This and that at the start of a new year

I have been trying out a few new podcasts lately.

The Bulletin is an offering by Christianity Today. On the Jan. 6 episode they were discussing the nonsense with the speaker of the house vote and the group of twenty obstructionists who made this such a farce. The hosts were talking about how, for some people in positions of power, it’s not about actually doing anything, or having goals to accomplish, but simply to “have the requisite amount of rage.”

Image by CryptoSkylark from Pixabay

This resonated because I have just completed a year of wrestling with how (or if) anger—sometimes rage, let’s be honest—should factor into the way a Christian interacts with the world.

After that last post in December, where I really let loose on the way people react to people who are homeless, I recognized that haranguing does nothing, because nobody even bothers to read. In my own defense, I waited weeks to write that post, trying to discern if it was supposed to be written at all. But still, nobody read it. Since then I’ve been quiet, not because I don’t have things to work through, but because I recognized a need to approach things differently.

I don’t have it figured out yet, except that a good friend suggested that I pose questions—with a genuine openness to listening to the answers.

The second tidbit I’ve come across in a podcast—although I wasn’t forward-thinking enough in the moment to note which podcast, or which episode—was a throwaway comment about how anger is never the primary emotion; it is always the secondary one, a response to the deeper emotional reaction, a way to protect it. That lit up receptors in my brain because my spiritual director had said that to me several years ago, and I’ve been wrestling with it ever since.

In this case, the podcaster said that the problem we have with rage in America is that we don’t know how to grieve. We have had so much to grieve in recent years. The loss of our ordinary in the pandemic was a grief response, but America doesn’t know how to do it, so we just get angry.

That rang VERY true to me. Anger is a protective reaction to avoid having to deal with the grief of lost high school years, of isolation, of fear of losing a child who’s already come close to dying because of a respiratory virus, etc., etc. It’s easier to be angry than to face the deeper pain.

Not to be too tiresome, but that reminds me of yet another cultural reference:

Anger is easier, quicker. You will know the dark from the light when you are calm, still, at peace.

Hmmm. I sense some real commonality with Christianity there, and with contemplative prayer in particular. 🙂

Thoughts On Homelessness For Christians

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Confession: Recently, I got into it online over homeless camps in my hometown.

Person A: Those camps are an eyesore. When is the city going to do something?

Me (drawing on past conversations on the same topic): The thing is, everyone has to sleep SOMEWHERE. But people say “not on public land, and not on vacant private property either, and don’t you DARE build a shelter for them because that will just encourage more of them to come!” It’s like people think if we’re mean enough to them, they’ll just cease to exist.

Person B (paraphrased): These people are lazy freeloaders and the city should not allow them to panhandle at the highway interchanges.

Me: how do you know they’re lazy? Have you talked to them? I’ve been feeling my conscience twinged for years. I’ve started keeping food in the car so I can give them SOMETHING. It’s good for us to look them in the eye and see the face of God, and have our conscience and our privilege tweaked.

Person B: My conscience is not “tweaked” and I have NO PRIVILEGE OTHER THAN I WORK MY BUTT OFF!”

Me (privately): That person has definitely had their conscience and privilege tweaked, or they wouldn’t be that defensive. God, I put this one in your hands now, because I clearly am powerless here.

Person C (in the style of “mic drop”): “Those who will not work, neither should they eat.” 2 Thessalonians.

Me: You can’t take that out of context. What about Matthew 25? Paul was building on the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus never put any such conditions on taking care of people.

Person B: Those people are lazy. They don’t want work, they just want a handout.

Me: Have you offered them work? I haven’t, and I fully recognize my own failures in that. This is why I keep food in the cars for them.

Person B: Well, if that makes your little bleeding heart feel better, go for it.

Me: (unfollows thread.)

It is horrifying, how un-Christian Christians can be. And then how bewildered we all act that people are calling b.s. and leaving Christianity.

In one town, a Catholic city councilperson fought tooth and nail to prevent an ecumenical group from creating a winter warming shelter. They threw obstacle after obstacle in the way.

