Monday, April 28, 2008

Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils

A conversation with my good friend (and my son's godmother) along with this post from Radical Catholic Mom, has me thinking about our elected representatives. For the most part, none of them actually represent me. It doesn't seem to matter what party or candidate you vote for. Almost everyone on the ballot will espouse something so completely contrary to Catholic doctrine that conscientious voters are placed in the unenviable position of supporting something they hate. And it seems there's nothing we can do about it, not given the entrenchment of our two-party system.

Voting is a double-edged sword, in my opinion. The right and freedom to elect our leaders carries with it an implicit responsibility to choose wisely...and a corollary responsibility for what our leaders then do with the power we give them. Our faith encourages us to vote, most especially because participating in our government is the best way to influence the activities, direction and philosophy of our society. We can sit out an election here and there, providing we do so for good reasons and not simply out of laziness, but for the most part we must vote.

Thus, we must support candidates and positions that we do not like. Most politicians view our votes as approval for their ideas and beliefs. We don't get to vote on the issues, just on the candidates. So how should we best communicate the fullness of our position when our vote alone can be misleading? My friend had a brilliant idea that I wanted to share with you all. Vote, and then go right home to write a letter to your representative.

Dear So and So:

I have just voted to elect you into office because I feel your position on the following issues most closely represents my own. I wanted to send you my best wishes and assure you that I will be praying for your term in office, that you might be guided by the Holy Spirit and given wisdom in all your decisions.

There are several issues on which we do not agree. I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to you about them, partly because I want you to realize my vote does not imply my approval of everything in your platform, but mostly because I believe you are a reasonable person with the best interests of our people at heart. This is why I feel the way I do about these issues. Please take this information into consideration when you are faced with legislation or choices that may affect them.

I love America and am proud to be a citizen of this great country. I hope we can work together to bring freedom and prosperity to everyone in this nation and around the world. God Bless you, and God Bless America.

Let's open the doors of communication and keep them open throughout our representatives' terms! I know from experience that writing one letter or sending an email to a politician puts you on their mailing list forever. How wonderful is that! We get to hear all about their activities and are provided with the perfect forum for expressing our opinions on them. Do we get emails and flyers when our favorite stores are having a sale? Do we have our favorite news sites bookmarked online or fed into our RSS folders?

Shouldn't we be as involved in the political process as we are with things that affect us much less drastically?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wisdom From Old Traditions

I've just returned from celebrating the Passover Seder with some family friends. Having married into a Jewish family, and also having grown up in a heavily Jewish area, I am as familiar with the ceremonies and celebrations of Judaism as I am with my own faith. It was comforting, beautiful and spiritual to participate in the Seder as I remember it from my childhood, and to see the different traditions this new family has developed.

It was also comforting to have to deal with my 5 year old son's rambunctious behavior during the prayers and readings. Praise God! It's not the Church he's sitting still!

I had an interesting conversation with the host during the evening. As he humbly reminds me whenever we talk, he's not a rabbi, but he's certainly studied the Talmud and is a great source of information on tradition and theology.

I've been turning over the question of sacrifices in my head since I read it in my book on Stewardship, and can't quite put my finger on why it bothers me so much. An anonymous commenter wrote in my previous post on the subject that my current efforts to help the poor by living simply and increasing my prayer time ARE like the ancient offerings I find so inspiring simply because they have no visible effect. It requires faith to do them and believe that some good will come.

That's, I think, the crux of my problem. I wouldn't say I have little faith. In fact, I've always felt I had an abundance of it. I've always felt sure of God's presence in my life and believed the truth of His existence. I don't need miracles or proofs...If I found out tomorrow that absolutely everything in the Bible was wrong, that Jesus never existed, that humans were seeded on earth by aliens from another galaxy, I would still know that God was real. I have my doubts like anyone, but they are always allayed by the simple faith that He exists. Period.

But faith is just the first step. All my life, I've felt completely in accord with James when he talks about the need for action to complete ones faith:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
-- James 2:14-17

This is the classic "Show don't Tell" that every aspiring writer must take to heart. If I claim to be a Christian, I must BE a Christian. I can't simply talk about Christ's love. I have to SHOW it with everything I do, in all my thoughts, words and deeds.

