September 2008

This is great!! At a time when America is sick of golden parachutes and corrupt CEOs, this is a breath of fresh air.

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Obama’s message is not new: tax the rich, give to the poor.

Sure, it sounds nice… or does it?

This strain sounds pretty Marxist to me.

Why?  Because his “tax cuts” are not tax cuts.  He promises tax cuts for 95% of Americans.  Guess what?  Only 62% of Americans even pay federal income tax.  So those other people, the ones who don’t pay taxes, can’t get “cuts” on something they don’t pay!   So they’re just getting checks from the government.

You know what we actually call Obama’s tax cuts?  Income redistribution.

Yes, I want to help the poor.  But you don’t help them by handing them free money.  And is complete equality a goal we should have?

A wise man spoke of this attempt:

“When he sees the luxurious residence or the charming country house of a wealthy person, a poor workingman often asks himself: ‘Why is there such inequality in the world?’
How many volumes have been written about equality among men!  How much blood has been spilled for this idea!  And yet, in spite of all, we still have the rich and the poor…
Let us imagine that one day all the inhabitants of the world would assemble to put into effect this sharing of all goods; and that in fact each person, granted that the world is very big, received an exactly equal portion of the wealth existing on earth.
Then what?  That very evening one man might say, ‘Today I worked hard: now I am going to take rest.’  Another might state, ‘I understand this sharing of goods well; so let’s drink and celebrate such an extraordinary happening.’ On the other hand, another might say, ‘Now I am going  to set to work with a will so as to reap the greatest benefit I can from what I have received.’  And so, starting on the next day, the first man would have only the amount given him; the second would have less, and the third would have increased his.
Then what do we do?  Start redistributing the wealth all over again?
Even if everybody began to work right away with all his might and at the same time, the results would not be identical at all.  There are, in fact, different kinds of work which are unequally productive; nor do all workers enjoy the same identical capacities.  This leads to a diversity of results achieved, and consequently to differences in people’s profits.
What would have to be imposed so that, once the division of goods was accomplished, people could continue to live on a basis of equality understood in this sense?  All workers would have to perform the same tasks, all possess equal intelligence and ability, have similar professional training, the same degree of health and strength, and especially the same ability and desire to put forth the necessary efforts.  All of this is quite utopian.
To continue the argument, even if there were only two persons in the world, they would not succeed in maintaining absolute equality; for in the whole universe there are no two things completely identical in every respect…”

It is an argument straight from common sense, so perhaps it should not be surprising to find it coming not from a politician, but from a saint– St Maximilian Kolbe.

But is equality always impossible?  No… but it is perhaps not the equality that the politicians are preaching.

“In spite of this, the human mind still desires to bring about certain equliaty among men.  Is there any possibility that this can happen?  Yes, no doubt.  Every man, whoever he is, whatever he possesses and whatever he is capable of doing, owes all this to God the Creator of the universe.  Of himself man is nothing.  From this point of view all of us are absolutely equal.
Furthermore we all possess free will, which makes us masters of all our actions.  This too constitutes the basic equality of all men on earth.  But the use made of our free will is not the same in all cases; it depends in fact on each man’s own determination, on the extent to which he makes use of this precious gift; for not all do so to the same degree.  It follows that not even after death will perfect equality be achieved; it will not in fact exist, because every man will recieve a just reward or punishment according to his deeds, good or evil.”

From the Kolbe Reader, the Writings of St Maximilian Kolbe

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul I, the “smiling Pope.”  Did you know that Pope Benedict is one of six cardinals still living that participated in that year of two conclaves, 1978?

To celebrate this anniversary of his birth into eternal life, I leave you this quote from John Paul I:

“Love in little things. Often this is the only kind possible. I never had the chance to jump into a river to save a drowning man; I have been very often asked to lend something, to write letters, to give simple and easy instructions. I have never met a mad dog; instead I have met some irritating flies and mosquitoes. I have never had persecutors beat me but many people disturb me with noises in the street, with the volume of the television turned up too high or unfortunately with making noise in drinking soup. To help, however, one can not take it amiss, to be understanding; to remain calm and smiling (as much as possible) in such occasions is to love one’s neighbour without rhetoric in a practical way.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Now, we all know that we can’t move to another country just because our candidate doesn’t win the presidential election.  Lots of people have threatened to do so, but do any of them actually do it?

