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Friday, November 22, 2013

You Shall Know The Truth...

"The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it's scientific truth, historical truth, or personal truth. It is the guiding principle upon which Starfleet is based!" Thus said fictional captain of the USS Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, in rebuking young Ensign Wesley Crusher for his role in an Academy training accident cover-up. We'll have to forgive the captain for not saying "moral truth," but obviously, the German idealists had not been purged by the 24th century. But the statement holds; there exists one Truth, ethically, scientifically, and theologically. Another way to say this is, there is one reality, not many. The right and most human thing to do is to take one's proper place in reality. There is so much we see that is contrary to reality.

Injustice is a denial of reality. Bound up with reality itself is the concept of justice; that is, to give every person what s/he is due. True liturgy is the worship of God in accord with the truth about God, and about ourselves.

The truth in all spheres finds us, and demands to be acknowledged. Even in those areas where human finitude hangs an impenetrable fog over that which ought to be known, we know that the whole of reality is there, just beyond our grasp.

Don't be afraid to take a second look. Things are not always what they appear. We must be seekers and doers of justice, "no matter how cleverly she may hide herself," as the fictional lawyer Lucien Wilbanks said.

Today, in the smallest measure, justice was done. And any time justice can be done in this hard world, it should be. I daresay that those who witness it when it is are bound to celebrate.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Easy For Me To Say, But...

I realized something profound in a new way today. I spend a lot of time talking to people when I'm not reading theology or writing. And the most important thing I have ever done is encourage others, and pray for them. And frankly, the thing I pray about most often is suffering. Doesn't matter if it's theirs, or someone else's. It's just there, all the time. Large or small, it's probably the most obvious thing you see from day to day. We're not going to escape it, and here's the key: we shouldn't try. Because even though Heaven will be the absence of suffering, amongst all the glories, He came down here to suffer not only for us, but with us. God with us.

How do you feel now about your suffering? If we're supposed to find God, find Christ, then the truth is, He's right here, in our suffering, and we will find ourselves in His. What are we doing, trying to escape it? That's our key. Recall it was written, "My power is made perfect in weakness." But before you just let it pass, like so many Bible verses we've heard before, take a minute to think: Power to do what? For what? To be with Him. That is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The good, the bad, has but one purpose: to bring us to God. Trying to be with God without suffering is like trying to fly. By all means, let's groan and cry together. The person who tells us to suck it up is as bad as the person who's trying to pretend it isn't there. But we cry because God made a good world that is not good right now, at least as we find it. The people who laugh at horror we call, "crazy," not spiritual. But that we laugh in joy and cry in sorrow is proof that we matter. We matter immensely.

There's a philosophy called existentialism, and as I understand it, it's the idea that the world is absurd, and we must make our own meaning. That's just it, though: the world is not absurd; it makes perfect, painful sense. God loves us so much that He is shouting at us, trying to find us. If we could only feel our pain, instead of hiding it, we'll find Him right there with us. God with us.

This is why I could only pray the Sorrowful Mysteries for so long; this is why I seemingly cry all the time. You'd cry too, if you saw it all the way it is. Somehow, I'm also the most optimistic person I know. Figure that out. On the other hand, I was before the Blessed Sacrament 2 weeks ago, and I was given these words, not only as words, but like a feeling you know at the core of yourself that never subsides: "His love never stops." It was overwhelming; I wondered if others saw me falling apart. Yet if I fall apart with Love, so be it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. Coke actually goes good with anything.

4. OK, I know that she is actually extremely attractive, but seriously, the music of Susanna Hoffs is really good.

3. I am thankful for new friends in Christ, no matter how distant, or how divergent the paths of our lives.

2. God, pour out your loving mercy on our former president, George W. Bush, and we thank You for his service to us.

1. God shows his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


What's The Question? And Have I Understood You Correctly?

I had to look up "begging the question" for seemingly the millionth time, because A) I'm not Bryan Cross, and 2) I've used it wrongly in that informal sense of "raising a question" at least 72 trillion times. It means assuming the point in question in dialogue, and using that assertion to prove a further thing. It's a type of circular reasoning. Fascinating stuff. I wonder how many times I've gotten angry in a discussion because I begged the question, or failed to ask my partner if I had recapitulated his statement or point accurately? (And listened for the reply) I don't have time to argue much anymore, so it probably seems as if I'm calming down. At least on my social network of choice. But it isn't so.

You can see why the informal usage of the term would come about. The prudent way of phrasing a question in this type of setting would be "Whether..." and in such a way to produce a yes or no answer, if you get that far. And that lends itself to, "This begs the question whether..." Arggghhh!

I didn't come here to tell you that. I wanted to talk about music. I was listening to pop music again like always (or almost always) and it's as if the ghost of Kevin Bacon lurks everywhere, because I started with the Eagles, and I ended with Edie Brickell last night. What? Anyway, I find it humorous that music critics like to suck up to semi-obscure bands and artists that supposedly blazed the trail for a much more popular person that they feel the need to diminish. It's so predictable. On the other hand, they inexplicably tell you when the height of that person or band's popularity was, as if it should matter. If Dan Fogelberg was doing music that he loved in 1997, and he had the freedom to keep doing it, it doesn't matter who else likes it or not. On the other hand still, we're not obligated to hate something because it's popular. I've told you that there's a special bond between the artist, and his or her true fans. Once you trust them entirely, your taste is of secondary concern. You ride along just to see what the music means to the person or people. In short, you are friends. It matters to you, because it matters to them.

