Posts Tagged ‘ discipline ’

A Brief Respite

I think my post-Vatican II head has stopped spinning. Maybe the mayhem wrought by those seeking to hijack The Church has merely slowed? In any event, the recently concluded Synod on the Family has seemingly stuck a stick in the sand; tho maybe only a small stick. Maybe only an effort to change the water and not throw it out with the baby?

When I entered The Church, the altar boys had to learn Latin. Going to Mass now, it is unusual to see any males up there, other than the priest (thank GOD, that hasn’t changed). Nobody was trying to water-down Catholicism – attack, demolish, eradicate, maybe – but not transform it into the namby-pamby pablum that other (heretical) Christian sects are trying to do. You see, for me, the “old” Church fits. I sang “kum-by-yah” at one time, I don’t now.

The quintessential counter-cultural figure of all time was Jesus Christ. He founded an institution based on the frailties of the creatures it exists to save. Pretty much a mandate of “You will come close to drowning many times; but I won’t let you. Furthermore, while you are trying to save yourself, you must also save others.” Rather much the antithesis of: “if you see someone in distress in the water (in the old days that would be “drowning,” but of course we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings now-a-days), the first thing you do is NOT jump in.” The modern version is more like: “if you want to be in distress in the water, don’t bother me.”

So, based on the Founder’s example, The Church is also counter-cultural. When it discards all it stands for, it stops being The Church. This is not religion of any kind: this is logic.

I want a corpus on a cross. I want a Crucifix. Sure, it is fabulously wonderful that Christ conquered the Cross, and celebrating the empty cross is a good thing. But, not at the expense of recalling what it took to get there. In the Garden of Gethsemane, remembered as the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary (for those of us blessed to pray the Rosary – sorry about you other heathens), Christ cried. Very poetically, “like drops of blood.” Why did He cry? “For being done too soon,” as Neil Diamond sang? Perhaps. Maybe more out of frustration that His sacrifice (wanna talk “mortification of the flesh”?) would not save us all. Oh, it could, of course. Let there be no doubt that, if it wasn’t up to us (us and our damnable free will), that Crucifixion would have been more than enough to save us all – all of us, forever.

And so, I wear a Crucifix on a chain around my neck. I have a short memory; I need the reminder. And, I wear it on the outside of my shirt; I don’t want anybody asking me if I’m Catholic (obviously, if I was a lot more saintly, others would know I was Catholic by my behavior and they would not need a chunk of metal on my chest to tell them. What can I say? I’m a sinner. Sue me.)

I want a Church that helps me not be just another lemming, following the crowd, obsessed with sensual gratification, instant reward (and the less I have done to earn it, the better), the accumulation of toys (news flash: the person with the most toys definitely does not “win”). Yeah, I try to avoid eating meat on Fridays; but then, I try to avoid eating meat every day. The other six days, I try to avoid meat for me, for my health, for consciousness of how little others around the world have to eat, for awareness that the American love affair with beef is not environmentally sustainable. I try to avoid eating meat on Fridays not for what I am, but for who I am. Six days a week, I am concerned about physical health, one day a week I am concerned about spiritual health. (Actually, if the truth be known, I am not a foodie: food is only a fuel, not a life altering event. Honestly, I seldom think about food. Sorry, Scott.)

I’m all for priests not marrying. I do love the irony: looking at my life, it is clear the only way I could have kept my jeans zipped was to die trying. So, it’s something else? Yeah: lack of distractions. I have tried keeping one foot in the secular world: being married, providing for a family (i.e., having a job, even a job I detest); and trying to put the other foot into the camp of salvation: more prayer time, more study of the Bible and other writings (sometimes called “commentaries,” or Tradition – no, the capital T is not a typo; old Catholics know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout). The day just is not long enough for me; but then, I’m slow.

Y’know, when your tooth aches, you want your dentist right now. You don’t want to hear an answering company say that he/she is taking a much deserved holiday in the Bahamas. When you get a letter from the IRS, you don’t want you accountant to shuffle thru his calendar and tell you he’s got an opening on April 16th. When you go to the emergency room at 2 o’clock in the morning with a racing, pounding heart, you don’t want the single on-duty receptionist (in the old days, that would be a fully qualified nurse) to take her time finding the right forms for you to fill in. I don’t want my priest, my spiritual advisor to have other things on his mind. Laser-focus, that’s what I’m after.

GOD love him if he wants a wife and kids; Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding (yes, beyond doubt, a heterosexual wedding). GOD love him if he just can’t devote every moment of his life to the greater glory of GOD (GOD knows I haven’t). But, if he’s going to claim to be a priest, I want a priest of the old school – the order of Malchizedek. He’s going to be dependable. Maybe not instantly available; but when I call (e.g., every Sunday), I know what I’m getting. And what I’m getting, I’m getting only in a Catholic Church. The last thing I want to hear from the pulpit is “I’m ok and you’re ok and that’s ok.” For Heaven’s Sake: I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, now what are we going to do about it?”

