Saturday, December 29, 2012

See you in Heaven, friend. I do wish it hadn't gone this way. But I envy you. RIP.

Define Your Terms

I live in two worlds. One is the spiritual or theological, and the other is political. I've always been political as far back as I remember. As you know, I'm pretty opinionated. I also think "extreme" and "extremist" are words people use when they don't like someone, and want to shut them up. Or you could use an adjective like 'far' with a spectrum descriptor like 'Right' or 'Left'. We all do it at times, and depending on the situation, it can be accurate or even welcome. But no one likes to be shamed and silenced.

My pet peeve is when people use 'Right,' 'Left,' and 'Center' in theology, as though there is a spectrum, and as though the science of theology is bargained, or even worse, a matter of perspective. Political power often is wielded by majoritarian consensus, or at least acceptance. But things of God don't work this way, and they shouldn't.

We may find that we have different truths as a discrete matter, and even different ways of determining it, but we aim for God, who is Truth. Your humble author may fail in the task of listening in that theological endeavor, and for that, I plead mercy and patience. I digress.

But I absolutely demand that we define terms. I also demand that we use terms appropriate to what we are discussing. And to sharpen the point, just because you are the president of a large, prominent ecumenical organization (for instance) and are known for speaking in humble tones doesn't mean either that you're a good listener, or that you know what you're talking about, especially when you cross into politics. And you can be guilty of trying to silence people, even if you speak in holy words. Because it is the height of arrogance to judge the hearts of those with whom you disagree, and to presume that you occupy some magical 'Center' that you hope other benighted partisans will one day occupy. Maybe making subjective judgments about hearts is a bad idea in the first place. For all you know, Servetus is a fun guy to have a beer with. Maybe Dobson isn't. But he could still be right.

Dobson's probably a bad example of keeping these worlds separate, and respecting the goals of each. But I trust the point is made. Politics is politics, and theology is theology. Ignore the legitimate boundaries of each at your peril. And you could still be an aggressor that detracts from the overall goal in both sciences: human flourishing. Not that I'm naming names today. I won't promise never to do it, though.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Birthday

Today would be my father's 60th birthday. It's hard to picture him as an old guy. He was 36 when I lost him. I'm sad, of course. As I said in the post called, "Funeral," it's a hard thing. But sadness isn't the only feeling.

The other very strong feeling is hope. It's a funny thing when you follow Jesus: (Note well, NYT/clueless media) some of us actually believe this stuff. I really do believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. I have no idea how the Lord will judge my father, but I have great hope.

I suppose I should say "has judged," but there is still the end to come.

I have lesser hopes, too. I hope he is proud of me, and all his children. Perhaps it's fitting that the only enduring memory I have of him is seeing him look down and smile at me. My brother and I, his oldest children, we think a lot about how we carry our name--his name--and whether we do it well. There's a spiritual metaphor in there, but you're not infants; draw the conclusion(s) yourself.

That's the thing: I only remember that he loved me. If I think of all the substitute fathers I was given besides him, I can see where I have drawn false conclusions about God. But it comes to this: God Our Father is only Love. You might say, "What about justice? You spoke of a judgment." [What about justice? You spoke of a judgment.--ed.] What of it?

There's a movie called, "What Dreams May Come," starring Robin Williams. Now, let me say right off the top that theologically, if you are anything close to an orthodox Christian, it won't hit you just right all the time. But as a side-note, Williams gives a great eulogy at a funeral for one of the characters. I want to say that this movie is very special to me, and I suspect for a lot of people who have lost those very close to them, maybe more than once.

But overall, it takes loss and the hope of eternal life very seriously. And the main point is this, and I think despite the errors, it's a worthy one: If you fall under God's wrath, that's your decision, not His. God's mercy is so vast, we can hardly speak it. And none of us really understands. When we turn away from God, we hate him, but also ourselves. That's how perfectly we are made for Him.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Death Of A Paradigm

"Derivative authority is a sham." (This is the idea that the creeds have a secondary authority derived from Scripture.) That's what I realized. When I read Mathison's The Shape Of Sola Scriptura, it confirmed that impression for me. Not that I had any warmer feelings for Catholicism (he brought up a ton of potential problems and objections that deserved exploring later), but I saw that he was making a distinction without a difference in his basic thesis. (Sola Scriptura vs. Solo Scriptura)

If there was one thing where I rose in defense of the Catholic Church, it was in his taxonomy of tradition: Tradition I, (Church fathers) Tradition II, (medieval Catholicism) and Tradition III (Pope makes up whatever he wants). Because there was no difference between St. Thomas's theology and Trent, and no substantive difference between Origen and Trent, especially on the crucial issue of free will. The basic Reformed/Protestant storyline of the Middle Ages--the burdensome, semi-Pelagian treadmill that was Catholicism--is a lie.

