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Category: Reflections

…and it made all the difference.

…and it made all the difference.

I am grateful to my family for giving me the gift of faith. After graduating from college, I served the Church full time for 11 years. But gradually, in the quiet intimacy of adoring Jesus in the most blessed sacrament, he revealed the difference between doing God’s work – and fulfilling his will.

The Lord was inviting me to be exclusively his own, he was inviting me to embrace a contemplative vocation at [the] monastery.

Sister John-Mark Maria of the Poor Clares in Tonopah, AZ

This is a profound realization – one that many in ministry work should heed. There is a difference between doing the corporal and good works we are called to do (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the ignorant, defending widows, orphans, and the outcast, etc) and doing God’s will.

I think almost all issues and divisions arise in our church and faith lives because we’re more interested in doing the good works we believe should be done, and not to truly abandoning ourselves to do God’s will. If we all truly believe we’re aligning ourselves to the same, one, true God – then there should not be division.

But this is not easy. Consider Jesus during his last days. He had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. He was greeted by the crowds with palm branches and shouts of acclimation. The crowds were ready to crown him king and let him lead them to victory over the occupying Romans. With his own disciples, he had just instituted the Eucharist at the last supper. He knew well he was about to be betrayed and handed over. It would have been nothing at all for him to have avoided arrest, he could have performed miracles to astound the chief priests and Pontius Pilate and easily become a leader or king of Israel. Yet he did not.

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” 39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
40 When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.* The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”

Matthew 26

As sister Maria mentions, the only real way to learn God’s specific will for you is to spend time in quiet prayer. I’ve often found that the easiest way to tell if someone is really representing God is to observe how dedicated the person is to their prayer life. Daily prayer that consists of extended periods (30-60 min) prayer – preferably in front of the blessed sacrament. Prayer that is not just reading a book, full of distraction, but is a quiet opening of yourself to listening TO god instead of speaking AT him.

This is critical because I believe almost all divisions and arguments between believers are caused by people that are doing more of their own will vs abandoning and trusting in God to direct each person to their chosen path. This is critical for each of us, because Jesus himself told us:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [n]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

We simply do not write this way anymore

We simply do not write this way anymore

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Near the end of his life, while exiled on the rock of St. Helena, Napoleon called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, “Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?” Upon the Count declining to respond Napoleon countered,

I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.

Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.

There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.

Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!

From the first day to the last He is the same; majestic and simple; infinitely firm and infinitely gentle. He proposes to our faith a series of mysteries and commands with authority that we should believe them, giving no other reason than those tremendous words, ‘I am God.’

The Bible contains a complete series of acts and of historical men to explain time and eternity, such as no other religion has to offer.

If it is not the true religion, one is very excusable in being deceived; for everything in it is grand and worthy of God.

The more I consider the Gospel, the more I am assured that there is nothing there which is not beyond the march of events and above the human mind. Even the impious themselves have never dared to deny the sublimity of the Gospel, which inspires them with a sort of compulsory veneration.

What happiness that Book procures for those who believe it!

First Pope to speak at the UN and how to create true peace

First Pope to speak at the UN and how to create true peace

Excerpts from Pope Paul VI to the fledgling UN in 1965 that is just as relevant today as then.

As you know very well, peace is not built merely by means of politics and a balance of power and interests. It is built with the mind, with ideas, with the works of peace.

The edifice you are building does not rest on purely material and terrestrial foundations, for in that case it would be a house built on sand. It rests most of all upon consciences. Yes, the time has come for “conversion,” for personal transformation, for interior renewal.

The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never before been as necessary as it is today, in an age marked by such great human progress. For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well they can, on the contrary, help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind. The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests.

To put it in a word, the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it and inspiring it. And we are convinced, as you know, that these indispensable principles of higher wisdom cannot rest on anything but faith in God.

It’s a reminder that efforts that reduce problems to just power, politics, money, etc are missing the root of issue and just playing whack-a-mole. Temporal tools like laws, money, and power dynamics are useful in guiding our courses – but unless hearts are changed – these efforts are at best a never ending practice of building sandcastles that are washed down with the next tide.

If you feel that politics can’t find the answer, if laws aren’t the answer, if controlling money or power doesn’t seem to bring peace – then you are right. It is the human heart where peace is made and to be found. Let each human heart seek to be reformed, and the rest will fall into place.

What am I doing this advent to reform my heart – especially with the work of peace?

