"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Monday, December 21, 2015

Those Catholic Men: Republican Debate Reaction

My latest over at ThoseCatholicMen.com is a reaction to the fifth and final Republican presidential debate of 2015.
Essentially the entirety of the debate focused on issues related to foreign policy, terrorism, immigration, and refugees. These are – rightly so – the primetime issues since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, but the policies, voting history, and terminology discussed were highly detailed and nuanced. In the midst of one answer, Senator Rubio took time to explain for the audience what the “nuclear triad” was (a very savvy move), while he and Senators Paul and Cruz routinely engaged each other over particular votes the others had made, and why those votes were appropriate or inappropriate because of particular language in those bills. At one point, Governor Christie stepped in and wondered aloud if the audience’s eyes were glazed over like his. “This is what it’s like to be on the floor of the United States Senate,” he quipped.
Click here to read the rest.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Virtual Vestibule: Three Lessons Sports Teach Us About Faith

Originally posted 8.28.15 on the Virtual Vestibule

ESPN The Magazine, the print version of the popular sports news franchise, recently published an article on the Houston Texans’ star running back Arian Foster. Considering Foster is one of the more well-known athletes in the country right now, this isn’t necessarily a surprise – it’s the subject matter of the article that is.
“Arian Foster, 28, has spent his entire public football career — in college at Tennessee, in the NFL with the Texans — in the Bible Belt. Playing in the sport that most closely aligns itself with religion, in which God and country are both industry and packaging, in which the pregame flyover blends with the postgame prayer, Foster does not believe in God.”
The article itself admits that in the world of sports, this is a little shocking:
“Religion has become so entwined with the culture of sports that it has become its own language. Open Christianity is a subtext that draws players toward one another, even if they’ve never met, as if a single shared belief grants membership to the club.”
The title of the piece, “The Confession of Arian Foster,” is ironic and tragic. Because this is a sports blog with a Catholic perspective (not the other way around), you won’t find a refutation of Foster’s atheism here. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out Brandon Vogt’s post on hiswebsite Strange Notions for a logical, point-by-point breakdown of the finer theological points in the article.

Instead, let’s look at three lessons sports can teach us about faith.

Sports and faith require discipline. Whether you are a weekend athlete or a high school standout hoping to earn a college scholarship, you need discipline. It takes discipline to wake up for your 6:00 a.m. workouts or stay an extra 15 minutes in the batting cages after practice. It takes discipline to know your physical limits and avoid injury. Similarly, our faith lives require discipline to make sure we say our morning and evening prayers, pray a daily rosary, or spend 15 minutes longer in adoration. It takes discipline to go to Mass even when it’s “inconvenient” or to make time to study scripture. It’s no accident that “discipline” (discipl─źna in the original Latin), is derived from discipulus, the Latin word for “student.”

Sports and faith require respect for proper authority. My last post addressed respect for officials, but the same goes  for coaches. In sports, we listen to our coaches because they give us a strategy for success. Coaches motivate, train, and educate us so that we can do well on the field, court, or track. The same is true for our spiritual authority. Parents, teachers, pastors, bishops, and popes all have varying degrees of authority and responsibility for our spiritual success. They instruct us in matters of faith, encourage us to persevere, and give us strategies to attain the ultimate goal of getting to heaven. We have a duty to give them the respect that their positions deserve.

Sports and faith necessitate community. Most sports, being team activities, have a natural sense of community, but even individual sporting activities have some sort of community. Olympic sprinters represent their countries, while NASCAR racers have ownership teams. Sports like PGA golf or professional tennis, which have no team element, still foster a sense of fraternalism or community amongst the competitors themselves. Likewise, we are called to be in communion with Christ, His Church, and our neighbors. We see community most clearly when we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. It is also evident in our local parish, but we also know that the Catholic Church is a worldwide team. No matter where we might find ourselves in the world, a Catholic church is probably nearby. The best part about this team is that if we do things right, we can attain a victory without end.

Of course, let’s remember to pray for Arian Foster and everyone who has rejected faith. Even though Foster was mostly raised in Islam (whose tenants contradict Christian teaching in many ways), that necessary ingredient of faith is what can allow the Holy Spirit to work. Someone who is closed off to the very idea of faith or religion needs our prayers even more. Additionally, make sure that you know how to discuss matters of faith with those who have disavowed faith entirely. Sports can be a great way to get that conversation started.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Updates, Pt. 2

Last week I let you know that I had two important updates to share.

