Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Why 'Finding Dory' Made Me Cry

Spoiler alert: If you haven't watched Finding Dory, and plan to, don't read this!!

Dory has been my favourite animated movie character ever since Finding Nemo in 2003. Something about Dory's absent minded, talking to whales, sunny, random hilarity reminded me of me and my friends.

So of course when Finding Dory came out, I went to see it.  It was not very original, but pretty entertaining. when a movie actually gets me to laugh aloud, I count it a good movie.

But the best movies are the ones that give me a glimpse of something deeper, a truth that resonates with my soul. And that's what happened as I watched Finding Dory.

The movie is all about how Dory, a fish with short term memory loss loses her parents as a child, and as an adult remembers that she lost them, and crosses the ocean trying to find them again. (I'd think this was a slightly scary premise for a kid's movie- thinking you could just LOSE your parents was a real possibility must be a kid's worst fear). She keeps having flashbacks to her childhood, and remembers how her parents lovingly helped Baby Dory deal with her memory problem in different ways, including training her to follow a trail of shells to find her way back home. (Can I just say how adorable Baby Dory is?)

But after the expected set of obstacles and detours and appearance of new friends who help poor forgetful ENFP Dory, she finally finds her childhood home- and it's abandoned.

The moment when you see the abandoned home feels like what I imagine it would feel like to find there really was no God, no purpose, that life was devoid of meaning, and hopelessness was the only appropriate response. I've had nightmares like that.

It is a dark and lonely feeling. Again, I'm kinda surprised that a kid's movie would touch on such dark themes so realistically. When all is lost, Dory loses even the friends she does have, and finds herself wandering around alone in the ocean. Her mind seems to be disintegrating from the trauma.

And then, and then... she sees the beginning of a trail of shells. Is it possible? Could she have stumbled upon a trail of shells her parents had laid for her? Was it possible?

She follows the trail, and sees a home in the ocean.... AND THEN you see a hundred trails of shells leading in all directions from the home... and her parents old, and still laying shells hoping that one day, one day, their daughter would come looking for them, and would find one of the trails of shells that would lead her back to home.. and I'm weeping because THAT, THAT EXACTLY IS HOW GOD LOVES US! The faithful Father, waiting, watching for the prodigal to return. The God who never gets tired of calling us back, of laying shell-trails- signs along our path, pointing us back to our true home with Him.

Dory innocently lost her way (this movie must be so meaningful to parents with special needs kids), and her parents didn't just give up and start a new life without her. But we CHOSE to turn away, and STILL God didn't give up on  loving us, and devising ways to bring us back.

A few days ago an acquaintance was telling us how his brother had strayed far from God, for years had made power and money and success his gods. Until one day when he went for a nominal Confession. He made a perfunctory Confession, but suddenly the priest started telling him all the sins he had not said- thing that the priest couldn't have known. (Padre Pio was known to have done the same.) This man suddenly heard God speaking loudly into his life... and then the priest told him, "God says to tell you- I am the eighth person He's sent." God had been sending people to call His son back. And even when he ignored them, he sent another one, and another one.

Finding Dory reminded me of the truth that no nightmare can take away from me- I am NOT alone. I am loved, forgiven and awaited. How sweet it is to be loved by You, Lord. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Glimpse into the World of Siblings

Thinking about siblings- the good, the bad, and the ugly, after revealing how annoying an older sister I was in my last post.


How to Take the Art of 'Annoying Siblinghood' to a Whole New Level

Mornings were the worst in my home. My dad was the parent who would try to make sure we were all awake at the time we were supposed to be awake. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Some of my siblings were heavy sleepers, and had mastered the art of JUST. NOT. WAKING. UP.

Dada: Are you awake! It's past 7! Get moving!
Sibling (in deep sleep): I'm awake!

Half an hour later:
Sibling: You woke me up? I didn't hear you!

Me: Aaargghh!

I hated that everyone was in a bad mood in the morning, and I decided that I would do my bit to solve the problem. You know what I did? I can't believe I'm admitting this in public... I got permission from my parents to throw water on my siblings if they didn't wake up when they were supposed to.


I really did.

I would get a mug of water, and drip drip drip a few drops on the face of the offending sibling. That would certainly wake them up, but I can't say it helped with the average level of bad moods in the home.