In another church filled with people who do, in fact, care about social justice, people resisted hosting a similar shelter because they want to feel safe in their church and they wouldn’t feel safe if there were homeless people hanging around.

I am realizing that these failures within the Christian community to live out the Gospel call are not a function of right or left, although I have often thought of them that way. They are a failure of connecting the dots between what we claim to believe and where the rubber meets the road.

For the record, let’s discuss that passage from 2 Thessalonians. Because it came up, first in the Lectionary, and then in its full context in the Bible in a Year.

In the context, Paul was talking about how he had the right to expect people to support him financially while he was among them, but he chose not to do so because he didn’t want to burden them. And so he said, “You within the Christian community, follow our example.”

In other words, he’s talking to people who, according to Acts, were already living in community, sharing all their worldly wealth so that no one went without.

THAT is the context of this verse. It is NOT meant to be used, weapon-like, as a bludgeon against the poor in an economic system where the gap between rich and poor is sinfully wide.

So if you want to use this verse AFTER you’ve folded the homeless population into community, THEN you have the right. Until then, it is abuse of Scripture.

Poison Oak, Celiac Disease, and Miraculous Healing

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A year ago, my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. This is relatively common in people with a bonus 21st chromosome, which is the only reason we found out about it in the first place—initially she appeared asymptomatic, but it showed up in routine bloodwork that had been delayed for years.

As I began to process the new world God had, yet again, thrust us into without our consent, two reactions from people of faith made me want to pull my hair out. The first was that she should take regular Communion and not worry about cross-contamination and all that jazz, because God would never allow the Eucharist to harm his faithful. Which is the same logic behind drinking poison and snake handling, I might add, and none of us believe any of THAT is a valid expression of faith.

The other was that we should take her to a healing prayer service so she would be cured.

Now, on the one hand this was a pretty attractive idea, b/c we’re foodies and I didn’t want to sacrifice anything we love. (Selfishness alert!) At the same time, I was painfully aware that I DID NOT BELIEVE she would be healed. And I knew that without belief, there wasn’t much point in going.

Part of me excoriated myself for my lack of faith.

The other part of me is a firm believer that every suffering I have been given has burned away parts of me that are not Godly. We’re supposed to take up our cross and follow, not go around demanding God remove it.

But then, why EVER pray for healing?

And I totally do pray for healing. In fact, here’s a memorable story. In 2019, my husband and I went to Napa Valley for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary. On Day 2, I got into poison oak. Bad. To make matters worse, we were hiking and I was sweating. Badly. Which means the sweat spread it EVERYWHERE.

When I woke up in the middle of the night, I knew that sensation. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. In the morning I asked him to look. My entire back was a sheet of red. So were my legs. And arms.

Now, we went and did the things. The Tecnu, the Zanfel, washing all the sheets and clothes at the bed & breakfast.

But I know how poison ivy goes. This is a two-week course that gets worse before it gets better. And this was our TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY TRIP.

So yes, I prayed. I sat on the edge of the bed, quivering and desperate, and said, “God, I know how poison ivy goes and I know what I’m about to ask is counter to all the things you put into place in the universe. But please, please, PLEASE let this go away overnight.”

Well, it wasn’t totally gone. But it WAS about 75% gone! And our trip was not ruined.

So I know, from my own experience, that God CAN perform miraculous healing.

But when the suggestion to go to a healing service for my daughter’s celiac disease came up, it felt all wrong. It hearkened back to a prayer offered when she was born, asking God to “heal” her of her Down syndrome—as if that extra chromosome were God’s mistake that he was just waiting for us to pray and he’d rectify it, instead of part of the rich tapestry of EXACTLY WHO HE INTENDED HER TO BE ALL ALONG. Because GOD DOESN’T MAKE MISTAKES.

This year, which I have spent trying to reconcile the irrenconcilable—the balance of detachment and Godly anger at injustice in the world—has taught me one thing, which is that two contradictory truths can both be true, at the same time, and in the same heart. We need detachment. AND we need Godly anger at injustice. There is an irreconcilable tension there that is part of the mystery of Christian living.

