Friday, August 04, 2017

Why I wrote another book

I guess I’m still learning how to use a personal blog for promotional purposes (as I’ve said before), so here I am a good nine months after the release date to let everyone know that I had another book published! Yessir, in November of 2016 Tumblar House of Los Angeles released my book From Afar, a fictionalized account of the journey of the Magi.

Wait – the Magi? Those three guys on camels that hang about the edges of Nativity sets? The people remembered on or about the Epiphany (traditionally January 6th)? Why write about them?

First of all, because it’s been a long-held dream of mine. I’ve studied ancient times, particularly the Hellenistic period, and the sparse account of the Magi has always intrigued me. The account given in the 2nd chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t even provide names or number how many there were – it simply says “astrologers” arrived “from the East”. All the rest of the traditional trappings, such as the fact that there were three of them, and they were named Melchior, Gaspar (or Caspar), and Balthazar , their countries of origin (Persia, India (or Armenia), and Arabia), are all cultural accretions. In fact, there have been so many legends and tales wound around the Magi that the “facts of the case” have been nearly forgotten. People have looked at the Magi through the lens of salvation history, assuming that the mysterious visitors understood things that were only fully understood decades or centuries later (such as the fact that the newborn Babe was in fact God Himself.) They forget that these visitors, whoever and however many they were, came at the beginning of the story, and were only seeking the King of the Jews, for whatever reason, and however they understood that.
Thus, my purpose in writing the story was to strip away all the legendary accretion and examine the Magi as they were: scholars and seekers of wisdom of the early 1st century AD who would have probably operated out of the assumptions of Hellenistic polytheists. I wrote the story with an eye to addressing two main questions: what did these men see in the skies that impelled their journey, and why would they wish to seek the King of the Jews, anyway?
The first of these questions has been the source of rich speculation through the centuries, but I chose to use the research of Rick Larson from his site as my point of departure. I’ve learned that his conjecture is but one of several, but since nobody really knows, I figured they were as good a guess as any. The website doesn’t give the full presentation – you have to drop the $10 on the DVD for that – but it’s good research, if you’re interested.
The second question is the less obvious one, again because we tend to view the Epiphany event through the lens of what followed: the life of Christ, His sacrificial death, and His redemption of the world. In fact, it is in light of this that we see the central role of the Jewish people in history (as He said, “Salvation is from the Jews.”) But that perspective was anything but obvious in the 1st century Hellenistic world. Sure, the Jews were ancient, but they were also peculiar and made questionable citizens. Most importantly, in a world that measured people and gods by standards such as political and military power, the Jews weren’t very impressive. They barely had a homeland, had no king to call their own, and were scattered throughout empires ruled by others.  So this opens the question of why these mysterious wise men (or anybody) would care about the King of the Jews.
So that’s where the story begins: with three friends who are men of their times, but are each searching for something greater.  I address the question of what they saw in the skies, and how that ties to the Jews and their mysterious foretold King, and how the journey begins. I make use of elements of the legendary framework, but the main purpose is to get the reader to empathize with the Magi. The truth is, the cultural and religious atmosphere of the Hellenistic period had many parallels to our own. People were making up their own morality and using whatever gods they could find to justify it, violence and other immorality were common, cynicism was rampant (in fact, the original Cynics were a Hellenistic school of philosophy), and politics was seen as the most important thing. I admit: it is an adventure story (because I love writing adventure stories), but I try to flesh out the humanity of these searcher and those who travel with them. They encounter many dangers during the journey, because the Hellenistic times were dangerous, and each has an opportunity to turn aside from the quest, but they all stay true until the end.
The trickiest part of the whole story was the encounter of the Magi with the Holy Family in Bethlehem. Since this has been the subject of so much bad art over the years, I wanted to avoid syrupy sentimentalism, yet still wanted to retain the spirit of reverence that would have been part of the unexpected meeting. I tried to convey a spirit of “slow uncovering”, as the Magi even approach the door of the hut with mixed feelings (“Has the House of David fallen so far as this?” one muses), yet once they’re inside and meet Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus, they find their questions answered and a greater wonder than even their wildest imaginings. I hope I conveyed both the humanity and holiness of the Holy Family, as well as both the curiosity and reverence of the Magi.
The book was reviewed at the CatholicUnderground and at Martha’s Bookshelf. There was an article run in the Michigan Catholic, which is more about me as an author than about the book. It is fiction, so if you’re looking for scholarly research about who the Magi might actually have been, you’ll have to wait for Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s  upcoming book on the topic (which is excellent, and I will review here when it’s released.)  It is available on Amazon and at the Tumblar House website.

My greatest hope for the book is that modern readers will identify with the Magi and their search – what they lacked, what they hoped to find, and how much it cost them to find it. If anyone is encouraged in their personal quest by the story, then I will have achieved my goal.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Confessions of a recovering activist

As I approach old age and look back on my life, the more clearly I can see how little my indignation and outrage have ever accomplished.

If that seems like a strange thing to meditate upon, understand that I consider such things in light of what some might consider a life of activism in the public arena. There are many causes out there; for me it's been pro-life work, the protection of human life from conception to natural death. Nor do I consider this an unworthy cause - in fact, I can find few more important ones in our current cultural and political environment. It is not the cause or the strategy that I'm reconsidering, but the tactics. I'm coming to realize that in all my activities spanning decades, the ones that were motivated by indignation and outrage, and executed in strident activism, were the least effective.

This seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. After all, aren't indignation and outrage the fuel for effective public activism? Isn't that how things are done? Raise "awareness" (whatever that is), provoke indignation, and encourage outrage as the force to align wills to effect political and social change.  I've seen this pattern offered as the formula for success in many venues, including the pro-life movement.

One problem is that indignation and outrage make poor foundations for lasting change, partly because they're so transient - like all emotions, they fade over time. Maintaining a certain level of indignation is like feeding an addiction: you need more and more stimulation to attain the same result. Also, outrage-driven activism often simply spawns outrage-driven response, until the discourse turns into a win/lose contest that often loses sight of the importance of the core issue. We can never admit that "they" have a point, because that would be yielding ground to the enemy.