The first was to let you know that I'm now blogging for the "Virtual Vestibule," which is the official blog of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I didn't divulge the other update, for the purposes of creating a dramatic buildup. (You have been anxiously waiting, right?)

Well, the time is come for me to tell you the big news:

I am now a contributor for the website ThoseCatholicMen.com!

My first post, Chaos on Campus, went live today.
Satan loves chaos. Not only is chaos the opposite of order, it is a perversion of order. It is only natural then that chaos begets confusion. These two forces – chaos and confusion – are always united to destruction and death, which are sure hallmarks of the evil one’s handiwork. So, in the past few weeks and months as America has watched chaos and confusion reign on college campuses due to alleged instances of racism – notably at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Yale University – one will surely find a link to death and destruction.
You'll have to read the rest over at ThoseCatholicMen.com.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Virtual Vestibule: If Bishops Wore Stripes

Or Why You Should Respect Sports Officials

Originally posted on 7.31.15 at the Virtual Vestibule

Heckling the officials. It’s as synonymous with sports as popcorn; as inevitable as a game’s final score. For some fans, it’s almost a hobby.

As you begin reading this post, stop and think for a second: are you the sort of person who, when attending a sporting event, will heckle the officials over the calls he or she makes or doesn’t make?

Really think about it.

If you never say anything to the refs, great! Stop reflecting. Maybe you consider yourself the person who might yell about outrageously bad calls, but nothing else. Or maybe you engage in some “friendly bantering” during the course of a game. Maybe you throw out the relatively harmless “get your eyes checked” line or something similar. However, if you’re the person who yells at the refs about every little thing, well, I’m sure there’s a confession time near you.

Now, imagine if the next time you went to a Blues game you saw Archbishop Carlson down on the ice outfitted in a pair of skates, a striped shirt, and a whistle. Would that change your behavior? Imagine the next time you were down at Busch Stadium and saw your pastor dressed in black – not in his black clerics, but in the black uniform of an umpire. How would you respond after the inevitable missed call on strike three? Would it be any different?

Luckily, these are hypothetical situations and you don’t have to worry about transgressing against Canon 1373 at your next sporting event. This is not to say that sports officials are on the same level as a priest or bishop, but there is a lesson to be learned.

As Catholics, we have a duty to respect legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:

“The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.” (1900)

To be clear, the context of this section is in reference to civil authorities. Yet, the case could be made that an sports official has similar duties as a civil authority with respect to the particular game being played by enforcing the rules of game, ensuring fair play, etc. In a sense, “the game” with its rules and regulations becomes its own little “state,” the players, coaches, and fans are the “citizens,” and the officials, umpires, and referees act as the “government.”

Unfortunately, it seems that many people don’t respect sports officials like they do competent civil authority, or any other sorts of authority. Can you imagine parents yelling at their child’s teacher about bad grades in the same way they yell at officials for a bad call? (Hmmm… setting a good example and charity in sports… sounds like future blog post ideas.)

I would know. In addition to playing organized basketball from 5th grade through college, I’ve been reffing basketball since 2006. Just since the beginning of January 2015, I have officiated approximately 175 youth basketball games. While I don’t keep precise track, I know that a game without vocal complaints from parents or coaches is the exception, not the rule.

There are many reasons for the lack of respect, but let’s mention three:

  1. A game is just a game after all. A foul or a strike called by an official is not nearly the same as a citation from a police officer and you probably won’t complain to the cop the same way you complain to an official. That wouldn’t end well.
  2. Officials are human. Despite the training, education, and experience, we do make mistakes. Plus, a game requires lots of calls. The more calls, the more chances of error.
  3. Yes, it’s true – some officials are just bad. They might be inexperienced, not familiar with the sport, or have a personality incongruous with the activity. I’ve seen games get out of hand simply because an official does not have enough patience or backbone.

However, none of these reasons justify some of the poor behavior exhibited by many fans, parents, coaches, and players towards the officials at sporting events. This is especially true in youth sports.

