Sunday, June 30, 2013

What is up with Psalm 149?

Recently, we've had a few opportunities to pray with Psalm 149 in Morning Prayer. I always find that Psalm kind of jarring. We start with "singing a new song" and we end up being "honored" to kill and imprison a lot a people.

My inner wanna-be Bible scholar told me it has to be about the exile and I was right. First, let's look at the Psalm:
Sing a new song to the Lord,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its maker,
let Zion’s sons exult in their king.
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation.
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips
and a two-edged sword in their hand,
to deal out vengeance to the nations
and punishment on all the peoples;
to bind their kings in chains
and their nobles in fetters of iron;
to carry out the sentence pre-ordained;
this honor is for all his faithful.
Yes, we recite the whole Psalm in Morning Prayer. It's a short one. Here's where I get confused:

This awful little hymn (pardon the use of the HOLY NAME, by the way) is a cheery little number that was used all the freakin' time at my last parish. To think that this song is followed by blood shed is kind of crazy.

Yesterday, I bought my new favorite book

It's commentary on Psalm 149 is illuminating
An exilic or post-exilic psalm, depending on whether the event envisioned has already taken place or is yet to come. The event is God's deliverance of His people from exile and their restoration to Judah. The psalm envisions a reversal whereby Israel is the victor and its enemies the vanquished. The threefold repetition of the faithful emphasizes loyalty to God.
This gives us some essential clues as to what we are supposed to get out of this Psalm. As the Israelite were in exile, so are we in exile in a foreign land. Our true home is Heaven (Philippians 3:20) so we are, in a sense, exiles waiting to return.

In a Christian reading of the Psalm, this reversal is of the righteous and the unrepentant sinner. As the righteous now suffers, they will be vindicated. As many unrepentant sinners now live comfortable lives, they will be punished.

No, we are not supposed to rejoice in the pain of our enemies (Matthew 5:44). The end of this psalm is supposed to bother us if we are truly trying to imitate Jesus. It is part of our job on earth to  help make sure that other people make it to Heaven (Matthew 5:19). We don't want others to be put into chains. That's a normal, good response to this psalm. This psalm should lead us to prayer for those who aren't following God's will.

St. Gertrude the Great, pray for us

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #5: Grace Abounds

This summer, I'm participating in an online book club reading Sherry Weddell's book, Forming Intentional Disciples. It's hosted by and it's never too late to join us!

An issue that the youth minister at my parish and I have talked about ad nauseum is teenagers and confirmation. Namely, all of the parents who see confirmation as a rite of passage that the teen has to go through whether they like it or not.

This topic also came up in my Bible study one time and it was enlightening. Many of the women in my Bible study were in this camp. They were of the opinion of "We had to do it, so should they." Also, the mentality that Wendell speaks about in the book of "The Sacrament will take care of anything lacking in intention." I had to bite my tongue not to say something I would later regret.
As a convert, I do have a very different relationship with the sacraments. I received Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion all in the same ceremony after 16 months or so of preparation. Before even entering a Catholic Church, I had looked for God for at least a decade of my life. I journaled every day for the month prior to the rites, examining my life up to that point and thinking about what the rites meant to me. My family isn't Catholic, the rites weren't part of my family heritage or hoops to jump through.
I wish I had this chapter with me when this conversation at my Bible study occurred. I wonder if this chapter could stand alone for copies to be given to all parents of the teens going into confirmation. (Sherry, I know you read some of these, can we get permission to do that?) To be honest, this idea of the two parts of the Sacraments was not brought up in my theological studies. But, then again, my specialty was Bible not Liturgy, so they might have covered this, but not in any of the classes I took.
The standard practice at my parish is that every teen going for confirmation has to have an interview with the youth minister. If in the course of that interview, the teen expresses that they do not want to be confirmed and can give a good reason, the youth minister will call the parents in. The youth minister will then argue on the behalf of the teenager for the teenager's right to say "no."
In my classes with the Confirmation students, I share with them my conversion story. I try to make it clear to them that they have to want this. I also tell them it is not a one time deal, they can refuse and come back later. RCIA is always an option. Half of the candidates in the last RCIA class we had were young adults who had refused to get confirmed as teenagers and changed their minds as adults. Similarly, this is not "graduating Catholicism." There will always be new things to learn and new ways to grow in your relationship with Christ.
Like Bible Study
The women in my Bible study were full of beautiful stories about forcing their teens to be Confirmed and their kids then leave the faith only to they rediscover the faith later on in life. They all linked it back to the day they forced them to get Confirmed. They feel that if they didn't force their child to get Confirmed, they would have never returned to the Church.
The women might not be that far off the mark. They mistakenly think that the Sacrament works even if the person doesn't want it. However, once the person does want it, the grace that was previously blocked can begin to flow.
I am still of the opinion that Confirmation should be later, when the young adult can appreciate it more. I have heard, however, great arguments the other way. I just think it's a mess and a half to have these poorly catechized teenagers with hormones raging and the attention span of gnats go through a Sacrament that leaves a permanent mark on the soul. (I love my teens, but, holy cow, they can be difficult.)
Maybe an all around change in parish culture like that proposed in Forming Intentional Disciples could make the whole process go smoother and the teens would get more out of it. They would get better catechesis from the beginning. They would from day one be encouraged to have a more personal relationship with Jesus. Then the hormones and the attention span wouldn't be nearly the problem they are now and the grace can simply flow.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sacrifice of Praise?

