Saturday, March 16, 2013

Everyone Gets A Nickname

Everyone I care about gets a nickname. I try to make them flattering names that they'd enjoy if they heard them. Sparky, Junior, Lucy, Comrade, (we gave each other that one) Confirmation Sponsor Guy. They might start out as gentle tweaks, but I notice that each one fits better as we share more of life together. I can't help it. I subsist as a creative force on catchphrases, and nicknames. Who am I kidding? I'm not a creative force. [You beat me to it.--ed.]

On the other hand, some of you I care deeply about don't have one yet. That's OK. I'm working on it. It has to work. It has to fit.

What does it mean, to have a nickname? Well, I can tell you what it means to me. It means that you are unique. It means that my life has flavor because of you. When you get the name, it means that my soul laughs a little at the thought of you, and when I share it, it means I want us to laugh together.

I'm discovering that parents do this a lot. God does it a lot. Of course, when He does it, it's a teachable moment for the entire world. Then again, with God, it always is.

If you're reading this, there is a 62.1 percent chance that you have a nickname from me. Hey, if you get a moment, drop me a line. I'd really like us to laugh together.

Why I Love Star Trek

I was coming home after dinner with friends, and I couldn't get it out of my head. It was a melody composed by Jay Chattaway, written for what would become the most popular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both the episode and the piece are called, "The Inner Light." It's a simple, haunting melody, and it's the sort of thing you hear, and immediately want to hear again. The emotional power of the episode has something to do with it. I'll not tell it here. Let's just say that it's the epitome of Star Trek in its relentless optimism, and its abiding humanism. That was Roddenberry's vision. Star Trek has room and the creative forces to go beyond that vision to a point, but not to repudiate it. And I think that if there was a criticism I could level with those who carry on the tradition of Star Trek, it's that it flirts with being too gritty, too present-day. I'm the furthest thing from a secularist, so it could always rub me wrong, and hit false notes. But whatever the Christian tradition conserves, and the revelation of Jesus Christ means for human limitations in a certain sense, it has never been misanthropic. Christianity is humanism writ large. Jesus Christ reveals Man to himself.

When I was a kid, I wanted adventure. I needed to be unbound from certain limits of everyday life. Star Trek touched that need powerfully. No matter what's going on, you are more than this. You have more to give and to be. It's transparently aspirational. This is why the atheist-humanists get weird about aliens and space: You can repudiate any "religion" you like, but we are made to give ourselves totally to something--Someone--bigger than ourselves. I would say this Saganist (Saganian?) quasi-religious vision only scores points against Christianity when that faith is conceived fideistically. A closed, incurious faith is no match for the enormity of what humans could, and do, know. I digress.

If you think it's just a geeky TV show, consider that this one show aired 47 years ago, spawned 5 spin-off series, and 12 films. And don't even begin to think it's over. This is not just a niche; it's a bonafide cultural touchstone. Star Trek has power because its storytelling fuels are the questions of meaning. What does it all mean, and what does it mean to me, and for me? Depending on what you find therein, it may not be the right answer. But you have to appreciate anything that inspires the right questions.

The whole body of ideas and stories is littered with literary allusions, historical references, and insights from every field of human inquiry. You can snare a boy with any good adventure. It takes something special to make something that grows with him, that inculcates a life-long curiosity and openness to learning. That's why Star Trek is special.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Listen To Dr. Liccione, Children!

"The main reason I'm Catholic: If nobody since Christ is infallible under any conditions, then religion is a matter of opinion. That makes divine revelation *as such* epistemically inaccessible. But divine revelation as such is epistemically accessible. Ergo..." --Michael Liccione

If divine revelation is epistemically accessible, it must be accessible by certain means. What are those means? They would be the basis of the agreement between Catholics and Protestants, in this case. The Ecumenical Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. There are two roads we can take with this: 1) The Council has authority as such; or 2) the Council's conclusion is correct, but it has no authority as such. Interesting question: How do we assert its veracity over against alternatives, if it is not an authority in itself? What is the principled basis upon which to do this? Can we account for this becoming the orthodox position without, quite frankly, the bald imposition of ecclesiastical fiat? I do know one thing: We cannot, in a principled way, agree with the Council Fathers on other terms than the ones they offer and still call ourselves "creedal." We owe it to them, not just to ourselves and some notion of consistency. And that's why I'm Catholic.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Back To 2002

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. Remember when George W. Bush was a guy we all liked?