The next time you attend a sporting event, imagine the man in stripes is a man of the cloth and respect him as such, even if he’s not very good. The refs are a legitimate authority, despite their poor eyesight. And after all, it is just a game.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Virtual Vestibule: The Stadium Encyclical You Haven't Heard About

Originally posted on 7.15.15 at the Virtual Vestibule 

The new encyclical, Laudato Si’, promulgated by Pope Francis has been heralded as a groundbreaking document. Others have lamented the fact that it was ever written. Having not read the entire thing word-for-word I cannot argue one way or another, and I don’t intend to, although in what I have read it clearly does address the need to protect the environment. In our American parlance we might say it advocates for “going green.” The proper reaction is to read it in light of the consistent teachings of the magisterium for centuries: that we are commanded to be good stewards of the earth.

One sentence that gets to the heart of the issue is from paragraph 222: 

“Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.” 

That can sound lofty and far-fetched. It’s easy to think that these problems can be addressed through local, state, national, and even international policies. It can be challenging to follow this command in our daily lives. Furthermore, Laudato can also read like an article in National Geographic when it laments the lack of access to clean drinking water in many parts of the world, among other things. That is not a problem Americans typically face. So, how can we localize Laudato?

When talking about the protecting the environment and “going green” we don’t often think immediately of sporting events and their impact. Such conversations tend to focus on manufacturing and automobile use, two areas where undoubtedly some pollution does occur. However, one need only ponder the amount of electricity used during a single game at stadiums like Busch Stadium or the Scottrade Center to quickly realize that the sporting events held there have a large impact on the environment. Additionally, one might consider the waste generated, the fuel used by the fans to attend the game, and even the amount of water required for all the restrooms. And let’s not even talk about NASCAR racing.

This is not to say we should not have sporting events, that they’re not needed, or anything of the sort. In fact, it’s probably safe to say most professional leagues and franchises — if not all — realize the impact they have on the environment and have embraced their ability to make positive changes. No doubt you noticed on your last trip to a Cardinals game just how many recycling receptacles are around. These efforts when taken together are a good thing and should be continued.

Renderings of a proposed riverfront stadium in downtown St. Louis – via HOK
Yet, we also see in our St. Louis community an on-going and passionate debate (at least among sports fans) over whether or not to build a new billion-dollar stadium north of downtown. Much of the discussion boils down to two main points: how to pay for such a stadium, and whether or not building it will keep the Rams in St. Louis. It seems a foregone conclusion that the powers-that-be need and want a new stadium.

But why? We already have an existing stadium in the Edward Jones Done that is a mere twenty years old. Sure, it’s nice to see the computer renderings of a shiny new stadium on the riverfront with the potential to revitalize the immediate area. But at what cost? In his new encyclical, Pope Francis repeatedly laments the “throwaway culture” of our modern world. If not a “throwaway” mentality, what then is driving this desire for a new stadium? It’s not the need to accommodate more fans. It’s not for safety, or because the stadium is beyond repair; a twenty-year-old stadium cannot be so far outdated that the idea of renovation should be dismissed out of hand. Yet, that’s the impression. What does it say about us? Pope Francis may have an answer.
“A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment… Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things… and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.” (222)
On the other hand, there may be good reasons for building a new stadium. You could reasonably make an argument in light of Laudato that the expense of heating and cooling a domed stadium and the potential harmful effects on the environment are enough to build a new, open-air stadium. That’s reasonable, though it seems to be a forgotten point in the debate.

At the very least, our community should be having a discussion about the merits of building a new stadium, especially now that we have the lens of Laudato Si’.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Two Important Updates

The months since I last posted here at A Man In the Gap have not been unproductive.

The first update to share is that I started blogging for the Virtual Vestibule, the official blog of the St. Louis Review and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In fact, I have my own special section called "Heavenly Hoops" where I get to write about sports from a Catholic perspective. I'll be adding my recent "Hoops" posts to AMITG over the next couple weeks. That will help to bolster the "sports" section of this blog, which has been lacking over the past couple years.

