Empathy For the Devil

There is a categorical difference between having empathy for another person on the one hand and granting empathy for another person relevance in a discussion of the objective morality of that very person’s chosen actions on the other hand. Granting empathy such relevance – in other words discussing how empathetic we are to the other person or discussing how culpable the other person is for the moral wrong of his actions – is only “helpful” after everyone has agreed on the objective moral standing of the particular chosen actions at hand.

Now, with that out of the way, a word about empathy. It is understandable that we are empathetic to those that we are more naturally inclined to have sympathy for. For instance, our fellow countrymen or those in similar social standings or individuals who overcome great personal difficulties or experienced great personal anguish. However, if we allow empathy to play dice we should be careful not to carve out certain people deserving of empathy in isolation of others who can be cast aside. In fact, it can be rather instructive to ask ourselves why, exactly, we more easily empathize with certain people.

Empathy is no one way street.  So, whenever we are discussing empathy for a person who has committed a grave moral wrong it is always fine to ask ourselves: “and what about the other guy.” We may have empathy for someone who has committed an atrocious evil, such as murder. But we should never allow ourselves to become trapped in an empathy silo that would prevent some empathy for the murdered.

Faith Alone. And Herpes.

When I was a little kid, a family down the gravel road in front of our house moved away.  We had been very close to this family, and their loss hurt.  My folks were relieved to learn of another family (well, husband and wife) moving in.  And like what all “decent people” did, we loaded up and drove on down after they had been moved in for 5 minutes to introduce ourselves and give them some covered dish.

The wife introduced herself to us as “Sister Sharon.”  And asked what the covered dish was made of.  As my siblings and I tore out the back door we knew so well to go romping around in a backyard we knew so well, my parents and the new neighbors had a chat in the living room.  After the pleasantries, we all loaded back up and went home.

Later that evening as I was being tucked into bed, my parents said, “Wood, remember what Sister Sharon looked like?”

“Yes, sir,” I responded.

“Good.  We don’t want you ever EVER going near her or that house.”

Later through the years, Sister Sharon became a town legend in that backwoods sort of way.  There were tales of raising squirrels back from the dead and roof top baptisms.  I witnessed while biking home one afternoon some bizarre singing ritual going on in that backyard around a makeshift swimming pool.  Of all the things parents can teach an 8 year old, the instincts of “OK, this is weird; better bike my butt back home” has got to be at the top of the list.

There is a storied history – as far as that particular history goes back – of certain Christian sects believing – strongly – that they, and they alone, are Jonahs preaching to a deaf Ninevah.  There is a storied history of certain Christian sects believing that if everyone would just pray hard enough and believe in Jesus hard enough and read their Bibles (and only their Bibles) in the right way, why, these very people could handle snakes as safely as precious jewels.  And even though, say, any old 8 year old on a bike knows that snakes are serious business that can get you killed – well, that’s only due to a lack of faith and ignorance.

Recent discussions on the internet have taken me back to that dirt road in middle of nowhere.  It seems, for some Christian sects, snake handling is soooo 20th century.  If you really have faith, really read the right Bible and love the right Jesus in the 21st century you can engage in all sorts of sins, all sorts of sexual immorality snake handling – without the least little bite from the snake.  In fact, engaging in all sorts of sexual immorality – all to the honor and glory of God, of course – is a sign you are Jonah preaching tirelessly to a deaf Ninevah.

Or perhaps you’re just weirdos in the back yard trying to raise dead squirrels.  My advice:  get your butt back home.

Mater Dei

“My soul doth magnify the Lord.”

Much of the discussion regarding our Lady’s assumption into heaven focuses upon, well, our Lady. And that’s how it should be certainly. But Marian doctrine and veneration – similar to any truth – ultimately reflects ahead to God: particular truths give us some insight into He Who is Truth.

Today is our Lady’s glorious feast day of her assumption. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is eternally a true Son.  The most perfect Son.  There are many wonderful explanations of the “why’s” of Mary’s assumption: she is an image of the Church and shows us what we, too, in our particular degrees may be rewarded at the resurrection of the body at the end of time should we die in the state of grace.

Feasts also clear the mind of cant.

I, literally, have the hardest time wrapping my head around the fact that in that somewhere of heaven there is – “right this very moment” – a real, living, flesh and blood woman.  Now that’s amazing grace.  The (big “D”) Definition of the Assumption is Catholicism putting its money where its mouth is, the Assumption is Catholicism’s oh so gentle reminder to the rest of the World: and We mean it!

