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Friday, September 07, 2012

Election Update: I was slightly concerned about my prediction when I woke up this morning to see that the Real Clear Politics polling average had shifted nationally to a lead of .7% for President Obama. I looked a little closer, and it doesn't pass the sniff test. It's being skewed by a Gallup poll of all adults, showing an absurd lead of +10 for Obama. First off, NEVER POLL ALL ADULTS. If they don't bother to register, no one of consequence cares what they think. Secondly, most other surveys show a range between +2 and -5. Most firms are over-sampling self-identified Democrats. Frankly, they always do this. People point it out (especially since Republicans win most presidential elections) and they keep doing it.

Eight years ago today, President Bush had a polling average lead of +6.5. It narrowed by election day, but he won by about 2 percentage points. This is what sitting presidents do. If they are in a strong position, this is evident pretty far out. There aren't many come-from-behind wins by challengers in these things; the president is either weak or strong. The electorate was uneasy and suspicious of President Bush, but Kerry never had a chance. And Bush was on the weaker side of re-elected incumbents. Bush's campaign acted like they were ahead, because they were. Would you say that the Obama team believes they are ahead and in control?

I really think the media are in for a rude surprise. They might even know this, which is why they have manufactured a convention bounce for Obama.
I went to Adoration last night. It is one of those weird Catholic things. I had to unburden myself. Sadness and sighing. Sometimes, He makes me laugh. There were no laughs today. But the Monsignor told us that a boatload of young people are in the RCIA. He said that 11 of the 16 people he met with decided to look into the Church because of the witness of their friends. So that was inspiring.

You know, I went to this Eucharistic Adoration a lot in the months before I pulled the trigger. I wasn't sure what I believed about this Real Presence as they taught it. But it didn't matter. Jesus is Jesus. This is why I said, "Where Christ is, falsehood cannot be." I experienced what he meant when he said, "And surely I will be with you, even to the end of the age." Because we know he is sitting at the right hand of the Father. When He comes again, it will be glorious and terrible. But in this mode, He is not Judge. He's the one who said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom belongs to such as these." I don't know a whole lot, really. But I do know that God is Love. Jesus is living, breathing, walking Love. Aside from the Pharisees, is there anyone who didn't have a chance to know this when Jesus was here the last time?

Nothing matters except Love. The only ones who won't know are those who won't let go. Remember he said, "Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God." Being there with Jesus is like looking him right in the face if you're the woman at the well. You're hiding something, all strong and proud. But He knows. And with a word, all the walls come down. He relativizes everything in Love. I couldn't think of a single thing or worry that mattered.

Anybody who tells you that Catholicism robs glory from Jesus to give it to somebody else just isn't paying attention. That's a load of stuff. Anything or anyone you could think about or talk to is worthy because they were suffused with Love. When you go to Mass and share in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the words of the prayers leave you with this distinct impression: "Whoever wrote this actually believed Jesus was telling the truth." At the Mass, everything gets really simple. Heaven and Hell, death and life. And you have to choose this day whom you will serve.

There are no rules in Catholicism. The only rule is Love. I can't believe I ever thought it was legalistic. We either live in a world governed by Love, or in one governed by Self. If Jesus' commands are burdensome, it's because there's too much Self. Being reconciled to God is only a chore if you have the wrong view of the one to whom you are reconciled. Can you imagine standing in line, waiting for the sacrament, knowing already that you are loved? God wants to know if you love Him. It's not God who has failed in the relationship. Why would he fail us now? To bring us near, He does what He is.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

There are a few of you who are open to learning more about the Catholic Church and its claim to be the Church Christ founded. I want you to know exactly what I myself read in coming to that conclusion.