I want to be associated with an institution that says that ending human life is always a bad thing. Bad, bad, bad. Period. End of discussion. As a Marine, this is the most difficult Teaching I have to deal with. But, I never killed a child, or to my knowledge, an unborn baby. Small consolation perhaps; but also reality. So, it makes me want to reach for my Kabar when someone wants an abortion because that human life yet unborn is inconvenient. You want “inconvenient”? You might find your blood on the floor terribly inconvenient.

Who you fuck is your business, just get it out of my face. Dunno which is worse: current society’s obsession with sex, or making it the most important thing in the world. Beyond the constant reminder that some people define themselves by their “sexual orientation,” I find homosexuality both revolting and interesting. Kinda like the “mad scientist” who enjoys watching rats in the maze he’s constructed, but would never want to be in that maze himself.

Revolting because as a supremely devout heterosexual, I can’t imagine anything more disgusting than having sex with another man. And this, keeping in mind that GOD did not make every woman to look like Angelina Jolie. I mean, projectile vomiting comes to mind. Ok, so you say po-tay-to and I say po-tah-to. Fine, just get it out of my face. Puh-leez.

Interesting in that supposedly intelligent people can think it could possibly be intelligently rational. Whatever else you might think, each and every species of every living thing there ever was needed to reproduce itself. (The opposite of reproduce is “extinct” – in case you slept thru 9th grade biology.) Granted, some species don’t need other members of their species to reproduce; but it might be safe to say those species were, um, shall we say, anomalous? Statistically, there just aren’t many of them. And, scientifically, there might be some justification for that ability (like: simple lack of mates – something I submit is not the case with human beings).

Which leads us to the question of how homosexual human beings propagate. Physically, they don’t. Pretty simple. Absolutely irrefutable. If homosexuality is somehow “normal”; how come they can’t “normally” make more of their own kind? Think about it.

Birds fly, fish swim. This is called “natural law.” Every creature, plant or animal, has characteristics, or attributes. Human beings are intelligent enough to fabricate flying machines and swimming machines, but it is still a machine with a human in it. And, frankly, I kinda like that. And, I think my wife kind likes the idea that when we go to bed, I’d rather be with her than a goat. Or, duck-billed platypus. I like a church that says I might enjoy observing, or preserving spotted owls, but I am not one.

While I make my way thru this thing called Life, and I am assaulted with things that just don’t feel right, I like the rock that is my Church. Was it ever perfect? Did it ever do everything right? Hell, it doesn’t now. But, as a believer, I believe there is more than just “this Life.” Unlike an atheist who spends his life looking at this shoes, I spend by life looking at the stars. Unbelievers believe in the finite; I believe in the Infinite. Meanwhile, I have to roll up my sleeves; I have work to do. Thanks for reading. I hope to see you again. All comments are always welcome – life is a dialogue. And, eternity is a long time.

Appetite

Dunno about inanimate objects, like rocks, but it seems to me that living things had better have an appetite to stay that way.  I mean, without a desire to seek food, neither the individual, nor the species will stay animate very long.  And the desire to consume food is just one appetite; with a little thought, you can come up with many other appetites.

So, what makes us human beings different from, say, avocados?  Other than the lovely green color, of course.  Human beings have appetites, just like Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s “wretched beasties” (bacteria), flora and fauna (and I don’t mean two of the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty), and Felix (The Cat?) and Fido.  Every living thing has appetites – gee, I guess that’s how we know they are living?  Fine, but are humans different?  And if so, how?

The purely secular answer (to a point, anyway), is that human beings, of all creatures, have the ability to control their appetites.  Not that you would know this from the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber.  But, if you look at the much more typical John and Jane Doe, you would have to quickly see that some degree of self-control exists.  Or not, I suppose:

A recent article in The Economist points out that “In 1980 no state had an obesity rate higher than 15%, with obesity defined as a body-mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher, 203 pounds for a 5’9” man.  Now every state has an obesity rate above 20% and 13 have rates of 30% or higher.”  So much for self-control, eh?

A talk on TED speaks of “set points” or “ranges” of weight.  That it was NATURE not nurture that was responsible!  The message I got was that there was nothing we could do about it – our obesity was beyond our control! But even at that, Sandra Aamodt’s thesis that the brain controls our weight only proves my point: what we desire comes from our brain, doesn’t it?  “You can use life-style choices to move up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.”  While I am not a neuroscientist (I can barely spell the word), I will not abdicate choice to the reptilian brain.  Last time I checked anyway, I wasn’t aware that very many crocodiles could type.

The most obvious, slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-fish example of lack of control – of being human –  is the obesity that confronts us everywhere, everyday.  I’ve heard it said that cats will eat only until they’re full, which is only one reason why you can leave them in the house while you are gone for the weekend.  And dogs, God bless ‘em, will empty and lick the bowl before you’re completely backed out of the driveway.  So, which are you: a dog or a cat?  Or, which would you rather be, capable of exercising some control over your appetites, over your life?  Or, eat it all, eat it now, and let tomorrow take care of itself?

