The Storm That Couldn’t

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The past week has been an absolute whirlwind.

The state I love and have come to call home has endured what is by some measures some of the worst flooding this country has ever seen. The whole experience was truly surreal. Having been through 5 hurricane seasons in Houston now, I know we can always count on getting a little wet. But usually the city comes together and it’s as though nothing ever happened; life keeps moving and we hardly notice any lasting effects of the tropical rains. Tropical storms and hurricanes were threatened each of those past 5 years I’ve been in Houston but never in those 5 years had we experienced anything like this.

It’s hard to find words that fully capture the experience of actually living through an event like this, but I wanted to do my best to document what we experienced, witnessed, and learned over this past week…

So, we had stayed in town for our friends’ wedding which got pushed to Friday afternoon due to the storm. Local authorities recommended against evacuation anyway. News reports were saying the storm would hit Friday night, and we were already seeing traffic backed up on all the highways leading away from the coast, so we figured that the safest thing to do would be to shelter in place.

We were also hearing that the worst of the storm was actually going to hit Corpus Cristi rather than Houston, and, having been through plenty of false alarms before, we weren’t overly concerned. We had plenty of provisions, our cars were parked on the second-floor parking deck, and we were holed up in a third-story apartment.

We went to sleep on Friday night, but no storm came. Reports came out that Harvey was back on course for Houston rather than Corpus, and the storm was forecasted to hit Saturday night. We went all day Saturday without seeing any rain – we even went out for dinner that evening. I have to admit I was a little dubious of these reports since similar reports hadn’t amounted to much at that time.

But then, at around 10pm on Saturday, Harvey finally hit us. In the middle of the night, the power at the apartment complex was knocked out, and, by noon on Sunday, rivers had risen where streets used to be. Up the water rose – all the way to just below the second-floor apartments. Everything else was underwater. Boats zoomed past our window, all day and into the night. Coast Guard helicopters hovered overhead. We could even see fish hopping out of the water in the fully submerged parking lots.

Pickup trucks much higher than mine were completely overtaken when no room was left on the upper levels of the parking garage. Meanwhile, the currents carried entire dumpsters and basketball hoops down the middle of the street outside our window. As temperatures inside the apartment rose, we were forced to open the windows, where the tropical summer air outside was, for once, cooler than the interior temperature.

Texts from concerned loved ones flooded in, but we were unable to respond to many of them because we were without power for several days and knew we could be without it for several more. The cats fared just fine but the poor dog was too nervous to go to the bathroom anywhere other than grass so she held it in for over 36 hours, which is when we were finally able to get her to some patch of drenched earth.

 Late Sunday, we heard that the Army Corps of Engineers was going to be conducting controlled releases of several reservoirs because the dams were not built to hold such an immense amounts of water. This was forecasted to raise water levels 6 inches per hour in some areas and would continue until the reservoirs could be brought down to manageable levels. But the rain kept on falling.

Tornadoes had already ripped through some Houston suburbs; now some of these same communities were being evacuated as the release of these waters threatened to plow through whatever homes were left. With helicopters continuing to pass by overhead and the apartment complex having emailed the roof access code to residents, I went to sleep Sunday night convinced we would be forcibly evacuated from the roof of the building by the time morning came. We didn’t sleep too well that night – awaking several times to check the water level.

Fortunately, it stayed just below the second-floor apartments, and, by some time on Monday, the waters had actually receded enough for us to attempt to make it to my house in Meyerland. Meyerland is one of the most frequently flooded communities Houston has to offer, but we were hearing from friends in the area that their homes had miraculously gone unflooded during this doozy of a storm and that their lights were still on.

Unfortunately, however, the Mazda CX5 was the only car we were able to get off of the overcrowded parking deck, and, despite making it within a mile of my house, we managed to get stuck in the mud as the rains picked back up. We couldn’t move it by ourselves, and several people, including a police officer we flagged down, declined to help us get it out. We walked the rest of the way to my place – with our bags in one hand, dog in the other – in rain boots that had been thoroughly drenched by the sewage-laced flood water, in order to regroup and come up with a plan for getting the car out.

The only thing was, as it turned out, our house hadn’t been so lucky as those of our friends in the area. The second we opened the door we realized a significant amount of water had filled the house at some point. I had thankfully moved some valuable things off of lower shelves and onto desks and countertops, but many of our personal belongings lay in ruin. A foul odor permeated the house and we couldn’t find anywhere that wasn’t left soggy. Carpets and flooring would have to be torn out, doors would need to be replaced, the backyard fence would require reconstruction, and all of our furniture would be headed for the heap pile.

