Saturday, August 03, 2013

It's Back

Let's talk about this. I've never been a free-wheeling evangelical. I believed in Christ at the age of 18. I spent some time in Churches of Christ; I found my way to the Reformed. I can even say that I was the theologian before I was a Christian. In my senior year of high school I studied European history. One cannot help but note that the disputes between Protestants and Catholics form a large part of what drove that history forward. Simply out of curiosity and intellectual honesty I delved into those issues as best I could at the time, because if it mattered to people, then it should matter to me as someone who aims to chronicle the lives of people. All that is to say that at no point in the last 15 years have I been casual about doctrine. After college, I spent six years at a Reformed seminary learning intently something that purports to be the very historic Protestantism that is the antidote to allegedly becoming Catholic. There's only one problem: I'm Catholic. I wonder if this author would care to revise her thesis?

Frankly, you can blame the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapters XI and XV, and Heidelberg Catechism question 78 for me being Catholic. To be confessionally anything only invites the questions of historical continuity and authority that we (former) Protestants would have liked to avoid.

It seems to me that in the absence of some objective criteria that establishes theological continuity to be measured in any century, we would have to arbitrarily assume that some confessional document, some monument to an allegedly historic Protestantism, was synonymous with the word of God. In a real sense,--you must forgive me--there is nothing "historic" about those documents at all. There is a presupposition that the Fathers gradually erred in their holding of gospel truth, depending on who we ask. Somewhere, as the story goes, the courageous reformers recovered the gospel from the clutches of the Pelagian medieval Roman Catholic Church. Pick a reformer; it doesn't matter. The story is the same. Except that in the mercy of God, I saw this story to be a lie. In fact, taking the reformers at their best and boldest to claim that they had better recapitulated the Church of the Fathers, the lie is demonstrated even faster. To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, to paraphrase John Henry Newman, and it's true as far as I can tell.

Don't Mess With My Guys

My reply to the subtle suggestion on a blog that the great C. John Collins ("Captain Jack") is some liberal crypto-feminist, perverting the Scriptures:

"I had the distinct honor of sitting under Dr. Collins as a student. I'll not mince words: Only an idiot would question Captain Jack's fidelity to the Scriptures, and to the Word made flesh. Most of the people who say things about him aren't fit to carry his jock-strap, if he has one."

I'm Catholic, but you better not mess with my guys.

When All Else Fails, Write A Haiku

Before I retire,
leaving you to another,
you are Elegant.

Friday, August 02, 2013

All The Cool Kids Haiku

Sing a song of joy
For the Lord of Life reigns now,
tears notwithstanding.

The Rosary Chronicles

I admit that everything I'm about to tell you is entirely subjective. You would have to become convinced that such a devotion is not contrary to the word of God. Ultimately the only way this takes place is by trusting the Church who gives the devotion to us.

I have prayed the Rosary regularly since I was received into the Catholic Church. I have found that it is a comfortable place to express all my prayers, and not simply the ones that are contained within this devotion. I am tempted like anyone else not to pray, but I have begun to enjoy the contemplation of it, and the unexpected moments that come with praying it consistently.

For reasons I do not understand, I have been drawn to the Sorrowful Mysteries for quite some time. I have begun to suspect that I continue to contemplate the Sorrowful Mysteries for some reason that I do not yet see, or some person I am aiding that perhaps I have not met.

Yesterday, in the middle of the fourth mystery, I felt distinctly that the Blessed Mother was hearing my prayer. It felt like a hug, a tender embrace from someone who dearly loves me. I can't back that up; I wouldn't base any major life decisions on it, but it was real as far as I know.

There is something central about the Passion of Christ. No matter how many different things we could choose to argue about, we cannot get away from the centrality of His suffering and death for us. There is no reason why we would want to, but it is worth articulating: "in him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins."

I Don't Care What Millenials Want From The Church

What is the Church, anyway? Aren't you just being an ecclesial consumerist, in any case, deciding what the "Church" believes and how to harmonize the wildly disparate theologies of whatever "reformers" you happen to prefer? Just asking.

That's what Andrew was talking about. Well, he was pointing out the ambiguity introduced by Sola Scriptura, and what it does to the visible institutions of theological control when the "Church" becomes fundamentally invisible. The trial wasn't about Leithart at all; it's just a little picture of what happens when the real arbiter (Leithart) of what Scripture says collides with the visible institutions who pretend to be that arbiter. As Andrew Preslar had written elsewhere, the other name of this individualism is "ecclesial fallibility." You have to replace ecclesial infallibity with personal interpretive infallibility (fundamentalism) or you end up in agnosticism. Stellman took great pains to keep the focus on Leithart's distance from the Westminster Standards, and not the much harder--that is, impossible--question of what Scripture says, at least in a formally sufficient sense. But just because you choose to assume the Standards teach what the Scriptures teach doesn't mean that question goes away.