Anyway, I was discussing this with a friend the other day, and we said, “Where would we even go!?” After living in another country twice in my life, I’ve become a pretty staunch patriot.  Sure, America has problems. But there’s really no other place I could live.  We are very, very, very, very, very, very, very lucky to be here.

But, to be honest, there is one other place I wouldn’t mind living… but just for awhile….

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I’ve had a lot of people these days ask me about my opinion on voting third-party.  After seventeen hours in the car over the past 48 hours–most of it spent listening to talking heads on the radio– I thought I would muse a little here on the subject.

We’ve had a handful of third-party candidates in the past few elections who’ve had a little bit of success (enough to get their names on the ballot and get a percentage of popular vote, at least).  In a country of Republicans and Democrats, “success” for someone like Ross Perot is just being mentioned in the conversation.

It’s hard for us to remember (there it is again, that American forgetfulness) that our country wasn’t founded with Republicans and Democrats getting together and writing a constitution.  Political parties didn’t exist until 1789.  George Washington HATED the idea of political parties or any small faction threatening the unity of the country.

But… we have them.  It’s a pretty natural thing to do, to organize yourself with others of like mind and support people who think like you do.

Do I like being a two-party system?  No.  I think the country would benefit from several parties, working together in cooperation towards common goals.  I also think the country would benefit from free puppies and the abolishment of DST.

So I don’t like the two-party system, but guess what?  We have it.  And you know what else, ye Americans of forgetfulness?  We’ve pretty much had it as long as we’ve had political parties.  Sure, there weren’t always the Republicans and the Democrats.  But… how about the Federalists and the anti-Federalists?  You see, whenever one group forms in support of beliefs and ideals, another group will be formed by people who believe the opposite.  (The anti-Federalists soon became the “Democratic-Republicans,” I suppose when they realized “anti-Federalist” sounded a bit mean and reactive.)

So here we are, with a two-party system.  What if you don’t like the two parties?  You form another, like Theodore Roosevelt.  After former-President Roosevelt failed to get a nomination for a third (but not consecutive) term from the Republican Party, he broke away and formed the famous “Bull Moose Party.”  The result?  His party split the Republican vote (Taft and Roosevelt together won 50% of the popular vote) and Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had won only 43% of the vote, walked away with victory.

The vote-split argument can also be made about Ross Perot, as people say Clinton only won because of Perot– although the statistics aren’t as clear-cut as they are in the 1912 election.

Third parties are great… but not practical these days.  In times like these, when we find ourselves as sheep among wolves, a very wise Teacher instructed us to be “cunning as serpents, innocent as doves” (Mt10:16).   It is rather shocking to hear, perhaps.  We’re supposed to be cunning?  That sounds like a description of the guys with black hats, not the guys wearing white.

But it’s true.  I’m a very idealistic person, and I see the potential of which America is falling short. That’s why I supported Brownback in the Republican primaries.  But we must always evaluate what is at hand and reassess- always reassess.  So while I’m idealistic, I’d also like to think I’m a little bit practical, too.

The issues that face our country are incredible, even as these last few days have shown us.  [While life issues are obviously at the top of my list, I also can’t ignore the economy.  And I like the fact that McCain co-sponsored legislation in 2005 to keep this housing mess from happening…  whereas Barack Obama is second on the list of politicans receiving huge amounts of money from Fannie and Freddie.]

I’d like to support a third-party candidate.  But I cannot ignore the facts– that third-party candidates split votes.  And I cannot, in good conscience, do anything that would result in Barack Obama moving into the White House.  I’d never be able to live with myself, knowing that the partial-birth abortion ban would be overturned, the “Freedom of Choice” act would be signed into law, marriage would be in jeopardy more so than it already is, the markets would crumble, businesses would falter under the weight of increased taxes, a pull-out in Iraq would result in more chaos than ever before for millions of Iraqis….

I can’t do it.  Not when I can vote for McCain in good conscience.  As I’ve said before, he’s not the perfect candidate.  But he can be worked with, especially with the right advisors.  I think his pick of Sarah Palin was much more than a savvy political move.  If he wanted a savvy political move, he would have picked an experienced woman who appealed to a far broader base, like Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  But he didn’t.  He picked a staunchly pro-life, pro-family, pro-everything-the-liberals-hate woman who might be criticized for her inexperience.  It was not the shrewdest of decisions, and I think it shows that he picked her for more than political reasons.  He picked her because he wants her to help lead America in a new direction.

