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Friday, November 09, 2012

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Grace is like a reset button for the sojourning Christian who stumbles.

4. Arguably, Daniel Craig may be known as the best James Bond of all time.

3. I am surrounded by great friends, many more than I could hope for.

2. I like my politicians honest, actually conservative, and physically fit. (Let the reader understand.)

1. It's obvious that she was beaten senseless with the Beautiful Stick.
On the one hand, I'm neither a big believer in conspiracies, nor compelled to recklessly guess at the workings of God's providence, but let's review:

--Polls suggest that the man who would be the first Mormon (AKA, Institutionalized Arianism) President of the United States leads by as much as 5 points less than 2 weeks before the election;

--A monstrous hurricane COMES OUT OF NOWHERE to slam the eastern coastline, wreaking havoc, forcing the challenger off the campaign trail for a week, while the sitting president is seen by all, assisting the local authorities;

--The Republican governor of New Jersey praises the sitting Democratic president for his assistance, after having spent the better part of 4 years ripping him to shreds;

--Exit polls report that 42 percent of those who decided within the last week said the hurricane was a factor in how they voted;

--The Democratic president wins a second term by narrow margins in the swing states.

Like I said, I'm not a subscriber to crackpot theories. Meanwhile, Arius could not be reached for comment. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Yesterday was completely shocking. The conservative press and most Republicans truly believed Romney would win. Barone is right about one thing: the political cultures are tightly sealed, and never really touch. That in itself is bad for the nation.

There seems to be another Christian reaction to all this, mainly from evangelicals: that all this fussing is really idolatry, because isn't Jesus King anyway? It's a retreat. And the dirty little secret is that your hermeneutics do this to you. After all, where does the dissonance created by disunity go? There's a patch like on a spare tire on the ecclesiology as it is. To avoid the hard questions about dogma and the implications of an invisible "Church," there's a pretty high tolerance of theological agnosticism, beyond the barest creedal committments, and those are ad hoc.

If those are fideistically derived, moral absolutes in a pluralistic public square is definitely a bridge too far. People who aren't explicitly relativist are de facto, because they're just worn out. Theological convictions appear to arise from mere preference and tribal loyalty; why wouldn't public policy?

I know theologically conservative and politically liberal people by the bushel. I know a girl who supported Hillary in 2008, and at the risk of being rude, I thought, "That makes no sense." How people rationalize their faith in Christ with the systematic murder of human beings is a bit of a mystery, but then again, I can't convince Fred of my theology of grace; maybe I can't convince him about abortion, either. They sound like Rodney Kings of Christian political engagement: "Can't we all just get along?"

Challenging them on a point like this elicits a defensive reaction regarding some policy of the opposite party, as if imprudently dropping a bomb somewhere is morally equivalent to the deliberate killing of another human being. Or the subtle suggestion that Jesus cares just as much about marginal tax rates.

Which is not to say that I think God is a Republican, or that I have personal animus toward President Obama. Far from it. And that's really the point I came to talk about.

Did you watch Obama's victory speech? As theater, it was beautiful; it was moving. The emotive power of the words he used is still there, even if Obama standing there saying them is the proof that they've been emptied of their meaning. There's no way to be smug about that, because any normal person would want to join him in the goal, even if we're not sure what it is.

All that is to say, if we don't recover natural law, not to mention answer the urgent call to Christian unity, political engagement is liable to be seen as a matter of taste, just like our respective theologies.

I hated the fact that I wanted to see the president succeed, knowing he lives in a moral malaise that makes it impossible. We don't have a "common bond" if we cannot define the words that describe it, nor put forth the effort to create a shared one. And that should fill us with profound sadness, not anger.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Here on this momentous day of decision, I wanted to take a step back from the politics for a moment, and thank President Obama. Do you realize what America did four years ago? The same country that was digging in its heels to protect systemic discrination de jure against a whole group of its citizens-- the murders, violence, and exclusion that we've read about and many older than me lived through, inflicted on the American descendants of African slaves brought here against their wills--we have repudiated all of it, just by voting? Though the president himself is not precisely of this stock as the son of a Kenyan father, and a caucasian mother, he really did change the way we thought about all those painful chapters in our history. It by no means ended racism against anyone, but there is now a racial cynicism that will always be anachronistic in our country, by the very fact that Obama was elected. Malia and Sasha Obama really can dream as big as they want, and if one of them dreams of sitting in the very chair where their father sits right now, no one can ever kill it before it has a chance to fly by telling them to "be realistic." Just think about that for a minute.

Countless non-whites have achieved dreams once thought impossible, and this man being elected was neither the beginning, nor the end, of that. But it is another chapter in the amazing story that is America. And the president's own flaws, or the fractious passion of our politics, cannot take it away. How many kids are sitting in school as we speak, dreaming as they never have, because of Barack Obama? You don't have to like him or think he's a good president to be thankful. Nothing will be the same again, and on this score, that's a good unqualified.

In some ways, even if Obama loses, it proves even more how far we've come. The first black president can become the first black one-term president. Someone has to do it. I hope there are many more, I can say with a chuckle.

Apart from anything else, I'm glad for that today. Maybe we needed some distance--and even some dislike--to see it more clearly. 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Sometimes, injustice is right at your feet. I can appreciate those who desire to help half a world away. We need that, too. But right here in America, good people suffer the indignity of false accusation. And our system doesn't guarantee anything; it leaves the most patriotic and optimistic Americans wondering what in the Mike Nifong is going on here.

Mitt Romney and President Obama aren't even on my mind right now; I want my friend cleared; I want him back in his place, where he belongs. I admit, maybe I took him for granted. Though I told him before it all happened, "I'll miss you when you go away." I think the emotion of it surprised him. I hate when I get weirdly prophetic like that.

