By John Rieping | Published 14 Feb. 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
Contrary to my usual sloth, I drove to a cinema on the last weekend of January. Lest anyone yawns, realize I last did so for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 2012. My own trek involved no dwarves or dragons, but it did have more drama than expected.
As is my tendency, I failed to notice the steady march of the clock until only just enough time remained to reach the matinee of “Gimme Shelter.” I rushed out of my apartment, accidentally selected the wrong destination on my GPS navigator’s touch screen, and impatiently chose a new one.
My sub-compact car sped down State Route 99 and I arrived minutes before showtime — at the Police Science Institute in Fresno, California. Apparently my hasty fingers had erred twice.
“Better late than not at all,” I thought.
I redirected my GPS device and followed its advice across Fresno’s surprisingly busy afternoon streets. At the multiplex, lines of people extended like fingers from the box office, which had lost connection to its computer network. After a wait, I bought my ticket and hurried through a nearby open door, which a security guard soon informed me was the wrong one. Out I went, then back in.
I sprinted to the darkened cave where “Gimme Shelter” lit a wall in front of invisible tiers of seats. I groped up stairs and down a row of feet I stepped on to finally slouch into a seat. My self-contentment at my patience and determination to support an exceptional film would quickly be broken by two women on my left.
“Another door closes,” one of them said repeatedly in a loud sing-song tone.
A glance revealed both were adults, one older than I, and the “mockery” kept flowing out. No one else spoke up, so indignantly I scolded them about theater behavior. The elder nodded without upset and they left. It was only then I figured out her 20-something companion had the mind of a child. I had completely misunderstood.
I shed tears about more than the movie during the next two hours.
How often we see what we presume rather than what is present, especially when stressed. This bias extends far beyond encounters with strangers.
In the fantasy novel “The Truth,” author Terry Pratchett writes, “Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things... well, new things aren’t what they expect... because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds... Not news but olds, telling people what they think they already know is true.”
I hope such a mistake explains the unacceptable behavior Feb. 5 by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
I refer not to its accusation of a conspiracy of silence about Catholic clergy misconduct and resultant harboring of abusers. This old claim ignores reality. Anyone involved in this area knows of the church’s efforts to clarify its policies and to add strong safeguards for children. I saw firsthand these sincere and extensive changes from the inside, so-to-speak, as a seminarian and a Benedictine monk (temporary vows only) as well as later as a volunteer in youth ministry.
I refer not to committee claims that the Holy See promotes violence against homosexuals or their children. The Vatican has explicitly condemned “all forms of violence against homosexual persons” (apostolic nuncio to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, 2008) on multiple occasions. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 2358, teaches “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
No, I refer to recommendations that the Catholic Church contradict its long-standing teachings on the dignity of the human person, including those involving sexuality and abortion. Such an attack on religious liberty is outrageous.
However we Christians must never forget what our freedom is for.
“Religious liberty is a foundational right. It’s necessary for a good society,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2012. “But it can never be sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.”
Let us correct errors and stand up for our rights — but with love. If we falter as I did at the theater, let us work on a better sequel.
By John Rieping | Published 25 Jan. 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
My New Year’s Day resolution to spend less time on Facebook is somewhat intact as January approaches its end. Meanwhile an uncharacteristically action-oriented drive for self-improvement twirls and leaps in my heart like a child who emptied a bag of Halloween candy.
There is movement in the deep.
One superficial wave provoked by such unseen churning has been, as mentioned in a previous column, an online class I’m taking in computer programming from Harvard University. Another is a renewed self-investment in websites built to help people connect in real life.
Those who know me in person realize I am an introvert, that strange species of human whose thoughts leisurely walk a meandering path to every destination. There is a quiet efficiency born of a kind of laziness in the brain of every introvert, and a secret garden behind the sometimes nondescript walls that surround it.
Nonetheless all introverts, whether cool or warm blooded, have a heart that feeds life to countless screaming “children” who have no one else — our desires and dreams, loves and loyalties. By these children, man differs from machine. They are — in a sense — born of a union between the natures of angels and beasts.
The efforts of this introvert to meaningfully connect are hardly unique. In 2012, a 30-something mathematician, Chris McKinlay, found a fruitful distraction from writing his University of California, Los Angeles, dissertation for his Ph.D. in applied math. He wanted to find the optimal strategy for finding a true match on a popular dating site.
So he set up 12 fake dating accounts and programmed his computer to gather information on the female members of the website who fit his general requirements for a mate. After collecting the answers of 20,000 California women on 6 million questions, he learned that they clumped into seven distinct clusters.