The second update, well, it's soon to come. You'll have to stay tuned! More to come before the end of November.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Let's Play a Game

Yesterday evening I posted the following on facebook:
Let's play a game! 
Without looking it up, can you guess who said/wrote this: 
"On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power."
Can you guess who said it?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'm Not Outraged

I had the idea to write this blog when the first video from the Center for Medical Progress was released a couple weeks ago. That video showed a meeting with a representative from Planned Parenthood negotiating the sale of body parts from aborted babies. But I wasn't sure exactly what to say. The recording was from a year ago, so it seemed old, and though the subject matter was revolting, I was not shocked. This was Planned Parenthood after all - the largest abortion provider in the country.

Then a second undercover video was released last week and I actually saved a draft of a blog with just a couple random thoughts. Outrage did not seem to be the right emotion at that time. Neither was disgust entirely accurate. Again, these are representatives from Planned Parenthood. These are sad, depraved people who work for a living at a company dedicated to murdering the children of scared, needy, and sometimes hopeless women. Do we really need undercover videos proving that they illegally sell fetal body parts to know this is an entirely disgusting enterprise?

Now a third undercover video has been released. After watching the video, I'm still not sure how to put my thoughts together in any sort of coherent manner.

I'm still not "outraged" per se, for all the reasons stated above. Neither am I horrified exactly. Planned Parenthood murders babies on a daily basis. I don't need any more reason to be outraged. I think I can safely assume most dedicated pro-lifers generally feel the same way.

So what emotion do I feel?

Ironically, I think it's hope. I'm hopeful that this is a watershed moment in American history when the vast majority of Americans will unite to collectively call for ending taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. This could be the moment the tide of popular opinion starts to turn dramatically away from a culture of death and towards a culture of life. After forty-two years of wandering in the desert of moral depravity, after seeing generations of Americans murdered, after years of marches, arguments, protests, and speeches, this could be the time when the walls of the modern Jericho come tumbling down.

A crowd of about 250 people gathered at the Planned Parenhood facility
in St. Louis on Tuesday, June 28th for the #WomenBetrayed rally

Attending the #WomenBetrayed rally in St. Louis on Tuesday, June 28th was an experience unlike anything I can remember experiencing. The shock, horror, and outrage at these recent developments were palpable in the 250 or so people gathered. But so was the hope and excitement, because we know the truth. We know that this farce cannot last. We know that "life will be victorious."

Despite all the moral reasoning, all the statistics, and the all science which support our cause, the stunning sight of seeing in these videos human beings in full color and sound coldly haggling over prices and describing the sale of body parts of fellow human beings, which mere minutes before were alive within their mothers - it is almost painful to describe - this is what will bring down the abortion industry. It may not happen tomorrow, next month, or next year. But I hope, pray, and yes, believe, that Satan's evil has been unmasked. 

It has been said that the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he didn't exist. You and I never bought the trick, but a whole lot of other people have. Well, the trick is over. We still have work to do because some people won't be easily convinced. It will still take marches, protests, rallies, speeches, moral reasoning, and political activity to turn back more than forty years of evil. It will require education. It will require digging deep into our pockets and helping women in need. It will take even more charity than we ever thought possible. But we will do it; we will end the tyranny of the culture of death in America.

No, I'm not outraged at Planned Parenthood because of these videos.

I'm hopeful, because I know our victory is at hand.

Update - 7.30.15 - 10:05am: I wrote this last night and posted this morning, just before finding out a fourth video has been released. I have not had a chance to watch it yet, but I doubt my feelings will change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Look

The blog has a new look. Thought I would brighten it up a bit. The dark color was a bit too much.

Let me know what you think.

Hopefully this means I'll post more often now...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Of Confederates and Scapegoats

via Wikimedia
“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.” - G.K. Chesterton

As a Catholic, I participate in the sacrament of confession on a regular basis. For those who may not know, confession requires stating your sins in both kind and number to a priest who, acting in persona Christi, grants you absolution so long as you are contrite, sincere, and have a desire to avoid those sins in the future. Basically, you have to take personal responsibility for the times you have fallen and ask Christ for the graces to overcome those temptations in the future. What you are not allowed to do in the confessional is make excuses for your sins. Imagine if I the next time I went to confession I blamed Sam Adams for getting me drunk, Peter Griffin for my use of vulgar language, and Adrian Peterson for abusing my kids. More to the point, imagine if in confession I blamed a flag because I had done something racist. (In case you were wondering, these are not sins I am guilty of, except for perhaps the vulgar language, and I assure you I will not be blaming Peter Griffin in my next confession.)

