Friday, February 8, 2013

Let's slow down, not rush, and get mental health right

Haste makes waste.

I have done my level best to eschew politics on this blog, and I think I have been successful. As I said at the outset, I will write about something political only when it influences hunting and hunters. I did ask questions about why we didn’t have more gun control, something that I am sure cost me potential readers. You can read about those thoughts here: I am not running from this. We need change, and our kids need to be kept safe. 

I write today as a man, a sportsman, a hunter, and a man who has benefited deeply from a couple of years of therapy for both anxiety and depression. Writing those words openly, right now, is very difficult, because the public is quite frankly stupid about these things, and as men especially we are often afraid to talk about them.

Right now there is proposed legislation that says that you can lose your right to bear arms if your therapist reports you to authorities. It further says that your therapist can face jail time for failing to report you, thereby putting a powerful, and I would argue draconian, incentive in place encouraging reporting.

I propose that this legislation is dangerous and misguided, and that if we are going to pass it, we need to remove the threat of jail time for therapists who make the wrong call. Furthermore, we need to put protections in place against over-reporting. Far better, to my mind, is to not require any change in the law which already allows therapists to report folks who are threats to themselves or others to the authorities. This sort of legislation would have prevented no murder that I am aware of. It is a “common sense” idea that has not been thought through rigorously.

I struggled with sharing this, but I am comfortable enough now that I will. My anxiety and depression were caused by numerous factors. First, I think both have a tendency to run in my family. Second, my parents had, at best, a rocky marriage, and there were drugs and occasional violence there (not on my mom’s part). It was a totally dysfunctional environment and it took a long time to dig through all that. Third, my wife stays home with our beautiful children and it is my job to provide materially for everyone, and that is a constant struggle, so money is always a source of anxiety. I have done it, and praise God, have never been out of work since graduating college. I have virtually no debt save my mortgage and the remains of my college loan. I am VERY conservative financially. But it is a struggle few people these days admire, or think of as good. Our society has changed so much that people like me are seen as retrograde and regressive.

My anxiety and depression were largely environmental therefore. Knowing I was suffering from these things, and knowing full well I had responsibility as a father, as a husband, and as a man to address them, I spoke to my doctor. He just put me on a pill. That did nothing but give me weird headaches for a time when he took me off it. No pill can erase a largely absent father who was mean when high. Still struggling, I thought “there must be something very wrong with me.” I continued to live with unhealthy relationships in an unhealthy manner.

Ultimately, I went to the internet to do some research, and found this website: It was very important for me to find a competent therapist who shared my values. Comments like “oh, you should just use contraception” and “oh, why doesn’t your wife just back to work” and “oh, why do you care so much about getting to Church with regularity,” wouldn’t help at all. I needed therapy, not judgement. I wasn’t ready to engage the world that way yet. 

I knew to look for several things. One, I wanted the terminal degree.  Two, I wanted a proven track record of competence. Three, I wanted loyalty to the Magesterium. Nothing else would have been safe for me at that point in time. (Now, that I am healthier, and more grounded, I think it would be fine. Then, no.)  Fourth, if possible, I wanted it to be someone who could relate to my struggles as a man trying to do the traditional “man” thing: provide for a family materially and spiritually. Fifth, I wanted someone ‘safe’ that I could trust to not share whatever I said with my employer or anyone else.

This last sentence is VERY important. It is the theme of this entry. If I thought ever that I could not speak with my therapist openly about the fact that my dad was abusive sometimes, and did drugs, and that I at times wanted to (but never would due to my responsibilities and view of sin) ‘take myself out of the game’ because the anxiety got so intense, I would NEVER have picked up the phone and sought help. I just assumed that the laws were such that I could get help, and that so long as I was not a threat to myself or anyone else, my doctor would respect my confidentiality.

That was, what, six years ago? Fast forward to two years ago (that’s four years of weekly intensity people... it doesn’t go by in the wink of an eye... recovery just doesn’t ‘happen’), sitting in the chair in the office (of a man I see as a genius). 

We had just discussed the possibility that I would lose my jobs due to budget cuts. 

Dr. “Emre, how’s you anxiety on the ten point scale?”

