Friday, January 29, 2010

Tim Tebow and a Special Date

This is awesome. It has the markings of something done by a real man--the sort we should truly look up to.

Last month, Tim brought 20 year old Kelly Faughnan as his date to an ESPN football awards event at Disney World. Kelly is a huge fan of his and Tim had just met her the evening before at a reception where he invited her to be his guest on the red carpet the next day. She suffers from unexplained tremors and had a brain tumor surgically removed one year ago.

[hat tip: Mike Wallacavage]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Insight Into Hatred Felt by Some Pro-choicers

I recommend an excellent article by Jennifer Fulwiler, The Two Lists, published on the Inside Catholic web site.

Jennifer begins,
Of all the things I remember about the Texas March for Life in Austin last January, the memory that stands out the most is the look on the faces of the counter-protesters who followed us along Congress Avenue and down to the capitol that frosty morning. When I glanced over to see the source of the epithets that were being screamed at us, I met the eyes of one young woman wearing a black bandana over the bottom half of her face. She happened to look over and meet my gaze, and in her eyes I saw one thing: hatred.

I was caught off guard when my gut response to her rage-filled glare was one of sympathy. In fact, I realized as she turned away to continue yelling angry pro-choice slogans that I knew the source of the rage behind her eyes and had even felt it recently. [see here for full article]
 She offers an insightful understanding of how our culture has gotten to a place where some women can look with rage upon others who want all human life to be cherished and protected.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photographs of the March For Life, 2010

Here are various pictures from the March for Life, January 22, 2010, that I took with my camera yesterday at the March in Washington, DC.

Update: to see examples of media coverage of the event as well as video taken by individual people at the March, see Jill Stanek's blog.

May the day come soon when we no longer choose to destroy precious human lives in the womb. And please may we pray often for spiritual and physical healing and reconciliation of women who have had abortions and are suffering. To learn about how abortion has affected the lives of women (and men) who have lost children through abortion, see the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.

All photographs taken by Scott D. Johnston, copyright 2010. Permission granted for use with attribution.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Absence of Heartfelt Concern or Genuine Compassion? Which Do we Practice in Our Own Lives?

While at my job (caring for the elderly in their home), I sometimes am exposed to more daytime television than I would otherwise desire as my clients tune in. I bring a book for times I am not busy, but the TV can't be avoided when it is on.

Tyra Banks (former supermodel turned TV personality) has a daytime TV show. Today on the Tyra Banks Show (I feel strange just writing that phrase!), I witnessed something I want to comment about. A teenage prostitute was a guest on the show. This girl, age 18, has been a prostitute since she was 14. She was first molested at age 9. She is still doing this--she claims by her choice--and doesn't believe she is likely to live beyond age 22.

I don't know what I could say about the awful awful situation this girl is in, and the horrendous reality that she sees no other way of life for herself. One's heart wishes you could somehow rescue her from her plight. Please pray. Pray for all women and girls who sell their bodies, by force or by choice, that somehow the grace of Christ would break in and set them free.

But I do want to say something about how Tyra interacted with this poor girl. I don't claim to know Tyra Bank's heart. And I don't know much about her otherwise. However, the manner in which she engaged this girl in a conversation about her life while taping the show was disturbingly detached. Sure, there was a model's smile, and the fashionable questions about how do you feel about such-and-such? But behind the smile and the questions about feelings there seemed to me to be a lack of serious concern for the whole person--a lack of a deeply human interest in the full human being in pain there before her. And this is terribly sad to see. There was a disconnect beneath the surface connection.

This is an example, I am sorry to say, of what I blogged about earlier. There is something deeply, horribly wrong with our essential quality as human persons if we can be in the presence of a terribly hurting and wounded person and yet not be able to break out of our own world of personal concerns and interests. A humane and civilized culture should be populated with people who respond with real compassion to the suffering of others.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are We Becoming Less Able to Connect to Other People?

Here is something I am concerned about. . . Are we citizens of the United States of America gradually as a society becoming more and more self-enclosed as individuals, each of us in our own little hermetically sealed worlds? Are we becoming less able on a person-to-person level to "connect" on a deep level with our fellow human beings?

Sadly, I suspect we are.

I hope I am wrong about this, but in my observation, younger adults today seem less capable of truly opening themselves up to the inner personal worlds of other people than perhaps was the case, say, 20 years ago. I don't mean a mere superficial connection, but something deeper and more significant.

Now, I suspect that this has always been a weakness of American society. But, nonetheless, I think it may be getting worse.