Moreover, the idea that St. Augustine was some sort of proto-Calvinist is also a lie. It just is. He has enough statements affirming free will that it's a miracle the Reformed didn't call him a Semi-Pelagian. [That's not nice.--ed.] I'm through being nice with people who should know better.

Hey Dr. Confirmation Sponsor Guy! I hear people saying your articles are too long. I totally agree. They're enormous. But if they were shorter, they'd say you make bold claims with no evidence. No win. I just think they're not used to being challenged.

It was Chalcedon that sealed the deal. There I was, reading along, (of course, I already agreed with their conclusions) and I noticed that these bishops acted like they had an independent authority. That the Holy Spirit had given them the authority to adjudicate the question. They did not base their conclusions on Scripture. I can't recall a great many citations, in any case. What an arrogantly Catholic thing to do! So this is how it happened? Uh-oh. Death Of A Paradigm, film at 11.

You don't even have the right to say, "The Council agrees with me," because YOU WEREN'T THERE. Neither was Luther or Calvin. So, the challenge will be to somehow hold on to its truth on some other basis than the context offers, and hope some fundie doesn't say, "We don't need them!" Oh, wait, they have. Shameless ad hockery, still. Rob Bell with a bigger bookshelf, and a degree from Covenant.

If you're going to shatter the whole Western Church, and essentially claim that we've had the wrong soteriology for 1000 years (not to mention that we should ignore all relevant ecclesiastical authorities), you better have a hermeneutic a little stronger than, "We don't know." Actually, they claimed it was, back when. Only when the full horror of the falsehood of individual interpretation and the optional submission to ecclesiastical authority reaches its full flower do you now claim, "We don't know." How nice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas, Day 2

It was a fine Christmas. Before we took our places at the front for the concert and Mass at the Cathedral, we stopped at the creche. It was a little hard to focus, but I think I was able to bring to mind all the broken relationships I am aware of.

Honestly, we live on different planets, me and many of the people I know. It seems hopeless. But that was how it surely seemed when Jesus came in the flesh to the world he made. That stirs hope in me.

I felt like I was demanding things I had no right to ask. But I'm sure it only feels that way because I do not understand the meaning of my sonship in the household of God.

I got 2 little things as gifts. I don't need stuff; I need people who name the name of Christ to be friends, and I need people who don't know Him to meet him. Pretty simple, but I am a simple man.


Monday, December 24, 2012


I looked up "heresy" in the CCC. It's paragraph 2089, if you're scoring at home. "Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same." So Luther may well be a sympathetic figure, as may be Calvin or any others. But they were definitely heretics. By the way, one is perfectly free to dissent from the dogmatic definitions of an ecumenical council, but if you do, you're not a Catholic in good standing of any sort, by definition. So let's cut the nonsense about how the Church acted hastily with regard to Luther, or in error. They did no such thing.

The faith of the first millenium was as much defined by fidelity to the visible Church as by its propositional content. Indeed, that's why heretics so often claimed that the Church was corrupted, and thus separated from it.

I don't have to use strawmen arguments against the Reformed; I don't interact with that theology by way of Catholic theology or Catholic presuppositions; I don't have to; questions that deserve answers suggest themselves. Maybe my editor and other Reformed readers could concentrate on being consistent, rather than blaming those who apply it consistently with being unfair.

Just my thoughts. By the way, why should I repent of my particular sins particularly under pain of eternal wrath if Christ's death on the cross has efficaciously forgiven all (past, present, and future) my sins? If God sees only Christ when he looks at me, how would he even know what I'd done? Why are we asking God to forgive our sins/trespasses that have already been forgiven? I await an answer.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Catholic Actually Means Something

It came to me as I received the Lord today. Both experientially and theologically, Catholic life is less about remembering the past, and is more about living in grace in the present. The old man doesn't finally die long ago; he dies here and now as we take the gifts of our sonship and use them for that purpose.

But it shows me more and more how stupid sin is. Sin is acting against our sonship, and with all the gifts of the Church, it's even more pointless. Added to the blessings of sonship, there is the pursuit of further holiness, and the glories of intercession and mysticism. Even the heights of Protestantism can't touch this. It's the sacraments, mainly.

You'd think I'd be talking less about the present. After all, if you say "Catholic Church," you might get "tradition" and "history" back in answer. But let's not mistake her evidences, her reasons for credibly telling us what to do, for the essence of the thing.

I have to think that while my Reformed comrades and I had great faith and knowledge after a fashion, even the best of us would terrify your average vocations director in the Catholic Church. I was so wicked, and frankly, there was no real way to be otherwise. If everything is a sin, then nothing is. And a cycle of scrupulous zeal and total burnout is pretty normal.

Anyway, I'm trying to remember that especially Jenny and Jamie need my prayers, even if I don't feel like praying. There is a strong sense of "just do it" in the Catholic Church, and I'm glad for that, if nothing else.