Me: “About a three I think. I mean, if I lose the gig there is unemployment and some savings, and I will just have to find something else. God won’t drop me, I know that. I have faith. He needs me to provide for my kids, so He will make a way. I have faith.”  

Dr. “Hmm”

Me. “Yeah.”

Dr. “Well, what’s the worst that could happen? Do you want to blow this up?”

I'd hated this exercise at first; "blowing stuff up" was taking a situation I was anxious about and making it AS BAD AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE while using imagery. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME... you only do this with a licensed clinical therapist helping you. Just make the thing awful. Losing your job due to budget cuts turns into losing your job due to budget cuts and losing your certification due to being out of work so long and not being able to find anything else except being the greeter at Walmart and your wife finds a nice professional man and leaves you and.... and...

Sucks... First time I did it I was still a little shaky and teary eyed when I left the office... 

Me: “I dunno... okay....”

We did the imagery thing. 

I started laughing. It was funny. 

Dr.: “How do you feel?” 

Me: Pretty good. I dunno. I feel fine... I mean, I wouldn’t be thrilled to lose this gig at all, in this economy especially, but God’s got a plan. It would be cool to think about what was next anyway. 

Dr. Yeah.... so.... what now? 

Me: What do you mean?

Dr. What now, Emre? The copays add up. What’s your anxiety on a scale of 1-10.

Me. About a 3-4

Dr. (Looks at me)

Me: Are you thinking we are done? 

Dr. What do YOU think. How are you feeling? 

Me: I think we are done... at least for awhile... let’s see if I need to call back...

Dr.: The door is always open. At the very least I think it is time for a break. See how you do. 

Me: I really don’t know how to thank y...”

Dr.: Keep in touch please. Call if you need anything. 

Me: Okay.

I’ve gone back once since then. The week after Sandy Hook. I knew people (distantly, not close friends, but people I went to college with) who lost a child. I know people who were close friends with them. It was VERY hard to see and witness, and I worried for my friends a lot. 

That meeting ended with me asking for the Dr.’s thoughts about my reactions and feelings: “Emre. Everything you have said seems very healthy and normal. You having a normal human reaction. Now is not the time for implosive therapy or anything like that. You are experiencing this thing, and you are doing fine with it. Be there for your friends. Call again if you need anything.”

I was relieved. And I am grateful beyond words. 

That’s a lot of background to get to where I am going.

In wake of Sandy Hook there has been a lot of talk about mental health. Part of my healing was finding a wonderful sport or hobby. Hunting is mine. I love the woods. I love getting out there and hunting. It is incredible.

I am a man. I have man values. I love being a man. I don’t apologize for it. 

If I hadn’t gone to therapy before Sandy Hook happened, I don’t know how I would have reacted internally. I do know this. If they passed half of these laws on mental health they are considering before I sought therapy I would NEVER have gone. 

You mean, if I am depressed and anxious, I could lose my Constitutional right to bear arms because my therapist will be required by law to report me? They are no longer talking about reasonable gun control here... they are talking about taking away a Constitutional right because someone is depressed. How will that encourage people who need help to pick up a phone? It won’t. It will encourage men (especially men who care about things like the outdoors, hunting, and their right to bear arms) to stuff their anxiety and depression down deep, never talk about, and NEVER seek help. 

That is NOT the way to approach mental health. 

Here is how you approach mental health: You do education on depression and anxiety and other less common mental illnesses. You acknowledge that the VAST majority of even seriously mentally ill folks are NOT violent. You make it is easier for parents of kids with severe mental illnesses to get help. Adam Lanza’s mom was desperate for help. She was trying to get her child a residential placement. It was so HARD because he was over 18. Fix that problem.

You do not create a government registry of people who seek help for anxiety or depression. This is a direct assault on men especially. Can you imagine what the government is doing to, say, an anxious conservative when propose creating a government registry and denying constitutional rights to anyone who seeks help... for say.. depression or anxiety? 

What a horrible idea. And they wonder why some conservatives seem unhinged. It’s scary. 

