Sunday, March 27, 2011

On Coming Home

On the way back yesterday from seeing a great movie with the family (True Grit), I noticed a young man wheeling a floral-patterned suitcase down the sidewalk.  (I presume he was heading towards I-5.)  He was downcast and obviously upset about something.  Suddenly, a young woman appeared a block away, running towards him with a look of quiet desperation.  Sadly, I couldn't watch to see how this particular drama played out, but I hope that they're homelife is doing better. 

It was a poignant snapshot of life, and it got me to thinking of our coming home to the Catholic Church at the Easter Mass of 2005.  With the exception of childhood, this is about the longest we've ever been at the same church, and there's no inclination to search or "church hop" around again either.  We've found our church home, and we're profoundly thankful to be done with the endless church searching of our past years.

Here's the link for a Thirst for Reverence, which appeared in Catholic Answers' magazine, This Rock.  I hope you find it interesting, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have concerning our spiritual journey.  I will add that I never was completely happy with how this article was edited.  Most of the positive elements associated with our evangelical upbringing were de-emphasized, while the negative elements received greater emphasis as a result.  Still, it conveys a clear picture of why we crossed the Tiber for the fullness of the Catholic Church.

I took the accompanying photo while on a recent trip to Friday Harbor, Washington State situated on San Juan Island.  The photo is of the Saint Francis Catholic Church.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's All About Me?

We just returned from a whirlwind vacation taking us from Seattle to Anacortes and the San Juan Islands.  The beauty was incredible, but I wish there had been a little more time.  Still, the days were  a rewarding and energizing time for all of us.  One area we particularly enjoyed  exploring was Lime Kiln Point State Park on the southwest side of San Juan Island (directly across the Strait of Georgia from beautiful Victoria, BC).    

While standing at a viewpoint and just taking all the scenery in last Saturday afternoon, I happened to overhear the young man and woman's conversation beside us.  His remarks resonated with me, because they seemed so at odds with everything around us.  He was explaining to his companion how this was such a great place to really think about one's self and meditate.  (I guess the meditation qualities of the place must have been off that day, as the couple ended-up tailgating us aggressively back all the way to Friday Harbor in their aging compact bearing California plates.)  How can such a display of God's handiwork turn us inward in such a silly display of self-absorption?

So, this raises the question: Is it really all about me?  Is my self worth the most important thing, or is the Christian called to embrace the death of self, sacrificing himself for God and our fellow man?  I remember being a Protestant in a Catholic school where the well-meaning teacher was attempting to instill in us students a value of self.  A friend asked me later what I thought about the discussion.  I pointed out the fallacy of the teacher's reasoning with a simple question.  I asked my friend if that was the attitude Christ had when He went to the Cross?  Was self the most important thing to Him when He allowed himself to be taken and crucified?  Obviously, the answer is a resounding NO! .  If that had been Christ's focus, He would have removed himself from the situation, refusing to sacrifice himself for sinners.

If we are to follow the example and teachings of Christ, in verses such as Galations 2:20, then we must ignore the teachings of the day and deny ourselves for He who saved us.  It's through that daily denial and death of self that we become the people He created us to be.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Be Not Afraid

Sitting here waiting to leave for a dental appointment (in which there will be lots of drilling), I began reflecting upon fear, and I thought I'd share a few words about it as my last post for a little while. It's not that I'm particularly nervous about the dental appointment, but sometimes multiple things combine to give all of us a little bit of uneasiness concerning our lives.

Some years, or so, ago, I was making what's called a field visit for my state government employer. These are when we contact individuals regarding tax matters. Usually, it's pretty routine stuff, but this time I was in for a surprise. I pulled into a driveway out in the country and was welcomed by a very large and vocal dog. He made it clear that he wanted me to turn my state Prius around and head back up the driveway. I can't recall all the details, but there was some reason why I really needed to contact the residents or leave a note for them to contact me.

After no one appeared at the front door, I nervously cracked open the car door. About the same time, I offered a quick prayer asking that I'd return home without missing any important parts. The dog's barking seemed to ease slightly, then I stepped out of the car completely, kneeling down with my hand outstretched for him to sniff (hopefully not chew). The barking suddenly stopped and the animal bounded over, tail wagging and licked my hand, as I recall. He became my best buddy while I left a notice on the front door and did a few minutes of paperwork in the car before heading back to the office. (I learned later that a family member was also praying for me at about the same time.)