I think this business of healing is the same.

I have no pithy wise saying to end this reflection, unless it is that the tension between irreconcileable truths is part of the mystery of God, and that we have to learn how to grapple with that tension.

The Unevenness of the Sin of Scandal

A few days ago, the Bible in a Year highlighted Eleazar’s martyrdom in 2 Maccabees. Eleazar was unwilling even to pretend to eat pork because what kind of message would that send to the next generation about God’s law?

Image by Hans via Pixabay

This is the “sin of scandal”— something I’ve heard about my whole life, but in that moment, in the midst of the election cycle where a whole bunch of politicians were courting Christian voters by telling flat out lies about stolen elections, I realized: We, as a Christian community, have a pretty big double standard about what constitutes the sin of scandal.

We’re very cognizant of it where the sin of scandal involves sex.

But there are a lot of other areas where it doesn’t even register, and if I name them, hackles will be raised. As I am sure they were in that second paragraph.

There are other issues, too. Environment, gluttony, and greed, to name a few. The issues I talked about last week.

And as for elections, after January 6, 2021, I wrote to my Senator who claims to be Catholic while loudly and stubbornly proclaiming clear falsehoods about stolen elections.

That is a sin of scandal, too. (And I told him so. Though I doubt his handlers even let him see the note. At least I tried.)

I hadn’t considered the sin of scandal for years, but having it highlighted resonated—and annoyed. Resonated because of course! I know for certain that there are people being driven away from God at this very moment by the sin of scandal in the political realm.

And annoyed, because when people talk about the sin of scandal, I suspect—in fact, in my jadedness I am certain (though I’d love to be humbled and proven wrong, truly)—that they are only thinking about sexual issues, while giving greed and dishonesty and selfishness at the expense of the future of humanity a total pass.

The call here is for us all to better examine our lives and recognize the disconnect between what we BELIEVE (in God terms) and what we believe (in world view terms). We’d all like to think those two are in lock step, but they aren’t. For any of us.

I have thoughts about that, too. I’m sure you’re shocked to hear. 🙂 But I’ll save that for next week.

Should We Quit Having Kids Because Of Climate Change?

Recently I learned that there are people who are struggling with the decision to have children, because of climate change. They’re questioning if the morality of bringing children into what is virtually certain to be a hellscape in the not-too-distant future.

Now, I can hear hackles rising and derisive snorts being uttered all over the place right now, but I would ask you to take a deep breath, say a prayer for discernment, and actually take a moment to consider this. And remember that the person speaking here is a mother of 4 who’s been using NFP for nearly a quarter century.

Consider this:

We in the west are fundamentally and unshakably committed to our own convenience and comfort at the expense of everything else.

In the summertime we make our churches, schools, and hotels so cold, we have to wear coats inside. People write Facebook posts telling us we’re psychotic if we set our thermostat anywhere above 72 in the summer.

Our culture glorifies gluttony—how else can you interpret the clear parallel between “bigger portion size = better” at restaurants?—and then throw away shameful amounts of food while huge swaths of the world are starving.

People leave cars running while they stand at the door talking, or while kids are at soccer, or while waiting for half an hour in school pickup line, or while scrolling phones. (That one baffles me. You’re literally burning money!)

These and a thousand other things we do thoughtlessly, habitually, without intention and without examination. Even after it’s pointed out that our habits of consumption and comfort are damaging God’s creation. Even when we see daily the proof of climate change, and that it’s the poor who suffer first and most. Even when the scientific community is begging us to fix it, and telling us how. Even when the world is literally burning around us—even in places where fires aren’t supposed to be a part of our climate.

As Catholics, we believe children are always and unequivocally a blessing, the crowning of marriage.

But honestly, when I heard that some are choosing not to have children because of the world they will have to survive, I thought, “There’s some sound moral reasoning going on there.” I can’t embrace it, but I understand it.

As Catholics, we can and should advocate for the goodness and dignity of human life, and the worth of having children, even though they will suffer in this world. Because of course, life will always involve suffering.