The wise person

The wise person

The greater our knowledge increases,
the greater our ignorance unfolds.
-John F Kennedy

So, by this measure, the greatest and most dangerous fool is the one that posits they are intelligent. Even worse, when they do not have the wisdom to admit they are probably ignorant on the subject or could be wrong. In other words, just about 99% of all conversations on social media.

So lets all do each other a favor. Let us agree that spending 30-60 minutes a day reading articles on a topic from your favorite biased news sources does not make you ‘an expert’ or even ‘well informed’. Let us also take a step back from so self-assuredly believing and asserting everything we think.

Better yet, how about we love and respect each other – discussing our differences while respecting the person. Maybe, while we’re at it, we’ll all learn how not to be controlled by our outrage driven social agenda pushers.



Lenten ashes to Easter fire

Lenten ashes to Easter fire

“The ashes we wear on Ash Wednesday are like the coals in a campfire at dawn. Perhaps the fire in our hearts has burned down or even appears to have gone out. Yet, as any seasoned camper will tell you, the blackest coals are often more than hot enough to restart a blaze.

Lent is a special time to take stock of the campfire of our heart and we start with the ashes. Maybe its grown cold and we need to tend it: removing things that are smothering it or adding more fuel to feed it. Maybe it’s burning but needs tending, or maybe it’s ready for larger blocks of fuel. When we start doing the physical tending of our heart via fasting and works of charity, the Holy Spirit will be gently blowing on our work, coaxing a fire to kindle from our work.

Wherever the fire is in your heart, Christ stands ready with forgiveness and healing in Lent. Calling us each back – no matter where we have fallen or become lost. Let us avail ourselves of the graces so our inner fires may be a blaze at Easter – joining the Easter fire lit on Easter vigil and spread by the faithful to light the darkness of our world.”


Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Have you had a sense that Hollywood movies have felt a little too ‘cookie-cutter’ lately? Or that they feel somewhat unoriginal or a little too sugary?

John Williamson is a long time lecturer and publisher of games. He gave a great talk at PAX Prime 2016 on why you can tell exactly what is going to happen next in a Hollywood movie by looking at your watch. It’s narrative structure that has been picked up by writers and is now used in almost all our media from graphic novels to Hollywood productions. Just about every modern movie in the last 10 years uses it – it’s called The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The structure was outlined in his book called “Save the Cat!

Recently, this structure has been catching some flack for making our movies too cookie cutter or even deceptive. One very valid argument (in my opinion) is that lazy writers can rely on the well-understood emotional reaction the structure creates to communicate themes and messages as true without having to argue them or give any evidence they actually are true. In other words, instead of relying on substance of the story, it relies on the simple fact that the ‘Save the Cat!’ emotional ride guarantees a positive emotional reception for what you want.

Some say it lets writers be so lazy they need not even be concerned about the actual content of the story, but to just rely on the structure of the emotional ride to guarantee a positive response from the audience. Just change the actors, theme, or conflict and you have a brand new movie without changing much else.

You can find a link to John Williamson’s great presentation here, or download a copy here. He covers a HUGE range of story telling techniques from ancient to new, eastern and western, but the relevant section on Hollywood plots, however, starts at slide 111.

Here’s the breakdown of the structure, by minute. (This assumes a movie of 110 minutes. Adjust the times based on your movie’s total time based on the ratio laid out here.)

  1. Opening Image – (minute: 1) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
  2. Set-up – (minutes: 1-10) Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
  3. Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – (minute: 5) What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
  4. Catalyst – (minute: 12)The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
  5. Debate – (minutes: 12-25) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
  6. Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – (minute: 25) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
  7. B Story – (minute: 30) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
  8. Fun and Games/The Promise of the Premise – (minutes: 30-55) – This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
  9. Midpoint – (minute: 55) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
  10. Bad Guys Close In – (minutes: 55-75) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
  11. All is Lost – (minute: 75) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul – (minutes: 75-85) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
  13. Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – (minute: 85) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
  14. Finale – (minutes: 85-110) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
  15. Final Image – (minutes: 110) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

His presentation then shows how this structure works from modern movies like ‘The Fault with our Stars’, to “Indiana Jones” to video games like Super Mario Bros and Ico.

Try it out on the next movie you watch and see how accurate it is.

Tearing down vs holding up

Tearing down vs holding up

I think this is one of the most powerful moments in David Suchet’s portrayals of Poirot. In the 2010 version of Murder on the Orient Express, the ending was not like the book nor the 2017 version. Give the ending a listen (spoiler alert of course). Given the currently poor state of cultural and political dialog, I think it’s worth a listen. Especially now that we have people calling for active dissolution of government systems that have (in some opinions) failed us:

Hercule Poirot: [furious] You people! With your kangaroo jury, your kangaroo justice! You had no right to take the law into your own hands!