This is why I can't find peace with the limitations I'm operating under right now. The most I can do for the poor is pray for them, and doing that without also giving money to charity feels like I'm telling the poor "I wish good things for you" and then walking away and leaving them in need.

My Jewish friend had a perspective that's somewhat helpful as I struggle with my situation. I asked him about the destruction of the Temple, and how the resulting loss of the priesthood has prohibited the Jews from offering sacrifices. "Do you feel that your faith lost anything when the sacrifices went from material things to solely spiritual ones? That in some ways, prayers cannot replace the very real act of taking something and burning it?"

He said suffering was never really the point of the sacrifices. It wasn't so much that God wanted His people to feel the absence of the first fruits, or the bull, or the lamb. The laws on what to sacrifice and when were meant to serve as reminders of God's presence and blessings. Keeping Kosher, for instance, is not about doing without certain foods. It is a lifestyle that keeps God at the forefront of our thoughts, and also a way for an observant Jew to set himself apart from the society he lives in, as another visible reminder that God is what is most important to him.

So that has really resonated with me. These things I am doing may not really have any impact on the poor, but they still DO impact the world. They are visible reminders, to me and to those who know me, that God is present among us. They are witness to my faith and the importance of God in my life.

If I can do them cheerfully, consistently and lovingly, they may be the best ways to evangelize others. They are an opportunity for me to share my knowledge and help others think about the poor in their lives. I can't do much right now, but others can...if they are so inclined. Taking the poor with me through my actions also brings them into the lives of those I associate with, and if that inspires someone to give then I HAVE helped the poor (indirectly.)

Instead of focusing on what I'm not doing, I should think about what I am doing. The Jewish people did not abandon their faith when the Temple was destroyed and their entire way of relating to God had to change. They found ways to live apart in witness to God and preserved the intent of their laws.

Their example can serve as an inspiration to me, and a reminder of why I'm doing this.

Picture credit: TRAVIS SPRADLING/The Advocate

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I haven't been posting much lately because I'm still in a holding pattern, still praying and trying to do small things for the poor like keep my grocery bills down, be nice to my children, and refrain from eating meat at restaurants.

My husband and I had a wonderful date-night dinner at a local Moroccan restaurant where everything was organic, cooked from scratch and delicious. Ethnic food is always the best bet for eating healthy at a good price. Your average chain restaurant is loaded with fat and one point on the road a few years ago my husband and I tried to eat at your friendly neighborhood chain restaurant and there wasn't a single item on the menu that wasn't either deep fried or meat-based. We like to support local businesses as much as we can, and happily we like Indian, Asian, African and Middle Eastern cuisine, so it works out well for us. For some reason, eating local, ethnic food often means the restaurant is in a strip mall. So much for atmosphere!

I may have inadvertently caused a scandal at my parish by writing an article that did not comply with Church teaching. Pray for me, if you will, as I discern what to do.

Both kids are sick with ear infections that are draining through their eyes and nose. (Yes, the image is as lovely in person as I'm sure it is in your head!) So I've got both of them home with me this week and nothing planned. I can't go to the gym because I don't want them to infect the other kids in day care. My son can't go to school, we can't have anyone over and we can't go to anyone's house. The words stir-crazy definitely apply, and it's only day 2!

We got our sewer line fixed at 1/3 the cost and no damage whatsoever to our lawn, porch or basement. Praise God! The method they used feeds the new pipe through the old one, so all they need to do is brace their machine against a foundational wall (which they did by cutting into the cement floor of our storeroom) and dig a small hole down to the pipe where it joins with the main city sewer line. In all, it wasn't anywhere near the cost or trouble we thought it would be. I even got the chance to practice my Spanish with one of the guys who did the work, and they company sent someone the next day to repair our storeroom floor, remove the extra dirt from our front yard and sweep the street clear of dust. God really took care of us.

So that's it. Nothing profound. Nothing inspiring. I did just finish a nice chapter on the importance of suffering in The Truth Of Catholicism by George Weigel, but I can't seem to get my brain to function enough to write meaningfully about it. Maybe the virus the kids have is draining my brain, too.

Good night, dear friends. I think I should get some rest.