1. Upon This Rock, Steve Ray.
2. The Lamb's Supper, Scott Hahn
3. A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Scott Hahn
4. The Russian Church and the Papacy, Vladimir Soloviev.
5. The Early Papacy, Adrian Fortescue.
6. The Faith of the Early Fathers, William Jurgens. (vol. 1)

If you read these 6 books, you will have a good chance to understand the claim being made, and you will see the evidence upon which that claim is based. It is very true that a group claiming to be the One True Church without any evidence would be a band of schismatics, trying to charm people with whatever allure existed in the way they did things. But that isn't what's happening here. In fact, I should say that you won't take any other rival claimants very seriously at all, once you understand the challenge being made, and the fullness of the evidence for it. Books 4 and 5 deal primarily with the Orthodox dissent and counter-claim. But as I got into it, I realized that if that counter-claim of the Orthodox were true, I would have to become Orthodox. It wouldn't do to use the mere existence of dissent to disprove the Catholic claim, or to remain in another schism based on that dissent.

At that point, I landed back at Sola Scriptura, because what I came to wrestle with is the issue of continuity. Were I to dismiss the evidence pointing to a visible Church in favor of a "fits and starts" view of how truth was apprehended, my own authority to determine when and where that truth was found and lost came into question. That doesn't sound like Sola Scriptura, but it is. Who is the final arbiter of what Scripture says? Why would my determinations be any less ad hoc than anyone else's? Is there any sense in using my own hermeneutic to jaw at the Church of Rome when I cannot even prove my position among other brethren? It's not the same cheap shot as saying, "Look at all your divisions! How stupid! Come with us!" It's actually taking each one of those positions and taking them seriously in themselves, but asking, "Do any of these have more explanatory power than the others? Is there any way that I could hold this, and this alone, as probably true?" If not, how can I charge the Catholic Church with failing to hold "what Scripture teaches"? How do I know what Scripture teaches? This is the, "we can't all be right" argument. Or put it in terms of the Law of Non-Contradiction, the Presbyterian Church in America and the Southern Baptist Convention cannot both be correct in their particular critiques of Catholic doctrine in the same way at the same time. It doesn't mean one of them/us isn't. That is true. But it will murder the rah-rah BS of false ecumenism among Protestants, and especially the kind that is based almost entirely in anti-Catholicism. For example, Pastor Mark Dever of Washington, DC believes it is a sin to baptize one's infant children. It's totally fair to ask him to prove it. Many disagree, of course. But let's stop pretending that this disagreement is a minor one. Oh, well. At least we're not Catholic. Really? That's what we're going with? We're actually united in the essential belief that Catholicism sucks? Good to know. At least that's something. Or is it?

Keith Mathison's book, "The Shape of Sola Scriptura" really changed my life. I picked this book up in the hope that he could answer my grave and growing doubts about Sola Scriptura, and answer what was a gathering storm in the form of the Catholic claim. After all, that's why the book was written. I won't spoil the fun. Read it yourself. But let me put it this way: Every Catholic apologist from here to Rome itself should own this book. And Mathison doesn't even understand why.

I'm not overly bothered these days if someone says, "You know what, the Bible says X, so that's what I'm going with." Because that is a principled position. It might be naive, but it's consistent. But I will spend my days arguing the point that creedal Protestantism is a contradiction. The ecumenical councils were and are a naked invocation of ecclesiastical authority. To pretend otherwise is a willful self-deception. Make your choice: Either interpret the Bible for yourself, or have someone else do it for you. But let's murder the delusion of "derivative authority."

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Last October, in what turned out to be the prelude to a time of great darkness and pain, I went to see Stanley Hauerwas, one of America's premier Protestant theologians. He was giving a talk in my area about the gospel and people with disabilities. I had to go.

Mr. Cross invited me, and Tim, you were there, of course. Mr. Durrwachter was in attendance, as well. It was a big deal; a huge ecumenical gathering of theologians and seminarians from across many traditions of Christianity had formed. I think we were all knavishly expecting that the good doctor would swear a lot (he does that) but he didn't. When he began, his thoughts were a bit scattered; he is up in age, I thought, it's bound to happen. But he hit a stride, and he hit my soul. In truth, I have not recovered since. And I'm only now able to begin applying the lessons I learned about myself, and my place in this world. ["Lookin' for a reason/Roamin' through the night to find/My place in this world/My place in this world..."--ed.] Hauerwas said that unlike the rest of humanity, people with disabilities are unable to camoflage their need for love. It is a gracious mercy, but it is a severe one. It's completely true.