Based on their traits, he nicknamed the clusters: Diverse, Dog, God, Green, Mindful, Samantha, and Tattoo. The Greens were new to online dating. The Gods were strongly religious or ethical. The Samanthas were often relatively older, professionally creative, and adventurous. The Tattoos had multiple tattoos and sometimes as many jobs. And so on.
He then set up his real dating profile to honestly answer the questions that were relevant to the clusters of women that most interested him, and then had his computer visit more than 10,000 of their online pages on the site in two weeks. He soon received 400 views of his page daily.
Online messaging and in-person dating followed until, on date 88, he found the woman with whom love bloomed — 28-year-old artist Christine Tien Wang. At the moment, they’re engaged to be married.
Some may find his calculated efforts to find Miss Right cynical, offensive, or immoral. But Wang, as quoted in the February edition of Wired magazine, commented: “People are much more complicated than their profiles. So the way we met was kind of superficial, but everything that happened after is not superficial at all. It’s been cultivated through a lot of work.”
One insight McKinlay uncovered in his labors is the importance of not presenting one’s opinions in a timid fashion. The dating website he used has members assign a weight (from “irrelevant” to “mandatory”) to one’s own answers to a question as well as those of others. Agreement on weightier questions is interpreted as a greater match.
His tests revealed that, regardless of whether you wanted to appeal to many or to a select few, a wishy-washy presentation of one’s views was the worst possible strategy. Either wholeheartedly answer the most divisive topics or reply to the innocuous ones with equal gusto. But a lukewarm person fares badly.
How often many of us allow a desire for the approval of others to dim the unique light we have to offer. Instead of beaming, we glow comfortably. The Jewish founder of Christianity allegedly had a low opinion of such behavior. If the visionary testimony of his “beloved disciple” is true, Yeshua (Jesus) compared it to an unappealingly tepid beverage.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I wish you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)
Come. Let us shine.
This music video only had two other views when I first discovered it this evening. But apparently it was filmed and edited by my niece's husband Rafael Rodarte, and the primary actors are one of my brothers, his wife, and their children. It also features my hometown church, one of our local priests, and a friend of mine. The song was sung by that friend with backup vocal harmony by my niece's husband. The lyrics were mostly by that niece, Bernadette.
As she explained: "It is about prayer linking the body of Christ but also the lyrics of the song (and title, "Men of Faith") are supposed to convey the importance of men (the priest, the discerning vocation and the father/ head of the household) in the faith and it's a call for them to stand up and live their faith."
Needless to say, I'm proud of the music video, but I'm also biased. Listen for yourself and, if you wish, let me know what you think.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 4/20/12 in The Madera Tribune
I watched a special pre-screening Monday night of the Mexican action film “For Greater Glory,” which will be in theaters June 1. Nearly a week later I am still processing my emotions about it.
The passionate movie attempts to summarize the true but generally forgotten story of the Cristero War, a 1926-1929 rebellion in Mexico sparked by the officially atheistic government’s attempts to crush Christianity. The film is well done and yet the slivers of history glimpsed are horrific enough that it is appropriately rated R “for disturbing images.”
Costing an estimated $20 million, it is allegedly the most expensive Mexican movie ever made.
The cast list is almost a “who’s who” of actors and includes Academy Award nominees Andy Garcia, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Peter O’Toole as well as Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”), Santiago Cabrera (“Heroes” and “Merlin”), Oscar Isaac (“Drive” and “Robin Hood”), Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek” and “Super 8”), Nestor Carbonell (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Lost”), Eduardo Verastegui (“Bella”), and others.
I think I cried often during the movie but I also felt sad whenever there was any killing, even when arguably in defense of liberty. On rare occasions a war may be just, but I would hesitate to claim any were or are holy. Thankfully the movie itself makes efforts not to whitewash its main protagonists.
For me, the movie wasn’t simply entertainment or education though. It is family history. My grandfather, Higinio Lozano, lived through part of it before fleeing his homeland to escape being killed by the government for teaching Catholicism, assisting clergy, and distributing Catholic literature, “crimes” for which he had already been imprisoned repeatedly.
After its independence from Spain, Mexico adopted two constitutions in 1857 and 1917 that significantly restricted or eliminated legal rights of the Catholic Church, of monks and nuns, and of priests and ministers for any religion. (Mexico’s 1917 constitution was used as a model for the one approved by the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic a year later.)
In the 20th century, these laws ultimately enabled the government to seize and sell nearly all of Mexico’s monasteries and convents. They also banned clerical clothing and religious celebrations in public, limited the use of church bells, kept religions from gaining or managing property, and more.
