Tuesday, 12 June 2018

If My Friends and I Were Mary and Elizabeth at the Visitation…


In those days Sue set out after procrastinating for a few weeks, obsessively checking ‘what to expect in your first trimester of pregnancy’, and (over) packing her bags accordingly. She got to the house of Zechariah, and before she could even greet Elizabeth, she flopped into a chair, and exclaimed, 

“Oh my gosh, girl, have you any idea how bad the roads to Judea are? My legs are killing me!” 

“I know exactly what you mean! Man, pregnancy at my age!” 

“Which is SO cool by the way!” 

“I KNOW, right?! God is good! Who could have imagined! You should hear all the other old cats talking about it, I’m the talk of the town.” 

“Oh yeah, people love to gossip. At least you’re MARRIED! I thank God for Joseph – he has been a GEM, so discreet. But let’s get down to business. I need some tips for the morning sickness! And is it normal to have cramps? What has it been like for you?” 

“Well- OH!” “What? What happened?” 

“Oh my gosh, put your hand here! Can you feel that? Baby just jumped for joy! I think he KNOWS!” 

“WOW! So exciting. And yet.. so scary! What lies ahead? Where am I going to give birth? I hope my mum will be there. Can this baby really be… the son of God? I mean, I know it’s true, but it feels so unreal! How am I supposed to figure this all out? It’s not like angels come visit me every day, telling me what the next step is! And Joseph has been so great, but I’m sure he has the same questions too. I’m sure he thinks I’ve got it all figured out… but I really don’t! Why wouldn’t Gabriel give me a slightly more detailed plan? Maybe even a five year plan. How am I supposed to mother GOD? Does that even make sense? Do you think God accidentally picked the wrong person? Maybe Gabriel was supposed to appear to my neighbour, Miriam- there's a nice, composed, holy girl for you. Gaaah! These hormones are making me crazy! Or maybe that's just me. I love my sweet tiny baby already, but how can it be, that I can be so protective of my Protector? How come I’m in charge of this tiny human?” 

“You know, Sue, technically, God is still in charge.” 

“I KNOW. But STILL. He seems to expect a lot of me. He definitely seems to trust me more than I trust me.” 

“I often feel the same way. You know, Zechariah STILL can’t speak? I know something crazy happened that day in the temple, and he has been so tender and reverent since that day. But he can’t speak! Why would God have cursed him and blessed me? How does that even make sense? What if he never speaks again? What if our child never hears his father’s voice?” 

“Life is pretty confusing sometimes. I suppose God will work it all out. Anyway… is it okay if I take a nap now?” 

Yeah, so I noticed when I was reading Luke's account of the Visitation just how different my approach to life is from Mary’s. Basically, no matter how great the blessings, I will still land up talking about all the challenges, the potential struggles, the doubts and questions, the anxiety I feel, and the many, many things that could go wrong. Of course, it is good to be honest.

BUT like Mary and Elizabeth, I think I would like to spend a little more time and focus on just reveling in the Lord’s goodness, remembering the good things He has already done, and entrusting the unknown future to Him. It's a little less melodramatic and leaves less room for self-pity. It may be less funny than humorous re-tellings of my mishaps and trials. It may take a conscious act of the will to change the obsessive, overthinking habits of years. But sometimes I just need to stay in the moment and sing my own Magnificat.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The INTJ’s Guide to Not Being a Party Pooper


1. When people get really excited about completely impractical and unrealistic ideas 

a. Do NOT say, “That is a completely impractical and unrealistic idea.”
b. DO summon up a little excitement and interest and find something at least not negative to say.
c. Although it may be too much to expect you to say, “What a great idea!” sincerely, at least do NOT say “What a great idea!” in a sarcastic tone.
d. Instead try, “That’s very interesting! What made you think of it?”
e. Or “Yeah, that could work! Maybe if you just (add something to make it slightly more practical).” f. At worst, just think of follow-up questions so you don’t have to provide an actual opinion.

2. When people throw you a surprise party 
a. Rearrange your facial expression from horrified to mildly excited.
b. Do NOT say “I totally knew about it. There were clues EVERYWHERE! I’m too smart to be lied to.”
c. Instead say, “Wow! You guys!”and imply the line “I had NO idea!” without actually saying it, to save your integrity.
d. Don’t hide in the bathroom for more than ten minutes.