But I'm not writing a blog about confession. In fact, I wasn't going to write this at all. By golly I was going to try my darnedest not to comment. I really was. I mean, I don't really care if a particular flag is flying or not flying over, near, beside, or under some state's capitol building. You might think I should care. As you read this some of you may have the sudden desire to take me by the throat and strangle me into admitting that the Confederate flag is racist, while at the same time another group of you may have the strange desire to hog-tie me until I admit that that the Civil War was about state's rights, not slavery.

Neither issue is what I'm writing about, and frankly, I don't really care all that much either way. Yes, there is that whole "those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it" prophecy which is repeated ad nauseam generally by those of certain political leanings (Personally, I think "doomed" is a strong word, but that's another discussion for another day) Anyway, I'm not here to debate history.

However, what I do care about - concerned about, really - is something much more fundamental to the human spirit and this American experiment in which we're all partaking: the tendency to create a scapegoat.

Now this particular phenomena is not unheard of in history; in fact it's quite common really. The idea has been around for thousands of years dating back to the ancient Jewish custom of sending out a goat, symbolically laden with the sins of the people, into the wilderness. What we're dealing with here is not new. That does not mean it's not a problem.

Cut through all the current commentary about flags, racism, and history and we find the gist of the story: a crazy, deranged young man entered a church and killed people. Yet, we want to find a scapegoat.

Evil thoughts beget evil choices which beget evil actions. The connection is elementary. You don't need a scapegoat. You don't need to know the color of the killer's skin, nor the skin color of those slain, or for that matter the state or country where this event took place for you to know such an action was simply evil. You don't need to know the killer's motivations, what drugs he was on, or how he was raised. We don't need to have a national conversation about guns, parenting decisions, or events from 150 years ago. We surely don't need to have a national debate about an emblem. Honestly, I might even argue that even today we don't need to have a dialogue about race, because the problems we're facing today are more than skin deep. The problems are even more fundamental, just like two plus two equals four, and yellow with blue make green.

Instead, I propose we have a national conversation about personal responsibility. That's the issue we desperately need to address. Not whether a flag - a piece of colorful cloth - should be fluttering in the wind at the top of a pole.

Let's talk about the fact that approximately 40% of births last year were to unwed mothers.

Personal responsibility.

Let's talk about the fact that divorce rates have been hovering just under 50% for several years.

Personal responsibility.

Let's talk about how the financial crisis was created and perpetuated, in large part because borrowers took more than they could afford.

Personal responsibility.

Let's talk about how dead-beat dads are a drain on our economy and needlessly perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Let's talk about how parents need to make their children explain their poor grades, not their teachers. Let's talk about frivolous lawsuits clog up our legal system. Let's talk about if you piled all the guns in the world into Forest Park not a single person would be harmed.

Let's talk about how a young man can walk into a church and kill nine people, but instead we're talking about drugs, guns, and a flag.

That young man chose to take that gun that day. He chose to walk into that church. He chose to sit through a bible study, and even after admitting he nearly didn't go through with it, he chose to shoot and kill nine people.

The drugs didn't do it. The bullets didn't shoot themselves. The Confederate flag patch on his jacket didn't do it. He did it. Let's not make a scapegoat out of a piece of cloth.

**Disclaimer: I know that sometimes people do act under the influence of drugs, alcohol, strong emotions, demons, etc. and in those situations are not fully in control of their actions. Some people have genetic conditions which create dependency and addiction. The last thing I want is to discount the harmful effects of things like substance abuse or gloss over them. These are real issues. Yet, some of these issues can also be addressed in a discussion of personal responsibility. However, as I understand it, the murderer in South Carolina appears to have been fully in control of his actions at the time of the shooting; hence the comments above. If I'm wrong, I will update this post.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I'm Leaving Facebook

If you're on social media long enough, you have probably noticed one of two things occur with some regularity:

  1. Someone publicly states they are leaving facebook - although it could be any platform - and deactivating their account
  2. Or, they simply stop posting anything and are lost in the digital abyss
In my case, I am leaving facebook, but it's not quite in the way you might expect.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my resolution to change my social media habits. So far I think I've been doing better. But I want to keep going. I want to make sure that I'm in control of my social media habits, not the other way around.