What Siblings REALLY Fight Over

People who don't have siblings might assume that siblings fight over toys or possessions. But the reality is much stranger.

These are some of the things my siblings and I fought over:

  • Who got the chipped plate- the Chipped Plate was the Plate of Shame. No one wanted to land up with the Chipped Plate. So the sibling whose job it was to lay the table, would carefully place it at the seat of the sibling they were most mad at. But then! If there was enough time between the laying of the table and the eating of the meal, the Table-Layer would often be OUTRAGED to find that the chipped plate had made its way back to his or her place. Unfortunately this was not something he or she could officially complain about, because that would mean admitting the deliberate placing of the Chipped Plate in the first place. 
  • Who got the Roundy Poon. Now this spoon was the most desirable item on the dining table, and would also involve a lot of machinations to make sure one got it. Often the youngest sibling would be the lucky one.
  • Who got to sit next to Mama at movie nights. Once again, a privilege usually reserved for the youngest, but then again Mama has two sides, so that's up for grabs. Woe to you though if you get up while the movie is playing, because your privileged spot will most likely be usurped.
  • Whether or not or how fast to put the fan on in the night- there's always the permanently hot sibling who needs the fan on the frigidest of nights, and the permanently cold sibling who is huddled up under blankets on a suffocating summer night. Related: whether or not the bedroom windows and doors are left open.
  • Lights off at night: I remember a furiously angry night with a sibling and I switching on and off the light on opposite ends of the room because we were so privileged to have two switches to the same tube light.
  • Bath time: I once got into a strange fight in which my sister and I were lodged in the bathroom door, neither of us allowing the other to enter, because one of us had missed our bath time, and whoever got in first was not going to get in trouble with my parents, who were about to get home. 
  • Clothes: I would regularly borrow my sisters' cute clothes without asking, a source of much anger. I still sometimes have to fight the urge to be possessive about my clothes, feeling like someone is 'stealing my cuteness' if they wear my clothes.


Siblings Involvement in Each Other's Love Lives

From passing on fake or real love notes, telling each other who to have crushes on (why yes I do win the award for bossiest 12 year old big sister ever), peeking from the window as sisters get picked up for dates by guys with silver shirts, ear rings, and flowers, comforting sisters who get stood up, or disappointed in love, giving first date advice, giving advice on girls to extremely ungrateful brothers, eating chocolates given by siblings' admirers, making (not as subtle as they think) comments to or about love interests within their hearing, giving advice about not flirting, and dealing with unwanted suitors, or pushy girls, to letting cats out of bags at inopportune moments, siblings are very involved with each other's love lives... for better or for worse.


Siblings are the Worst... and the Best

Siblings can be the most frustrating people to exist, because they know exactly how to push your buttons. Old childhood hurts take a long time to heal, and sometimes can cloud our perspective of each other. But siblings are also the people who've seen the worst of you- the sarcastic you, the undisciplined you, the furiously angry you, so they know how hard won the new you, the gentle you, the kind you is. I think GRACE and MERCY are the most desperately needed among siblings and families, because it is only in those very close, nitty gritty relationships that we are really real, and see both the reality of REAL ugly sinfulness and REAL beautiful mercy.


Simcha Fisher wrote a cool article called: How to Help Young Siblings Grow Up to Become Lifelong Friends 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I Used to Be Anti-Harry Potter

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone first came out, someone lent it to my family, and my mother read the first chapter aloud to us. That was all it took- my four siblings and I were hooked. There was something very charming and witty about her writing style, especially to a 12 or 13 year old. We were super excited about each new book coming out.

Somewhere around the fifth book, I became an avid Catholic forum reader, and came across a a lot of Christians who were vehemently against the Harry Potter series. I was fairly impressionable, and was convinced that because the books were about witchcraft and some kids who read them started experimenting with black magic, they were dangerous and should be shunned. At that time in my life, I was one of those bossy, judgy, lay down the law and make other people follow it kinda people (my siblings are nodding vigorously as they read this), so I managed to convince my parents that as good Christians they shouldn't be allowing Harry Potter into our house.