3. When people stay too late at a party you are hosting 

a. Do not disappear and hope everyone will just leave.
b. Do not get grumpier and grumpier and quieter and quieter.
c. Instead, at 9 pm, stand at the door and cheerfully say, “Well, THANK YOU guys for coming!” (It'll take them a few years to catch on to this trick.)
d. If they don’t get the hint, ask people how they’re planning on getting home, and arrange rides for them. e. If they absolutely refuse to leave, you have permission to disappear until they do.

4. When someone comes up with a spontaneous plan 

a. Do not list all obvious flaws in the plan (it’s too hot, there’s no way you’ll get back in time, you haven't factored in naps, etc)
b. Do not convince everyone else they shouldn’t go.
c. Instead smile and say, “You guys have fun! Thanks for inviting me though!”
d. If they get annoyed, just be self-deprecating- “Aw, you know me – boring and old!”
e. Do NOT be annoyed with them when they actually go and all the predicted problems occur. Swallow that 'I told you so.'
f. Remind them to invite you four days in advance next time they have a ‘spontaneous’plan, and allow you to help with the planning.


5. When at a party 

a. Do NOT verbally critique the social dynamics, the lighting, the food, the music and the clothes to your neighbors.
b. Instead use your mastermind powers for good – organize games, initiate conversations or introduce people to defuse awkward social situations.
c. Once everyone is having fun, go hide somewhere and check Facebook or take a nap without guilt. 

6. When in a conversation 

a. Do NOT use your phone to fact-check more than once.
b. Practise saying, “I guess there’s more than one way to look at it.”
c. Remind yourself that conversation is for getting to know people, not making a point.
d. Remember the last time you had a conversation with another INTJ – how annoying it can be to be with someone who HAS to be right all the time.
e. Listen to understand, not to reply. Do NOT dominate the conversation. Even if you have the perfect factoid, perspective or anecdote, hold it in. (Blog about it later.)


7. When someone comes in for a hug 

a. Do NOT run in the opposite direction.
b. Do NOT awkwardly high five instead.
c. DO allow yourself to be hugged.
d. Soak in the human connection for a few seconds, then smoothly disengage.
e. Pretend it was not awkward that you didn't hug back.


8. To prepare for the day 

a. Go to bed on time the night before. Stop reading comment sections, articles and blogs. Stop feeding your brain and get some sleep.
b. In the morning, repeat the INTJ bible verse: And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge... but do not have love, I am nothing.1 Corinthians 13: 2
c. Repeat “I do NOT have to be God today. God is God, and I am not. I do NOT have to save the world all by myself.”
d. Repeat “There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and I know I sometimes cross it. Keep me humble today, God.”
e. Practise getting rid of your generic resting face 'How could anyone be that stupid?' facial expression. Lift those lips, unroll those eyes, and un-scrunch those eyebrows.


9. During the day 

a. Sing at least one song aloud. Bonus points if you join somebody else who is singing aloud.
b. Stop and smell the roses. Or look at the sky. Or go for a walk. Just stop staring at that screen!
c. Every time one critical comment escapes your lips, add two affirming or positive comments about the same person/incident/topic.
d. Walk into a room and say something fun and positive – “What a gorgeous day! How’s everyone doing?” People may be a little shocked at the beginning, but they’ll get used to it.
e. When people ask you how things are going, discard all low-key complaints or hopeless analyses, and think of one exciting or good thing that is happening in your life or the world.

You can do this, INTJs! Go be awesome! And kind! And joyful!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Two Big Missing Pieces of Our Catholic Faith


As y’all can probably tell, I extensively read and write about the practise of the Catholic faith in the world today. Also, did I mention I was an INTJ? Maybe once or twice. That means I am a PROBLEM-SOLVER. I must know the answers, find the solutions. My brain and heart (what heart?) won’t rest until I find the perfect answer to the problems of the world. While there is no obvious, practical answer, I remain disturbed and not at peace.


Over the years, I have come to be more and more certain that the answer to everything is Jesus. Overly simple, but sometimes the truth is. In a more specific way, the Catholic faith, with its rich body of unchanging truth, the transforming grace of the sacraments and the beautiful witness of the saints through the ages. And yet this answer seems lacking.