Here is my proposal: we need to slow down and reason a little more. Hear me: Government legislation always results in what economists call “externalities.” These are unintended consequences (costs) due to regulations and laws, and they are always present with legislation, which is why you need to consider very carefully before passing anything, because getting rid of a law is hard to do once it passes. Sometimes these externalities are very serious indeed. Corn ethanol? Sounds great!  But it will drive up the cost of corn and therefore food and may even cause starvation in poor parts of the world and it will create false demand for corn and skew food production... oh... not so great... But since farmers benefit and it “sounds good” the subsidy remains. The costs? Poor people starve. Seriously. THINK ABOUT COSTS. 

We can’t just always apply “common sense solutions” without really thinking things through. That‘s not how economics and public policy works. Get a subscription to the Economist and start reading. Read some Hayek and some Keynes (if you must... he’s wrong...), take a logic course, and then get back to me.

Look. We need to ENCOURAGE people to seek help when they are depressed and anxious or worse and we need to not threaten them with a government registry for seeking mental health care. We have a mental health care problem. That problem is NOT that we need disincentivize people seeking help. We don’t have enough folks seeking help. Let’s not do the opposite of what is necessary. 

For the sake of outdoorsmen everywhere, do NOT disincentivize them seeking help when they need it. It is the single worst thing we can do for mental health in this country.

Monday, February 4, 2013

An airing of concerns

This entry has absolutely nothing to do with hunting. I wrote the below entry in the wake of the Msgr. Wallin scandal breaking in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Compared to the open airing of the Church's documents in the Archdiocese of LA, that is small potatoes. However, more mistakes are being made, including right now in New Jersey, and the unhealthy root cause of these issues is not being addressed. The unhealthy root cause of the issue is the clerical culture of the Church, which is at this time dysfunctional, and the problem needs to be addressed with bravery and honesty. My words mean very little. In fact, they mean nothing. However, I feel many faithful Catholics are feeling this way, and we need the courage to say it.

Clericalism and Msgr. Wallin

The demands of an authentic and healthy love require us, when we see dysfunction in those we love, to speak out. Now, in the Church, is one of those times. Now in the society at large is one of those times. There are too many irresponsible voices, too much noise, and not enough discernment and careful thought. It is time for change.

The vast majority of the priests in this state (and everywhere) are amazing men. I in no way wish to cause them pain, and my concerns are not in any way about them.  My concern involves a problem bigger than us all.  This problem materialized most recently in the sad story of Msgr. Wallin in the Diocese of Bridgeport, but the problem has a history which stretches back to many cases of tragically ignored, denied, or hidden abuse of minors by priests. However, it is not just about sex abuse, which has been thankfully been tamped down. It is also about finances, and Church governance, and the role of the laity.

How could problems or hints of serious things amiss among our clergy be ignored, or if not ignored, somehow tragically mishandled, again?  And again? And again?

I believe that clericalism is at the core of our dysfunctional response to these challenges.

What is clericalism? Does it exist? Is it a problem? As lay people do we even have a right to think about it, let alone write about it?  Are we lay people a part of the problem, somehow unhealthily relating to and encouraging a dysfunctional ecclesial environment?

I think the answer to these questions is that yes, clericalism most certainly does exist. Yes, it is probably the greatest challenge facing the Church in the United States today. As lay people we participate in it and even thrive on it in a codependent and dysfunctional way, so we not only have a right, but a duty, to think about it, name it, and write about it. If we don't we will simply continue to see scandal heaped on scandal until the Church's message and witness to the culture becomes entirely irrelevant.

Let's begin with what clericalism is not. Clericalism is not the teaching authority of the Church, nor is it the role of bishops as successors to the apostles, nor is it the sacramental character of the Church. That authority is essential to a healthy Christian understanding of the world, and it centrally important to the functioning of the Church. We cannot do well in the world apart from the body of Christ, which is the Church. Neither is clericalism the notion that priests are changed by virtue of their ordination. Clericalism is not the male only priesthood, which is something the Popes have said is ordained by Christ and impossible to change.

The constant demands to change these things (which have been ongoing since 1400AD) have perhaps made the Church increasingly defensive. It may be this defensiveness that has given rise to the thing called clericalism that is doing such damage. In and of themselves however, clericalism they are not.