Nevertheless, we managed to scrounge up a plywood board which we proceeded to hoist over our heads and make the trek a mile back down the road to attempt to get the car out of the mud. Passersby added us to their Snapchat stories as we paraded down the street with a wooden board over our heads like we were about to build an ark in the middle of a hurricane like a couple of nutjobs. Thankfully, though, this time, when we got to the car, a good Samaritan in a pickup truck slammed on the brakes the second he saw us wrestling to free the entrenched vehicle. He goes, “I have a tow-line; wanna see if I can help you out?”

It was like a gift from God – only, we found out that there was really very little for us to hook the tow-line to on the underside of the Mazda that wasn’t cheap plastic. So, instead, this good Samaritan got knee-deep in the mud with me and struggled as we worked to get it out. We were successful in rocking it quite a bit, but there was no traction, and the two of us kept falling down in the mud. Only a few minutes went by before others joined in, however. It turned out all we needed was another hand or two to jam the board under the wheels and maneuver a way out.

To us, this felt like a miracle. We tried to get contact information for our new friends who had stopped to help a couple of college kids who had gotten themselves into a stupid situation and certainly could not have gotten out on their own, so that we could send them something as a thank you for their heroic assistance, but they refused to accept anything other than a handshake. And, as quickly as they had gotten there, they were gone. They weren’t emergency personnel and they weren’t even acquaintances; they were just neighbors who saw some kids in need and chose to sacrifice themselves and help.

Hearing news that twice as much rain could have potentially still fallen, we took the narrow opportunity we had to get the animals in the car and head for higher ground before we were stuck back in the apartment for days on end with dwindling provisions and no electricity. We managed to squeeze my 4WD F-150 off of the parking deck and get on the road in record time. The only problem was every road we turned down was either blocked off by police or had flooding I wasn’t sure my truck could even make it through. After countless redirects and a lot of trial-and-error, we managed to find a roundabout way back to San Antonio.

A trip that usually takes 3-4 hours took 6, and for the first several hours we weren’t really sure we’d make it out. If we had waited an hour longer, we probably wouldn’t have. But, as we made it within an hour-and-a-half of San Antonio, we saw the sun for the first time of days and experienced a sense of security that had eluded us for quite some time. We had lost track of what day it was, and it was one of the strangest experiences to “re-enter” civilization in a sense – to step into a place where life was continuing as though nothing had ever happened. School buses were taking kids home from school; people were coming home from work. It was nothing like the place we had left behind just a few hours east of where we landed.

But it took a lot to get here. And, while I had come to appreciate what a dramatic impact Harvey was having on the greater Houston area, it wasn’t until making this journey that I came to fully understand the extent of the devastation. Cities, towns, ranches and warehouses for nearly a hundred miles around lay underwater. If I hadn’t seen it, I’m not sure I would have believed just how much of this state was significantly struck by this single storm.

While it is nice to be safe and dry finally, we cannot forget this is an immense privilege. We’re privileged to have had family in San Antonio we could flee to while the house in Meyerland remained underwater and the apartment complex (due to its proximity to Bray’s Bayou) was transformed into an island once more as rains picked back up and the flood waters rose. We are so, so blessed that the only thing we have to worry about in all of this is the loss of personal property. Many had it much worse.

It has been difficult to watch from afar as rescue missions continue in our beloved city, but, without a home base that could house us and three animals while offering safety, electricity, and access to food and water, I feel it was the right decision for us to make. The entire time, we weren’t sure which information we could believe, but, facing the possibility of additional rain that could have kept us stranded in that complex for up to a week, we chose to get out while we could, regroup, and begin to figure out how best to come back and serve. If we had stayed, we weren’t entirely sure we wouldn’t end up as one of those needing to be served in one of the shelters instead of being able to help in some way. So, now, that’s what we’re trying to do.

The recovery effort in the nation’s third-largest city will go on for months, if not years, and, as soon as the roads back from San Antonio are reopened, we’ll be on our way back, and we’ll be helping with the cleanup effort however we can. It shouldn’t take storms or disasters to make this happen, but the one positive thing Harvey did accomplish was the coming together of a city, a nation, and a world. Strangers slammed on their brakes to help out those now recognized as neighbors, and they got dirty; they loved even when it hurt.

Volunteers dispersed to the areas most affected by the storm. Websites were built overnight with matching capabilities, to pair those in need with the nearest shelters to them that had room for them and to pair volunteers and resources with the shelters that needed them. Local officials put out the call for any Houstonian with a boat or truck to get out and help where the could, and Houstonians answered the call.

