Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Just a Stay-at-Home Mom"

If you want to know how to quickly get on my nerves, try ridiculing the stay at home mom.  That kind of derisive and ignorant comment usually reveals utterly self-absorbed people, caught-up by the lie of materialism.  They're also frequently without a substantive moral compass, since they have so thoroughly embraced the Culture of Death which seeks to undermine the value of new life and the profound role and gift of motherhood.  Unfortunately, though, I seem to hear this sentiment expressed more and more these days by people who really should know better.  

Am I saying that all mothers are worthy of praise?  While, of course, that's not the case, it is indeed a sad and tragic thing that society places so little value on such an important and vital role.  As C.S. Lewis reminded us, "The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career." 

I realize that not all mothers can afford to stay home to raise their children, but I suggest that many times working outside of the home can be avoided or delayed by careful budgeting and simple living.  After all, fifty-years hence, your children won't remember that second car, high definition television, or other luxuries.  No, they will, however, remember the love of their mother and father in the home.  Love and laughter of a Christ-centered family is what it's all about.  Something to think about.  ...Now, husbands, I hope you will go thank your wife--and your mothers, too.

Proverbs 31:10-31

New International Version (NIV)

 10 [a]A wife of noble character who can find?
   She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
   and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
   all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
   and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
   bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
   she provides food for her family
   and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
   out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
   her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
   and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
   and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
   and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
   for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
   she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
   where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
   and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
   she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
   and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
   and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
   her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
   but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
   but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
   and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Short Review of "Heaven is for Real"

If you've noticed, I tend to avoid book reviews.  For one thing, there's the obligatory summary or plot outline which often can evoke a yawn from me about as quickly as if I were cracking open one of my exciting accounting reference books.  Still, something was different about this simple book entitled Heaven is for Real, A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo (and with Lynn Vincent).

I have to admit, though, that my wife actually picked this book up first.  I glanced at it, returned it to its Costco display table, only to retrieve the title again a moment later.  Something piqued my interest after reading just a paragraph, or so.  For one thing, it's written in an unusually simple, unvarnished style that is quickly engaging.  It's not a book you're likely to read for literary value, but, that said, it's much better written than a lot in the "pop" spiritual market--The Shack, par exemple.  In fact, as someone who was raised in the Nazarene denomination before our family of four (as well as my in-laws) crossed the Tiber to the Catholic Church, it reminds me a little of the missionary books that were distributed at church when I was growing up: a very simple, decidedly unselfconscious style.

 So, I can't disappoint my readers with a long summarization of the story (because I don't want to), but I will say that the young boy recounts an out of body experience following a close call on the operating table due to his appendix breaking open.   Colton Burpo shares his experience later with his astonished parents, and the book really focuses on the parents' processing and questioning of their son over the years to come.  The details that Colton conveys are startling and perhaps hard for an adult to accept.  For instance, his insistence of everyone, except Jesus, having angelic wings in heaven was particularly troubling because it seemed to imply that we become angels--which I don't believe is true.  

Still, the angel issue is similar to other details in that I suggest that we're seeing the images of heaven through the lens of a child's mind.  If we accept the account as true, which I do by and large, then we need to recognize that heaven would have probably looked different to an adult on a similar journey.  This is how this child processed the information, which begins to make other small details less troublesome--to me, anyway.  

The most startling passage of the book may be when Colton asks his mother if his sister died in his mother's tummy.  The innocent question reveals that Colton met his unborn sister (of whom his parents had never spoken with him) on his celestial visit: deeply encouraging news for his family.  I was also deeply impressed by the way the little boy describes the nature of time in heaven.  It's been something of an area of interest to me for years, and I think the boy unknowingly described that "eternal present" remarkably well.

I've been reading many reviews of this title over the past few days, and it's interesting how varied the perspectives are.  Atheist writer Susan Jacoby penned a particularly weak attack of the book in her own online review.  It really didn't offer any original or persuasive insights, but just blasted the book as appealing to the "immature American mind."  Since I think it takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer in a higher power, though, I wasn't impressed.  

