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Friday, November 02, 2012

Fine. Politically and ideologically, I have a viewpoint. It's a strong one. You can fool me (See "Obama, Barack, 2008") but my basic approach and opinions on matters haven't changed much in 10+ years. I will not sit here and tell you that I'm either moderate, or open-minded in a certain sense, because I'm not.

But I can tell you for certain that I'm a patriot and an optimist. I've only had an active dislike for one candidate the entire time. [You forgot McCain.--ed.] Well, that's debatable. It's not like I'd have been upset if he won. In any case, while I might naturally be an optimist, I also consider myself optimistic in application of the biblical truth that Jesus is Universal President for All Time. This is just true.

I do find it irritating that people who don't understand issues or the game of politics in America wade in to give this lecture to politically-engaged Christians, as if we've never heard this before. Firstly, if you truly don't know what the fuss is about, thank you for the reminder that this is not our home, but shut up. The fact that you are Christian and desiring not to rob Jesus of His glory does not entitle you to look down your nose at those who are deeply passionate about war and peace, social safety nets, or what have you in a way that you don't understand. You don't sound holy and above the fray; you sound like a fool.

I digress. Though I am gravely concerned about the evil of abortion and its increase, or the possibility that my party is not committed to peace and just war only as a last resort, for example, my default reaction to the election of the "other guy" (or anybody) is, "Hmmmm. The people and God must know something I don't."

And that goes for Barack Obama. He is not a punishment from God; he is not evil incarnate; he's not even close to the worst president ever. If he wins, well, there must be a reason. Those concerns I have--grave ones--about life, death, and the relation of Church and State will still be there. But as long as we are free, we have no reason to be downcast. And even if we were not, could you even dare withhold your prayers from one in the image of God?

Truth be told, I wish that the big chair in that fancy house in DC was the Church, because I know God would have something profound to say (or do) to the son of George Romney, too. He may say it anyway.

In some ways, I am the most partisan of men. My opinions are strong, and I will share them. But in another way, part of what it means to "come together as Americans," if that means anything at all, is not to agree, but to hope for the best, even to believe it will be better, even in spite of ourselves. In something like 96 hours, this election will be over. To let it have its place, and be done with it is not to dismiss it as insignificant, nor is it to spiritualize it away in some spasm of moral superiority, but it is that very act of recognizing the City of Man and the City of God by letting go.
Happy All Souls. Or Solemn. Whatever it's supposed to be. I miss my Dad. I thought of him last night. The priest had told me to offer prayers for loved ones who need it. I just mentally prayed for him without a thought.

On the one hand, I have no sure confidence that he arrived in the place of mercy that is Purgatory. At the same time, God's mercy is infinite, more than any of us know. So I prayed. And again, just now. If God's chosen ones still need sanctity, He doesn't hold out on them, even after death. I get that not everyone believes in Purgatory, but as an Actual Catholic, in fact, I do.

Anyway, Dad. Every day, I realize how much I want to be him, in all the ways that are good. I definitely feel like my relationship with God is Dad's. If I can honor God even in the ballpark of what He deserves, then somehow, it will be said that the Kettinger name is a good one, and by the One who matters.

My name--that is, my reputation--matters to me a lot. Though I suppose that living for Christ will mean that it will mean squat in the world of men. Still, that is the gravest wound to me that one could inflict. That I am not good. Maybe I'm proud. If people say I am a bad man, and I know it's false, oh, well. But if perchance I am a good man, and they say so, why should I disdain it? One of the things that has inspired me are all the good stories people told about my father. Even if those are just stories of natural goodness, it is a charge to keep.

I'm going to see my brother this afternoon. He'll tell you who he is most like, and who he wants to be. That is, if he doesn't say me, and that humbles me. I only know that the small piece of ourselves that was ripped away the day he died, we have found in each other. That's why we love baseball. Because he did. That's why my brother loves his son, and why I want one. Because Richard Roy Kettinger loved his. Not that I couldn't love a daughter. Not at all. But you men know what I mean.

If you don't have qualms about praying for the dead, pray for him, will you? If you do, thank the Lord for such a good man. Especially if you see that in me.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Happy All Saints Day! I can remember All Saints back at Christ Our King. Ol' TT always had some story of some old person who did something crazy. I wish Pastor LeCroy luck in getting the Catholic out of that congregation.

And that reminds me to say, lest I be accused of sounding angry and self-impressed, how much I relished my time in that place, and in the PCA, until I made it Home. There are scads of wonderful people all over the place, and, well, if God knocks on your heart in that special way...don't say I didn't warn you. I didn't want to leave. That's a promise.

I will readily admit that I have a low tolerance for BS and lies. And Reformed theology, specifically with respect to the question, "Why are we not Catholic?" is a house of cards. More like a house of poo. I also openly admit that I like to annoy people. I like to say things in such a way that gets you mad, and looking for answers. It's time somebody did.

Anyone who actually knows me will find me personally engaging, slow to speak, and quick to listen. My writer persona is me, but not entirely. If that bothers you, I suggest your problem is with the little twinge of conscience inside, in terms of the Catholic Church.