So, in short, I think supporting a third-party candidate in this election isn’t practical– indeed, is out-right dangerous.  Yes, I want to tell the Republican Party that I would like a more conservative candidate in 2012, but last time I checked, I didn’t get to write an essay on my ballot.  It will just be counted as a tally-mark for a candidate- and as a tally-mark against another.  I will continue to vote in the primaries for the candidates I believe are best for America. But once the primaries are over, we reassess and continue to work to fight the spread of evil- even, I suppose, if that means siding with Russia to beat Hitler. (sigh)

While we were in Assisi recently, my friend Katy was reminded of an Italian movie she had seen on the life of Francis — aptly named “Francesco.”  She warned me that it was not always historically accurate, but that the creators had admitted its inaccuracy.  Instead of looking for precise historical accuracy, they were looking to capture the spirit of Francis.  Katy said they had captured that spirit well.

When I spoke to her last week, she was a bit more reserved in her judgment of the movie upon a second viewing.  She had warned me several times of the Clare-Francis relationship, and she reiterated that warning. But she still encouraged me to see it.

I’m glad she did.  On the whole, I really enjoyed the movie.  I thought it really had captured the spirit of Francis quite well.  Gone was the hippy Francis prancing to Donovan of Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  And good riddance.  That was not Francis.

Here we found a Francesco who embraced suffering with joy.  St Francis was no hippy– he laid in thorns, for pete’s sake.  He embracing suffering like a brother.  And the movie captured this wonderfully.  Francesco was happy because he suffered.  The first of the two episodes was pretty dark (again, goodbye fruity Brother Sun).  There was blood and death and battle and torture.  In the end of the movie, there was pain and division and a dark night of the soul.  There was even Francis’ wonderful recounting of what ‘perfect joy’ entailed– rejection, suffering, and torture.  Perfect joy.

However, the movie didn’t just focus on pain and suffering, as if Francis was some sort of masochist.  It portrayed Francesco as a lovable Italian, too — he was happy, carefree, expressive.  He was lovable!  He had an aura of someone you wanted to be with (it helped that he was played by the handsome Roman, Raoul Bova), someone you could see yourself following.  That had to be the way St Francis was in real life.  We all know he was counter-cultural, radical… and yet people followed him.  Why would someone follow him if he was a complete weirdo?  He had to be likable.

I also loved the fact that this movie was made by Italians, in Italy, in Italian.  Francis spoke Italian!  Beautifully! And it adds so much to hear him speak his native tongue.

But… I’m not going to recommend this movie wholesale.  I had plenty of disagreements with it.

First, the whole Francis-Clare relationship.  Clare is one of my favorite saints, so I need her to be portrayed perfectly.   In Francesco, they played up the sexual-tension between the two– a tension that was most likely never there, given their 13 year age difference (the movie, like so many others, portrays them as peers).  One thing that it does provide (and I don’t think this is an original thought… I’m stealing it from Katy…) is to show you that Francis gave up everything.  Sure, Clare was 13 years younger than him.  But there were other young women in Assisi.  Francis was wealthy, happy, good-looking, a troubadour.  While he didn’t give up a romance with Clare, presumably he gave up other women for his new bride, Lady Poverty.  This is probably what the filmmakers were trying to show their viewers.

They correctly showed Chiara as a virtuous young woman performing works of mercy long before Francesco’ conversion.  That is often not mentioned, and I’m glad it was in Francesco. Otherwise, however, I didn’t like their portrayal of Chiara.  She was far too dramatic, unrestrained, and almost intemperate.  She was constantly coming to Francesco (even leaving the convent to do so, something Clare never did.  Francis always came to her), and her familiarity with the brothers (even sleeping outside with them prior to her entrance into the convent) was not only radically anachronistic, but also very un-Clare.

Other inaccuracies weren’t enough to get me riled up, but were disappointing because they were unnecessary.  Portraying San Damiano as being on a mountain rather than in valley, for example, was an error that didn’t add much to the movie and should have been corrected.  Keeping Chiara in the Benedictine convent for most of Francesco’ life — or, at least, not showing her moving to San Damiano with other Poor Ladies– took something away from Clare and her story.

