Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Are You Going to a Christmas Dance?

First of all, I would like to go on record to say that I have no objection to fun (the concept or the music group).

Nor do I think celebrations or parties are evil. (Except if by parties you mean drunken lust-saturated revelries.)

I do not believe that fun = going straight to the devil. I take leave to disagree with certain saints who were anti-dancing. (Guess what, saints’ opinions aren't infallible, which is good because otherwise the fact that different saints sometimes contradict each other would be a bigger deal than it is.)

I don’t even think alcohol is the devil's brew. (Which is a shocker for those who know I don’t drink any alcohol except Bailey’s, and probably assumed I have a moral objection to all alcohol.) But of course, moderation.

 GK Chesterton, awesome as always

As a Catholic, I believe there is place for both feasting and fasting. And Christmas is definitely the time for celebrations, feasting and joy.

But. But. But.

You knew there would be a but, didn't you?

In my city, Christmas is celebrated by many Catholics in pretty expected ways- there’s Midnight Mass (or Christmas Day Mass if you’re old and cold), there’s a family lunch celebration which usually includes sorpotel if you’re Goan, and roast chicken with stuffing if you’re my family... and then there’s the Christmas dance/ball/party in the night.

Christmas lunch with family (Don't even ask about the hats)

Christmas dances are quite often organized by the parishes, or the PGI (Poona Goan Institute) or private individuals. They involve DJs, loud music, drunk people, fancy clothes (quite often the shortest skirts, the lowest tops and the most non-existent backs, yay Indian Catholics), food, drink and dancing. Most people from my social world go to these parties, because they want to do SOMETHING on Christmas night, and that’s where all their friends will be.

So what’s my problem?

Quite simply, the fact that these are ‘rich people’ events. With the passes, the clothes, the shoes, the food and the alcohol, you may land up spending thousands of rupees. A lot of people I know are very well-to-do. They are earning well, so they are used to spending a lot. Eating out at restaurants very often, a lot of movies, every new model of their phone of choice as it comes out, nice cars, etc. They are also very generous.

The thing is, we’re called to give till it hurts, not give a little, but make sure I have enough for all my expensive habits and hobbies. To be trite, Christians are called to live simply, so others can simply live. We’re not called to give a lot. We’re called to give everything. As much as we can. The only eternal value our money has is when we use it for love of others.

 And no, I don't think buying Toms really counts

I've been reading most of the Advent readings from Mass and from the Liturgy of the Hours. One of the big themes of Advent seems to be ‘justice’. You probably know that we’re not just waiting for or commemorating the First Coming of Jesus, but the Second Coming too... you know when ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.’
‘The Savior will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. He will address those who committed outrages against him... and will remind them: You did these things and I was silent. His first coming was to fulfil his plan of love, to teach men by gentle persuasion. This time, whether men like it or not, they will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity... ‘ Cyril of Jerusalem (313 – 386 AD) 
What outrages? ‘I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink’ (Matt 25: 42) ‘There was rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.’ (Lk 16:19-20)

If Jesus’ Second Coming happened to be on December 25th, 2013, what would he find us doing or being? How would He expect His believers to be celebrating? How can I glorify God even in my celebrations, ESPECIALLY when I’m celebrating the birth of the King of Justice?

Picture this:

Rich people eating and drinking at parties that cost hundreds or thousands of rupees, while AT OUR GATE lie communities of people shivering in the cold, eating their meagre meals cooked over open fires on the street.

Migrant labourers living down the street from my parents' home

Does this look like justice to you?

Okay, I guess you can tell I’m pretty fired up about this. You might say, “Well, Sue, so what are YOU going to do about it?” Good question.