4. Remember when Jason Mraz released his debut album?

3. Remember when I was 22?

2. Remember when Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi at the US Open for his then-record 14th Grand Slam title?

1. Remember when Daniel Pearl died?

My Dogs: The Idiot, The Bully, And The Tool

I love dogs. For our family, dogs (and cats) are like our brothers and sisters. I don't mind the charge that we are too close to them, because we probably are. My mom called The Idiot "her favorite son" today, and I had to yell at her. Well, I didn't yell. I protested. His real name is not The Idiot, but this is a story; just go with it. Anyway, my mother would probably kill you if you restated the long-standing Christian teaching that animal souls are not eternal; they are completely dependent on the survival of the animal's body. When that body dies, that dog soul ceases. I'm not a philosopher; if you are, fill in the terms yourself. You may also send the angry letters to Dr. Lawrence Feingold, and St. Thomas Aquinas. I digress. I want to tell you about my dogs.

The Idiot is not an idiot at all; he just thinks you are. Or evil. He won't come when you call him, at least not when he's outside the house. We think some evil person abused and neglected him, because he hates leashes, gets freaked out a lot, and likes to run away. Really, we love him more than words can say. He's still learning to trust us. His funny thing is to stand on the deck and stare at you a foot from the door, while you fruitlessly call his name. He's the sweetest dog ever, once he reaffirms that you are not the dog's equivalent of Stalin. We rescued him a day before a vet in another town was going to put him down, because the shelters will not take a dog who won't walk on a leash. We don't walk him; we have a fence. He likes to jump it, but he now always comes back. Do not ask me how I didn't melt into happy tears when telling you all that. I don't know.

The Bully is the smaller of the two Min-Pins we have; The Idiot is a fairly big mutt of some kind. The Bully is bossy, noisy, and kind of aggressive. She's some kind of freak, and won't shut up until you yell at her. If dogs can or could suffer bipolar disorder, this is the dog. (Not that any of you are freaks if you suffer in this way, but you recognize that it is a less-than-ideal state. I sincerely hope you are vigilantly treating any mental illness, as you would for a physical ailment.) She would eat The Idiot's food for the first few days, and he's just so darn polite. Doesn't think he deserves anything. He's a Puritan, this dog. But The Bully loves him. When the two small dogs got into the bad habit of relieving themselves in the house (Mom was gone for extended periods, and we didn't trust The Idiot to come back to me after jumping the fence, though he has never gone in the house) we had a true annoyance. The Bully leaves little presents everywhere. At least The Tool goes to the bathroom in the bathroom. And it's impossible to scorn a dog for going where you do. She's still a tool, and I'm about to tell you why.

The Tool barks at everything and everyone. Don't walk, and don't talk. And don't ever use the word "cookie." We are hoping this jerk doesn't learn to spell. Don't make noise, don't drop things, and don't bark. And she thinks it's always time to eat. If you stand up and walk toward the kitchen, she thinks it's time. She wakes up at 6 AM to bark and go outside. She's like Simba on the day Mufasa was going to show him the whole Kingdom. She's a tool. She didn't used to be like this, but she's nearly 12, and old ladies just don't care anymore. She thinks it's fun to open my door at 6 AM, even though I'm a quadraplegic who will take at least an hour to get up. It is now perfectly normal to be woken up at any obscene hour to tell these yappy dogs to shut their pie-holes. The little ones even trained The Idiot to bark for no reason. The last reason she is The Tool happened just tonight, and inspired this post.