But other inaccuracys — or, rather, omissions– were enough to get me riled up.  Most notably… the absence of the miracle of the San Damiano crucifix.  How could you leave out the most pivotal moment of Francis’ life?!  A few artistic shots of the San Damiano crucifix just doesn’t cut it.   Christ’s words to him were, without a doubt, the defining moment in his ministry.  He had been prepared for his ministry through his imprisonment and convalescence, but he doesn’t know what God is calling him to do until that moment in San Damiano.  This movie seems to focus on various personal experiences in prison that St Francis never had — or, at least, not to anyone’s knowledge.

I think the absence of this miracle is the most glaring example of the greater theme that is missing from Francesco: The Church.  Francis was Francis because of his intense love for Holy Mother Church.  This movie misses that completely.  He is shown praying in San Damiano and once they show Mass being said — but that is it.  The Eucharist was central to Francis’ ministry.  And this is missing.

In the movie, Francesco treats the messenger of the Bishop rather disrespectfully.  He is rather rash towards the Holy Father.  He lacks the submission to the Church, the radical love for the Church.  In real life, Francis throws himself in a pig sty out of extreme obedience to the Holy Father — not accidentally, as in the movie.

At one point, while Francis is suffering in prayer, Clare is told that Francis will have to find the answers “within himself.”  It is as if Francis is above the Church, beyond the Church.  Yes, the Church of Francis was in need of reform– reform that the mendicant Orders were founded to bring.  He was radically different from anything the medieval Church had seen.  He was attempting to follow the Gospel literally, something he was advised against because it was too hard.  But Francis was an intimate part of the Church, an obedient son, not something above and beyond.

St Francis refused to become a priest because he felt he was too unworthy for the office. (He DID become a deacon!)  In Francesco, it seems that his refusal centers on the fact that he believes anyone should be able to preach.  Again, the movie failed to show the true ecclesial nature of Francis’ spirit.

The creators of Francesco made the movie to give young people a “point of reference,” in a culture where they lack just that.  I think they did a beautiful job in recreating the joyful, suffering spirit of Francis.  I only wish they had given the young people a better view of the intimate relationship between Francis and the Church.  It is only because of his union with Holy Mother Church that Francis was able to be that hero for all of us.

This morning’s shocking story (below) vividly presents where our culture is headed.  I speak for myself when I say we’re already becoming jaded to these things happening… babies in trash cans aren’t new.  Doesn’t it make you sick?

So these are the issues we face.  Children being left to die in trash cans.  But is this any different than a child being left to die in a soiled utility room, really?  And wouldn’t everyone be outraged about that?

This is the “logical” result of the culture of death that pervades our society.  It is exactly why having pro-life politicians is important.  It is not just a matter of repealing Roe v Wade.  It is a whole attitude towards life that needs transforming.

And thus, we can’t leave it up to the politicians.  We need to promote the dignity of the human person everywhere we go, with whomever we encounter.  Every single person on this earth has been created in the image and likeness of God — from your boss to the janitor that empties your trash at your desk to your children to your spouse to the guy that just cut you off in traffic.  It is only when we begin to change how we encounter people, it is only when we begin to bring the face of Christ to people… that is when the world will change.

And prayer… don’t forget that!

Newborn Baby Found Alive in Trash Can at Phoenix Middle School

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Phoenix police are investigating the discovery of a newborn found alive in a trash can at a Phoenix school.

Police said a school administrator discovered the baby boy screaming inside the garbage can Tuesday afternoon with his umbilical cord still attached.

The baby seemed to be in excellent condition. He also appeared to have been carried to full term, said Capt. Victor Rangel, a Phoenix Fire Department spokesman.

Emergency crews took the newborn to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. The baby has since been placed in custody with state Child Protective Services, said Sgt. Andy Hill, a Phoenix police spokesman.

Phoenix police said the 14-year-old mother gave birth to the child inside the administration building at Osborn Middle School.

The Phoenix Fire Department later located the mother at a nearby apartment and she was taken to a hospital in good condition, Hill said.

Due to the abandonment of the baby in a life threatening situation, investigators will do a possible child abuse report and submit it to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for review, Hill said.

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