Here’s the problem. There are over a billion Catholics in the world today, and more than 2 billion Christians… and yet the problems remain. The ugliness of human sin, the despair of lives without meaning, the repeated wounds we inflict on those closest to us, the indifference to suffering of others, a lack of true and fulfilling joy… It seems to pervade Christians and non-Christians alike.

I’ve seen it everywhere, in many of the Christian and Catholic circles I have spent time in, in parishes, communities, in movements and youth groups. And because of that, many are leaving the Catholic faith, often choosing the possibly more comforting uncertainty of agnosticism. Because if Jesus promised fullness of life why is it that so few Christians seem to be living it? It’s like we’ve got hold of part of the answer, but there are some crucial pieces missing from the jigsaw puzzle. Everyone has opinions about what’s missing.

Here are some of the answers I’ve heard people come up with-

It’s the liturgy. If only we returned to a beautiful liturgy and better music in our Masses, that would bring people back to the truth, beauty and goodness of God.

Better catechesis and apologetics. It seems like most people have no clear idea of what the Church actually teaches, and even the idea of truth has been obscured. If we catechized young Catholics better, they would love truth and spread truth.

Spread of humanism over religion. Religion itself is the problem. If we taught people to just help people, and cut out all divisive references to God, then we will achieve self-fulfilment, true harmony and brotherhood among all people.

Practise of meditation/ yoga. If we set aside time for silence and meditation every day, we will find inner peace and an awareness of our own divinity.

I suppose it is superfluous to say I don’t agree any of these are real solutions (although some of them seem to have elements of truth). Many of these have been tried and found lacking.

Our Masses could definitely do with a big helping of beauty (I still cringe through most music selections). But I’ve heard of many ‘traditionalist Latin Mass Catholics’ who seem to lean towards exclusivity and being judgmental, so apparently beauty doesn’t protect from that. Truth and a love for and an understanding of truth are hugely important. But I’ve come across plenty of apologists who are obsessed with truth over love, and don’t seem to be drawing people into anything except an argument (that was me once upon a time).

Selfless service to humanity is one of the most desperately needed and Christ-like ways to live. Yet humanists seem to rely on their own inner goodness, which unfortunately falls short too often, and all too soon we come face to face with the selfishness and fickleness of most people, and even ourselves (if we’re honest), leading to disillusioned and cynical ex-do-gooders. Those who regularly practise some form of meditation do seem to have an edge over the rest, because silence is a good place to start to know ourselves and God. But too often meditation and yoga can only help with an experience, not a real transformation of the heart or the world.


So what has my brilliant INTJ-brain come up with as the two big missing pieces?

1. Entering into a personal relationship with Jesus and becoming intentional disciples

Yeah, yeah, sounds obvious. But it isn’t! From my experience, most Catholics are either unfamiliar or uncomfortable with talking about God as if He is a Person that they know. Ask a Catholic, “What has God been saying to you recently?” and see if that question confuses and confounds them. The bigger problem is that no one asks that question in Catholic circles.

And what is this concept of ‘discipleship’? It means being a Catholic is more than just a side hobby for one’s life. Full disclosure: I’m on Catholic dating website, and too many profiles seem to be of young men who seem to belong to a Catholic club that adds an interesting element to their normal life of job, family, travel and hobbies. But being a CHRISTIAN is so much more!

Like the motto of one community I’ve been involved with: “All of my life for the rest of my life.” It means re-ordering EVERYTHING in one’s life and seeking God’s will in everything. How many Catholics are truly willing to ask God what HIS plan is for their lives, rather than telling Him their plan and asking Him to bless it? How many are willing to ask GOD if they should have another child, or give up a lucrative job opportunity or a promotion, whether they should emigrate, or spend their leisure time differently, or change how they spend their pay cheque?

The true disciple says, “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go, do whatever you want me to do, say whatever you want me to say, and give up whatever you want me to give up.” 

I see the obvious lack of this element everywhere I go – Catholics on social media are quite happy to talk or share posts about theology, apologetics, devotions, saints, chastity or virtues. But I have rarely comes across any who talk about their own walk with God. Same for priests in their homilies. We hear tips for self-improvement, generic exhortations to love others and be better people, sometimes good theology, but I have rarely heard a priest talk about how God has convicted him in prayer. Youth groups are about personality development and a platform to showcase our talents, instead of falling in love with Jesus. No wonder people leave the Church- they have not yet met the God we talk so much about!



