Friday, February 17, 2012

What I am Learning about God from my Dog

I know this must sound like a crazy blog title, but I do think that there is a little messenger from God living in my house, sitting on my lap and waiting to lick my face.  I have never been very devout, and I know you will not be shocked to also learn that I am not much of a theologian.  Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine are names with which I am familiar, but certainly not because I have ever read their writings.   That being said, I do, however, believe that people are put in our paths for a reason.  I personally believe that there is a higher authority with a plan, rather than a mere coincidence or "luck" when person is in front of us at the right time with something to support us or guide us.  Now I am starting to suspect that God uses all of His creation for His messages.

One of His messengers lives in my house.  She is a whopping 15 pound cockapoo that found her way into our home at a time when we emphatically said that we were not getting a dog.  But Maggy needed a home, so now she is a member of our family.

Maggy is an endless ball of energy and love.  She makes us laugh and keeps the whole family aware of her omnipresent need for love and attention.  If you are seated, she is in your lap.  If you are lying down, she is on top of you or cuddled up next to you.  She tucks each child into bed at night.  Curling up on their beds for prayers and goodnight hugs and kisses.  At the first twitch which suggests that you are waking up in the morning, she climbs on your chest waiting to eagerly help you greet the new day.

Yeah, yeah.  Sweet, cute, you get it.  What does that have to do with God?  Well, frankly I had never even considered a connection until one morning we were having a family prayer with tired, grumpy children.  It dawned on me that we should try to be more "puppy-like" in our actions and attitudes.  Let's try and treat each day as a gift.  Be excited that each morning we get to spend another day with each other.  The dog sure thought that it was reason enough for zealous celebration and tail wagging.  Hmm, maybe there is something to this thought.

Try and have a religious philosophical discussion with young children.  Sometimes they don't have enough of a frame of reference to "get" the concept you are trying to convey.  So what does one do, look for an analogy to something that they can "get."  So here comes our dog again.  She was certainly more than eager to volunteer her enthusiastic self for any discussion, so long as there was a lap that needed warming and some serious belly rubbing to be had.

So what could God want us to learn from the devotion of a (to be perfectly honest here) not-so-very-bright dog?

Here it is in a nutshell:
1.  Each day is a gift to be celebrated with joy and enthusiasm.  If you see the ones you love show them just how much you love them.  If your dog loves you this much, just think how much God loves you.
2.  God wants you to remember His love for you all the time and He wants to share that love with you.  Think about how your dog will start vigorously wagging its tail in joy when you even start to look in its direction.  Dogs will nudge you to remind you to continue petting them or to not forget that they are there ever-faithfully by your side.
3.  Quote from above, "ever-faithfully by your side."  Don't think that needs much of an explanation.
4.  Your dog is always happy to see you, whether you have been out of sight for less than a minute to get the mail, away all day or been gone for a week on vacation.  The bliss at your return is pure ecstasy, regardless of how long you were away.  God is filled with joy whenever we turn to Him, wether we be the prodigal son, the Pope or somewhere in between.
5.  Your dog wants to be the first thing you think of and show love to you the moment you wake up.  Your dog wants to be the last thing you think of as you drift off to sleep petting them.  They want you to shower them with love for every waking moment in between.  I think that if God decided to ignore our free will for a moment and kicked us in the butt to get our attention, that is exactly what He would want.  Nudge, nudge, LOVE ME COMPLETELY.  God is much more subtle, however, wanting us to voluntarily come to Him (so that's why He uses the furry reminders).
6.  Your dog doesn't want fancy toys or beds, just the simple pleasure of your company.  God isn't impressed by our putting on airs.  He just wants our devotion and love.
7.  Your dog is willing to forgive your bad moods, temper tantrums and bad days.  Your dog is waiting with love for you to get over yourself.  Your dog is willing to help you do so.  Thank goodness The Big Guy is willing to do the same for us or we would be in deep, deep doggy doo doo.
8.  Your dog knows when you are hurt and grieving and wants to help you.  Dogs will lick your boo boos.  They will lick the tears from your face.  They will lay their heads beside you with deep mournful eyes when you are distraught.  They will comfort you in the best way they know how.  God wants to do the same if we will let Him.  Luckily he is not actually trying to lick our faces though, that would be quite an experience!
9.  This may be particular to my dog rather than all dogs.  Maggy greets everyone who comes to our home with ardent joy and love.  She has never yet met a person that didn't cause her to literally jump for joy.  God welcomes all, sinner and saint alike.  I find that to be a particularly lucky break for me personally, because there is no way I would fall into the "saint" group.
10.  A dog is ever on the alert, ready to jump up at a moment's notice to come be with us.  We need only to call.  God is just waiting for us to ask...  I don't think God would be too partial to a whistle though, I guess that's why we have prayer.