The Tool wanted to go outside. At 11 PM. She was insistent. Unless I like puddles like prizes on Let's Make A Deal, I will oblige. The Idiot is like a young woman; he won't go alone. He's so darn polite. He waits for them, too. The Bully was upstairs with my stepdad, and had no part in the proceedings. Thank Heaven. When I saw The Idiot leap off the couch, I knew I was in trouble. He's gonna jump the fence, I thought. And I neither have the ability nor the time to go out the front door to meet him on the driveway after he jumps it. He was out there awhile; I think he realized I wasn't going after him. Oh, yeah: I HAD TO PEE. But things are not OK until all the kids are in safe. I told you. We're crazy. The Tool was officially chagrined that The Idiot had not returned. She returned to my side and told me to do something. Obviously. But I could do little, other than call him. After some minutes, I noted that The Tool was no longer standing there. Had she snuck back outside to beckon The Idiot? Was I that oblivious? I scoured the house. Meanwhile, the other dog was somewhere in the wild. Thinking the worst, I figured he left, betrayed again by unloving humans who had forgotten him. Even if not, it's dark and cold. This is not good. I decide to meet my needs and wait him out. He returns. O joy! But The Tool is about to earn her name. Where is she? I lurked about the house, finally deciding that she could not have snuck past me. 13 times, lurking about this floor of the house, I searched. I tried The Cookie Bribe. I called her so many times, if she was a woman, I'd be arrested. No barking. No moving. I asked The Idiot if he knew anything. He said, "She's a tool, man. I don't know." Where did this harried man find his disobedient child? Right above my head, as I passed through the hallway to the foyer. The stairs are right above the hallway connecting the foyer to the living room. This tool was laying there in silence, watching me as I vainly called, worrying about a cold, frightened dog for half an hour. I may be an idiot, but I think I'll make an excellent parent.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

We have a Pope! The 76-year-old former Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has taken the name "Francis." He's the first Latin American Bishop of Rome, and the first member of the Jesuit order elected to this office.

It was a complete surprise. I'm really happy. Honestly, it was harder than I thought it would be, the Inter-Regnum. He is the principium unitatis for the entire People of God. When all who are united to Christ are reconciled to one another, they will also be united to the Successor of Peter. I have always understood my conversion most in terms of my union with my bishop, Archbishop Carlson, and his union with the Bishop of Rome. That's as Catholic as the doctrine of the Trinity, or the Bible.

I was surprised by his age, but the Cardinals and God know what they are doing.

O God, be with our shepherd. Bless him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Help us to be obedient children, trusting him, and so, trusting You. May he always trust in Your mercy, for himself and all of us. I pray this through Christ, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, Amen.

The New Atheism and Open Minds

I took a shot at Richard Dawkins last night on Facebook, because there was a photo meme depicting women's suffrage being opposed, racial equality being opposed, and gay marriage being opposed--in that case, with really offensive names for those who are same-sex attracted--and then it said, "When will you realize you're on the wrong side of history?" It richly noted that it was sponsored by The Dawkins Institute For Science and Reason. Let me be impolite here: When did a bunch of atheists corner the market on those two things?

First off, let me be direct and get the personal stuff out of the way. New Atheist Guy I Know, I'm calling you out, buddy. If you want to believe whatever, fine. But you're not half as smart as you think you are, and if you put aside your anger and try to think clearly, you might begin to see that one can make arguments against a whole lot of popular political things you like (gay marriage, abortion, whatever) without ever picking up a Bible. And you don't have to "hate" anybody. It's easier to dismiss people with ideas you don't like than it is to listen to them. I'm going to do a little unfair psychoanalysis of my own. Nominally Catholic father, young mother who got married because that's what you're supposed to do. It didn't work out. Mom "got religion" either then or later, and seemed like an alien from another planet to the guy whose Catholicism was more like the brand on a cow. Maybe some other stuff happened. But first off, you could just admit that you're angry about the whole thing. I wonder what Dawkins is angry about? I'd be mad at God, too, if these people who chatter about Him so much can't even realize how much damage they caused.

And frankly, I'd run away to the woods myself, do some drinking and whatnot. Find some people who just get it (because they've been through it, too) and F$#@ everybody else. Religious conservatives? Political conservatives? What's the difference? All just liars with secret skeletons in their secret closets.

I get it. And I might even do it, too, but for this one thing: There's only so long I can seek pleasure for its own sake, or hang with people doing the same thing, before I realize that it's not enough. I'm not truly fulfilled, and I'm still angry.

I digress. I'm not a philosopher, but has Dawkins or Sam Harris heard of metaphysics? They must know the Greeks argued to the existence of a First Cause from reason alone well before Jesus or Sarah Palin showed up. One sign I saw--since these atheists "evangelize" now--said, "There's probably no God. Relax, and enjoy your life." How? What does "enjoy" even mean, without reference to a Supreme Good, through which our life participates to a greater or lesser degree?