Can you even imagine how furious my siblings were with me? I'm still not sure if they've forgiven me for that. Of course, such a law (like most book-banning), invites law-breaking, and all of them managed to smuggle in and read the succeeding books without my parents finding out (including one who read the fifth one while sitting inside a cupboard), so really I was the only one who lost out.

Over the years, I began to read more balanced Catholic blogs, with more thoughtful and nuanced perspectives. As Catholics, we DO believe in black and white, but also that there are also a great deal of matters which are not so clear, which the Church has NOT clearly condemned or approved, and which need prudence, and wisdom, and healthy discussions in order to choose how to approach.

The tendency is either to be overly fearful (everything that is not explicitly Christian is evil!) or to be overly lax (no censorship at any cost, children have to learn to deal with anything that is out there), or even naive (how much will it really influence them?)

Anyway, after reflection and growth, and the passage of years, here are some thoughts on Harry Potter now:

As a Christian, I DO believe in the existence of evil spiritual powers, and that all forms of the occult are dangerous and to be taken seriously. That's why non-Christians are laughing in disbelief at anyone having a problem with Harry Potter. If witchcraft is merely a fun imaginative fictional invention, then there really is no problem. But I have heard and seen enough to know that the Church isn't kidding about this stuff.

Here is just one of many many stories: Resident Evil: How I Made Friends With the Devil. Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. 
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.
But there is a difference between the magic of fairytales, or pure fiction, and the magic that the Church condemns. 'Sorcery in these books is not the sort of witchcraft forbidden in Holy Scripture. The wizards in Harry Potter do not invoke evil spirits or dark forces in order to change the physical world. Rather, they possess a genetic capability, like a superpower.'* Likewise, fictional magic is used in The Chronicles of Narnia (deep magic) and The Lord of the Rings, and many other childhood favourites that have nothing to do with the kind of magic the Church condemns. In HP in particular, it is more like a superpower, or like the X-men's genetic mutation- an inborn gift or ability given rather than a power or knowledge achieved by connecting with spiritual forces.

Still, a lot of the words used in real life Satanism and witchcraft (two different things) are used in Harry Potter: Like divination, spells, curses, etc. I think it is a legitimate concern that unsupervised and unguided reading of Harry Potter can lead to an unhealthy interest in dabbling with occult powers, especially because witchcraft and Satanism are becoming more and more popular and normalized in today's world. Think about the TV show Charmed for instance- three fashionable and attractive sisters are witches... who actually do practice real life witchcraft. Yeah, I used to watch it.. until the Lord gave me a kick and told me to stop.

Stephen D. Greydanus cautions: 'Is there equally no danger of any young Harry Potter fans-particularly children whose spiritual development is not being properly cultivated-developing an unhealthy infatuation with the idea of magic? Might they tend to indulge in fantasies about the idea of hidden or esoteric knowledge, about belonging to an elite, covert world of power beyond one's peers? Might these stories even be one factor, at some later date, influencing a child to respond more positively or with greater tolerance toward everyday occult phenomena? Might they be one factor influencing a child to respond one day with greater interest or tolerance to Wicca or the Kabbalah?' [Read the rest here: The Morals of Magic]

That doesn't make the books themselves dangerous: Instead, like a lot of literature and movies these days, I think the solution is not to ban them, but to read with your kids, encourage healthy discussions about what is real and what is not, what is dangerous and to be avoided, etc. Even some of the tricky moral questions could be easily talked about while reading the books- do the ends justify the means? Is turning the other cheek for wimps? Are people born good or evil, or do they choose?

Some people feel like just  reading the book or watching the movies puts one in spiritual danger: However, unlike other practices the Catholic Church has explicitly condemned, there has never been an official consensus or statement on HP. Why not, you may ask. As Michelle Arnold, a Catholic Answers apologist writes: 'Sometimes Catholics think that there can be only one permitted opinion on all issues of doctrine and morals. This is a misconception. In many areas of Christian life, the Church is silent and trusts Catholics to use their own prudential judgment. The Harry Potter novels is one such issue in which Catholics are free to sort through the various opinions on the matter, read the books for themselves, and come to their own carefully-considered decision.'  You would think if the books really did open a doorway to evil (like wearing charms or consulting horoscopes), the Church would officially warn us of it. But she does not, which makes me think that can't be true. If my heart and my mind belong to Christ, reading a fantasy book or watching a fantasy movie (in which characters neither invoke evil powers, nor glamorize evil) will not so easily pull me away from God. (Also, guess what? Most of the 'spells' are basically Latin words.)