Houses of worship opened up their doors and offered shelter to the displaced. “Mattress Mack” even opened up his showrooms to those who needed a place to sleep.

Rescue crews poured in from all over the country. Groups that had previously focused their philanthropic efforts on war-torn regions like Iraq and Syria diverted resources and bodies to help in the region. Even Mexico has offered troops and supplies to assist in the recovery effort. People worked through the night to take care of their fellow man, sacrificing sleep, comfort, and, in many cases, their own safety.

It shouldn’t take a storm for this sort of thing to happen, but this is the good in which I rejoice amidst the devastation. Harvey sought to destroy large swaths of land, property and livelihood, and, in some cases, it succeeded. But the storm did not succeed in destroying the human spirit found here; instead it bolstered it. People here are coming together in a way they were always meant to, and this doesn’t need to stay unique to Houston.

The people of Texas need your help. If you can’t get here to help directly, there are lots of organizations doing amazing work on the ground (such as the Houston Food Bank) which need your support.

Two of my favorite organizations in Houston have always been Catholic Charities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Galveston-Houston due to their long-term commitment to serving the most marginalized in the greater Houston area, regardless of creed, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, political party, socioeconomic status, or color. These are both doing vital work for people in some of Houston’s most desperate situations.

Other charities you might consider donating to can be found here. But the lesson of Harvey should not be to just send your money to the victims you see on TV. It should be to love one another preemptively – to recognize as your neighbor those strangers you pass by each and every day, and to serve. It shouldn’t take a hurricane to get us there.

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My renegade heart

I am not a hypocrite, the Devil wants you to quit, and you belong.

This blog is about me, but it’s also about you. It’s about how you see me, and it’s also about how you see yourself.

 


 

I am not a hypocrite.

“You are not a hypocrite.”

“You are not a hypocrite.” That’s what a priest recently told me when I was feeling most hypocritical.

His statement struck me as rather odd. At that point in time, I was fairly confident I matched the definition to a tee. In fact, I was pretty sure that if you opened up to the word “hypocrite” in the dictionary, Merriam-Webster would have my headshot as the featured photo on that particular page. So I guess his statement was shocking, in the sense that I couldn’t see any way that I wasn’t a hypocrite, and unexpected, in the sense that I wasn’t exactly anticipating anything other than silence on the issue of my hypocrisy which loomed so obviously in the air.


 

I am Peter, and I am Paul.

From the earliest times I can remember, I’ve had a heart like Peter’s. I have loved boldly. I have lived my life out loud. And I’ve also said stupid things. And I’ve also failed.

The connection I’ve felt to Peter as his life is spilled out across the Gospels has been there ever since I first read the Bible. From wanting to give all of my heart to finding that more often I come up short, my heart has always leaped when I recalled Jesus giving Peter the opportunity to say, once again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!”

But more recently, the notion of actually having to say this again has left me with a sick and empty feeling in my stomach, deep down in my gut. And, so, rather than returning to this narrative I’d so relied on before – feeling like I couldn’t even dare to relate to Peter anymore because I’d failed way more than three times and because I’d gotten to a point where I wasn’t even sure I could respond to Jesus as Peter did and still believe it – I thought, “Who’s worse than Peter?” And then I remembered: Paul.

Paul killed Christians and still God chose him! Well, I hadn’t done that! Surely God could still love me.

But then I thought about the fact that Paul kind of turned his life around in a pretty big way after his conversion experienced. And then I remembered that I had experienced a similar turnaround when I had a pretty radical conversion of my own. Yet, here we were: Paul’s had stuck and mine had not.

So I was back to feeling bad about myself. But, in that confessional, the priest mentioned Paul. And then something clicked! Romans 7:15.

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Paul hadn’t perfected himself! This man that we revere as a saint still fell victim to some of the very same trials and temptations he suffered before he was claimed for Christ. Indeed, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he writes:

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

(2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

We hear this sentiment echoed in the letter to the Ephesians, in which it is written:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

Though we know not what this sin was that continued to affect Paul, we do know that it was not enough to keep God from continually choosing Paul in a significant way.

All of this is fine and dandy, but my name is not Paul and I am nothing special. I am not doing anything of the magnitude of Paul’s ministry, nor do I think I’m anywhere near willing to die a death like Peter did, proclaiming his love of Christ.

But maybe He can use me still.


 

Jesus thinks you’re dumb.

When Jesus first called on Peter, it seems Peter already knew he was destined to fail him. Immediately, Peter falls on his knees, saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). But, as my confessor pointed out, Jesus did not leave him. Instead, to a man clearly not understanding the wisdom of God, Jesus, in effect, says, “Get up, you bumbling fool. Come follow me.”