If the aforementioned characteristics of the Church are not clericalism, then what is?  Clericalism is the viewpoint that priests and clergy are the center of the Church, and everyone else is passively along for the ride, offering adoring and silent prayer support for our heroes. We laity are the disposable "bit players" in salvation history. The "real" Church is the priests.  Clericalism is the viewpoint that laity are not to think, question, write, ponder, or take action towards injustice when an injustice is perceived within the Church. Clericalism is the viewpoint that the laity are not fit to comment on or participate in parish finances, or make reasoned complaints when there is a legitimate reason to criticize. Perhaps most nefarious, clericalism is the viewpoint that priests and Bishops are essential, while laity are incidental, or even disposable.

This is not just a religious problem though, and we Catholics are not special. Clericalism's counterpart in the secular United States is the celebrity culture, which turns otherwise mature people into passive observers of other people's melodrama, taking sides and cheering from the sidelines. Secularists chose their own cults and their own tribes, with their own "plaster saints." This is not a religious problem, but a maturity problem. It is self evident to this observer that social media only exacerbates our collective codependence and celebrity worship, and makes it worse.

Yet, that cannot be an excuse.

The response of many in the Diocese of Bridgeport to the Msgr. Wallin scandal has been more of the same. We are told to pray about it. Move on. Nothing to see here. Isn't it sad? Support out priests! The poor man! All of this as if there is not a crying need for change and reform that seems so blatantly obvious to everyone except those most inside the Church.

The way that the diocese has responded to this situation is broken, and is indicative of a broken culture. It is a culture that is still broken, desperately so, and despite the scandals to rock our Church, there have been no meaningful cultural changes to the way we look at and think about the priesthood. Yes, there are new reporting procedures in place. As a Catholic father I feel my children are very safe at Church functions and with Church personnel. But as the case of Msgr. Wallin (and other situations) clearly shows, our reflecting on this topic has not gone deep enough, and the meaningful discussions that are called for are not occurring.

My initial response to reading about Msgr. Wallin was to say that Archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori, and his predecessor, Edward Egan, are somewhat at fault for this situation. By failing to address situations such as Msgr. Wallin’s in a forthright and functional way, both men have engaged in scandalous conduct that diminishes the moral authority they hold. Therefore, I felt that Bishop Lori, at a minimum, had a duty to apologize and address the situation. The reaction to this surprised me.

I know many who read this will accuse me of being uncharitable towards our shepherds, and are feeling very defensive of our Church. We all have our fears right now. If the Church were persecuted, I pray I would have the temerity to suffer whatever trials would come, and not lose my identity or fidelity to our Catholic faith. The Church faces an increasingly hostile culture, one that elevates the immoral and calls it moral. (Abortion is the greatest example of this cultural decay.) Yet, I firmly believe that we need to move past the point of being defensive, and instead be proactive. The time for change has come.

There is a reason why we must move, and act. That reason is love. Love requires us to name that which is dysfunctional. Love requires us to deal with reality. It requires us to be open, and honest, as opposed to secretive and conniving. The time has come for change.

For those non-Catholics reading this trying to make sense of it, the first thing to understand is that the priesthood is not a job. We are not protestants. The clergy are not in a profession. The priesthood is a vocation. Becoming a priest isn't like becoming an employee somewhere. Rather, it is like getting married.Thus it is different than speaking about how we deal with employees and employers.

In discussing the nature and potential solutions to clericalism and its ensuing dysfunction within the Church, a parallel should be made.  The parallel is not how an organization should treat an employee, but rather how a family will treat a member: how a spouse will treat a wife or husband.

If this is the case, then I think it is clear that the Church in the case of Msgr. Wallin, under the leadership of now Archbishop Lori, operated very much like a dysfunctional family would. Let's look at Wallin's actions from the point of view of the marriage vocation.

Let's assume a hypothetical husband sinned against his marriage the way Msgr. Wallin did against his vows.

Said husband would have a) cheated on his wife b) started doing drugs. c) possibly started dealing drugs around the kids, d) been (at the very least) verbally and emotionally abusive towards all of them.