Take Garth Brooks, for example. I'm one of his friends in this sense. He took a big risk in 1999 with the "Chris Gaines" thing. (It only takes a little bit of effort to understand that he was to play a movie character, and the album was the character's greatest hits.) But it was a huge commercial failure, especially in light of the fact that Garth is usually trading the all-time best-selling solo artist in the US with Elvis on any given week. But I'm telling you, the Chris Gaines album is the best one he's done. Yes, it's literally a pop album by the universe's biggest country singer. I understand that it's jarring. But I stand by it. I sing every word on that album. If I had the chance in Vegas to talk to Garth, that's exactly what I'd have told him.

I listened to a bit of Kenny Loggins this morning, from the Leap Of Faith album. I will eventually listen to the entire album, and probably multiple times, because that's what I do. "Conviction Of The Heart" is a great song. It's catchy, it's earnest on a grand scale, and lyrically, it's one of the most profound songs I've ever heard. It's almost a let-down when you realize toward the end that it's advocating environmentalism. In any case, what do I care that this album was the beginning of the end of his commercial fortunes? Nothing. If Kenny is being Kenny, I call that a win.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Book Doesn't Answer Follow-Up Questions

That's the other thing. Even if you completely ignore the "arbiter/receiver" problem, (at your peril) the Catholic interpretive paradigm is superior on its face. That is, it claims and does more stuff. Whether it's true is something you have to seek out yourself. But if the Christian quest is to distinguish in a principled way between divine revelation and human opinion, we'd have to admit, the Catholic IP actually does it.

This wouldn't mean anything in itself, but for the fact that the Reformers claimed that the new way of finding and receiving doctrine would be clearer. The failure of the Protestant IP (Sola Scriptura) to deliver on its own terms is the reason why Newman says the burden of proof is there, not on the Catholic Church.

Every Christian desires to know the will of God, and do it. The Protestant communities have no way to tell anyone what it is. Their authority is contingent upon the consent of the individual, and their concurrence with him. If he doesn't agree, he just leaves. The communities themselves have not ever decided whether "heresy" means, "You don't agree with us" or "You have no part with Christ." And they can't, because an invisible Church is a(n) hypothesis to deal with a difficulty: the difficulty of the fact that the individual is the final arbiter of orthodoxy. This is the reason why Leithart was found not guilty, and no other. He held the trump card, and he played it. The prosecution stated up front that they would not attempt to prove the truth of the Westminster Standards. Leithart called their bluff, and dared them to try. How did I phrase it last week? "Prove to me from the Bible (according to me) that I'm wrong!" He figured out what everyone should already know: Your community and its purported authority is a paper tiger. Disagree with the Westminster Standards, or your presbytery's version of them? Big deal. Whoop-de-doo. Disagree with the Council of Nicea? You're risking Hell. Why? Because, when it comes down to it, TE Johnny-Bob would rather plagiarize and rely on the authority of the Catholic Church in that case--no matter what else he says--than not have it be there at all. If he's an honest man, he'll begin to wonder why he's so ad hoc about it all. If not, well...

At bottom, all the separations between Christians boil down to a liturgical dispute. God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, desires to bring us into deeper communion with Him and with each other. There is but one "reasonable service" that can be offered in response. That's liturgy. That's even the exact word. We either 1) don't agree precisely on what He said, or 2) what to do about it. That's why unity for unity's sake is stupid: it violates the freedom and conscience of people. But that's also why "Who sent you?" is exactly the right question to ask in terms of authority. The various communities of Christians are liturgical societies in conflict, and that's to be expected. But we may find that many should not exist at all. Food for thought.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Liturgy, Community, And Ecumenism: Why An Invisible Church Destroys The Gospel

I'm just gonna say it: There is no principled distinction between Sola Scriptura and "Solo Scriptura". Protestants, like Dr. Anthony Bradley of King's College, NYC or Keith Mathison, or Peter Leithart, or whomever can attempt to make one, but it doesn't exist. If Scripture is the final authority, then man must be the final arbiter of what it says. The principle arose in the context of a Church whose received dogmas, practices, and jurisdiction were believed to be fraudulent. If you reject ecclesiastical authority, you reject it. Even if you try to be cool about it, and start a rival community, you can't get that back. You've made the individual the arbiter of divine revelation, and set up a scenario of unremitting, irreconcilable hostility between the man and the ecclesial community to which he belongs. This is the real reason why there are so many denominations. Sola Scriptura should really be called, "The Principle of Ecclesial Fallibility," because that's what it is. A fundamentally invisible Church goes right along with it; after all, you're saying that no visible manifestation of Christian community has the final right to bind my conscience if I firmly believe that Scripture teaches otherwise.
The good-faith version of this is what we call "The Noltie Conundrum." You're sitting there with your best shot at what the Scriptures say (or a part of them), talking it over with some brethren from another community, and you say, "What makes him wrong, and me correct?" And, if I disagree with my community, how would I know if I was wrong? Frankly, aren't I the judge and jury?
Say it with me now: "One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time."

Dr. Bradley said in response to this article: "Ryan, the problem with your entire article is that you have wrongly defined what "sola Scriptura" meant from the Reformation. It in no way at all means what you was. "Sola Scriptura" was the idea that Bible is the final authority for matters of discerning faith. It does not mean that there are no other sources of formation in the Christian life." 

I say, I dare you to make this distinction real. I dare you to try. Mathison couldn't. Leithart seems to think his dizzying intellect will make one out of thin air. But sooner or later, if the man does not lay down his trump card, he has no way to prove he's not submitting to himself. And in fact, he is.