But most of all, I've observed that activism driven by indignation and outrage simply doesn't work. I remember a pro-life colleague of mine boasting of how he accosted the staffer of a prominent pro-abortion politician at a public event. My colleague ended up screaming in the man's face about how vile and damnable the politician's stand was before storming off in high dudgeon. This was related to me as if it had been a major victory and evidence of what a courageous pro-life warrior this colleague was; all I could think was that he'd accomplished nothing other than to confirm in the staffer's mind what unreasonable radicals pro-lifers were.

This is an extreme example, but it seems to encapsulate the problem with outrage-driven activism. It seems to make short-term gains in the sense of setting back "opponents", but in the long term it often works against the goal it purports to work for. The payback seems satisfying - the administration conceded the point, the official apologized for the lapse, the staffer was rendered speechless, or whatever - but the gains are superficial or short-lived.

It seems to me that the root of strident activism is impatience. We want tangible, measurable results now, and will push until we get them. But this goes against even personal experience. Looking back over my life, I can see many times that my immediate wishes were thwarted, only to discover later that things would not have turned out as I'd wished, or there were factors in that situation that I was unaware of which made my choice imprudent. In fact, most of the regrets I have in my life stem from decisions I made and things I said in impatience.

At the root of impatience, in turn, is lack of trust in God. Impatience is what caused Ishmael and the Golden Calf. Impatience cause the destruction of Jerusalem (twice). Impatience got Jesus crucified - He just wasn't demonstrating his Messiahship quickly enough. Impatience is us seizing the reins of a situation to take charge because God isn't working quickly enough for us.

I'd always been a bit mystified that one of the attributes of the Messiah was that "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street." (Is 42:2) I've come to understand that this means he would not be a rabble-rouser, seeking to goad people to indignation and outrage. By modern standards this would make him a weakling, ineffective or uncommitted. In our activism we imagine ourselves more fervent than Jesus Himself, more sensitive to the needs of the suffering, more willing to effect change than He is. This is a common complaint of modern times: if God is so omnipotent, why is there so much suffering in the world? Either He's not powerful enough to stop it, or doesn't care enough to get off His divine duff and get active.

If we trust what the Lord has revealed about Himself, we know this view is flawed. Nobody is more aware of human suffering than Jesus is. Every struggle of an unborn child seeking to escape the vacuum aspirator, every moan of a sex slave kidnapped from her family and imprisoned in a filthy brothel, every tear of a child whose family has been torn apart by the selfishness of her parents, every hunger pang of every forgotten old person in an understaffed care facility - Jesus hears them all. But He is patient, and awaits when the Father puts all enemies under His feet. He's the one who encourages us to work to rectify all those injustices, but we need to follow His example of perseverance and patience. It takes patience to work diligently but be willing to entrust the outcomes to the Lord, even if that means we don't get to see what they are. That's what it boils down to: if we work, will we insist on seeing the outcome of our efforts, or will we entrust the final outcomes to the Lord?

I wish I could say that coming to understand all this has fundamentally changed me, and I've given up stridency in favor of steady, peaceful, trusting effort. In truth, I've only begun to recognize the problem, and how much I'll have to change to become like Jesus. It's humbling to realize how much of my indignation and outrage stems not from my charity and strength, but from my character flaws. But knowing the problem is the first step toward seeing it resolved, is it not? May God grant me the peace and patience to reflect Him to a darkened and dying world. That is the only activism that ultimately endures.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Making a home

When Ignatius Press published my novel The Accidental Marriage, I anticipated that at least some of the reaction would be negative. After all, the premise was unusual to the point of shocking – a man and a woman, both of whom consider themselves gay, conceiving a child and then marrying for practical reasons, only to find that the relationship they share growing deeper and richer as they face life's trials. It never becomes a romance, but it is a story of deep friendship and commitment, and self-sacrificial love. I knew that would hit a few nerves.

And strike it did. Though most of the reaction was positive, some was negative to the point of scornful. I was not surprised by those who reflexively piled on because the story refused to bow to the modern idol of homosexuality, not portraying it's “gay” protagonists as super-human heroes leading the race to an enlightened future, but rather as sinful and sin-damaged humans in need of hope and redemption that can't be found in perverted sexual expression.

But what somewhat surprised me was what garnered even more scorn than that: the idea that work to make and keep a home was demeaning, especially when (oh, scandal!) a woman did it. To judge from the reactions of some, the story was a deplorable apologia for female subservience, some kind of glamorization of the Ozzie and Harriet days (those useful targets!) Even some who didn't object to the same-sex portrayal were hesitant about that.

This was interesting because I deliberately set out to not write a story that did that. When the book opens, both protagonists, Scott and Megan, work. When Megan is laid off, she attempts to look for work, but economic and other conditions preclude her finding any. She and Scott share his apartment on a roommate basis, splitting the work evenly. When she moves in, she cleans his grody bathroom, not because she's a stereotypical woman and he a stereotypical man, but because he's a thirty year old adolescent who needs to grow up (a critical driver of the plot). When she can't find a job, she turns her hand to the available work, squaring away the household, which Scott has kept in adolescent disarray. But he still helps, both with the housework and with the baby when she comes. If looked at objectively, the household arrangement in the story is very modern and egalitarian, considering the circumstances.

Clearly certain readers weren't seeing this, as they sneered at the idea of Megan doing any work around the house (apparently not noticing that Scott was doing work as well). The derision was usually a rehash of tired feminist arguments, but the more it went on, the more apparent it became that the real acrimony was for the idea that homemaking was legitimate work.

This caught my attention. Having raised six children, I'm keenly conscious that building and running a home is serious work that needs constant attention. A home, understood as the loving order that is brought to the physical surroundings of a dwelling, is critical for raising children to properly love themselves and those around them. Nothing can substitute for a home – no educational institution, no community effort, no government programs. Homes are necessary for people to be loved and to learn love, and they are not built without effort – diligent, conscious effort. Furthermore, it takes everyone to pitch in – not just Mother, but Father and children as they get old enough to take on responsibility. Around our house, even though Ellen was a stay-at-home mother and homemaker, she was far from the only one who made the home. Being a self-employed consultant with a home office for the majority of our childraising years gave me plenty of chances to make the home as well, and our children were taught the same. None of this was seen as us “doing Mom's work”, but as everyone pitching into the common effort of building and maintaining our common home. In that regard, our household was a pinnacle of feminist sensibility.

