Friday, October 28, 2011

Where There is Love, There is God by Mother Teresa

I’ve written before in this blog that for most of my Christian walk, I was an observant and very active Catholic.  Nonetheless, I have never known all that much about one of the most famous and beloved Catholics of the twentieth century: Mother Teresa.  Like most people I have admired her dedication to and selfless love for the poor.  But until recently I had never read anything by or about her.

Not long ago, I found a new book by Mother Teresa at my local library’s new releases shelf: Where There is Love, There is God.  The title seemed intriguing, so I picked it up on a whim as I ran to keep up with my kids, who were scampering to the kids’ section.

When I got home, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  Where There is Love, There is God is a posthumous collection of relatively brief quotes of Mother Teresa.  The quotes are edited together with some commentary by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, who was associated with Mother Teresa for twenty years and now directs the Mother Teresa Center.  It is not a book or journal that Mother Teresa penned herself before her death in 1997.  As a result, the book has a somewhat disjointed feel to it.

Nonetheless, if you can get past the style, there is actually a lot that is good about the book.  I gave up early on trying to read it straight through.  It is too disjointed for that.  There is also too much being expressed to take it all in when reading straight through.  Instead, I used the book as a daily devotional.  And with that approach to the book, I was quite pleased.

There are several passages from the book I would like to share:

“One man told me: ‘I am an atheist,’ but he spoke so beautifully about love, Mother told him: ‘You cannot be an atheist if you speak so beautifully about love.  Where there is love, there is God. God is love.”

“There is great talk going on all over the world that Mother Teresa is spoiling the people by giving them things free.  In Bangalore, once at a seminar, in the name of the whole group, one nun got up and said to me, ‘Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them things free.  They are losing their human dignity.  You should take at least ten naya paisa for what you give them, then they will feel more their human dignity.’  When everyone was quiet, I said calmly, ‘No one is spoiling as much as God Himself.  See the wonderful gifts He has given us freely.  All of you here have no glasses, yet you all can see.  Say, if God were to take money for your sight, what would happen?  We are spending so much money for Shishu Bhavan to buy oxygen for saving life, yet continually we are breathing and living on oxygen and we do not pay anything for it.  What would happen if God were to say, ‘You work four hours and you will get sunshine for two hours.’  How many of us would then survive?’  Then I also told them: ‘There are many congregations who spoil the rich, then it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor.’  There was profound silence; nobody said a word after that.”  (pp. 9-10)

“Rejecting or shunning others on account of their poverty or blaming them for it, was a great injustice in Mother Teresa’s eyes.  Whatever the reason for a person’s problems, she was convinced that help and care were their due.  Her first response when encountering someone in distress was to seek to offer immediate and effective help, and only later to find out the reasons for the difficulty.  Coming to the defense of the poor if someone blamed them for their poverty, she would ask, ‘What would you do if you were in their place?’  In fact, she made her listeners aware that perhaps they might be more responsible for others’ poverty than they thought.

A frequent topic in her public speeches was respect for human life from conception to natural death.  In her profound respect for the Giver of life, she staunchly upheld His rights by opposing any form of violence against human life, speaking out in defense of the weakest and most vulnerable human beings.

She considered abortion the greatest destroyer of peace in the world.  The reason behind such a statement is logical:  Once it is permissible and socially acceptable to kill one’s own flesh and blood, others not bound by family ties have much less ‘right’ to love, care and life; much more easily can they be ‘disposed of’ at will.  If, in order to protect often unjust and selfish interests such as love of comfort and pleasure, a society turns directly against the child in its mother’s womb, it will eventually and without scruple eliminate other defenseless beings as well.  It can become a very slippery slope.

The elderly, sick, or disabled, increasingly considered ‘a burden’ to society, are among the vulnerable in the world today.  Mother Teresa particularly deplored any form of disregard or neglect shown to the elderly members of one’s family in need of care.  As ‘love begins at home,’ our first responsibility is to our own.  Incapacities or sufferings do not diminish the inherent dignity of each person.”  (pp. 66-67)

“A grumbling sister can’t pray.  And, you can see on their faces—there is something there worrying them.  When I have tried to find out, it is always because of grumbling, misunderstandings, carrying tales.  If this happens when you are four or when you are six, community life will become so difficult; al right when you are a big community.  Just as the Americans go for a [medical] check-up, ‘Have I got cancer,’ we need to check and see that.  Grumbling and criticism are always the fruit of jealousy.  Jealousy, again, is nothing but hidden pride.”  (p. 81)