This is an exact parallel.

To mimic the actions of the Diocese of Bridgeport regarding Msgr. Wallin said wife would a) say nothing at first... definitely keep it quiet from friends and family to avoid embarrassment and scandal. b) fight DCF actions to protect the children, c) complain about an aggressive nation state when the government tried to take custody, arguing to all who would listen that her family was being persecuted. d) maybe send her husband away for a little while, and give him some money too... just until it all blew over.

That is, to put it mildly, a dysfunctional response.

What the hypothetical wife (the Church) could have done:

Separated from her husband immediately and take the kids with her. Immediately reached out to her support network, and her (and his, depending on her relationship with them, their level of codependency and self-delusion etc.) family. Assuming he wasn't a danger to her, she could have scheduled an intervention to get everything out in the open. SHe could have sought means of doing all this where she would be safe, relying on charities and shelters or family members.

She would then set up a plan to move forward. To heal the marriage, the husband would have to agree to substance abuse counseling, psychological counseling, and oversight while swearing to never touch drugs again. If he refused or denied he had a problem, she should walk away, even call the police and inform them of his illegal activities (as anyone who has experienced addiction knows, it is necessary to first hit “rock bottom” before one is able to admit and desire help and sobriety.)

 This is hard. A Christian would always keep the door open to reconciliation and true reform (being a Christian is not easy)  But it would be the right thing to do. Would some family members attack her? Would some people in his (or even her) family stand with him and call her all sorts of vicious names?  Would she have to go through hell?  Would people talk?  Would it be embarrassing? Yes, yes, yes.... But she would be doing the right thing for the right reasons.

There are few actions more painful than an intervention such as this. I know because I have seen them first hand. They also have the power to transform and change lives and heal families. I have seen this too.  Courageously loving actions like these have the power to restore sobriety, and sanity, in people.

The case of Msgr. Wallin shows a Church failing to function. It is easy to, after the fact, criticize what those in authority have done. However, in a case such as this, what the Church should have done, just based on the information they had, seems very different to what they ended up doing.

Any of the following actions, or all of them together, could have been much more heathy for the Church in the long run.

Msgr. Wallin could have been suspended immediately when his conduct came to light. Diocesan leadership (the Bishop) could have gone to the parish, and come as clean as possible with the people. Leaders could have asked Wallin's flock to pray for him, and let them know that he was suspected of habitually breaking his vows in a very serious way, serious enough to merit this disciplinary action. The Bishop could have said that Msgr. Wallin was leaving his responsibilities to them for days and days at a time, and that such things were not acceptable, thus he was being removed from ministry for the time being.

This hypothetical course of action stands in stark contrast to telling the community that Msgr. Wallin was granted a "sabbatical" for time to “think”. A sabbatical is what you grant to a college professor who is writing a book, not someone who has scandalously broken their commitments to employer, let alone a priest who has abused the trust of his flock!

Leaders could have explained that, for privacy, parishioners would not be informed of what Wallin had actually done at this time. In all honesty they could have at that time assured parishioners that to the best of their knowledge, no laws were broken, and no children were in danger. However, an investigation could have been ongoing, including a thorough audit of all parish finances.  Would this really have disquieted the faithful?  OR could such honesty and communication assured the faithful that the Church was still functioning despite the struggles of one of its priests.

 Msgr. Wallin could have been placed on "administrative leave" pending the results of said investigation, and a canon lawyer provided to him to advise him and protect him while the Diocese aggressively worked to leave no stone unturned in its investigation. Should he have refused to submit to all this and walked away? Payments from the diocese could have been stopped, and the process started for laicization.

This isn't rocket science. It is basic oversight of persons in responsibility 101. If the Bishop (or Diocesan officials) actually took such action, maybe they could have nipped the drug dealing in the bud, and actually have helped the man.

If the Church was acting like a functional family, and a highly functional spouse, their actions would have been very different from the codependent "sweep it under the rug and don't rock the boat" course they took. The Church right now is like a dysfunctional co-dependent family and that must stop.

It is therefore past time for a cultural change. The biggest thing preventing us from becoming a more functional family: clericalism.

