“God isn’t fixing this.” (NY Daily News)

I’d be hard pressed to think of a more cynical and exploitative headline at a time of national mourning than the New York Daily News, in exemplary journalism, who took “progressive” rhetoric one step further and decided to use its cover to mock God for failing to “fix” the problem of sinful mankind doing sinful things:

God wont fix this

A quick peek at the Twitter “trending” box found many like this at the top. The very same people quoting “our” Jesus to us just a week ago urging an embrace of more Syrian Refugees yesterday seemed to race again to social media.  They didn’t offer any compassion to the victims of the shooting, any information to the authorities, or any insights on how to prevent future terrorist attacks–but to mock people for having the audacity to pray for the victims and their families.  Another Wikipedia definition seems imminent, “Prayer-shaming.”

we dont need your thoughts & prayers – we need action. Now.

and lots demanding more gun control:

We dont need you to send prayers. We need you to vote for modern gun laws.

(I had to dig deep to find why so many included hash-tags for PP, and then I stumbled upon one who shared the news that the PP “clinic” was a only a 20 minute walk away.  You can’t  make this stuff up.  Clearly a connection with the “Bible thumpin’, AK47 totin’, Shoot ’em up Pro lifers!)

 

Prayers aren’t working.

Another mass shooting prompted another round of silence Wednesday from GOP presidential candidates on the issue of gun control.

Instead, while the Democratic presidential wannabes were calling for stricter gun laws in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, the Republicans were preaching about prayer.

It’s all they ever have to offer, isn’t it? And it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference.

…discussing out how much money all of those “thoughts and prayers” politicians have received from the NRA.

Since I’ve been on AOL since Al Gore invented the internet, for some reason I get spoon-fed Huffington Post as my reliable news feed. Here’s the best they could come up with:

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 3.27.40 AM

Really?  “Their ‘useless’ thoughts and prayers?”  Really?

“Politicians are the people society trusts to solve society’s ills?” Really?

No one I know trusts politicians to solve our ills.  That’s why (at least most of) the people I know want smaller government, because (again, perhaps it’s my own myopic vision) the bigger and more responsibility ladened a government becomes, the more poorly she performs. A big government is top-heavy, inefficient, and corruption prone.

I honestly understand that half of our population has no idea why private citizens have any business owning guns.  They don’t hunt, and have no desire to learn to use a firearm to defend themself or their family.  The thought of even touching a gun scares them.  So, to them, the second amendment is nonsense, out-dated, and should be abolished.  The founding fathers could not have foreseen the sins of today’s society when they crafted this law.  But I’d purport that they did.  And perhaps if a few of the luncheon participants had disregarded the “gun-free zone” signs and had a 357 tucked in their belts, we’d have different headlines.  Or maybe not. Maybe the entire thing would have not even have been newsworthy if they’d both been slain before they even pulled their first trigger.

Gunfree Zone

But I digress.  Gun control is not the topic of this post.

Anyway, I was honestly confused as to what possessed all of these media types to choose “people who pray” as the target of their anger.

Then I stumbled onto the clincher. The grand pooh bah of enlightenment. A well-regarded, progressive Washington Post journalist wrote this:

This mentality was really weird to me, and revealing. Almost more of a temper tantrum than anything else, particularly since progressives immediately turn to “prayer of a different kind” in the aftermath of tragedy.  They pray to the god of bigger and better government.  Something must be done!  Legislate!  Last week we needed more programs to serve the huge increase of refuges that we “must” accept.  And now we need gun-control laws.

Maybe we should compassionately accept more refugees, and maybe we do need better gun control laws.  These are fodder for later use.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to athiests and maybe agnostics, let’s just say “humanists.” Initially, I assumed it was because the “thoughts” portion seem somewhat meaningless. Combining it with prayer makes it seem like prayer is nothing more than “thoughts,” kind of like “good energy,” when New Ager’s send out “white light.” Prayer isn’t just “thoughts” and perhaps people could really drop the “thoughts” portion of the phrase. Kudos to Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan for their more theologically precise public statements in that regard.

Prayer is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus spoke about it extensively, explaining to those of us who follow him how to pray to our father in heaven. Perhaps you have heard of the “Our Father,” which provides the model of prayer for the Christian.

Prayer is described throughout the entirety of Scriptures, from Moses’ telling of discussions with God all the way through St. John’s glorious vision of the consummation of prayers in the restored heavens and earth, described in Revelation. And the Gospel of Luke describes how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion — “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Jesus tells us to call God our Father. He tells us that God wants us to ask him for things like a father wants his children to ask of him, so he can answer and give them what they ask for to show his love. For the Christian, we pray because God commands it, and that means it’s extremely important to us. We know God wants to hear our prayers and will use our prayers to help us in some ways that we can’t even understand.  And many that we can.