But if we are flippant, derisive, or dismissive about climate change—if we, collectively, act as if our selfish commitment to comfort and convenience has no long-term ramifications—then we have no business judging people who discern against having children. We’ve created the situation they’re responding to. And God will call us on our sins as much as he will call them on theirs.

Background Image by Kevin Ellis from Pixabay

Both/and

I think I’ve finally figured something out.

At the beginning of this year, I committed to wrestling how to balance Godly anger (i.e., Jesus-and-the-money-changers) with detachment. I do not see how these coexist.

I spent a whole heck of a lot of time this summer pulling crabgrass and driving while listening to Fr. Richard Rohr’s 1993 (1992?) reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. This set of talks was mind blowing on several levels, but the thing that has really crystallized in recent weeks is this:

There are things that are genuinely, and permanently, and irreconcilably, in conflict with each other. And yet they are both 100% true, both of God.

For instance: we are called to rage at injustice in the world, to be angry with what makes God angry, to mourn what breaks God’s heart—to agitate and advocate for the Kingdom on earth—the thing we, incidentally, pray for every danged time we pray the Lord’s prayer. Jesus absolutely excoriated people who didn’t make their religious beliefs concrete. Matt. 25 and the cleansing of the temple are good examples, of course, but also think of Jesus ripping into the Pharisees for tying up heavy burdens, heavy to lift, and raising no finger to help. Clearly, to Jesus, the things of the world MATTER. Religion is totally bogus if it’s only in the head and heart. It must be lived, concretely, in the real world. (That’s the whole point of the Theology of the Body.)

Yet we are also called to remember that the only way to really follow Jesus is to bow out of the worldly system altogether. Jesus’ whole thing about the tax and Caesar was meant to say, “Quit freaking out about questions of taxation and authority. It is IRRELEVANT, because you don’t belong to this world. Who cares about the taxes?” No matter what happens here on earth, the end goal is Heaven, so what happens here… doesn’t matter?

It does matter… and it doesn’t.

It is the now-and-not-yet. The both/and.

This is what I have realized in recent weeks. I’m feeling tension because there IS tension. There’s SUPPOSED to be.

Now what do I do with this insight?

To be clear, that’s a rhetorical question. I suspect answering it will take the rest of my life.

A little less talk, a little more action

You know that saying: whenever you point a finger at someone else, four fingers are pointing back at you? (Well, it’s really three, as you can see, but…)

I think about that a lot in the context of Intentional Catholic. Anything I write, integrity forces me to turn back on myself, mirror-like.

I’ve been struggling through the Bible in a Year podcast… valuing it for the sake of hearing Scripture in a way that helps me grasp the historical context, but struggling because sometimes the commentaries really set me off. The one on Matthew 25—which is sort of the whole foundation of Intentional Catholic–pretty much gave permission for people to say “I’m clothing my naked children and feeding my hungry family. I’m covered.” In fairness, I do not believe that’s what he intended to convey, but it certainly does give tacit permission to ignore the plight of ACTUAL poverty and suffering.

Which is not to belittle feeding and clothing a family. I am up to the tips of my frizzy curls in caring for kids. It’s a real thing.

But it doesn’t negate our responsibility to the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable. First of all because keeping our kids fed and clothed is only a sliver of what keeps us so busy. The vast majority of what keeps us hopping is not essential. We could ALL cut back on some of our luxury and busy-ness and refocus some of that energy on the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable.

But as I sat there stewing and fuming over this, it occurred to me that me sitting in my house writing blogs and social media posts is not clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, either.

Here’s the thing. The conventional wisdom is that not everyone is called to everything. We are supposed to find what we, individually, are called to.

But I am an Enneagram 1, which means I’m very concerned with Getting It Right. For myself AND for the larger world. Enneagram 1s are deeply susceptible to scrupulousness. (Scrupulosity?)

The trouble is, when I, as an Enneagram 1, try to parse out what I feel most passionate about, I can’t do it. It all matters!

