Friday, August 30, 2013

Incarnational Exegesis

I'm sure no one is shocked, but a pretty lady asked me "the Question" last night: "Why'd you become Catholic?" And of course, I was babbling like an idiot, whether because I'm actually an idiot, or, well, you know.

But it's a great question. And it got me to thinking. Because I never seem to tell this story the same way twice. But let me go for it again. [Everyone is sick of reading the same posts over and over.--ed.] Yeah, well, too bad.

When you look at the Sacred Scriptures, when you read them, you quickly get a sense that there is a distance between us and them. All these crazy metaphors, unpronounceable names, cryptic wisdom that makes you say, "What in Tarshish does that mean?" and loads of other things. You almost instinctively realize, "Hey, I'm gonna need some help to understand this" or, "I'm gonna need some book-learnin' right soon." We also realize and confess that the simplest person on Earth can read the Bible with spiritual profit, and even unto salvation. Still, if God has communicated in all these human ways, it behooves us to learn as much about the human means of that communication as we can to best understand what He is saying. And let's be clear: It's not the tools of historical-critical exegesis that lead people astray; it's the assumptions that often underlie their use. So a Christian seeking to be faithful to God wants to start with assumptions that will lead him to a deeper, truer, faith in Christ. Any number of Christian communities do this all the time; they say, "Try to read it this way. We don't want you to end up like [insert preferred interpretive cautionary tale]." Or, "We wouldn't want to reach this conclusion..." because of inerrancy, or Christ's divinity, or what have you. Well and good. And here's where it gets fun, because the community (For the moment, it doesn't matter which one; whichever one you are in) is supposed to safeguard me from reaching the wrong conclusions; its patrimony is precisely how it does this. It even unconsciously shapes how I read the text in the future. I read it like my brothers and sisters before me, and God willing, I will shape those after me in like manner. And this is all fashionable now; I must have heard 1000 variations of, "The Scripture is a word in community." And that's right! The cool Protestant kids nowadays like to put the word "historic" in front of "Protestant," or the name of their community, just to let people know that they are serious and learned, and more importantly, to at least attempt to say that they are not making this up as they go along. But any person is naturally moved to ask the question, "Just how 'historic' is what we believe?" Because 'historic' contextually means, "Authentically apostolic, and of Christ." So I cannot take it for granted that my community is organically connected to the Church of old; honesty demands that I investigate that, even prove it, if necessary. But given the fact that I can observe with my own eyes that there are innumerable communities of which I am not a part, still in good conscience holding things concerning Christ that I do not hold, I am forced to ask, "What makes us right, and them wrong?" And frankly, that's just among communities that explicitly and self-consciously trace back to the Reformation! It's warm and lovely that I do not believe my LCMS friend will burn in Hell for believing differently about the Supper than I do. But who's right? We cannot labor under the delusion that we are "united in the essentials" when we are not. If you actually think we are, try being ordained a Lutheran pastor while holding Calvin's view of the Supper. "Oh, but that's not necessary for Heaven," you say. Fine. You just told me that all these separate communities exist to defend trivialities, then. First off, you don't believe this. And for another, let's ask Luther if he thought Zwingli's view of the Supper was a permitted variation in the doctrine of God. How many of these would I have to tick off before it became a problem?
Quite aside from the fact that "Scripture is the final word" means absolutely jack when everyone says that, using essentially the same tools and methods, and still does not agree. Is it getting warm in here yet? Inevitable Turning-Point: I must either say I am more learned/holy than these others who have reached contrary doctrinal conclusions x, y, and z, or I must conclude that the Holy Spirit is a politician in the bad sense: talking out of both sides of His mouth. Speaking of the "I", if my community reaches a different conclusion than I do, what makes them right, and me wrong, or vice-versa? At what point would my statement, "Oh, well, the Church is not limited to this community alone" become dangerous to my soul? Do you know? And how can I be the arbiter of God's Truth and a humble receiver at the same time? Aren't these communities supposed to defend the gospel? With what? Sola Scriptura makes it doubly impossible: the Scripture does not answer the higher-order questions, and it makes me the arbiter of that truth it does contain, eviscerating that community hermeneutic we're always jabbering about. Trust me, this is one time the customer is not always right. (Maybe the premise is faulty. Just a thought.)
Here's the good news: The creeds point us back to the actual Church, because we realize that those Councils from whence they came weren't offering polite suggestions; they were declaring in the power of the Holy Spirit what the Truth was. [And is, and is to come!--ed.] Amen. Anyway, once you jettison the ad hockery of accepting one or two ecumenical councils and not the others, and you investigate the whys and whats of them/it/the visible Church...well, I won't spoil your fun. Then that Scripture becomes that fruitful word in community. And quite literally, He is the Word in our community.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thanks A Lot