At the height of our feelings of shame and unworthiness, when we cannot or should not press on in the presence of the Lord, Jesus is calling us off the ground. He is calling us out of our sin, saying, once more, “Come. Follow me.”


 

All fall short.

You were made in the image and likeness of God, you have inherent dignity and worth, and you have a Father who loves you more than life. That is the core of the Christian message.

While we’re called to strive to do better, to be better – to attain freedom and life – it is the truth of human nature that we are both flawed and sinful. Though we may certainly temper some of that ugliness, as we grow in holiness through prayer and practice and an abundance of grace, we may never be fully rid of the disease which poisons our hearts.

Romans 3:23 assures us of this:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I think we often forget that. Church friends and secular friends alike get scandalized at the notion that anyone within the Church should commit any sin.

So we hide our sin, just as Adam and Eve sought to hide theirs. We succumb to shame. And we wind up isolated, out of communion with God and neighbor. And this is just what the Devil wants: disunion. In some sense, that is what hell is. And anyone who’s been through that cycle of sin and isolation and distrust can attest to anguish it can cause. But, once more, that is not the will of God.

In fact, to do anything other than to boast of our weaknesses, “that the power of Christ may dwell in (us),” is to blaspheme the name of God by making Him a liar (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is to make ourselves guilty of denying Him by denying our need for Him.

It is to deny the tremendous consequence of His sacrifice – a sacrifice that is not just an event for the history books nor something that ceases to apply once we’ve had our conversion. It is to deny a sacrifice that is to us an efficacious grace, an ever replenishing source of life. It is to reject the very essence of God’s character, which does not cease to meet us in the present tense and restore us when we are found to be dead in our sin once more.

And to be scandalized by sin is not the call of a Christian; it is to be ministers to it.


 

The Devil wants you to quit.

Being a Christian who still struggles with sin is not hypocrisy; being a Christian who doesn’t believe in God’s desire and power to save – and to save again – is. Anyone who tells you anything different is not of God but of the Evil One.

The Devil wants you to quit. The Devil wants you to finally get to that point I got to – the point where you’re tired of asking for forgiveness for the same sin the hundredth time over again, the point where you succumb to shame, the point where you start to doubt if you’re really capable of love.

He wants you to stop going to church, to feel out of place. He wants us to make people feel that way. And he seeks to get you to gradually let him take you over. The ultimate revenge you can take on the Devil, however, is never letting him have his way. Never let him have the final say when you’ve fallen – yet again.


You belong here.

If you are broken, you belong here. If you are sinful, you belong here. You belong in the Church.

The old RCIA adage goes: “the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.”

In the Gospels, Jesus explains that He came for sinners. “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” He says. “It is those who are well that do” (Luke 5:31-32).

You belong here. Shame has no place here – only mercy and healing. Call out the voice of the Evil One when he tries to prevent you. Indeed, advance boldly. Come forth and be healed. Come, and find communion. Come to Reconciliation, and never tire of coming back.

Begin again, for the Church is not whole without you.


 

What you are is loved.

I want to conclude with the words that priest spoke to me that brought my heart to my throat. At the close of confession, he told me, “Jesus has told his Father about you. And He has told Him good things.”

Read those words and re-read them, especially when it feels like they couldn’t possibly be true. God loves you, and He longs to take you to himself. He reconciles the wandering heart, and He sows healing where we’ve sown hurt.

It might be harder to continue to allow the Divine Physician to restore your life and regenerate love in your heart, but it becomes ever more necessary.

Because you are not a hypocrite.

Because what you are is needed. What you are is willed. And what you are is loved.

Kingdom and Glory

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MLK  Day is not a day for warm or fuzzy remembrances of a man who once gave an inspirational speech; rather, it is a day in remembrance of a man who was tormented, jailed, and ultimately killed for having the audacity to profess and advocate for basic principles of human decency, for an authentic commitment to the Christian values on which America purports to be built, and for a refusal to passively allow injustice to persist. It is a day on which we should all take stock and consider the ways in which we might be failing to live up to the ideals of active resistance in the fight to end systematic oppression.

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The Reverend did not condone the color-blind rhetoric we employ today as a means of avoiding discomfort; rather, he embraced the call to be an active participant in the society in which we live, identifying and responding to institutionalized (and therefore persistent) forms of injustice, wherever they are found and without regard for attempts made as a means of veiling underlying prejudices or unequal outcomes trough layers of rhetoric, policy, and government programming.