Actually, I really enjoyed Sam Harris' TED talk on ethics. He holds a pretty solid virtue ethics that he thinks we can hold without God. Who's gonna define it, if it isn't written in the world itself by the Creator? Wouldn't it be a will to power thing? This is what simple folks mean when they say, "What about right and wrong, if there's no God?" It doesn't mean we're afraid of the Big Man in the sky. It means we're afraid of the vagaries of that dude's ethical system, he who holds the power. If he's not bound by a higher Law, he's bound by no one but himself. How well has that worked out in history?

See you later. Sorry for any offense.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Have Something To Say

5 Thoughts For Today

5. There is room for the recovery of a robust awareness of the divine election among the descendants of the Hebrews. And insofar as an ongoing practice of those traditions facilitates a greater awareness of God's work in history, and a thankfulness for the New Covenant in Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is good. There is not room, however, for boasting. I would refer you to Deut. 7:6-8 if you doubt it.

4. I learned a lot from my time among Chinese here in St. Louis. There is a deep reverence for family, probably unrivaled by another culture. Shame is sometimes a bigger problem than guilt. And you work hard, and you don't complain. But it will not do to tar an entire culture as "pagan." God desires to transform every culture through the Son. But make no mistake: He's left the fingerprints of his goodness on every single one, just as he has with every single one of us.

3. There isn't even a thesis for this Master's, and I still feel like a whiny baby. I am clearly not Chinese.

2. If I do have Irish blood in me, it doesn't show. That one beer has sat in my fridge for who knows how long. [It will not do to tar an entire culture as "drunkards."--ed.] Touche.

1. I was going to make a Mexican joke, because I know Bob Lozano will read this, but let's just say I don't want to offend other people. Bob's pretty good at destroying himself (and me, for that matter) so I'll tell you what, Bob: [Insert Offensive Personal Jab Here].

Welcome to Rome, Comrades

Five Thoughts For Today

5. Fr. Barron got some good press from his Catholicism series, though I haven't seen it yet. The word is that Colleen Carroll Campbell will be reporting from Rome each day until we have a new Pope. Speaking of video series, how come no one ever thought of the idea of Colleen Carroll Campbell reading the Catechism from interesting locales? We could call it, "CCC reads the CCC." We could make millions.

4. You may be judging me right now for that last joke, but don't you forget: good fun for the whole family is made from bad puns and wordplay.

3. I read some article from the National Catholic Register like, "Nine Things You Need to Know about the Conclave." Now, I'm a faithful Catholic, but their description as to how this is all going to work made it seem a little tacky. It could've been worse, however. The National Catholic Reporter would have a piece saying that Obama should be the next Pope.

2. Here in St. Louis, Mike Bush is going to be reporting from Rome. "That's odd," I thought, "isn't he Jewish?" On the other hand, St. Louis is a huge Catholic city. The only thing bigger than the election of a new Pope in this town is opening day for the Cardinals. Then again, this is opening day for the Cardinals. [That's even worse than the last joke.--ed.]

1. Did you hear that they're jamming the cell phone signals of the cardinals? Is that really necessary? I already know some important people, but I can tell you that none of them has ever said, "Yeah, I've got Cardinal What's-His-Name on speed dial."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Paper, Write Thyself

I have a paper due. I believe it will be about the Eucharist. [Everything's about the Eucharist.--ed.] Well, everything's about Jesus. And so it goes. I'm not good at papers. I usually wait until the last minute, waiting for the lightning of inspiration to strike. I agree that this is not good. But you have to understand me: something has to come together, I have to see the big picture, or it's not going to work.

With this beautiful new software from Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I believe it will really help me. I'm enjoying composing this very post with that program. The first time I did it, it was a bit difficult. When it messes up, it can be difficult to fix mistakes. I've been doing that manually since I began.

Anyway, I think I learned something last night. I have so many interests that perhaps I am an expert in absolutely nothing, except maybe blathering randomly. I suppose I'm going to be a theologian, which will make it important for me to come up with a plan, some focus or area of study. Roger E. Olson had a blog post today about the controverted question of Karl Barth's universalism. I confess that it is a curious question for me. What little I've read of him I really enjoy. Heresy or not, he has a keen pastoral sense and a gift for communicating in everyday language. There is a reason why he was perhaps the most important theologian of the 20th century. I think in terms of dialogue with the Reformed, Karl Barth's theology will become even more important, not less so.

