Why The Prosperity Gospel Needs To Go

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I love the TV show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”  John Oliver is a pretty famous comedian known for self-deprecation and cringe comedy.  I came across his televangelist episode a month ago, which inspired this editorial.
Oliver started off the episode by talking about preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar (yes, that is his actual name; I checked), Mike Murdock and others who preach humility, yet live extravagant lifestyles.  He showed clips of Mike Murdock boasting to his congregants about buying two private jets with cash and of Kenneth Copeland claiming that a private jet he purchased with donations was for church purposes, i.e., a “preaching machine” as he called it.  However a local news crew discovered that Copeland’s personal jet was less for spreading the Gospel and more for going on vacation.
Oliver went on to say, “…and yet, despite that personal wealth, people still send them lots and lots of money, and that’s partly because they [the pastors] preach something called the prosperity gospel…”
A disgusted “Ugh” escaped my mouth as I rolled my eyes.  This is my reaction every time I hear the words “prosperity gospel.”

I learned about the prosperity gospel a year ago and it has been a thorn in my side ever since.  I’m sure you know what it is, but just for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize it.
The prosperity gospel, or prosperity theology as it is called in some circles, is the belief that wealth and personal success are a sign of God’s favor.  Basically, if you follow God, try not to sin and donate money to your church, you will be blessed abundantly with secure finances and material possessions.  If you’ve ever heard the phrases “name it and claim it” or “positive confession theology,” that is where they come from.
Right off the bat I thought to myself, “Hmm, this sounds really–oh, what’s the word–high-mountainy…” By the way, keep “high mountain” in the back of your mind; we’ll come back to that later.
Anyway, I have been wanting to tackle this toxic “theology” for quite some time, and after coming across John Oliver’s televangelist episode, I knew that the time had come.

The gloves are off.  It’s time to tackle the prosperity gospel.

Scriptural Elephants in the Room, or common verses used to defend the Prosperity Gospel
#1
Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”  

If you’ve been following Catholic Girl Bloggin’ for a while, you may notice that I frequently cite Jeremiah 1:5 and other verses from the Book of Jeremiah.  Even though Jeremiah is one of my favorite books in the Bible, there’s a good reason why I don’t often post Jeremiah 29:11 on a regular basis.  That is because, unfortunately, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the verses championed ad nauseam by prosperity gospel proponents.
Let’s take a look at some context: In this chapter of Jeremiah, the Israelites were being punished for their transgressions and their punishment was being exiled to Babylon.  The prophet Jeremiah had sent a scroll from Jerusalem to the remaining elders of the exiled people.  In this scroll, the Lord tells the Israelites to build houses to live in, get married, start families, and so on.  Now, if you read the verse in its entirety, you will notice that the Lord does not give specific instructions, but rather tells them to live their lives and how they go about doing so is up to them.
It seems to me that what has happened is prosperity gospel champions see the words, “…plans for your welfare and not for woe…” and translate that to mean personal success by the world’s standards, i.e., fancy car, big house, a spouse with minimal flaws and so on.  Now there are three definitions of the word “welfare.”  The third definition speaks of the U.S. welfare system, so I’ll skip that one and go over the first two definitions.
The first definition describes welfare as, “the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.”  With this definition in mind, I can see how one would misinterpret the Lord’s use of the word “welfare” to mean individual prosperity.
Now let us take a look at the second definition of welfare: “A statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need.”  At first glance, when you look at this definition and then look at Jeremiah 29:11, it is easy to miss the connection between the two.  However, I think we should let Jeremiah 29:4-11 speak for itself.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters.  Increase there; do not decrease.  Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends.  For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not be deceived by the prophets and diviners who are among you; do not listen to those among you who dream dreams, for they prophesy lies to you in My name; I did not send them—says the LORD.  For thus says the LORD: Only after seventy years have elapsed for Babylon will I deal with you and fulfill for you My promise to bring you back to this place.  For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”
–Jeremiah 29:4-11

It would appear that by instructing them to build homes, grow food and start families, the Lord is encouraging the banished Israelites to engage in a social effort to promote the physical and material well-being of one another, all while they await His return.  I see nothing about Him making things easy or smooth sailing for the Israelites, let alone anything about an increase in wealth.  Rather, the Lord is telling the Israelites–and perhaps us here in the 21st century–to live in the now, to provide for ourselves and for one another in the present moment, and to go into the future without fear because what lies ahead is all in His hands.