If priests and clergy are the center of the Church, and everyone else is passively along for the ride, offering adoring and silent prayer support for our heroes, then we will seek to defend our heroes no matter what, even when what is needed is soul searching and some movement towards real change.  We will try and protect ourselves when priests fall by pretending they don't. We will not take appropriate action when behavior such as Msgr. Wallin's first comes to light.

If the laity are not to think, question, write, ponder, or take action towards injustice when an injustice is perceived within the Church, then clergy, who are human beings, will take the path of least resistance, doing whatever is comfortable, and that means not taking bold action and making life hard for themselves. Situations like Msgr. Wallin's will be handled quietly, in ways to "avoid scandal." If the laity are not fit to direct parish finances, or make reasoned complaints when there is a legitimate reason to criticize, then priests can do whatever they want with the money we give them, including spending it on questionable endeavors, or worse, misappropriating it. If only priests and Bishops are essential, while laity are incidental, or even disposable, then what does it matter what laity think or say? They are just along for the ride anyway.

How much open communication do we truly have in our Church? Do the Bishops you know deal with criticism in a healthy manner? If we write or call with a concern, do they or a representative even respond? Is there anything like a "two way street" when it comes to communication and openness?

How do we change? Here is the mature answer: I don't know. I only know it is time for a conversation to occur about how we relate to each other as the Church. We need to start asking questions about why these things keep happening. This is more than just policies and procedures; we have done and are doing that, and things HAVE gotten better from that perspective. But there is still something deeply dysfunctional at our core. Everything, from seminary formation, and especially what psychological training and counseling are required (and not required) needs to be looked at closely as we move forward. Lay formation needs to be addressed. Catechetical programs and their emphasis need to be examined. We need to do soul searching. Something isn't working. I don't care what side of the ideological Catholic divide one is on, everyone should be able to agree that right now there is something dysfunctional here. For love of our Church, the body of which every one of us is a member, isn't it time to address it?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tough Week in Connecticut

Slaughter of the Innocents

     This, as my tiny number of readers know, is not a political blog. I am not interested in writing about the second amendment, or gun rights, or any other such thing. My opinion on these issues does not matter. In fact, my opinion on any issue does not matter. I write here mostly just to get my own head screwed on straight.

     This was a hellish, horrible, murderous week for gun violence in my neck of the woods. I live and work in Connecticut. I am a music teacher. One of my colleagues who lives in the town in which I teach was gunned down by her husband this week. He shot her four times in the chest over some argument or the other. I worked with her when she ran the after-school strings program in my school for a time. She was from Russia and played the violin and was an amazing player and a good teacher. This year, one of my colleagues shot his own son in a case of mistaken identity when acting in defense of his sister who lives next door, a tragedy so awful that I cannot begin to comprehend how he feels every day. Today someone broke into a classroom in a town not far from where I live and where I work, and gunned down an entire kindergarten. 18 children are gone.  

    There are no words, no words at all, which can offer condolences for those parents. There is nothing I, nor anyone else for that matter, can do to ease their suffering. The only thing I can do is pray for them, and for the deceased. “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.”

     The children who died I have no worry for. They are perfectly happy and content, in the welcoming embrace of an all loving Father. The ones they have left behind: the grieving parents, the brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, will have a pain and a hole in their lives and families that are impossible to fill, and will never be filled. Yes, over time the pain may become more bearable. Yes, (hopefully) they will come to recognize that there can be a spiritual relationship with their loved one still, and they will take some small solace from the sure knowledge that they will be reunited with their loved ones some day. Yet the hole will be there, until they too go to be with the Father. This will never be something they “get over.” Ever. 

      Then, there is the shooter, who is also dead. What sort of combination of narcissism and rage inspired his actions? Or rather, did mental illness play a role? What demons were with him? Is he one of the (hopefully few) souls suffering an eternity of torment, now that he has taken his mother's and so many children‘s lives along with his own? Or was he shot by a policeman? Can we hope that he, by some miracle of Divine Mercy, in the moments before the bullet ended his life, had time to authentically and completely repent of his actions and embrace a new direction?