This year, I’m not going to an expensive party, but I am going to celebrate, both with my friends and with the poor. I’m planning to invite anyone who doesn't have the money, or doesn't feel comfortable spending a lot of money on the professional parties, to come over to my apartment for some singing, dancing, Bananagrams, Pictionary, Christmas charades, hot chocolate, and food. Each one could bring something to add to the dinner. But before we eat, we are going to buy some packed hot biriyani meals (with the money we would have spent on a party), and take it to the poor community living AT OUR GATE (yeah, I know I’m doing the caps thing again, it’s called emphasis).

I know that making choices like this sometimes comes across as judgmental to people who ARE going to those expensive parties. And I know that I’m not really in a position to judge, because I know exactly how selfish I am. I know people can have other reasons for going to parties like that- maybe they feel like it’s very important for them to be with their non-Christian friends who ARE planning to be at those parties. Or maybe they have been giving away a lot of their income to the poor, and living simply otherwise, so they are okay with splurging this one time.

But maybe they’ve never thought about this. Following Christ means more than paying him lip service, or showing up at Church or even having a personal prayer time. It means holding up our every decision and plan to the light of Truth and judging them based not on our world’s standards, but by His.

And sometimes that means making new Christmas plans.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Reflecting on the Immaculate Conception

(via catholicmemes.com)

It's the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary! A pretty big feast in the Catholic Church. Just for you, here's what this feast does NOT mean:

It does not mean that Mary was born without her parents having sex. That was Jesus, whose conception we celebrate at the Annunciation. (Also the virgin birth does not mean Catholics think sex is bad. Quite the contrary.)

It does not mean Mary was so perfect that Jesus didn't have to save her. She was conceived in a state of grace, because Jesus saved her BEFOREHAND. That's crazy, you say? Well, since God works outside of time, he kinda isn't controlled by our conceptions of time. (I wonder whether my fascination with time travel movies and predestination are connected.)

The reason we believe she was immaculately conceived is because the bible, Tradition and reason lead us to believe so. Since she was to carry the Holiest of Holies, God Himself, she was prepared to be a holy, pure and thus worthy Tabernacle.

Here's a slightly more detailed explanation. And another one.

Sometimes Mary has seemed kind of distant and un-relatable to me. She seemed so perfect as to be devoid of any human weakness. Most of the pictures I've seen of her didn't help. She seemed distant, cold, emotionless.

But over the years, I've come to know a little of the real human and yet sinless Mary, especially when I've been struggling.

And today when I was reflecting on the Immaculate Conception, I realized something else. Sinless doesn't mean she wasn't human, or that she had no human weaknesses.

She was tired. She probably dropped things. She might have been clumsy. (Full of grace didn't mean physically graceful.) She probably had stomach aches and headaches and blisters and morning sickness. She must have laughed a lot. Maybe she was a little girl who daydreamed. She probably gazed in wonder at a beautiful sunset. She might have danced and definitely sang.

She definitely had moments where she said, "God, what are You doing? Is this really Your plan?" She must have gazed with joy at her Baby, and kissed His plump tummy. She must have thrown Him up in the air. (Or maybe she looked on smiling and half-protesting when Joseph did.)  She must have mothered the neighbourhood kids too. She was ever Mother. Maybe she cooked well. Maybe she burned the food sometimes.  She must have had friends, who she opened her heart to.

She said 'Yes' once at the Annunciation, but she must have had to say many more 'Yeses' every day till the end of her life. She must have cried. She must have been scared sometimes. She probably had 'up' days and 'down' days. Maybe she felt angry. (Be angry, but do not sin.) Maybe she felt hurt. Maybe some days she sang aloud as she worked.

She was a real woman,  a girl who lived in the real world. She didn't sin, with the help of God's grace. All that meant is that she chose to trust Him, and to keep herself open to His grace. God gave her a special grace at the moment of her conception, and through her life she she fully accepted and embraced His gift of grace.

I didn't always realize it, but Mama Mary really is a gift not only to the Church, but to me personally. Maybe someday I'll share how.