2. A life lived closely to the poor: 

I HAVE met many Catholics who have fallen in love with Jesus and talk about Him in a personal and intimate way. Almost all of them have had a personal encounter with Jesus through the Charismatic renewal. I can pretty easily spot those who have – and it’s not the ‘Hallelujah’s and ‘Praise the Lord’s they shout at random moments. Just kidding, most don’t do that.


But I do see a comfort with prayer and God’s Word, they are often in Adoration chapels, they are not visibly uncomfortable with the concept of evangelization, they often seem more open and interested in what God is doing in the world today. Other Catholics often seem more cynical and negative, or more comfortable with Christianity as a theory, not a love affair.

But. Too many Christians who are into their faith still stop short of a truly obedient counter-cultural witness to the world – the witness of a life lived in solidarity with the poor. I don’t mean that Christians are not generous to the poor. Many are – they will write cheques, create foundations, sponsor orphans. The Catholic Church is one of the biggest charities in the world.

But most of us want to remain in our comfortable bubbles, our social circles of equally privileged friends and family and communities. We do our bible studies and prayer meetings and conferences and retreats. And we give a small percentage, making sure that it will not affect our hobbies and lifestyles. We live in our (sometimes metaphorical) gated communities occasionally making a quick awkward visit to an orphanage at Christmas, and then rush back to our comfy lives and our ministry among those like us. Gospel poverty is for a select few, we say, like Mother Teresa. 

James 2: 15- 17 says, "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." That's not really an if. Our brothers and sisters ARE naked and DO lack daily food."


If we unstop our ears, we can hear clearly that God is calling us to far more. Pope Francis, Mother Teresa, most of the saints, the words of Scripture shout out plainly that unless we prioritise the poor, we are far from the Kingdom of God. As long as the poor continue to suffer, and we Christians continue to go about our business, our witness will never have power.


I speak prophetic words here – if each of us individual Catholics, as well as our parishes and communities and youth groups will give our HEARTS to God (not just our intellectual assent) to enter a real relationship with Him, and pledge Him unreserved obedience, and if we will give up our privilege to help carry a small part of the burden of a suffering world, making friendship with the poor a normal part of our lives, we will begin to see REAL renewal in the Church. 

No more lip service or hypocrisy, but an unquenchable fire; an irresistible attraction to a world that is looking for authentic witness; power to our words about the saving power of Jesus Christ; a real joy and peace that the world cannot steal or replicate; spiritual fruitfulness, conversions, and visible signs and wonders.

I speak so confidently because I have a seen a small portion of the Church live this life of radical discipleship and gospel poverty, and I can see the difference in their lives. They still have problems and suffering, but their lives shine with Gospel joy. I know it’s easy to write about, and far more challenging to live out (don’t tell me, I’m still working on it). But let’s begin by admitting we have a problem, and asking God to show us the next step.

Highly Recommended Reading

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell
Happy Are You Poor by Fr. Thomas Dubay
A Poor Priest for the Poor: The Life of Fr. Rick Thomas SJ by Richard Dunstan
Divine Renovation by Fr. James Mallon
The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Stearns
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne



Sunday, 13 May 2018

For Those Who Don’t Have Loving Mothers


Yes, we all know it’s Mother’s Day. I’ve been seeing ads for days for the perfect mother’s day gift, and today my Facebook feed blew up with pictures of everyone with their mothers. Even the priest at Mass this morning extolled the virtues of mothers in his homily.

It made me wonder – what about those who have never had that kind of relationship in their lives? There is an assumption that EVERYONE has a mother. Everyone has had someone who has given birth to them, but many have not had a loving, stable mother relationship in their lives.

I don’t mean the people who have lost their mothers. Most of them have at least their memories, their belief that their mom is still loving them from heaven. But there are some who have never known that kind of love.

Not all mothers have lived up to the standard of motherhood that the world presents as the norm. Not all mothers have loved unconditionally. Too many mothers have compared their children unfavourably to others, wished they were fairer, smarter, or a different sex. Too many have reminded their children again and again that they are disappointments. Too many have looked at their children and seen their own failures. Some children have never felt seen and valued just as they are.