Now, I would never train a new employee that this was the best approach, but in this particular case it seemed the way to go; I was able to manage my personal fear through prayer--and a little determination. This reminds me of my children's book, Tristan's Travels, as one of its central themes is overcoming fear--especially with regards to children. When our faith is in Christ, fear can be managed or overcome. (Please see the article "Overcoming Fear" courtesy Catholicmom.)

I'm not usually a fan of modern Catholic music, as it's usually too "folksy" sounding for me (and too often offering shallow or questionable theology), but I have to admit a soft spot for the hymn "Be Not Afraid." This simple admonition is also repeated, in one way or another, more than sixty times throughout the Old and New Testaments--e.g. "Do not be afraid." (Luke 12:4) and "Don't be afraid." (Mark 5:36)--so it must be advice truly important to all of us.

I'm going to conclude with a prayer from St. John Gabriel Perboyre which was shared at a talk we attended yesterday evening by Fr. Ron Hoye, CM. The following prayer was penned shortly before this man's brutal execution (by strangulation) by the Chinese authorities. The crime? Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It should be further remembered that this man was forced to build the cross on which he was to be strangled to death. This is a powerful example of overcoming the darkest terror, and it was accomplished through the grace of Christ.

O my Divine Saviour,
Transform me into Yourself.
May my hands be the hands of Jesus.
Grant that every faculty of my body
May serve only to glorify You.

Above all,
Transform my soul and all its powers
So that my memory, will and affection
May be the memory, will and affections
Of Jesus.

I pray You
To destroy in me
All that is not of You.
Grant that I may live
But in You, by You and for You,
So that I may truly say,
With St. Paul,
"I live - now not I -
But Christ lives in me.

...St. John Gabriel Perboyre, 1840

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Hidden Truth of Christ's Genealogy: Bringing Good out of Bad

Before we dive into today's blog post, I wanted to take a moment to thank my readers. I also need to mention that this will likely be my last post (or next to last) for a couple weeks due to another soggy spring break in Oregon. Upon my return, I'll probably have a lot to talk about!

If we take time to read Matthew 1, we see a remarkably detailed account of the lineage of Saint Joseph. While reading the genealogy of Christ may not be exciting on its surface, it highlights God's way of frequently using "bad" people to bring about a greater good. Not every person named in this genealogy (spanning 42 generations) lived the life of a saint.

King David himself behaved shamefully on many occasions. In the eleventh chapter of 2 Samuel, for instance, we read about his wicked manipulation which resulted in the dispatch of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the front lines of battle where he was killed in order that David might more conveniently marry the widow. The fact that David sought and received forgiveness from God is clear when we read Acts 13:22, which describes David "as a man of my (God’s) own heart".

The point is simply that God used fallen and sinful people to play a gloriously mysterious part in His gift to a fallen world, His Son. Unknowingly, they became co-workers in a sense with regards to this miracle of miracles. If God can bring such a supreme good from people who behaved so poorly at times, think about the other kinds of good that God can bring from the troubles we encounter daily. No evil or wickedness can be contrived from which God can not bring forth the miracle of good.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

The unfolding tragedy in Japan is surely prompting many to ask hard questions such as why does a good God permit the evil of suffering? While I can't do more than scratch the surface of such a deep question, we can certainly say what the answer is not. After every natural disaster resulting in tragic loss of life, some misguided people--e.g. Hillsboro Baptist Church--always insist that the earthquake, tsunami, etc. was a direct punishment from God. Sometimes, I think this serves as a personal coping mechanism, a way to make sense out of destructive chaos. In the case of the aforementioned church, though, I suspect that the motivation is darker in nature.

It's a misleading and dangerous line of reasoning to pursue, however. Since we read in James 1:13 that God is not tempted by evil, nor does He tempt us, it would be impossible for Him to be the source of such suffering. This is simply an example of what the CCC calls "physical evil" as opposed to "moral evil". The world is a complicated machine in which God does not constantly insert His hand when something is about to break and cause harm. He permits nature to run its course. To do otherwise, would be heaven, and we're not there yet (except in Mass, as Scott Hahn might say).