     The teachers who put their lives on the line to protect their students have my appreciation and respect. They may not have society’s at large, but they sure as hell have mine. I am grateful to each and every one of them. My cousin teaches in that building. She is a relative and a colleague, and protected her students. I am so grateful to her.

     All this death by gun violence this week has left me shell shocked. All of it is so close to home. These are people I know. My cousin, the music teacher at that school, whom I regard as a hero and a colleague role model, sang at my wedding. She could have died today just going to work. I am tired, typing furiously while trying to get at what I am feeling, and I am angry at myself for even engaging in the exercise, for who am I to think my worthless thoughts matter, or feel anything, when other parents have lost children?  

      Look around yourself for minute. Aren’t you overwhelmed by all the hatred, anger, and violence you see? This violence strikes so close to home. There has been so much of it. It feels like it is just the physical manifestation of the violence I see all around me all the time: on TV, on the radio, and online.... especially online...

    The vitriol, hatred, and bile that spew forth from every corner is overwhelming. God help me, in the past I have even participated in it. People coming up today imbibe a steady diet of anger and rage and learn only to blame others for everything they perceive to be wrong with the world. Ever notice how with us human beings, it is always... always... the other guy's fault. If our first thought about this tragedy was not for the children, the parents, the teachers, the community, and the churches in Newtown Connecticut, but was rather about the second amendment, or about democrats, or about republicans, and how those people are responsible, then we need to look carefully in the mirror and do some soul searching, because we are part of the problem. What we lack (and I am as guilty as anyone else) is the ability to see that we, all of us, are responsible for the filth with which we surround ourselves. 

     Violence, porn, murder, and rape are our entertainment. Just turn on the TV. Our politics is a zero sum game of personal destruction. Our political ideologies are so engrained that few of us have the temerity to be friends with those with whom we disagree. In our Churches we would rather split apart and label each other heretics over this or that political issue than truly work.... TRULY WORK... for unity with one another. Everyone is degraded by sin, but we only have the ability to see it in others. Everyone’s reason and intellect are darkened by the fall, but we only have the temerity to see the stupidity in others.  Everyone has this violence somewhere in them, and we only recognize it in the other. 

     Is there hope for all this, any way to redeem what happened? I know only a few things: God is real. He lives. These children live with Him (I have SURETY about that). Hopefully the innocent adults who died were ready. I have hope for all of them. I ask God to give me the grace to think about the shooter with something other than anger, hatred, and malice. I ask that He give me the grace to feel sorrow. I ask that He teach me to pray and hope that, in that moment of time right before he died, he had an instant, a moment of clarity, a crack in his heart so consumed with sin (or illness) that he could truly and freely repent and come to know Christ’s mercy. 

      Gun violence. There is so much of it. This is supposed to be a hunting blog. Children and colleagues are dead this week. In large numbers.  So let me return to my theme of hunting and being a sportsman: I choose not to have guns in my house. It is a choice I do not regret. The only gun I will ever need is a 12 gauge, and I will get it when my children are older. It will live in a gun safe. It will fire slugs for deer and shot for birds. I ask you: what the hell else do any of us truly need? Handguns? Assault rifles? Armor piercing bullets? What the hell for? Those weapons only have one purpose, and it is not putting meat in the freezer.

    Do we choose to buy these things because we can’t trust the state to be reasonable and allow us our shotgun and our bow, or we can’t allow them a monopoly on serious fire power? The first is an irrational reaction to a concern that may be reasonable, but the second? Are we still seriously making those sorts of fanatical arguments? That is lunacy. What if we were reasonable and sat down and said, as sportsmen, “look, this is what we truly need. We need our bows. We need one maybe two different rifles for different game. Let’s work together. What can we do about gun violence while ensuring our right to hunt and enjoy the outdoors is respected?” 

     What if the sportsman community took the risk and reached out first? Yes, there are people who think that the gun did this, not the shooter, people who think that hunting deer is murder, people who think there is no reason to own any gun (even a muzzleloader) or even a bow for any reason.

     But how many such people are there, really? Aren’t most folks reasonable, decent human beings, marred by the fall but doing the best they can? Given the fact that children are dying every day due to gun violence, can we afford not to reach out now? Maybe if we toned down the rhetoric, toned down the violence of our words (on everything), tried to be more gentle, more loving, more understanding and sane, we could make some progress. Isn’t it time? 

