Monday, February 28, 2011

Seeing the world with new eyes.

I see the world entirely different than I did not long ago.

The other day I went to my first Protestant service. There was lots of singing, praying, and talking. It was a great new experience. However, there was much missing. Much, much missing.

I know that there is at least one Protestant who reads my blog, and I would encourage that person (and people from other Christian traditions) to understand why I am writing the way I am, and that it is not out of arrogance nor malice. Protestant and non-denominational churches, as I understand them, empower the individual to interpret scripture as they understand it, with a limited guidance on their interpretation from their church and/or pastor. One can essentially believe whatever they want, with some exceptions.

However, in the Roman Catholic church we believe that truth exists, and we have found it. Protestant churches view other denominations or beliefs as those who have looked over the evidence in the Bible and come to a different conclusion; the Catholic church is drawing its conclusions not only from the Bible but from tradition passed down from the apostles. How can we defend sola scriptura by saying that God trusted us with interpretation of scripture when we still come to different conclusions? Why would Jesus ascend into heaven, telling His disciples "Just figure it all out for yourselves." Why would He leave us behind with even the remotest possibility that we would disagree on exactly what was going on in the Gospels and the rest of the Bible? He is God, after all. Doesn't that seem like a mistake, that so many Christians could be left simply disagreeing on what it all means? God doesn't make mistakes. God would want us to agree on what He was trying to achieve by dying on a cross.

That being said, I hope anyone who objects to this post can understand my reasoning on why I feel obligated to speak the way I am. It is not out of arrogance, but out of a clinging to what I know is true. I don't see it as an opinion but as something valuable to know! :)

What I found to be missing in the service was the focus on Jesus at mass. His presence in the Eucharist, our praise of Him, our focus on foreshadowing our lives in heaven. I was sad that the people at the service I went to earlier that day were missing out on so much. I knew that they were there because they were seeking God and loving God, but they have probably never known what it is like to fully participate in the mass as even many Catholics do not! I was so upset at this thought that I burst into tears talking about it with my soon-to-be-Catholic girlfriend. I was imagining what it might be like to have everyone I know, and the whole rest of the world as well, truly taking part in the sacrifice of the Mass, as Jesus spoke of when He told us "do this in memory of me." I imagined what it might be like for everyone to take part in what St. Paul described in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 when he said, "The bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." The one bread! The one Christ! Not the many symbolic breads!

I imagined what it might be like. Then I realized that it wasn't so...and it broke me. I was so hurt, reader. So, so hurt. I couldn't even understand why, thinking about the experience later. I always knew not everyone was Catholic, and that not every Catholic really lived out their faith nor appreciated it. And then I understood something new about myself that crept up so quietly, that I was shocked.

I don't see the world in the same way anymore. When I first thought of my blog as one giant text, "The Dream That I Dreamed", I imagined it as a sort of melancholy tale of how my life is lived only to try and fulfill a high and lofty dream that may never be achieved. I viewed it as a determination to keep alive a view of all that my life and the world could be if only things were different, somehow. A full outline of what I'm saying can be read here in my first blog post.

These days, my blog is more about Christ's vision in my life, and the beauty that He has created if only we could see it. It should be more like "The Dream That He Dreamed" rather than "The Dream That I Dreamed." But I won't change it now, if only because I like the consistency.

If you need an example of what I mean, I'll tell you a story. Today I was praying the rosary with my girlfriend when I noticed outside that it was a beautiful day. Partly cloudy, and enough wind that the clouds would block the sun for a minute and then move away to let the sun shine again. I thought that it looked like it was glowing outside, and then I realized "maybe God made it that way just so it would look pretty on days like today" and I started crying because I felt so loved. Then I thought about how much I love everyone I know, and how happy I am, and how it can only be unimaginably better in heaven, and I started crying more! It was such a great moment...and then I went to mass! ALLELUIA! I shared in the infinite mercy of mass with a bunch of my fellow Catholics and friends, and it was so beautiful. What a wonderful thing, and it was all a gift from God!