You see, to a faithful (Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, as well as Christian) people, praying is not “doing nothing.”

We do believe that God can intervene, to comfort the hurting and even to energize ourselves and others for right action. At the very least it is an expression of, “We love one another, and we hurt for one another.”

kneeling_head_down

Those without such faith might look from afar and just “not get it.”  There’s lots of things I “don’t get,” but I do my best to have respect and civility for those things I don’t understand.

As a (Western) medical person, I don’t get holistic, naturopathic, reikki, and other non-traditional type approaches to healing.  But I don’t stand and laugh, disparagingly, at them.  Some might, in fact, work as well as my own approach.  The fact that I don’t understand how is a side note.

Answers to prayers aren’t like some divine vending machine where you put the money in and out pops a Snickers Bar.  I am honestly a witness to many inexplicable things, both in my personal, as well as medical life.  To these I do attribute Divine Intervention.  Whether or not you agree is also a side note.

But prayers aren’t always (infrequently even?) answered with direct changes in courses of action.  I’d purport that God acts and directs us and our life journeys in lots of altered ways because of our prayers.  In prayer we are changed.  Our hearts and the lenses through which we view our brothers become like clay and conform to His will.  It’s not magic, or meditative self change, nor the power of positive thinking.  It’s opening ourselves up to our God.  Understanding that He is the master and creator of the universe, and that He is God, and that I am not.  Supplication and humility open us up to His love and the changes He wants to see in us. Don’t understand?  Try.  Don’t have a desire to change? Don’t want to yield to a higher power? Don’t have any idea why others feel this “call” to believe?  It’s a thing called grace which enables and empowers us to “open the door” and let Him in.

And so, when we “pray” we do this very thing.  We open the door and let Him in.  He sits to eat with us, and we with him.  And when we open ourselves up to His will, we gain perspective.  We see others through eyes not our own, and we grow in His love.  This, of course, is empathy and that love we all know we should have. We pray also because of our needs; the community’s needs which, in love, we should take on; and the burdens of all of our neighbors and even our entire country and world.

Don’t tell me not to pray for my hurting brothers and sisters. And for you. And for a change of heart for those who hate us. Perhaps enough of these prayers will in fact change their hearts.  But maybe that change will occur because our own hearts begin to love enough that others actually see Jesus in us. Perhaps this is the action you want to see, instead of what you think are empty prayers. Maybe prayers seem empty because you haven’t really opened the door yourself. And so, perhaps prayer is exactly what is needed – for you, and for me.

rsz_prayer

Lots of acknowledgment to Mollie Hemmingway at “The Federalist,” Russell Moore at “The Washington Post,” Jim Martin, at “America.” 

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Pounding the Door in Morocco, My Continuing Camino

As the dreaded 17th of May, our darkest day, draws near, I’ve been asked multiple times where this year will take me. My friends and clients just seem to know that the middle of May will find me on a sabbatical, of sorts.  In 2013 I hiked west from St. John Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain, the infamous Camino de Santiago.  This pilgrimage was depicted in the Martin Sheen movie called The Way, which my son Cullen and I watched the day before he would leave us forever.

2014 again found me at St. John Pied de Port, but last year I walked east to Lourdes.  This famous shrine, where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette proved most fitting.  Who could know my grief more than the mother of Jesus after having lost her own son?

These are pretty clearly aligned with my journey and my faith, but why on Earth would I travel to one of the least Christian countries on the planet?  How could this piece possibly fit into the puzzle called my life?  Why would Fez be relevant to Cullen, my family, or my faith, on this journey that I often refer to as my “Camino?”

The year before he went to China, Cullen participated in another international study semester in order to garner the credit hours necessary for a “minor” degree in Arabic.  This would accompany his minor in French, and dual majors, in Spanish and Chinese.  Bear in mind, this was at age 19. William Cullen Klein would graduate from Florida State University in two years with four degrees, after finishing high school in two years, concurrently completing his AA through dual enrollment.

Although FSU did not have an official class placed in Morocco that Summer semester, Cullen fearlessly agreed to go it alone.  He was driven to get the credit hours only this trip would provide, so he would graduate with his four degrees, on the rushed schedule he had so carefully crafted.  But why was he in such a hurry? It was as if he knew his own timeline.