Here's a small part of what the Catholic Encyclopedia offers on the three different dimensions of evil. (I'm not sure I've ever actually heard of "metaphysical evil" before. It's also not mentioned once in the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

With regard to the nature of evil, it should be observed that evil is of three kinds — physical, moral, and metaphysical. Physical evil includes all that causes harm to man, whether by bodily injury, by thwarting his natural desires, or by preventing the full development of his powers, either in the order of nature directly, or through the various social conditions under which mankind naturally exists. Physical evils directly due to nature are sickness, accident, death, etc. Poverty, oppression, and some forms of disease are instances of evil arising from imperfect social organization. Mental suffering, such as anxiety, disappointment, and remorse, and the limitation of intelligence which prevents humans beings from attaining to the full comprehension of their environment, are congenital forms of evil each vary in character and degree according to natural disposition and social circumstances.

Are all types of pain and suffering, then, because of the Fall of Man? The simple answer is Yes. The choice of Adam and Eve, already created in the image of God, to disobey their Creator in a tragically misguided attempt to be "like God," led to evil being allowed to enter the world, permanently changing every facet and dimension of our lives. With the barrier of sin now present between us and our Heavenly Father, however, God never gave up on mankind, but He continually sought to give us the means to seek and receive redemption and freedom from the sin. While the sin weakens us, the suffering may build spiritual strength and endurance.

The simple answer to Why does God allow suffering? is really impossible until we first have a solid understanding of the nature of sin and evil. Once that is understood, we can say that suffering allows us to become the people God created us to be, refined by fire as it were. As previously mentioned, God allows our broken world to run its course. When my grandmother lay dying in a coma some years ago in a small hospital room overlooking the brilliant fall tapestry of the Yakima Valley below, I remarked to my grandfather "that it wasn't ever supposed to be this way." By that statement, I was trying to say that God had other plans for us--even though his omniscient nature was fully aware that we would fail. If there was no free will, we could not truly say that we could independently love God; we would be automatons, machines. Likewise, suffering may also be tied to this free will. We are held accountable for our bad choices and decisions--sin being the worst.

Along our journey, it’s important to remember that every person we meet within our hectic daily schedules is someone for whom Christ’s blood was spilled, and, therefore, a fellow member or potential member, of the Body of Christ. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, there aren’t “ordinary people.” We all have everlasting souls. We are familiar perhaps with the idea of redemptive suffering, offering our pains and struggles up to God. If we can apply this kind of internal reverence to our daily lives, we are offering these routine activities up to Christ. In this way, we are also acknowledging that we our identity is greater than what our daily life may trick us to believe. That is, our identity should not necessarily be tied so closely to our work or vocation. We are more than what we do from 8-5; our jobs should not define us. When we understand this, we are transforming the mundane to the eternal as we strive to live Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “whatever you do, do for the glory of God.”

Not only may suffering lead us to a closer union with Christ, but God can bring good out of the evils we face. In conclusion, here is a passage from Saint Thomas Aquinas' masterpiece Summa Theologica. It's also followed by a short quote from C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain. Following this, I have also listed some additional reading suggestions, but I have intentionally kept the list very brief.

I answer that, It must be said that every evil in some way has a cause. For evil is the absence of the good, which is natural and due to a thing. But that anything fail from its natural and due disposition can come only from some cause drawing it out of its proper disposition. For a heavy thing is not moved upwards except by some impelling force; nor does an agent fail in its action except from some impediment... (Saint Thomas)

Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design. (C.S. Lewis)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church *

Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas

The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis

Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis

Thinking of Religion, Richard Purtell (out of print)

* Below are some informal notes from a CCC class my wife led some years ago.

Providence and the scandal of evil

(Why does evil exist?) Read CCC# 309

God’s Wisdom: He created it in a “state of journeying”

“With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.” CCC # 310

Free Will: “Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love.” CCC #311

God is all powerful: He causes Good out of evil

Read #312

“We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.” Rom. 8:28

His ways are unknown to us. “Only at the end when our partial knowledge ceases…” will we understand. CCC#314

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Cougar and the Raven...and Science

I have to admit a soft spot for birds--especially crows, ravens, seagulls, and chickadees. I'll never forget the opportunity to rescue a crow with an injured wing in our backyard. It tamely let me feed it taco shells before I gently wrapped it in a towel for transport to a bird rescue facility in town. I also fondly recall giving it a drink of water with an old medicine dropper. Unfortunately, he decided to peck the arm of the bird rescue volunteer until it drew blood. (As an aside, we think this bird returned once or twice after it was re-habilitated across town. Sadly, I did not have taco shells readily at hand for the next visit.)