And all this...I never understood. I thought I did, but I did NOT...and I'm not even sure when it all changed. I'm so happy. I used to think that it was impossible to cry tears of joy. I thought it was a I do it all the time.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was His dream.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You are meant to be a frog.

"Every man dies. Not every man really lives." It's a good quote because it's true, and none the worse for having been quoted many times before.

I can't hold off posting any longer. I've been too busy to post but it seems if I try to go without posting any longer my head won't be able to contain all my thoughts anymore before I start forgetting.

My girlfriend and I were talking to a friend last night and the topic was almost entirely centered around God no longer being the center of people's lives. It's not something people feel comfortable talking about anymore. The public at-large either has no thoughts about God or puts God in a little box and sets it aside as another part of their life that has little to do with the rest of it. It's sad that when you're in the company of people you know, God is often the least likely thing we can talk about...because it's the thing we have least in common.

I lead a small group of men in discussion about faith every week. The program is called Awakening Faith and it's designed to get Catholics who are at different places in their faith life to grow more and really think about it. Our culture is a busy culture, full of distractions and short attention spans. I take my group of about five guys and go into a room set aside at the parish for such activities and just talk for usually about 90 minutes about REAL stuff. No sports, no weather, no "I did this and that" talk. Real talk.

So far it's been great. I feel like everyone is participating and really thinking about where God is in their life, whether or not He is important or even real. I pulled out an analogy the other day that I often use to help people who, like myself, did not understand the big picture of the faith. It's not just a set of rules and a religion. It's the whole meaning of life.

We are all like tadpoles in a pond. We have our tadpole stuff, our tadpole cell-phone, our tadpole computer, our tadpole friends and family...we like being tadpoles and don't want to stop being tadpoles. We don't think about anything but our tadpole life. However, eventually we grow arms and legs...we become frogs and we have to leave. And we consider this a scary prospect. "It's so morbid to think about becoming a frog," we say. "Just stay focused on your tadpole life and have a lot of tadpole fun. The pond we live in is a beautiful place and it's all that matters."

But that's not true. It's a lie. We are meant to be frogs. It's the purpose of our tadpole existence to grow into big, beautiful frogs, moving out into the vastness of the world beyond the pond.

We are put on this earth to become perfected. We are imperfect beings loved by a perfect being who wants to marry us. But this being, God, is not a rapist. He is a true lover...he won't take us home with Him if we don't want to. He left things in the world like mountains and meadows, flowers, earthly marriage, cookies, etc. to give us a small taste of life with Him. They're like little gifts he is giving to his girlfriend, the Church (us). If we get to know God and move forward in love with Him, we'll be truly happy, because He is our true love.

But if we fall in love with the things of this world instead, a true lover, though He knows that we're meant to be with Him, and that we'll be truly happy with Him, He will respect that and break up with us. God doesn't send us to Hell, we send ourselves there. Hell is simply eternal separation from God...and that's what the pain of Hell is. And the pleasure of Heaven is his eternal presence. Earth is just somewhere in the middle...a dating ground for God.

That's why it's so important to have your faith to be not just a part of your life but all of your life. It's the purpose of your existence to grow into relationship with God where you will be truly happy...not just chasing after the pleasures of this world that are just a shadow of what God is like.

"I came that you might have life, and live it to the fullest," says Jesus. What? You mean the Church isn't down on fun? Yes, that's right. The Church teaches that God wants you to be happy. And true happiness, not temporary false happiness caused by chasing after temporary worldly joys, is found in growing to be perfect - to be a saint! Of course, we'll never be perfect...but it is in the journey to perfection, not the destination, that we find redemption. The job is finished after we long as our striving was genuine.