Harry Potter has a lot of very Christian themes, which is not surprising when you find out that J.K. Rowling is a Christian. The whole life after death thing? The 'Chosen One' who had to sacrifice his own life in order to destroy the Enemy, and even the power of death? "The last enemy to be conquered is death." Why yes indeed, that IS from the bible, 1 Corinthians 15:26 in particular. Death not as an end, but as a doorway to a journey, taking a train to go further on- remind you of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle? Remember when Harry's family walks with him at the end- such a powerful image of the angels and saints- 'Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us'. We believe it! And of course, the shocking and protective power of LOVE?

J.K. Rowling said, “To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious. But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

When I started writing this blog post, I thought I would just write for an hour and be done. But then I started doing some research (partly spurred on by a friend who has strong concerns about the danger of Harry Potter), and boy, there are a LOT of Catholic opinions and articles about Harry Potter. Phew.
I think Regina Doman's article is my favourite though:

'I think that it’s natural for serious Catholics in these dark times to be suspicious of the books, and that people should be forgiven for assuming that wildly popular books like the Potter series must be successful only because they are about the occult. I never dreamed that the books might be so incredibly popular because they are so incredibly good. 

 But once I read them, I started to realize that this might indeed be the case. Perhaps the jaded and beauty-starved and morally-adrift children of the world are devouring Harry Potter because the books are full of truth, goodness, and beauty – although disguised with unfortunate terms like ‘wizard’, ‘witch,’ and ‘magic.’ If so, then Rowling has pulled the biggest literary coup in modern history, similar only to Tolkien’s success in becoming the greatest author of the twentieth century. 

 The main problem with the books could simply be that they are new. When I was growing up, I was encouraged by serious Christians to avoid The Lord of the Rings because the book was thought to encourage interest in the occult. After all, it had spawned the occultic Dungeons and Dragons games. But now Tolkien’s book is hailed as a Christian classic, simply because it has passed the test of time.' [read the rest]

I realize this blog post has practically become a novel itself, and has not really added anything to the (extensive) online discussion of the Catholic perspective of Harry Potter. Not to mention consuming hours of my life researching it.

So really my conclusion is- read the books. But educate yourself and your kids about the very real spiritual harm of real life witchcraft and the occult. Or don't read the books or watch the movies. But don't judge the people who do. Many orthodox and wise Catholics have, and don't seem to have suffered any harm. The end. Good night. Good grief. It's 2 am.

*These two articles made me start thinking about Harry Potter again: Why Your Kids Need to Read Harry Potter and The Mystery of Harry Potter.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Not Just a Pretty Face

After my last post, I heard back from a pretty friend that she felt in some ways the post reinforced stereotypes and prejudices of pretty girls. A lot of people think that pretty girls live in this bubble of privilege and good fortune, untouched by the harsher realities less privileged mortals have to face.

But the truth is pretty girls have their own set of problems and burdens that they have to face.

Pretty girls are told at a young age that their looks are the most important aspect of their identity: It's the first and only thing everybody notices and comments on. People rarely notice or care about their intelligence or their talents or their sense of humour. Leave that to the people who you have to think harder about to compliment.

People often 'use' pretty girls: They can never be sure if people want to be with them for THEM, or for the added value they bring with their looks. It's hard to get rid off the nagging thought- 'Would you still want to be my friend if I didn't look like this?'

Guys often see pretty girls more as an accessory: They want to be the guy with the pretty girl on their arm, it helps with their image (consciously or subconsciously).The guy is looking for someone to fill this cut out of the perfect girlfriend/ trophy wife- an achievement, a possession. Often guys who think like that use expensive gifts to win this pretty girl, because they think that makes them worthy of her interest. They see it as a fair exchange- my money (or service) for your looks. I've seen guys get offended and angry when a girl doesn't respond in the way he thinks he deserves- "After all I've done for you!" You can't buy people!

Other girls can be standoffish with pretty girls: Just by virtue of being pretty, they are seen as a threat, as dangerous- especially when there are guys around. They have to prove that they mean no harm, that they are not proud or egotistic. The introverts who are pretty have the hardest time because their quietness is seen as pride.