Or it would have been, if equal work about the home were truly the feminist desideratum. But the more the contemptuous commentary piled up, the more obvious it became that the offense was not that Megan did housework, but that the home needed work at all. Apparently the simple, necessary effort required to have a home was considered demeaning drudgery, unworthy of attention by anyone of consequence. Perhaps it could be contracted out to some service firm, but was definitely beneath the dignity of anyone worth anything. Or if not that, show the man doing it. But to have a woman doing it? Why, that would be downright stereotypical!

This concerned but did not surprise me, for it reflects a societal attitude of contempt toward the idea of a home. In a time when outsourcing your life is a societal trend, the idea that anyone should expend effort to make a more loving environment for anyone else seems passé. Particularly offensive, it seems, is any kind of work that would be demeaning, such as cleaning bathrooms or washing dishes. Yet, such work is necessary if there is to be a home at all, because there's more to effort than getting a job done. Direct effort by a person on behalf of another person sends a message: specifically, you're worth it. I love you and my work for you is my gift to you. Here, let me show you how to love your sister (or whoever) by giving your work for them. That's what building a home is – and that's what no economic or commercial substitute will ever be able to replace.

The fact that a portrayal of the work necessary to build a home engenders scorn is disturbing. Either people are not aware that homes need deliberate, constant effort, or they think that such effort is scut work, unfitting for mature and dignified people. In either case, it forebodes a social environment when there will be no homes. I think we're beginning to see this, as people live their lives elsewhere – work, the club, the gym, the restaurant, wherever. They have houses and apartments but no homes. Professional are hired for difficult or unpleasant jobs, such as raising children. As I read the negative reviews about my story, it occurred to me that some of the reviewers may have never seen a home, and only know of them through negative portrayals in books and films. But humans require homes – they're the center of our existence. Without a home, we have no center, no grounding, no place to, well, come home to. And sadly, we're seeing situations where people have no center, living life on the peripheries, be it their work or their vacation condo or their regular bar.

Ironically, that's where The Accidental Marriage begins. Neither Scott nor Megan have true homes. Scott has a bachelor pad with a roommate, which is how he's lived for years. Megan is involved in an abusive relationship, in effect a living doll to her partner, who likes to dress her up and show her to her friends. Both Scott and Megan have a place to sleep, but neither has a home. It's only when circumstances throw them together do they begin to build one. It's not conscious or planned, in fact it's somewhat accidental, but it grows out of them loving each other and expressing that love in productive work. The fruit of that work is the home they build together.

Building a home is a noble and honorable thing. Homes do not accidentally happen, they are built by expressing love in works of service. There is no task that is beneath anyone, if it is undertaken in love and completed diligently. No man, woman, or child was ever diminished by working to build a home.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The World is Listening

There has recently been a bit of – ah – discussion in the world of Catholic online presence about what constitutes acceptable speech by writers known publicly to be Catholic. Much of the discussion I've read has taken place along the axis of personal freedom of expression vs. what is proper and suitable for people who are published in Catholic periodicals. While I doubt that anything I say is going to bring that dispute any closer to resolution, I wanted to share from my personal experience an aspect that isn't getting much attention in the discussion; specifically the aspect of evangelical witness.

I was raised in a home that had what you might call a high propriety level – my father had been raised a Southern gentleman and rarely used “strong language” at all, and certainly not around ladies. I followed suit, but when I left home it was into the military service, specifically one of the floating ones, where my immature and malleable personality was constantly exposed to people who swore like, well, sailors. Initially I began to follow suit, but since this was also a time when I was seeking to more consistently live my Christian commitment, it wasn't long before my newly acquired vocabulary faced the question, “Is this kind of speech honoring Me?” Since it wasn't yet an ingrained habit, it was an easy one to drop, and I continued through my career speaking as I'd learned at home.  This differentiated me from nearly all my shipmates, but I never thought twice about it. I didn't consider myself as “The Sailor who Didn't Swear”, nor did I dream of censuring my shipmates for their salty language. I simply lived, and spoke, in an environment where foul language came as naturally as breathing – I was just careful not to pick up any of those habits.

It was a while before I began to notice that my unconscious abstention was impacting those around me. I was astonished once when a shipmate next to me swore at something and then promptly apologized – to me! I was hardly such a fool to think that I could stop sailors from swearing! But I began to notice that they did swear less when speaking with me. I also noticed that if I was alone on the ship (which was often), some would seek me out just to converse – conversation that was almost devoid of foul language, no matter what the shipmate's verbal habits normally were. I began to see that talking with me was, for some of them, something like a verbal oasis, or a calm patch in the midst of the steady gale of profanity that was normal conversation aboard the ship. The conversations were rarely about anything noteworthy – how things were going at home, or hopes for their next duty station, or how their career was progressing, that sort of thing. Just casual talk, but it was conversation, not a stream of profanity.

It took me a while to perceive that my verbal habits were to these men a signal, a public and audible statement that I was different. Speaking with me could be at the least a gentler experience than dealing with the sandpaper edge of profanity-laden conversation. Furthermore, the change in the nature of the medium usually impacted the content. Speech thick with profanity is more commonly used to express criticism, cynicism, and contempt. One can express those things without cursing, but it's more difficult. But mostly I think it was simply the absence of the foul language that was a relief, like breathing fresh air after being trapped in a smog-laden valley for months or years.

The recognition that I was different in that way led to recognizing that I was different in other ways, too – specifically that I was a Christian who sought to live my faith seriously. Some may have expected that to be expressed as censure of their verbal habits, but when I didn't do that, they got to wondering just how I managed to avoid picking up this most obvious and contagious aspect of my environment. Nobody was proud of the fact that they swore, as evidenced by where and how they sought to curtail it (e.g. when they were trying to impress some girls, or around children.) I sensed that everyone wished they could swear less than they did, yet the habit had them in its clutches. They would have thought it was inevitable, but there I was (and a few others aboard with me), not succumbing to the tidal pull toward toilet mouth. I think it gave them hope. I know it ultimately provided me the opportunity to share with some of them why it was I didn't curse, and where they could find the strength to follow suit, if they wished.

From what I've seen, this aspect of public witness has been missing from the discussion of how we should be speaking. In my experience, even (and perhaps especially) in environments where profanity was not only unsurprising but as common as wall paint, people who do not conform their verbal habits to that environment are distinctive and noteworthy. What they do with that distinction is up to them. If they choose to emphasize how different they are, and how others should follow their example, it might send a different message than if they simply offer an alternative, a quiet witness that speech does not have to be profane to be effective. It may even open doors, as people seek refuge from the rising tide of caustic verbiage found in more and more places. Maybe St. Paul knew what he was speaking of when he says “Let your speech be gracious” (Colossians 4:6), because as I learned, our very patterns of speech can be a channel of grace to those around us – or not.