Hildegarde Schmidt: M-m-monsieur Poirot, she was *five years old*!

Caroline Hubbard: We were good civilized people, and then evil got over the wall, and we looked to the law for justice, and the law let us down.

Hercule Poirot: No! No, you behave like this and we become just… savages in the street! The juries and executioners, they elect themselves! No, it is medieval! The rule of law, it must be held high! If it falls you pick it up and hold it even higher! For all of society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed!

Greta Ohlsson: There is a higher justice than the rule of law, monsieur!

Hercule Poirot: Then you let *God* administer it… not *you*!

Greta Ohlsson: And when he doesn’t? When he creates a Hell on Earth for those wronged? When priests who are supposed to act in his name forgive what must never be forgiven? Jesus said, “Let those without sin throw the first stone.”

Hercule Poirot: Oui!

Greta Ohlsson: Well, we were without sin, monsieur! *I* was without sin!

Wow, so much going on in this encounter!

Firstly, it’s interesting that modern movies so often ascribe the wrongs in the world to God. Many movies love to take cheap shots at theism and often use evil in the world as proof of God’s nonexistence. Yet they somehow forget that if this proves God doesn’t exit, we’re left with the exact same conclusion as if you are a theist. Just looking at the situation, you must conclude that all the wrongs in this story were committed by very human people (Cassetti’s murder of a 5 year old and then each of the 12 that committed his murder) or the failure of our human institutions (Cassetti’s escape from police/justice) – not God. For those that allow for the existence of God, we were created and granted the freedom we are both blessed and cursed with – to choose good or evil. Should we blame God that some will invariably choose evil? Why do we blame God when our own justice systems fail? Evil didn’t ‘get in over the wall’ or get magically done by God killing a 5 year old – it came from a very real person who chose it. It’s a tired trope, and one I wish we could get beyond.

Next, Poirot is taking a very bold stance against this group that isn’t what we usually see these days: that we must not take the law into our own hands. Instead he asserts as strongly as one might that we must commit ourselves even more to fixing our justice systems when they fail us, not destroying or ignoring them when we feel justified in doing so. We love our Dirty Harry’s and vigilantes that bring justice. The A-Team and Batman fit this description, but Poirot emphatically stands against this. He makes the very valid argument that if people start taking the law into their own hands, then all of us will suffer. He rightly claims that society as we know it depends on each of us committing ourselves to a common justice and application of law. His argument would be that we have fought long and hard to come from mob and street justice Medieval times. It is this common bond of assenting to our societies system of justice that is what protects all of us from each other.

Caroline retorts that the law let them down, and Greta screams that justice isn’t just some block of laws, but that it’s something higher – something innate to us, something we all immediately recognize and demand. This is true! We do not derive our morality from a book of laws, our book of laws come from our sense of morality! So is it a surprise that even after 100’s of years, our laws do not capture all the truths and fairness we feel? Studies have shown consistently that children have a consistent sense of fairness and right from a very early age – across all races, genders, and parts of the world. A person who has read Genesis would agree: if we were created to live in perfect peace and harmony in the Garden of Eden, of course we have a sense of what is right in our very fiber. It’s innate to us, created in us. But since the fall, we lost our ability to live it perfectly.

The reality, whether you are a theist or not, is that some will choose to commit wrongs on others – even horrific crimes. Unfortunately, Greta again blames God for the evil Cassetti commits. She then makes the mistake that many make: she seems so assured of her sense of rightness, her moral superiority (aka ‘lack of sin’) makes her worthy to carry out lethal justice they did not get from the courts. I’m no expert, but I bet every other person on that train that knew Greta could probably have named a few of her failings – so none of us should ever assert we’re sin-free. As for following our conscious in the face of moral outrage, we absolutely should do so in the face of injustice. Even to heroic levels that might even cost our lives – but Poirot asserts that those efforts should not be directed at taking the law into our own hands, but to pour all that effort into fixing what failed – so that ALL of society can enjoy the benefits. When we take matters into our own hands, we allow a broken system to remain broken for others. So to work for justice means to work to fix the systems we have in place so that ALL of society can enjoy the fruits. That’s how we have such a better system than we had when death was delivered by the sword on a whim. Each of us can contribute, each of us can bring the injustice committed to us and make it benefit all of mankind – but it may take time, patience, and may not come out perfectly. Yet the alternative is that the system remains broken, more people can exploit the growing holes, and on top of that, we end up putting ourselves at risk (as these 12 did) by committing crimes themselves. This is what Poirot is saying, not that Cassetti didn’t deserve justice, but that vigilante justice is a selfish act – one that ultimately damages the delivery of the very justice they crave.