This conquest of religion perhaps reached its most visible stage in the 1920s under President Plutarco Elias Calles, an atheist who admitted “I have a personal hatred for Christ.” Existing anti-religious laws were fully enforced and more added. Holy objects were desecrated, foreign-born ministers expelled, and religious schools, convents, and monasteries closed. In the state of Chihuahua only one priest was allowed to minister.
I should note that Catholics weren’t the only ones affected. For example, the Anglican church in Mexico was forced to rely on laymen to officiate for some services due to the loss of non-native clergy. Nonetheless, Catholicism suffered the brunt of the anti-religious laws as the dominant faith in Mexico.
In response, Catholics organized a strong boycott of non-essentials to pressure Calles, and similarly the bishops of Mexico voted to impose an “interdict” — suspending all religious services, especially the sacraments — in Mexico. It began August 1, 1926.
Two days later, 400 armed Catholics shut themselves in a church in Guadalajara, Jalisco, but surrendered after a shoot out with federal troops. A day later, 240 government soldiers stormed the parish church of Sahuayo, Michoacan, killing priests and others. Ten days later, the government wiped out a Zacatecas chapter of a Catholic youth organization and executed its chaplain. That outraged a band of ranchers who rebelled and took over northern Jalisco.
More uprisings and government reactions followed, and matters escalated. Yet a proposed amendment of the constitution’s anti-religious parts was rejected by Mexico’s Congress on Sept. 22, 1926.
In November, Pope Pius XI joined the voices in protest with his encyclical, “Iniquis Afflictisque,” but Calles stayed firm. By the end of the year the general mood had turned to armed rebellion, although no Catholic bishop ever endorsed such a response.
Organized opposition erupted in January 1927. In the next three years, more than 50,000 Mexicans fought against the government, which mockingly dubbed them “Cristeros” because they refused to say “Long live President Calles” and instead made “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) their identifying cry.
More than 250,000-300,000 Mexicans were killed, but only 90,000 in the war. Most died after a mid-1929 compromise ended the Cristero rebellion.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 3/23/12 in The Madera Tribune
Comedian and actor W.C. Fields (1880-1946) presented his first performances, juggling, in churches and theaters at the age of 15. Three years later he left his parents’ Christian home in Pennsylvania and soon became a headliner on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Many years later, a friend found him — now a known atheist — reading a Bible in a hospital. When the surprised visitor asked why, Fields replied, “I’m checking for loopholes.”
Weeks later he died of an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage.
Whether flippant or sincere, his attitude is hardly limited to those at the end of life. A joke tells of a Catholic school cafeteria with a crate of milk cartons and a sign that read: “Take only one. God is watching.” At the end of the lunch line sat chocolate cookies. On a napkin someone had scrawled: “Take all you want. God is watching the milk.”
There seems to be a nearly universal desire in humans to justify what they do, whether before God or others. Why is this?
Many religions, Christian and non-Christian alike, believe that humans possess a “conscience” — an understanding of right and wrong. The Latin roots of the word itself literally mean “with knowledge.”
Though heartfelt, the conscience judges the morality of an action using one’s reason and understanding, and that can sometimes be its downfall. Who among us hasn’t been biased, mistaken, or misinformed? A well-formed and truthful conscience is vital.
Many religions would again agree that it is for this purpose (among others) that divinity speaks to humanity — to remind us of the truth about good and evil. Even so, educating and correcting one’s conscience is a lifelong task. Neglect or abuse of it brings blindness.
Two movies opening in U.S. theaters today may help refresh the sensitivity of our consciences. These are “October Baby” and the literary adaptation “The Hunger Games.” Though I have only screened the first one, I have read the young adult novelettes behind the second, and encourage moviegoers to see both if possible.
In far different ways, these films look at the effects of socially-approved violence on children and society.
The light drama “October Baby” does so gently and uplifts, though it does so with a heroine that some might find taboo: a grown survivor of an attempted abortion. In contrast, the lightly science fiction trilogy that begins with “The Hunger Games” directly challenges the myths of U.S. entertainment and culture by showing the scars that killing inflicts on those who do it, even when it is arguably justified.
Elsewhere in media, many video gamers have been infuriated by a disappointing end to a blockbuster science fiction triad. On Wednesday, Bioware promised to heed the backlash.
Its recent game, Mass Effect 3, may have sold 890,000 copies ($60 each) in the U.S. within its first 24 hours of availability earlier this month, but the final minutes of the 90-120 hour trilogy left a sour taste. It offered three similar sad endings with the main visual variation being the color of the explosions.
The irony is that, before the one-size-fits-all end, the series maintained an illusion of freedom and consequences. An act of kindness or brutality, diligence or laziness, by a player could shape future encounters far down the story’s path.