I realize this goes against the cultural flow, particularly for those who equate profanity with some kind of emancipation. Our speech isn't just about us, what we want to say and how we choose to say it. Our speech is about helping others, hopefully toward grace. Maybe this isn't what is common in popular music, or what's found in popular Broadway musicals, but if we're to be God's people, we need to be conscious of what is forming our speech patterns, and whether what comes out of our mouths is gracious.

Because the world is listening.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Till everyone is blind

Someone I love dearly recently posted a link to an online article, praising it as profound wisdom. When another whom I love also admired the article, I clicked through and read for myself. Sadly, what I found was not wisdom. I found arguments that sounded reasonable, but at the heart of which lay deadly poison. I am so concerned for those whom I love, and for the author of the article (who is but expressing a popular sentiment), that I feel compelled to respond. But I didn't want to do it in bits and pieces in comment boxes, so I'm writing a post of my own.
You can read the column here. The author, ever so gently, excuses the sin of unforgiveness in the name of speaking for justice. She uses the example of Irish pub songs to springboard to the racial tensions in America. The reason this is so wrong is that unforgiveness is a deeper, more pernicious sin than racial injustice or cultural oppression. Unforgiveness can never be excused no matter how noble the rationale, and those who indulge it will ultimately lose all other goods, including justice, as bitterness and hatred consume their minds and souls.
We need to remember that justice is a minimum standard for treatment of others. Ideally, we'll be charitable to each other, but failing that we can be generous, and if we can't manage that perhaps we can be kind, but at the very least we should be just. Of course, it's also true that justice is foundational – without justice, expressions of kindness or generosity ring hollow, empty expressions of sentiment. But if justice does not lead to the higher goods, it remains stunted, a truncated foundation for human relations. Just as foundations were meant to be built upon, not moved into, so justice points to the greatest good, which is charity.
Forgiveness is essential to charity. I cannot be charitable toward someone against whom I am holding a grudge. Neither is forgiveness optional, as if it were some lofty goal that only saints can achieve. As Jesus makes clear in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18), our not forgiving others can get our own forgiveness rescinded. Forgiving as we are forgiven lies at the heart of the central prayer of Christianity. As Peter Kreeft observes, if we refuse to forgive, we speak damnation on our own heads every time we pray. Forgiveness does not negate wrongs (the Unmerciful Servant was truly owed, and justly deserved repayment), and neither does it negate the requirements of justice. But neither does it become optional when a certain victim count has been exceeded. Unforgiveness in the name of an oppressed nation or group or race is merely whitewash, because ultimately all these things are abstractions. Only individuals are moral agents, and individuals are commanded to forgive.
The cruel irony is that while the sin of unforgiveness is excused in the name of promoting justice in some arena, be it political or economic or whatever, bondage to sin is the deepest bondage of all. Ultimately it doesn't matter how “free” you are economically, or how much “justice” you've obtained in the political arena: if you're in thrall to sin, you're a slave. In her column, Ms. Weiss refers to “songs about killing the English” as “a trope, not an emotional reality”, and excuses singing them because “we root for the underdog.” She acknowledges that “hating people is wrong”, but then neuters her own statement by saying that “telling oppressed people to 'stop that hating' doesn't work too well.” Odd how Jesus stood in the midst of a people who'd been oppressed for centuries and told them to do precisely that. Those who did were freed even though the political and economic yoke of Rome remained. Those who refused to remained enslaved in every sense.
The truth is that the “tropes” which Ms. Weiss considers harmless because they are “not an emotional reality” are not harmless at all, but poisonous seeds that have sprouted and borne bitter fruit in Ireland through the generations. Perhaps the parish priests of Ireland tended to excise Matthew 18 from the Mass readings when it came around, or maybe they taught that it didn't apply to the English, or that it was applicable to individuals but not nations. I don't know, but I do know that the Church in Ireland, as well as the Irish people, are now paying a bitter price because the Church there chose to be a cultural institution interested in preserving its power rather than the impoverished Bride proclaiming her Divine Spouse's message of charity – including that difficult part about forgiving. “Tropes” that keep alive unforgiveness are anything but innocent. In Balkan Ghosts, Robert Kaplan recounts how the Serbs commemorated their crushing defeat at the hands of the Turks at Kossovo Polje in 1389:
On June 28, 1988, the year-long countdown to the sixth centenary of Lazar's martyrdom at Kossovo Polje began when his coffin began a tour of every town and village in Serbia...The coffin drew huge, black-clad crowds of mourners at every stop... “Every [Serbian] peasant soldier knows what he is fighting for,” noted John Reed, at the front in World War I. “When he was a baby, his mother greeted him with, 'Hail, little avenger of Kossovo!'” (Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts, p. 38, emphasis added)
Six hundred years.
In light of these “tropes”, this “rooting for the underdog” (which Serbians would certainly consider “rooted in a longing for justice”), does anyone think it coincidence that Slobadan Milosevic was able to appeal to this bitterness lying at the core of the Serbian soul? Does it surprise anyone that these same Serbs are now resisting the flow of refugees across their country – refugees who are victims themselves, and who have no relation to those who oppressed the Serbs – simply because the refugees are Muslim?
Unforgiveness is never innocent. Regardless of the argument used to rationalize it, it always bears poisonous fruit. Dr. Martin Luther King recognized it, which was why he always preached forgiveness alongside justice. Gandhi recognized this, and though the Muslims and Hindus had a record of mutual oppression that went back centuries, and both had suffered under the British occupation, he stood in their midst and dared proclaim, “stop that hating!” (How many heeded his call can be seen in the ongoing violence between Hindus and Muslims.) Unforgiveness never liberates. To hear a powerful testimony to just how innocent those tropes sung in Irish pubs are, listen to Irish poet Tommy Sands' song There Were Roses.

And another eye for another eye, till everyone is blind.”

That's where unforgiveness leads. Period. Those who condemn forgiveness as weakness, who refuse to leave offense behind, who fan the flames of indignation in their breasts in the name of justice, are but chaining themselves more tightly to a crueler master. There is no freedom down that road, only more slavery.