As little use as I have for cats (the feeling is mutual), I’d rather be the captain of my own ship than be subject to purely animal – reptilian level – instincts.  Every day we make choices.  Every minute of every day.  Even avoiding choices is a choice.  That free-will thing is a two-edged sword (if that metaphor is too much of an anachronism for some, I still won’t apologize for not being an advocate of the nanny-state).  Choice, or free-will is what makes us human – at least to the secularists out there.

In other words, it’s pretty much pay-me-now, or-pay-me-later.  Your choices now do have ramifications.  Your desire to have another slice of lemon meringue pie, on top of the Biggie Size Fries you had yesterday adds up to someone who is trading today’s indulgence for tomorrow’s sorrow.  Your desire to “Let George Do it” instead of standing up on your hind legs and doing something as simple as voting, is a choice.  Doing as little as possible, rather than doing as much as you can, is a choice.

It is often said that it takes only 21 days to make some new behavior a habit.  Imagine, in less than a month, you can “program” your brain to decide that exercise is a completely wonderful and pleasant – let alone healthy – experience.  Or, maybe that you don’t need a triple-shot latte to get every day started (calories, health benefits, cost).  Or, you can be civil to others (“remember: children are watching you”).  Don’t cheat the red-lights, don’t drink and drive.  Et cetera.  Et cetera.

Or, you can be an avocado and just do whatever is easiest.  You can choose to be a slave to your basic, reptilian appetites.  Or, you can choose to be human.  The choice is yours.  Duh.

Decisions and Discipline

What makes us truly human? Or, put another way, what makes us different from all the other animals out there? (I see no need to explore what makes people different from avocados.) There certainly seem to be an overwhelming number of similarities; the differences are very few, but are they also significant? Since my goldfish has a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, I’m going to assume that the differences are significant. Besides, I’m the one writing this.

Fine. What are those differences? Inquiring minds want to know, dontchaknow? The two biggies, methinks, are the abilities to make decisions not based on the moment and the discipline to enact those decisions. Things like: no, I don’t want another helping of lima beans, I want to save room for blueberry pie. You know: important stuff.

‘Course, then there’s “identity.” Don’t suppose the dozen or so King Charles Cavaliers in the puppy mill next door quite understand why I don’t just adore their incessant chatter? But, strictly on the mano-a-mano level, I think there really are things about people that really are important and things that really aren’t. Which is why I am sorry that so many people I care about have abandoned letter-writing and adopted “social media” to share their lives. I should thank Facebook for all the photos my niece has posted of her two coast-to-coast trips this summer. I don’t think I will be so grateful for all the “idiotic prattle” that gets posted (and thanks to an old girl friend for accusing me of “idiotic prattle”; think she’d be happy to see I am still slinging the same old swill?)

Ah, so that is “self-discipline”? As opposed to the “I’m just sayin’” excuse for lack of self-control that seems to be an extension of Flip Wilson’s “the devil made me do it.” And, yes, I will just cleverly slip that in and not go off on a rant about the “inherent goodness of human beings.” Not this time. (So, you can heave a heavy sigh of relief. Just this once.)

So, why are decisions so damnably difficult? Part of it has to do with survival. Yeah, just staying alive. If we didn’t have some part of our brain tuned to the “What’s New?” channel we would quickly become food – we are already targets. So, we do need awareness of what is outside of our own comfort zone; but we also need to filter that awareness so that we obsess about the right things. And yeah, that begs the question of what are the “right things”? But, that includes the what as well as the why (not so much of a tangent as a four-lane off ramp). Let’s leave it as: “you get to decide”, ok?

Ah, the D-word, again. Decide. Pretty much, you have to move along Life’s road, you have to be able to sense the fork in the road, and fortunately, we can thank Yogi Berra for insisting that we take the fork. Or, we can choose to not decide, and stand there, and get run over. But, obviously, that was a decision. So, Life is all about making decisions?

Ah, yeah.

What do you do after the decision? That’s where discipline comes in. Discipline is the choice (“choice” is just a synonym for “decision”; but you already knew that, right?) to prove our decision wasn’t just an opinion. It is the chance to accomplish something, other than merely breathing, eating and fornicating (although, for some people, the order might be different). But, don’t all living things do those? Well, if they didn’t there wouldn’t be anything around to read about ‘em. So, we humans can decide to be just like all other living things, or we can decide to be different – from avocados, as well as other humans. We can be the same and just stare at the fork in the road until we get run over, or until the mass of lemmings pushes along the path that Robert Frost did not take. Or, we can be truly human and think about the consequences of our decisions (pretty frightening, huh?) and then do what we think is the right thing, or the best thing to do. You know: stand up on our hind legs and take responsibility for our actions.

Responsibility? Where did that come from? I think I’d rather be an avocado.