I give this preface, so you can understand perhaps why I sometimes enjoy reading about birds in my spare time. (In fact, as a fiction writer, it's hard to find time to read good fiction myself.) Right now, I'm almost finished with the Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich. I've enjoyed the book for the most part, but one passage in the sixteenth chapter concerning an older lady named Mrs. Harnum annoyed me for its bias against those of faith. The chapter recounts strange behavior by a raven while the older Mrs. Harnum was completing chores in her yard, overshadowed by the neighboring forest. The strange raven vocalizations and erratic flying around her head caused her to follow its flight as it "buzzed" a large cougar that appeared to be stalking her from an overlooking ledge of rock. The woman called to her husband for help, and they chased the large cat away. The woman called the experience a miracle, claiming that the bird alerted her to the cougar's presence.

The author, of course, would not have the poor reader thinking a miracle may have in reality occurred, so he (plausibly) theorized that perhaps the raven was working with the cougar, and that they both wanted to chow down upon the old woman. This kind of partnering behavior as it relates to kills is apparently somewhat common with wolves, but I don't know whether, or not, cougars and ravens are known to often interact in this fashion. Whether they do, or not, is not so much the question with me. It seems plausible enough, but what seemed silly to me was the author's failure to further analyze the situation; he instead fell upon his bias against religion to point him in the desired direction. If the two animals were indeed working together, I suggest that it leads us to an even greater miracle: a wild raven and cougar cooperated in the wild to bring down an aged woman caught alone outside, but they were mysteriously foiled at their bloody plot. What really caused the woman to realize she was in danger? Looking below the surface, then, we see a potentially even greater miracle.

In a similar vein, there was recently a science show my son was watching concerning the brain. I sat down and watched it for a few minutes as it described the stimulation of a part of the test subject's brain theorized to be associated with religion and the supernatural. When the brain was stimulated in a particular way, the test subject reported being aware of other beings in the room with her. As I recall, she said she could make out vague shapes. The pleasant feeling of companionship was then followed by something described as a hot and fiery place. The interviewed scientist reported (in so many words) that this test was evidence against God and faith, as these spiritual feelings could be brought to the surface using targeted electric stimulations of the brain.

First of all, it seems to me that for the experiment to be considered valid it should be carried out simultaneously with multiple subjects. If each subject reports the exact same experience, I think it raises more questions than answers. I am not suggesting that, if carried out, each subject would report similar "presences," but to fail to go this extra step betrays a bias which colors the conclusions. To suggest conclusions based on non-simultaneous testing seems to embrace a bias against the supernatural realm.

Secondly, even if this is determined to be true and feelings of a religious or spiritual nature can be so prodded and teased from our minds, what does this really prove? Genesis 1 teaches that we were formed in the image of God. The need for God is stamped upon our very hearts and minds. The fact that this need may be associated with a particular region of our mind is neither particularly surprising nor suggestive of a conflict between faith and science. It is, yet again, simply showing us the bias against religion held by some of those within the scientific community. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, faith and reason compliment each other, as both are reflections of Truth.

(Photo taken several years ago at Snoqualmie Summit in Washington State.)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sing the Triumph of the Cross, Reflections on Two Latin Hymns

It's hard to believe that Ash Wednesday is next week. As we approach Lent, I have found great comfort and hope in the Latin hymns of old. In particular, I happened recently across two beautiful Latin hymns by the master Venantius Fortunatus (530-600 or 609) , which I wanted to share with readers.

The Hymn of the Cross

The banners of the King go forth, the mystery of the cross shines, by which our Life bore death and by death gave us life.

To wash us from the stain of sin, he was pierced by the sharp point of the lance and shed water and blood.

What David in his true hymn told to the nations is now fulfilled: God reigns from the tree.

Fair and radiant tree, with royal purple adorned, chosen to touch so sacred limbs with thy boughs.

Blessed cross, on whose arms the redemption of the world is borne; thou, from whom his body hangs, dost snatch from hell its pray.

O cross hail, our only hope! At this passion-tide increase grace to the good and take sin from the wicked.

Thee, holy Trinity fount of salvation, let every spirit praise. To whom thou givest the victory of the cross, to them give also its prize.