It's hard for pretty girls to know when to trust people: Similar to someone who is wealthy, or rich or powerful, when you get used to people using you, it's hard to know when people are not. So when a guy comes a-courting, it's hard not to look at him with a little skepticism and suspicion, because they have been so many who came for the wrong reasons, and without an authentic interest based on seeing her as a real human being, not a goddess or a movie star, or a means to an end.

Pretty girls are likely to struggle with self worth and identity: The prettiness can often feel like a mask that obscures the real person. 'Do you see ME?' she wants to ask, but she often feels that people can't or won't. And then the lie that the Liar whispers, "Maybe the real you isn't worth knowing. Maybe once a guy gets used to the prettiness, and meets the real you, the love will fade." And if that lie is accepted, the temptation can be to keep the prettiness at any cost- make up, plastic surgery, beauty products, beauty salons. And to use the prettiness as a means to get what she wants.

So the next time you meet a pretty girl, try to see past the prettiness, to see a normal human being with insecurities and strengths, and all sorts of weird habits and quirks, and skills and talents, and a desire to be loved and treated as a human being first, and a pretty girl second. Don't treat her with deference, suspicion, adulation, or judgment. She is a PERSON, a daughter of God, an immortal soul, and that is what makes her valuable. And pretty girls, don't believe anyone who tells you differently.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t the Pretty Girl

Disclaimer: I promise I’m not fishing for compliments, or trying to get people to shout me down,“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT PRETTY EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL IT’S THE SOUL THAT MATTERS.” I’m sharing my own perspective of my own story. 

From the age of 12 to 20, I was pretty awkward. I had crazy hair that couldn’t decide if it was straight or wavy or curly or angry (also known as 80s hair). I had never heard of hair product. No fashion sense whatsoever. The only times I looked cute were when I stole my older sister’s clothes. I also identified strongly with Jo from Little Women, in that I was gruff, hated most social situations, and couldn’t be bothered with social graces. My mum would remonstrate with me for refusing to wear makeup or earrings, or make much of an effort at looking presentable.

(This is not the worst of the pictures, but you didn't really think I was going to pull those out for the Whole World Wide Web to see, did you?)

I was not only awkward, I was aware that I was awkward. I remember at sixteen being excruciatingly aware of how awkward my gait was, as my arms hung lifelessly at my side as I walked. My body posture seemed to scream SELF CONSCIOUS (the more you think of your arms the less you know what to do with them.. try this when posing for a photo). So I started practising my confident, graceful walk, as I walked home from college. I’d swing my arms, try to place my feet one in front of the other (like on a beam balance), and hoped that the external would somehow help with the internal. I'd even try a kind of swagger sometimes. (I wonder what the passersby thought.)

To make matters worse, I had two very pretty sisters, who always effortlessly seemed to collect droves of admirers, guys who would take them out to dances, give them gifts, and flowers, and chocolates, and swear undying devotion. It was too easy to compare myself with them unfavourably. Other people did it too. "You're very... different."

I finally and gradually began to grow into my skin, learnt the secrets of side partings, and hair clips, and coconut oil, and hair product, and eye liner, and wearing clothes that worked together.

Beauty tips I still haven't got the hang of

I began to enjoy who I was, and not be so scared or disdainful of the world. It was around the same time that I went on a retreat where I felt that the Lord helped bring healing to some wounds. Each year of my 20s was better than the last. Now I'm 30, and I am SO much happier here than I was at 18.

Now on the other side of the awkward non-pretty phase, I think about it, and I realize that although there were many things I would have liked to have changed about my teenage years, I also am very grateful for how I became who I am through those years.

Pretty girls often get too much attention too soon: I have seen so often the bad effect of young, or insecure, or needy girls becoming the center of attention. Attention is heady! It’s intoxicating. It makes you feel like you’re the center of the world, and spoiler alert: you’re not. It’s too much power put into the hands of unsteady hands. Actually, what the heck, even mature adults such as myself can lose perspective with too much attention. But when you're older you're more likely to recover it and laugh at yourself a lot sooner. I think not being the center of attention helps one have a more down to earth perspective of oneself. And I wish that all young people could have the same.