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He remained focused and committed to this goal, undistracted and undeterred by the naysayers and fear-mongers who besmirched his name, resisted his work, and levied hatred against this man who challenged their world order. Yet he did all of this without being afraid to reach across the aisle. This is the fundamental call of the Christian: to be honest and reflective, to not shy away from uncomfortable truths and realities, to be alert and consistent in our engagement of the injustice that is endemic to human society, to respond, to stand with the oppressed, and to do what we can to bring about a more perfect Union as a means of seeing God’s Kingdom come here on earth. We must do this all while surrendering to an all-encompassing Love, the eternal Truth, and the charge of a life lived in self-emptying sacrifice for the good of our neighbors.

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The notion that racism, as well as other forms of injustice, has ceased, is not only false but dangerous in its yield to notions that our work is done, that we might rest, that we have no further need to fight such oppression – notions that are antithetical to the call of the Gospel. May each of us take stock today and reflect on the ways we might better participate in bringing this dream, this heavenly vision, to fruition in both our lives and our communities. Amen.

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Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Complacency and covetousness; Joy and hope.

73d2715b85494e32ab954d2e76023a36A priest friend of mine recently counseled me, saying that, to be a Catholic young man in the world, I should listen more, pray more, and let my actions speak on my behalf. While that’s still a work-in-progress, over the past year, I’ve certainly learned enough to know I don’t know that much. I’ve come to know I have so much more to learn, which is why it probably seems this has become a place of me sharing the mind of others, rather than the ramblings of a boy so foolish as to be wise in his own estimations. That’s not to say I won’t chime in here and there, but I am indeed working on listening more — to leaders in both thought and example, from the Most Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the marvelous Maya Angelou to the Argentinian man close to my heart, Papa Francisco. So today I brought myself to finally enter into Evangelii Gaudium (or, “The Joy of the Gospel”) — which is something we call an “apostolic exhortation” in the Church — and which has been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long.

Though I’m sure so many more worthy passages will follow, I was struck by the simplicity and yet profound perceptivity contained within the work’s opening pages, so I thought I’d share it here with anyone who might happen to stumble upon it.

In times like these, I find it ever more important to listen to the voice and life of leaders such as these — even if it requires us coming outside of ourselves and straining to hear over the din of a dysfunctional world as heralded by angry partisans. Dare to be bold. Dare to hold onto the promise of Christ, that we may be anchored through all tribulations — that our souls might rest on God’s Truth, which endures to the end.

I hope this finds you in both health and peace, friends. Cheers!

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.
Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders.
No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!
(Evangelii Gaudium, pp. 1-2)

Letter from Birmingham Jail

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Excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” wherein the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses eight white southern religious leaders in response to their public statement of concern over his involvement in nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham and throughout the South:
I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…
You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative…
You may well ask, “Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue…
My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied”…
I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why… then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair…
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation…
I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.
There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century…
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America…
Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
I wish you had commended the Negro demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.

On justice, love and patriotism

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When you don’t take the time to learn the history that isn’t neatly packaged in APUSH textbooks; when you don’t allow yourself to be challenged; when you reject statistics that aren’t convenient to your worldview; when you fail to take the time to invest in learning from your brothers and sisters, hearing their plight and allowing your heart to be moved with empathy – neither can you understand the frustration and the hurt undergirding the images flashing across your TV screen, nor can you be part of the solution. Then, there is no healing. Then, we watch the same sad cycle play out again and again.

I know, because I too used to turn a blind eye to these things. But I’m learning that I cannot pay attention solely to the things that affect me – as a global citizen, as a child of God. Justice is a most noble pursuit, but it’s not justice if certain groups are perpetually repressed, if there is no recompense. Patriotism is a great thing. It can inspire men and women to do great things. But let us not sacrifice justice on the altar of patriotism, nor mistake a man or woman’s efforts to draw attention to the ways we can all do better, and should do better, in accord with our founding ideals, to be a lack of patriotism or a punishable offense. Having a heart for defending the rights of all, for improving the lot of all, is a most patriotic venture. What’s more is it’s a Christian one.

What is antithetical to patriotism and to justice, on the other hand, are the human tendencies towards self-absorption or self-concern, towards passivity and ignorance, and towards an abstinence from dialogue, listening, introspection and empathy. Let each of us challenge ourselves to hear the words, to hear the heart of the other side, to bear all things. Let us not be passive; rather, let us take it upon ourselves to actively go out, have conversations, learn from others, and read up on the history and present-day realities that continue to stifle our capacity for growth and reconciliation. Even in the face of harsh words, of discomfort, let us not be afraid of self-criticism nor halted on the path to understanding the heart behind it all.