Stop reciting the tropes. Stop that hating. Forgive. It's the only path to freedom – for an individual, a family, a clan, a race, a nation. For Irish and English, black and white, Serb and Turk, Hindu and Muslim – it doesn't matter who. Forgiveness is the only way to freedom. All other paths lead to slavery.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Why I Wrote This Book

 I've obviously been slack on the blog activity of late (not that many would notice), but that's because much of my writing focus has been on the creative side. Since 2012 I've penned four full-length manuscripts, one of which was accepted by the only publisher who has yet dared publish my work. This book, entitled The Accidental Marriage, was released in the autumn of 2014 by Ignatius Press.
But herein, apparently, lies the proof that I am a pitiful excuse for a blogger who doesn't have a clue what personal blogs are for. They are for keeping people informed about what's going on in your life, which would include the fact that you had a book published! Here it is, a year and a half after the book was released, and I've yet to say a single word about the work on my own blog. I've made posts reviewing other books, and had my book reviewed on other blogs, and have even been interviewed on television and radio about the book, but I've yet to use my own blog to comment on my own work.
So, a bit late out of my own gate, here's the story behind The Accidental Marriage. It's a short book, just over 200 pages, with a fast-moving plot and only a few major characters. The protagonists, Scott and Megan, are friends who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he's an engineer at a tech start-up and she's a clerk in the city office. They both consider themselves gay, have respective partners, and are good friends who meet for lunch from time to time to share their struggles. The story opens with Megan burdened by the latest wish of her overbearing partner Diane: to have a baby. Obviously this requires a man's participation at some point, and though a sperm bank would serve, funds are tight and cheaper options are attractive. Seeing a way to help, Scott blithely offers to donate sperm to the cause with no strings attached. After a few tries, eventually the donation succeeds and Megan becomes pregnant.
Then things start to come apart. Diane turns on Megan, now seeming to despise both her and the unborn child. Her deteriorating performance at work causes Megan to lose her benefits, including health insurance, and Scott offers to assist by getting her on his policy. This forces a rupture in his already-strained relationship with his partner Greg, as well as the most startling adjustment of all: in order to get Megan on his policy, Scott has to marry her. This they do, merely as an administrative formality. When Megan loses her job and her relationship with Diane totally collapses, Scott offers her a place to live, essentially as a roommate. Scott and Megan work out a simple, mutually beneficial living arrangement that endures even after the birth. They have a little girl, Grace Marie, who is a much-loved addition to their lives.
Then Scott's secure world abruptly flies apart. The tech firm that employs him is secretly bought out, and he loses his job in the midst of severe economic conditions (the story opens in summer of 2009, so the story unfolds in the shadow of the Great Recession.) With no connections or resources in the Bay Area, the couple is forced to return to Scott's small hometown in Michigan simply to survive. Once there, Scott takes a relatively menial job, well below his abilities, just to keep food on the table, and both he and Megan have to grapple with the seeming collapse of all their dreams and intentions for their lives, as well as the additional burden of a baby. Scott finds that the relationships which were so easy and fulfilling when he had a surplus of resources are now chafing and burdensome, hindering him from living the carefree life he wants. Finally he is forced to confront some of the darkest corners of his heart as he struggles with what he is living for, and what matters most to him.
Through these trials Megan and Scott learn more about themselves and each other, and grow in understanding of what it means to be human. Their friendship and commitment deepens even as they question many of the assumptions that have been driving their lives. The story ends on an ambiguous note: both still consider themselves gay, but have a renewed commitment to their life together. They still view their marriage as a formality, but there's a hint that it may deepen in the future. There is hope, but resides completely within the friendship they share.
When The Accidental Marriage came out, it was well received by some, but in other corners it sparked no small amount of controversy and even scorn. Seeing that the protagonists considered themselves “gay”, some took up the book in hopes of it being a sympathetic portrayal of that aspect of their lives. Others approached it in hopes of finding a morality tale that would end in either the bitter reaping of a sown harvest or a dramatic renunciation of sinful lifestyles. Since neither eventuality unfolded, both parties were disappointed, and said so. But many read the story for what it was: a tale of human brokenness and movement toward love. They are the ones who saw most clearly what it was about.
But, since I'm the author, I'm able to explain what others can only guess at. One is the “gayness” issue. This facet of the tale was what generated the most discussion, and the biggest amount of disappointment – in some corners because it sympathetically portrayed characters who considered themselves gay, in other corners because it didn't celebrate their “gayness” enough. But I'm about to let the cat out of the bag here: the fact that Scott and Megan consider themselves gay is a minor plot point, invoked for a reason that has nothing to do with anyone's agenda. There's a sense in which it's almost irrelevant.
What? With “gayness” having such a high chatter quotient in modern society, wouldn't it make sense to exploit that? Sure, if you wanted to write a book about “gayness”. But I didn't. What I wanted to write was a full frontal assault on one of the most dangerous idols of our society, and having Scott and Megan consider themselves gay was a good way to stage the attack.
The idol to which I refer is what I call The Myth of the Everything Relationship, the persistent and unquestioned assumption that there is one relationship out there that can complete, fulfill, and satisfy you. This is epitomized in the concept of the “soul mate” – the mystical party for whom you spend your life searching and who, once found, brings meaning and purpose to your life. This idol is worshiped by gay and straight alike, and has even been enshrined even in Christian circles, with Scriptural imagery and passages used to justify this view of romantic relationships. Even the ancient institution of marriage has been pressed into service of this lie, seen as something subordinate and secondary to romantic fulfillment (as witnessed by the countless songs, stories, and movies that revolve around a married people discovering their soul mates somewhere outside their marriage.) Yet in all my nearly 60 years, I don't think I've found a worse enemy of happiness and virtue than this idol.
I discuss this somewhat in my post A Most Terrible Idol, but when I took up my pen to write a story about how love could, and arguably should, flourish outside the reach of this dangerous illusion, I found myself in a bind: how to portray a love that grew out of the reach of “romance”? How to portray a relationship built on self-giving charity that wouldn't risk invoking the shadow of the “soul mate”? In years gone by, the answer would have been easy: write about a friendship between people of the same sex. But, as Sheldon Vanauken predicted, that gate has been closed by the common acceptance of same-sex romance. But how about if one wrote about two people of the opposite sex who were themselves same-sex attracted? Would not their presumptions about their own “gay” identities serve as sufficient insulation to prevent them “falling in love”, and force them to deal with each other out of straightforward charity? That was my hope, and that was the reason I chose to have Scott and Megan consider themselves gay – not to celebrate or to denigrate that, but to make use of it for a different reason.
That reason was to explore what marriage truly is – not as a culmination or stamp of validity on a mystically preordained romantic relationship (which is what the concept of a soul mate is), but as a permanent intimate relationship focused on supporting each other and any consequent children. As a relationship of sacrificial love that endures despite transient emotional states. As a deep determination to will the good of the other regardless of cost. That's what Scott and Megan discover as they forge a life together – one without sexual or romantic attraction, but with a firm intent to help the other.
Another point that came up in various critiques was that the treatment of the ancillary relationships. The story is mostly told from Scott's perspective, and other parties incidental to both Scott and Megan's lives are given scant treatment, including the partners they have at the opening of the story. The reader isn't given much of Scott's history and almost none of Megan's, and other characters are minor by comparison.
I admit this freely: I deliberately chose not to build up those other characters or explore those relationships. I did this for a couple of reasons, one tactical and one strategic. The tactical reason was that I understand that I'm writing for the “post-Postman”* generation who was raised on video stories and prefers texting because e-mails are too laborious. This is the generation that prefers a movie about Narnia because the books are too tedious. Few anymore relish long, intricately plotted novels with a cast of hundreds, rich character development, and complex nests of relationships. Those who do will be disappointed by the sparse, quick-moving plot of Accidental. For that I make no apologies.
The strategic reason is that a principle of good writing is to not involve too many characters outside the circle of your main one(s). Even adept readers can only follow a handful of characters, and the further out you get from the core protagonist(s), the harder it is to follow the story. Thus, I didn't want to get too far from the main character. Scott and Megan were the first layer out, and everyone beyond was yet further removed. But wait – what? Aren't Scott and Megan the central characters, and layers of relationship counted out from them?
The main character, the party around whom the story revolved, was Grace. The baby. Her presence weaves its way through the story and looms over the lives of her parents, and through them, all the other parties in the book. She is the driving force from the first pages to the last, bending Scott and Megan's lives to her needs. Though the story is told through their eyes (mostly Scott's), they are the secondary characters. Interestingly, the artist who designed the book's cover cottoned to this when he first read the manuscript, which partly explains the “flying baby” motif. He spotted that the driving question of the book was, “Who'll catch the baby?” Grace was brought into existence on a whim, but once she was there, she changed everything.
So there you have the secrets. I figure I wouldn't be sabotaging any sales by making these points so long after the book's release. There are more, but if you want them, you'll have to get the book and read it.