Last Friday, at weekday Mass, Psalm 116 was used. In that Psalm, verse 17 goes as such:
I will offer a sacrifice of praise
and call on the name of the LORD.
 "Sacrifice of praise"? What the heck is that supposed to mean?

It seems contradictory to me. We praise God when we remember all of the blessings He has given us. So, what does sacrifice have to do with that? When I think sacrifice, I think of Lent. What does this mean?

That is when going to the footnotes is helpful. When I look at this verse in my Bible, it references me back to Leviticus 7:12. It says:
 If someone offers it for thanksgiving, that person shall offer it with unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes made of bran flour mixed with oil and well kneaded.
The whole passage is giving instructions on how to do a sacrifice in thanksgiving. It sounds remarkably like the Eucharist mainly because it involves unleavened bread.

Wait a sec, Eucharist? Do you know what that word means? Eucharist is Greek for "thanksgiving." We use that word mainly because in the Last Supper narratives, it says that Jesus gave thanks and broke the bread. So, in a sense, the Eucharist is a "sacrifice of praise."

And there that troublesome phrase appears again in Hebrews 13:15. In context:
The bodies of the animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come. Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind. -Hebrews 13:11-16
Our entire lives are to be a sacrifice of praise because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for us. We are supposed to live moral lives and care for the least of us. That is what a "sacrifice of praise" means.

What about times when a "sacrifice of praise" is hard to do? Here is a good article I found while researching this post that has helpful advice for those who find it difficult to offer one.

Here is a good Gospel song on the topic:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #4: And you get a charism, and you get a charism...

As near impossible as it is to switch gears after my post earlier this morning, I will try to share my thoughts on the third chapter of Sherry Weddell's book Forming Intentional Disciples. To read other reflections, go to It is never too late to join the discussion. Buy the book and tell us what you think today!
Today, I'm going to throw the script away. With all due respect to the hard working people at, I will not be answering the reflection questions they worked so hard on. I want to talk about charisms. While I have never been through the Called & Gifted program, the Lay Formation program at my grad school borrowed aspects of it. I've taken a couple gift inventories and was assigned to read several books.  
 A cool picture yanked from the Nashville Dominicans website. It's cleansing to the palate after the morning I've had. And, by the way, I know one
As I was doing the inventories, I felt like a teenager again. You know, those stupid quizzes in the magazines. "Are you and your friend drifting?" "What jeans are best for you?" "Are you too busy for school?" "What TV boyfriend is right for you?" After you answer a whole bunch of questions, you tally the answers, do a little math and voilà! You now know the deepest secrets of your own heart!
At the time, the tests annoyed me. Again, I'm paying for a Master's degree, not to sit around taking personality quizzes or poke at my emotional scars.
I observed one important thing that semester, however: When someone recognizes your gift, you are more apt to use it. Being my last year before marriage, I went nuts trying to get published. I saw it as my last chance to really do something before my life was no longer my own. When I took the inventory, "writing" was listed as my third highest charism, behind wisdom and service. This pushed me even more to send manuscripts out. I didn't get published that year. All of the manuscripts were rejected. 
Seeing my charisms on paper, however, made them real to me. I can see how a workshop like Called & Gifted can change someone's life.
It's kind of like journaling or talk therapy. It's one thing to think things in your head. It's a completely other thing to see it written out or said aloud. If I remember correctly, my top 5 were:
  • Service
  • Wisdom
  • Writing
  • Mercy
  • Missionary
There aren't any surprises there for me. I'm happiest when I'm helping people. I love to write. People have sought me out my entire life for advice on things. While I'll likely never travel to a far-away land, I communicate well with people of different backgrounds and socio-economic groups.
So, the moral of the story is: We need to recognize our gifts and the gifts of others. If they aren't recognized, they'll go unused. I know this from experience!

