Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Disconnecting from Catholic Social Media

After the latest brouhaha resultant from this post (and the convo before it I mentioned), I have been pushed over the edge. I'm done with Catholic social media.

It's not like this hasn't been long in coming. It seems what passes for the majority of Catholic blogging, and perhaps more so social media, is a sludge of conservative outrage inducing link regurgitating. The echo chamber is in full effect, and it has gotten worse since our new pope has been elected. Now it's not just the broader decadent Western culture that has the watchdogs frothing at the mouth, but apparently the Pope himself is not Catholic enough for them.

Enough already. It is downright embarrassing and, for me, infuriating. It's all just so much gossip.

We conservative Catholics need to stop conflating political ideals with Catholic doctrine, as if the Right has a corner on truth and goodness. We need to stop vilifying those on the other end of the political spectrum. We need to stop overreacting to everything homosexual and abortion-related. We need to stop setting ourselves up in our own personal popedoms. We need to relax about the liturgy. We need to relax about the world's sexual profligacy. We need to relax. Chill out a bit. Take a deep breath and stop wigging out every time something in the world doesn't align with the way we think it should be.

It goes without saying (for me) that I'm not suggesting keeping silent when we should speak. I'm not suggesting not being active in the political process how we should be. I'm not suggesting ignoring or suppressing Truth, Goodness, or Beauty. I am by no means suggesting we don't share the Gospel--exactly the contrary!

Look. Either God is in control or he isn't. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that ain't nothing new. The way things used to be ain't as great as we like to pretend it was in our whitewashed memories. Human nature is human nature. It always has been. Mass sinfulness has always been with us; it's just the predominate kinds of sin that change with the passage of time.

Thankfully, God doesn't judge us by the political order and culture we live in; he judges us individually by what we as individuals think, say, and do. If God intended to set up a perfect political party or government, we'd have that. But we don't, and it's not our job to try to set it up.

What we do have is the Truth. What we have are the Sacraments. What we have is each other. Real people whom we are called to truly love, even if we don't agree with them. 

And don't tell me about "speaking the truth in love." Hogwash. The Truth is easily abused and can be wielded as effectively to drive people away from God as it can to guide them to Him. The Truth is also understood incompletely, by us. It is often miscommunicated, by us. It is also often misunderstood, and we are responsible to minimize that--we must be sensitive to where people are and adjust when and how we share the Gospel with them. 

And this extends beyond social media (it just seems exacerbated by it, as are most things online, where it's so easy to reduce people in your head to mere ideas and words, stripping them of the dignity and love they deserve from us). My own dear lay Dominicans were recently discussing a situation where one of them found out that someone they have do some handyman work is gay--who was "married" recently. Apparently this was the source of great anguish--should she keep paying him to do a job? What if he brings up his gayness?? "You have to share the truth [in love] with him," says someone. 

Really?!? Have we become so oversensitized to this issue that it becomes a major personal crisis to find out that someone you have hired to do a job that has absolutely zero to do with their sexuality is gay? Are we really obligated to foist our opinion of their life choices on them uninvited? Must we all shake our heads and tut tut about it? Would we have the same crisis if, say, we found out that they were a terrible gossip or an inveterate liar? Somehow I doubt it, especially if their sin was also one we personally struggle with.

And that's the crux of it. If this behavior is not the very definition of what Jesus was counseling against in Matthew 7, I don't know what is. All this outrage-inducing "socializing" does is keep our focus on others' sins and errors rather than our own, much less does it help us to share the Good News. I'd say the Devil is pretty pleased with the state of Catholic social media right now. Pretending for a moment that this is "New Evangelization" is utter self-deception.

Sharing the Gospel is the key. It's not good enough to say something is a sin. That's sharing the Truth incompletely. That, at its best, is ethics. Being a "good person" doesn't get anyone to heaven. What we really need to share is not "you are living in sin" but "Christ can transform your life, give you joy and give you peace." That's the message. That's the focus. Sin is just an opportunity for us to receive God's grace. We need to share that the mercy and grace of God is greater than all our sins put together

We need to stand with our fellow sinners, not so as to condone sin but rather in recognition that we are all sinners, that we all fail, that we all utterly need the grace of God. If we are not truly with them, then we are not truly loving them. Compassion is the word. Suffering with others. Us versus them is not authentic love. Pointing out sin is not authentic love. It is pride masquerading as love.

