Head Above Water

You typically can’t expect much depth from pop stars, but one would hope that Avril Lavigne has matured from her days as a tomboy back in 2002, and judging by her new song, “Head Above Water,” it seems that she has. Or maybe it was the near-death experience that finally did the trick. Miss Lavigne had been greatly suffering from Lyme disease, and in the midst of her deepest pain, she composed the song, in which she cries to God to “keep her head above water.”

The old saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” came to mind when I first heard the song. In the midst of great pain or anguish, many turn to God even when they had previously forsaken him or had never believed in him in the first place. I suppose Avril Lavigne is one of these. I don’t expect her to return to the Christian faith of her roots, but you never know (and you can always hope).

I find it amusing that the news outlets are calling “Head Above Water” a worship song, and to me, it is. If this was Lavigne’s very first single, everyone would be calling her a Christian artist and they’d sell her album in Christian bookstores, like they did with Evanescence’s first album.

But Avril Lavigne herself may not see the song that way—but rather as a pop ballad or an anthem to show strength in a difficult time. At the very end of the music video is a message about Lyme disease and the URL of Lavigne’s anti-Lyme foundation website. So it appears to be the song used to market her cause.

Either way, I really like the song, and it’s a nice departure from the junk on Top 40, which reminds me, now that I think of it, that I haven’t heard Lavigne’s song on the radio at all. I wonder why. Perhaps it’s because the teenagers who listen to Top 40 were very young or not even born when she was most popular, so they might not know who she is. That’s a scary thought.

Thoughts on the McCarrick Scandal

I apologize for the super-long post, but it’s been simmering in my head for a while. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard in the news about (former) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned from his high post in the Catholic hierarchy because he allegedly abused seminarians. When the sordid news came to light (again), it didn’t surprise me, but I was once again disappointed and disgusted by the abuse of power.

Obviously, something is wrong in the hierarchy if this kind of thing keeps happening over and over. I guess it is difficult for those in power to hold others in power accountable because they all have power, and as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’ve read several articles saying that we, the lay Catholics, need to be the ones to hold our leaders accountable, which is difficult when there isn’t much transparency. It’s even more difficult when most lay Catholics are Catholic in name only or go to church only on Christmas and Easter, so they don’t seem to have much of an opinion on what goes on in the Church as a whole. In the end, if the laypeople do succeed in overturning this corruption, it will be a victory by the few, the proud, and the extremely devout.

This whole business makes me distrust church authorities. My diocese recently got a new bishop, so I know very little about him beyond what was said in the press releases when he was installed. I don’t know if he is a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in this. The author of another article I read stated that he would no longer be contributing to the annual bishop’s appeal in his diocese, but I’m not sure I agree with that because a lot of that money supposedly goes to charities, Catholic schools, and practical causes, not to line the pockets of the bishop himself. But again, there is little transparency, and for all we know, the money could go somewhere else entirely. I know for a fact that my particular parish does not contribute anywhere near the “suggested” amount for the annual appeal anyway because we’re not particularly “wealthy.” It is ridiculously hard to get people to donate money to a church/religious organization nowadays, and most of the time, appeals to donate more money only lead to a withdrawal of even the small amount the people had already been donating.

At this rate, the only authorities I really follow in terms of the Church are God, Mary, the saints, and my parish priest, whom I know fairly well and who is not a diocesan priest but a missionary from the Philippines.* To be honest, I don’t follow what Pope Francis does unless he makes an ex cathedra statement. Sometimes I feel like he crafts his words to be applicable and relevant to the majority of people everywhere and to keep up with the times, whether it is in agreement with Church teaching or not, and Jesus surely didn’t do that. I don’t pay that much attention to what the bishop does unless it’s going to affect me directly. Sure, that probably makes me a “bad Catholic” to some degree.

But I didn’t join or stay in the Church for the pope, the bishops, or a particular priest. The pope, bishops, or priests won’t make me leave the Church either. I don’t join their cults of personality. We typically get a new priest in our parish every 10 years or so, and I have never wanted to stop going to church because my favorite priest is now being transferred to Arlington or wherever. I don’t even stay for typical sentimental reasons like “this is the Church I grew up in” or “my entire family was Catholic.” I stay in the Church because of the truths it stands for and still seeks to uphold, even in the midst of all this earthly drama and corruption.

The role of the Church hierarchy has never changed in all the 2,000 years the Church has been around. It is ultimately to enforce and share the teachings of the Church as laid out in Scripture and the catechism. That is a hard task in today’s world, especially when it seems like hardly anyone goes to church anymore. Many of them sit back in glee and rub their hands together. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Those rules were so ludicrously difficult to follow that not even the bishops and archbishops can be chaste! Why should lay people bother?”

Nevertheless, the Church has had a great deal of influence in the world over the years (and still does), and it is a grave error to underestimate that influence. When the last objective standard of truth goes, we’ll all be cast into confusion with no real authority to look to. How can God possibly be an authority to guide people as a whole when anyone can interpret “God” however they like? Maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because we are all so “diverse” that what applies to you has no relevance at all to me. Or maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because scandalous stuff happens when great power is abused. But overall, we are social animals, “no man is an island” and all that, so we do need some kind of binding force, and what better force than the natural law as laid out by God himself? No human being is exempt from natural law, although we often try to convince ourselves otherwise.