I have a child with a disability. Our health care system of access & payment is deeply dysfunctional and a burden on families.

My conscience stings every time I see a homeless person at an exit ramp. How dare we drive by, avoiding eye contact to preserve our own comfort? How dare people on my “Nextdoor” app call them “zombies,” as if these are not human beings with the same innate dignity as themselves?

I see the chaos and suffering that causes people in Central America to flee for the U.S.—and the way some people here villainize those who are desperate for the same security we treat as a divine right. How can I not be passionate about refugee and immigration?

I have godchildren and family members whose skin color will make them a target when they grow up. How can I not rail against those who deny systemic racism?

I had infertility that the medical community wanted to treat by slapping bandaids on it (birth control, artificial procedures) while ignoring the problems that caused it. We have a family because an NFP doctor took the time to find the root cause (PCO + agricultural chemicals in the water—how can I not be passionate about the environment?). So when I see how abortion is the symptom of a host of other problems that are systemic in our culture, how can I fail to rage at those who want to address the symptom while ignoring the causes?

I don’t know what my “one” issue is, because dang it, they’re all equally important. Thank you very much, Enneagram 1. But I can’t do everything. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to respect my limits, to create healthy boundaries.

But sooner or later you have to say “yes,” too.

So for now, I am working a shift at the Food Bank into my schedule, and exploring volunteer possibilities with Refugee and Immigration Services. Because at least there’s a known entry point there.

I am not going to stop talking. But I’m going to start mixing more action in with it.

What Dorothy Day’s views on Communism teach us about today’s conflicts

Photo by by Roman Harak, via Flickr

I want to talk about Dorothy Day and Communism. This was the original post I wanted to write about her, but I felt it needed to be prepared by the two I’ve already shared.

Dorothy Day’s stalwart both/and-ness—and the fact that she WAS a Communist before her conversion to Catholicism–gave her a unique perspective on communism, which of course was THE issue that shaped the world during much of her ministry.

And with all the talk of “socialism” today, it’s still relevant.

As I shared before, Dorothy Day believed in personal responsibility. She had no faith in changing things through the political process–she thought transformation could only come by changing hearts and minds. And she was worried about regulation because of the danger of fascism (she wrote strong words about it in the 1930s, in the era of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR). Yet despite her antipathy, she DID speak up on political issues, and those words have deep resonance still today:

“I do not think, however, that we are guilty of envy or begrudging a rich man his wealth if we point out the abuses of the capitalist system which allows one man to accumulate the most of the world’s goods while other families suffer year after year, the aching pinch of poverty if not of actual destitution.” (All The Way To Heaven, Kindle edition, 86).

Stop and read that quote again. Let it sink in. Not a whole lot has changed since then, has it? In the past 40 years, since Reagan redefined for the entire country (left AND right) our fundamental approach to taxes and government, total wealth in the U.S. has grown by $77 trillion, but almost all of that went to the richest 10% and especially the richest 1%, while the poorest families among us are all but flat.

Source: Congressional Budget Office report: “Trends in the Distribution of Family Wealth, 1989-2019,” published Sept. 2022

How can anyone deny that capitalism serves the rich, not the poor?

Here’s another quote.

“The Bishops of the Catholic Church have stated that many of the social aims of the Communists are Christian aims and should be worked for by Christians. We feel that Communism is gaining in this country, because Christian people do not protest against injustice as they do.” (Ibid., 95).

Communism gained BECAUSE Christians didn’t stand up against injustice. There’s a lesson in that for us in 2022, too.

One of the major messaging points of today’s conservative movement is that America needs to “return to its traditional Judeo-Christian values.” Or, “the Judeo-Christian values on which this nation was founded.”

I see the connection between modern conservatism and traditional Christian values on sexuality. But outside of that I don’t see much connection at all. In preparation for my letter to the bishops on the Eucharist, I read the entire Pentateuch. One of the things that struck me most profoundly was how the early nation of Israel dealt with issues of social security.