By the way, imagine Oprah reading the title of this post and it will make a lot more sense.

Censorship on Facebook

This doesn't get censored by facebook:


This does:

So apparently according to FB, you can objectify women. But if you celebrate a woman in childbirth, that's porn?

And FB calls this porn:

And I will not post the pictures but a very brief search led me to child pornography on Facebook.

As in what looks like under-aged people engaged in sex acts, not two kids artfully photographed in a tub.


(PS: I did report the pictures I found to both FB and the proper authorities. To FB's credit, the page was taken down within 5 minutes of my report.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A World Without Health Insurance?

A South Portland doctor is joining a growing community of doctors who refuse to deal with the insurance companies any longer. He refuses all insurance, posting his prices for services online, and working with patients on an individual basis if they have a problem paying. He's lost some patients who are very dependent on their insurance to pay their bills, but most of his patients have been understanding.

In this world where health insurance is too often synonymous with healthcare, this is scary. People without insurance don't get care until it's too late. Those who do have insurance often have to weigh in the question, "what will my insurance cover and how much?" when making healthcare decisions. The Catholic Church holds that basic healthcare is a right. Not a privilege or a benefit, a right.

This question of insurance, however, brings into play a much misunderstood, ignored and abused Catholic concept called "subsidiarity." Catholics will often treat this concept as it supports or condemns their individual political views. What does it actually mean and how important is it?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about "subsidiarity":
1882 Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged "on both national and international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political affairs." This "socialization" also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights.
1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."
Basically, it means that problems are best handled by those closest to the problem. The government oversteps its bounds when it tries to micromanage. When it was originally introduced by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, it was meant as a middle ground between communism and unbridled capitalism.

The foundation of all Catholic thought is the inherent dignity of the human person. From that flows pretty much everything the Church teaches. So, as humanity is the most important of God's creation and all people are created, beloved, and redeemed by God, human organizations are supposed to work for the good of people, not for the almighty dollar or someone's ego.

What does this have to do with health insurance? Insurance companies and money have too much control over people's health. The most foundational right that a person has is the right to life. If they get subpar health care, that undermines their right to life.

As long as this doctor in South Portland and others like him are truly flexible with those who cannot pay, their decision to no longer take insurance is a laudable one. He has shown in the article how cutting out the middle man dropped the prices of some of his most basic services like simple routine office visits. If this is true and can be replicated without completely destroying our economy, maybe his decision should be imitated.

A Catholic social teaching equal to and intimately related to "subsidiarity" is "solidarity." We need to do what we can to help those in poverty. If taking insurance out of the equation ultimately leads to more poor people getting the help they need, I'm cool with it.

"Subsidiarity" was introduced as a middle way between two extremes, neither of which are truly in line with the dignity of the human person. I would also say that "subsidiarity" itself should not be taken to an extreme. We cannot completely eliminate the all of the bigger organizations or make them completely impotent because that could lead to chaos which also does not serve the good of humanity.

For more information, here is a very informative article on Catholic

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #3: What is 'normal'?

We just completed Chapter Two of Sherry Wendell's book, Forming Intentional Disciples. In this chapter, we discover that Catholics don't think that a personal relationship with God is possible. They do not feel that it's appropriate to talk about their relationship with others. They think that intense conversions and being on fire for the faith is a "Protestant thing" not Catholic.

This is a chapter that I have trouble speaking to as a convert. When looking at the Catholic mentality, I'm still kind of an outsider.

