Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Four ways we pick our poison

We love to pick our poison.

By poison, I mean everything from alcohol to trashy television to mommy porn
I've noticed that there are a few basic ways that we try to justify things that aren't good for us. For this post, my focus is on media. 
- 1- 
"You have to keep an open mind." 

One of the main problems with that modus operandi in the media you consume is that you end being so "open" to everything that you aren't steadfast about much of anything. Open-mindedness as preached by the catechism of our culture necessarily leads to a kind of moral relativism.

For example, I had a conversation just yesterday with an acquaintance who encouraged me to have an open mind and go see "50 Shades of Grey." She explained at length how [main character] Christian Grey, a tortured soul who happens to have sexual tastes that tend toward torture, "had a hard childhood and that's why he's so messed up and ultimately he needs [Ana] and her love to save him!"

My first thought: anything in the media that makes us sympathize with evil should be suspect, because that sympathy leads us to lessen our indignation at evil.

This acquaintance of mine had been duped into glossing over the disturbing, explicit and pornographic content of the film. The idea that it is all okay in the end because she saves him, right? 
We should all feel deep compassion for a human being who must have had something terrible happen to him to pervert him thus, but Christian Grey is not a real person. He is a fictional character in a film produced to make money. The author of the 50 Shades trilogy, as well as the filmmakers, deliberately strive to make us sympathize with Christian Grey to the point that an otherwise severely unhealthy and abusive relationship less disturbing to us.

- 2- 
                                     "You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater!" 

This particular excuse often sounds something like this: "But the characterization/story/acting/production value/writing/etc is so good!"

What we are really saying though is that everything else is so good that we don't mind a little bit of trash thrown in. The thing is, all those little bits of trash we justify to ourselves add up to desensitization to what is not good, or holy, or rightly ordered.

One of the devil's sneakiest tricks is sneaking something bad into something good. It is hard to give up a series of books your friends have been raving about, but you don't have peace about continuing with. It hurts to have others fear you are judging them if you choose not to watch a certain TV show or go see a certain movie. But walking with the Spirit means making tough decisions about life. And in the end, it's all small stuff compared to Heaven. 

- 3 -
"That's great for them, but I don't feel called to that right now." 

That's a tough line to follow in a conversation. After all, who can argue with you if you don't feel called to it?

Spiritual maturity takes time. Some things that were acceptable to me five years ago media-wise aren't even on my radar of "okay" these days.

If you are on the receiving end of this excuse with regards to media, I think you just have to pray in the moment about whether the greatest charity you can show to that person is to keep your mouth shut, or to point out that what they "don't feel called to" is a matter of mortal sin. Sometimes it is for us simply to let the witness of our lives plant the seeds that the Holy Spirits nurtures over time with little pokes and prods to people's consciences. I can attest to the fact that those little pokes and prods get annoying after a while!

- 4 -
"It doesn't affect me."

It's true that what is too violent or too crude for one person may not be as scandalizing to the next person. But even for the most desensitized among us, what we consume does affect us--as surely as what we eat nourishes us, makes us fat, or makes us sick. 

Being desensitized to violence, sexually explicit material, or other objectionable material in the media should be a flag for us. Anything that hardens our hearts to things that are not from God needs to be thought about with God at our side. 

Additionally, is it not a form of pride to think that we will be the one person to be immune from the harm of some objectionable content? From videogames that glorify killing women and others in creative ways to ultra-violent movies to soft porn films and more--it all affects us, whether we think it does or not.

Being a parent of young children has made me think so much more about the media I consume, because I think so much about the media they consume. I think that Frozen is the movie that really got me thinking this past year on this issue. My 5-year-old and 3-year-old watched that film at least a couple of dozen times. Then, my 3-year-old went through a phase where she wanted me to sing "Let it Go" to her every night before bed. I did, for a little while...until one night I couldn't shake the nagging disquiet I had with the lyrics.

"Let it Go," while appropriate to help tell the story in that part of the film, is the Megahit Takeaway Song from the movie, and the lyrics don't say a single thing about laying down your life for your sister. Instead, this is what my baby girl wanted me to sing her to sleep with every night:

"'Don't let them in, don't let them see, be the good girl you always have to be,
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know...well now they know.

Let it go, let it go, no turning back anymore,
Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door!

No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free! 
Let it go, let it go...

I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on...
The cold never bothered me anyway."

I do think that Frozen has a surprising and beautiful ending and message. I was so happy to see a princess film that explored the bonds of love between siblings. Plus, it was refreshing to see a Disney princess for whom next-day marriage to the Man of Her Dreams isn't her life's goal. So, please don't worry; it's not like I am never going to let my kids watch "Frozen" ever again (hold your horses, indignant commenters!:). 