Thank goodness God's love is not like a cat.  We would never have a chance.  If so, God would barely tolerate our existence, ignore us unless it was convenient for Him.  God wouldn't even need us to feed Him.  So if God was like a cat, we would definitely be in deep, deep doo doo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

HHS Creating a Right To Contraception, Sterilization and Abortifacients

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is implementing regulations which are attempting to provide health care for everyone.  To quote my daughter, "That's nice, isn't it?"  As with everything in life, the Devil is in the Details.

On January 20th, HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius announced that as part of the "Preventive Services" rule, all health insurance plans would be required to cover sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pay.  FDA-approved contraceptives includes abortifacients.  The rule goes into effect on August 1st for individuals, employers and insurers.  Catholic institutions were given an extra year to adapt to this regulation.  It will take effect for Catholic institutions on August 1, 2013.

"That's nice, isn't it?"  Catholic institutions get extra time to adapt. Uhh, not so much.

For those not familiar with Catholic teaching on the subject matter, here is a brief synopsis.  In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued an encyclical letter called Humanae Vitae (which translated from Latin means "Human Life").  This was not a new "take" on the Church's position, but rather a reemphasis of the Church's teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent the creation of new life.  This is a position that was historically shared by all Christian religions until the 1930s (investigate the Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference to learn about the shift to permit contraception).  The Catholic Church has never swayed in its opposition to contraception, sterilization and abortion based on Scripture, Apostolic Teachings and the Magisterium.

So to say that the Catholic Church is a bit irked would be a serious understatement.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called HHS's decision a "direct attack on our religious freedom and our 1st Amendment rights."

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.  Andas a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).  The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

Since this is a controversy, you know there are catchy YouTube videos.  So I have included an interesting one for you to watch.

Oh, so then this is just a "Catholic thing."  Uhh, not so much.

What about the United States Constitution? Specifically, that pesky 1st Amendment?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Free exercise of religion is kind of a central tenet upon which our country was found. Seems to me that everyone should be getting pretty upset about this, not just Catholics.

The National Association of Evangelicals stated:

“Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience.  The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.” 

Orthodox Christians are also opposed:
"We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment."

Jewish Orthodox groups are also opposed:
"Most troubling, is the Administration’s underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its “religious” character and liberties.  Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths.  The Administration’s ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization’s religious principles.  This is deeply disappointing.  The Orthodox Union will support legislation in Congress to reverse this policy."

I do believe that the Obama administration has really stirred up a hornets nest.  Since this is an election year, I predict a whole lot of back-peddling and doublespeak.  Things should get really interesting.

When I first heard of this decision, a quote kept coming to my mind (which is often attributed to Edmund Burke, even though he may not have actually said it)...

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing."

Hence I am writing this blog.  I have included link after link so that you might read up yourself and reach your own conclusions about what you feel is right.  I have avoided drafting a constitutional free exercise argument because the case law gets quite complicated.  As a lawyer, even I find it a bit tedious and dull.  If your eyes glaze over, you won't be able to even read any longer.  However, I do want to give you a list of key Supreme Court free exercise cases, in case you want to plow through them yourself.

They are:

Reynolds v. Unitted States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879)
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944)
Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963)
Yoder v. Wisconsin, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)
Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986)
Lyng v. Northwest Cemetery Prot. Ass’n, 485 U.S. 439 (1988)
Employment Div. of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)
Church of the Lukumbi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)
City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997)

Of particular note, the City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) declared the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was unconstitutional as it applied to state and local governments.  The RFRA was passed by Congress in direct response to the court's ruling in the Employment Div. of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) case.

Please take the time to get informed on these issues, especially in light of a looming election.  In 1784 Edmund Burke said, "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion."

Let us all have no delusions!  Investigate for yourselves.