#2
Deuteronomy 8:18, “Remember then the LORD, your God, for He is the one who gives you the power to get wealth, by fulfilling, as He has now done, the covenant He swore to your ancestors.”
Now while Jeremiah 29:11 is what is often cited mostly by millennial Christians, the real culprit of the prosperity gospel is the out-of-context application of Deuteronomy 8:18.
Okay, all in fairness, if you were a Martian and you were handed a Bible that was opened to Deuteronomy 8:18 and then read it on your own without any doctrinally-sound person to explain the verse to you, you would probably think to yourself, “Oh, so the humans’ God has promised them material wealth!  Good for them!”  Yes, I know what it looks like, but let us examine this verse a little more closely.
I think the very first line speaks for itself: “Remember then the LORD, your God, for He is the one who gives you the power to get wealth.” We do not get wealth by our own merits, nor does the Lord just hand us over Scrooge-McDuck-moneybags, but rather it is God Himself who has given us the ability to obtain what we need for basic survival.  What He is saying is, “Rely on Me, trust in Me, and I will give you the ability and strength you need to provide for yourself and for those you love,” and not, “strong-arm Me into catering to your every materialistic whim.”
Come to think of it, when you read Deuteronomy Chapter 8 in its entirety, a more humbling message starts to emerge.

Deuteronomy Chapter 8:1-18
“Be careful to observe this whole commandment that I enjoin on you today, that you may live and increase, and may enter in and possess the land which the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors.  Remember how for those forty years the LORD, your God, had directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction to know what was in your heart: to keep His commandments, or not.  He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.  The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years. So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you. Therefore, keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, by walking in His ways and fearing Him.
For the LORD, your God, is bringing you into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey, a land where you will always have bread and where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones contain iron and in whose hills you can mine copper.  But when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land He has given you.  Be careful not to forget the LORD, your God, by failing to keep His commandments and ordinances and statutes which I enjoin on you today: lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built fine houses and lived in them, and your herds and flocks have increased, your silver and gold has increased, and all your property has increased, you then become haughty of heart and forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that house of slavery; He guided you through the vast and terrible wilderness with its serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; He brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the wilderness with manna, a food unknown to your ancestors, that He might afflict you and test you, but also make you prosperous in the end.  Otherwise, you might say in your heart, “It is my own power and the strength of my own hand that has got me this wealth.” Remember then the LORD, your God, for He is the one who gives you the power to get wealth, by fulfilling, as He has now done, the covenant He swore to your ancestors.”

Yes, it is a lot to read, but when read carefully, it becomes clear that the Lord reminds us that whatever we obtain for ourselves, it is because of His providence.  Prosperity gospel preachers argue that God provides because of our persistence, but the very verse they frequently cite says something completely different from their narrative.   This goes to show that God is not a genie who grants our every wish, but is the reason why we exist in the first place.
The result of Deuteronomy 8:18 being distorted for an earthly agenda can be found in these actual quotes from the mouths of prosperity gospel preachers themselves.

“I am a little god.  I have His name.  I am one with Him.  I’m in covenant relationship.  I am a little god.  Critics be gone!”
–Paul Crouch

“When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”
–Pastor Creflo Dollar

“When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.”
–Joel Osteen

The prosperity gospel treats God as a permissive doormat being who becomes helpless and bends to our will if we believe hard enough and verbally declare victory before it has even happened.  According to the prosperity gospel, God serves us.
In essence, the prosperity gospel trumps free will, meaning that someone else’s ability to make my life difficult by their choices is supplanted by my “power” to influence God by my declaration of faith.  In other words, “If I say it, God’s gotta do it.”
At the risk of using an overused meme…
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The idea of a God who does all that He can to propel our individual success instead of sticking to His own plan for humanity is actually quite frightening.  Success means different things to different people.  For one person, success is a modest house and enough food for three square meals.  For another, success could mean getting that promotion even if it means someone else who may need that promotion more than them getting knocked down.  There’s a very good reason for the phrase, “Thy will be done.”  God is infinite and can see the big picture; we are short-sighted, finite humans and can only grasp at what’s in front of us.  Our will being done instead of God’s will does not always work in our favor.