My girlfriend and I agree that we must strive to have real conversation...about God and faith. It must be the center of our lives and our thoughts, because if it's not, we'll simply be floating along like so many others, focused on the world. The reason she and I are dating is not because she is a good person, a gentlelady, is nice to me, gets along with me, etc. Those things are nice and pretty important for us to get along, of course. However, the most important thing, the most vital part of our relationship in which all other things about us are nothing, is that I believe she is the best person to help me reach heaven. We are dating to find out if this is true...praying and asking God if it's true. If we get married, that will be our acknowledgment that it is. If not, it will be upsetting but no great loss compared to the risk of each other bringing us away from God. Because if we did not share the same faith, I strongly believe that is what would happen. She can't bring me forward if she's behind me. I can't bring her forward if I'm behind her. Only if we are hand-in-hand in faith can our relationship be one founded in Christ.

The one thing, the ONLY thing, we absolutely have to do on this earth, spoke a very wise man in my Awakening Faith group, is die. It's the only thing we have no choice about. Everyone dies. But not everyone finds true happiness, their purpose in life.

God is that purpose.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for unity in the purpose of Heaven.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Love game of heart and pain.

"What's this phony ceremony hanging around? We got to...get down! Lock it out from this shaky ground! Come on and spit it out, your hearty party, mood everywhere. Let's see you people laughing, people punching out in the air!"

I feel like I lost my positive outlook for a while there. It's scary to see how I'm changing, sometimes. The one thing I miss about my old self is that I never stayed down for long. Now I get pushed down and stay down until I feel like I've fixed it.

"Get down to the hip hop a bee bop a loo a...You hear the sound it's all coming to ya! I wanna get ya! I wanna tease ya! I'm gonna get this beat to hit ya! Get down to big time illusion, life or the rest. Come on and tough it! Jump it! Funk that feeling! Give all your best!"

I also seem to be becoming a perfectionist. I used to feel that as long as I did my best I didn't care what the outcome was. In many ways that was bad, but in some it's a major detriment when even when you do your best you still don't get the outcome you wished for, and you end up with a lot of regret for something you had no power over.

"Come on and drive on drive on drive on into night...You got that burning power, midnight hour, flashing your light...It's just a love game of heart and pain that we're going out. That's what the twenty first century is all about!"

I'm not down and out, yet, dear reader. This love game of heart and pain called life hasn't defeated me by any means. This is simply a hiccup, and I think the feelings I expressed in my last post were exaggerated by my exasperation with the spiritual desolation I've been feeling. I'm determined to keep my head up. It's not over yet.

"Get down to the hip hop a bee bop a loo a...You hear the sound it's all coming to ya! I wanna get ya! I wanna tease ya! I'm gonna get this beat to hit ya! Get down to big time illusion, step into time...Come on and rock it sock it, just jump on it, LIVE IS DIVINE!"

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for a positive outlook forever.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My agoge.

"At age 7, as is customary in Sparta, the boy was taken from his mother and plunged into a world of violence. Manufactured by 300 years of Spartan warrior society, to create the finest soldiers the world has ever known. The agoge, as it's called, forces the boy to fight."

I feel like I'm going through this in a very spiritual own agoge, at least as depicted in the movie 300.

I feel like I've been left out in the cold in more than just a -5 degrees sort of way like it was this morning. God has really left me to stand on my own two feet. He sure chose a strange time to do it, from my limited perspective.

I'm tired. Just plain tired. Except in rare moments often involving my amazing girlfriend I find it very hard to hold a smile for very long. I'm running out of patience with anyone and everything. I'm hurt by small things. I'm more tempted by things I used to be strong against. I can't do a lot of things right anymore. I'm under attack.

I'm facing a duel to the death with the Deceiver and I'm starting to lose stamina.

If there's one thing I hate since my conversion, it's being a disappointment. I feel more assured with my girlfriend that I'm doing OK with her because of her constant patient reminders, but I still feel that I'm not doing all I can in many other ways. I want to become who I was born to be, but now God has taken off the training wheels and I'm in a wreck. I need to get stronger, I need to persist, I need to fight, I need to win! I can not and will not fail again. To me there is only greatness in the eyes of God or failure.

I take back what I said about God choosing a strange time to do this to me. God knows me well enough to know how I feel about victories. It's the most hopeless fights that are the greatest victories, and the most unexpected victories that are the most glorious. And right now, I feel that I'm fighting a losing battle. If I can just persist long enough, maybe I'll survive my agoge. God has forced me into battle, and that's fine. I'll fight if I have to.

