Unfriending the Stranger: on the need more stratification in relationships

Have we lost the distinction between friend, stranger and acquaintance? It seems like it goes without saying, yet I wonder if the value of boundaries is becoming more and more lost in our culture.

hanzel

Real Simple panelists proposed five “old-timey” traditions they would like to see brought back. One panelist while proposing the return of titles to identify distance where distance exists snuck in a secondary proposal to bring back the handshake and hug a lot less. Hugging. I enjoyed youth group as a junior high student because it provided me the opportunity to hug the cute freshman in the group. As I grew older, I liked hugging less and less and found it more and more in all circumstances. My hairdresser, who I like very much, gives me a hug as I leave and while in experience it doesn’t seem so bizarre, saying it out loud points out the strangeness of it.

We call random connections on Facebook our “friends.” A friend denotes an intimate, someone with whom I share similar goals, views and confidences. On Facebook, these are merely connections who see what I post. It’s like we opt to be bodies occupying a room where I can hear and see what the other does. I can choose to leave the room anytime. Online we call that “unfriending.” Whether we like it or not, “unfriending” becomes laden with emotion. Rather than “unfriend” someone, which rejects the person, I can just choose not to “follow” him or her. On other social media sites I have “followers.” At best a follower denotes someone who follows me around. Some would see it as a disciple. As I said before, it’s merely being in the same room, or in terms of blog websites, becoming a subscriber. The terms make it so very personal.

Boundaries are diminished. Couples couple on their first date or even without a date but at a party. Rather than going out on dates to get to know people, we “go out” and enter a committed intimate relationship in order to get to know the person.

If everyone is my friend, if everyone is in my intimate circle of hug receivers, then I must up the ante to show those who are truly on the inner circle. I will have to marry an intimate friend, opposite sex or not, or even myself, because we must be allowed to love. We must be allowed public recognition of our uniquely close relationship.

If I referred to acquaintances, or they referred to me,  by my title (Mrs.) then an intimate would be indicated by calling me by my first name. Friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together. Deeper friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together + spending time with my family + a hug upon greeting or saying good bye. Marriage would be indicated by all those things and so much more.

Legally society is not greatly stratified. There is marriage. There are civil unions in some cases. There are common law marriages. And then there is nothing. I read once (I apologize for not remembering the source, though I believe it published through First Things) a proposal for legal recognition of more types of relationships, without the need to call it marriage. If two sisters live together and care for each other in their old age, there is no legal recognition given to that relationship. If one sister has an estranged child, that child has more claim than the sister who has done everything for her.

So I am proposing more steps. They need not all be romantic as in marriage because not all intimate love is romantic. Our society is hyper-sexualized and would question the nature of the relationship between those two sisters. They may just be intimate friends sans physical intimacy. Such a thing does exist.

Now, I live in California. I know my ideas/discussions here reflect that. The coasts strive to be avante garde. California is both cutting edge on cultural trends and extremely casual. I recognize what I see taking place in cultural trends does not reflect the whole of the United States, although I do think times are a-changin’ and we’re all affected to some degree, the coasts (and college towns) likely being the most extreme.

It starts with one person and how he or she builds their relationships, then teaches a group, perhaps a youth group or their group of children. Christianity has, throughout history, functions as a subculture, something counter-cultural and a little underground. We’ve tried courtship (which in this discussion means you are either my friend or marriage potential, little in between), and for many, it has been found lacking. Maybe a new approach is worth looking at.

Questions on suffering: why do we suffer?

We need it all. This is part of gradualism. Presentation of the Church as a haven. Heaven with angels and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one’s living in an illusion. Christianity without the cross is such an illusion.

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

lamentation_botticelli x

I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. And perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews.  “We welcome you to our Eucharistic Celebration.”

It’s true, but with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life and committed suicide on November 1, Feast of All Saints, rather than go through the stages of cancer. Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. With this honesty, he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.” If we recognize where suffering comes from and the goods it entails, and live our Christian faith with lively, honest hearts, evangelizing by attraction and by mercy, than I think we can make progress. What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust, “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message. With this understanding, our suffering can begin to make sense, and God-willing, a process towards healing our hearts.