#3
James 4:2, “…You do not possess because you do not ask.”
A major aspect of the prosperity gospel is what is called “name it and claim it.”  It’s basically tell God exactly what you want and He will give it to you.  James 4:2 is the basis of this argument.  Now there’s actually more to the verse and we will come back to that in a second.
Prosperity gospel proponents tend to (conveniently) only see the tail-end of James 4:2.  In fact, Pastor Creflo Dollar once wrote, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”  You can read it here for yourself: http://ww.creflodollarministries.org/BibleStudy/Articles.aspx?id=329
Stop right there, sir.  God DOES have a choice when it comes to how He answers our prayers; He’s the inventor of having a choice!  Two words: Free will.
Also, God always answers prayers; it’s just that sometimes, His answer is, “No,” because what we might be asking at that time is not consistent with His will.  The answer we get may not always be the answer we were hoping for, but God never fails to respond.  Even His silence can be an answer.
You may notice that, unlike the previous two segments, this one is very short.  There is a reason for this.
Would you like to know what James 4 actually says?  I’m glad you asked…

James 4:1-3, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?  Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?   You covet but do not possess.   You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.  You do not possess because you do not ask.  You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Oh, the irony.  One of the verses used to advance the prosperity gospel is a verse that, when read fully, actually rebukes it in one fell swoop.  That last sentence, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions,” is a kick in the teeth to the prosperity gospel.
I think my work on this segment is done.

Upon The High Mountain
Remember earlier how I said that the prosperity gospel seems very “high-mountainy?”  Let’s really think about this: Who in the Bible is quoted as saying, “All these [kingdoms] I shall give to You, if You will prostrate Yourself and worship me“?  I’ll tell you one thing: It wasn’t Jesus.
Let’s cast our gaze a little lower…

Ah, there you are, Satan.  I almost didn’t recognize you behind all those distorted scripture verses and shiny dollar-sign deception.
No, actually, I did.  As a Catholic blogger I have a responsibility to help others recognize that the prosperity gospel is a brainchild of the evil one, his dangling carrot used to lure souls seeking purpose in their lives. The prosperity gospel has Satan’s claw marks slashed all over it.  Think about it: Sickly-sweet catchphrases peppered with scripture here and there, proclaimed with boldness by popular preachers who insist that God is on their side.  It’s downright Luciferian.
The worst part is many prosperity gospel preachers say all the right things to make their money-driven agenda hard to catch.  When I was looking up quotes from prosperity gospel preachers, a lot of them didn’t sound heretical at first.  The quotes were the kind you would have as a motivational refrigerator magnet.  Many of these ministers have written devotionals that are bought and sold in droves.
But, you see, that’s how the devil operates.  He’s a jerk, but a highly intelligent one who takes his time.  He knows it would be counterintuitive to just show up as–oh, let’s say– an imposing gargoyle with horns and a pitchfork and start shouting, “Hey, I’ll give you whatever you want if you obey me!”  He wouldn’t get very far if he did that.  Hence, he works slowly and behind a variety of disguises.  I would argue that the devil can come in the form of a well-dressed man eloquently stringing together promises of wealth, neatly packaged with scripture and public admiration.

A Plan For Woe
Now I am aware that declaring something to be the work of the devil is often perceived as extreme and alarmist.  You never want to give the fallen angel too much credit because he is a defeated foe who flees like Roadrunner at the Name of Jesus.  However, a friend from my parish pointed something out to me:  The prosperity gospel has the ability to accomplish two very destructive outcomes.
The first destructive outcome is to cause believers to worship a false Jesus; a “Jesus” who is a cross between Santa Claus and Genie from Aladdin.
The second destructive outcome is that it has the capability to drive a person completely away from God if they don’t get what they feel entitled to.  There is also the propensity for the person to feel that they are not worthy of God’s love since they didn’t get what they expected; perhaps they figure they aren’t doing something right or aren’t “good” enough for God.  This causes them to despair and a lost sheep wanders into the night.

The Greatest Promise of Them All
So if serving the Lord doesn’t grant you wealth beyond your wildest dreams and a steady road to success, then what does it get you?  I would like to talk to you about two teenage girls who could really teach us what following Jesus is all about.
Meet Chiara Badano and Rachel Joy Scott.