When it comes to facebook, I'm not deactivating my account. I'm not taking an extended leave of absence. In fact, I may be more active than before (aren't you excited?). What I'm doing may be harder than just deactivating my account:

I have decided to stay off of facebook -- on my phone.

I've turned off the notifications. I've taken the app off my phone's main screen. I'm going straight cold-turkey. No more facebook on the phone.

Even though facebook usage is on the decline, especially in the younger generations, this may prove to be a revolutionary decision. Drinking craft beer, growing a beard, wearing flannel, and going gluten-free are counter-cultural fads of yesterday. Removing oneself from the constant stream of social consciousness, albeit in a small way, is a true counter-cultural idea, akin to what it was like getting rid of TV in 1995.

Taking such a drastic step is not done hastily. I've recently been contemplating just how disconnected and empty I feel when I begin mindlessly scrolling through my newsfeed with a few random minutes to waste here-or-there at work, in the check-out line, at a red light, in an elevator, or anywhere else that I might otherwise be forced to exchange awkward glances and some pleasantries with a stranger. Just whip out the ol' smartphone, start scrolling, and it all goes away. It is a curious paradox that being social can be so anti-social in the same act.

Far worse are those situations when I've been too preoccupied with something on facebook to be present in my life at home or with friends. Yes, I've done it; I'm sure we've all done it. As my kids get older, I definitely don't want to miss those small moments which turn into cherished memories later in life. I surely don't want my kids to remember dad as being on his phone all the time. And my relationship with my wife? I can't even begin to estimate how much time we've spent together, not talking or enjoying each other's company, but on our respective devices, you guessed it - scrolling through facebook.

Frankly, it's not healthy and I don't like it, not to mention the science out there warning of the dangers of too much social media exposure. I can't remember exactly how long, but for some time I've made a conscious effort to avoid the urge to pull out my phone in many situations because I want to be more present in life. I want to take those few minutes and enjoy being alive, not checking-in on someone else's life. I want to enjoy the sun, the wind, the smells, the sounds of life. I want to be social as I am; not through a virtual me. I want to enjoy the steady stream of my own thoughts, of my own consciousness; not the world's.

It's going to be a difficult transition. I will probably allow myself to post the occasional picture from my phone (because how else could I ever post a picture?). I'll probably even allow myself to do the occasional "I just need to look it up on facebook" search from my phone. But generally speaking my facebook interaction will be limited to the time that I'm actually at a computer, and even then I will be attempting to limit it.

I'm not going away. I'm not leaving the social media universe (believe me, twitter is staying right where it is). I've just decided to act on what you're feeling: I need a break from the constant noise, and this is one way I can free myself from the constant distraction.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

God, the Ultimate Teacher, Has a Sense of Humor

If there's one thing I'm convinced of in this topsy-turvy, whacked-out world of ours, it's that God does have a sense of humor. The fact that he let me get married and have kids is perhaps His best practical joke. But I digress...

God is also the perfect teacher. As with a good comedian, His timing is impeccable.

Yesterday, the day before oral arguments began before the Supreme Court of the United States of America in cases which seek to presume to define marriage in this country (as if laws can re-write human nature), we find this Epistle reading in the good ol' traditional Latin Mass (the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for you TLM newbies):
2 Timothy 4:1-8Dearly beloved: I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables [emphasis mine]. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober. For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming. Make haste to come to me quickly.
Up is down. Down is up. One and one does not equal two.

As an additional thought, I'll leave you with words from the beloved Pope Benedict XVI shortly before becoming pope:
We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires. 
This is the mantra of the day. The world does not endure sound doctrine in our modern age.

It would be even more comical if it weren't so sad.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I've Been Doing Social Media Wrong - Part 2: The Solution

If you haven't read "I've Been Doing Social Media Wrong Part 1: The Problem," you probably should before you read this.

Something I'm learning as I grow older, more mature, and (hopefully) wiser is that we human beings do things best when we do them with a strong sense of purpose and intention. As a parent, I realize that everything I do is now an example to my children. That literally means everything - from blowing my nose, to the language I use, to how I discipline them - is going to impact them. Doing things intentionally takes on a profound meaning. This idea of "purpose and intention" is especially true in the spiritual life.