Not all mothers have been a stable presence. Some have abandoned their children. Some have had fluctuating moods and tempers, sometimes mentally unstable, sometimes even abusive. Some have been slaves to their own addictions, and have been more of the child than the mother in their relationship with their children.

Not all mothers have been affectionate and loving. Some have been cold and critical, doing to their children what their parents did to them. Some have been emotionally manipulative, only pleasant when they get their way, withholding affection when they haven’t. Some have been just emotionally unavailable, unable to say a kind, affirming word, or offer an affectionate physical touch.

Not all mothers have been a safe haven, a welcoming embrace. Instead they have been demanding, pushy, and accusing. No choice has been safe from criticism. They may still be trying to control their adult children, criticizing their bodies, their parenting skills, their life choices, and their beliefs. Every encounter has left their child feeling shaky and insecure.

For those who do not have loving mother-relationships, Mother’s Day must be salt in the wound. If this is you, I want you to know you are not forgotten, and you are not alone. Our hearts were made for a safe mother-love, and to be deprived of that is cruel and painful, and the effect of the ugliness of sin in the world.

But the love you crave is still available. God is not just Father, but has the tender, fiercely protective love of a mother too!

Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.
Isaiah 49: 15-16

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
Hosea 11:3-4

Mothers were not supposed to fail us, but reveal the love of God. But they often have. And God comes to redeem that ache.

Like a good mama, God’s embrace is always available to us, his love tender and compassionate. He does not wait for us to get our act together before He will love us. He is willing to give us second chances. He is gentle when we are wounded. He has compassion on our weakness. He will always be the shoulder we can lean on, the strong, steady and calm presence we crave.

As a Catholic, I know of an extra gift He gives us – Mary, who in a special way takes on this role of motherhood for all those who need a mother. She too has an embrace that takes everyone in. If you have struggled with your own mother, ask her to be your mother. I pray for all those who are aching with the pain of an unfulfilled desire for a mom, that you will crawl into the arms of Mary, and allow her to take you to God. His love is more than enough.

You are loved.



Thursday, 10 May 2018

Adventures, Discoveries and Lessons from a Month in America


Travel is a privilege! It’s not my first time abroad, but my first time was when I was 24, and I had never even been on a plane before that, so I am still VERY aware that this is never something to take for granted. Of course, I am trying to find a happy mean between being an intimidated newbie and a world-weary bored traveller. Airports used to be scary, but now I try to grit my teeth through security lines and immigration checks, and enjoy the people-watching, and unabashed introvert time of movies and food on the long flights.

Life in the US is (for many people, and for ME), very, very comfortable- you can adjust the temperature inside your house so that the heat or the cold never have to affect you for very long; even churches are air-conditioned; most adults own their own cars; meat and cheese are not luxuries but part of a daily diet; houses are big; it’s not unusual to have your own bedroom; stores have EVERYTHING your flesh could desire; hot water flows 24-7 from faucets, you don’t have to worry about the hot water finishing as you shower; dishwashers and dryers make life so much easier. I loved it all! My flesh LOVES comfort.

Like Saint Paul, I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned not to hold on too tight to the good things I received, and I’m grateful to have returned to a life of simplicity and routine. I’m glad I didn’t stay too long. It’s too easy for me to start feeling like luxuries are necessities. The heat of the Indian summer has hit me like a brick, and I’m trying to remember that it is good to be in solidarity with the vast majority of the world that cannot adjust the temperature to their comfort.

But I sure enjoyed the cool weather and warm jackets in IL

Hospitality is one of the keys to changing the world. I spent ten days with the parents of one of my closest friends. They not just welcomed me into their home, but opened their hearts to me, treated me as their daughter, and graciously made me feel like I was doing THEM a favour by paying them a visit. We spent hours talking, as they shared marriage and family tips with me (no, I’m not getting married, I just love gathering those nuggets of wisdom). I was impressed by how well they kept their home, taking care to make it a place of beauty and welcome.