     Isn’t it time not to respond in kind to the bile of others, but rather “turn the other cheek” and work to build a less violent, less crass, less godless culture, before it is too late? 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Missing the Mark

Staying Vigilant

Let me be honest: I missed a buck on my last hunt out, and I was embarrassed which is why I have not blogged about the experience yet. Yet if blogging is about sharing one's experiences and learning from them, it is time I addressed this failure and moved on. It was a clear and definite miss so it could have been worse I suppose, although that is little consolation because I missed due to doing something silly and easily avoided.

Our society gives conflicting messages about failure. On the one hand we are told all successful people fail many, many times on the road to success and that it is in fact this learning process that makes success possible. "The only people who never fail are those that never try." We can certainly list many historical examples that prove this rule.

On the other hand, we seem to live in a "fire happy" work environment, where managers go around looking for folks to axe and get more and more out the fewer and fewer people they retain. In my state it was seriously proposed recently that any one in my profession who was fired from any job, for any reason, would lose their license to work anywhere in the state again. That piece of legislation failed. I am lucky to have a union. Most now are not so fortunate.

I for one perceive that a balance has tipped in our society. If the data are any indication, people, especially young men, are so afraid to fail that a smaller percentage are trying: trying to start a business, willing to ask that girl on a date and then stick with it until marriage, willing to take on that tough new challenge, willing to step out of their comfort zone and DO something. This worries me. For some reason people are becoming so prideful that any recognition of failure is perceived as a fatal blow. A society that sends that message isn't going to produce much excellence for very long.

A blogger I admire recently posted this challenging prayer, and his humility and honesty inspired me to blog about my last hunting trip. Humility is the one attribute we probably need the most. We can't be so proud we are afraid to fail for failure is the one thing that teaches us how to succeed. In fact failure makes success possible. Failure is also the one thing that makes holiness possible, for it is impossible to be holy without humility, and it is impossible to develop humility without the sting of occasionally missing the mark.

The concept of missing the mark is often associated with sin, and I want to be clear here: I am not talking about sin. It is (supposedly... I wouldn't know...) possible to, with the help of His grace, eschew sin. When I first truly came to Christ I seriously believed that changing my life drastically in order to follow Him would mean an easy road. I thought that those I knew would recognize the interior change. I thought my performance at work would evolve into something higher as I worked for Him, and I thought that I would be starting a steady climb towards sanctity. I unwittingly had bought into a strange, but just as heretical, version of the prosperity gospel, that I have spent the better part of a decade unlearning.

Here is the hard truth: the day after I had that personal encounter and act of repentance the evangelicals refer to as being "saved," there I was. Yes, I saw the world with new eyes. Yes, certain behaviors disappeared rarely, if ever, to return. Yes, I began a new journey in an, at times, radical new direction. Yes, I had someone to talk to and worship. Yes, I made His word a central part of my life. But I was still... me... and to be honest, I am not at all sure I was a "better" me. The truth is when we find God we get redirected, but the faith journey is a long process that only begins at that moment. We are redirected onto a road that may (and can) lead to sanctity, but those of us who are reality based recognize that there is no guarantee we will get there.

Despite all of our best intentions, our hard work, and our preparation, failure can and will occur. This is as true with archery as it is with life, and we can't quit or be so prideful that we refuse to acknowledge a failure.

So why did I fail? Inexplicably, as I lined up the shot on that buck, I failed to use the peep on my bow string, and only used the pins on my sight. I did this not once, but twice. Buck fever played a role to be sure, so too my euphoria at successfully rattling and grunting him in contributed to this momentary lack of concentration. I have easily practiced that shot 100 times... and I missed.

I doubt it is a mistake I will ever make again, which is why it is failure that teaches us how to succeed. Remember this while navigating our humility bereft culture: when someone shares with you their successes they are not sharing the failures they went through on the way. America loves a "winner." The message that is being lost is that to be a winner you first have to fall on your face many times. Too many of us are too prideful to risk it.

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