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Chiara Badano (1971-1990)
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Rachel Joy Scott (1981-1999)

Chiara lived in Sassello, Italy.
Rachel resided in Littleton, Colorado.
Chiara was Catholic.
Rachel was non-denominational.
Chiara and Rachel never met during their time on earth, but they had one thing in common:  Both of these girls loved the Lord with all their heart and soul and committed themselves to serving Him through acts of kindness.  They were unashamed of the Gospel and strived to glorify Jesus in their daily lives.  By prosperity gospel standards, Chiara and Rachel would be considered most deserving of all the abundant blessings and personal success the Lord has in store.
In reality, Chiara was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.  Rachel was the first victim of the Columbine massacre.  Chiara lost her hair and the ability to walk, while Rachel’s commitment to Christ caused five of her closest friends to abandon her.
What did they have to say about their personal losses?

“If I had to choose between walking again and going to Heaven, I wouldn’t hesitate.  I would choose Heaven.”
–Chiara
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“I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put in me.  If I have to sacrifice everything…I will.”
–Rachel
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Chiara was 18 when she died.  Rachel’s life was taken at age 17.  Neither of them had ever asked the Lord for fame or riches.  In fact, Rachel once wrote in one of her journals, “I don’t want to be successful without You, God.  I can’t be successful without You.”  Meanwhile, Chiara never begged God to take her cancer away.  As she was losing her hair, she said this: “For You, Jesus…if You want it, I want it too!
These two ordinary girls went after the heart of God.  They drew near to Him, and in turn, He made His love known to them.  At a young age, Chiara and Rachel fully understood that the ultimate reward for following Jesus is far greater than any material possession.  They embraced the Lord’s greatest promise: Himself.
God never promises us a perfect spouse, a perfect big house or a perfect bank account.
He doesn’t promise to make things easy.  He doesn’t promise that you won’t go through hard times.  He doesn’t promise that things will always turn out as planned.
What He does promise is that He will be with you.  He will stay with you when everyone else has left.  When you need to vent, He will be your listening ear.  When you need a shoulder to cry on, He will hold you tightly in His arms.
The greatest promise of them all is God Himself.  His unconditional love, His endless mercy, His loyal friendship, His unfailing assistance; all these things that the human heart yearns for is His free gift that He wants to give to you.
The bank account will dwindle, the car will break down, the house will be sold to another; the riches of this world come and go.
Only He remains forever.

“Father, reach out Your hand.  Grab ahold of my life.  Open my eyes to Your wonderful light.  Fill me up with Your undying love.  Save me a place in Your kingdom above.”
–A poem by Rachel Joy Scott

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CGB Review of Miss Sloane

What a sad world politics is; follow your conscience and lose, or sell your soul and win.

This is my review of Miss Sloane!

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Madeline Elizabeth Sloane, or Liz for short (she never goes by her first name) is a Washington lobbyist who is notorious for her cunning intellect and insatiable appetite to win at any cost.  After turning down an opportunity to work for an NRA-type gun lobbying group, Miss Sloane instead takes a job working for a gun-control advocacy group (think a fictitious version of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence) and comes to discover that the price to pay for victory in this arena may be higher than she had anticipated.

The Hits
I really appreciate that the filmmakers picked the topic of guns, which certainly does get heated, but isn’t nearly as volcanic as abortion or gay rights.  While their approach to the subject does have a left-leaning slant (this is leftist Hollywood we’re dealing with here), they do manage to make it accessible to both sides of the argument.  It also helps that the issue of guns is the backdrop, while the primary focus of the narrative is the behind-the-scene battle between competing lobbyists.
Jessica Chastain is magnificent in this role!  Now mind you,  I’m guessing that her role as the villainous sister in Crimson Peak was just a practice-run.  An icy woman with a piercing gaze, cloaked in an armor of designer clothes, a sharp tongue and grudging prestige, Miss Sloane is a femme fatale with a deeply flawed humanity.  I would say that she’s a character you love to hate, but then again, you can’t quite hate her.  Chastain’s performance doesn’t make Miss Sloane a complete witch, but rather allows moments of vulnerability without completely shedding her hardened persona.  Honestly, I really hope that Jessica Chastain continues playing flawed protagonists and even antagonists!
Esme Manucharian, played wonderfully by Gugulethu “Gugu” Mbatha-Raw, is the perfect foil to Miss Sloane.  Warm eyes with a gentle expression, Esme is the heart of the operation with Miss Sloane as the head.  The fight against gun violence is a personal one for Esme, in contrast to Miss Sloane’s impersonal pursuit of victory.  Esme is the losing follower of conscience while Miss Sloane is the winning warrior who sells her soul.
I would like to point out that I’m really glad the film subtly tackles insomnia.  It’s more a background detail of Miss Sloane’s character arch and is not completely in-your-face.  We never see her close her eyes for a quick nap, let alone is there ever a scene that begins with her waking up from a restful night.  While one would hope that she would end up getting help for her sleep deprivation in the end, it seemed more in-character that the self-preserving and prideful Miss Sloane wouldn’t admit this weakness to herself.