* Read Neal Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Very Much God's Type

Last year, my publisher Ignatius Press took a risk in publishing not one, but two personal conversion stories* - Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler and Not God's Type by Holly Ordway. One reason this was risky is that conversion stories are an iffy genre. Sometimes the “story” takes a back seat to the “conversion”, and they end up as poorly written tales. Or they can be ponderous, too heavy to enjoy, or cloying and syrupy.
Fortunately, these books avoided these pitfalls. Though the authors write from different backgrounds, they're both able storytellers who produce exceptionally readable works in their own distinctive styles. Both begin from total atheism, but Jen Fulwiler's tale traverses ground that may be more familiar to most readers, involving family, career, and the like. Holly Ordway's account involves academia and fencing competition(!). But far from being heavy or syrupy, they both go down like a pint of Strongbow – dry, crisp, and refreshing.
Dr. Ordway's book pulled me in from the first pages. Her youth sounded so much like mine that I felt I'd found a soul sister. I, too, was a nerdy, solitary youngster who retreated into literary worlds. I sojourned with Mole and Rat, as well as Mowgli and Bagheera (who Dr. Ordway doesn't mention, but I'd be surprised if she didn't visit them occasionally), and – of course – Narnia, as well as Middle Earth in time (high school years for me). So though our external life circumstances differed, I felt like we were citizens of the same literary countries.
One thing that especially appealed to me from Dr. Ordway's account was that she valued honesty over comfort – a stand that, ironically, would come back to bite her as the Hound of Heaven drew nearer. But in her early adulthood she considered Christianity irrelevant not primarily out of scorn or disdain, but from a desire to be honest, and not hunt for what she perceived as an “easy out” from the difficulties of life. This made me stop and ponder. My faith history has exposed me to rigorous Christian thinkers like Lewis, Schaeffer, and Kreeft, but that's unusual even for a Catholic. I need to remember that some who reject Christianity are working from the best position they can muster given what they know – sometimes at great personal cost. Such understanding doesn't come easily to me. I'm more likely to bristle defensively or withdraw from someone who is firm in their unbelief, rather than try to engage them honestly.
One example of one who managed this type of engagement well was Holly's fencing coach Josh. The sturdy Bardia of this face-seeking tale, Josh was a committed Christian who was also committed to excellence in his craft. He meets his student Holly in honesty and mutual respect – even though he probably quickly discerned that she didn't respect his faith. He didn't withhold acceptance from her, nor did he make his dealings with her predicated upon her changing to suit him. He responded to her intellectual and moral integrity with integrity of his own. Above all, he was patient. He related to her as a person, not as an evangelization project. He trusted to God to work in His way and His time, knowing that even He respected Holly's choices.
This was very helpful to me, and an example I will probably return to ponder again and again. In my impatience, I am far too prone to want to see observable (by me) “progress” when I'm trying to help someone toward or in the Faith. Josh's example of being a helpful and available friend reminds me that when it comes to the Gospel, we are the message – not so much our arguments or answers or persuasiveness, but our relating to everyone we meet with dignity and respect (not that arguments and answers don't have their place.) Some might say that Josh “brought Holly to Christ”, but I suspect he wouldn't put it that way. He was simply responding to honesty with honesty, and integrity with integrity, answering her questions and letting the Holy Spirit do the bringing.
In one sense, the story has a “happy ending”, with Holly coming not just to Christ but all the way home to the Catholic Church. But before we Catholics get all triumphalist about this, we need to honestly consider the implications of a conversion such as this. Here is a woman who traveled an unusual road at great personal cost. Certainly there is room in the Church for her – but would there be a place in the average parish? Given her history, parish life would be an alien environment. Expecting her to “find her niche” amidst the usual array of parish offerings would be wasteful of her talents and insensitive to her needs. How would one respond to such passionate integrity and truth-seeking? With a place on the Funeral Luncheon Committee? These are questions we need to grapple with if we're serious about reaching the dark and broken culture around us with the light of Christ. If we're wise, we'll listen carefully to people like Holly Ordway regarding how to welcome passionate converts.
Above all, I found Not God's Type to be both challenging and refreshing. I recommend it highly, not just as a good personal story but as an instructive tale for anyone who takes the New Evangelism seriously. Holly took a risk herself, laying bare some of the most personal details of her life, but it is the reader who reaps the benefits. Travel beside her as she discovers to her delight that she, too, is Psyche.