5 Thoughts For Today

5. James Blake is now a retired noted black American tennis player. He lost a nail-biter in his final match at the US Open. For a certainty, he'll be mentioned at least in the same article as Arthur Ashe until he's dead. Harvard was his fall-back plan if this whole tennis thing hadn't worked out in 1999. He beat the world no. 1 in 2002. Living the Dream.

4. Thanks for the ear-worm, Kevin Twit or whoever it was. I just spent 15 minutes in my bathroom singing "Psalm 62" from the RUF hymnbook, circa 1999, from memory.

3. Speaking of that book, can't we just steal that? I'm sure the CDF could correct any theological errors in like what, an afternoon? And Life Teen would never again annoy traditionalists. Just trust me on this.

2. Cardinals off days. Oy!

1. Happy Belated Birthday, Captain Jack!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. What an awful Cardinals game! Let's just move on.

4. Dude, Babyface, sir. You'll always be my favorite. But I think Johnny Mathis has more Mack Appeal than you. Just sayin.'

3. When you trail off like that, it makes me nervous.

2. I still need to shave.

1. The Deb was listening to Alice Cooper. Maybe I should, too.

Good Outside the Church?

It's usually not long into some conversation or other, after I've been humorously direct about something theological or otherwise, that someone asks the question, "Do you like anything non-Catholic?" To which I can only reply with equal befuddlement, "Um, do you read my blog?" Most posts here link something which is of interest to my almost entirely Christian audience, most of whom, I daresay, are non-Catholic Christians. If I link it and don't critique it, that means I like it. It means I think you can read this with great profit, regardless.

If I have occasion to say that a certain theologian-commentator makes me want to scream and steal toys from small children, (for example) it either means he is in no wise speaking truth, (rare) or he is in Catholic denial. That means if we were face-to-face, and we had become friends, I would say, "You know that God is calling you into the Catholic Church, and you need to do it. Right now." I wouldn't just say that to anyone. That's my hope for the lot of you, but do you hear a difference? Many of us Christians enter into dialogue with different terms for things, and different ways of speaking, acting and living. But if it is good, true, and beautiful, it comes from Christ. Our task is to try to understand the different terms we are using, to inquire as to whether we mean the same thing,(not assume that we do, mind you) and to do everything possible to surmount our divisions, while respecting the consciences of all.

In other words, for me to say that to someone is the rough equivalent of me saying to a dear friend, "You know God does not approve of your watching that pornography, and you need to stop it. Right now." It's not an argument; it's a direct appeal to a conscience. To do otherwise after hearing it would be a grave sin.

And frankly, I have no compunction about saying it, even if the man writes for a large and well-respected magazine, and is loved by the Reformed. At least some of them. And if I struggle to read his dispatches because I firmly believe this, you'll have to forgive me. The Church teaching is clear: If you know the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, and refuse to enter or remain in it, you're endangering your soul.  "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." (LG, 14)*

*Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Vatican II). Numbers refer to paragraphs.

Detachment Means...