Mainly, I just think that The Megahit Takeaway Song of the film is not a great bedtime song for a child still too small to sit down with and dissect it. The elements of independence, freedom from rules, "no right no wrong for me" etc. in the song resonate with a lot of people in maybe a not so good way--I think that's why it's such a hit. (Well, that and because Idina Menzel is pretty much crazy-amazing.) 

"Let it Go" plays as an anthem for independence, rather than what it really is, a song about a sad, scared girl who runs away from her problems, perhaps breaking free from a prison of another's making but creating a new one of her own in the process. 

* * * 

So, maybe some of this sounds preachy, and maybe some of it sounds right-on. I hope that whatever it sounded like to you, that you take away a sense of urgency to be intentional about what you allow into your mind. 

St. John of the Cross compared the soul to a pane of glass. When the pane of glass does not directly face the light, the smudges and stains on it are barely noticeable. But when the pane of glass is turned directly toward the light, every little stain, smudge, and fingerprint stands out. The more directly we turn to face the light of God's love, the more we can see all of those little smudges and stains on our soul, and the more we desire to clean them off! Fr. Robert Barron writes that "this explains the paradox that the saints are most keenly aware of their sins, even to the point of describing themselves as the worst of sinners. We might mistake this for false modesty, but it is in fact a function of truly saintly psychology." The more we turn our souls toward God in our lives, the more we naturally censor the media that we consume. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

17 pieces of Humble Pie

Prepare to say "ouch" a couple of times as you read this list from St. Josemaria. Or if you are in my club, way more than that.

Sometimes we are so quick to cry "scrupulosity!" when someone speaks of trying to improve in one of the ways that St. Josemaria talks about.  Join me in vigilantly rejecting any spirit of irritation or discouragement as you read through these. Those kinds of feelings aren't from God, but rather are from Someone who really doesn't want us to go from good to better

Let's choose instead to be thankful that God has perhaps revealed some specific types of situations where we had not realized that we could improve. 

Let's trust that this desire of our hearts is pleasing to Him, and that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). 

Finally, let's strive together for the kind of heart for God that finds Humble Pie more sweet than bitter.:) 

And now, St. Josemaria in his own words describes some of those everyday situations where our actions can point to a lack of humility in ourselves. 
  • Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say
  • Always wanting to get your own way
  • Arguing when you are not right or--when you are--insisting stubbornly or with bad manners
  • Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so
  • Despising the point of view of others
  • Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan
  • Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own
  • Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation
  • Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you
  • Making excuses when rebuked
  • Hiding some humiliating faults from your [spiritual] director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you
  • Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you
  • Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you
  • Refusing to carry out menial tasks
  • Seeking or wanting to be singled out
  • Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige, etc.
  • Being ashamed of not having certain possessions
Little by little we improve, don't we? In a month, or a year, or in ten years, we will wake up and realize that something that was very hard for us to do at one time is no longer a stumbling block. God is faithful! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

We can't get there all at once

Getting up on time has been a years-long struggle for me. But it's been a real necessity for me this past year and a half. Without that morning prayer time and also early-morning prep work for the day, there is a lot more craziness in the morning.

We live with my Mom and Dad right now, and I can't justify a lack of self-discipline anymore, or hide my mess within the walls of my home. Living with my parents has gone mostly-beautifully. Like, grace-has-been-showered-upon-us beautifully. But oh-my-goodness does living with other people force you to take a hard look at yourself. These days, when I don't get up on time it's not just my husband and children who have to deal with the added chaos.

Family life with little ones is often messy and loud by nature, but as a wife and mother, there are many little things I can do to give each day its best chance to be a good one. I'm at the point where sleeping in for another hour, skipping out on night-before chores, or straying too much from my weekly chores routine isn't worth it. 

So in that sense, I am learning to be incredibly grateful for this difficult season of my life over the past couple of years. Difficulty is so often the mother of growth in the spiritual life. I think God knew that would be true for me.

Getting up on time is just one of those many things I want to start, work on, or incorporate into my family. I read books like A Mother's Rule of Life, The Little Oratory, or In Defense of Food, and I immediately want to jump into Major Changes all at once! But we can't get there all at once, especially--especially--in these formative years of our families, when our children are small and our marriage is young. We have to learn how to say, "I am doing my best at what I think I'm supposed to be doing right now; the rest will come in His timing." And it really does. Sometimes you have to go through something awful to make it stick, though.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal said something that I go back to again and again: "What we must do is focus on what God is asking of us now, and leave the thought of all the rest to Him." 

I would not necessarily recommend that you move in with your parents indefinitely:), but it's amazing how the struggles and crosses of life can unexpectedly lead you into making the kinds of changes you want to make in your life.

What are your crosses and challenges right now, and how are each of them calling you to grow in virtue? What is one thing you feel God may be nudging you to work on with faithfulness right now?