Madonna with the Christ Child 
(via commons.wikimedia.org)

Happy feast.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Yeah, God Really Speaks To Me

... but not always when I want Him too. And not always with the kind of message I want to hear.

Last week I was asked to give a talk about using our words to glorify God. I had to cover stuff I had heard before... how criticizing people, speaking negatively, talking about people's problems or issues, complaining, or gossiping could really hurt and even destroy relationships.

Anyone who knows me well knows that ME speaking about this proves God has a sense of humour. If there is a vast expanse of white sheet and a black spot on it, I need to exhaustively talk about the black spot, analyze its reasons for being there and point it out to anyone who's willing to listen (and anyone who isn't). If I have a little paper cut, I feel like it's worth sharing with everyone who asks me how I am. It takes a lot for me to wholeheartedly praise a person. Sometimes I want to physically leave a talk or a show (or a homily, but I resist the temptation) because I feel like it's so badly done.

I have justified having a critical mind. But as I studied the outline of the talk I was going to give, I was convicted again. It's so easy to say I'm being 'realistic' when I'm just being negative. It's easy to make up reasons why it's not a big deal for me to 'analyze' someone... out loud, to the people who have to live with me. It's actually a lot harder just to keep my mouth shut when an uncharitable thought pops into my head. Especially when I feel like I'm justified.

Anyway giving the talk reminded me that negativity, pessimism and judging have no place in the life of a Christian. And realism is not equal to negativity. Because perspective actually does matter.

In case I didn't get the message, God re-sent it. I came home, opened my Facebook and saw this:

(Not sure what the protocol on screenshots of other people's statuses is, but I blacked out names just in case. Excpet for Joseph Prever. Because he has a public blog, and can be followed on FB by strangers.)

Joseph Prever (this feels weird, I still think of him as Steve Gershom) doesn't usually write posts like this. But this was a down to earth, very practical post with some very insightful reasons not to gossip-

  • When you say bad things about somebody, especially somebody that I don’t know very well, it makes it more likely that I will grow to hate them a little more. You are teaching me how to hate that person. 
  • When you say good things about somebody, especially somebody that I don’t know very well, it makes it more likely that I will grow to love them. You are teaching me how to love that person better. 
  • I am good at discovering the evil in other people. I don’t need your help. If it’s true that they’re bad, I’ll probably find out for myself. 
  • I’m not nearly as good at discovering the good in other people. I need your help to do that. If it’s true that they’re good, I might never notice it unless you show me.

(Read the rest here.)

I have probably influenced so many people through my life... and often negatively. And quite often the negative aspects of people's personalities that I feel I MUST comment on, most likely have a good side. Someone who I call 'bossy' could also be called 'willing to take the lead and get things done'. A 'mousy' person may just be 'quieter and better at listening'. A 'people-pleaser' may be 'sensitive to people's feelings'.

I'm not saying that my negative conclusions don't have an element of truth in them. But words have power- that means if I voice a negative judgement about a person, I am more likely to start seeing them differently, treating them differently, and waiting for them to prove that they are as bad as I thought them to be. And so do the people who heard my assessment. And if criticized people hear or feel my judgement, they are more likely to see themselves like that, and behave like that. How often have you noticed yourself behaving the way you think people see you?

So. Advent resolution. 'If you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all.' And if you CAN say something good, SAY IT!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Castle- Pros and Cons

Have you noticed how much I love listing pros and cons? That's how we INTJs roll.

So. Castle. I realize that this post would be of no interest to non-Castle viewers, but it's my blog, so I can write what I want. Ha hah. Feel free to skip.

I started watching Castle a month ago or so, and loved it at first. Here's why (the pros)-

1. I love the breezy, happy vibe. Even though it's all about solving gory murder mysteries, they don't seem to let dead bodies get in the way of the light-hearted feel. Perfect for unwinding at the end of a day, and not adding any stress or worry or things to mull over to my mind. Movies like Blood Diamond, and even Gray's Anatomy did. They think and talk about REAL issues (whether or not you agree with their conclusions). Castle doesn't really.