“Our lives must be connected with the living Christ in us.  If we do not live in the presence of God, we cannot go on.  One thing more is lacking—silence.  When there are two together, they start talking.  Then, without silence, there will be no good prayers.  We must also control our temper.  Temper means pride.  We must control our temper for the love of God.  In a good, ordinary family, it does not happen that we are losing our temper and answering back.  It should not happen here, either.”  (p. 81)

“I want you to pray and examine your conscience [regarding] Sins of omission.  Have the courage to say sorry.  The best way of saying sorry is to do the opposite in action.  If you have been moody, be happy….I want you…not to change your place or work but to change your heart.  Death can come any time.

The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, deserted by everybody.  The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards those who are victims of exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.  Love has to be built on sacrifice.  We have to give until it hurts.”  (p. 82)


Proverbs 11:16

A woman of gentle grace gets respect, but men of rough violence grab for loot.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ricky Gervais on Christians and Christianity

Ricky Gervais is a British comedian known for his work on the television franchise The Office among other projects.  He is indeed a funny man.  I was doing some internet research on a Christian topic recently and came across an article Mr. Gervais wrote this past Easter.  Apparently, Mr. Gervais is an atheist.  He is a smart, articulate man, so he is quite adept at explaining his opposition to Christianity.  The link below contains his article.
I share this article in this particular forum not because I take offense and advocate that we Christians should band together to retaliate against Mr. Gervais.  Instead, I share his ideas in this forum because I anticipate that many Christians have an interest in the themes in my blog, and I think it is insightful for us to hear our we are perceived by non-Christians. 
Being a Christian is not easy.  Jesus’s teachings were not a piece of cake.  And being open about one’s Christian faith leaves one vulnerable.  Many non-Christians love to point out the imperfections and even inconsistencies in the behaviors of Christians.  That sort of negative attention can be frustrating and even hurtful, but I don’t think it should ever lead us to be bitter or antagonistic in any way.  If we are secure in who we are in Christ and in our relationship with God, I think we can be at peace with whatever criticism comes our way.  Instead of lobbing insults back, we can just thank the speaker or writer for sharing his/her opinions with us.  And we can try to learn from the insights such people have shared.
Truly, I feel sorry and saddened when I read words like Mr. Gervais’s.  I find his judgment and smug superiority just as bad as the judgment and smugness that he sees exemplified by Christians.  Such traits are tragic whoever exhibits them. 
I also feel sorry for Mr. Gervais because I cannot imagine my life without the guidance and comfort of Christ.  I would imagine feeling very lost and alone if I shared Mr. Gervais’s philosophy and lack of belief. 
Over the years, I have heard many different Christian pastors teach about the importance of Christ followers being mindful of how they are perceived by non-believers because of the impact it can have on their ability to accept the Gospel.  Such pastors point out that a leading cause of atheism is unflattering or inconsistent behavior of Christians.

Mark 9:24
The Message (MSG)
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, "Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comments to This Blog