Cullen Climbing Stairs     Cullen leaving

Sorry, but when I start talking about my son, I just seem to go on and on and on.  And so, since I never tire of doing that, let’s do it some more.  This is an excerpt from my CRHP weekend retreat witness:

I loved my daughters more than life itself, but a man wants a son… On my own 34th birthday, William Cullen Klein was born.

(originally about 30 more minutes of my bragging about him here, and then:)

Adolescence was upon us and so was fear, confusion, and anger. This, of course, was manifest as rebellion. Good times and kind words were a distant memory.  The ball games, camp-outs, and fishing trips, dozens of concerts together, tossing the ball in the back yard, and even getting our Tae Kwan Do black-belts together – these were all a lifetime ago.  He hated me, my values, my Church, my house.

His unfortunate every other weekend with us served up dinners together with my new wife and two additional siblings, a midnight curfew, breath check, and of course, mandatory Sunday church. 

I realized that much of his behavior and emotions were from confusion and anxiety over those issues I’ve written about previously.

For years, I would kneel and beg God to remove his heavy burden. I prayed constantly, and made all sorts of offers, if Jesus would just show some of that compassion that I had heard so much about and make my son “normal.”

But I tried so hard for him to realize I didn’t reject him. I loved him so very much and I wanted him to know that it was truly unconditional. And I was so scared for him. 

So, about the time Cullen turned 17, I stopped begging for God to make him “normal,” and being angry at Him for being so cruel.  I began to recognize that I have a big God. A huge God that I could never begin to comprehend. A magnificent, omnipotent God who had made no mistakes, and is in control.

And so I started to simply pray for Cullen. That Jesus would meet him where he was. He had made Cullen the way he was for a reason, and that he was an incredible person, so smart and so beautiful, inside and out. And so I prayed that the creator of the universe would reach out and embrace my son

He loves him. He understands him. Through Christ, He IS the personification of love. And so, I prayed simply that they find each other. That God’s will be done.

Cullen spent the summer after his sophomore year studying on an exchange program in Morocco. I warned him about “you know what” before he left, and in that culture, well… I emphasized how much I loved him and wanted him back alive. He rolled his eyes, but knew both of those things were true. I prayed for him daily at Mass.

I was shocked at how God answered my prayers as soon as I changed the context of my prayers. I was amazed at the son that returned from Morocco.  Had his orientation changed?  Of course not, but it no longer mattered.  They had met.

“Dad, I looked out from the airplane in Barcelona, and you’ll never believe how glad I was to see a cross at the top of a church. He said every person, every day tried to convince him that Islam was the only way to God.  And so he kneeled with them in prayer several times each day. (They just didn’t know he was praying silently those prayers that he once found boring and pointless.)

My new Cullen wanted to go to Mass with us; he even had us pick him when he spent weekends at his mother’s. He went to adoration of the Eucharist, and truly knelt in prayer for hours. Not only had “they met,” Cullen had has a relationship with the creator of the Universe that I will forever be in awe of.  We’d stay up late discussing God, and Scripture, and theology. I reminded him that the word disciple means “learner,” not blind follower. Dig deep and learn about the real, historic Jesus, his teachings and how and why He loves us.”

So now, my dear friends, you see why Morocco is calling to me.

Cullen had a persona that was magnetic, and so even though he had no Florida classmates on the Fez University campus, he was adopted by new friends from Chicago.  I had no knowledge of this until Katie approached me after Cullen’s accident.  She and Victoria, and so many other kind loving beautiful kids from DePaul University reached out to my son and made him part of their own group.

Cullen at DePaul table

Cullen at DePaul table

Cullen had told me that he made friends with some classmates, and how funny it was, because he enjoyed talking with that upper-midwest, Chicago, almost Sarah Palin accent.  When he talked that way he had us laughing so hard we cried at the dinner table.  We still do, and although we’re not laughing so hard, they’re still very fond memories.

Morocco is the most religious country in the world.  99% of the country claims to be Sunni Muslim, the small remainder are Sufi Muslim, with about 360,000 Catholics, 50,000 Protestants, and 8,000 Jews.  Morocco is, in fact, the most Western of the African Muslim nations, both geographically and politically.  Religious diversity is allowed and encouraged, although it is still a capital crime for a citizen to convert away from Islam.

Katie and Victoria have planned quite an itinerary for me.  They’ve prepared a few phrases to learn (which I have on flashcards in my pocket), a history of the culture and relevant current events, and contacted a host family for me to stay with.  They’ve even arranged a guide for me to translate and take me to the University in Fez and places where they went with Cullen.