2. I love (most of) Castle's unconventional one-liners. You know when you've watched a bunch of detective/police shows, you know exactly what the expected and typical lines are going to be. And they have those lines... followed by Castle's ridiculous comments.
BECKETT Okay, Mr. Mystery-Writer-Man, what's your bestselling theory?
CASTLE I'm gonna go with the butler.
BECKETT The butler? (There IS no butler.)
CASTLE That's who we always go with when we run out of ideas. How about Alexis? (That's his teenage daughter, a main character on the show)
BECKETT Oh, Alexis.
CASTLE She's perfect. She's peripheral to the case, we don't suspect her, she has no alibi...

A show that actually makes me laugh aloud with it's dialogue, is a show I'm probably going to watch more of.

3. Beckett is cute, and makes me think of Laura Holt from Remington Steele.

Even the Castle-Beckett  relationship is kinda similar to the Remington Steele-Laura Holt dynamic. Smart, strong woman, and flirtatious, funny and slightly clueless but cute sidekick guy.

4. Growing up on Agatha Christie mysteries has given me a taste for those kind of shows. Plus one gets to mildly exercise the little gray cells and figure out the murderer and the motive before they reveal it to you, I mean, one. And then if one does, one can feel smart. A definite pro.

BUT THEN (the Cons):

1. Have you noticed those extremely creepy innuendo-loaded comments Castle keeps making to Beckett? How is that okay? I'd probably yell 'sexual harassment' if any guy said that to me. Fine, I know, some people call that flirting, but they sound  perverted to me. And I don't feel like it fits with his character really. Yes, he's flirtatious, but he's also a good dad, and supposedly a decent guy. I guess the show writers have a new meaning of what a decent guy is like.

The question is, how do you like the guy, and dislike some of his comments? I guess if he was a friend, I'd still like him, but I'd let him know his comments are out of line. Unfortunately you can't do that with a TV show character. It's take it or leave it... you can't give feedback.

2. Also in the last show I watched he jumps into bed with some actress who is trying to use him, which he only finds out in the end. Fine, people make mistakes, but he's supposedly attracted/ in love with Beckett. Real trustworthy actions there. I guess again, people equate sleeping together with having a mild infatuation with someone. And the worst of it was, he ends the show telling the actress, "Use me any time you want to." WHAT? Really! Grr. Lust vs. Love 101! And then the grandmother who is supposed to be the fun type, has dates that lead to one night stands.. that's when their fun, lighthearted vibe rings false. Yes, those things happen, but they're not just a normal part of life, like spilling hot coffee on yourself or misjudging a new guy that you meet. I mean, how do things go so far? How has casual sex become such a 'normal' mistake to make? And why don't we ever see the real consequences of irresponsible choices?

3. After a little while you realize that most of the cast are not super awesome actors. The two cops who they work with ALWAYS have the same expression on their faces. Esposito ALWAYS says 'Yo', and Ryan ALWAYS looks confused. Captain Montgomery (I had to look up all their names) has no personality whatsoever, and is VERY predictably frowny and you'd-better-solve-this-case-pronto most of the time.

4. Beckett is often mean. When she's interrogating people, she uses such a sharp tone. I watch her, and I'm afraid that's how I come across to people too. She's always efficient, always crisp, often superior and mocking, always rolling her eyes at Castle's stupidity... and it just seems like her character doesn't show depth or authenticity. There has to be more to the woman than that.

5. Even though I often love Castle's lines, his and Beckett's interaction often lack subtlety. There find out something shocking or new, and they both turn their heads and stare at each other with exaggeratedly shocked faces. And then they say obvious things like, "Looks like we got the wrong guy!"  C'mon. Subtlety, people!

Okay, finished analyzing a show that most of my readers probably don't watch, and probably don't care about. Happy Tuesday!