And, so, for myself, all this outrage-rich social media is a very near occasion to sin (not to mention a waste of time and talent), because I am repeatedly tempted to hold these brothers and sisters in disdain, because I myself become preoccupied with their sins rather than my own, and so, give into pride. 

Therefore, I am cutting off that aspect of my life rather than continuing to fall into sin. I have deleted circles. I have unliked pages on FB. I will continue to cull these things from my life as they come up. As I slowly rebuild my Catholic social connections, I will use this as a bar: Does this person refrain from fostering outrage and indulging in judging and condemning others? Does this person share things that build people up? Does this person appear to be truly concerned with sharing the Gospel and will they help me to? 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Getting a Firearms Permit in New Jersey

Finally got my firearms permits! w00t!

In NJ, it is quite the process, and mine was somewhat exacerbated.

A Little Background/Why I Did It
It all started back in the beginning of April when I decided to pull the trigger (ha ha) and go through the process. It's worth mentioning that I grew up in OK and AR, where gun ownership is no big deal. My first rifle was a gift from my step-dad--a very old, somewhat crusty bolt action .22 cal. I spent a lot of time restoring it, and in the end, it was an effective rifle even without a scope. I guess seeing how I took care of that one led him to give me a newer one that had a scope.

My other family also had guns, mostly rifles and shotguns, and we weren't rabid hunters, but we did hunt sometimes. As a teenager, I took a gun/hunting safety course, in addition to being mentored by my family. I've also spent a fair bit of time at ranges shooting rifles and the occasional handgun.

When I moved to Florida in 2003, I left my rifles with my dad because I didn't expect to need them and thought he could make use of them. Since then, I haven't had a gun, but mostly just because I was busy with other things.

This year, though, the gun debate heated up again, and it got me thinking about it. I also don't live in the safest city in NJ. And I wanted to experience what it is like for a law-abiding citizen to exercise his constitutional right to bear arms in a highly restrictive state like NJ. Together these things foisted me out of my complacency, and I began the journey.

I'm hardly a gun nut, but I am definitely on the "right" side of the issue. I think Larry Correia sums up the reasons why better than I can. (BTW, since I read that, I started listening to his Monster Hunter series--good stuff!)

Step 1 - Figure Out What You Gotta Do
The easiest way is to Google something like "getting a gun in NJ." That ultimately landed me on what I thought would be a reliable source--the state police Web site. I also read up on the actual statutes (not fun reading, as you might expect). I was surprised to learn that to get a permit to carry, you basically have to have evidence that your life is being threatened by, e.g., a stalker, or that you need it for your job. I figure living where I do is justification for me to carry--considering that all the criminals around here do, but hey, I figured I'd save that battle for a different day.

Step 2 - Download and Fill Out the Forms 
So I downloaded and filled out the forms from the state police Web site and called my local PD, who told me to just drop it off.

Step 2.3 - Drop Off Forms in Person
I went to our police HQ (in an even-less-great part of town than I live in) and dropped it off. Next day I get a call from the detective in charge of permits, who says I filled out the main form wrong, was missing a form, and that I needed to type up my application using the editable PDF (the one I had already filled out by hand). He said to come and pick up a "packet" to apply. Then, once I had the packet done, I was to set up an appointment with him to go over them.

Step 2.5 - Pick Up the Forms
So I went back to the HQ, stopped by the desk, and asked for the "gun permit application" package. The lady handed me a package, and I said thanks and left.

Step 2.7 - Fill Out the Forms Again
There were more forms in the packet, including the mental health history form, as well as a handful of other things (like making copies of your DL) to do. I did all that and called the detective back. We set an appointment for Tues at 10a. Great--things are moving along.