Unfortunately he was so fluent in Arabic and French that he was the only student placed in a family that spoke no English, so I’ll not be staying with them.  However, stopping to break bread with that family will undoubtedly be one of the first stops my “guided tour.”

We don’t really appreciate what we have and hold dearest until we feel a life without.  And so perhaps that’s why my son rediscovered his Christian faith in one of the world’s least Christian places.  I have no doubt that’s a device our Lord used as he relentlessly knocked on the door of his heart.  I imagine the intensity turning to a fist pounding on that door when the muezzin chanted the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, five times each day, until he opened it.

Morocco door

“Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. (Luke 12:36)

 

And this will be consolation I hold dearest, deep in my own heart.    I have so much to be thankful for.

I leave on May 5th, and return May 19th.

Please keep me in your prayers –

Much Love.

Moroccan scene1

Prayer, Parking, and Presumptions – (How are prayers answered, anyway?)

The father of the bride was becoming frantic.  He sped up and down the lanes of the church parking lot, but there were no parking spots.  The wedding would start in four minutes! Time for bargaining.  “I know I skip church on game days, or when the bass are biting, or when I just want to sleep late – never again! – I’ll go every Sunday! FIND ME A PLACE TO PARK!!! I’ll never look away when a beggar needs a few dollars.  I promise!  Ok, Ok, I’ll even go to my in-laws next weekend.  AAARRGGGHHH!!! JUST FIND ME A PLACE TO PARK!!!”  Two minutes to go, and the car ahead backs out, opening a place to park.  “Never-mind God, I found one!”

Image result for parking space picture

Are prayers answered?  How?  What IS prayer, anyway?  What is it for you?

Is prayer simply asking God for favors?  Is it begging, pleading and deal-making from a “fox-hole?”  Or is it a two way conversation? Certainly, the mystics claimed to hear the voice of God.  Saints Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Ignatious, Therese, Bernadette, and many more, wrote volumes sharing what they heard God say.

When I was walking the Camino de Santiago as part of my grieving process, I wanted desperately to hear Charlton Heston or James Earl Jones booming from the clouds, but was met with silence. However, a few hundred miles into the journey, it became clear that our Lord speaks to us in many, many ways.  That clumsy first attempt at blogging described dozens of these “encounters,” apparently quite common on that pilgrimage.

But you certainly don’t have to travel to Spain to encounter God in a very real way.  Many/Most of you may grimace at the idea of God “talking to you.”  Even the “churched,” especially if their faith consists of “checking the box” every Sunday, or even twice a year, may cringe at the idea of someone who claims to hear the voice of God.  SNL skits come to mind ridiculing Jimmy Swaggart and Oral Roberts.  But without “hearing the voice,” can we really get answers?

Answered prayers are news-worthy, because they surprise us.  Headlines, movies, and books are often written to describe cured cancer, inexplicable near misses, and unlikely rescues. These re-invigorate the faithful.  Which is good.  Except…

Why would you pray, if you didn’t honestly feel He was listening, cared about you, and was anxious to have these “encounters?”  If we really believe our prayers could/will be answered, then why is it newsworthy when they are?

prayers

Perhaps we simply don’t know how to listen.  Its almost as if we hold out for an answered prayer to be accompanied by a vision, a voice, an apparition.  But, really.  If Jesus of Nazareth is really and truly here with us as we walk each step, every day, perhaps we should express a bit of common sense.

Was the father of the bride (above) expecting an explosion and a new parking lot, with the glowing Christ to be directing him into a parking place?  Wouldn’t a much more logical explanation be that He “directed” the driver of the exiting car to have business finished so they could leave when they did, so you could pull in just in the nick of time for the nuptials?

Likewise, how would the creator of the universe, create the universe?  Wouldn’t you expect it would be so through a natural phenomenon?  How absurd would it be for a big bang to cause itself?

Thomas Aquinas called it the First Cause Argument.

If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a great chain with many links; each link is held up by the link above it, but the whole chain is held up by nothing.

If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist.

For the smart aleck out there who thinks Steven Hawking adequately addresses this, I’ve read Hawking’s refutation, and even though he’s probably lots smarter than me, he misses the entire point.  He dismisses (see also addendum A) a “caused big-bang,” because:

You can’t get to a time before the big bang, because there was no time before the big bang.  We have finally found something that does not have a cause because there was no time for a cause to exist in.

But therein lies the problem, Christians (as well as most other faithful types) believe God is omnipresent (has always existed), and, in fact, created time, when He created stuff, and non-stuff (space).