Not checking the baseball start-times and wishing it was 7:15. At 11 AM. On a perfectly noble day that the Lord has made. Oh, but how I love baseball! Give me an inning or two to watch the starting pitchers, and I can tell you probably how it will go. Adam is pitching for the Cardinals tonight. That's Adam Wainwright to you uninitiated. He might be the best pitcher in the National League. (15-7, 2.58 ERA this season) For a certainty, though, he is the Cardinals' "ace." It's a semi-formal term to identify the starting pitcher with a track record of winning, the one who stops losing streaks, the one everybody counts on in a special way. If Adam were here in this room, he'd say, "Hold on, buddy. 'Carp' [Chris Carpenter] is still the ace of this staff, until he hangs 'em up." Fair enough, Adam, fair enough. We've been without him for awhile, though. I still hope he makes it back for 2014. Even if only for one game. Wouldn't that be poetic? Carpenter is the guy who has 14 wins in the postseason, not far from the all-time mark of 19, held by Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees. His overall stats are not impressive, but it was after coming to St. Louis early in the last decade that he found his greatness. I have only enjoyed watching one pitcher more, and that man is Greg Maddux, he of 355 wins, 4 Cy Young Awards (given to the best pitcher in each league each season) and an absolute certainty to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame next year. I mean to say that my favorite guys act like pitchers, whether they have Hall of Fame numbers or not. They are the guys who can have a bad day, give up 5 runs in an inning, and you don't even think of pulling them out, because the team says, "We can still win this thing!" It's a weird trust that teammates and fans give. If you earn it, it is seldom revoked, no matter how old the man gets. Lance Lynn could easily win 17 games this year, but he's not the ace. He knows it, the fans know, the press knows. Now, if he does that for 5 years...maybe a different story.

Random Baseball Thoughts, by JK. Tune in next time...never mind.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Roger, Roger

5 Statements As Silly As "Roger Federer doesn't deserve a top 4 US Open Seed"

5. "I hate kittens."

4. "I hate rainbows."

3. "I hate George Washington."

2. "The Land Before Time is a horrible movie."

1. "Christianity is about a relationship, not religion." 

Miley, Redux

Before I get to the point, let me remind you that I have a *NEW, SHINY POLL!* and I would covet your giggly responses to my utterly impertinent silliness.

Now, I have a little more to say on this thing. Or this guy does. I would love to be one of those people who is morally outraged by the whole thing. Frankly, I'd love to be "saddened" by the whole thing, and have you believe me. Because I believe God is, insofar as it makes sense to say that. But I'm not, at least not entirely. Because the plain fact is, I've been part of the problem, and so have you. I don't know your sins, and I may not know you, depending on who is reading this. But I know mine. I am a double-minded man. We all are. If we weren't, Hugh Hefner would be a penniless wretch, begging for a priest.

You know how people we call "liberals" like to catch the "family values" army in a transgression? You know how they say the most "anti-gay" ranter is in the closet? Have you noticed they're often right? Our culture is a culture of pretense, vainly pretending that moral outrage will hide the secrets we all carry. We create "respectable" public space often out of the defensiveness of knowing what we know about ourselves.

I need you to know that any shock and horror I express in this or any other thing is anger at myself. I have been to the sorts of places in my soul where a gyrating young girl prostituting herself before millions of people is no big deal. I understand it. I know what they mean when they call us "prudes" and "fascists" and everything else. It's not moralism if the first person you excoriate is yourself. So if I say, "This should not be happening, and should never have happened," it's not from a very high horse. If that makes you uncomfortable, I don't care. I've seen too much to pull punches.

Let's extend our hands, our prayers, and any grace we can to Miley and all the hurting. Because we've hurt ourselves and been hurt. We're just like all of them. The good news is, we have the breath and the grace to do better.

By The Way, We're Not Feeneyites Here

Well, unless you mean that you're a huge Boy Meets World/Knight Rider/St. Elsewhere fan, and/or a fan of Grey's Anatomy, who knows that "Christina Yang" would be entirely unlikable without the esteemed William Daniels as "Dr. Thomas" as a friend and mentor for 5 episodes. Seriously, has William Daniels acted in anything that wasn't awesome? I digress.