Today, on this wonderful feast, I keep thinking about that other Reality, peopled with flesh and blood. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, Who suffered John to rest his head on His breast at the Last Supper, Who asked his friend Peter – stomach full of fish – “do you love Me?” – that Man and God wanted His Mom with Him in heaven.  They had been separated long enough, and it was time – He commanded it – for them to speak again human face to human face.  What son doesn’t understand this?  How amazing (woefully trite term) was that Son’s love for His Mom.  How amazing to be loved by Jesus that much.  How utterly amazing to be honored with such love.

Lord Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior True God and True Man and Most Just Judge, we beg of Your grace to be honored with Your love.

We Are Sherman

Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears

I’m old enough and from a small enough sort of place to remember a time when few entities were dreaded, feared, more so than Walmart. During Walmart’s ascendancy we watched with dread as local store after local store boarded up and closed. It was an invisible Sherman marching to the sea, and whole towns were gobbled up as folks drove on highways and “bypasses” to reach soulless dreary melting pot Walmart.

Like most things in life, the reality was far more complex than the small town narrative. The ’90’s were a demographic nightmare for little towns. And I’m sure any number of factors were in play other than the “simple” fact that Walmart was sucking the life out of small towns. However, by turns of providence I do have a bit more inside baseball of Walmart than most do. There was a period of time when Walmart’s business model, at least in the deep South, was intentionally to be disruptive of communities. There was a strategy to go after large hubs with “vulnerable” smaller towns nearby. And small towns took the bait, “upgraded” to Walmart, and drove past dead stores in their dying towns. But the editors of Reason assured us it was overall “good for our economy.”

There was always some bitter irony in the fact that the high brow folks heaped so much scorn upon Walmart, thinking they were attacking the very paragon of the Southern uncouth. It was bitter, because many of my fellow man also viewed Walmart as the very antithesis of “us.”

Interestingly, Walmart has been feeling a bit of the squeeze recently. The Chinese Outlet Mall Civil Wars have commenced, as Amazon is now eating away at the high cotton profits. The brilliance of Amazon, from my perspective, is that it allows folks to shop like a Walmarter without being a Walmarter. I try to muster a little schadenfreude at the fact that the urban big boys – and Walmart herself – are also feeling a bit of the squeeze, that they are understanding the pain of watching shops and stores close up. But I can’t. Life changes, business changes. It’s another example of modernity’s baleful marching to the sea.

I no longer fear Sherman or his march. Maybe I have realized that, though the bridge be long, eventually Sherman will reach Asgard. Or maybe it’s just that of all the hills in this valley of tears, Scarlett’s – petulant bitch as always – isn’t the one I want to die upon.

Time After Time

Time, as they say, goes by so fast. Maybe that “so fast” is a sinful description, or an imperfection. I realize time is going by just as time needs to go by. And I know time is simply another feeble way of saying “providence.” We’re all fine with providence when it means some interesting Christian “coincidence.” We’re less fine when it means funerals and job losses.

I wish time would stop if that would mean my mom would always be young and pretty. And my dad would always be stronger than I am. But time is providence’s machinery. And wishing for all that is wishing for the machinery of providence to pause. Had someone 200 years ago wished the same thing – and gotten their wish – I wouldn’t be typing this right now. I’m sure they wanted their parents young and strong as much as I do.

Eternity is supposed to be “forever.” It has been said that eternity will be interesting because “we” will spend so much time thinking about how providence, time, worked itself out. Maybe. But providence is a working out of God’s mysterious plan. Won’t it be amazing to see what it all looks like when providence ends. Won’t it be amazing – terrifyingly – when God shows us exactly what He has been working toward.

The Feminine Mystique

A very wonderful old Southern man – the kind with those immediately identifiable Southern traits such as 8 simultaneous basal cell carcinomas on his face and gnarled knuckles the size of hoof – once shared with me the secret of happiness:

“Happiness is a wife who will always make you a sandwich.”

We live in a vale of tears. What a blessing it must be to traverse it with a good woman. And sandwiches.

A Father and His Boys

And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.
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Some simple thoughts on purgatory and indulgences:
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If I steal $100 from my dad and later realize how horrible this action is, I go to my dad.  I tell him what I did and how terribly sorry I am for doing this to him.
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My dad’s a good dad.  He sees my sorrow, and while his heart is sad because of my actions, he is also proud I came to him.
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My dad puts his arms around me and tells me I am forgiven.  He tells me not to think about what I’ve done because that’s past us.  Water under the bridge.
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“But Wood, I want you to be man.  A good honorable man.  Take your time.  But I want you to pay back the money.”
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My dad walks out of the room.  And my brother walks in.  “Wood, I know the courage it took you to go to dad.  I want to give you the money to pay him back.”
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My dad, as dads always do, knows what’s going on.
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From a horrible action by a terrible son, my dad is now so much prouder of his boys than he was beforehand.
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We have so very many brothers and sisters who want to help us.