I am of two minds when it comes to talking about my personal relationship with Christ. On one hand, being a theology student, a level of comfort was beat into me. I was told, over and over again, that as a lay minister, I need to be comfortable talking about my relationship. I need to be able to put my relationship into words.

On the other hand, I always hated that aspect of my classes. I don't like talking about feelings. I'll listen to someone else talk about theirs, but I hate talking about mine. I resented my classes that concentrated on this topic. I wanted to go to class to learn neat facts about the Bible, not to sit around poking at my emotional scars. It seemed like a waste of time to me, more harmful than helpful. I paid thousands of dollars to get a Masters in Pastoral Studies, not to receive counseling.

I think I am "normal" using the criteria, minus the community part. Except for the Lay Dominicans, I don't have a group that I talk about faith regularly with. To refer back to my last post, I haven't had a group like that since college. I wish we had that kind of family feeling in our parish, but I'm not going to continue to beat that dead horse.

As a convert with an intense conversion experience, I don't think that a personal relationship is only for the pious few. We can all have a relationship with God. We all should have a relationship with God. An essential part of our Christian vocation is to have a relationship with God.

Join the conversation at

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Where Do Your Priorities Lie?

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, I saw a car parked like this:

Granted, the car I saw was probably a lot more expensive than this one, but that only leads me to question all the more: Where do your priorities lie?

This guy (or girl) clearly knows one thing that is important in their life. They are willing to be a complete jerk taking up four spaces in a grocery store parking lot in order to avoid getting their pretty little car scratched. I wonder why they even bothered taking it out of the garage if they were so paranoid. What are you that protective of?

Let me answer the question first. For better or worse, I think my top priority right now is my son. I don't like ever having him out of my sight. As much as I complain about dealing with him all day on my own, I love holding him and cuddling with him, especially when he is asleep. My life has been scheduled around him since the day he was born and I love him more than anything or anyone else.

Before you start applauding my priorities, there's a lot of very wise people who say you should put your spouse first. The most important thing that the baby needs is a happy, stable home.

There are even wiser people who say that God should still come absolutely first. I'm reminded of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac. That story bugged me even before I had a kid. Now that I'm a parent, it bothers me even more. What kind of parent would even think to do such a thing? And he's supposed to be one of our role models (see Romans 4)? And what kind of God requests that?

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

To keep my sanity, I try to concentrate on the fact that God stopped him. Child sacrifice was not unheard of in ancient times, so such a request would not be a revolting to Abraham as it is to me. It is a very important political statement that God stops him. The God of Abraham does not want human sacrifice like the pagan gods did. So it becomes more of a statement of Abraham's loyalty and trust than of madness.

Putting God first is sometimes painful and almost always hard. We like to look for instant gratification, but putting God first will make us happier in the long run. It will make us happier not only in the life to come, but in this life too as we live a life unattached to stuff and with a clean conscience.

Sounds like a good deal to me, and I don't get to come across as a jerk taking up 4 spaces in the grocery store lot. Man, I wanted to key that car.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Music Soothes the Baby's Soul

When I saw this article the other day, I wasn't that terribly surprised. James seemed to like music well before he was born. Even now, especially in the car, he'll get upset if there isn't some kind of music playing.

Picture from the article because that baby is too cute.
The article mentions two benefits to the music that I think are worth noting.

  1. Music reminds the baby of the womb. Before he or she was born, all sounds were muted and blurry. It was like listening underwater. Music and some nature sounds (like whales) is the closest we can come to imitating those sounds. And I wonder how long this memory lasts. I know of adults that prefer to sleep in a dark room with music playing softly. It's food for thought.
  2. It is used as a bonding experience for the parent and child. The parent, seeing such a small person hooked up to all sorts of machines and monitors, is understandably nervous about touching their own child. Then they feel bad about it, because they're not touching their own child. This gives parents a chance to relieve that tension by giving them a chance to comfort their child without touch.
For the Christian parent, this can take on an added dimension. As St Augustine wrote, "He who sings prays twice." We are told in Scripture to,
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.- Ephesians 5:18-20

Being born so early and living to see another day, the parents already have plenty to sing about, "Sing praise to him, play music; proclaim all his wondrous deeds!" (Psalm 105:2) And the child doesn't care what you sound like, they only care to hear mom and dad's voices because those were the sounds they heard the most in the womb.