Non-pretty girls are usually funnier: Not that being non-funny makes anyone of any less value… but sometimes not being at the center of things means, the non-beautiful (or short, or overweight) often get their share of the attention by developing a sharp wit. Not that I ever consciously did it because I was trying to get attention, but I found that I enjoyed social situations so much more when I was making witty comments under my breath to an appreciative audience.

I observed a lot more: When I wasn't at the center of everything, I had space and energy to observe and analyze the workings of the world, of human behaviour, of social situations. Again, a little perspective.

I am much more aware of what it feels like to be the outsider: And hopefully more empathetic. Only a few people have grown up in a graced circle of acceptance and special-ness. But when you’re in the center, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is. If you walk into a party and always have someone who wants to talk to you, you forget that lonely, awkward, unsettled feeling of not having that. But it’s when you’re on the inside that you have the special privilege of being able to pull the outsider in. But how few of us do that. It’s so much easier to gravitate to the people we know well, and are comfortable with.

I wrote about this before- but I still remember a young man (a friend of my older sister) asking me to dance at a wedding when I was awkward, young, and uncool, sitting with my parents. He told me it was because my older sister had once asked him to dance when he had no one to dance with. I had never felt more special- he was older, handsome (to me), and picked ME! I KNOW what it’s like! You can't know till you've been there. But then you need to remember.

I delight in feeling beautiful and graceful: Probably far more so than if it had always come easily. It’s like a gift that is ever new. It’s what makes all makeover movies so relatable (think Princess Diaries).

But I realize awkward bodies can hide beautiful, interesting souls: And maybe judge people a little less based on their terrible dress sense, their sticking out hair, their acne, their self consciousness. Outward beauty and grace is nice. It's pleasing to the eye. But it surely isn't all that is to be known of a person. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Few Thoughts on the Gorilla Story

Wow. The Internets just exploded as Harambe, a 17 year old male western lowland gorilla was shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo to protect a 4 year old boy who accidentally got into the gorilla's enclosure. So many comments, articles, blogs. And SO much of anger.

I've seen reactions ranging from this:

To this:

And a lot of this:

I've been thinking about it, and of course I decided to think in the public eye. Because that's what bloggers do.

It seems as if in many people's opinions, the life of an animal is as valuable (or more valuable) as the life of a human child. It is seen as selfish to consider human life as more valuable than animal life. You see your 2 year old child and a puppy in a burning building, you can only save one. Which one should you pick? This belief system says there is no right answer.

Usually I can find some common ground with varying belief systems. But in this... I don't know what to say, how to respond. Because in a non-Christian world, humans ARE just animals. Not more or less important than any other species. It makes sense.

But in the Christian worldview, there IS something different and more valuable about human beings. We believe that they are made in the image of God- they are capable of choosing love even when hurt by others, they are able to show mercy, to forgive, to love by CHOICE not by instinct. We believe they are made for heaven, not just as creatures, but made to be CHILDREN of God, the Creator. And so no matter whether they are ugly, or stupid, or handicapped, or weak, or unkind, or a 'burden' on others, we consider that God has given us a special task in loving and caring for human life. That's the real meaning of pro-life.

But does that mean Christians have no responsibility towards animals? Can a good Christian kick a cat? No no no. Here's what the Church says-

Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

You would think in an ideal world, we could care equally for humans and animals. It wouldn't be a conflict at all. But it seems like that isn't usually the case. For many, the more we elevate animals, and in many ways ' humanize' them, the less we are affected by human suffering and misery. As I read in one article, it seems very unlikely that the news of the 4 year old being killed by the gorilla would have been particularly noteworthy or even compassion-worthy.

Pope Francis recently said, "Sometimes you feel this [pity] towards animals, and remain indifferent to the suffering of others. How many times we see people so attached to cats, dogs, and then leave without helping the neighbor in need? This will not do!" 

So.. what am I saying?

I believe that we need to let God stretch our hearts, to see the world as He sees it. That means changing from hard-heartedness to soft-heartedness, from indifference to compassion, from judgment to mercy towards the least of his brethren. It means having compassion on that poor mum who almost lost her child, even if it was from a moment's negligence. It means feeling deeply grateful that the little 4 year old's head wasn't accidentally smashed by the strong hand of the 400 pound gorilla.