Now, I just want to fight. The people who did this are lucky I don't know them. I'd never hurt them, but I would scream in their faces until they cried as much as we have. Lord, have mercy.

I'll never laugh at another joke about these issues again. I know that much.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


A Pittance Of Grace, and the "Noltie Conundrum"

After going to Confession for what seems like the gazillionth time in a very short period, I think I understand something about mercy today. Mercy is the love of God for sinners, in the simplest terms. He showed me how deep the love goes, in the person of His priest.

Those of you who think Catholicism is some kind of performance treadmill are, I'm sad to say, insane. On the other hand, there are enough little details and devotional practices to keep door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen in business for centuries, if you put them in books and did that sort of thing. [This is the worst metaphor ever.--ed.] All that is to say, you can put yourself on the treadmill pretty easily.

And I think I've been doing that recently. You get wound tighter than a drum, and a little proud, and you're asking for trouble. One never wants to sin to find out how much one really needs God, but it can happen that way.

In any case, the heart of the disagreement between Catholics and Protestants pertains to the nature and the application of the redemption wrought by Christ, not a debate as to whether someone else has done it. And any good Catholic knows this. Encouragement in the confessional sounds like a good Protestant sermon. Catholic homilies sound like bad movies on the Hallmark Channel sometimes, but that's changing. [Shut up; you don't believe there are bad movies on the Hallmark Channel.--ed.] No comment. I digress.

I had this feeling during Mass today, this feeling of "Mere Christianity." Again, many people in other communities think they are practicing Mere Christianity, and this is in fact the stated reason or purpose for which they remain outside. But we had never taken account of how much of our identities, how much of our theology was one of negation.

If nothing else, being Catholic is about surrender. It's about love and trust. The Church is human and divine, just as the Lord in His Incarnation. But when we talk about that human element, we're not talking about sin at all; we're talking about the fact that Jesus was unashamed to take on flesh; the redemption is to be wrought in us, not merely for us.

If you talk to other Christians about the humanity of the Church, you almost get the feeling that it's a concession, a hedge, a commentary on the Fall. On the one hand, the frailty of humanity is no more in evidence than in the Catholic Church. On the other, those four indelible marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic, are as real as the sun in the sky. They're not just things we hope for, though they are. They really are irrevocable promises given to the Catholic Church.

That's not a boast, because it goes to the heart of why we disagree with our separated bretheren. The Protestant most times is entirely comfortable with dogmatic uncertainty as a consequence of sin; he can explain myriad theological disagreements this way, and all manner of schisms within, with an apparent added benefit that they never get blamed on anyone in particular. Barth, to his credit, would vomit, but this is where we are.

And I want to be clear: this is not ecclesiastical cheerleading; in fact, if you asked me on the whole who lives purer lives, more Christ-like lives, I might say Protestants do. It is to say that Catholics are more comfortable with personal soteriological uncertainty; dogmatic uncertainty sounds like a slander against God, and it is.

It's as though the Reformers traded dogma for security, and ended up with neither. As lovely as this warm-sounding Protestant "catholicity" sounds, can't you hear the doctrinal agnosticism of it all? "Well, Fred the Presbyterian is gonna baptize his babies, and while I think that's (borderline) damnable, we're united in the real Church." Whatever that means. But even if I wanted to get more committed to a certain set of things, how would I do that? Will I simply invoke the Holy Spirit, to sanctify my hopefully studious reading of the Sacred Scriptures? That's great, until I happen to notice that at least every Protestant is ostensibly doing the same thing. Now, I might've had an opinion as to what the Scriptures say that I personally think is exegetically and homiletically superior to what Bob the Methodist says, but the very demands of charity and humility (not to mention the fact that the Methodists aren't going anywhere, nor is Bob) prevent me from damning Bob to Hell for disobeying what the Holy Spirit is obviously saying. How kind, right?

But here's where it gets fun: I'll go back to my church, and Bob to his, and if we want to know what the Scriptures say, we'll ask them. Oh, we'd lie about it, since we're supposed to be asking God the Holy Spirit and reading the Scriptures, but isn't it remarkable how everyone sounds like whomever started the tradition we happened to be in? Which would be fine, if we had any way of knowing that we were right. Can't ask the church literally; that's a betrayal of Sola Scriptura (and too Catholic). Can't piecemeal it; that's prideful and fundamentalist. In fact, the people who have a Catholic ecclesiology and lie about it are called "confessionalists." There's a connection to the Reformation, so you don't even realize it. So I guess "lie" could be a strong word. We call the other people "missional" or some such, because they go wherever they think God is leading. It might not be Him, but who can say? They don't really care about ecclesiastical committments, (or they care less) because they (rightly) see God working all over the place. The confessionalists have a point: are these hippies going to just make it up as they go along? What about the past? Our forefathers? Truth?

Not that it helps to be a confessionalist. An idiot's read of history indicates that it's a mite anachronistic to accuse Paul of being a Methodist or some such. We can look up the history of anything we like; that much is clear. So, where am I getting all that confessional dogmatic certitude? Even if I were dense enough to miss the fact that my reactions to some abrogation of the doctrinal standards are not exactly Reformational by definition, apparently, I am unfazed by the blindingly obvious point that our people were not there, our doctrine as we understand it and defend it "to the pain," was not there, either. Something was. Someone was.

I feel your pain, confessionalist. I'd nail some dude to the wall for being out of step, too. But for the fact that those standards depend on an historical continuity and notion of authority that the Reformation rejects, by definition. To put it more simply, (I hope) it doesn't matter if he's out of step with some statement of faith if that statement ultimately means squadoosh. What good will authority and tradition do if everyone agrees that those are a "help," not the end?

I'm just rambling, now. I'm leaving. The truth is out there.