And so, I think that when I'm not doing specifically the work of a Catholic theologian, I'm going to be reading Karl Barth. I already read Prayer, which was transcribed on his only trip to the United States. If he is even remotely as readable in other works as he was in that one, it should be an enjoyable journey. Besides, you never know when you might need a Karl Barth expert. And sorry Tim, I can't let you have it.

One of the frustrations of recent days is the realization that the Catholic Church has not well communicated the truth and reality of the Second Vatican Council. Others will fill the void if we do not. And it stands to reason that they will fill it less accurately than we would. Dogmatic precision is not the enemy of ecumenism, but its necessary motivating force. The only reasonable basis for reunion is agreement, and that agreement cannot be achieved when the terms for debate are stuck in a vague haze of sentimentality. You all know that I can be very sentimental at times. But definitions and their creation is never the opportune occasion for this.

As the days pass, I become even more appreciative of my teachers, and more specifically one, Prof. Douglas Bushman, who constantly reminds me and all of us, "Define your terms!" One of the great hindrances to reunion is what Bryan Cross calls, "the ecumenism of non-return." I suppose it could be legitimately questioned whether the Catholic Church is the church that Christ founded, but to even ask the question that way supposes that there is a home to which we must return as Christians. Without this, it is impossible to even define the faith once delivered, much less to achieve agreement as to its shape. The principle of Sola Scriptura, along with the notion that the church is invisible makes agreement, and therefore reunion, impossible. The anatomy of a conversion is precisely this: finding the means by which the Christian faith was defined in the hierarchical structures of the Catholic Church. With those means still in use, one need only submit to those means, and to the men who use them in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am often asked why it was so easy for me to accept distinctively Catholic and somewhat controversial doctrines like those which pertain to the Virgin Mary. And the answer is that my theology has always been a received theology. To change authorities may well be a great life change, and may be surprising to friends and family. But to me, it ended up being a simple matter. I was never comfortable with possessing my own personal fiefdom of theological knowledge and control. Those elements in confessional Presbyterianism which militate against and mitigate the risk of individualism are appealing, but only make the question of authority all the more acute. As I've said before, the question of authority has to be the right one, owing to the reality of the Incarnation, and this is why the word "history" is on the lips of so many who convert, or at least consider it.

As I once wrote, we cannot know that we have been wrong if that consideration has been made impossible by prior commitments. To explore the claims of the Catholic Church is self-consciously to put the prior commitments of the Reformation in the light of historical scrutiny. I was willing and able to do this only because my previous notion of authority and the fig leaf of "derivative authority" were shown woefully insufficient to answer the pressing questions in theology.

You must forgive me; I did not intend this to be an evangelistic rant. Welcome to the blog! More like the freak show. I think I should write that paper now. Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weird Night At Mass

I went at 5:30 with Mr. Ackerman and Cam. We sprung forward last night, so the light was high. It really is magical when you know spring is upon us, and it's balmy. The priest was passionate and memorable. I sort of ignored the music, because it didn't really help anything.

The readings were about reconciliation, and I realized that I needed it to be Laetare Sunday. I don't really think it's been much of a pious Lent for me, but the penitence of the season is wearing on me. We've been through a lot. There is no such thing as mere formality in the Church of Jesus Christ; the people who say this have never been truly Catholic in their lives. We are knitted together on every level, and I almost wish I was being sentimental.

I was fine until he said, "For these prayers--and the ones unspoken that well up in our minds and hearts..." That wasn't the only thing that was welling up. I have never felt such a yearning sadness in my whole life. It almost knocked me over. Don't let anyone ever tell you that time heals all wounds. I've never heard a worse lie. Grace does. Love does. But let's cut the crap. I'm not OK, and I can't even bother pretending.

"Give us this day our daily bread"--and that's all it was. I go on, because I have little choice.

I didn't want this to be so heavy; I'm sorry. I want to give you hope. If I had any extra, I'd share. The only thing I have to say is that there are two phrases that cannot be overused: "I love you" and "I'm sorry."

"All things," eh? I want that.

Step Into The Daylight

5 Daylight Savings Thoughts

5. The whole idea of this preposterous.

4. Falling back is indeed better, but I always stay up an hour later, thus defeating the purpose.

3. And it being fall ruins it usually, too.

2. I don't believe those of you who say you love fall. I don't know what your angle is, but I'll find out.

1. Yes, I will set my clock so it's an hour ahead in any season. I am JK. Deal with it.