Take your time. I'll wait. This blog is always (God willing) a celebration of His grace. Life with God's leading is never all-or-nothing; to paraphrase George W. Bush, Heaven is going to be a gathering of the "haves" and the "have-mores". (Yes, it was hilarious in context; look up "Al Smith Dinner, 2000"; you're welcome.)

So, why insist that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded? Well, because it is. It was like following breadcrumbs. [I'll take "Bad Eucharist Allusions" for $1000, Alex.--ed.] I can pretty much say that every Christian place outside the Catholic Church was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. The Catholic Church is where truth converges, where Christ himself dwells on Earth, where goodness reigns supreme. [Which Catholic Church has this guy visited? (snicker)--ed.] In order to see it, we have to be able to separate the reality of our profound experiences with God from the definition of terms, and not allow emotion to cloud our vision, if we have been called to move. And that movement begins to happen when we go from asking, "What is the Church?" to, "Where is the Church?" Once that shift happens, you're almost Catholic, even if you detour with the Orthodox for 77.2 years.

Well, to be rather frank about it, you only start to question your definition of the "Church" when you realize that it's your definition; that is, you've been doing the defining. If you're in the right frame, you immediately recognize how incompatible that is with your basic Christian attitude, "Everything I have, I have received." This is not terribly monumental until, recognizing that, in all likelihood, you have been receiving God's truth mediated by a human being, you ask the obvious follow-up question: "How do I know that this person or persons is the one God himself has sent?" And just because we've been arguing about that since the start as humans does not mean the question is not relevant, or that it cannot be found. Tons of people make that mistake, that because people are not unanimous on some point or other, that unanimity is a lie, or that "the truth" doesn't exist. Doesn't matter what area of life; that one irritates me. It betrays an intellectual laziness of the worst kind. I digress.

I realized in a profound way that there are only two basic options in this deal: Atheism, and the Catholic Church. I'm not the first person to say that, but it's really true. Elsewhere, I have spoken of an Abyss of Relativism, but that isn't exactly right, in one sense. Rather, it was the consideration--oh, what a horrifying thought to consider for a Christian!--that every possible theological conclusion, every event of Christian history, was man-made. And to be honest, this is where the theological indifferentism inherent in an invisible church concept consistently applied leads. If I can make the charge at any point that this or that visible body of alleged Christians (let's be blunt) was in error, anyone can. It's pretty easy to do. Multiply that a billion times in a billion directions, and the person inclined to believe that God has spoken in Christ will be at best confused, and then he will look for principled reasons to say, "No, the truth is here." The reason, beloved Christian, that I do not believe you are definitely doomed to Hell if you are not Catholic, contra Feeneyism, is that we all do agree on something. And that something came from some place. If God is doing it, God started it, is sustaining it, and will finish it. Amen? And even if death breaks the visible bonds between us, that is we are connected spiritually and supernaturally, we have always been a people, the People of God. Where, when, and how do you know? Visible Church. Inevitable. Ever since God decided that he would communicate his love through a man. So, if you're committed to the idea that none of them is right, pack up the whole denomination, Brother Fred, because it doesn't matter. It'd only be a guess. Man may well be so broken by his errors that he doesn't know his tookus from a hole in the ground. I can theoretically accept that. But God never says, "I don't know." We need infallibility like we need air; it's an inextricable aspect of God Himself. Therefore, with due respect, save your "I don't need absolute certainty to follow God" speech; if you don't, ultimately, someone you follow does. Otherwise, it's not God you're following. The sons of Korah called; they said they are absolutely sure Moses was God's instrument; that is, he was the visible head of God's People on this side. I wonder who else?