The Misses
Sam Waterson, who you will definitely know if you’re a fan of Law and Order, seemed a little too cartoonish at times.  No, his performance wasn’t horrible, but there’s one early scene where he’s confronting Miss Sloane and he looked like he was trying a little too hard, to the point of borderline overacting.
I think director John Madden might like “Gone Girl” a little too much, because Madeline Elizabeth Sloane is basically Amy Elliot Dunne if she [Dunne] were a lobbyist and–well, I don’t want to go into spoiler territory–so I’ll put it this way: The last twenty minutes of this flick pull some serious “Gone-Girl-eqsue” plot conveniences that are a bit of a stretch.  Now I happen to love Gone Girl, both the book and the movie, but still, some originality is always welcome.
A lot of the character relationships are underdeveloped.  I can tell that there was an idea for a friendship between Miss Sloane and Esme, but because of the titular character’s inability (or lack of willingness) to connect with others, the relationship never becomes anything more than two philosophically-opposed women who aren’t truly friends, yet are never really enemies.  Now the argument could be made that their relationship is meant to be lukewarm, but even by those standards, how the relationship develops feels very aimless to the point where I never felt ; like I said, there probably was an idea, but it got lost as production of the film went on.  Sorry, guys, but one scene with Miss Sloane and Esme eating at a Chinese restaurant isn’t gonna cut it.  They did a good job making Miss Sloane and Esme polar opposites, but how these two ladies connect goes quietly unexplored.

Miss Sloane succeeds as both a complex character study and a political thriller.  In this film, the chase is more interesting than the catch; the fight between lobbying groups is engaging enough to where we can put up with the political jargon and talk of poll numbers.  Jessica Chastain’s performance electrifies every frame while the tasteful handling of the subject matter makes this easier to sit through than all three Presidential debates (yes, I just had to bring up the 2016 election; I regret nothing!).  Despite some plot conveniences and undercooked relationships between characters, Miss Sloane stands tall on its own two feet.  For the political junkie in your life, I’d recommend that they give this one a shot.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

CGB Review of Arrival (2016)

Why are they here?
Well, I won’t give away the answer, but I am here to tell you that one of the best films of 2016 has arrived!

This is my review of Arrival!

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Freaky alien ships have arrived–no pun intended–on Earth with each pod landing in twelve different countries, including the US of A.  Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned linguist who has been selected by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to lead a team of investigators and “interview” the alien species.  Given that language is her passion, Louise is determined to understand their speech patterns in order to get them to understand human language and context.  Diplomacy becomes a tricky road as China and other global superpowers threaten to take action against these beings they do not understand.  Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, who by all calculations (again, no pun intended), has his sights set on the fair-minded linguist, must race against the clock to prevent World War III with the aliens.

Guys and gals, I saw this film yesterday and I am still thinking about it.  I have told my classmates, co-workers and my family to go see this intelligent, mind-bending film and I am here to convince you to go see it, as well!