I go in and out of fascination with the movie 300. It's violent and has nudity in it, but sometimes when I remember major themes and amazing lines in the movie I feel differently:

"'Remember us.' As simple an order as a king can give. 'Remember why we died.' For he did not wish tribute, nor song, nor monuments nor poems of war and valor. His wish was simple. 'Remember us,' he said to me. That was his hope, should any free soul come across that place, in all the countless centuries yet to be. May all our voices whisper to you from the ageless stones, 'Go tell the Spartans, passerby, that here by Spartan law, we lie.'"

Christ, our King calls us to die to ourselves, to join in the battle against Satan and give our lives up for his sake. "Remember me," I hear from Calvary. How can I forget His sacrifice?

Here I am, left in spiritual desolation for only a month or so and already I've run out of energy. Well forget it. I'll run on empty for as long as it takes to complete my mission in life. That's the end of it.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for victory in spiritual battle.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Someone believed in me.

I'm currently being interviewed in a reporting class about the time I was awarded the Bishop's Cross.

It's been an interesting revisit of something I don't always think about. The Bishop's Cross is an award given in the Toledo Diocese to two Catholic students (one boy, one girl) from each high school in the diocese upon graduation every year. It's based upon (perceived) moral character, involvement in the parish and community, and high religion GPA.

All I know beyond that is that there is a committee that nominates and votes on the winners. There is no application to fill out, and no way to find out who nominated me. Someone thought I would be a good candidate and the committee that gives out the award voted in agreement. I, who only did the things he did to feel that he wasn't completely wasting his life. I, who fought for every little bit of motivation to go to church every week. I, who never had a regular prayer life. I, who was secretly precarious in belief at best and an unconscious atheist at worst many times in high school. I, who was not of the moral fiber that anyone believed I was.

I was elated to receive the Bishop's Cross, but at the same time I felt they had made a mistake. People at graduation thought they saw a smile on my face when they called my name, but it was actually a look of surprise. It was surprise, because I knew what I looked like on the inside. I felt they awarded it based on my public face, which was a lie. I didn't deserve it.

Yet, someone believed in me. Someone saw in me something I could not. My potential...who I was born to be. I am reminded constantly of how far I have to go, but it remains true that I have come far already. In the some of the most worthless times of my life, someone thought I deserved an award that I think I have only come to deserve nearly four years later.

Over the past four years of college, I've been haunted by that award. I was only getting worse at times, and it was only when I hit rock bottom that I got better. I never felt at ease when I remembered getting that award, until now. Now, the emotion is not guilt but a sense of overwhelming gratitude.

Gratitude to that one person who believed in me when I did not believe in myself.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was that everyone could believe in their own goodness.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beyond thought and time.

My favorite season is spring...and I'm really starting to miss it.

Winter is nice during Christmas, but now it's starting to really be gray and dreary. My car keeps getting stuck, and although I'm decent enough at getting it out (sometimes with help) it doesn't help that Winter is just plain depressing in January and February. Stark contrast to jolly December.

I find I am much more relaxed talking to girls now. I like being friends with members of both sexes, but whenever I would develop a friendship with a woman, I was always worried that I would send a wrong message, or that people would see me as "prospecting" them. Now that I have a girlfriend I don't have to worry about that as much because women will know I'm not interested in them in that way.

It was in talking with one of these good girl friends that I realized how much I missed the spring time. My friend had not gone on Alternative Spring Break before, a service program held over Spring Break, and I emphatically stated that she had no idea what she was missing.

I remember it now. Campfires, mud fights, liturgy of the hours and mass as a community, making dinner and having conversation with everyone, meeting new people, writing poetry on a mountain top, hiking, the world around you just being so big and beautiful...watching the stars revolve around the globe of the sky! What a beautiful world you can see if you can just reach beyond thought and time. Eastern Kentucky is just one of those places. It also happens to be one of the poorest...