I need to back up and say that I will tag this post "Conversion," so it is placed along with a small series of posts I did about my own. I feel good enough to say that I can't "show my work" much better, at least so briefly and simply. If you read all these posts, and the resources therein, you will understand why I am Catholic. You may not agree, but that's not the point. I am a tad bit extroverted, and more than a tad vain or something, so I write to explain myself. Even if you have thought, "Man, this guy is intense," my greatest desire truly is not to convince, but to be understood. I guess I'm something of an evangelist, but I only want to be understood. I firmly believe that if you understand me, by the mercy of God, if I have spoken truly, you will convince yourself. That is, God will.

If you have a part with Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, I enthusiastically rejoice with you. And buckle up. That's only the beginning.

Love, Haiku Style

When she smiles, I hope.
When she laughs, I dream in sun.
When she goes, I cry.

Monday, August 26, 2013

That's "Admiral" Obvious To You, Sparky!

Why the dude even has to write such truth is a commentary in itself. She's not the first, and she won't be the last. I don't even toy with this stuff any more. I've told all my guy friends that the Disney Channel is the most evil thing on TV. Maybe you're better than me, more "discerning," as they say. But I doubt it. Do what you like; I know what we call "a near occasion of sin" when I see one. And it isn't just that one channel, as I'm sure you know. The faux-outrage is as comical as it is tragic.

"Purity" is not simply the avoidance of evil; the virtues of all kinds represent stable habits that are affirmative choices for the good. If you are virtuous, it means you choose the good with ease, in the simplest terms. All of us have to battle something; it's never a walk in the park. And that's OK, if you avoid sin. And even if not, grace is never far. God loves us! The Holy Spirit not only gives us forgiveness, but He is power to grow in virtues, both natural and supernatural.

What do you want? Is what you want good? Then do it. The people trapped in sin are mistaken about what is good. They might even know it. Don't judge; it could be any of us, any time. But let's not act surprised, as though we're not all our own Mileys or Amanda Bynes.

One more thing: Why do child stars often harm themselves? The problem is us. Our culture puts a lot of effort into projecting or imagining happiness, instead of finding it and creating it. Much as I like 'family' programming, you can't expect it to be real if it isn't.

But I think I can say that real happiness and goodness is attainable for us, by God's grace. Cynicism is not our only option. If we weren't made for goodness, the facsimiles would hold no charm.

With that, I will now watch Full House.

Sometimes, I Take It Personally

I would love to be that guy who understands. "Yeah, man. You get married, stuff happens, it doesn't work out. But I tried again, and I found him/her." The truth is, though, I don't. It doesn't mean I hate you, and it doesn't mean I will hope for your eternal worst, obviously. But someone should say it: there is no divorce. Not to God.

There could be all sorts of reasons why you may not live with the person you married. No one should be in danger, if they can avoid it. I can imagine a few scenarios where you might even obtain a civil divorce. But there isn't supposed to be "starting over." Even though I don't believe in Sola Scriptura, the Scripture is clear on what God thinks. Once we understand that even if you leave because of adultery, there is no do-over.

Yes, I'm Catholic. Today, I'm grateful for what the Church teaches, because it put words to what
I have lived through as a child of all this lunacy: God hates divorce.

Declarations of Nullity are not Catholic divorces, by the way. They mean that a putative marriage never took place. I hope and pray that they're not giving these out like cotton candy, because even so, it's less than ideal, and there may be kids who will suffer, even if two people aren't married for real.

I just needed to say that. And yes, I have some stake in this emotionally. I'm sorry that the Truth and my intuition and experience in something contrary to it make me not able to just "go with the flow" on this.