The Hits
The story is expertly crafted from beginning to end.  It is neither overly-complicated nor insultingly dumbed-down; it provides plenty of symbolism and clues, but it also allows you to do the thinking for yourself.  I love how this film is not about lasers or explosions, but keeps its attention set on the very realistic scenarios of international negotiations and relations between worldly (and in this case, otherworldly) powers.  Granted, this movie certainly isn’t going to teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about international politics, but in terms of getting an idea of how it works, this movie serves as a good analogy.  The musical score is the best I’ve heard since the Imitation Game soundtrack and the very first shot of the alien pod ship is rightfully deserving of all the praise as a great achievement in cinematography that it has received.
Amy Adams has come a long way from her start as Princess Giselle from Enchanted.  Adams is mesmerizing as Louise.  Her vulnerable performance brings to life a logical and independent-minded woman who is seeking to understand without guile.  Characters who are essentially pure of heart can be hard to write, but Adams provides Louise with a grounded humanity to balance out the character’s cut-above nature.
Much like Miracles from Heaven, the characters in this film actually act like human beings.  Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber and the other military members are in a difficult situation and their reactions are made understandable to the audience.  This isn’t the “progressive-linguist-fighting-against-big-bad-rigid-establishment” kind of story; all the players involved are presented in a humanistic manner, doing what they know to do in a muddy waters of negotiations with global leaders and inter terrestrials.
Going back to the masterful storytelling, Arrival is a sci-fi psychodrama, being both plot-driven and character-driven.  The sci-fi elements are interwoven with the engaging character study of Louise and her own immersion into the aliens’ language.
One more thing: I’ve only seeing three of Denis Villeneuve films (Prisoners, Sicario and now Arrival) and I am so happy to say that this one is the easiest to watch!  I say that because Prisoners left me reeling for a week and Sicario did not help me get to sleep after I saw it.

The Misses
I’m honestly at a loss in terms of any glaring misses, but I guess if you are looking for lightsaber duels and galactic explosions, just wait until Rogue One comes out or watch the first Independence Day (NOT the crummy sequel that came out and bombed in the middle of this year).  Between this, Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014) and Sicario (2015), Denis Villeneuve is an artsy-thinkpiece kind of filmmaker.  Look elsewhere for mindless entertainment, my lovely friends.

Very rarely has a film actually had me thinking about time, language, space and how our world works.  Arrival made me really ponder time and language, and how they are linked. Time is a pattern of day and night, while language is a pattern of communication, the structure of words.  As I drove home, I began to think about how God set these things to work in order so that all things can move smoothly forward.  All things must occur in a patterned order to prevent catastrophe.  Dare I say, in the strangest way, Arrival has increased my appreciation for God as the author of life, the linguist, the mathematician, the painter, the architect, the Creator of all things that are and are to come. While the movie itself doesn’t outright mention God, it would not be far-fetched to say that His hand was present within the pages of the screenplay.
When a movie can challenge you to stop and think about the world around you, that is the mark of a great film.
That was my experience with Arrival; it may not end up being yours, but see this wonderfully-acted, well-written film for yourself.  You just might get something out of it.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Bind: An Election Editorial

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It’s funny what a strange dream can lead to.

Last night I had a dream that I was standing in a pitch black room.  The only light came from two glowing red lines, one in front of me and the other behind me.  Faint white smoke plumed from the red line in front of me, indicating its heat.  Out of the darkness, someone approached me from behind and began to chuckle in my ear.
I woke up trembling to my alarm.

The minute I logged on to Facebook, I was hit with posts about Trump and Hilary; the Clinton campaign emails about Catholics being backwards, Trump’s disgusting words about women and so on.
Not a day goes by without the election being on my mind.  November 8th once felt like a far-off event, but now it’s drawing nearer, getting closer each day like a hungry spider slowly crawling to its cocooned prey.
While I waited in the drive thru on my lunch break, I found myself pondering the dream.  As I replayed it in my head, a strange thought crept in: “You have no choice, my dear.  You must choose.”

I silently murmured to myself, “And what if I don’t choose?”
At that moment, I had a mental image of the red lines turning into ropes and a trapdoor that had been under my feet the whole time opening.
I snapped out of it when I heard, “Welcome to Jack-n-the-Box!  May I take your order?” With a shaky voice, I ordered my food.

Just like the frightening dream, our country is locked airtight in the devil’s bind; we currently have two disordered candidates with their personal character being questionable at best and repulsive at worst.  The way I see it, this political bind was years in the making and our nation fell headfirst into this trap long ago.

I’m probably going to sound like a Republican old man living in a red state when I say this, but truth is still truth no matter who is telling it.  Out of my way, Donald, this Independent female blogger from bluest of blue California is about to tell it like it is.
We have kicked God out of America; out of our schools, out of our media, even out of our homes.  We have rejected the values our Lord holds dear.  Our nation allows unborn babies to be slaughtered for any reason, continues to redefine marriage and mocks morality.  You know something is wrong with a country where a rapist can serve only six months in the county jail for violating an unconscious woman.