One of my favorite prayers is the Prayer Before Communion of St. Thomas Aquinas, and in particular this one sentence: "May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul's salvation." 

So, when I say I've been doing social media wrong, what I really mean is that I have not been intentional enough when using it.

I'm going to change that.

My goal is to become more intentional in the way I use each of the social media platforms, the content I share, and how I interact with other people. If you've been paying attention to my posts over the past few months, you may have noticed this trend already. If not, here's a breakdown of what I plan to do:


Facebook was created to be a place to share your life experiences with your friends - not just your political opinions. So, rather than posting every single anti-Hillary article I read, I'm going to make a concerted effort to instead share photos, anecdotes, and things that directly impact my life or those around me. This might include an invitation to an events, posing questions, or soliciting advice. Rather than get into long, protracted arguments in the comments on a shared article, I'm going to tell people we should talk about this subject in person next time we're together. Or, better yet, that we should make time in the near future to talk about this subject over a good lager.


Ah, twitter. Those 140 characters can let us say so much, yet so little. I hated twitter when it first came around, but in the years since my feelings have evolved towards this medium to the point that I use it and appreciate it, but I still maintain a love/hate relationship with it.

That being said, you want to know what I think about something, or see what sorts of articles I'm sharing, go look at my twitter feed. That's where my more opinionated stream of consciousness will be lingering. Yet, as with my facebook strategy, I will also encourage those who wish to strike up an argument to meet me in the parking lot... of the local imbibing establishment.


What will I be sharing on Instagram? Hmmm... I'm thinking pictures. Of my family. Of food. Of church(es). Pictures of random things I find interesting. Not too many postings though (I don't want to be "that guy"), but enough to keep it updated and fresh. Just like facebook will show my more "personal" side, so too will my instagram. What I won't be posting are pre-, post-, or during workout pictures of me. No #gymselfies. Sorry. And no half-naked, "look at my body and tell me how awesome I am because I have self-confidence issues" pictures. Plenty of people abuse Instagram - it's basically a narcissist's dream - but I'm not going to be one of them.


This is, or will be, the real meat and potatoes of who I am. Just one or two steps removed from that face-to-face conversation over a finely brewed, frosty cold beverage, I want to make my blog the place where I can come to think things through, share my opinions, express concerns, let go of cares, and embrace struggles. Sound too sappy? Probably. But I think you get the picture. Facebook is just not the right medium to express everything I need to express. Neither is twitter. And instagram is even more limited. Blogs are a blank slate ready to be filled with a bared soul. You might be saying blogs are dead, after all, this isn't 2004. I would disagree. Terms, appearances, and even mediums will change, but as long as the internet is around, blogs will be around in some form.

If you read Part One, and you're still reading, chances are you probably think I'm over-thinking this whole social media thing. You might be right. But I firmly believe in what I said in part one: social media is too rote, too ingrained, and too cheap. Maybe I am over-thinking and over-analyzing this phenomenon. Maybe my solutions fall flat. Maybe I'll give up this little "experiment" in six months.

What I do know is social media is a tool. Just like a hammer or a power saw, social media can be used or abused. However, unlike that power saw, social media doesn't come with a user's guide. It's up to us to figure out how to use it, and how to make our interactions positive rather than negative. Unfortunately, there is a lot of social media abuse out there. How can one person make a difference?

At the very least, if you've read this, maybe it's sparked an idea in you. Maybe you already do some of these things, but now you want to do more. Maybe you are already intentional about what you post, but now you want to go to another level. Social media has a very prominent role in our society right now. What we can all do is reflect on how it impacts our own lives, for better or worse. I firmly believe that the proper place for social media is as an augmentation of our real social interactions. If social media replaces our real interactions, we've lost the proper perspective.

In summary, I've been doing social media wrong by being less than intentional about using the various platforms. Going forward, I'm going to be very conscientious about what I post on which platform. By doing so I hope to make my own interpersonal communications more intentional, more personal, and hopefully more meaningful.

What do you think?

Friday, April 24, 2015

I've Been Doing Social Media Wrong - Part 1: The Problem

I came to a realization recently; a realization as jarring as it was refreshing.

Was it a life-changing realization? Probably not. Earth-shattering? No. Did it change my social media paradigm a little bit? Absolutely.