Some evangelical reviews, such as the one written by Tim Challies, seem really torn as to how to respond to the book.  In the end, it's as if this rather unfriendly reviewer is telling God, that "no, you can't do this."  It's us dictating to the Creator what He may or may not do with regards to His creation; I wasn't persuaded by his arguments opposing the book.  Much closer to the mark, I think, are the more thoughtful reviews--like the one written by Scott Lencke.

I think it's important to approach all accounts of miracles with a healthy degree of skepticism, but this account rings true for me.  (Of course, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, God turns water to wine each year in the vineyard, and we fail to recognize this kind of natural wonder for the miracle that it truly is.)  As an example of personal revelation, we're, of course, not bound to believe, but we do need to realize that God may do whatever He wishes when it comes to His creation.  He's not bound by natural laws.  I would concur with some of the comments by reviewers such as Tim Challies in that we should be careful of our faith being affected too much by sensational accounts--even the true ones.  Our faith should lie deeper and stronger than our passing feelings.

Lastly, some have argued that Colton's experience contradicts their interpretation of the book of Revelation.  I would suggest that Revelation contains multiple levels of meanings--for many generations of believers.  A particularly strong commentary on this book is Revelation, A Divine Message of Hope by Father Bruce Vawter.  

In short, I found this book to be a heartwarming account of a child's journey to God and back again.  As I wrote some years ago in "Mysterious Tools," the heart of God definitely holds a special place for children.  We should all strive for more of a child-like faith in our own spiritual journey.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In Memoriam...September 11th

September 11th, 2001.  The day began bright and clear in western Oregon.  I first learned of the tragedy on the way in to the office, and I was in such a state of shock that I had to come home shortly after I arrived.  I recall a co-worker almost brushing it off and getting back to the office routine, but I just couldn't do it.  It may have been Oregon, but our thoughts and prayers were certainly with the good people of New York City that day--and the dark days that followed.

The attack happened only six-months, or so, after we bought our house in south Salem.  I remember standing on the front steps of our home and looking into the cloudless blue the sky.  Not one aircraft could be seen.  Everything seemed eerily quiet in our neighborhood, as well.  As the footage of the falling towers was played over and over again, I just sat in shock watching the news reports; it seemed to just get worse and worse.  In particular, it was heartbreaking to witness the people leaping to their deaths from the windows of the burning towers.  It wasn't just debris raining on the streets below, but lives.

I was profoundly thankful for the powerful leaders we had at the time in New York and Washington D.C.  Mayor Rudy Giuliani indeed made us all proud, and President Bush gave the steady hand of leadership that we all needed so terribly at that time.  There were innumerable heroes that day, as well.  We should never forget the selflessness of people such as Todd Beamer and those many emergency responders.  The world has certainly changed much since that September day a decade ago, but the heroes' names will be remembered forever, while the terrorists' names are already fading from collective memory.

In memory of the nearly 3,000 murdered that day (more than 10% of them belonging to the FDNY family), I'd like to share the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero.  The sculptor is my father-in-law, John Carroll Collier.  I hope you will read about the memorial and take a moment to look at the sculptures.  Better yet, hopefully you can make the journey and see it personally at Saint Joseph's Chapel of Saint Peter's Roman Catholic Church in New York City.  Although we witnessed the exhibit before it was transported to New York, I hope to visit Saint Joseph's Chapel in NYC at some point in the future to see the pieces again.  In particular, the sculpture of Saint Michael was deeply inspiring.  

I had the opportunity to spend time with John a few months after the 9-11 tragedy, and I remember him talking to me about his idea for a memorial.  I'm indeed glad that something meaningful like this has been created to honor those killed on that day and remind us all that any permanence or truth is illusory unless firmly anchored in our savior, Jesus Christ.