*Lawful separation and other related matters are covered in cc. 1151-1155 in the Code of Canon Law (Latin Rite) and the teaching on marriage as perpetual and exclusive in CCC, 1638.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Intellectual Growth As A Function Of Friendship

It's hard to see your biases; it's hard also to take criticism, sometimes. Still, I think the hardest thing in the entire world is to watch a friend get criticized by people who are not his friends. Even if they are right.
Friendship helps you to feel safe to explore new ideas, even if the risk is there that you'll get locked in old ones. Part of friendship is trust; if you trust someone, you have less fear that his questions and insights will lead you where you can't go. Isn't that interesting? If some crypto-Marxist says, "We are the servants of our military-industrial complex" I roll my eyes, and move on. If my friend Jacob says the same thing, I don't roll my eyes. Ideally, we'd like to be the sort of people not committing informal ad hominems all over the place like this, but I suppose that is the point: the idea under discussion has not changed; its merit or demerit hasn't changed either. But I am now more open to considering the question, because my reason for rejecting the idea out of hand has been rendered inert by my friendship. I think that's exciting.
One of those people for me is Christopher Hitchens. Somehow, he became an intellectual friend for me, of sorts. It's probably true that he was dogmatic in the wrong sorts of ways, and that his flaws, intellectual and otherwise, ought to have been aired some way. But when you appreciate someone in some way (even if they despise you) you are that much richer for what he or she has given. Just think: if you make enough "friends" who help you to find truth, you'll be very wise. The only risk is that love, such as it is, may cloud your vision of the truth. But I'd say that's a good problem to have.

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Go Cards!

4. When Fred Noltie blogs, the people benefit. All too brief and infrequent, my friend! I shall pray that other mindless toils are destroyed, as God wills.

3. We're observing a Feast of St. Louis IX, King of France. If I were half as good as King Louis, everyone I know would be better off.

2. Pope Leo XIII=Awesome.

1. New pick-up line: "I read Rerum Novarum, and it changed my life." No, seriously.

Controversial Opinion For The Day

Homosexuality. It is the socio-political concern of the day. And not because, I don't think, it's our most pressing problem. Not even close. But those who matter, the opinion-makers and shapers want it to be. That's the truth. Why? Well, I can't answer that.

I do know that the way we are permitted to discuss the issue (and not) points politically to a certain illiberal tendency on the part of those who advocate for its normalization. I am well aware that we live in a pluralistic society. Are they? Should I be marginalized and silenced because I think homosexual acts are immoral? Because, by consequence, I believe that the State cannot justly recognize them? Do you really believe I am no better than the thugs who murdered Matthew Shepard? Does that even make sense?

Have we become so closed-minded that we are all just our tribes, our separate sub-cultures? Look, I'm just as guilty as anyone; there are "others" that I fear and dislike, at least sometimes. But is there no place to just talk any more? Is there any good faith left? Or am I just "them" to you?

One time, I knew a guy who walked into a gay bar to sing karaoke. He's a Christian, a committed Catholic, a Republican (it gets worse and worse) and about as square as you get. But there was people, and singing, and beer. In my universe, we call that a win.

How would the people there have reacted if they knew? Would they have thrown us out? Did they suspect that their "enemies" were looking them right in the face? Are we really like those who abused marchers, blew up churches, and nearly killed James Meredith? I'd say it's time for some perspective, for one thing.

Is this still a country where Billy Graham or someone like him can say, "Friend, that's a sin against God" and still be a friend? Where we recognize the difference between "I don't agree" and "I hate you"?

I need to be honest here; I'm the most impatient, intemperate fool I know. You know what? Your red equals signs irritate me; your arguments annoy me; some of you personally grate on me like nails on a chalkboard. BUT...know that were true evil to descend upon you like it did upon Matthew Shepard, I'd be there to help you. As fast as I could. It doesn't matter if you have your ticket to Hell halfway punched. This ain't Westboro Baptist. Why do I even have to say this?

But some people need to get a grip. Grow up. Hear another side of anything. Please. Before everything good is entirely lost in unrelenting spasms of self-righteousness. Like beer and karaoke.

I Don't Often Agree With Mark Shea

But when I do, it makes a sweet spoof of a faux-Mexican hawking faux-Mexican beer. But seriously, has Mark Shea ever been this right? I say, "Nyet." I'll run, I swear. It'll be either The Greatest Thing Ever that will alter America forever for the better, or I will be the pseudo-conservative Eugene McCarthy, who winds up heroically ignored. Bet on option 2. Er, "Dos".