In my predecessor blog, I consciously decided to not allow reader comments to appear unmoderated.  In other words, before a reader’s comment on a particular post was visible to the public, I had to affirmatively take steps to allow the comment to appear on the blog.  I have decided to take the same approach in this new blog.
I explained in my predecessor blog the reason I decided to moderate all reader comments.  (See the September 30, 2010 post:
On my predecessor blog, there was sometimes spam that was posted as a reader comment, and occasionally the spam was pornographic in nature.  On one occasion, a reader posted a comment that appeared to encourage violence to resolve political disagreement.  I want this blog to be a medium to provoke productive thought, discussion and debate.  I will not knowingly allow it to promote human exploitation or violence.  That would be contrary to the Christian values that I embrace and that are explored in this blog.
Nonetheless, I have tried to make clear that beyond such comments promoting human exploitation or violence, I do take a very permissive approach in approving comments to this blog.  In no way do I cherry-pick just the most flattering comments or the comments with which I agree.  In my predecessor blog, I approved all the reader comments that disagreed with me or criticized my perspective as long as they were not promoting human exploitation or violence.  And in the entire history of that predecessor blog, there were only a couple such comments that I refused to approve.  I am second to none in my appreciation of our nation’s rich history of free speech and the value of open debates of ideas.  I believe in truth.  I am a lawyer by training. As a result, I do not fear and am not intimidated by opposing voices.   
Because I would aspire that this blog be a medium to provoke productive thought, discussion and debate, I encourage readers to leave comments to posts they read. 
However, with freedom comes responsibility.  I strongly urge readers to be responsible in the comments they post.  I express this because I have been very disheartened by the type of reader comments posted on some other blogs and websites.  It is shocking to read the kind of cruel, ugly, unproductive comments that some feel free to post.  And I have noticed that most such comments are posted anonymously or under a pseudonym (e.g., hogface, MeMyself and I,  Neutral Observer, ThinkAgain, Jesus Fan, LogicalSkepticism).  (These examples are not made up; they come from a quick scan of comments to a popular news website.)
I believe that if a person has the courage of his or her convictions, he or she should not be afraid to reveal his or her identity.  If you believe in what you say or write, then you should own it and put your name to it.  It is hard to respect or take seriously one’s words when one hides one’s identity.
To this end, I strongly encourage readers to not post anonymous comments to this blog.  The way Blogger is designed, it is possible to post anonymously.   And as long as you do not advocate human exploitation or violence, I will approve your comment even if you leave it anonymously.  But I encourage you to not take that option.
To include your name when leaving a comment, you do not have to reveal your e-mail address or any contact information.  I can appreciate wanting to protect oneself from spam or harassing reader e-mail.  But if you want to share a comment, let the rest of us know who you are. 
To do that, when you post a comment, select the “Name/URL” profile option, then specify your first and last name.  You can skip the field for “URL.”  Just leave that one blank. 
If you take that approach, if you let the rest of us know who you are, then other readers of this blog will recognize the seriousness of your comments because you were willing to publicly stand by your words.  That makes for a richer exchange of ideas for everyone.

Deuteronomy 1:17

Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Blogger Brittany N. Chavez on Hispanic Heritage Month

Do you know the term ‘dichotomy’? It means division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups. This is what it sometimes is to be a Hispanic in the United States, and specifically in Arizona.  

Hispanics, in law school and in the general public, walk a fine line between American and Hispanic cultures. We are forced to represent two sides of ourselves. Our American side is grateful for a free country that is, in theory, ran by the people. We should be proud of a country that protects and fosters individual freedoms and equality. We should be good American patriots, upholding and carrying on the American tradition. However, we sometimes see this American view as skewed to protect a particular segment of our diverse society; unfortunately, Hispanics are not always high on this priority list. Therefore, our Hispanic side is often on the defensive, wondering why our culture is seen as such a threat in this assumed free and equal country.

Where should our loyalties fall? We need to represent both sides, conform to both cultures, speak (or attempt to) both languages, merge two religious faiths, and hold on to both individualism and community practices. While doing this, we are also being held to a higher standard: Americans want us to assimilate and conform to their practices, while our Hispanic community is urging us to hold on to our culture and beliefs.

Where do we draw the line? Do we leap onto the American train that supports policies against our larger community? As law students, we are learning to uphold the American law system and protect our Constitution. Does this mean we unquestioningly support every bill and law that is passed? To quote Martin Luther King, Jr. : “There are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws.  I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’" We have a duty to uphold the just laws of our country; however, as Hispanics studying the law, we have an equal obligation to defend our community against unfair laws and treatment.

We are constantly walking a fine line as Hispanics in this country. As law students, we are learning to value and uphold the American legal system, and ultimately contributing our education back into the American system. This does not have to be at the expense of our cultural heritage and larger community. Hispanic Heritage Month is our way to recognize and represent our Hispanic traditions and legacy.  It is possible to change the dichotomy that is our existence in the American system. We can take the good and beneficial qualities out of each culture and merge into a stronger, more united, and diverse America.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Americans’ Attitudes Towards Christianity and the Death Penalty

