Monday, February 13, 2012

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Church?

Howdy, Coffee Talkers!

After my last post titled "A Call to Civil Disobedience: Why Catholics' Panties are in a Bind, and Why Yours Should Be, Too!" (on the HHS Contraceptive mandate and the so-called compromise), I had a friend post an article (regarding the GOP trying to introduce legislation that would allow employers to deny any preventive health service) and voice this concern:
"This is why I have a hard time getting behind the Catholics on this issue. I'm afraid of it becoming a slippery slope where any employer can deny any employee healthcare coverage based on their beliefs. I also worry that it will go beyond healthcare into lifestyle choices (like sexual orientation). I want religious rights to be protected, but as an agnostic who is borderline atheist, I don't want someone else's religious rights trumping my civil rights. I bring this up because I genuinely want your thoughts on my concerns. Why shouldn't I be afraid?"
Then today, I saw another friend suggest in a post that the Catholic Church is trying to wage war with everyone on the planet who doesn't agree with them.

Do people, especially American people, really view the Catholic Church as a frightening warmonger?

Well, apparently, many do, so I'm here to help clear up some misconceptions, and ease your fears, my friends.

Here's the main reasons I think that no person should be genuinely afraid of the Catholic Church:

1. The Catholic Church has been pretty much teaching the same things for about 2000 years;
2. The Catholic Church has nothing to hide;
3. The Church is not going to come after you;
4. For better or for worse, the Catholic Church is painfully slow to change.

Allow me to elaborate a bit on each point. First, the teachings of the Catholic Church have not changed substantially since the Apostolic times. Sure, doctrine has been developed and disciplines (such as how long you fast before communion) have been adapted, but the fundamental teachings of the Church have remained pretty much the same. And these teachings are easily accessible. So if you want to find out what the Church really teaches and where she stands on any particular matter (not what the media says or what some misinformed self-professed-but-hardly-practicing Catholic moron spouts off on national television), you can find out. And you can be assured that the Church (as an institution) isn't going to do anything that will deviate from those teachings. Lots of people have misunderstandings or misinformation about what the Church teaches. This is why, in my own teeny corner of cyberspace, I write Coffee Talk to explain these teachings to anyone who cares. You can agree, you can disagree, but you can do nothing until you know what the teachings actually are. And once you know, you'll find the Church and her actions pretty predictable.

Number 2, I know people love stuff like the DaVinci Code and wondering about the Vatican's secret archives. But from all of my experience with the Catholic Church (which has been pretty wide and varied, I'd say) I have not once had the experience of being deliberately deceived or misled by the Church. By individual people, of course (in and outside of the Church -- people are people). But I have never felt the Catholic Church to have some sort of hidden agenda by which they were trying to brainwash or oppress me, or anyone else. Really.

Number 3, I don't quite get it, but a lot of people seem to think that the Catholic Church is some sort of monster, trying to enforce their 'rules' and teachings on everyone in the known world. In fact, there could be nothing further from the truth. Just tonight, I asked the teens in my parish's confirmation program if they had ever received a call from a Church official asking why they missed Mass on any particular week. They laughed, of course, and said no. I asked them if they had ever been asked to punch or swipe a card to prove their attendance at Mass or other church function. Again, of course, the answer was no. (To be honest, I have witnessed these practices in other Christian settings, but never at any Catholic Church or institution of any sort.)

People in the Catholic Church violate the Church's teachings all the time. I say this not with any pride, but to point out that no one in the institutional Church is forcing anyone to follow her teachings, even among her own members! People leave the Church all the time, out the back door, so to speak, and no one hunts them down. To be frank, I think it would actually be nice if the Catholic Church were a little bit better with relational ministry and would follow up with or reach out more to these fallen away members (mostly so everyone felt that they had their chance to say what they wanted to say to someone in the Church, even if they still chose to leave). But the point is the Catholic Church ain't in the business of hunting anyone down. I personally have come to the Catholic faith quite openly and willingly, knowing that I am free to remain or to leave at any time I wish without fear of anyone or anything in the Church itself.