So what about that appeal Poirot makes to God? Is he telling us when our laws or human justice fail us, we are supposed to idly stand by like sheep and let evil run amok? Many modern minds would probably think this is what he’s saying – but it is exactly the opposite! He and Greta are actually referring to different things. Greta is equating human justice to divine justice, as the same thing – and hence she sees both God and God’s justice as having failed them. But Poirot, as a Catholic, does not equate them. There is human justice and divine justice. To Poirot, he acknowledges there is divine justice – but that justice deals with ultimate battles of good and evil – such as the forgiveness man cannot give himself with the fall, but seeing that as seperate from human justice.

This is where a Catholic understanding (and Poirot was Catholic – a fact re-iterated by his scenes of praying the rosary) of salvation history comes into play. God created human beings to be co-creators with God. We are given dominion, stewardship, and creative abilities over all of creation. Even non-believers can recognize humans have a unique place in all of the earth. Our minds can come up with great artistic expressions of paintings, music, and art. Our minds can plumb great depths of science from subatomic particles to the furthest reaches of the universe. We have the ability to live anywhere in the world, and even in space by our efforts. We can even generate new life by having children together. We are soul and material beings – together. The whole story of the bible is a story of God trying to build and rebuild relationship with our very material selves. God creates women and men from the very material stuff of the universe. He makes all of creation to enjoy and thrive from. God makes covenants with specific nations as a light for all peoples. God grants the childless children, or lands to live on as inheritance. God helps them in struggles and battles. God gives them food in the desert and when Jesus feeds the 5000. God lifts up human prophets to speak through. God punishes unfaithfulness by revoking material gifts. Jesus came in bodily form. Jesus cured bodily ills as well as spiritual ones. Every piece of salvation history shows that the concrete world is meant to be a part of our salvation story. And so too all the systems we have in it. Poirot, and the Catholic stance, would be that it is our job as human agents to bring the love, justice, and truth of God to every corner of our fallen world, even the darkest places and crimes, not to create more darkness and crimes by vigilante justice.

Poirot was able to figure out this case. Namely, that 12 people that conspired to commit and hide a murder, despite its complexities. He even figured out Cassetti’s role and crimes. Therefore, Poirot sees human law is able to bring justice to even this, so why should this case allow for vigilantism when it could just as easily be brought to justice the ‘right’ way? When we find flaws with our justice and law, we must not discard all the sacrifices and hard-fought battles that have brought us the infinitely better systems of justice we enjoy today because of one failure. If we do not believe this, then people become self-righteous and begin to take the law into their own hands – as these 12 people did. Even when they are right in wanting to punish a guilty person – they become the destroyers of the very social fabric and justice they want. They circumvent all social agreements and demonstrate that anyone can now operate above the law based on their own judgement and sense of ‘right’. This situation, if carried out by many, will collapse all of society and we’ll return to the barbarism of the sword we had before where people deliver swift and deadly retribution without answering to anyone.

But even more than this, perhaps greater than these points, Poirot has recognized the tragedy that has happened to those on this train. As for the ‘hell’ that Gretta speaks of – she was right. There was is a hell on earth. It was in each of their hearts. The horrific death of one child has destroyed 12 people’s worlds. Cast them into a living hell on earth of pain and grief. The unhealed grief, horror, shock, anger, hatred, and pain each one is in now has also led each of them choosing revenge. Just after this scene, we see one man threaten to add another murder – the murder of Poirot – so they can all escape. “Why not?” he says, “We’ve all committed one murder. What’s one more?” The descent into barbarism starts accelerating.

He recognizes each of the lies they’re telling themselves to justify what they’ve done and what a tragic thing has happened to them. This is why his retort about letting God administer justice – but those realms are that of the divine. Divine justice is that what happens in each heart that rights the wrongs there. Repentance and forgiveness is a grace – a healing grace – that allows us not to become trapped by the wrongs of the past. To start anew. A short time later, Poirot reveals this insight in a conversation he has in private after the group confrontation:

Mary Debenham: You said of the woman in Istanbul that she knew the rules of her culture and knew what breaking them would mean. So did Cassetti.

Hercule Poirot: [harshly] And so do you!

