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I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., qtd. in “Wikipedia Contributors”

Acknowledgements

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, dcu, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Wikipedia Contributors.  “Martin Luther King, Jr.”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  15 Jan. 2018.  Web.  15 Jan. 2018.  <https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.&gt;

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Well I love inspirational stories, but I can’t say I’m over-fond of Hallmark, Lifetime, or any other similar storytelling outlets.  And for essentially the same reason…

…that is, I think inspirational stories are important, and should be taken seriously (no offense intended to those who like Hallmark or Lifetime; let us be content with begging to differ).

Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder has that happy distinction of being a tearjerker without being a nerve-jerker, a movie that tugs at the heartstrings without (more…)

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I really have been trying not to over-rely on Youtube videos recently.  But in his commentary on Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Bishop Robert Barron offers a beautifully succinct presentation of the cardinal human virtues.

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A few of my favorites/honorable mentions, listed in no particular order…

Saving Private Ryan

We Were Soldiers

American Sniper

Unbroken

Glory

Trailer Link (Turner Classic Movies): http://i.cdn.turner.com/v5cache/TCM/cvp/container/mediaroom_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=1091318

Band of Brothers

Trailer Link (Internet Movie Database): http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3629711385/imdb/embed?autoplay=false&width=480

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animal rightsLinks to previous posts:

Part 1
Part 2

Please read these if you haven’t already.  This post won’t make much sense otherwise.

We have amply covered the privilege given to autonomy in the world today, as well as its extension from humanity to the animal kingdom and the accompanying exclusion of human beings in utero.  We might also add usefulness as a core modern value, as the prioritization of autonomy will compel us to look for what is useful to that end (both generally and in each instance).

If we are serious about this worldview, it follows that we must do what we can to ensure the autonomy of each and every creature.

Herein lies the problem: It’s impossible.

There are far too many variables, too many uncertainties, too many “moving pieces” for every creature’s autonomy to be able to flourish without restraint.

In fact, this “ethos,” in its various forms and degrees, is what pits one vs. another — both on the individual and collective levels.  The privilege of autonomy, rather than being progressive, takes us back to the old law of “survival of the fittest,” and in this case the “fittest” are those able to exercise what we understand as autonomy (however widely its degrees vary).

One might argue: “Yes, but the kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality you’re worried about belongs to a more primitive state of mind.  Our model is based on reason and science.”

fighter aircraftThat’s fine, except that the danger in question is not something to which the modern worldview is immune.  It simply works its way into the newer framework in subtler ways, and is perhaps the more dangerous for it (consider, for example, ancient warfare where enemies in arms and pillagers alike would face their opponents and victims, versus a modern warfare that is less bloody, but which allows for the decimation of entire populations without knowing the targets as anything other than coordinates on a grid).

Let’s be clear: We all agree on the importance of preserving and protecting the proper dignity of each creature.  But contrary to what some claim, we cannot rely upon arguments about what is “conducive to progress” (and not to be redundant, but I will remind the reader that our society sees the growth of autonomy as an indispensable feature of progress) to ensure that this happens.  In his book Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud opined that the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is actually counter-evolutionary, as the good of one’s neighbor will often detract from the (immediate) good of oneself.

If it’s dignity we want, we must appeal to a system of values.  And of this I make three basic observations:

  1. When we do this, we go well beyond questions of autonomy and its attendant bedfellow, usefulness.  If you don’t get how this could be the case, consider the Freud allusion above.
  2. A system of values places strictures on our urge to do whatever we please, whether according to the whims of pleasure or some higher motive.
  3. Finally, it affords us certain basic rights that have no connection whatsoever with the “usefulness” or “autonomy” or our existence.  It confers on every human being the privilege and responsibility of personhood, as well as conferring on animals the dignity proper to them.

Ok — in the fourth and final post, we will bring these reflections back full-circle to the topics we looked at in part one.  Thanks for reading.

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Acknowledgements

  1. “Shanghai-monkey” by F3rn4nd0 – File:Shanghai man with monkey.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shanghai-monkey.jpg#/media/File:Shanghai-monkey.jpg
  2. “Northrop P-61 green airborne”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northrop_P-61_green_airborne.jpg#/media/File:Northrop_P-61_green_airborne.jpg

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For parts one and two, click here

RaisingofLazarus“RaisingofLazarusBloch” by Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://www.familyartusa.com/site/253614/page/917008. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg#/media/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg

I’d like to segue into the next topic with an analogy to the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.

The tomb, for our purposes, can represent the “old geography” — beautiful in itself (indeed, part of God’s good creation), but unhallowed by the presence of death.

And then there is Lazarus, who (again, for our purposes) can represent us, to whom comes Christ bringing new life.

Now imagine laying in the musty darkness of the tomb, newly awakened as though reborn.  Christ, the Lord of life, stands above you with hands extended.  You take hold and begin to allow Him to help you up.  As you stand, and as your bones and joints creak, you realize just how hard this is, and how completely dependent you are on the grasp of your Savior.