Number 4, the Church is slow. Super slow. Painfully slow. Those 'new' Mass translations that are getting implemented in English were many years in the making. And do y'all remember the whole Galileo controversy? Took a few hundred years to get that all straightened out. I'm not bragging about the slowness, by any means, but I am saying that we can all rest assured that the Catholic Church isn't gonna pull a fast one on us. The Catholic Church in the modern world (especially in the USA) does not have any special wealth, power, or political allies and they are very slow to change anything.

Back to the fear-inducing article, let me discuss a quote from it briefly before I wrap this up; my comments are in red:
"But Republicans and some conservative Catholic groups [Who are they? And why does this article not mention very liberal to very conservative Catholics are united in their opposition to the mandate, not to mention many other non-Catholic faith based groups and public entities?] are not satisfied with the accommodation [What accommodation? The so-called compromise is a rhetorical joke] and hope to use their false claim [fair and balanced reporting?] of “religious persecution” to deny women access to preventive health services [does anyone here really believe that all Catholics, along with all Republicans, are in cahoots to deny preventive health services to women?]. Despite Obama’s decision to shield nonprofit religious institutions from offering birth control benefits [this is an outright lie...I can't even bring myself to continue]...
When someone suggests that the Catholic Church is waging war on anyone in the planet who disagrees with their beliefs, I find this patently absurd. The Catholic Church is doing the same things she's always done, proclaiming those same teachings she always proclaims, but the Church is not forcibly requiring anyone to do anything, nor forcibly preventing them from receiving any service or care of any sort. Sure, the Catholic Church has a moral problem with abortifacients, for example, so Catholic institutions aren't going to pay for them. But they're also not gonna keep people from buying them. People have the right to do whatever they choose, and the Church has the right to proclaim her teachings. Since when did not paying for something amount to denying someone's right to that thing? That's like saying that, because my college charged me tuition rather than fully subsidizing the cost of my education, they were denying my right to access that education. Doesn't fly.

Should anyone be a little afraid of the GOP? Probably. Should people be mistrustful of the Democrats? Quite possibly. Politicians do not abide by any definitive set of social or moral beliefs, and so they can change what they're up to at any given moment. But to be afraid of the Catholic Church? To me, it seems silly at best.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Call to Civil Disobedience: Why Catholics' Panties are in a Bind, and Why Yours Should Be, Too!

Friends, Americans, Country people, Coffee Talkers,

The matter that brings us here today is the nonsense that is referred to as the HHS (Health and Human Services) Contraceptive Mandate, and today's alleged compromise. I think that most of us are confused on what is going on with the whole thing (myself included), and that with all the back and forth going on in the media, many have been left confounded by what the big deal is, anyway, especially for Catholics.

This is where I come in, to explain what I can of the Catholic deal.

First, let me address a couple common questions:

Question: Why do you Catholics have your panties in a bind over this whole contraceptive mandate thing, anyway? It's not like Obama is going to make you take birth control or abortion-inducing drugs personally, or make you go to get sterilized.

Answer: Let me address the second part first: not yet. But it is correct to say that, at this point, no one is forcing Catholics to use contraceptives, abortifacients, to get sterilizations, etc. However, the federal government is trying to force Catholic employers into PAYING for these procedures, which are contrary to the church's moral teachings. In other words, the federal government is trying to mandate material cooperation in a moral matter that the Catholic Church has always (and will always) preach, through her moral authority, as being gravely wrong. (If you'd like to know more on why the Church takes this position, read this excellent article from a totally secular source, shockingly titled "Time to Admit It: The Church Has Always Been Right on Birth Control.") In the past, there have always been exemptions for objectors for reasons of religion and/or conscience, not just in the realm of health care, and when those conscience clauses are taken away, all people who value liberty and good will among all people should be alarmed, to say the least.