Mary magdalene

We need the Cross of Christ: making sense of suffering

We need it all, as Pope Francis’ has said. We need those who are holy and those who are very sick. This is part of gradualism. We need the presentation of the Church as a haven. Too often we see a picture of heaven with angels, clouds and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one living an illusion. Christianity without the cross is an illusion.

imageBonPAsteur

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard. I love my job because I feel that so often adults do not acknowledge the suffering of teenagers because it is a sort of developmental suffering compounding some very serious trials they are undergoing. They trust me because I trust them and acknowledge that when they say they are suffering, what they are saying is true.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. True. But perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews. “Welcome to our Eucharistic Celebration” and all that.

It is a celebration, a wedding feast. But with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

crucifixion

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life rather than go through the stages of cancer.

Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. He did not hide the cross, his willingness to endure it, and his desire to be free of it. That is honesty, and he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.”

What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust: “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message.

crucifixion2

If a doctor ignores the infection in the wound and thinks only of the wound healed, he will not adequately heal the wound. He must focus on what is bad, always with the healed state in mind. The Catholic Church is a hospital. If we are so self-satisfied, like the Pharisee, than perhaps we avert our eyes from the Cross because we are guilty of sin and making others suffer by our sin. Let us recognize the temptations we fall into, recognize that evil exists and that we all suffer, and then only can can fully appreciate the Resurrection.

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The evangelization of culture: Sr. Christina sings “Like a Virgin”

annunciation

When I first saw a news article about the beloved Sour Christiana singing a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” this seemed too much to handle. I was deeply touched watching the clip from Italy’s The Voice in which she moves the hearts of the judges, particularly J-AX. It was profound.

I am a fan of religious orders engaging the world with their other-worldliness, like this brother from the CFR’s. After giving up skateboarding to enter, and not touching a skateboard for six years, he is ordered to get one and go to the skate park to reach out to the youth there. What evangelization! The article states, “after spending time within the skaters, he realized they shared a connection: both friars and skaters see themselves as counter-cultural. In their mutual rejection of worldly values, they both stand open to new paths in life.” As with therapy, evangelization falls flat if you fail to engage the person where they are. The evangelist must find a way to walk with the person in order to lead him or her.

To note the artistry of the video of the CFR. My husband noted the use of fire and water in the video of the skateboarding friar. A little baptism symbolism here? He is taking something ordinary, skateboarding, and allowing the spirit to anoint it, to bless it, to make it something holy in order to lead others to Christ. By bringing the light of Christ to the darkness, to the hovels (like Mother Teresa) of underground culture, the friar transforms his activity. Skateboarding becomes a light for those in need.

But “Like a Virgin”?

Sr. Christina says it well that for those who have not seen this song before and its associations, it can be seen as something new. Watch the video here.

To the pure all things are pure. If it weren’t for our culture. For what we know of Madonna and Moulin Rouge (my first encounter of the song, which is, I would say dirtier in its presentation than Madonna’s official music video), would we think in this way? What if it all went according to God’s plan? That virgin being a woman, a woman who has chastely kept herself and marries the man God has set aside for her. On their wedding day they come together. And at the sight of one another it is a moment of wonder, or awe, as God intended it to be. Not tainted, not dirty or risque, but pure, simple, beautiful. Whatever his past, he sees her as new. And they experience the beauty and the love of God through this most generous act.

There is something pure and uplifting when this consecrated sister sings the word “virgin.” She was right to see the beauty in the words. And when she sings them, they are something new. Through her virtue and love of Christ, the avenue of popular music is transformed. We can see a light in the darkness. And taking a song like this, frankly, from a singer like Madonna, to me is a way of laughing at the devil, saying he is powerless. Madonna has made it part of her career to scandalize and more than once in terrible, ugly ways. Now a woman in a habit sings her song and makes it something beautiful.

Transformative engagement with the modern world.

Take it a step further. What is happening for this generation of young people? For the over-achievers, they work and work and work and for what? Mark Shiffman observes the fear he sees in young people: fear of taking risks, fear of getting it wrong, fear of not making it in this world, and more deeply, a fear that in the end, all their efforts are but smoke. When you see the world you’re used to, through the eyes of the consecrated person, and then you see meaning in it, that is the light. That is evangelization.

“The Church grows by attraction,” Pope Francis said. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). They are using ordinary things to bring Christ. They are using their bodies. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn1:14). How beautifully incarnational.