When it comes to social media, I, along with millions of other 20- and 30- somethings, have grown up in a world dominated by constant interaction with our peers, friends, not-quite-friends friends, acquaintances, and family. We remember the days of chat rooms, AOL and MSN messenger, and sadly, many of us had MySpace profiles (don't be afraid to admit it). Those forums may be distant memories, thankfully. But now we have facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, Yik Yak, blogs, websites with free-flowing comboxes, Words With Friends, other social apps, etc. All these applications have one thing in common: they make our interaction with one another easier.

This interaction is not altogether bad, but it has led to one undeniable truth: our interactions on social media have become in many ways essentially a rote habit, a mechanism, an ingrained response. Sharing a picture, link, or quote on social media is something we do without thinking, even need to, in very real cases of social media addiction.

Beyond that, I would argue, our interactions have become - in a word - cheapened. It's so easy now to communicate with a few dozen or your friends all at once, or even hundreds or thousands of people in your networks with a few keystrokes or swipes that we take it for granted. Rather than being valued, I believe, so much of our communication today is cheapened because it lacks the same degree of purpose and intention that makes communication so precious.

I for one, realize that I've been doing social media wrong.

Here's just an example: when I read something I really like - an article, blog, op-ed, etc. - my knee-jerk reaction is essentially: "I've gotta post this on facebook/twitter for everyone to see and I have to tell them how much I like it!" Most of the time, the same holds true for those articles that draw my ire:"I've gotta post this so everyone knows how outraged I am about this!"

Both of those thoughts are instant reactions, a kind of learned response from years of social media use, coupled with more-or-less genuine emotions swelling up inside.

Facebook, which is so often the main go-to social media site, can accurately be described, as one of my friends once put it, as "a near occassion of sin." (My "traddie Catholic" friends will definitely understand what I mean.) Never mind the potentially scandalous ads and the borderline-lewd pictures (yes, even from my friends in some cases). Let's not get started on the hours upon hours spent mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds. Forget about the temptation towards narcissism. Sometimes the most tempting and sinful part can simply be the commentary on posts; commentary which begins when someone shares an opinionated, "stir-the-pot" kind of post.

My response at one point in life was to take these sorts of posts head-on. I had to comment to share my opinion. These are my friends after all. The friendly thing to do is to correct their error, right? Admit it. We've all been there. The reasoning is something along the lines of: "My poor, misguided friend needs my help... I'm just being a good friend by sharing the truth."  On the other side of the coin, while I may have claimed to post with the intent to simply "inform" those who disagreed, those posts of mine that were knowingly controversial were probably really posted with at least some intent to "stir the pot."

This was part of the problem with how I've been doing social media wrong. I intend to correct it.

In part two, I'll explain how I'm going to change.

Click here to read :I've Been Doing Social Media Wrong - Part 2: The Solution

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I'm Beginning a Journey

I'm beginning a journey.

As many of you know, Sarah​ and I are expecting our 2nd child very soon (due date is March 9th). Before our first child, Robert, was born I - sort of by accident - started a novena of attending Mass every single day for 30 days.

That's Robert. He's not that small anymore
With Robert, it happened unintentionally because I had already completed a week or two when I realized how neat such a novena could be. As it turned out, I think I attended Mass for 32 straight days and ended a few days after Robert was born.

This time I'm going to be more intentional.

The Novena

Beginning yesterday, February 3rd, 2015, the Feast of St. Blaise, I am going to attend Mass every single day until our 2nd child, Brigid Mae, is born. Her due date is March 9th, so it may end up being a little more than 30 days (or a little less, but probably more).

My Intentions

My intention during the novena will be for a safe delivery, a healthy Brigid, and a healthy wife post-delivery. Additionally, as with my previous novena, I will be praying for myself and my wife that we will be good and decent parents of this child and raise her to be holy and happy.

Follow Me

To mark this journey, I'm going to post a picture on social media of the Mass I attend each day until Brigid is born.

So, I'm beginning this journey. Won't you follow me?

Find me on twitter and instagram: @gabehjones. I'll also be using the hashtag #MassForBrigid.

P.S., I didn't take a picture of the Mass last night because, well, I didn't come up with this idea until this morning (call it divine inspiration). But, the Mass was at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, which is where Sarah and I were married, so you get to see a picture of our wedding instead.