Question: But doesn't the Catholic position violate the rights of others? What about non-Catholics (for whom birth control is not a moral issue) who work for Catholic employers? Shouldn't they have access to birth control, too?

Answer:  As I overheard one person amusingly explain, "the Catholic Church isn't saying that you can't get birth control or abortions; we're just saying, if you do, pay for it your own damn self!" Maybe the Church wouldn't use that exact language, but that's pretty much the sentiment behind the Catholic position. (Besides, there are plenty of ways that women can access these forms of non-health-care for free, if memory serves, but I'm not going to mention them here, because you are free to find out on your own from a non-Catholic source if you want them!) To explain another way, people are free to do or not do whatever they want. But when it comes to Catholic institutions, they are not going to give material cooperation to anything they see as a serious moral wrong.

Also, besides violations of religious liberty and attacks on freedom of speech, the next thing that really gets my goat (what does that saying mean, anyway?) is the misuse of rights language. In America, we agree primarily to the common rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No where in there do I see a person's right to require that their religiously-affiliated employer violate their own conscience and religious moral teaching to provide them with access to free abortifacients (which, by the way, violate the right to life of the newly formed person).

What follows is a poor analogy, so I apologize in advance, but maybe it will make the point more clear to some -- if I worked for a company that was run by observant Jews, and I personally had a dietary need for pork (let's even go so far as to say that my own non-Jewish doctor had directed it), it would not be my right to demand that my employer provide pork for me at all staff luncheons. It would make even less sense if I asked them to provide pork for all employees at these luncheons, and it would be patently absurd for the federal government to require all Jewish employers to start making pork readily available, free of cost, for all employees. Now, like I said, the comparison is rather weak, but hopefully you get the idea.

Also, if we extend this analogy to address today's so-called compromise given by Obama, here's what he's saying now: alright, you don't have to tell your employees that you are paying for pork for all of them to eat. What we'll do is hire a catering service (who, of course, you will have still contracted with and paid) and the catering service will provide the pork. So now, the employer is not paying for the pork specifically, but as a part of the larger package offered by the catering service.

Obama has offered a very similar 'compromise' in regard to the health care mandate, which in no way addresses the moral issue at hand, nor the issue of religious liberty. Read more about the so-called compromise here.

Also, this federal mandate goes against the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, attached to all federal health-spending bills since 2004 (except Obamacare, of course) which prohibits state governments from forcing any agency, including insurance providers, from paying for abortions, on pain of losing federal health funding.

This is much more than a Catholic issue -- it is an attack on conscience and freedom for ALL people.

I hope that it did not go unnoticed that religious liberty is not the only freedom under attack when military chaplains were recently silenced; they were prohibited from reading a letter to their Catholic congregations urging them to resist this federal mandate that would essentially violate their religious beliefs, consciences, and their ability to not give material participation in something they found morally objectionable. They were ordered not to read the letter, lest it be 'potentially misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.'

I think  that the letter would not have been at all misunderstood. I think it would have been perfectly understood. The time for civil disobedience is NOW. Either the mandate gets rescinded, or those of willing to stand up for what is right and good will be willing to go to bat for true freedom -- even if these demands risking steep fines, imprisonment, or worse. Trust me, I'm not some sort of ridiculous dreamer with a goal of martyrdom -- I'm a working, single mom who would much rather practice my faith freely, keep my job working for the Catholic Church (who may not qualify for the very narrow exemption of the current mandate, even in it's 'revised' form), and care for my children. But while I'm still free to say so, may I mention to everyone that Obama is a two-faced liar (I say this not as a means of name calling, but as away of identifying what he did when he recently assured the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, that he would do all that he could to preserve the religious liberties of Catholics in particular, just before he had Sebelius issue the contraceptive mandate as a clear attack on Catholic institutions). This is not about politics, my friends, this is about freedom, and NOW is the time for civil disobedience, not just by Catholics, but by all men and women of good will who value liberty and free exercise of conscience (it's more than a cricket on your shoulder, my friends!).