...Poorest in the monetary sense, at least. I found that it was rich in love and beauty. Perhaps that's just me.

Last spring was one of the biggest periods of spiritual growth I had, and due in no small part to my new outlook on the world. I really attribute a lot of my spiritual growth to ASB and spring. The structure of ASB and the beauty of God's creation unfolding before me really helped me to feel God's love and to yearn to grow closer to him. Right now, Winter is just really being a drag. Don't get me wrong, my love for God doesn't change with the seasons, it just makes it much harder. And the stark visibility of God that I could see in my friends and in His creation made it very easy.

I can't wait to go back.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for eternal springtime of the mind.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My essence.

The ultimate pride is committed in making yourself a god. I will try to stay as far away from this as I possibly can, esteemed reader, while talking about myself in this post.

In a retreat back in high school, I gave a talk called "Know Yourself" in which I shared much of my life and myself, my problems, my triumphs, in an effort to help my classmates figure themselves out. Ironically I did not really have myself figured out then, but it was a good start.

An (older) adult friend once told me that I know myself better than most people her age. I think it was one of the nicest compliments she could have given me, although she probably didn't know that. I think knowing yourself is one of the lesser great triumphs there are to have in this life. That being said, knowing yourself is always an ongoing process, since I find that even then I did not know myself as well as I know myself now.
Knowing who you are and why you are the way you are makes changing the things preventing you from becoming who you were born to be much easier.
I've always been fascinated with destiny. An emotional moment in the film version of Return of the King for me is always when Elrond presents the sword Andùril to Aragorn.

"Andùril! Flame of the West! Forged from the shards of Narsìl! Let go the Ranger! BECOME WHO YOU WERE BORN TO BE!"

And of course, he does. He realizes he is no ranger, but a WARRIOR KING! Peace and triumph follow. This is what can happen in our own spiritual battles when we know ourselves well enough to discover who we were born to be.

When you know yourself, you know your weaknesses. I find that some fundamental things about people never change. I call this your essence. Someone who is in their essence competitive at their worst can be arrogant and obnoxiously obsessed with winning and being the best. However, at their best they can spin this into being strong-willed and full of determination and confidence. Someone who is in their essence laid back at their worst can be lazy and sloppy. At their best, they can be insightful and peacemakers.

At our best, we become who we are born to be.

The essence of a person, though, is only how they are different from everyone else. I could say that in my essence I want people to like me, but the truth is that everyone wants to be liked by someone because they want to be loved. This is because everyone was created to be loved. The same could be said about everyone wanting to do the right thing (no matter how skewed their view of right or wrong is) and people desiring purpose and meaning to what they do (no matter what reasoning they may give to the contrary).

In keeping with the topic of knowing myself, I will try to relate to you, my reader, what I believe my essence is. I acknowledge the possibility that the rest of this post may seem prideful, but true humility is actually about being completely honest in the fewest details possible about our strengths and weaknesses when we are prompted or when it is completely necessary. That being said, in keeping with the theme of this blog it is always prompted and necessary to share as much about myself as is prudent to share with the internet at-large who may or may not know who I am.

I believe that part of my essence is that I am playful. I have lots of energy and like to run, jump, joke around and make people laugh.

I am also very focused on "the big picture." I love looking at stars and seeing the vastness of space and theorizing why it was all created. I like talking about the meaning of life and...why we are the way we are, incidentally. I like trying to find the deeper meaning behind everything we see on the surface.

I am nostalgic. I am romantic. I am pensive. I am affectionate. I am sensitive.

What this means is that at my worst I am lazy and distracted. I am insensitive to how people respond to me, and even annoying. I am despairing, judgmental, stubborn, prideful, and imprudent.

At my best, in becoming who I am destined to be, I can be joyful and spread that joy to others. I can be a relief in times of anxiety or sorrow. I can help people think more deeply about their place in the cosmos as immortal souls. I can be a great lover and be creative in expressing my own feelings, and serve as an inspiration to others.

That is my essence, such as it is, and as much as I know, I know there must be more I will learn along the path of life. And so will you.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for all to know their essence.