Hymn at Matins in Passion-tide

Sing, my tongue, the victory of the glorious battle, sing the triumph of the cross; how the Redeemer of the world being sacrificed yet conquered.

The Creator, pitying Adam's race, when it fell by the taste of the forbidden fruit, then noted the tree; that by a tree the loss from a tree should be repaired.

So was the work of our salvation ordered, that art should destroy the art of the deceiver, that healing should come from a tree, as had come the wound.

Therefore in the fullness of the sacred time the Creator of the world, sent from the Father's home, was born and came forth clothed in flesh from the Virgin's womb.

A child he lay in the narrow cradle and the virgin mother bound his limbs in swaddling clothes; such hands held the hands and feet of God.

Eternal glory be to the blessed Trinity, to the Father and Son; the same honour to the Paraclete. Let all the world praise the name of the one and three.

Isn't it amazing to reflect on these hymns, written a millennium before the Reformation? Their messages and imagery are so much more profound and real than most of what serves as liturgical music today. That said, the beauty of the language itself, its very artistic character, does not shine any less for the doctrine it so eloquently conveys. I could point out that the fifth stanza of the second hymn is an excellent example of "communication of idioms", but the reader simply recognizes it as Truth and Beauty shining forth from the page. I only wish I could hear more music along these lines--and a little less from ol' Oregon Catholic Press.

Special thanks to John Carroll Collier for the photo of his painting, The Annunciation. This present day re-imagining of the Annunciation is one of my favorite modern paintings. If you step close to the original, you will see that Gabriel is bursting forth with every color of the artist's palette, truly a heavenly creation. The simplicity and obedience of the young Mary, the new Eve, makes her "yes" to God even more awe-inspiring.

I'm very thankful to call this fine Catholic artist and sculptor my father-in-law. (I am told that prints of this painting may be available in the near future.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Some Food for Thought on Gay Marriage Debate

I happened across a provocative blog entry on the Gay Marriage debate by Eric Sammons, and it encouraged me to share my own perspective on this controversy. This has not been previously published. I hope you find it an interesting perspective!

We’re all familiar with the frantic push for homosexual marriage and/or civil unions. As people of faith striving to live peacefully within a society in growing crisis, we’re probably much more acquainted than we’d like to be with this ideology washing over us from all sides of our popular culture. If we put our collective foot down and declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman, a matrimonial covenant, we’re quickly accused of being homophobic, or worse. The very word homophobic, describing only a personal fear, carries a connotation now of something akin to deep-seated racism and hate; it’s bearer is the new pariah. In the minds of many, the campaign for civil unions is viewed as the logical successor to the fight for civil rights undertaken by African Americans a few decades ago. Not desiring to be unfairly branded a bigot, no one is particularly excited at the prospect of joining this cultural debate on the side of traditional marriage. So, many good Christians remain relatively silent on the sidelines when it comes to this extraordinary fight for ordinary marriage. After all, if God is Love (1 John 4:8), it’s sometimes challenging to charitably articulate what’s so terribly wrong with homosexual marriage. Isn’t it simply about two people publicly declaring their love for each other?

The first dimension of this discussion to touch on is likely the least important. If homosexual marriage does become “the law” throughout these United States, life will continue. The laws of physics won’t suddenly cease working in grinding protest. Christians are called to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), and living lives for Christ demands that we sacrifice lives of ease in exchange for taking unpopular stands for what is right. If we accept that the world is in a death-spiral until the return of Christ, then setbacks like these are to be expected. That expectation, however, doesn’t excuse us from endeavoring our best to oppose movements which run contrary to both Scripture and tradition--not to mention societal good.

Any exploration of the Christian position concerning marriage would be incomplete without quoting from the beautiful and profound words of Christ found in Matthew 19:5-12 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery." The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."

Since the Church is also recognized as the spiritual bride of Christ, the believer should understand the centrality and foundational dimension of the marital institution within our families, society, culture, as well as faith; God’s very nature is explained in familial terms. The uniqueness of male and female speaks to the majesty of God Himself. Dismissing marriage as merely symbolic misunderstands what this sacrament reveals of God and the nature of the “domestic church.”