Mary Debenham: When you’ve been denied justice… you are incomplete. It feels that God has abandoned you in a stark place. I asked God… I think we all did… what we should do, and he said do what is right. And I thought if I did, it would make me complete again.

Hercule Poirot: [coldly] And are you?

Mary Debenham: [long pause, then] But I did what was right.

I think we can all sympathize with the brokenness of Mary. I think all of us have felt betrayed or let down by something we trusted in at some point. Perhaps we’ve lost something that seems unbearable to lose, or experienced an evil that has utterly changed our lives forever. This does happen in our world. I also honestly believe she could have prayed about what to do and even been told to ‘do what is right’. The problem comes in this: what is right? (or as Pilot says at the trial of Jesus, “What is truth?”)

We know by Mary’s response, as does Poirot, that the murder done ‘for justice’ really hasn’t helped. The loss, pain, and tragedy are all still there. She’s still living the hell on earth they talk about, but now she has murder on her conscience too. What she thought was ‘right’ has turned out to have made things even worse – for her. Sure, maybe Cassetti has been brought to a type of justice, but Mary’s situation has remained the same. Her pain is all still there. What is right would be to find a way to bring Cassetti to justice and to find healing and forgiveness in her heart. Instead, evil has begot more evil, and she is worse off than she started.

So what hope do we have in finding peace? What way are we to follow? In what can anyone put their trust in a world in which many feel lost or angry? This is where the Christian stands up and emphatically says, “To follow Christ!”. Early Christians were actually called ‘Followers of The Way’. When we put our trust in ‘The Way’ Jesus has taught us to live, and then truly put those teachings into action, we are promised peace. This is the harsh truth. That revenge does not bring peace. Instead, the acts of revenge are now heaped on top of all the rest of the pain, hurt, anger, fear, emptiness, etc. Instead, Jesus taught that we are to forgive those who wrong us, to offer love in turn for hate. Only by this method will Mary, or any of us, find peace after great evil has touched us. Instead of blaming God for the evil committed by our fellow man, we should find a way to bring our fellow man to justice and correction, while thanking God we have been given the means to do so: via the teachings and forgiveness of Christ!

Forgiving when we are wronged, comfort the sorrowing, compassion for those crushed by life, providing education to the uneducated, give medical assistance to those in need, to fight for justice here and trust in final justice beyond instead of trying to administer it ourselves, to give temporal care to those in need, to visit the imprisoned, assist the crippled, house the homeless, warm the cold, welcome the widow, refuge, and child, and yes, even returning forgiveness for murder are not just platitudes. They are real, concrete, and the way we find peace in the horror of evil. It is how evil is defeated, even if it wins temporary victories. Christ even gave forgiveness – as he hung nailed and dying – to the persons crucifying him.

This is what Christ taught, and the answer to “Do what is right”. In the western world, it’s also the foundation of all our laws and culture – for well over 1000 years. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the most equitable, fair, and amazing systems in which all people are recognized with inherent rights of their human being (their creation in the image of God).

Further, God never claimed this way would be easy or we can do it perfectly. It might cost us career paths, friends, fame, or force us to confront our worst enemies with compassion. It might even cost our lives as it did for Jesus – but to what else are each of us giving our lives? As for me, I would rather give my life in service to the teachings of Christ above like popular opinion and fad activism that comes and goes like leaves in the wind every year.

I think this is a good reflection when we’re in an increasingly UN-forgiving state of political discourse in our country. We have turned to wanting to get vengeance, like these 12 did, on those we don’t agree with. So assured we’re right, and justified to ourselves. Yet the promise is the same: it will not bring back the dead, it will not fill our emptiness and hurt, it will not calm our fears, it will not bring peace. Instead, we’ll just heap new hurts on top of the old. Perhaps we should all reflect on that the next time we post on Facebook.

Highest Form of Disagreement

Highest Form of Disagreement

Democracy is a contact sport. Everyone gets bruises. Even the winners. And the kind of bickering we see today is not only unproductive.
It’s cowardly.
If you don’t have the guts to focus on ideas and stop tearing down individuals, you belong in the stands, not on the field. I want more leaders who are brave enough to focus on ideas and not ad hominem attacks. I want more leaders who are willing to say, “I hate everything she stands for, but I do not hate her. And neither should you.”
And I want more Americans who demand these kinds of debates for the sake of our democracy. Just ideas against ideas, let them fight it out, and if you lose, come back with better ideas.
Are millions of Americans ready to start fighting fair for the sake of our democracy? For the sake of solving common problems we all face?