I challenge you to watch this man speak from his heart, to listen to his words, to be challenged despite discomfort, not to default to our knee-jerk reaction. This man is my brother, just as each man and woman on every side of the fault line are my brothers and sisters. Sit with it. Pray with it.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

– 1 Cor 13:4-8

The Great (or not-so-great) Purity Myth

Holidays card with heart as a symbol of love/valentines day card

I think modern-day Christian purity movements are a hoax. You read that right. I think it’s all a farce. I don’t say that because I condone sex before marriage; not in the slightest. I say that because I think they’ve got the theology all wrong. In an effort to discourage premarital sex, churches across America have latched on to this narrative of telling young girls and boys to “guard their purity,” to protect it with their lives. This implies two logical conclusions, both of which are false.

The first is that your purity is something that can be lost, and, “once it’s gone, it’s gone.” This is clearly outside of the fundamental Christian doctrine that God has the power to restore all things—and that He loves us enough to offer redemption and that He can in fact make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

The second is that our “purity” is a gift we all even have. No—I don’t mean that in a Calvinist way, or that some of us have it and some of us don’t. What I mean is that it is absolutely silly to purport to be pure and spotless, as if those were ever ours from the start. The basic Christian doctrine is that we were all born in sin (Romans 3:23).

We’re all born in the flesh, with earthly desires. We’re all born with a nature to transgress. We are stained and in need of washing by the Blood of the Lamb. This is the fundamental Christian belief about the human reality we observe and live every day. We need to be baptized by the Spirit in order to ever become clean—in order to become pure.

That is why I say that the modern-day Christian purity movement, no matter how well intentioned, is misinformed, with potentially deleterious effects. These effects are rooted in the subtle inoculation of the young and vulnerable Christian masses with the wrong idea about who God is, and who He made us to be.

He did not make us perfect. He did not make us without flaw or blemish. He did not give us a “purity” that is ours to neurotically shield and hoard away lest it be tainted by an “evil culture.” Instead, He gave us free will, and a nature that precludes us from ever claiming “sinless-ness” or “purity.” Those were the claims of the Pharisees; but as Christians we believe that purity is not ours to claim.

Moreover, this movement has ingrained in us the notion that we’re free and clear as long as we don’t cross “that line,” but, when we do, it’s all over for us. We’re tainted. We’re broken. We’re damaged goods. And no man or woman or God could ever love us again. We’re instantaneously relegated to the status of second-class citizen and we’re probably going to hell.

But my brothers and my sisters—this is not the truth!

You want the real truth? The Truth is Love. The Truth is redemption. The Truth is countless second chances, and the Truth is newness of life.

You see—the truth about our nature as human beings is that we’re helplessly prone to sin. In one way or another, whether we care to recognize it or not, we are a slave to it, in need of saving. Some sins are small; some sins are big. Some sins are visible; some go unseen. Some are of the sexual nature; some are rooted in selfishness. Some are rooted in inaction; some are rooted in un-forgiveness. Some are rooted in anger, and some are rooted in pride. Whatever your weakness is, the reality is that we all have some weakness that makes us unworthy and impure. Whatever you’ve done or whatever you’ve only thought of doing, the reality is we all have sinful hearts in need of being reoriented towards love on a continual basis.

You see—purity is not something we have that gets lost. Purity is something we have to choose—on a continual basis. Purity is gained only by allowing our hearts to be transformed by Love every single day of our existence.

That is why chastity is a better theology. Chastity, or “an ordered approach to love,” as it has been explained, is the idea that we must choose to act in a way that allows our hearts to become pure. We must choose to allow God to direct our steps. We must give love and receive love in the way in which we were designed to. We must surrender to the will of the Father, while trusting in the sacrifice of the Son. Only then can we be made clean. Only then can we start to claim true purity. But my suspicion is: if you’ve already begun directing your heart in that direction, you realize that purity is something that we can never claim.

This is both good news and bad. While requiring much of us, it also frees us to experience the love of God so often preached to us. It does not condemn us for our failings—for our tarnish. But it does ask us to wash our hearts and our garments that they might yearn evermore Heaven-long. It does ask us to surrender our hearts and our bodies, our time and our energies, our cravings and desires, to Him who did likewise for us. It does ask of us to serve others as Christ served the Church. Once we submit to that, we find not only freedom, but the true nature of God, the us we were meant to be, and a love that cares not about these misguided priorities of “purity.” We find a Love that is not scared to walk with the sinners—to break bread with tax collectors or stand up for adulterers. We see ourselves in them, we look on them with love, and we know that together we are free. In Christ, we are free.