Because to this day, I wouldn't give back all those years, the laughs, the truth. True as I'm sitting here, I left family there. Closer than blood. So don't you dare--if I may be bold--tell me I've got it out for people. I did what I had to do. And if I now use the gifts I've been given to throw that same light on the path that leads here, what's that to you? This is about Jesus Christ. That's who all of this is for. The question is, are you willing to die for those particulars where we differ? I am. If you're not, let me again frankly suggest that you don't take Jesus as seriously as you ought.

The time for Kumbaya and theological appreciation is over. It now obscures the Truth we need to find. If you dissent from Catholic teaching, fine. I hope the reason is good. All I mean to say is that all the ones I heard before this were crap. 89.9% of them were refuted in about 2 hours. I'm sorry if I need a reason to believe something. Oh, the horror of it all!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's my second-least favorite holiday ever. No, not Halloween. Halloween is awesome. [Halloween Awesomeness Rant Omitted] Reformation Day. Especially since "holiday" means "holy day." Pshhh. The only thing holy about it are the holes in the theology, and the historical narrative that we're supposed to believe.

Frankly, I can't believe it still passes muster among intellectuals anymore. Not to mention the whole, "Yay! We're celebrating the heroes who shattered Western Christendom into a million pieces!" Even if one is frankly dumb enough to believe a particular conclusion in contradistinction to the Catholic Church is the right one, the whole hermeneutical process ends in a cul-de-sac. Let me know when you figure that one out.

But it's inevitable, really; the vital link between ecclesiastical authority and dogma has been eviscerated by the elevation of the primacy of individual interpretation. This is what all the fights in Protestant circles become about: the conflict between external ecclesiastical authority and final interpretive authority that rests in the individual. Once again, the fundies are in a much better place; they don't hide their rejection of external ecclesiastical authority.

"Derivative authority" is a fig-leaf, a phantasm. If you inquire as to the basis of that creedal orthodoxy most of us share, you reach this inevitable conclusion: the divinely authorized and Spirit-guided determinations of the Catholic Church are the basis of that orthodoxy. Everyone needs to recognize that this awkward middle position cannot hold. It's an arbitrary selection to elevate Nicea and Chalcedon to the gold standard absent a principle applicable for all time. Namely, why (er, these) is this ecumenical council correct, while the others are not? To sharpen the point, why should we treat your rejection of the Council of Trent with any less disapproval than our forefathers treated the Arians?

On some level, I would love to believe the conceit that the Frankenstein monster known as "medieval Catholicism" provoked and justified the Reformation. But that's a lie. St. Thomas Aquinas is medieval Catholicism, and there is no necessary connection between his theology and the corruption of the time. Indeed, one could easily and persuasively argue that the problems in the Catholic Church were due to an insufficient attention to, and understanding of, St. Thomas, not a slavish devotion to him.

The reality is that Luther wasn't as smart as he thought. He did not understand the theological and intellectual riches of even the atrophied Church of his birth. Rather than admit he was out of his theological depth, (for one thing) he proudly charged ahead, changing the very nature of how a Christian receives and knows divine truth. What exactly this has to do with a very human leadership who fails to live out that truth, I still can only guess. The others did the same. To Calvin's credit, he at least applied Luther's fatalism with a modicum of consistency and systemic rigor. And the benefit of that cannot be underestimated. Calvinism asks you to accept that you're a puppet on strings, and then invites you to celebrate those strings.

Quite aside from the historical investigations, I had to face a philosophical and theological conundrum that was simple, in the end. I'll state it multiple ways, so you can see where I went:

1. Man is a sinner;
2. God owes him nothing;
3. He would be totally justified in leaving Man in his sorry state; (all true, so far)
4. Therefore, God can redeem a few of the undeserving if He wants, and leave the rest.

Did I miss anything? But let me destroy this with a syllogism of my own:

1. Man is a sinner;
2. God owes him nothing;
3. He would be totally justified in leaving Man in his sorry state;
4. BUT, He has announced his redemptive intentions toward Man in Jesus Christ;
5. Men will be held responsible for failing to accept this call;
6. Therefore, Man has the ability to accept or reject the call of Christ;
7. Ergo, Calvinism sucks.

Or, stated more simply:

If the judgment is real, the choice upon which it hangs must be real.

In Catholicism, one can even posit that God gives wildly disproportionate amounts of grace to each person. True. But He always gives enough to each person. Romans 9:22 might be a whole lot more troubling if St. Paul hadn't used the exact same metaphor to make the apparently opposite point in 2 Tim. 2:20-21. Hilarious. I love the Bible. I digress.

What exactly are you celebrating, again?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Vegas Vacation
 
 
I left with my mother for Vegas on Friday the 26th at 4:05 AM. I had only slept for 2 hours, but it was the most refreshing two hours of sleep I ever had. We were obviously excited. This was a "bucket list" kind of thing: Garth Brooks, country legend and best-selling solo artist in US history, doing his final shows. He's all of 50 years old, and he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. If you don't know this guy's music, you should. It's not only great music, a lot of it matters.
 