Israel was, in fact, a religious nation… unlike the U.S., which was explicitly founded on freedom of religion—James Madison viewed it as THE fundamental liberty, without which the others meant nothing.

And unless I’ve profoundly misinterpreted, in proto-Israel, religion WAS government—until they rebelled against God and demanded a king. But in those early generations, there was a tithe whose express purpose was to support the livelihood of the priests and provide for the “widow and the orphan and the resident alien.” A nationwide tax, in other words, that everyone paid in order to take care of the most vulnerable among them.

Fast forward to early Christianity. In Acts of the Apostles, no one held any property in common; they all laid it at the feet of the Apostles and it was distributed according to need.

Was it really that easy? I have my doubts. People are people, after all. Still, that was the intended foundation of Christian society.

And, um… pretty sure we can all see that that’s the literal definition of communism.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. It is eminently clear that communism, and all its lingering forms of government (cough-cough-Putin-cough-cough), are unequivocally Bad News.

But anyone who legitimately wants to claim a desire to return to Judeo Christian principles is being intellectually and morally dishonest if they ignore the parts of Judeo-Christian history that don’t line up with their worldly values. Because values of low taxes and small government are not, in fact, Judeo Christian at all, but secular ones.

In her lifetime, Dorothy Day called out capitalism AND communism, because they’re both fundamentally in conflict with Christian world view.

Being Intentional About Care of Creation

Fires in the west. The slow and inevitable draining of the Colorado River. Floods in Mississippi and in Pakistan.

These are just a few of the effects of climate change in very recent history.

By now I think most of us recognize that human-caused climate change is not some made up thing. The frequency and severity of natural disasters are becoming so much worse, it’s hard to cling to denial anymore.

But the question is, what do we do about it?

Environmental stewardship has been a passion of my Christian life since my husband and I discovered that half of our long battle with infertility was caused by poor male fertility numbers stemming from diazanon, alachlor, and atrazine in the water supply. In case there are doubters here, we discovered this in backwards order. My husband encountered the study about the connection between low fertility numbers and these chemicals through his work as a science writer; then he went through testing and found he was the classic case; then we got a water filter and conceived within three months.

So I’m really tuned in to how we interact with creation. To be intentional about an area of faith means you have to examine how your actions do (or don’t) reflect what you think you believe. We wash and reuse plastic Ziploc bags. Watch the weather so we can pull the house temperature down to 65 on cool mornings and then close it up, thus minimizing the need for the air conditioner. Etc.

What makes me want to pull my hair out is the thoughtlessness surrounding creation that I see around me.

Every time I pull into Jazzercise, or Ace Hardware, or Target, or church, I see someone sitting in their car with the car running while they’re scrolling their phone. Every time. Sometimes I have even seen people get INTO their car, turn it on, and THEN pull their phones out. Why? It has nothing to do with the weather, because it happens in perfect weather as well as bad.

School pickup is even worse. People queue up beginning 25 minutes before school dismissal, and they will sit there running their cars the entire time. Not everyone—it’s improved over the years, thank God—but it’s still pretty bad. I used to go over to school after noon Jazzercise and wait until school let out—a deliberate choice, made to combine trips and reduce gas consumption. I’d bring my laptop and work remotely.

But every afternoon, when I pulled into a shady spot at 1:30 p.m., there was a guy in a huge white pickup truck who LEFT IT RUNNING FOR HOUR AND A HALF. This is a person who is ostensibly Catholic,  a religion that values stewardship of creation.

None of these people are horrible human beings who care nothing for the earth and the life and health of future generations. Chances are, it’s just never occurred to people to examine what they’re doing. We are creatures of habit.

And yet the wellness and dignity of future generations—not to mention ourselves—is compromised by such ongoing and habitual abuse of the earth. How much carbon could we cut if we just turned off the cars when they don’t need to be running?

So this is my invitation for today. First, turn your car off! At long stoplights (you know where they are), while you’re at soccer practices or piano lessons, and above all when all you’re doing is checking your phone.

And second, to examine your days and routines for small but concrete ways you can show more reverence for creation through the way you use and interact with the things of the earth.