If you know me at all, you know that everything is full-bore. I do not do anything halfway, (except for obedience, it seems) and it's been said that I "have a personality like a bikini." I'm intense, passionate, loyal, and in some ways, reckless. I'm convinced that I'm in no wise cut out for the single life. In fact, this is a large part of the point of this post: I feel less human, less myself, because I've yet to receive this blessing. On the other hand, we are all called to chastity and contentment whatever circumstance we inhabit. And that is a war. To me, to be loved by a woman constitutes proof that I am understood in this world. I just want to be understood, loved, and known, even with all my faults. I recognize just as you do that this sounds like the desire for Heaven transposed. And if it is an idol, I do not bow to it consciously. On the other hand, try not to be smug; most of you aren't alone. I'm less likely to give a rat's behind what you say about contentment if you are married. Just sayin.' And please spare us all the cliches: "Marriage is tough," "Enjoy your singleness while you have it," and all those other stupid ones you say.

It's not about sex; it's what the sex signifies: "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." Have you thought about that? What better person to talk about the misuse of sexuality than someone who knows its good by its abscence. In an odd way, sexual sin is a great teacher: It shows you limits and possibilities for human relations. We can please each other, but we can't fill each other. To reach out for this kind of love is to beg to be welcomed on the most intimate terms. In the end, it is a microcosm of our desire for God. To break out of the need in order to give must be by grace. Who but God could achieve this without destroying the whole design? No wonder it is our strongest desire! Nothing else could be so powerful, and yet so empty in itself, as eros. But what could two people who love God see together?

This may be presumptuous, but I doubt that a counterfeit offer will ensnare me again. I want to find out what's at the end of this rainbow. Something so hard-fought as continence and chastity must conceal a great reward, even in this life.

What I want you to keep in mind is that I see your awareness that I'm different. I'm aware. My way of dealing with that is to seek assurance that we are alike; we are human. I need you to assure me of this--that I am human--even if you are shocked by the boldness of my request. I know it will be uncomfortable; I am at home in a doubt many of us take for granted. The Fall has robbed me of the conceit of autonomy; do not rob me of solidarity also because you are afraid.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Election Update: I broke down and watched the RNC on its final night, and had watched the previous night, truth be told. I won't comment but to say that this is not a bounce. The polls have shown a discernable shift toward Mr. Romney for weeks now, as he consolidates GOP support. He has the unflagging support of 90 percent of self-indentified Republicans. The media is playing up the remaining swing voters. 'Tis true, if they broke in large quantities (like 2/3 or 4/5) for the president, then he would win. But it's not happening. The electoral votes show the same thing; those states called toss-ups will have to all break for Obama. The opposite is occurring. We are looking at a trouncing in favor of the challenger. It's waiting to happen. The media, who are out of a job and out of a candidate by stating the obvious, will hide this. I'll write this here, because I'm bad luck on OFB, but this is 1980. Obama is Carter in more ways than one!

What you're going to see in the polls within the next 7-10 days is a bump up in support for Romney to between 49-51%. This is going to be the lead he won't give back. If the events on the trail move the needle, they'll simply reinforce the shape of the race. How well they are played determines whether the win is "convincing" or of "landslide" proportions. That's the part I don't know. Only a major foreign policy event that causes a rally around the president (like an attack on the nation) could change the race. I hope you like Mormons.

The voters are not going to telegraph what they are thinking, either. They won't tell pollsters now that they are voting against the first black president. The polls will be subtle enough to mask what is about to occur. The chattering classes will have plenty of fuel for denial, but it will be evident on the day.

As far as subjective indicators ("trail drama") go, they don't shift the race, they reveal momentum. Exceptionalism is such an ingrained American value that it is hardwired right into the race. The campaign that sounds shrill is the loser. It doesn't cause the loss; it shows you which campaign knows intuitively it's been defeated. Obama has sounded shrill since June; they made their big ad push in early summer, and barely held a lead against an unknown Romney, when most people weren't paying attention. It's like going out too fast in a marathon; the steady guy will catch you when you run out of gas.