These are truths that are being diluted in the eyes of the faithful (and even those who don’t trust the Church but hold the same kind of beliefs nonetheless) because of the sins of a comparative few. So the real question is… how do we excise these poisonous roots from the hierarchy once and for all? Honestly, I believe at this rate, the answer lies with the faithful laity.

As for the punishment of these crooked cardinals, bishops, and so on, I don’t agree with the typical approach: reassign them to other unsuspecting parishes and/or send them to retreat facilities to be “rehabilitated.” They did criminal deeds and should be treated as criminals, so if that means time in prison, then so be it. If you choose to abuse your power and act like a lowlife, then a punishment fitting a lowlife is your lot.

*I’m sure that doesn’t mean anything, as the scandal is not restricted to just diocesan officials. And sadly, I don’t believe I would allow my child to spend time alone with any priest beyond, of course, the confessional.

Little Ways and Simple Lives

CAUTION: Spoiler alert!

I am a huge fan of Rod Dreher’s column on The American Conservative, and I’ve read a couple of his other books, so when I saw The Little Way of Ruthie Leming at a used book sale, I grabbed it with glee. The book didn’t disappoint. In short, it’s a memoir about Rod’s younger sister Ruthie, who passed away at age 40 from an aggressive form of cancer. Ruthie wasn’t wealthy or famous or “worthy” to be the subject of a memoir in the way that celebrities are, but she indeed seemed to live a saintly life, and the definition of sainthood was what Rod came to grips with throughout the book.

Rod lived a vastly different life from that of his sister; he escaped the small Louisiana town of their childhood in favor of a journalist’s worldly life in the big city. Ruthie, on the other hand, was content to remain in the little town, marry her high school sweetheart, and become a teacher. In a sense, it was like the city mouse/country mouse story from childhood and made readers ponder the question: Is it better to have a “big life” or a “small life”? The answer is honestly either one, just as long as you live according to moral standards.*

As I read the book, I found myself relating to both Rod and Ruthie. On his blog, Rod echoes a lot of my own views on various subjects, but he often comes across as pretentious and privileged. Ruthie enjoyed the simple things in life, as I do, but she didn’t seem to value learning and books in the same way Rod does. The difference between the two siblings reminded me a lot of the division where I live. On one hand, you have the simple Southern people who have lived in North Carolina their entire lives. They tend to enjoy the typical Southern life, which is slow-paced and involves close ties between family and friends. North Carolina natives tend to be good, honest, “salt-of-the-earth” people, but they also can be ignorant or intolerant of anything that goes against their way of life or beliefs. This was how Rod described Ruthie and other Louisiana natives in the memoir—as quite close-minded—but of course, that’s not their fault. That’s how they have been raised and they’re satisfied that way. They are content with what they have and don’t see any reason to broaden their horizons.

The other part of North Carolina is taken over by “Yankees” who recently moved from New York and other Northern states. If you ask the native North Carolinians, the Yankees have totally destroyed North Carolina’s culture with their high-class, fast-paced ways. They’re forcing new roads and highways and homes to be built, which is ruining the environment, and they’re in favor of upscale stores like Whole Foods and niche boutiques that are causing the prices of everything else to go up. Houses are going for outrageously high prices, and who can afford them but the Yankees? Many of the Yankees work in the Research Triangle Park area and tend to be highly educated and current on the latest technologies. Because they’re not native, many of their family members live elsewhere. Thus, family may not seem like it’s as much of a priority to them as it is for the native North Carolinians (but I’m sure it probably is).

I did come from New York, but that was in the mid-1990s when I was a little kid, so I find it hard to relate to the newest wave of “Yankees” who have arrived in my state. I love the native North Carolinians I know, and they do tend to have a better and more fulfilling lifestyle in that they value what is truly important: family and friends. But I, like Rod, tend to get impatient with them because they don’t seem to value education and “book smarts” in the same way that I do. They are very set in their ways. However, I’m constantly aware that my impatience with them may make me come off as pretentious and high-falutin.

Ruthie Leming’s “little way” (i.e., doing small things with great love, also espoused by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta) is a simple faith that anyone can live by. From what I gathered from reading the memoir, Rod is still coming to terms with this “little way” and how to reconcile it with a world that seems focused on the things that don’t ultimately matter. Like Rod, I have issues with trying to follow the “little way” and reconciling it with what I know (from education and being a native New Yorker) and what I value (from my parents, my religion, and the aspects of the Southern life I admire).

The book can be read for the enjoyable and inspiring (although obviously very sad) story, or for a more in-depth study of culture and faith if you’re the kind of person who, like the author (and me), tends to overanalyze everything.

*What is “morally acceptable” and what is a “good person” are extremely subjective these days. I personally believe in objective morality, but many do not, and that’s a topic for another post.