Have mercy on me, O God, in accordance with your merciful love; in accordance with your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.

Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin please cleanse me.

For I know my transgressions; indeed, my sin is always before me.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned.

I have done what is evil in your eyes, so that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgments.

I was born in guilt, and in sin my mother conceived me.

Cleanse me by the hyssop, that I may be made pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

You will let me hear gladness; the bones you have crushed will rejoice.

Turn your face from my sins; blot out all my iniquities.

A clean heart create for me, O God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from you, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore in me the gladness of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

I will teach the evil your ways, that sinners may return to you.

Rescue me from bloodshed, O God, my saving God, and my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice. 

Lord, you will open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.

For you do not desire sacrifice, or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit.

A contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not spurn.

— Pslam 51:3-19

The World’s Greatest Need: Men of Greatness

There is a famine abroad on the earth, a famine not of bread, for we have had too much of that and our luxury has made us forget God; a famine not of gold, for the glitter of so much of that has blinded us to the meaning of the twinkle of the stars; but a famine of a more serious kind, and one which threatens nearly every country in the world – the famine of really great men. In other words, the world today is suffering from a terrible nemesis of mediocrity. We are dying of ordinariness; we are perishing from our pettiness.

fulton_sheen20120628nw1377_web_0The world’s greatest need is great men, someone who will understand that there is no greater conquest than victory over oneself; someone who will realize that the real worth is achieved, not so much by activity, as by silence; someone who will seek the Kingdom of God and His justice, and put into actual practice the law that it is only by dying to the life of the body that we ever live to the life of the spirit; someone who will brave the taunts of a Good Friday to win the joy of Easter Sunday; who will, like a lightning-flash, burn away the bonds of feeble interests which tie down our energies to the world; who, with a fearless voice, like John the Baptist, will arouse our enfeebled nature out of the sleek dream of unheroic repose; who will gain victories, not by stepping down from the Cross and compromising with the world, but who will suffer in order to conquer the world.

In a word, what we need are saints, for saints are the truly great men. … I assume without further ado that the grace of God is the one thing necessary, and that God will give that grace to those who do His will.

– Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s Greatest Need (Address delivered January 31, 1932)

Pieces of a Broken Heart

It never ceases to sadden me how those who have shaped our past never seem to allow us to move into the future. Even those who are now moved out of our lives, if they’ve left their mark, sometimes make it hard to focus on what lies before us now.

For so long now I’ve thought that this is not how it’s meant to be; we are not meant to share so much of ourselves with people who were never meant to possess us, and, when we find ourselves experiencing these emotions, we have ourselves to blame.

To some extent that’s true—we ought to be careful with who we entrust our hearts to. However, I think it inevitable to lose our hearts to friends or lovers we once trusted and idolized only to find out that their time in our lives is but a moment or a blip on our larger timeline. And it’s inevitable that we will find it hard to let go fully long after their time ends and our disappointment is realized.

This is a very real part of our human experience now. But perhaps our reflection on this experience need not be guilt and self-reproach for having trusted people with your heart and loving deeply. Perhaps we ought to think more of this experience and the feelings that result as a symptom of The Fall.

I think it’s true that we weren’t meant for this. We weren’t made to give our hearts to anyone other than God and the one who would become our spouse. And yet—we set our hearts up for failure the moment we made ourselves our own gods and shunned the path He made for us. The heartbreak we are wont to feel is an innate part of our fallen humanity, but it’s a blessing as much as it is a curse. It is a blessing because it points us back to our need for God—a need we forgot when we turned away from His instruction and disavowed our dependence on Him. In our desperate moments of hurt and despair, we are sent running for the arms of the only One who can heal us—the only One who can bind up our wounds and give us a new heart.

While I still lament the days we chose to turn from God and so subjected ourselves to anguish and heartache, I am grateful for the experience, without which I would never quite know how desperately I need my Lord and my God. So don’t be given to regret over past relationships and mistakes. They’re not mistakes in the plan of God if they lead you back into His arms.

Conditional Love and Justifications for Ignorance

Our world is full of “if/then” statements.

If someone is nice to me, then I can be nice back.

If someone does me a favor, then I can return the favor.

If someone shows me respect, then I can be respectful.

These are the kinds of conditions our world is built on, and I think each of us can see this attitude in ourselves if we examine ourselves with sincerity.