Not just a well-kept home, but an open heart

I realized how unhospitable I’ve been in my life - often vaguely resentful at having to adjust my life to look after guests, doing it, but grudgingly. Not to mention, not being the best housekeeper or homemaker. I want to be different. Receiving hospitality has made me want to work a little harder at keeping my home clean and beautiful, and being quick to receive people into my life and home, seeing it always as an opportunity to share the love of Christ. Reading this article also really convicted me - Rosaria Butterfield: Christian Hospitality Is Radically Different from ‘Southern Hospitality.

I discovered the joys of public libraries. How unbelievable it seems that there is a building full of books, set apart for ANYONE who wants to read or work in silence, and all for FREE. Is this heaven? What an amazing way to bring up children – just take them to the library and set them free! There was even an entire section just for children, areas for storytelling and book clubs. If there was anything that would make me crave a life in the US (or similar countries), it would be public libraries. I had an inner battle trying to reconcile my desire for the obvious good of the availability of books and libraries with my call to serve the poor and live a simple life – it seemed like these two lives and desires are irreconcilable.

Is this heaven?

But then in conversation with my mum, it came to me – bring this good thing TO the poor. I don’t know how exactly – how cool would it be to start a library close to the slums or poorer areas and then welcome children from all backgrounds into it, giving them a quiet place to read, study or work, something they may not have in their normal home lives. Someday. Meanwhile, I help out at the tiny library at the school where I serve.

Prayer and Mass are even more meaningful in a new place. It’s true that without a regular routine, prayer can be easy to forget or put off. But I found that I NEEDED that time with the Lord, quiet time, to love and be loved, to process everything that was happening, and to remember where my true Home was. I was blessed to find friends who would take me to daily Mass most days, and even in unfamiliar churches (where I still had to repress my urge to give people the namaste sign at the Sign of Peace because in my mind the namaste sign IS the Sign of Peace!), I found my Jesus waiting for me.

My frowny smile is my normal photo face, not fear of the evil crawfish face

New things are good! I have grown so much from the scared, over-cautious Sue of the past. I tried new things, met new people, and took calculated risks. I tried crawfish (and enjoyed it in spite of its sinister appearance), I walked 10 km by the Mississippi (somehow picturing the world of Tom Sawyer, but of course I was 180 years too late), I went thrift shopping and discovered that when prices are dirt cheap, apparently I DON’T hate shopping, I even went on a date (which didn’t lead to anything more, but scared-to-go-to-Mumbai-by-herself 20 year old Sue is impressed by going-on-a-date-in-a-foreign-country 32 year old Sue). '

Some of those awesome old friends

Old friends are an incomparable blessing. I got to spend time with many old friends, talking and sharing and telling stories, and laughing, going deeper and having those REAL conversations, rejoicing at each other’s milestones and victories, sharing the pain and confusion of unfulfilled desires and uncertain futures. I danced at their weddings, played with their babies, and ate meals at their homes. What a gift!


But I’m glad to be home. With all its discomforts and challenges (40 degrees weather anyone?), home is still home. Home is people I love, family time, seeing how much fatter my tiny niece has become, the familiarity of the crowded city, chores and housework to be done in my own apartment, work that I love, and exciting plans and schedules for the second half of the year. Adventures are good, but faithfulness and normal life is better.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Subtle and Appealing Evil of Thanos


DING DING DING AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR SPOILER ALERT!!!! DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED IT YET AND ARE PLANNING TO.

Also disclaimer: I am NOT a Marvel expert. Haven’t read any of the comic books, can’t remember the plots of most of the movies, or how they connect with each other. I’m just the average lay(wo)man who enjoys a good superhero movie. Usually.

As any INTJ does immediately after (and often during) a movie, I looked up reviews of Avengers: Infinity War on Tuesday night. It was partly because I was MAD at the ending, and I wanted to find some other irate viewers to grumble with. “If I wanted to watch a TV show with an incomplete story line, I would WATCH a TV show with an incomplete story line, where you get the next instalment the following week. I expect closure at the end of a movie! And good to prevail! And evil to be defeated! I seriously have to wait for another year for that? I might just as well have waited and watched both movies together.”

I’m also mad at all the people who watched it and didn’t give me any warning that this was very likely not something many people would enjoy. But apparently most of the online world are suckers and no one wants to tell the Emperor he hasn’t got any clothes on, so I will be the one. That was stupid, Marvel Studios! (Although we do know that they have to make a way to make all the characters who died un-die – just look at the cast list of the next Avengers’ movie, not to mention the existence of an Infinity stone that can manipulate time.)