*They also took a risk publishing my book, but that was a different sort of risk.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why we're losing...

...and will continue to lose until something radically changes.
Recently, Ellen and I were at a support group we attend, and were glad to see a member we hadn't seen for a couple of years. However, we were surprised to see him with a woman we didn't know, who he introduced as his bride. The last time he'd attended the group, it had been with his wife – who was another woman. We'd both had some hints that something had changed in their relationship, but were not expecting to see him show up claiming a different woman as his wife.
To make things worse, this support group is based out of a Christian church.
Even worse, the group's purpose is to support and strengthen Christian marriage.
Even worse, the man in question was a pastor.
Think about this for a minute.
Even knowing nothing about the circumstances behind the couple's separation (which we don't), having no idea whose “fault” things were (even if that made any difference), we have a man who claims to not only know the Word of God but to teach it to others acting as if Jesus never spoke these words:
“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one'? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” (Matt 19:4-9)
Even if we charitably assume that the pastor's marriage had enough difficulties to make it intolerable, that still does not explain the “remarriage”. The couple could have separated for the sake of peace, but still respected Jesus' words by not “remarrying”. I don't know what's going on with the wife, but the husband should have known better, especially if he was taking Jesus' words seriously.
Sadly, this situation is all to common in our culture, and puts us all in a place of perplexitas, to use Aquinas' term: a situation with no easy, charitable solution. How should one handle a couple in a “second marriage”, especially under these circumstances? Ask them not to attend out of respect for the integrity of God's word, thus cutting them off from a possible channel of grace? (Not to mention risk being accused of what is to our culture a mortal sin, i.e. being “judgmental”?) Or tolerate their presence at the risk of eroding the authority of God's word? And what will be the long-term effect of this life decision on that man's own integrity and authority? How clearly and firmly is he going to preach on the matter of the Biblical view of marriage with his “second wife” sitting right there in the pew?
When the ancient Israelites started straying into idolatry, they didn't jettison Yahweh – they just let other practices and beliefs creep in to sit alongside their practice of Torah. In fact, I've heard that the warning portion of the First Commandment (“You shall have no other gods before me”) carries the inflection of “in my presence” - or, to use the modern idiom, “in my face”. The meaning is that to honor other gods in Yahweh's presence is to flaunt them before Him. One gets the impression that this double-worship, this state of divided heart, is more detestable to the Lord than outright rejection. This is certainly the sense of Elijah's rebuke: “And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, 'How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.'” (1 Kings 18:21) Yet this is precisely what we have come to accommodate in the Church today, even from leaders: lip service to the Word of God and its authority, yet appealing to the gods of the world when God's Word is too stringent or demanding.
That very week, a group of pastors in the area protested strongly against amending our state's anti-discrimination statute to include “discrimination” against LGBT parties.) Sympathetic as I am to the ideal, it's a rearguard action. We've long since ceded the critical grounds of the battle, with mealy-mouthed accommodation of divorce and remarriage, fornication, abortion, and contraception. Now we have our backs to the gate, fighting to hold the final corner from being taken. Ultimately it's a losing battle, unless and until we obey Jesus' commands in a way that costs us. As long as we pay lip service to obeying Jesus but take short-cuts by way of the paths of other gods when obedience becomes too costly, we will be driven back.
We shouldn't have our backs to the wall. We should be routing the enemy from the field, not just to vindicate our Lord but for the sake of all those poor victims out there who are being deceived into thinking that they can find happiness outside of God's plan for all humanity. They're the ones who are suffering most for our disobedience. Only when we obey all of Jesus' words will we be victorious, and be able to witness with our own lives that even costly obedience is worth every ounce of sacrifice, because it is the only path to freedom and true happiness.

Until then, we will lose.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


I've heard it said that if the world made sense, men would ride sidesaddle. I'm going to up that by claiming that if the world made sense, artists like Tom Doran would be able to quit their day jobs and devote all their time to enriching our literary heritage by writing stories. The world needs more full-time authors like Doran and fewer like – well, like the ones we tend to get.
Besides, if he was writing full time, he might get around to penning a book in a genre I typically enjoy. 
Doran’s first effort, Toward the Gleam, was a thriller involving prominent historical characters. It was a solid first effort, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed even more his second work, Terrapin, which is a mystery – not what I usually choose to read, but I enjoy a well-written one, and Terrapin was certainly that. 
Doran’s newest work, Iota, is another type of story – a gritty wartime prisoner drama. I’ve seen stories like this, and am not sure if they’re prevalent enough to constitute a genre of their own, but they’re not my first choice for reading. However, because Tom Doran is a friend, I decided I’d plunge in anyway.
I’m very glad I did, if only to experience Doran’s increasingly polished writing. Experienced readers will know what I mean when I speak of a story that’s so smooth you don’t even realize you’re reading – you’re just carried along with the story as if you were inside it, living it out. Doran has reached this stage with Iota. Any rough edges (authors know what I mean) are almost unnoticeable and the plot flows smoothly. Nothing seems forced, and the characters do what they do because they are who they are, not because something or other needs to happen in the plot at this point.  As a novel, it is a superior work.
The story itself rotates around Jan Skala, a Czech journalist who is arrested by the Soviets toward the end of WWII and imprisoned in a makeshift prison, a set of open cages set up on the floor of an abandoned abattoir (slaughterhouse). The cages are occupied by a variety of people who've been put there to be managed by the major, who wants something from each of them. Just what that something is remains clouded for each of the prisoners, though there is plenty of speculation. There is no privacy among the cages – everything about the prisoner’s lives is in the open.  Part of the major’s strategy for dealing with them is to strip them of all humanity, reducing them to the level of beasts – beasts that would even devour each other. The main tension of the story revolves around the struggle of the prisoners to retain their humanity in the midst of their circumstances.
One of the reasons I usually don’t read tales like this is because most modern authors use them as extended metaphors for our existence – i.e. “if we had the courage, we’d acknowledge that all our lives are nothing more than a superficial coating over a brutal reality.”  Doran doesn't indulge in this sort of nihilism – in fact, quite the opposite, which is part of what makes the tale worthwhile even if it’s not your usual type of story. Yes, the Cages are a metaphor as well as a plot setting, but the message isn't “see, this is what you really are!”, but “see, this is what you can become if you’re not careful!”  The manipulative major and his cruel henchmen, the stripping of all dignity, the struggle of the prisoners to cling to the slightest shreds of humanity – these are all seen for what they are: aberrations, perversions of how humans should be treated.  The challenge for Jan is to remain human, and deal with the others as human, in the midst of this brutality.  Even the captors are seen caught in a struggle to retain their humanity, for as they treat their victims as beasts, they risk descending into brutality themselves.  By all this Doran communicates hope, not despair, through the grittiness and pallor of the story. 
The question of why Jan is being held prisoner is one of the mysteries of the whole book, and Doran’s mystery-writer edge comes out a bit in the final denouement. It turns out to not be related to some of the hints and nudges presented early in the story, but instead springs from something so banal, so disgustingly petty, that I recoiled in dismay. But here again Doran pegs something real and vital: it’s often our pettiness, our mindless cruelties, that can subject others to unspeakable misery. 
Despite its bleakness, hope glimmers through the story, even in the darkest moments. Despite their humiliations, the prisoners try to keep their humanity. In the end, Jan is rescued by an act of superhuman heroism, but I won’t spoil things too much.