In games and reality, we want our choices to have meaning. Our conscience insists some do, at least outside of a fantasy.
In 1933, the Nazi government outlawed all non-religious youth groups unconnected with the Hitler Youth paramilitary organization. Within three years the remaining church youth groups were also purged.
Among the secular casualties was Jungenschaft, a high-spirited teenage boys club in Germany. With equal gusto and appreciation, members explored woods, ice-cold rivers at dawn, wild bird migrations, fine arts concerts, museums, cathedrals, plays, and movies.
They were wiped out by the Nazis, who arrested and imprisoned its young members for weeks or months and destroyed their diaries, magazines, and songbooks.
Yet lyrics of the group’s favorite song survived, and the message holds true today.
“Close eye and ear a while / against the tumult of the time; / you’ll not still it or find peace / until your heart is pure.
“As you watch and wait / to catch the eternal in the everyday, / you freely choose to take your role / in history’s great play.
“The hour will come when you are called. / Be then prepared, be ready; / if the fire dies down, leap in; / again it blazes, steady.”
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/24/12 in The Madera Tribune
A joke tells of a notorious anti-Catholic who reluctantly agreed to go to a Mardi Gras carnival with a friend. Walking about the fundraiser, the pair passed a musician who played his guitar while his pet monkey collected coins. Without hesitation, the anti-Catholic placed a generous handful of coins into the monkey’s hat. His perplexed friend complained, “I thought you didn’t like Catholics.”
“I don’t,” he replied, “but they’re so cute when they’re little.”
That we are — with or without tails. But all “little ones” can be challenging too, even if innocently.
A catechism teacher supposedly decided to test her class to see if they understood her lesson that we can’t earn entry into paradise. “If I had a big garage sale,” she asked, “sold my house and car, and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I loved my family, never disobeyed my parents, and always cleaned my room, would that get me into heaven?” she said.
Again, they cried, “No!”
After several similar questions, the proud teacher happily continued, “Well then, how can I get into heaven?”
A boy shouted out: “You gotta be dead first!”
Children do astonish us.
My own conception in the summer of 1973 surprised my parents. My mother had been informed by a doctor that she would be unable to have another child after the birth of my sister Maria in 1969. Yet my then 38-year-old mother conceived me.
“We thought we were through with blessings,” my mom told me when we discussed our family history April 25, 2010.
“I thought in a way the timing was wrong,” my dad admitted.
At the time, a disappointing investment had forced my parents and their four children to move back in with my grandparents.
“I must have been depressed so her father came,” my dad said. “He said, ‘What’s the matter, Joe?’… I said, ‘You know I made a mistake with the property… and now I find out that your daughter — my wife — is pregnant…’
“He says, ‘… When the Lord gives you a baby the Lord gives you a loaf of bread to feed it.’ … That snapped me to [and] you were very welcome.”
I was born in early March at Madera Community Hospital and would be baptized nine days later at St. Joachim Church.
I might not be alive today if I had different parents facing the same circumstances. On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the “right of privacy” was “broad enough to encompass” a right to abortion, which until then was outlawed or restricted in the 50 states.
I’m not the only survivor. The mother of Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos football team, had been told by her doctor that at age 37 the pregnancy posed a high risk to her life and that the “mass of fetal tissue,” a “tumor,” had to go. Pam and Bob Tebow refused.
But these stories are nothing compared to those of Gianna Jessen, Melissa Ohden, Claire Culwell, Ana Rosa Rodriguez, and others who literally survived abortions. A search on YouTube or elsewhere will reveal their tales.
Gianna Jessen’s story may be known best after having been reported by the Telegraph, the BBC, and other media. The 34-year-old was born in Los Angeles prematurely after a failed abortion.
“I survived so I could stir things up a bit, and I have a great time doing it…,” she said in a speech at the Victoria, Australia, Parliament House in 2008. “I was delivered alive… after 18 hours” in a saline solution. “I should be blind, I should be burned, I should be dead, and yet I’m not.”
Oxygen deprivation from the procedure left her with physical atrophy and cerebral palsy. Her adoptive mother was told she would never be able to walk or even sit up. Yet Gianna has run marathons and is a talented singer-songwriter in Nashville.
Mother Teresa said, “God is using Gianna to remind the world that each human being is precious to him.”
A few weeks ago I had a chance to see a movie, “October Baby,” inspired by Gianna’s past. My ticket to the advance screening was courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno, but members of Christian churches around the San Joaquin Valley packed the theater. I laughed and cried during the gentle uplifting film.
“October Baby” will publicly debut in Fresno on March 22.