  3. Temptations are tempting because they seem to feel good. Augustine makes no qualms about covering up the internal conflicts we face, about the gruesome delight of sin. He also does not justify himself by evading the fact that these same sins leave you incredibly bereft. Augustine’s candid discussion of Sin, Grace & Redemption would resonate with many young people.
  4. We both know what it is to have a Broken Heart. Many young people are putting off marriage, many of them are just as cynical about finding someone worth marrying as they are about finding a religion worth committing too. Augustine describes the heartbreak he experienced when it didn’t work out with a woman he loved.
  5. As Augustine matures, so does his perspective on God, Faith & the Church. I believe that many young people claim agnosticism without realizing this is part of maturation. I think they are turned away by Catholics who have had an easier time at their faith, not realizing that this Negative Way is part of Spiritual Maturation.
  6. People wonder if religions is useless. Augustine became disillusioned with a narrow perspective of Catholicism before returning. He also became disillusioned with many other Religious cults of his time, including Philosophy & Manicheanism. Conversely he also credits non-Christian pagans with being stepping stones on his way to the fullness of Truth in the Church. I think many people who leave the Church because they think that we teach that being non-Catholic instantly damns one to hell.
  7. Augustine does not always have easy answers, in fact his Confessions often presents unanswered questions. Some Catholics find genuine comfort in Church Teachings which are stated clearly. Many people, including myself, find quick, easy, and clear answers constricting. Augustine’s Confessions reminds us of the importance of Mystery.
  8. Ultimately, Augustine’s Confessions are not so much about himself, but about God’s work in his life. You can always read plenty about Augustine if you want to know him, including a biography from his long time friend Saint Possidius. Since his Confessions are about giving Glory to God, they will provoke readers to see God working in their own life.

UPDATE (8.30.14) Be sure to look up Reading & Studying Augustine to find the preferred translation of the Confessions, and some other easier to read works by Augustine.

“Christian Rap is cowardly disobedience.” How Reformed Theology will inherently see Christian Rap more problematic than Catholic Theology.

Several Reformed Christian Preachers/Pastors/Leaders engaged the validity of Christian Rap as a vehicle to evangelize. Every single one of these leaders found Christian Rap very problematic, and they quoted Scripture to justify their opinion. Reformed Theology, compared to Catholic Theology, often believes that they have a duty to be intrinsically antagonistic toward “the world.” On the flipside Catholics might look at their relationship with “the world” with more complexity & subtlety:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.

(Guadiem et Spes 1)

So, while a Reformed minded theologian/Christian might see the travails of a contemporary culture as intrinsically evil, or a cause for grief, a Catholic minded theologian would see the same travails as an opportunity:

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. Some of the main features of the modern world can be sketched as follows…

Influenced by such a variety of complexities, many of our contemporaries are kept from accurately identifying permanent values and adjusting them properly to fresh discoveries. As a result, buffeted between hope and anxiety and pressing one another with questions about the present course of events, they are burdened down with uneasiness. This same course of events leads men to look for answers; indeed, it forces them to do so.

(Guadiem et spes 4)

Hence, the opportunity.

I do not mean to reduce Reformed Theology (as if they have no sense of Pastoral Care & Response, which they do), and I recognize the controversy that this video has caused (despite the apparent panel agreement that Christian Rap is inherently problematic), that among Reform Christian is some kind of disagreement. Further, the panelists have also publicly apologized, and do feel somewhat embarrassed at their broad-brushed statements. In the same way, I could imagine that intelligent Catholics might find Christian/Catholic Rap inherently problematic.

However, were a panel discussion like this to happen in a Catholic scenario, among Catholic leaders, I couldn’t imagine it happening the same way.

Now, in regard to the actual panel, and the issue that they engaged: WORSHIP.

I have said before that Hip Hop is not appropriate Liturgical Music, not merely because it is not “reverent,” but precisely because Hip Hop has a lot more to do with proclamation than with worship. For a lot of the popular so-called Christian Rappers, they often make some sort of Hip Hop Worship song of Praise to God. Many of the Hip Hop artists that I like that are Christian, never create songs that are meant to be used as Prayers, Praise or Worship.

Hip Hop has always been about “dropping science” (which is another term for imparting knowledge and wisdom) or exposing social issues of injustice that receive no credence in most media outlets. What most people think (particularly the first man on the panel), is that Rap is about Rappers. Hip Hop is a culture about elements & expression, but is much broader than rappers rapping about themselves. A lot of emcees rap about much more than themselves.

Measuring this against the Christian tradition, Hip Hop would seem to have a lot more to do with the Prophetic Office (proclamation) than with the Priestly Office (worship). Christ holds both of these offices, and through him so does every Baptized follower of him. But because everyone holds all of these offices does not necessitate that the functions of these offices are interchangeable. Perhaps, in certain circumstances they are not interchangeable.

Therefore, in my own expression, even though I am an ordained Priest, I am also an ordained Prophet. Since I am ordained to proclaim I rap. I do not need to incorporate hip hop into worship or liturgy, except, in certain circumstances, in the Proclamation.

There might be some Catholics that do not see it this way. Some that would feel that Hip Hop could be appropriate for the Liturgy. I might wonder if they have an insufficient comprehension of Hip Hop culture as much about Catholic Liturgy. In fact, I could imagine that Catholics who would be most supportive of hip hop could easily be white people over the age of sixty, who are happy to give themselves a round of applause about how diverse & modern they are, while their grandkids would probably be rolling their eyes at how gimmicky the whole enterprise is.