The only way you remain a "creedal Protestant" is with an ad hoc individualist approach to history, and failing to properly contextualize the Christological heart of the whole thing: the first two ecumenical councils. Whether that is culpable ignorance is up to your conscience.

Haiku For The People

I am but a man;
led around by foolish whims.
Into your hands, Lord.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

Hey Jason Stellman, I hope your novel doesn't start out like that. On the other hand, this culture has quite the penchant to worship novelty, and to make an idol of cleverness. As I've said before, they call them clich├ęs because they are true.

I wrote a short story a while back and I realized it wasn't over, so I kept writing. I'm in the middle of the seventh part, and I think it will be 20 parts when it is done. It really wasn't meant to be a little reflection on my conversion story, but that's kind of how it turned out. I need to keep going; it is so easy to say you're going to do something and then let it fizzle out. If I intend to be a writer, then I have to write. I don't know if it's good; it probably isn't. Still, I have never written fiction before. Once I started writing this story, I wrote several terrible short stories in rapid succession.

I think one of my annoying tendencies as a writer is to inject myself into the characters I create. But I don't know what to do about it. My main character is profoundly moral but weak, and I can think of no better description of myself.

I wonder what Bob has to say about this?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

While "The Party Of The Poor" Bribes The Middle Class...

One person needs about $800 a month. And a little help. If our "assistance" programs aren't providing at least this, I'm telling you, we're not actually providing a safety net at all. I paid off a car and got a college degree with that. And I'll have an advanced degree soon, God willing. So I may not be your typical conservative. The reality is, though, that's without any grievous moral mistakes or habits that cost. I have a great support system, a good moral foundation, and a couple credit cards. What if someone else isn't so lucky or smart?
We're going to have to be the kind of conservatives who don't freak out at the phrase, "direct cash payments" in some instances, even as we continue to insist that the gravy train stops somewhere. Read this. Go on. A person with a permanent disability is exactly the kind of person who knows the balance between a "culture of dependence" and self-reliance. Even as some self-styled "conservatives" really are just selfish, heartless barbarians, the Democrats will destroy the whole apparatus in a spasm of uncritical self-congratulation masquerading as public policy.

Ockham Called; He Wants His Nominalism Back

Let's talk about this. I do not agree that there is only one hero in the Bible. I also do not agree that your kids are becoming atheists because they are burned out on trying to obey. Frankly, your kids are burned out because the theological system that you and they labor under fosters pride. Some of them will never escape the "iron couch of introspection" and will forever be the victims of their own sinful self-awareness, because grace is only favor; it is neither required nor likely that anyone will become more holy by believing that the only reason they are holy is because the Father looks at them and sees Christ. The others will cut out the middleman; if they are ever and always reckoned righteous by an alien righteousness that has nothing to do with them, why waste the time and effort becoming more holy? They'll be antinomians, and they'll probably enjoy themselves in a certain sense. In any case, they're all proud.

The gospel is not, "God loves you because of Christ." It's more like, "See how much God loves us in the light of Christ?" The glory of the New Covenant is the fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ for all people, not just the children of Abraham. Moreover, the demands of this covenant are actually more difficult than anything expected of his people in the Old Testament. But the grace of it is not only God's unending favor and mercy, but the power, through the Holy Spirit, (through the Church and the sacraments) to live lives of purity and love that we could only imagine if we had been living in earlier times.

A Haiku

I know it well, yes;
But the question is indeed:
Does her heart beat Truth?

Haiku At Night

Elusive yet real,
in the voice of the Father
calling children Home.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Actually, The Arrogance Is...

There are two aspects of arrogance in this entire discussion about the Church. One is the evangelical presumption that an individual has the right to define the Church in its essence; the other is that there is anything "historical" about the visible community that one happens to be inhabiting. I can remember many discussions that start out, "The Church should…" I realized that no one had bothered to stop and define the term. We took it for granted that our dialogue partners were "orthodox" in some way. Of course, we didn't know what we meant by that, either. The individualism at the heart of this whole project is so pervasive that people don't recognize it. If I cite a few old guys, and put them together in a way that seems coherent to me, I am all of a sudden historically aware, and my church is part of the "historic church," whatever that means.
If people are really leaving evangelicalism for Orthodoxy and Catholicism I hope it is because those communities contain and maintain those marks that define the true visible Church in history. Some may be drawn away from evangelicalism because these higher traditions may well be considerably less inclined to fads and relativism than what they left, but this is by no means guaranteed, depending on where you land. If you do not know that the putative minister of Jesus Christ has been validly ordained in a true succession from the apostles, there is nothing that will hold you in those traditions for very long. After all, if it were "smells and bells" you were after, you could get that anywhere. True, you would probably want to come up with the theological reason why you need incense and bells, but people are clever, and they will find a way if that is what they want. I for one have a strong inclination against Masses celebrated with guitars, but a Mass is a Mass. We have incense and bells because we have an altar. The only sensible reason to have an altar is because a sacrifice is being made. The bell is an aid to the fallible humans, who find it helpful to faith to know about when Christ will be made present in the Eucharist, but I have been to many Masses where there is no bell, and this can be helpful to faith in itself.
Insofar as to be evangelical means pursuing Christ and loving him with a great zeal, I hope it grows in strength. To the extent that it increases factionalism and needless arguing, I hope it dies a quick death.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Vengeance Factor