Apropos of Michael O’Connor’s thought-provoking essay on the executions of Russell Brewer and Troy Davis, I wanted to offer a few more generalized observations on the death penalty from a Christian perspective.
Not long ago, I attended a dinner of several lawyers and the topic of capital punishment was discussed at length.  One of the lawyers had spent his career working exclusively on death penalty cases.  It was an interesting evening.  I appreciated hearing different people’s insights on the topic.  They gave me a lot of food for thought.
At one point in the discussion, I shared with my colleagues that I have always been very confused by our country’s attitudes about the death penalty.  Many purport that we are a “Christian nation” and our Christian values are the foundation for our secular laws.  That is a hotly debated view, but even if one accepts it, I do not understand how our support of the death penalty squares with Christian values.  Indeed, I’ve long been perplexed that it is in the region of our country often dubbed the “Bible Belt” where the death penalty is used most extensively.
In my reading of the Bible, Jesus’s overarching message was the value--indeed the absolute preciousness--of each human life.  In his ministry, Jesus went out of his way time and time again to witness to and emphasize God’s love for us his children.  Further, no one was beyond the tremendous love of God.  Not corrupt tax collectors, not Gentiles, not the selfish and lazy Prodigal Son.  Jesus taught that all are equally cherished by their Creator.
To that end, Jesus tried to make us understand that in turn we should share God’s love for his children.  He repeatedly taught us both in word and in deed to love and care for God’s people.  In light of the central message of Christ’s witness and teaching, I do not understand how we Americans could look to Jesus as support for our country’s continued use of the death penalty as a sanction for criminal behavior.   His teachings would seem to dictate a very different approach.
Moreover, in the eighth chapter of the Gospel Book of John, the author describes Jesus’s intervention in a capital case.  A woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The scribes and Pharisees bring her to Jesus.  They challenge him in John 8:5 by saying, “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”   Jesus stooped down and mysteriously wrote with his finger on the ground words that are not recorded.  In doing so, Jesus initially acted as though he did not hear their question.  They continued to ask and finally in John 8:7 Jesus responds, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”  The Gospel records that the woman’s accusers felt convicted in their hearts such that they walked away and the death penalty was not carried out.  In John 8:10-11, Jesus and the woman are the only ones remaining, and Jesus tells the woman “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”  In this passage in the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as having interrupted the execution of a violator of the law, and refusing to carry out the death penalty himself.
Apart from his teachings, Jesus’s own life experiences seem to suggest the use of capital punishment is potentially dangerous and unwise.  Jesus was himself a victim of his society’s brutal use of the death penalty.  And the circumstances of his execution demonstrate the potential abuses of permitting authorities to punish individuals by taking their lives.  Jesus had committed no crime, but the authorities of the day still found pretext to take his life and execute him as a common criminal.  To me, Jesus’s life story warns of the imprudence of capital punishment.   
Incidentally, the lives of the apostles arguably provide a similar warning.  We do not have a lot of information about how Jesus’s apostles died, but many are thought to have died by human hands.  Several of them (e.g., Peter, Bartholomew, James, Phillip) are believed to have been executed by authorities who were hostile to the message they preached.
Perhaps not unlike the experiences of Jesus and some of his apostles with the death penalty, in more modern times, the punishment has been used in countries to suppress the voices of people with ideas considered “dangerous” to those in power.  In recent memory, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Iran and Iraq have used the death penalty to eliminate political opponents.
In modern times, the death penalty has also been used in various nations disproportionately on minorities within a particular society--inadvertently at times and on purpose at others . 
Finally, we have compelling evidence even in our own country that the death penalty has been used to execute people who were innocent of the crimes for which they condemned.  Sister Helen Prejean’s book The Death of Innocents is but one example of this.  Human systems of justice are not infallible.
At this recent dinner, when I shared my inability to reconcile our nation’s purported Christian values and our widespread popular support of the continued use of the death penalty, one colleague mentioned the biblical teaching of “an eye for an eye” as an explanation.  Interestingly, a non-Christian colleague at the table noted that phrase was from the Old Testament and not a teaching of Jesus himself.  Thus, that Old Testament teaching did not seem to reconcile the apparent conflict between the purported embrace of Christianity and the use of the death penalty.  There were several other Christians at this particular dinner, but no one could explain this apparent contradiction.  We all seemed stumped.  I went home that night feeling somewhat depressed and frankly more perplexed than ever.
When I got home, I looked up Jesus’s teaching on the admonition of an “eye for an eye.”  I’ve pasted it below.  I just do not see how it can be reconciled with the use of the death penalty.  I’m certainly open to others’ opinions, but it seems a fundamental contradiction to me.

Matthew 5:38-48 (New American Standard Bible)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”