Sharing a Few Words on Appeasement

There are a couple of misconceptions that arise out of well-meaning people's reflections or search for meaning concerning the 9-11 tragedy.  First, it's important to bear in mind that the admonition to "turn the other cheek" fails to apply to nations; it's directed at individuals. Nowhere in Scripture or sacred writings are nations instructed to leave their citizens without a defense.  (Saint Thomas Aquinas reinforces the right of self-defense as well as just war within his masterpiece Summa Theologica.)  This isn't to say, of course, that we should be quick to war, but it's important that we understand government's moral obligation to defend its citizens.  We may not always agree with our nation's course--especially perhaps with regards to the Bush Doctrine--but we would be wise to grasp its true responsibility before we offer the criticism. 

Second, I don't subscribe to the view that we permit terrorists to (in effect) encourage our own introspection over national policy. Better that this dialogue and introspection be sparked by something other than horrific acts against God and man. While real good may be mysteriously wrought from terrible injustice and evil, whining "Why do they hate us?" comes too close to legitimizing the work of the terrorists--giving them some of what they want. It also bears the dangerous trademarks of appeasement.  Evil should neither be coddled nor appeased, but extinguished with courage and determination.  

Instead, let's focus on prayer for the fallen and prayer for our continued safety. Later, we can take a second look at matters of social justice. I suggest avoiding the connection of the two lest we give the terrorists a voice they should never have.  Lastly, forgiveness is something for which we can continually strive.  Forgiveness in this context does not betray a naivete with regards to national security, but, instead, it focuses upon our personal reaction to tragedies of this nature.  

Perhaps a reasonable argument can be made that I'm splitting hairs here, that its only natural that good--e.g. issues of social justice--flow from the evil of 9-11.  I suggest, however, that we seriously consider the ramifications of giving a voice to the terrorists and indirectly helping their causes.  If we, for example, make a personal decision against further support of Israel (a terrible personal choice, incidentally), it would be foolish to do so because of the terrorists that murdered our brothers and sisters that day.    


St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

9-11 Links (in no particular order)

9-11 Memorial 
Flight 93 Memorial
Todd Beamer
9-11 Digital Archive
9-11 Events Timeline
News Archive
911 Photos (Google)
Memorial Commentary
Sept. 14th Memorial Service Recording

Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero Dedication
"Sculpting a Tribute" from EpiscopalLife
USCCB's 9/11 Memorial Page
Pope Benedict's message on 9/11
Blog Touching Upon Catholic Memorial

Wiki Leaks' Pager Data 

Homeland Security

(As a last aside, if anyone else experienced strange dreams shortly before 9-11, I would be very interested to hear from you.  I've heard bits and pieces of accounts, but I never retained any details of others' dream accounts.  I'd be happy to share more info on my own outside of my blog.) 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Writer's Retreat

The Catholic Writers' Guild asked me to share this press release.  Hope you can make it!  

Press Release
June 9, 2011
                                                                           Ann Margaret Lewis, 
Catholic Writers Guild President 
     Michael Marshall
For Immediate Release
Catholic Writers to Enjoy Special Spiritual Retreat 
Lansing, MI: In collaboration with FAITH Catholic Publishing and Communications, The Catholic Writers Guild, will sponsor Your Word is My Delight, a Catholic writers' retreat, Oct 5-9, 2011. Come and delight in God's word and sacrament, and pray in a beautiful and serene retreat setting.
The retreat's key presenter is Pat Gohn, Catholic columnist, podcaster and catechist. Other presenters are Father Charles E. Irvin, David Krajewski, Father David Rosenberg and Father Larry Delaney.
Writers will enjoy five spiritually-enriching days of daily Mass, adoration, the sacrament of reconciliation and many hours of writing time. Talks will explore how God speaks to and encourages writers through Scripture, papal writings and other topics in order to promote faith-filled writing.
Opportunities for networking also will be offered through an informal "book bash and social hour" Wednesday evening and Faith Catholic's one-on-one "pitch sessions" that give writers the chance to sell their current writing projects.
Cost for the four-day retreat is $450, which includes meals and accommodations. Deadline for registration is Sept 28. A nonrefundable deposit of $45 is required at registration.  

To view a schedule of events, click here.   
 To download a brochure, click here
 To register for the retreat click here.