5 Trek-Inspired Thoughts (Just to be clear, the titles of these posts correspond to the episode titles from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

5. Seriously, Riker, you have no restraint. At all. Then again, I'm more like you than not.

4. Isn't it funny how talking solves everything, at least for the writers?

3. If your vocation is killing people, you made a mistake in the discernment process.

2. Is there anything more awkward and tortured than watching Riker and Troi pretend they don't care what the other does romantically, and that they were "good friends" for 7 years? (Which says that the acting on this show was pretty good.)

1. Why couldn't Riker just knock the antagonist unconscious?

The Church Is...

One of the things that is question-begging and circular about the Protestant definition of the church is that one cannot offer one's rejection of an ecumenical Council on the grounds that it was not ecumenical by redefining the term. It had never been the case that all the bishops in the world were present for an ecumenical Council. It is also not out of the ordinary for the Church not to seat and not to listen to those bishops who, although true bishops have been judged to be in schism from the Church. That's why it's not unfair to judge Luther according to the Catholic hermeneutical paradigm, because that's the paradigm Luther himself was living under. It is a paradigm where the ecumenical councils are true as such and must accepted without reservation according to the terms set by the Church.
When we are criticizing the practical outworking of Sola Scriptura, and wondering about the ecclesiological and dogmatic implications of the principle, it is not from a place that assumes the Catholic paradigm to be true; in fact, in my own mind and my experience, these problems presented themselves first, before any reasonable serious thought of becoming Catholic was on the table. I know that Mr. Noltie can say the same. Whether you believe him is up to you. In fact, it was the common touchstones of Christian orthodoxy that forced me to reevaluate my understanding of doctrinal development. I became aware that the earliest Christians did not provisionally submit to the determinations of an ecumenical Council, pending some hermeneutical process that established it as true. It also became clear that I could not account for classical Christian orthodoxy without the ecumenical councils and by extension, the Bishop of Rome. The reason why Dr. Cross's article on ecclesial deism was so compelling is that, to hold ecclesial deism presupposes a kind of death for the Church that Christ had promised to protect, with a dogmatic and ecclesial legitimacy presumed for whomever stepped into the void. I found that I could not argue against the Catholic position without assuming precisely what is in question: "What is the Church, and am I a part of it?" Without invalidating any of the real Christian experience I had, I was able to at least consider the possibility that I had the wrong definition of  "the Church." It seemed clear that any schismatic or heretic could redefine "the Church" however he wished, simply by presuming that the visible manifestation of the Church in the world is not intrinsic to its essence.
But in so doing, once again, I could not account for orthodoxy, the large portion of which I desired to affirm unaltered. This is why I asked, "Why would I pay as much attention to the text, context, place in the canon, authorial intent, and myriad other things in order to rightly handle the word of truth, and completely ignore the same with respect to the creeds?" It became a challenge to friendship and honesty, even with friends and brothers beyond the grave, to hold any part of orthodoxy in an ad hoc manner, or on terms different than they did. We are sorely tempted as Protestants to simply pretend that we haven't done this, just as we are sorely tempted not to look at how doctrine developed and how the Church understood herself in the earliest times, but we must. The result may be that men we regarded as giants and heroes actually were in schism and heresy, but we are Christians. We follow Christ, and not men.

The System Is Down

5 Thoughts For Today

5. I'm annoyed.

4. My internet was down last night.

3. But it's back up!

2. Lucky for me.

1. But maybe not for you.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So There I Was

5 Thoughts For Today

5. It's not unusual to be loved by anyone.

4. Most of you just pictured a short man dancing, didn't you?

3. Don't fight it; you're just hurting yourself.

2. Has anyone ever stopped to wonder if Klondike bars are actually good enough to embarrass yourself?

1. There's a light, a certain kinda light...


I had gone last night; it was essentially Sunday Mass, since it counted as such. The readings were today's Sunday readings. I went again this afternoon, and I think I understand why. Last night, the priest asked why we pray, given the fact that God doesn't change. Good question. But the answer is partly this: we need to change. I am seeing more and more that with respect to how we respond to God's grace, there is only one right answer. The troubles and trials may not change for the better, but we will.

And today, the priest said that God was a God of laughter. I must confess, it is hard to laugh at times. But He is Abba, Daddy, and it is hard not to laugh when you are in Daddy's arms and you know you are safe.