Why do today's teens and twentysomething adults seem to be so solipsistic in the way they travel the journey of life? Well, in part (I wouldn't claim to have anything like a full answer to this), perhaps it has to do with how today's American culture is such that it provides the conditions in which a young person's life can very easily be extremely self-centered and excessively self-involved.

Think about it. We can now control almost every waking moment of the day to a remarkably large degree so that we are constantly bathed in a universe of our own personal preferences. If we want to live this way, seldom do we have to endure moments not filled with some sort of pleasurable diversion of our own choosing. And it is largely technology that has made this possible. Computers and the internet, cell phones, mp3 players, video games, etc., are changing some of us into persons who do not know what it is like not to have idle moments always accompanied by our favorite music, favorite games, internet surfing, messaging, etc. We are seemingly masters of our own interior worlds. In other words, our inner experience of life as human persons is more and more filled with self--with being able to please our desires in some way during large stretches of our days. Our lives are like private movies accompanied by sound tracks of our own personal choosing.

So, we go through the day listening to music or radio, texting, surfing, or watching our favorite TV shows (which we record on DVR so we can watch them exactly when most convenient), etc. Ironically, we are often around other people, but we have no significant human connection with them. We are protagonists in a one-man show. The people physically near us for so much of our day might as well be on another continent. We rarely open a space for others to "break-in" to the carefully self-controlled sound track of our personal lives.

We have ready access to amazing technology that enables easy person-to-person communication. But it seems, as we are more "wired" electronically and thus able to text a friend any time of day no matter where he is on the planet, we are more and more distant from the human beings around us. We are islands, or ships, moving on long ocean voyages, crossing paths, but each ship is going to its own private destination.

I believe we are becoming as a society even less able than in the past--especially young people--to have truly significant and meaningful interpersonal connections with other persons. We may relate to many people in a day, but it is often very shallow, insignificant, detached. If we do communicate to people we care about and have more significant relationships with, it is frequently in a manner that we control--when we want and in the manner we want.

Are we (especially young Americans) losing the so-important human ability to "connect" to other human beings on a genuinely heart-to-heart level?

Because we can keep ourselves so amused and occupied by a running soundtrack of our choosing, I fear we can only dimly recognize the incredible depths of meaning and power of interpersonal relations of which the human person is capable. We think the high degree of control over our immediate conscious environment gives us great freedom. But do we consider that in reality, this is making us less human, less persons who can relate to others on a real and profound level, and more like automatons? Can we, any more, grasp the value and nuance of the authentic interior world of another human person? Can we truly connect heart-to-heart, spirit-to-spirit? Do we notice when we are merely talking at others or tuning them out, paying more attention to an ongoing effort to constantly satisfy our own interior desires to be entertained and pleasantly diverted?

We should be on guard for the person-diminishing scourge of solipsism and ask ourselves, do we really listen to others, do we really want to know them, do we want to serve others more than ourselves? And it should, as so often, be clear that we must be always begging our Savior for the many graces we need to turn away from a life of self-enclosure and instead open the door of our hearts to others. Let us try to diminish our preoccupation with tweaking the soundtracks for our own lives and permit other persons the opportunity to play songs of their choosing on the stage of our souls.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Talking to Kids Alone is Not Enough to Instill Good Habits; or, The Fantasy of Reform Through Mere Conversation

While I was visiting my mother at Christmas, I happened to catch a glimpse of one of those made for TV movies (don't know what it was called) that follow a predictable plan: nice family with naughty (in this case, orphan boys who become adopted by the family at the end) children. Mom and Dad have a number of serious conversations with said difficult children about life and the errors of their ways. After a time (a few weeks) the children realize, epiphany-like, how naughty they have been and make a dramatic turnaround. They live happily ever after.

Perhaps this makes for a nice tidy two hour Hallmark Channel movie that fits a stereotyped ideal of, "if only the troublesome kids had someone to sit them down and explain things they would be fine." But, it does not bear much resemblance to real life because it does not fit with the reality of human nature and how we truly become better human beings.

Children (and adults too) who behave badly (especially if we are talking about kids older than toddlers) do so because they have developed certain bad habits. Bad habits (or, "vices") are not made instantly. They become ingrained and more set into place over a period of time. To reverse a bad habit a child must replace his vices with virtues (good habits). You cannot simply subtract a vice from a person's character without instilling a virtue as its replacement. And you cannot instill a virtue instantly through talking.

Developing good habits takes time, repetition, persistence, and good will, along with the firm, consistent and loving help of others (parents especially).