The issue of demographics also must be briefly touched upon. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with a man of deep faith who is both a respected scientist and mathematician: Dr. Emir Shuford. Whether working as a professor at Harvard or a researcher for the United States Air Force or the Rand Corporation, he is continually searching for new and practical applications for mathematics and science. One of Dr. Shuford’s recent areas of study and exploration combines population trend analysis with epidemiology. He has developed a mathematical formula which forecasts future population changes based on a set of complex variables. He has identified a danger facing world population and calls it the “Contagious Infertility Syndrome”(CIS); it is a disease that attacks nations. The unsuspecting carriers of the disease are people and their behavior. If one has ever read the novel by P.D. James entitled The Children of Men, one is familiar with the ramifications of a steeply falling population within a fictional tale. Unfortunately, Dr. Shuford’s real world conclusions and analysis forecast a plummeting population among many western countries, but there are changes we can support to increase our chances of surviving unscathed as a nation. Christian principles and Catholic practices--encouraging large families, for instance--offer distinct rays of hope, if our culture would but listen.

According to Dr. Shuford’s calculations, our nation has lost 114 million Americans due to the drop in domestic fertility rates between 1950 and 2000. During this half century, our nation’s fertility was cut in half. To put this loss in clearer perspective, we might turn to recent US Census figures. To reach a population figure nearing the 114 million range, we would need to add the total populations of California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. While it is true that the total United States population has continued to grow from about 123 million in 1930 to an estimated figure of about 304 million, the key is that the rate of growth is falling sharply. Of course, these “lost persons” represent potential taxpayers, statesmen, writers, poets, doctors, priests, neighbors, friends, etc, a loss of incalculable proportions.

Although those personally embracing a homosexual lifestyle are unlikely to take an active role in having their own children, it’s neither appropriate nor wise for a society to endorse or approve a lifestyle which runs so contrary to its own continued health existence. A parent’s group might just as well endorse the benefits of lead poisoning. It’s also a spurious argument to suggest that simply because one is born with a particular inclination, this biological dimension morally excuses taking the associated action. While we arguably may not yet know whether the homosexual condition is born or rather influenced by environment, genetic predispositions don’t excuse the resulting immoral behavior. My Viking ancestors, for instance, seldom lived in peace, but instead preferred a life of pillaging and destruction. Whether, or not, I have have a some old genetic predisposition for this manner of lifestyle is irrelevant; my faith and culture demand a much higher standard.

A personal experience may shed greater light on the wider implications of the gay marriage debate. In the fall of 1987, I was a freshman at Seattle Pacific University. One of my assignments was to interview various people from campus. A friend and I decided to interview Steve Swayne, the Director of Campus Ministries. Now, Seattle Pacific University is a Free Methodist university, which some might broadly categorize as “Fundamentalist.” While I don’t generally care for labels, and I care even less for this particular one for a variety of reasons, the university was and is known for conservative positions regarding faith and morals.

Steve Swayne’s job was to coordinate and direct everything related to Campus Ministries. For most of us, he was the face of that department. Between his virtuosic piano performances and his charismatic speaking, many of us students looked up to him. Years passed, and I didn’t hear much of his career following a relatively quiet departure from SPU. I was shocked to learn more than a decade later that this gifted Episcopalian and Dartmouth College music professor today professes a much different set of beliefs than he did in 1987. He advocates for a radical arm of the homosexual movement in which he supports the abolition of marriage altogether (at least in regards to secular recognition). He wrote the following in “I Do/I Don't: Queers on Marriage” from Suspect Thoughts Press in 2004.

The dominant voices from our community have demanded marriage for gays, and marriage has been the rallying cry ever since we came so close in Hawaii. But some of us want to see something that is at once more radical and more conservative: civil union for all.

Christians must understand that gay marriage and even civil unions present fundamental changes to the social and moral fabric of society. It places the will of the individual ahead of the good of the larger community, and its ramifications could potentially lead to a serious undermining of the institution of marriage. This, in turn, would arguably mislead many into the notion that laws change the meaning of things. That is, a “marriage” can be declared as legally binding being between two men or two women, but this only represents a legal cloak. Just as laws can’t decree that up is down or white is black, Natural Law remains unchanged and untouched. When a society’s laws ignore Natural Law, trouble is just around the corner. Since Natural Law fails to recognize a homosexual relationship as marriage, we would be wise to do likewise. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Memory and Identity, Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium, “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this [gay marriage] is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”


Be sure to read Doug Mainwaring's The Myth of the Same Sex Marriage Mandate!

A revised version of this article also appeared on Catholic365.