This makes you grasp all the tighter, and yet you hesitate.  You’re afraid that if you grasp Jesus’ hands any more firmly, you will pull Him down into the darkness with you.

But here’s what you do not yet understand: He is already there.  Just as surely as He is there before you to pull you up, so also is He there behind you to push you forward.

Grief(“Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction” by Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev – Mikhail Evstafiev. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg#/media/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg)

But why does it have to be this way in the first place?  It’s all well and good for God to be united to us in our suffering, but if He is all-powerful and all-loving, then why won’t He make our path to Him less agonizing?

There are numerous answers to this, but let me throw this out there for you: If the divine-human relationship involved all blessings and no crosses, that would give us less of a guarantee of God’s love, not more.

When we talk about a pattern of blessings for good works, gifts as tokens of love, etc., we find ourselves within the borders of commutative justice (this is a fancy way of saying fee-for-service, or quid-pro-quo); this is true even with tokens of love, in which case the Giver gives in order to get love from the receiver.

Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with commutative justice; it has its place.  But of itself it is impersonal, and does not necessitate the presence of love.  Co-suffering (which is the literal meaning of com-passion), on the other hand, does.

Prodigal Son“Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Return of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project” by Rembrandt – 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Instead of a gumball-dispensing Santa Claus in the sky, what we have is a Divine Lover who so loves and values us that there is no kind of suffering — even death itself — that He will not (indeed, has not deigned to) fully enter into with us in order to give us life.

This does not mean that if we are faithful to Him, we will have to suffer forever.  As Scripture tells us, there will come a day when “He will wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4).  But until then, we fallen creatures have need of the tutelage of suffering.

With that in mind, I’d like to close by sharing the thoughts of Cardinal Francis George, who recently died after a long battle with cancer.  In this very brief clip of less than two minutes, he shares some very profound and moving thoughts on how suffering prepares us for eternity.  Take a listen before reading the next sentence.

So the “New Geography” is a work-in-progress — but the good news is that the work has already been finished from on high, by He who holds all time and space in His hands.

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For part one, click here Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

We spoke in part one of how Jesus Christ, through His death and Resurrection, takes up the wounded “geography” of our fallen world and makes even the scars of our existence capable of leading us to the Divine.  It is indeed a new Flood, more momentous than the one braved by Noah, crashing upon the world with new life, immeasurable power, and life-giving mercy:

Send forth your spirit (…) and you renew the face of the earth. – Ps. 104:30

Beowulf But before we get into that, it might be helpful to flesh out the “old geography” a bit more with a concrete example.  One particularly fascinating manifestation of the old geography is the worldview of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, which J.R.R. Tolkien touched on in an essay on “Beowulf”:

(…) [H]e who wrote (…) ‘heroes under heaven’, or ‘mighty men upon earth’, (…) [was] thinking of eormengrund, the great earth, ringed with garsecg, the shoreless sea, beneath the sky’s inaccessible roof; whereon, as in a little circle of light about their halls, men with courage as their stay went forward to that battle with the hostile world and the offspring of the dark which ends for all, even the kings and champions, in defeat. – “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

This is just one example, but you get the idea.  Some variation of this ambiguous outlook on life has been present throughout all ages, and survives in more “modern” forms today. Until Christ returns to restore all things, there continues to be hardship, turmoil, suffering, darkness, and even death in the world.  But the whole of creation has in a sense been “baptized” by Christ’s saving work, so that the darkness of a world “ringed with the shoreless sea” and haunted by “the offspring of the dark” — in short, the mystery of evil (both moral and physical) — becomes taken up into and transformed by the mystery of the Cross. Christ Crucified by Velazquez“Cristo crucificado” by Diego Velázquez – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg#/media/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg

The Cross is very important to the understanding of Christianity — not because it is a gloomy or sadomasochistic religion…far from it; rather, because neither does it lean towards the opposite extreme of “Pollyanna-ism.”  The Christian teaching on heaven, redemption, and the victory of good over evil no more minimizes or negates the very real sufferings of the world than the Resurrection of Christ negates the horror of the suffering inflicted on Him.  But Our Lord has joined Himself to our suffering, and has thus given it a whole new meaning. He has done this as a sign of His infinite love for us, and in invitation to fellowship with Him.  This is how He will ultimately heal us, rather than by orchestrating our deliverance at a safe distance. Pieta

“Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450 cut out black” by Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out) – Image:Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg

What we have now is what I would call Pietá spirituality.  Instead of seeing darkness, we can look at the world and see the scourged body of Christ in the arms of His mother, blood and water pouring out of His sacred side as a “fountain of mercy for the whole world” (to quote a Divine Mercy prayer).  As one person, I cannot solve all the evils of the world.  But if in my immediate situation I can minister to my Lord even a little bit, tending to those of His Wounds that I can see in my fellow human beings (or elsewhere), then perhaps I am not doing too badly. One more post — stay tuned.

Images from Wikipedia

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