It means not despising the human race, but seeing the goodness, and the potential for good- as God does. It means even though human beings have hurt us, and in many ways, it's easier to love animals who are a lot less likely to, choosing the hard path of forgiveness, and vulnerability. Allow your love for animals to spur you on to a love for not just humanity, but for human beings. For that is what you were made for.

And for those who think caring about humans exempts you from caring about animals, here is your challenge- it also means feeling sadness at the regrettable death of one of God's beautiful, mighty creatures. It means doing what we can to prevent the needless killing or mistreatment of animals. Allowing our humanity to translate into humaneness. For that too is what we were made for.

A hard choice had to be made, as it often has to be in a world where accidents really do happen. You can both feel relief that the little boy survived, and sadness that the gorilla didn't. But maybe hold the blame, and serve an extra helping of compassion. Our world needs it.

P.S. For those who disagree, and I know there are many- let us agree to disagree, and each attempt to change the world in the way we are convinced we must.

A few articles:

This Gorilla Thing is Going to Make Me Go Bananas

How Tears for Gorilla Water Seeds for the Culture of Death

Of gorillas, control, and swiping left

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Loss of Innocence

A few days ago, my room mates and I had some friends over and were playing a very boisterous game of Fish Bowl. Shrieks of laughter, loud conversations, guys and girls. Little did I know that was the perfect ingredient that made us seem open to the following encounter:

There was a knock on the door. We fell silent, as I jumped up to open the door. We don't often have unexpected visitors. Outside my door were a couple of young men, a couple of young women, and a perhaps five year old little girl. They obviously were renting the apartment opposite for the weekend. I live in a guesthouse in the party state of India.

I looked enquiringly, "Yes?"

"Do you have some stuff?" the guy asked, in a matter of fact tone,

I thought I had misheard him.

"Some what?"

"Some stuff." All their eyes were on me, including the five year old.

"What kind of stuff?"

"You know, weed."

Outraged. "No! Why would you think I had weed???"

"Oh.. Sorry." They backed away.

I closed the door, and then told my friends what had happened. "I cannot believe he just casually knocked on the door and asked for STUFF. And they had a child with them! Just because we're having fun he thought we would have 'stuff'? Is it normal for people to just ask perfect strangers for weed? Wow. I cannot believe that just happened."

A I was speaking, I realized that I lead a very sheltered life. I have never been offered drugs or asked for drugs even back in my college days. But many of my friends had. And experimented with stuff I guess. I realized that the two guests in our house that evening possibly were surprised by my outrage. I wondered how naive and sheltered it made me sound.

But then I thought about it some more. And I was GLAD it shocked me. I wish I lived in a world where drugs and drunkenness and sexual excess and the mockery of goodness was rare. Where our minds didn't immediately fly to the dirty double meaning. Where innocence was valued and preserved. I wish I hadn't read all the books I had read, watched all the movies I had watched. I wish I could protect young children from the ugliness in the world, and worse, the ways their innocence has been perverted.

Last month, there was a friendly lady that I met who made the most perverted jokes. She was just trying to be funny, and she really was very kind. But later someone repeated one of her jokes to me, and said "It was so funny that you and your mum had no idea of the double meaning of her joke." For a moment, I felt embarrassed that I hadn't understood. And then again, I felt, "I'm GLAD I didn't understand. I'm so happy my mother's innocence had prevented her from understanding."

I think of children in their sweet, joyful innocence... and then the changes that happen as they lose it. The cynicism that creeps in, the mockery, the self-consciousness. It has happened to most of us, hasn't it?

But it CAN be reversed. It's possible to go against the tide, to fight to regain lost innocence. I find spending time with people who choose innocence too can be so enriching. I find that I can limit the media I consume. I find that I can choose to be silent instead of laughing along to an off colour joke. I find that enjoying the good beautiful innocent hilarity of this life builds up a new culture of innocence. It is not ignoring the other side of life, but choosing not to glorify it, to act like it's normal. It is not naivete, but a deliberate choice to focus on what is good, to look with loving, pure eyes on the world, to see the good and the potential for good rather than the evil and the corrupt.

The more of us that choose innocence, the more we can allow light into a dark world.