Mother Teresa once said, “Find your own Calcutta.”  No need for me to look far, Mama T, because I’m living in it.  We may not have people literally dying on the side of the road, but we are a nation of homeless people, splintered families and abandoned veterans.  America may be rich in resources, but we are poor in principles.  We are a prosperous but hopeless land, thinking we can make it on our own and without the God who bestowed upon us our freedoms in the first place.

Of course the devil would take advantage of this.  He has done so little by little, convincing us to remove God from the public square in small doses.  What started as snowball removals, such as attempting to take God off the dollar bill and then successfully removing Him out of our schools, has avalanched to where we have became a nation under God in name only.  People are more divided than ever before.  We no longer see each other as children of God, but rather as enemies if we disagree with one another.
How else do you think two people whose personal values are not rooted in Christ have been able to run for the highest office in the land?

So here we are, trapped in a ditch of our own making, being forced to choose between two candidates nobody wants to elect.  We have come to a crossroads regarding what we want our nation to be and we have no idea where to go from here.  Can our divided culture be healed?  Can the damage that has been done be reversed?  Can this damning bind be undone?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I really wish I could tell you that all will be well, but everything depends on individual Americans, and based on the way things are now, I don’t think a revolution of compassion is on the horizon any time soon.

What I do know is that society will change once we change our hearts.  We as a nation must open our hearts in order to change them.  Jesus is a savior, but He is also a gentleman and will never force Himself on any person or any country.  If we are not willing to turn to Him, then He will let us hit rock bottom if that is what it takes to open our eyes.

I say this a lot on the Catholic Girl Bloggin’ FB page and I’ll say it here: The best thing you can do is just strive to be a better person in your every day life.  Instead of getting into a shouting match with a friend over a political issue, stop and try to remember how much you value their friendship and then try to find common ground with them.  Hold open doors, call a family member and tell them you love them, smile at a passing stranger, help someone carry their things, find volunteer work or a charity event to participate in.  The list of ways you can exercise kindness is endless.

I know, this seems like a cop out, but it actually isn’t when you really think about it. Kindness means going outward instead of turning inward, which is something many Americans have done.  Once you look beyond yourself and see the struggles of others, you begin to wonder what you can do to serve them.  It was selfishness and pride that got our country in this mess, so maybe humility and mercy can be the stepping stones towards a new tomorrow.  You won’t fix this country in a day, but you can change the outlook of one person’s day and maybe, just maybe, that person will go on to help another and a gradual chain reaction will begin.

Any time you are a positive force in your family, at your job, within your neighborhood or wherever you are, you are doing the will of God.  It is written in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the dark torrential sea of political discord, you have the opportunity to be the calm island where weary travelers seek refuge.  America is in a big mess, but you have the power to have an impact in your own humble way.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”
–Saint Francis of Assisi

“Modern prophets say that our economics have failed us.  No!  It is not our economics which have failed; it is man who has failed-man who has forgotten God.  Hence no manner of economic or political readjustment can possibly save our civilization; we can be saved only by a renovation of the inner man, only by a purging of our hearts and souls; for only by seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Justice will all these other things be added unto us.”
–Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Our Lady Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

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The Societal Cycle of Alertness and Slumber

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It’s funny how a simple conversation on Facebook can lead to an article with an admittedly strange title.
One of my friends in the Pro-Life movement is Albany Rose.  You may know her, but in case you don’t, Albany is one of the leading faces of the growing pro-life atheist crowd in the movement.  You can check out her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AlbanyRosePostAbortiveProLifeSpeaker/
It was on the day of the horrific shooting in Orlando that Albany and I were having a conversation on Facebook about the plethora of problems in the world.  At one point, Albany made a point about how people are all up in arms about a crisis, but take no action for social change and instead go back to their daily routines within a week.
What she said (or typed in this case) really got me thinking.  As I lay in bed that night, I began to ask myself, “Why is it that people’s focus on a major tragedy only lasts for a few days?”
It is as if our society has settled into a strange, almost dreamlike cycle.
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We go about our typical routines, bloated schedules and scattered priorities, only taking a brief glance at the current events unfolding around us as we float down the rushing river of daily demands.  We may be physically awake, but we exist in a state of mental sleepwalking, our lives moving forward in a quiet, comfortable march to somewhere.
It is only when disaster strikes that we are jolted awake.
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Only then are we catapulted into action.  In one immediate burst, we launch into solidarity mode where everyone bands together to express shock and concern.  Vigils are set, signs are made and hashtags fill cyberspace.  For a time, we are all united.
Nothing bad lasts forever, but neither does something good.
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Unity turns to tension as private opinions about the tragedy and its victims are made known.  Prayers dissolve to bickering and heated arguments drown out heartfelt speeches.  Comforting words are sucked into the bleak vortex of shouting matches.