I have more to say -- much more -- but you're in luck, as I'll commit myself to prayer and sleep for now.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and the Bacony: A Candid Review of Jack in the Box Bacon Shake

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

When I recently heard the news of Jack in the Box releasing a bacon shake, I knew I needed to try one ASAP and give everyone a full review. I mean, even if we can't all agree on politics and religion, can we at least agree that we're all kinda wondering what the bacon shake tastes like? A few days passed with no time for bacon shake searching or consumption, but yesterday, as I pulled into a parking lot for something else, I saw the Jack in the Box sign. I never go to Jack in the Box (this is not a matter of moral or religious conviction, in case you're wondering -- I just don't go there), but as I saw the sign, I suddenly remembered: BACON SHAKE!

So I pulled into the drive-thru. While the people in the car ahead of me placed their order, I frantically scoured the menu for a bacon shake. Nothing. Oreo shake. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, blah blah blah. Where's my BACON? Another car pulled up behind me, so now there was no turning back. What if this location didn't carry the bacon shake? What if this whole bacon shake thing was a hoax, and the drive-thru girl was just waiting to laugh and laugh at anyone who tried to order one? I looked at the menu again, looked around for any special signs or banners. Still no bacon shake, but I did see the weird picture of the guy trying to marry his bridal-veil-wearing bacon burger, so I considered that a sign of hope.

The car ahead of me pulled forward, and so did I. The moment of truth had arrived. I almost chickened out and just ordered an Oreo shake to save myself the risk of embarrassment, but then I decided to go for it. "Hi, welcome to Jack in the Box. Would you like to try our [some kind of special uttered so fast that I could neither understand nor recall it now]?" "Hi. Um... Do you have... a... a bacon shake?" "Yes, we do." "WOO-HOO!" Silence. "Uh, then I'd like one bacon shake, please." "Would you like to add cookies to that?" [Are you trying to kill me, lady? I'm about to consume a bacon shake!] "No, thanks."

I pulled forward and got out my 3 bucks, trying to prepare myself for the bacon shake experience. I gave her the money. She gave me a dime. I waited for what seemed like a bacon eternity. And then, she handed me the shake. It looked just like in the picture:

I thanked the drive-thru girl, and she said, "Thanks for coming to Jack in the Box. Come again!" I almost said, "I doubt it," but I was so enamored with the bacon shake that I didn't have time to be smart-mouthed. After eating the maraschino cherry, I noticed something -- the shake was entirely uniform in color; it had no bits of bacon in it. I realized that, had I looked closely at the picture, I might have noticed that ahead of time. Still, I tried to give Jack in the Box the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe they had pureed the bacon into the shake. (A girl can dream, right?)

I took my first sip. As the shake went into my mouth, the ice cream reminded me of pancakes with syrup and bacon. "Yeah, that's a good taste combo. I'm down!" And then I swallowed the bite. That's when it hit me -- the strange bacon-flavored aftertaste, and the cold [pun intended] reality that this was just some gross kind of bacon flavoring! I started to suspect that no actual pigs were harmed in the making of this milk shake and quite frankly, I was offended. I took another sip to confirm my suspicion. The same experience repeated itself -- pretty tasty while in mouth, pretty grody aftertaste. I still drank the whole thing (I was gonna get my $2.90 worth, after all), and I decided three things:
  1. I'm still glad that I tried the bacon shake, despite the aftertaste, and found the mysterious ordering process alone to be exhilarating;
  2. The Jack in the Box bacon shake is definitely gonna be a one-time experience, and it's for good reason that they have it 'for a limited time'; 
  3. I'm gonna make my own bacon shake! With vanilla ice cream! And maple syrup! And maybe even little pancake chunks! And lots of bits of actual BACON!!!
My friend Maureen confirmed the absence of actual bacon with this article from HuffPo. So vegetarians, Jews, and Lenten-Friday Catholics can try out this bad-boy. But only once. You'll see why.

Peace and all good,