Step Minus 1 - Get Appendicitis and Miss Appointment
Unfortunately, the Sunday (4/14) before my appointment, I came down with acute appendicitis and went into surgery for an old-fashioned appendectomy in the middle of Monday morning. So I had to call the detective and cancel. He said he had to put permits work on hold due to an investigation and wouldn't be able to get back to it for a few weeks. That happened to work for me because a little less than two weeks after my surgery, I had my family vacation planned. So we agreed to meet after that.

Step 3 - Turn in the Forms & Meet
It ended up being 6/5 before we could meet. I showed up with completed package in hand, only to find out that the lady gave me the wrong one--the renewal package instead of the new one. Thankfully, the detective was kind enough to let me fill out the correct extra forms right there (which included referral requests from people who will vouch for my character).

In addition, he gave me a new set of forms that I had to take to a local fingerprinting agency, which was also a surprising $57.50 that I was not expecting. That agency didn't have an available slot until 6/13, so more waiting...

Step 4 - Get Fingerprinted
Go to a separate agency, pay them about $60 to put all your fingers on a digital scanner a few times. Oh yeah, there was another form for this you have to fill out, both online and on paper.

Step 5 - Take Fingerprinting Form Verification to Police
Amazingly enough, even though the fingerprinting is digital and even though there is a digital form you fill out with the agency online, you still have to manually take the completed/verified form back to the police HQ and drop it off in person. It's almost as if they don't want you to get guns...

Step 6 - More Waiting
The detective warned me that his backlog is longish, so not to expect a rapid turnaround. Okay, by this point I am become one with the waiting, so I go with it (as if I have a choice). They have to do the background check and referral check.

Step 7 - Call to Check on Status
As I said, I am one with the waiting. Plus, it's not like I am in urgent need here, so I give it until 7/23. I called and asked to verify he got the fingerprinting paperwork and just to find out where we are. Next thing I know, the following day I got a call from the front desk lady saying my permits were ready to be picked up.

Step 8 - Pick Up Permits
Okay, phew. One last (I hope) trip to the police HQ. I stop by, and the lady takes me back to the detective's desk. The permit card is all filled out, but I guess they wait until you pick it up to put the date on the handgun permit--because they expire. That was considerate. She fires up an ancient typewriter and plops the date on, has me sign the card and the handgun permit, and fingerprints me again on the actual permit card.

Oh yeah, the rifle and shotgun permit is $5, and each handgun permit (you have to apply for those individually) is $2. I had to bring that in cash, exactly--they don't make change.

Okay, so I had to go to the police HQ FIVE TIMES in person to get my permit. In addition, I had to go to a separate agency for fingerprinting. That's a total of SIX interruptions of workdays--as with most government offices, they have restrictive hours you have to show up in (8a-4p). Luckily my employer is flexible about stuff like that, but I can't imagine how most working (i.e., upstanding citizens) folks whose employers are not so flexible would have to deal with it.

I started this process at the beginning of April, so it took roughly four months to complete the process. Who knows if I hadn't called if it would have been longer--I doubt they had just happened to finish it then. State law says that once the app paperwork is done, the department has 30 days to complete. And you'll note on the card, it was supposedly issued on 7/13--one month after I turned in my fingerprinting forms. ;) Now granted, I had a few-week interruption that was my fault, so we could say it took three months.

In terms of money, there is obviously the cost of transportation for those six outings. On top of that is the $57.50 for the fingerprinting and the $7 for the permits. So I spent probably $65-70 just to get the authorization to purchase guns. That's not the cost to buy an actual gun, to buy the ammo, to buy the safe to keep it safe. That is just to get authorized to buy.

On top of that, the closest gun range to me is 45-50 minutes away. There are some private ranges, but you have to go through a whole, multi-year process to get into those, not to mention do community service with them. In order to get any kind of competency then, I am going to have to drive about 2 hours to a range, pay someone to train me, buy a gun (or more). Living in a city, I can't just practice in the backyard. ;)

As I said, part of the reason I did this was to go through the experience of just how much of a pain in the ass it is to legally get a gun in NJ. So far I've only been authorized to buy one, but what a pain. Time off from work. Several trips to agencies. Spending $70. All of this to exercise a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Now compare that to voting, another constitutional right. Certain people scream from the rafters if you even suggest that we require something as simple as a photo ID, which the vast majority of upstanding citizens already have. They yell about disenfranchising.