Helping a child to grow in virtue must involve much more than mere talk. Conversation is helpful. But it only has a supportive role. Talking itself does not instill virtue. The good behavior must be actually practiced and repeated. Over time, the child who develops the good habit of desiring to act well, intending to do so, willing to do so, and then in fact consistently doing so--without difficulty--has acquired a virtue.

It can be compared to sports. Take karate (which I did for a couple years as a teen; my Dad earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do karate). Karate includes learning how to punch and kick in certain ways and learning forms--sequences of specific martial arts moves precisely choreographed in traditional, set patterns. If you want to learn to punch properly, an instructor at some point is going to have to come over and place his hands on you and show you how to move. The same goes for each position of a form. Your body has to learn how to correctly assume each stance, how to execute each kick and punch. Learning to do so takes physical practice with guidance by others until it becomes an ingrained habit that your body "knows." When you become good, you can do the forms, kicks, and punches properly and with relative ease (at least without struggling). No matter how much talent you have it cannot happen instantly or automatically. And, you can't learn karate just by an instructor describing things to you while you do nothing. You have to physically practice--you have to do karate--time and time again until you learn it and become competent at it.

Virtues, or habits of good actions, are similar. While sports skills become gradually ingrained into your body through expertly guided practice, virtues become gradually ingrained into your soul through wisely guided practice.

Imagine how silly the idea would be to think that the karate kid could become an amazing karate wiz merely by Mr. Myogi talking to him with no accompanying practice at all--no waxing, or sanding, or painting, or anything. Just talk. Ridiculous, no? Same with virtue. It is simply not how human beings work to imagine that a child (or anyone) could transform bad patterns of behavior into lasting good ones just by listening to someone else talk. This is not how a virtue becomes ingrained into the soul. It is contrary to our basic human nature.

So the next time you see one of those idealized, fantasy TV movie moments where Mrs. wonderful has a real "heart-to-heart" conversation with naughty Johnny and then, magically, Johnny becomes a good boy, roll your eyes. Life just does not work this way. Let's leave the fantasy of reform through mere conversation  where it should stay--in fantasy-land.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Sexting" Shows Failure of Radical Feminist Movement

There is a horrible phenomenon going on among American teenagers. It is called "sexting." This is where someone takes a nude photo (probably with a cell phone) of themselves and then sends it by cell phone message to another person, presumably a member of the opposite sex in whom the sender is either interested or is dating.

The consequences of this can be devastating, even to the point of suicide, such as happened with this 13 year old girl.

So many questions surround this. One is do parents have a clue about this? Another is how has radical feminism contributed to creating an environment where this is now possible on a large scale?

How has our society gotten to the point where a large number of teens, including those considered good kids, would even consider sending nude photos of themselves to other kids? This is not merely a function of technology being available (i.e. cell phones). I am quite sure that a mere 20 years ago, kids would never have been open to doing this in such large numbers as they apparently are today.

One of the bad ideas that has emerged from radical feminism is that if women choose of their own accord to embrace sexually provocative activities (e.g. provocative dress, pole dancing, nude photos, etc.), they can thereby "own" more completely their own sexuality. By "owning" their sexuality through acting out sexually, they supposedly somehow deplete the sexual control that men can assert. Somehow, some women have convinced themselves that by this sort of taking back of their sexuality, they can equalize the sexual power game between men and women. No longer will men have the advantage.

This line of thought is utter foolishness. And the fact that it is is tragically demonstrated by the suicides of teen girls (the girl above is not the only one) after they could no longer endure the humiliation by their peers after sexting a photo that got sent (of course) to others they had not intended to see it.

Rather than neutralizing or equalizing sexual power with men, this sort of behavior only makes women the agents of their own further sexual degradation. It makes them agents of their own abuse by men who most want to abuse them. They are handing themselves on a silver platter to exactly the sort of men who want to use and abuse women as mere objects.

But hey, let's just keep on selling sexually suggestive fashions to ten year old girls! Let's dress up 7 year olds in pageants like they are 20-year-olds flaunting their bodies. Let's have school counselors tell teens they can do what they want sexually as long as they are "ready" and they do it "safely." Let's have music videos and TV shows that display younger and younger girls flaunting themselves as sex objects. Let's have special web sites set up by Planned Parenthood specifically for teens that give explicit directions on perverse sexual techniques. Let's have school health classes that instruct, in a clinically neutral manner, how to do certain sexual things "safely" (if you are ready, of course).