Even if you wouldn't normally read this type of story, I highly recommend Iota, and not just as penitential heavy-lit reading. It’s a struggle at times, but that’s due to Doran’s skill in putting the reader in the story. You won’t like the cages on the slaughterhouse floor, but you will appreciate the human struggle that takes place in the midst of them.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What's a Person to Do?

It really isn't my intent to turn this into a book review blog, but I've been reading so many good ones recently that I just have to pass along the good news.

When considering reading even for self-development, the statement, “Hey, why not read a little moral theology?” is rarely heard.  It seems to me that this is partly because works of moral theology and philosophy are rarely “user friendly” - they're typically full of carefully parsed statements, nuanced definitions, and intricate abstractions. As a result moral theologians often end up talking to nobody but each other, because they have a language all their own. In this way they're similar to lawyers, medical experts, and computer technicians.

The difference being that we laymen can ultimately turn a situation over to lawyers, medical experts, and computer techs and say, “Just send me a bill”, thus detaching ourselves from the need to know the gritty details. We can't do that with moral questions, which confront us commonly and can have serious consequences.  This puts us in a bind, because we need guidance in moral matters, especially considering the complex questions that face us these days, but the guidelines often defy easy understanding.

Fortunately, at least on moral theologian has come to our aid. Dr. Mark Latkovic, a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, has written a book called What's a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions that Matter.  It is his attempt to make the nuances of moral theology accessible to those of us interested in making prudent decisions with a well-formed conscience.

The book is a slender volume written in an accessible, conversational style, as if you were talking with Dr. Latkovic over coffee.  The format is that of forty questions with moral implications drawn right from modern life.  These are not theoretical abstractions, but concrete questions like “Is it morally okay for me to have a Facebook account?” and “Is it morally justifiable to attend the wedding ceremony of a man and woman who have cohabitated?”  The intent of the chapters isn't just to give specific guidance, but to use the situations as a springboard to explain the principles that should guide us in pondering such decisions.  These aren't simple questions (hopefully “Should I shoplift this item?” won't present much of a moral dilemma for any of us), but are chosen for their complexity and ambiguity.

Dr. Latkovic begins the book with an introduction which he titles “The Ethical Toolbox”. Though this is where you might expect to get lost while the seminary professor lapses into moral theospeak, the section is quite accessible. He defines some terms but never strays far from the basics like the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Golden Rule.  Most critically he defines what a Catholic conscience is, and what it means to have a well-formed one (hint: it's not what most people think.)  He also reminds us that consideration of moral questions doesn't just involve guidelines, but also virtues – personal strengths within each of us that reflect the character and nature of Christ.

As Dr. Latkovic addresses the forty questions he has chosen, he keeps returning to this duo: moral guidelines and personal virtues.  In nearly every example, he explains the relevant issues in terms of what moral issues should come into play, and what virtues we will need to charitably answer this question.  In this, Dr.  Latkovic moves beyond the “advice columnist” approach to these knotty issues and forces us to grapple with our own weaknesses and sinful predilections.  Let's face it: when faced with some thorny moral dilemma, the usual reason we seek an “advice columnist” answer, be it from an actual advice columnist, or from a coworker at the water cooler, or through our social media outlets, is that we want an easy out. We want someone to assure us that the low-cost option we're considering is right, or that there's some rule we can invoke that will relieve us of responsibility.  We want to avoid difficult or costly outcomes, particularly ones that require us to grow in personal maturity and holiness.

This is not to say that Dr. Latkovic doesn't give some practical, immediately usable advice. For instance, in the chapter addressing the question “Can I read a book or attend a play or watch a movie with risqué parts?”, he tersely reminds us:
Just because we are in the realm of entertainment – broadly defined to include both high and low culture – doesn't mean we are now also in a moral-free zone of behavior where we can do whatever we want. And yes, sorry, that includes our favorite rock bands and rock music of all types. (p. 35)
This is one example of how Dr. Latkovic uses the questions he has chosen to educate his readers on moral principles.  He really does want to provide everyone with ethical tools so that when that forty-first question comes up, they'll know where to turn and what voices to listen to while considering their response.

Dr. Latkovic doesn't let anyone off the hook, returning again and again to the Scriptures, basic moral teaching, and the question of personal virtue. If you're looking for a book to tell you that the easy-out you're considering is A-OK, then buy another book (or better yet, write that advice columnist, making sure to word your letter carefully so that you get the answer you want.)  But if you want sound moral advice grounded in God's Word and centuries of wisdom, then Dr.  Latkovic's book is an excellent and accessible place to begin.

What's a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions That Matter © 2013 by Mark Latkovic published by Our Sunday Visitor. It can be purchased at bookstores or online at sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.