On Gradualism, Evangelization, and the Stages of Change

I am so excited to hear what the news of what is coming out of the synod. The news is joyful and ripe for controversy because in this American society, we are not so good at listening. The concept is called “gradualism.” The idea is that I cannot leave sin cold-turkey. There is typically a gradual move towards a holier life.

rembrandt-prodigal-son-detail2

This is consistent with the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of the Stages of Change. Precontemplation is the first stage. While others may point out my problem, I do not see it as a problem and do not think of it. Once I realize the behavior or habit is a problem, I enter the Contemplation stage. Next comes the Preparation stage. I make plans to change. After this stage, I enter the Action stage. I now take concrete steps towards the change I would like to make. Once those steps are in place, the changes require maintenance. At this point in the stages, it is typical that after some success in maintaining the change, I falter and I fall back into my old habit. In fact this can happen at any point in the process. Whether I am aware of my failure or not, I will have to begin the stages again. However, I am stronger and each time I go through I am stronger. I am not the same sinner I was at the beginning. Once I am strong enough, I will stay in the Maintenance stage and am able to avoid the bad habit or action for the rest of my life.

All this takes time. We can consider the emphasis on graduality of returning to the moral life in terms of the TTM stages of change. Gradualism means we reach out to those in the various stages of change, not just the action and maintenance stage. It means we are merciful, understanding and sympathetic when one returns to an earlier stage, even pre-contemplation when they may justify their actions and not see their sins as a problem. We are reminded of our moral duty to care for those who may be in the Contemplation or Preparation stage. At anyone of these earlier stages, we may speak the Truth, the Law, and the individual may not be ready to act on it.

Therefore, we must take care how we are to speak. Pope Francis has pointed out the uselessness of proselytizing. It does not help to speak at people. Each stage represents a different type of soil. We may speak. The seed falls on ground and is eaten up (pre-contemplation). It falls on rocky soil (contemplation, preparation but does not move to action). It falls on thorns (action and maintenance, but falls back to the beginning). Good soil (action and maintenance, with continued maintenance.

It does happen at times that we speak the Truth and the person changes their life. We feel strengthened and desire to speak the Truth more. What we don’t see is that our action was merely one part of the whole: steps, stages, actions providentially orchestrated by the Holy Spirit to bring this soul to conversion.

I have fallen into this error. We have the duty to evangelize. But it must be evangelization of the whole person. We need to do it with a little sense.

There are four levels of communication. In the first level, the “superficial” level (basic greetings) no information is exchange. In the second level, “people, places, things.” information is exchanged but nothing personal. In the third level, I speak about “what I value.” Now I give part of myself. You can see what I am passionate about by the subject and intensity of my conversation. Lastly, in the fourth level I share “how things affect me.” Here I give you my reactions, my feelings.

If I approach a person without regard for their whole person, I may speak flippantly merely of the Law (Level 2) without mind to how the dissonance between Church teaching and the person’s lifestyle/moral decisions affect him or her (Level 4). I have sinned in disregarding his or her personhood. Proselytizing speaks about law to people. In it I do not come down from the soapbox to see whom I am speaking to.

The next issue is those medium of communication we use. My mistake was to use email. My first goal was to determine the stage of change the person was in, hoping I could help prevent her from taking the step she was preparing to take. How stupid I was. You cannot get a sense of the whole person via email. I saw she was committed to her decision. Accepting this I discerned what our friendship could look like now. The damage was done. I wrote, still over email, very matter-of-factly (Level 2) my vision of what our relationship could be. I could not convey the sensitivity I felt over email. And so I did greater injury.

Thanks be to God we reconciled, realizing how far off track our communication was because of the medium. The conversation became severely distorted because we chose to use an electronic form of communication, rather than a personal.

Something is lost in digital communication. If we had been in person, I would not have said the things I wrote. Perhaps she might have felt loved, reached out to and supported, whatever her decision. That’s certainly how I felt, but not what I communicated. What I communicated alienated her and hurt her. I might have driven her away further because of my error.

Evangelization is not a series of pressing buttons and converting people. God alone changes hearts. If we are obedient to his call and docile to his guidance, we can be part of someone’s journey. Understanding the graduality of conversion can help us to be a little more docile in His Hands and hopefully more useful to His Purpose.