The dark spirit behind a strand of radical feminism that is so misguided as to encourage women and girls to flaunt themselves as sex objects is part of the reason sexting is now common. It is merely another form, using technology, of the flaunting that is downright approved by radical feminism as part of the quest to "take back ownership" of their sexuality.

But this whole idea is absurd--that one could "take back" one's sexuality by degrading it and cheapening it.

One does not gain ownership of something by giving it away easily as though it were worth nothing to begin with. The most vile men--the sort who do not care to relate to women as whole persons but only want to use them as sexual objects for their own pleasure--I'm sure, do not look upon a woman strutting herself sexually as "empowered." They look upon her as an easy target, readily handing over to him exactly what he wants with little effort. And I'm sure such men are only too happy to let her believe the silly fiction that by handing herself over by her own choice to be used sexually as an object she is becoming more sexually empowered. Ridiculous. But, so long as she thinks this, she will convince herself not only to continue letting herself be used sexually as though her sexuality were worth nothing, she will tell herself she is happy in so doing. And the vile man smiles and thinks to himself, "What a deal! I can treat her like worthless dirt and she comes back smiling for more! Wow! Hurray for women's liberation!"

Among those teens who are sexting, I wonder which gender--boys or girls--sense somewhere in their hearts that by doing this they are making themselves potential targets for abuse? Thanks radical feminism. You have done such a great job that teen boys can now get girls to deliver sexually explicit photos to them simply by asking! Thank goodness these girls have become "empowered," or they might be easy targets for becoming sexually objectified and treated as things rather than as whole persons.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What Place, Reverence For Our Elderly? A New Year's Resolution?

Perhaps this might offer some food for thought if you are inclined to make New Year's resolutions. . . .

I was thinking today of the place that American culture gives to (or, fails to give) the elderly. And it dismays me how poorly American culture in general treats those among us who are aged.

Though there are many good and beneficial things about America and what our nation has given the world, this falls under the category of a negative.

Asian cultures, historically (perhaps the younger generations in Asia are also letting this slip), were highly respectful and reverent toward their oldest family members. The elderly are greatly respected, honored, and appreciated in traditional Asian society.

How does American culture treat the elderly today? Basically, it ignores them. It is indifferent. It treats them like an afterthought.

Why? Many reasons, I'm sure. But certainly one significant reason is our excessive worship of everything young and youthful. Now, youthfulness has several good attributes. But it also has negative attributes that are gradually tempered with the coming of age and wisdom. Do we know this anymore as a society? Do we care? We go out of our way to highlight the ideas and energy of the young. But do we also have interest in the wisdom and experience of the aged--interest that is more than mere humoring?

In light of this I am reminded of the Old Testament. How did ancient Middle Eastern cultures regard the elderly? In the Old Testament view of the world it seems as though the respect and reverence that a family had for its eldest patriarch would continue to increase up to the point of death. The time just before death would be the point at which the most high regard would be given to an aged father of the family.

Consider the scene in Genesis 49, the death bed of Israel (Jacob). In this and similar Biblical death-bed scenes the family would gather around. The father would give a coveted blessing. On such occasions the respect and honor given by the family to the dying elderly person would be at its highest.

In stark contrast to this, do we go out of our way to honor our elderly as they lay dying? Sure, we spend money on funerals and say nice things after they die. But, given a situation in which we can reasonably anticipate that death is nearing, how do we show our love and respect to them before they die? Do we go out of our way to gather around?--To go to their bedside and be with them? To pray with them and honor them and accompany them respectfully as they pass from this life to the next?

I work now with the elderly, as I have in the past (on the oncology ward of a Naval hospital where I helped care for a number of elderly, dying patients). And it seems to me that the norm now in American culture is almost the opposite of the Biblical model. We give all our attention to the young and the potential of youth. We worship the god of youthfulness. As people age, get beyond middle age, retire, and become elderly, our society pays them less and less attention to the point of near-total indifference. Then finally, they die alone--unaccompanied, unloved, unnoticed. It happens every day in hospitals and houses and care facilities all over America. Of course there are wonderful exceptions to this. But this norm of neglect is all-too-common, and, I fear, increasing.

If we take our commitment to our Christian faith seriously, we have to do what we can to love, honor, and respect the elderly in our own families and in our society at large. We should pray that our loved ones do not die alone. Seriously. If it seems at all in the realm of possibility, please consider praying that you (and other loved ones) might be present at the side of an elderly member of your family (especially someone who is now alone) at his or her time of death. It is a great act of love to hold the hand of the dying, tell them you love them, that Jesus loves them, and to give them the dignity of not dying alone. The pain it may cause us to do so is secondary to the love and reverence given to them.