Then once the dust has settled, we return to slumber.dreams

I truly wonder what it would take.  What would the next disaster have to be to break the cycle?  What would need to happen in order to shake up the culture to its core and force heroic men and women to rise above complacency and bring about lasting change?

What would force us to stay awake for just a while longer?
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Presidential Candidates Won’t Save You

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a megalomaniacal rant about how I can’t stomach any of the candidates.  This post would be longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace if I did that.
As I watch the debates (yes, both the GOP and the Dem debates), read articles online and listen in on conversations about the candidates among my family and friends, there is a theme that strikes me.  Mr. Trump continuously promises to “Make America great again,” while Mr. Sanders swears to hold big corporations responsible.  Miss Clinton vows to uphold the rights of women and other minority groups, while Mr. Cruz pledges to protect religious liberty.
What do these four people have in common?  They promise to be a savior in some capacity.

Even in our secular society, the concept of a savior still appeals and rings true for many people.  While the savior complex has always been prevalent in past presidential elections, the idea of electing a man (or woman) who can “save our country” from the path we are currently on is especially strong during this presidential season.  If you talk to a supporter of Mr. Trump, Miss Clinton, Mr. Cruz or Mr. Sanders, there is definitely a sense that they truly believe in their candidate’s ability to save our land.

During this past Lenten season, I found myself really pondering Jesus’ sacrificial offering and its meaning.  By His death and resurrection, He redeemed humanity and paved a way for us to obtain Heaven.  Our Risen King stripped the prince of darkness of his hold over mankind and gave us a lifeboat.
The idea that a single presidential candidate can bring about salvation of any kind does in fact benefit someone; a particular entity whose goal it is to keep our attention off of the True Savior.
I truly believe that Satan uses political rhetoric to his advantage, to take people’s eyes off the state of their own souls and keep them distracted with the state of the political climate.

I am in no way telling you to not vote.  I am not trying to discourage you from participating in the political process.  What I am saying is that a politician can only impose legislation, not salvation.  A president can improve the economy, but not shield us from Hellfire.  Presidents come and go, but Jesus is the One who stands between us and the deception of the evil one.

Stand by a candidate if you wish, but keep your eyes to Jesus always.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

CGB Reflections: What It Means To Stand Alone

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It is nice to be surrounded by likeminded people.  As human beings, it is natural for us to desire being around those who think like we do.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  God placed in our hearts a need for community so that we would not live in isolation.

However, we also come across people who we respect, but don’t agree with.  In this case, we have two options: Disassociate with them and remain in our own echo chamber or put aside political differences and welcome each other’s friendship.

Now let’s go even further.  What happens when you discover that your closest friend of many years is on the other side of an issue you deeply care about?  What if the majority of your co-workers support a proposed piece of legislation that you oppose or vice versa?
What if, on a hot-button issue, you don’t see eye to eye with a relative or maybe even with your entire family?

There will come a time in your life where you will be confronted with two options: Become a member of the tide or stand alone as a master of your convictions.  Believe me, it is a very difficult decision.   To disagree with the people in your life is not a rejection of them.  Rather it is a test of how you will handle times of controversy and opposition.  Unfortunately, people will misunderstand you.  Our society is so divided that disagreement is often perceived as a personal attack.  You may be shunned at work, lose a friend, or have your loyalty questioned by your family; these are the realities of going against the grain.

God tests us in this way to see whether we are ruled by fear or courage.  He wants to see if we will go along with the opinions of others for the sake of keeping the peace or if we will be bold enough to follow our conscience when it contradicts the conventional narrative.  He places these challenges in our lives to know if He can count on us to stand up for His Word, even if it means being a lone advocate.

We are all pilgrims passing through this life.  Our souls were made for Heaven, not earth.  At the end of our lives, we will stand before God.  You will face Him and so will I.   He will have many questions for us; one of those questions will be this:

“Did you stand with the world or did you stand with Me?”

What will your answer be?

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.”
–Matthew 10:34-36

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
―Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saint Bernadette Soubirous, pray for us.