Anyway, speaking of evil prevailing, I found that a lot of people really liked Thanos, the arch-villain in Infinity War. He was not the typical blustering, or maniacal laughter-spewing, or cold, or obviously power-hungry villains of other movies. He was soft-spoken, betrayed a soft spot for his adopted daughter, Gamora, and had a very reasonable explanation for his choice to kill.

His reason is what makes Thanos the most appealing in the eyes of many today, and the most repelling to me. Quite simply his argument was- the universe was in danger of destruction because of overpopulation, so the most merciful and just thing to do was to wipe out half of the universe’s population randomly.

Too many people have used the idea of overpopulation or the survival of the species as a way to justify too many horrific things including genocide, abortion, or to mock or joke about or even desire others’ deaths, especially the deaths of those we consider our opponents, or those who do ill-considered things (ha ha nature’s way of weeding out the stupid), or those who disagree with our politics or beliefs, or those who commit evil acts, and often those who are mentally unstable. I remember being shocked when I read Jean Webster’s Dear Enemy, where a likable and logical and kind protagonist chattily asserts very obviously eugenic views, that it would be better if mentally or criminally-inclined children (defectives!!!) never lived at all… killed as babies? I can’t remember.

As a Christian, one of the foundations of my belief system is that EVERY PERSON HAS WORTH no matter their age, mental or physical capacity, past or future sins, and no matter how many resources they consume. EVERY PERSON also has free will, the capacity for great good, and unknown potential (for example, the potential to discover the cure for cancer, to change the course of history in little or big ways). EVERY PERSON is an unrepeatable and unique and irreplaceable creation. They are far far more than just a consumer of resources. When we lose sight of the value of the human person, we let evil in.

As pope, John Paul II would continue to insist that the extraordinary brutality of the 20th century was due to an unwillingness to recognize the inherent value of the human person, who is made in the image and likeness of God, who confers upon it inalienable rights that can neither be bestowed nor withdrawn by any human power. “The human person,” he proclaims, “receives from God its essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move toward truth and goodness” (Centesimus Annus, No. 38.1). (Article from America magazine) 

What follows from that belief is that no matter how high-minded your goals, it is never right to take the life of another (except in self-defence). For those who sympathize with Thanos’ motivation, and think perhaps the world would be better with perhaps half of its population disappearing into dust, it might be good to consider – do you think you, or your children, or those you love should just disappear? Or is it always some vague faceless unnamed ‘other’ who should die to guarantee the survival of the world?

The ‘world’ is PEOPLE.

But what if everyone is going to die if we don’t kill off a few? The truth is still the truth – it is better to die than to kill.

But here’s the other creepy thing about Thanos. Remember the scene on the mountain top at Vormir? The only way for him to get the infinity stone on was by sacrificing the one he loves. Did it touch your heart that it turns out he loved his adopted daughter, Gamora?

I call BS!! If he REALLY loved his daughter he would never have killed her. I’ve seen this theme in other movies where villains talk about the need for sacrifice for some higher goal. How come they are always sacrificing SOMEONE ELSE? Heroes and superheroes in contrast always offer to sacrifice themselves.

What about God sending his son Jesus to die for the world? Isn’t that the same thing? Nope- Jesus clearly said, “I lay down my life, no one takes it from me.” If Gamora had CHOSEN to die for the sake of the greater good or even out of love for ONE person, that would have been love. Feeling sad as you kill the one you have softer feelings for is not love, Thanos! Love is willing what is best for the other.

In conclusion, I did like the portrayal of Thanos in the movie. But I think some people missed the point. Just because evil comes in a soft-spoken, logical-sounding guise, does not make it any less evil.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Broken Phones and Unknown Futures


A couple of days ago I broke my phone. Again. It just slipped out of my hand… Okay, let’s be honest, I was juggling too many things, didn’t want to bother putting them down, and trying to open a door that was stuck, so of course I dropped it. I’ve dropped it several times over the past two years that I’ve owned it, but the case always seemed to protect it. Not this time. This time the screen turned to white. The phrase that flashed across my mind was one I had seen the last time I googled broken iPhones. It’s an ominous phrase….