When we landed, it was discovered that a clamp holding the joystick of my power wheelchair in place had broken. Frankly, I couldn't drive it. But they got some tape, and they called a local vendor right away. As it turned out, he had it fixed in about 3 hours. By the time of the show, I was back in my own chair. But I want to tell you about the replacement.
 
It was, by any definition, a scooter. I amusedly thought to myself, "I'm getting a preview of my old age." Scratch that, I said this out loud. But while I'm here, is there a reason why assistive devices for the elderly have to be slow and ugly? Where is that written? So I'm going to drive a normal wheelchair as long as I'm able, for the record.
 
The power was in the front. The back wheels had no motor. Even at this boringly reduced speed, it was hard to drive. Front-wheel drive cars at high speed "fishtail," that is, the back end goes in the opposite direction of the turn. The chair definitely did this. I ran into walls and things, failing to compensate for this. My muted screams were probably my mother's entertainment for the day (at least until Garth Brooks).
 
The best way I can describe this device...it's a front-wheel drive Barcalounger. I both hated and loved every minute of driving the thing. Obviously, the person who designed this has never driven a wheelchair of any kind before. This is how we move. What we want--what I want--is something that can be learned quickly, and that using it is natural enough to approximate walking. That is in fact what I'm doing. I'm walking down the street or sidewalk. Trust me people: We laugh at people crashing their wheelchairs as surely as you do watching someone run into a wall. And yes, I often call it "walking," unless I'm being comedic, or specifically talking about the chair's operation. What would you call it?
 
I digress. We get to the Encore Theater at the Wynn Hotel early. We're taking no chances. There is country music playing on the radio as we come in. It had to be a mix, because I remember thinking, "No way this is a radio station; they never play this many awesome songs in a row." All '80s and '90s country, mirroring when Garth came on the scene. We talked to a couple of people on the way in, waiting for the doors to open. Everyone is excited. In the 1990s, Garth Brooks filled stadiums inside 30 seconds. He played a free concert in Central Park in 1997. Yes, New York City. A million people showed up. Before I came, I had a sense that this was a lot like seeing Elvis in Vegas in the '70s; forget that; Garth is way bigger than Elvis ever dreamed. Elvis couldn't pack a 500-seat theater for multiple shows a night for a minimum of $250. We didn't even flinch. Of course, we'll pay that. That's cheap. And ever since he semi-retired in 2000, he understands what he is. He left people wanting more, not wishing he'd go away. I do believe when the curtain falls for the last time, he's not going anywhere. There will be an album and a tour soon.
 
It was just Garth and his guitar. And it wasn't what you'd expect. It was a biography. He wanted us to know who he was, how he'd gotten here. He talked of his mother and father, what they were like. He told us what music they listened to, and how that influenced him. And then he sang it. He surveyed each decade, from the 60s forward. It was incredible. We could have sat there 6 hours, just talking to Garth. The reason why Garth Brooks is the biggest star in music is that he understands why music is important to people. He loves it as much as they do. And he knows that his music is part of that now.
 
It never sounded like he was doing cover songs. He did them all in such a way that we understood what he had taken from his influences. I'll never forget the James Taylor as long as I live. Garth named his oldest daughter "Taylor" after James. You can easily hear him, if you listen. He told the story of being on a live TV show about to perform with James Taylor. Garth was a wreck, thinking he'd have to perform cold, because Taylor doesn't like to rehearse. No; he's just shy; he wanted to come to Garth's dressing room instead. When Taylor began to sing, Garth could only cry. That earned him a hug. And Taylor performed one of Garth's songs as they inducted him into the Country Music Hall of Fame. So did several other legends, and they were not country singers, most of them.
 
A lady actually collapsed during the show. It delayed it 15 minutes. When Garth came back, he said a prayer, the kind of prayer you say if you haven't been catechized well, or you feel guilty about something. I know he's made some mistakes in his personal life. And there was a moment when he talked about an artist who helped him understand "the things they don't talk about in church on Sundays." I'd certainly ask him about this, if I had the chance.
 
There was another really powerful moment, when someone yelled out that he should sing "The Change." This powerful song was written by a man named Tony Arata, and it was written in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. To hear this request obviously caught Garth's attention, and he wanted to know why a man travelled from Mexico just to hear this song. Well, he wasn't planning on playing it, but he worked part of it into the show.
 
I gambled, (made the final table of a poker tournament, though nothing came of it) drank some margaritas, and hung out with my mom. There's not much to tell. We had a blast. I have a new favorite vacation spot. Did you know alcoholic drinks are complimentary in most of the casinos? Great idea! Or maybe not. Did you know that your odds of winning in a casino are highest in Las Vegas? Yes, I was surprised as well. We looked it up. I think penny slots and video poker are great inventions. You don't need to win, or go broke, to have a really good time in Vegas. If you can afford it, stay at the new Trump Hotel. They apparently found the nicest people in the entire state, and hired them as hotel staff. (And it's a really nice hotel.)
 
What can I say? It was a great time. 80 degrees the whole time, though it was chilly at night. I'm definitely going back.