So this study shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but it should be a reminder to everyone of the importance of music in the baby's life.

Note to reader: Sorry I haven't written much lately. My internship has really heated up and I was finishing work on a website I'm helping start. The website is called and as the name suggests, it is using the YOUCAT to teach the faith. It should be going on line today and I encourage you to check it out.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #2: Catholic Retention Rates

I'm a convert to Catholicism. I was one of 73,405 adult baptisms in 2005. I was raised believing in God, but never going to church. I had some bad experiences with a "Southern Baptist" when I was in middle school. After those experiences, I wanted nothing to do with the Christian God. I've been Buddhist and Wiccan. I converted to Catholicism my freshman year in college directly from Wicca.

I was always deeply interested in religion. I remember meditating in the backyard when I was still in elementary school, trying to become one with everything. I always knew there was a God, I never questioned that. I knew there was a God and He (or She) loved me and cared about me. I would characterize my entire religious journey as looking for that God.

I was initially introduced to the Christian God as a hateful and vengeful God. My maternal grandfather was convinced that anyone who was not a heterosexual, white person who went to his particular church in southwestern MO was going to hell. I sent him a letter when I converted to Catholicism. He's probably still praying for my soul.

When I went to college, I was really alone for the first time in my life. I knew no one. I was three hours away from my family. I had the opportunity to redefine myself. I decided to flirt with Christianity just to prove that what my grandfather did to me no longer had any power over me. I wore a cross just to see how it felt. I read the Bible. I visited several nearby churches.

My Conversion Story

I went to the Catholic Newman Center because I had to do a paper on a religion I had no prior exposure to. I was surrounded by Catholics in my dorm building. All of the new friends I was making were Catholic or ex-Catholic. When I went to my first Mass, I had a pretty intense conversion experience. I felt completely at home there even though I didn't understand what was going on.

I was angry with God for calling me into the Catholic Church. What was a free-spirit like me doing joining the Catholic Church? I went on a walk with one of my ex-Catholic friends. He listed all of the things that was wrong in the Church and all of the issues that he disagreed with. I most remember his arguments about the Church being against abortion and the death penalty. He supported both.

That made me stop in my steps. What do you mean the Catholic Church is against abortion and the death penalty? My whole life, all of my family and friends were either for one or the other or both. I was the only weirdo who was against both! And now I find out that this 2000-year-old organization agreed with me and no one had ever bothered to tell me!!!!

That is what started my conversion. I was in RCIA for about a year and a half because I was a non-Christian convert. I would have been in RCIA longer, but I got close to an old man in the parish and they wanted me to get baptized while he was still alive to see it.

Not my baptism because none of my pics exist in digital form
I was baptized by full-immersion in an old, converted horse trough at the Catholic Newman Center. It was a lot like the gentleman in the picture above, except mine was by a Catholic priest, of course. I was baptized as part of a Sunday Mass. Third Sunday of Advent to be precise, which that year fell on December 12th, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Why Do People Leave?

I cannot comment on my parish's retention rate since I have only been here for two years. I can, however, speak to my experience with former Catholics. Many of my friends are no longer active in the Church, although they used to be very active in our Newman Center.
While they all left for different reasons, there is one over-arching theme: We all got used to having a close church family in college. Our Newman Center was like our home away from home. Some of us even called the director "Mom." We did everything together. Many of us practically lived at the Center. Several of us even got our mail there.
Then we came out into the real world. I am yet to find a parish that is truly a family like our Newman Center was a family. True, we're all busy with our jobs and our biological families, but it would be nice to have a community again.
Many of my friends have left the Church because they don't feel at home here anymore. I can understand them completely. Before I was married, I did a lot of parish hopping in hopes of finding a close community again. 
Do you have any ideas about how to build community? I think that building a community would go a long ways toward getting our 20 and 30-somethings back. 

To read more reflections on Chapter One, head to We're reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's a good book and it's never too late to join us!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

10-Year-Old Needs Lung: UPDATE!

Due to the public outcry, they are reviewing the regulations for organ donation. The review may not be complete in time to save this little girl, but hopefully it will save someone else's child!

Read more.

My original post about the case.