It is no different in the Church. We always have the sense that outsiders must qualify in some way in order to be embraced by us. If they do not enthusiastically take up our doctrine—if they do not join our club—they are outsiders and worthless to us. This failure to see in others—no matter how detestable they might be—the image and likeness of God, and to treat them with the love and dignity due to them as such, cannot be justified.

Sometimes this discrimination is less pronounced. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to hang out with the guys you find funny or the guys who are good at playing soccer like you are. Sometimes we simply don’t want to talk to the guy who’s not cool enough—the awkward kid, the nerdy kid, the loser.

Sometimes we’re too insecure to speak up when a friend’s cracking jokes on them, or maybe we join in ourselves. 

Sometimes we try to rationalize those behaviors. Other times we’re just spineless.

Let’s face it: this is human nature. Each of us is guilty. The fact is it’s easier to love those we find easy to love, and it’s easier to go about our days only seeing God in the faces of those who look like us, think like us, live like us or do for us. We are spiteful creatures, but, even more devastating than that, we are utilitarian to the core. We love people only insofar as they are useful to us.

We also see things through lens upon lens imposed on us from an early age. Engrained in us by a larger western culture as well as the very local culture in which we’re raised are racial prejudice, socioeconomic bias, physical standards, intellectual chauvinism, and the like. No matter how subtle, these attitudes cannot be justified in any way.

The point here is not for me to stand on my pulpit and say I’m bigger than all of these things. I’m not. It pains me to see how our human condition keeps us from loving those whom our Heavenly Father loves. It kills me that we see so much hate, hurt and suffering in our world—and in our own hearts.

All I know is this: something is deathly wrong with us, and this is not how God the Father loves us.

Growing up, I was taught all of this the hard way. You see, I was on the receiving end of social rejection. I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t cool enough to be “one of the guys.” The only thing I was good for was being the scapegoat for every one else to make fun of and bully so that the spotlight wouldn’t be turned on them. And they made me truly believe that. Something in me was deficient. I was not enough. I tried really hard to make myself enough, but I never felt I could be enough in my own right.

This feeling plagued me even unto ministry. I drove myself into the ground last year trying to be everything for everybody, and it was because of this experience, this conditioning. I tried not to miss a single volunteering opportunity because I didn’t want to fail my Adore family and be deemed unworthy. I didn’t feel like I would ever be cool enough to be part of the club—to be liked, wanted, loved—but I figured that if I became a consistent contributor I’d be less easily thrown away. They’d have to keep me around. They couldn’t toss me to the curb like so many had done before, and I’d finally get to hang out with the cool kids, even though it might have felt obligatory to them.

But they taught me something. Even as I have become more superfluous to their ministry as new leaders have risen up and I’ve committed to less, they have loved me radically. They have loved me not as the world loves me, but as God loves me. Their love hasn’t changed.

Even though this is what I’d been preaching for the past several years, I guess I never believed it could be true. I still struggle with it, but I want each of us tonight to understand something with perfect clarity: you are loved unconditionally by a Father who neither thinks like the world thinks nor operates how the world operates. You do not have to qualify for His love—you could never qualify for His love! We simply have to receive it.

Receiving it is a challenge in and of itself. As I’ve said, it’s something I still wrestle with. The voices of my past still taunt me, and the voices of the world often make it hard to believe the still, small voice of God stirring in my soul. Sometimes they drown Him out altogether, and other times I don’t want to hear that I’m worthy of love because I know in such a deep, dark, and wounded place that I’m not. But this is something that’s critical if there is ever to be Hope for our world. We need to address our need for healing and challenge our perceptions of love.

The task does not end once we find healing for ourselves, however. We must also evaluate the ways in which we allow ignorance, insecurity, selfishness, and unlove to reign in our dealings with others. The world has too much brokenness. We must not delude ourselves into believing it’s all “okay”—that we’re okay. Meditating on how God loves us and how we fail to love others must convict us. If it doesn’t, all this religion crap is just pointless. The love of God should change us. If it doesn’t strip away the lenses, if it doesn’t strike down our selfish rationalizations, if it doesn’t jolt us from our ignorance—and do all this on a continual basis—it’s pointless.

The love of God is not pointless.

We’re not meant to be comfortable. We’re not made to love in a way that comes easy. Real love is not meant to come easy. Nothing meaningful ever does. Sit with that and ask yourself how God might be asking you to get uncomfortable—to experience Him, to be convicted, and to love others in a messy, radical, and maybe not-so-pretty way.

Learn to love that which is hard to love. 

Pray for yourself, and pray for our world.

• Matthew 5:43-48
• Matthew 25:31-46
• Luke 15:11-32
• Luke 23:33-34
• 1 John 3:1-3