It’s the whole “time-space-continuum” thing that makes me as dizzy as that ridiculous quantum physics class (that greatly contributed to my insanity).  Einstein’s insistence to keep asking, “What if…” results in (see also addendum B) his Theory of Relativity, and at least a profound theist belief in a Gd who directed creation. (addendum C).

Image result for maker of the universe picture

Time and space are characteristics of our world, not God’s. He is not limited by hours, days and years as we are. In fact, the Bible tells us that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).

And so, if God is “timeless” and not bound by the concept which in fact, we believe He created, it follows that He sees all past, present, and future on the same page – all at the same time.  Therefore, we believe that He knows each of us intimately at the very instant of conception, when we are instilled with what we call a “soul.”  He knows each of our decisions, beliefs, rejections, and our final destiny.  “Clearly this all becomes fuzzy,” especially when we consider Calvin’s treatment of Gods omniscient knowledge of our choices and therefore our destination.  And since God made us this way, including the part of our brain which makes decisions, Calvin had it all figured out with his five pillars – only a “few are chosen,” therefore, most of us are in a bit of trouble.  But it’s not our fault, and we (obviously) didn’t really have free choice.  (That’s Calvin’s bent, clearly not mine).

I realize my line of reason seldom takes a strait line trajectory…

If, in fact, God is timeless, and we truly believe God can affect and effect the course of outcomes (possibly by giving us additional opportunities to make new “free” choices which change the course HE sees otherwise happening), then it seems to me quite plausible to take this a step further.

Since He sees past, present and future all together, can not He favor our petitions, effecting a change, even if we pray for something after its course has already been determined?  Let’s think about this with a simple example…

Suppose you prayed for an exam scheduled for today to be easy.  You were at the hospital all night with a sick mother, and never even studied.  You knew the test was important, and offered up your petition at her bedside.  Our Lord considered your position and … obliged.  You were THRILLED to see such an easy test.  Every question had an easy answer – it seemed like common sense.  Not only are you thrilled, your confidence in God, prayer, and faith has been affirmed …  UNTIL … The teacher announces that she had had commitments yesterday, and so prepared the questions the previous week – long before any prayers had been offered up.  Your prayers couldn’t have been answered, due to the timing.  It was just an easy test.

Or perhaps you’re on a sailboat and encounter an unexpected storm.  Treacherous waves, unrelenting wind, sounds eerily similar to the hurricane you remember so well.  For hours, all you could do was lower the sail.  The craft was awash, waves cresting well above and over the deck.  Heading into the wind she finds herself “in irons,” and the captain can only lower the sails, and hope the tiny auxiliary motor can keep some semblance of control.  Soon the storm has passed, but out of fuel, you can only drift with the current, and after three days encounter the friendly shores of an unintended island.  Haha, you knew you could do it, and you never really felt in danger.  So exciting, so exhilirating.  The adventure of a lifetime.

However, unbeknownst to you, literally hundreds of thousands of family, friends, and strangers had offered up prayers for your safety.  The fact that the petitions were offered AFTER the storm was over made them, of course, “wasted effort.”  Or were they?  Could the Creator-of-the-Universe have, in the aforementioned time-space-continuum, have considered the petitions about to be offered up, and changed the course that miserable storm was to have on you even before the fact?  Could the winds have finally relented, as you reached a current that would drift you into safety?

How are prayers answered?  I think in many ways.  And I purport that our questions and needs are addressed in many different ways as well.  Perhaps its presumptuous of us to assume that we have the cognitive ability to know the ways of the same Creator-of-the-Universe.  We don’t really expect to hear a deep, resounding human voice from the clouds, do we?  We would be stunned if that actually happened, so clearly we anticipate other forms of response.

We believe that God is love.  Not simply that He loves.  Not simply that He, through His Son, showed us how to love. But rather, that God is love.  Emmanuel – God is with us in the love that we feel from others, and for others.  164,882 people praying for my daughter, expressing love for a complete stranger in need, is in fact, the pure manifestation of God’s love and evidence that in fact, He is with us.

Much Love.

Thank You.

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addendum A:  Hawking’s argument of gravity’s role in the bang assumes that gravity somehow existed before the Big Bang, yet Hawking then goes on to maintain that nothing, including God, existed before the Big Bang. Hmmm … Hawking’s logic is selective.

addendum B:  <Planck?> Non Euclidian Geometry evolves into the concept of the “tesseract,” and eventually his Theory of Relativity.

addendum C:  although he rejected the Hebrew (and Christian) notion of a Gd with whom one has a personal relationship, and involved in each of our own personal decisions and destinies.