And yet, look at what it takes to exercise our 2nd Amendment right in NJ. How many citizens--especially those who live in areas where they might realistically need a handgun for self-defense--could afford to go through that process? Talk about disenfranchising.

More importantly, how many people who would abuse firearms would go through that process? I live in a city with high incidence of gun crime. I regularly see reports of illegal firearms on crimemapping.com in my area.

All this crap doesn't work to prevent the vast majority of gun crime. Further, it adds an apparently significant administrative burden to our already-stretched-thin police departments. If it takes that long to process permits, that's time that could be spent actually fighting actual crime instead. And yet there is a whole bunch of silliness about adding even more restrictions--even here in NJ. Heck, how about creating less overhead to get citizens guns and reinvest the time saved in free, police-led training programs for citizens? That sounds like a far more effective approach to me..

Next Steps
On the positive side, at least with some effort, money, and patience, we here in NJ can actually exercise our rights. Now that I'm allowed to exercise my constitutional right (as odd as that sounds), I'll be figuring out how to make some time to get to a range and do so. Glad to be through the process!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fearology of the Body

Yesterday I had an.. interesting experience on Google+. As a joke I posted this:

So pissed. Today I saw FB using yet another one of my selfies in their ads!  Gah! Faaacebooooook!!!!
I posted this on my Public feed. I thought it was funny. I also posted it on Facebook, where I found it.

So big deal, right? Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Until some folks started taking me to task for posting something that they consider to be too tempting for them (or maybe some imaginary lascivious person they are worried about being tempted).

Frankly, I thought the whole exchange was embarrassing. Not because I felt chastised but because I thought it displayed that not-unfounded caricature of Christians (and possibly more so, Catholics) as silly prudes--sexually oppressed and afraid of their (and others') sexuality. It is an unfortunate stereotype, and the reality that it is extrapolated from is equally unfortunate.

The reason those chastising me were wrongheaded is not that our current culture of licentiousness is right but rather that the foundation of fear upon which such a perspective is based is askew. Fear is the cornerstone of fundamentalism and the basic motivator for all that is bad in religious fundamentalism.

As Christians, we believe in the essential goodness of creation because God, the creator of all that is, visible and invisible, is essentially good. Our sexual nature as humans, while corrupted through sin, is also essentially good, and that includes our sex drive, our "sexual appetite."

Where problems involving sex arrive is with a distortion of our essentially good sexual nature. The most common distortion is inordinate desire, that is, desire that is out of proportion to what it rightly should be. From that stems the most common forms of sexual sin, such as habitual masturbation and many of the forms of sex outside of sacramental marriage. Often mixed up with inordinate desire is disordered desire, i.e., the desire for sexual gratification that is fundamentally disconnected from the primary purpose of sex--reproduction.

St. John Paul II's "theology of the body" did much to deepen Catholic thinking in a way that enhances our understanding of the positive, good nature of sex. I feel unworthy of the task of summarizing it, but the bottom line is that it provides a way to speak about sex as gift and as a language, a way to communicate our mutual, complete giving of ourselves to another in sacramental marriage, an intimate expression of that lifelong commitment, and ultimately, an expression of love that is inextricably intertwined with the purpose of procreation (and raising one's children in a family that is an extension of this self-giving love).

It is also in this way that, as St. Paul said, marriage is a reflection of the relationship of Christ and the Church, even of the infinite loving communion of persons in the Holy Trinity. This is why and how we Catholics speak of sex as beautiful and how we can cheerfully embrace the Creator's gift of sexuality to us. It is, fundamentally, a corporeal realization of theological love.

Contrast that with what I'm calling "fearology of the body." It's the perspective that is so afraid of the sexual appetite, so afraid of sexual sin, that it casts sex in an essentially negative light. Sex and sexuality become things to be shunned and avoided, or at the very least something to be dealt with from a distance with a hazmat suit on. Anything to do with sex becomes a kind of hazardous material. Dealing with sex becomes a list of don'ts, which is fine in as far as it sets more or less concrete limits, but it doesn't do much for helping us understand and realize the essentially good, theological nature of sex.