The White Screen of Death. (shudder)

I was on my way to my prayer time on the back porch looking over the gorgeous woods in one corner of South Louisiana. I have recently been using an app called Pray As You Go to help focus my scattered brain during my prayer time. But now of course my phone was dead.

The last time this happened I freaked out. My phone is like my portable office. It has my means of communication with the world, my email, my contacts, my photos and videos. I’m in a foreign country, my phone (plus wifi) is my lifeline. Whatsapp! Everything happens on Whatsapp! That day I was planning to use the phone to record interviews for a project I’m working on. And now, it was all dead. So the last time (a few days earlier), I spent the morning googling how to fix it, trying to figure out how much it would cost to repair (too much), emailing everyone to say I was off Whatsapp, posting on facebook and asking for prayers. And worrying, worrying, thinking of what I should do, how I would manage without it.

Yes, I know I may be too attached to my phone, but it was a real problem! I didn’t have a back up phone. I only have an iPhone because it’s third-hand and a friend gave it to me.

The last time it broke, it had weird white lines across the screen, and when I switched it off and tried to turn it back on, nothing happened. I did it again and again, nothing. Google had nothing helpful for me. And then a few hours later, I tried one more time, and it came on… with a white film over the screen, that gradually faded. True miracle story.

Anyway this time it was just the White Screen of Death, and nothing else. But something miraculous happened. I did not freak out. I didn’t rush to tell anyone, or google it. I continued with my plan of having my prayer time, even without an audio bible reading and reflection (What?? People can pray without any tools??) I walked around the beautiful green yard with the crisp cool air and the welcome warmth of the sunshine on my face. I picked a flower. And I felt a deep sense of peace.

I didn’t know what I should do. I had no guarantee it would ever turn on again, let alone in time for my interview in an hour. There had to be a solution, but I didn’t know what it was yet. And yet I was at peace.

And then it hit me – THIS is what it means to trust in God’s promises, and to be a woman of faith. I’ve often struggled with that. I both loved and hated this verse: ‘Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was promised to her by the Lord.’ Luke 1:45

“I’d love to believe Your promises, God… but what are they exactly? You never guaranteed that we would get everything we wanted, that life would go exactly the way we wanted. People have trusted you and still been martyred, people have trusted you and still suffered the loss of loved ones, people have trusted you and still remained childless or spouseless. So what exactly am I trusting? Or hoping for? Or believing?”

Too many people act as if getting what they want is the prize for trusting God.

But today I realized… trusting God meant trusting Him to provide an unknown good outcome. It doesn’t mean the elimination of hardships and trials (like the MASSIVE TRIAL OF LIVING WITHOUT A PHONE <--sarcasm), it doesn’t mean the complexities of the human condition and situations just disappear. I hate it when people just over-simplify everything and close their eyes to real complicated situations.

BUT. God’s promise is that He WILL work it out. That everything is going to be okay. That we WILL ultimately be happy. That He will never abandon us. That our lives are full of hope even when we don’t get exactly what we want. That He will provide answers, even if they’re not the ones we expected.

But here’s the bigger one. He promised that HE HIMSELF will be our prize, that He will satisfy our desires with HIMSELF. If we think any human gift is more attractive than Heaven is, it is because we still have not glimpsed or tasted the love of Christ, or we have forgotten.

I don’t know what my future holds. It has been frustrating sometimes to not know. I am unmarried, so I don’t have the stability or permanence of family life (though families tell me their lives have as many questions). I am an itinerant full-time volunteer, moving to different homes and cities, travelling more than I’d prefer. I’ve worked with so many different people and projects and kids in so many different ways. Where will I be ten years from now? What will I be doing? I have no idea. There are so many factors out of my control. But I can trust that it will be an unknown GOOD future. It will have joys, it will have struggles. But I know Who will still be at my side, and I know life with Him is more than enough.

After I finished praying that day, I went in to do the interview. I decided to plug my phone into my laptop, just to see. And yes, it just turned on. I’m glad I didn’t waste the previous hour worrying. And I refuse to spend my current life worrying about everything. God’s going to work it all out beautifully, as He does for anyone who seeks Him, walks with Him and trusts Him.