And feel free to share any of those here. I always like to get new ideas.

* All the photos in this post are pictures I took on my nature rambles in the last 6 weeks. This is the earth we are trying to protect, because it is how we live, and because look at the gift it is to us!

America the Beautiful at Mass

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I woke up early on Sunday morning to the sound of a much-needed long, soaking rain. I laid in bed a long time, alternating prayers of gratitude with wrestling something that is probably going to get me in trouble.

Sunday, of course, was 9/11. At my parish on any national commemoration, it’s become tradition to sing America the Beautiful as a recessional. I’ve been in a leadership role in music for twenty-two years now, and in that time my feelings on this have gone back and forth multiple times. I’ve led the song PLENTY of times.

America the Beautiful is a beautiful song. It’s an aspirational song—in other words, it describes what America is meant to be.

But I’m not sure it belongs at Mass.

For a long time, the single phrase, “God mend thine every flaw” has saved it for me in a liturgical context. But Sunday morning, lying in bed, I thought:

We have a strong contingent of Americans who are systematically trying to erase America’s flaws from history books. They don’t think we need to know them. They think it’s unpatriotic to name America’s national sins… even though this same philosophy calls America to “get back to its Christian values,” which would include the reality that acknowledging our failures is intrinsic to the practice of Christianity.

In contemplative circles lately, I have been encountering the idea of holding conflicting ideas in tension. America has been a place of great freedom, innovation, and human achievement. It has also been, in the same places and the same times, a place of great oppression, injustice, and hedonism and the pursuit of money without concern for the good of others. (A modern example: Regulation is looked at as bad because people perceive it as stymying economic growth. By our national actions, then, we demonstrate that we believe money is more important than safety, health, and the dignity of human beings made in God’s image. Theology of the Body in action: it is through our bodies that we do–or don’t–make God’s image visible in the world.)

I love America the Beautiful. But I think when we tear up singing it, it’s not because of what America COULD be or SHOULD be, but because of a false sense that this is what America IS.

Christian life—for Catholics especially—is supposed to embrace the tension between what we aspire to be and the ways we fall short. We have penitential seasons. We are supposed to go to confession often.

But most of us don’t, and even those of us who do (full disclosure: I am not one of them, by default of busy-ness, and I recognize that’s just an excuse) don’t recognize the flaws in the way we view patriotism.

In recent years, a large segment of Christianity has wrapped up the cross in the flag. A lot of people have pursued, and more have justified, or at least winked at, some pretty heinous things in pursuit of that false worship. False, because God and patriotism are not the same thing. God comes first. Way, WAY before country.

There is no question that it is appropriate to sing America the Beautiful at patriotic events.

But at church?

Doesn’t singing America the Beautiful put things in the wrong order? Like, we put the nation in first place, highlighting its ideals and ignoring its failures, and then, as an afterthought, ask God to bless it?

I’m asking this as a legit question. I’m willing to listen to another perspective on this, for sure. Because of COURSE, it is totally appropriate to ask God to bless America. But what purpose does it serve to ignore the divided, toxic reality in which America exists right now and substitute an idealized version of America that never has really existed except in our hopes and prayers? Not a Godly one.

A lot of people died on 9/11. They deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be prayed for. They deserve to be remembered and prayed for at Mass. But America the Beautiful doesn’t do any of that. It shifts the focus away from the victims and substitutes rah-rah patriotism. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to sing, for instance, “On Eagle’s Wings” or “Be Not Afraid”?

If we want to show a proper priority of God and country, wouldn’t it be better to observe national holiday weekends with “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” or “This Is My Song, O God of All The Nations”?

Basically, we use America the Beautiful because it’s beloved on a secular level. We do it because of the “pastoral” judgment. But I’m not convinced it actually IS pastoral in impact.

As I said, I am willing to be convinced, but I ask that if you respond, please do so courteously and respectfully, and with prayer, as I prayed through the discernment of this post. I am putting this out there for respectful discussion in the spirit of Jesus Christ.