That kind of approach also warps our perspectives and makes us less free, that is, oppressed in a real sense, not in the popular sense of having limits on license but rather in the sense of being so afraid that you become not free to act, so afraid that you are not free to lovingly engage with others who do not share your perspectives, and more than that, so afraid that you begin to insist on constraining others' freedom due to your own fears and weaknesses.

And that's where this particular incident comes into view. If someone you know can't share an image of some guys standing around in their undies without taking him to task for supposedly providing an occasion of sin, your perspective on sex is seriously warped. This kind of thinking is what leads men to force women to wear burqas--because they might be tempted. It's the same kind of thinking that blames women for rapes. It is an abdication of personal responsibility and self control based in your own fears and inability to cope with your sexual appetites.

Yes, our sexual appetites are distorted due to sin. Yes, we must cultivate the virtues of temperance and fortitude, subjecting those appetites to the reason God has given us. But we must never think that mere avoidance of temptation is growth in virtue. It is, on the contrary, an indicator of a lack of the virtue of fortitude.

True self-mastery in chastity involves not this negation of our sexual nature but subjecting it to our will and channeling it into appropriate expressions. For married folk, this involves the aforementioned fidelity and mutual self giving to each other and, by extension, to our children. For celibate/unmarried folk, this means sacrificing the physical gratification of sex as an expression of our sexuality's essentially self-giving, creative, loving nature towards a larger community of persons, such as in religious communities, parishes, schools, hospitals, and even the world as a whole. In both states of life, chastity involves the integration of our sexual nature, not a rejection or fear of it.

Such fear of sexual sin also bespeaks of a misunderstanding of or lack of confidence in the grace of God. While we absolutely are called to greater virtue and holiness, which calls for action on our part, we must never become so bold as to think that it is our practice of virtue that brings us to God. God's grace is perfected in our weakness, as The Apostle put it. It is precisely that and when we do fail that we are blessed with the mercy and grace of God, which is a tremendous gift indeed, much more of a gift than if we were to achieve perfection on our own through the practice of virtue.

So we should not live in fear of our appetites, sexual or otherwise. While it is wise not to intentionally expose ourselves to occasions of sin, it is at least a bit off to try to coerce others to cater to our own weaknesses. If they choose to accommodate our weakness out of love for us, that is praiseworthy, but to require that of others for our own good is wrong.

Instead, let us focus on cultivating our own virtue in regards to our sexuality. Let us embrace it for what God meant for it to be. And for goodness' sake, let's not lose our senses of humor about such things. Humor is a good guard against fear. It also reminds us to not take ourselves too seriously and to rely on God's grace rather than our own (self-perceived) goodness.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Quantum Physics Proves a Spiritual Dimension

I made the title intentionally provocative, but this is interesting nonetheless. This is my extrapolation on what this scientist is saying in this article about science and free will (also Part 2). At the very least, it seems to make room for a spiritual dimension in reality, i.e., a dimension that is unaddressable through material-scientific means.

It would be interesting if, as we advance in our understanding of the cosmos, that rather than increasing some folks' certainty that God does not exist, we instead decrease that certainty. Of course, for the honest truth-seeker, there is no problem here. As most modern atheists claim to just follow the science where it leads them, then if they are honest, this should lead them in that direction.

Now they would doubtless point out that such a dimension, assuming that it does exist as indicated, hardly proves the existence of God. They'd be right. On the other hand, it does at least to some degree break down the "no scientific evidence" position that seems central to their conclusions. Keep in mind this is not about a "gap" (as in the "God of the gaps" critique) but a scientifically observed phenomenon that indicates an extra-material dimension. Given that science is prescribed by observable material phenomena, the discovery of an extra-material phenomenon indicates that science, as it is understood by most today, is not equipped to account for or explore that dimension. Some other means is needed.

We have that means today--reason and lived experience. In other words, this dimension is in the realm of philosophy and, potentially, theology.