Thursday, July 16, 2015

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Whilst frankly acknowledging that Celine Dion's remake of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" is deservedly a career highlight, am I the only one who thinks Celine just isn't believable singing a song about being a lonely fornicator?

4. "Because You Loved Me" is a terrible song. Diane Warren. That figures. I don't hate every song she writes by any stretch, but if I say you're too mushy, you are.

3. I don't like Robert Redford, either. Can we just have a moratorium on selling our pop songs of fairly recent vintage to movies?

2. Your art will never be just itself; if that other thing becomes iconic, and you don't really mind, or you wrote it for that, well and good. Otherwise, way to go, dummy. Every time I hear that song, I'm like, "Gah! Robert Redford!" Sorry.

1. Original scores for movies should therefore be mandated by law, and soundtracks for movies, if including pop songs, should only be those songs which cannot possibly be ruined if this movie is terrible.

Rosary Adventures, Continued

The truth is that a large segment of my audience that is Christian is Protestant, so this whole post will freak most of you out, and for the moment, I don't care.

Catholic brethren, you're just going to have to trust me: If you get an intuition to stop praying the Rosary, or that you don't need to, it's from Satan. End of discussion. You can do as many other devotions as you like, but this is your best weapon against every flaming dart. If you want to find out, try it. If you are a fool like me, you'll make it optional, and find out just how powerless you are.

Once you've been to Confession seemingly 42 times in a month, you'll re-think the whole decision. All Christians can agree with this: the evil one's greatest trick is to convince you that you're doing well, that prayer is nice, but not strictly necessary. As Thomas Aquinas might say, "On the contrary, for the Apostle says, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."

You might be drawn to one Mystery over the others, and that's fine. Just go with it. There might be a secret spiritual reason you can't articulate. Either way, keep at it. If you miss one, don't crucify yourself; just don't start a trend.

The enemy will start to sound like a Baptist or something. He'll ask you why you are repeating the same thing so many times, and to Mary, a mere creature, at that. But the devil isn't a sincere questioner; he wants all of us to stop praying, period. He might remind you how tired you get, how others have it covered, or what a scumbag you are, so that God doesn't hear you anyway. Quite the moralist, for one so evil.

If you've come into the Catholic Church from elsewhere, you might have special objections to this and other devotions. Even if a satisfactory answer is not forthcoming, you may consider trusting the Church and letting it go. Christ founded the Church; if you can't trust Him...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mark Shea, Call Your Office!

Yesterday, Mark Shea saw something that the OK GOP posted, that a sign in a zoo said, "Please don't feed the animals. They will become dependent on handouts, and not learn to feed themselves." Shea tends to get emotional, so his response was, "The OK GOP thinks poor people are animals!" Um, no.

It's an a fortiori argument, essentially: "If dependency is beneath the dignity of an animal, how much more is it beneath the dignity of a person!" A few thoughts, of course:

Dependency has been a theme of GOP criticism of welfare for 60 years, give or take, so if I at all want to listen sympathetically, I keep this in mind. Moreover, I don't have a duty to find merit in the argument, in order to understand it, to read with charity. In case anybody cares, I don't find the "dependency" argument compelling, broadly speaking, with respect to food stamps and such, because what we are spending are drops in buckets compared to the depth of the need. Markets disconnected from our main means of social support (families and communities) won't save us, either. The liberal critiques of neoliberalism are pretty much on-target there, but their solution(s) generally substitute the federal government for family and community. Progressives don't seem to mind markets and individualism when it gets them what they want. I digress.

Mark took the post down, probably because somebody a little more Republican told him he was being unfair. I like his above-the-frayness most times. I think generally it puts him (and all of us) in a better position to receive the social doctrine as doctrine, and then to think through policy after that. But maybe he's received so many absurd responses from Republicans who happen to be Catholic (note the order there) that he's lost the skill of seeing them as my people, as it were. Maybe I don't need to point it out, but it bothered me.

Let's not push so hard not to be "captured" that we can't hear anymore. We still might find that we can't agree with something, but I'm not going to assume the worst. Easier for one's own "tribe" than for the other, but a worthy discipline, nonetheless.

Worst-Case Scenario: War

Every time I hear someone say, "Obama made a red line on Iran, they crossed it, and he's still talking!" I hear, "I want to go to war, and the president won't go along with it!" Granted, in certain extreme circumstances, it might be necessary. Even then, it would be a tragedy.

Aren't we supposed to believe war is a failure? That only unjustified aggression would sanction it?

We've got it all twisted. We had been so convinced of America's rightness that we could ignore basic principles of justice to do a "greater good". This reeks of consequentialism.

Anyway, so far, so good, Mr. President and Secretary Kerry. Ever and always, talking is better than killing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Politics As Self-Indentification

I can remember how profoundly the two books shaped me, one from the left, and one from the right. One was "The Religious Right and Christian Faith" by Gabriel Fackre, and the other was "Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey" by David Horowitz. They are very different books. But great in their own ways. There's another Fackre book whose subtitle is, "Essays Evangelical and Ecumenical," but the first part, I can't recall.

You can definitely tell Fackre is a "liberal" theologian, whatever that means. He inspired me, though, undoubtedly. I understood why the founders of the Presbyterian Church in America feared ecumenism: some of it is the legitimate fear of relativism; some of it is the fear that the ecclesio-political fusion that seemed so natural to them would be found out, and condemned.

The mainlines may indeed be the theater for all manner of libertinism, but to the discredit of their more "faithful" brethren, they are the only context where ecumenical dialogue is taking place. Granted, on Protestant terms, it's a fool's errand with respect to dogma, because you can't protect it. Yet it is all to say that the twin convictions arose: The Good News of Christ must say something about profound human problems, and Jesus cannot be bound by any ideology or movement. We must live in the profound creative tension created by, "Everything matters" and, "Put not your trust in princes." That's the beginning of an authentically Christian political engagement.

Not that I have any answers for you. I can only say that how we experience certain decisive moments writes the story we will tell. Had I experienced thoughtful, calm progressives on my university campus, my story may well be different. I am ever and always the guy who wants to hear it out; don't tell me what to think or feel.

I don't necessarily feel as though the unheard contrarians are on the right, at least not all the time. I've got two degrees; I can decide who to be mad at, and why. I hear about a young woman killed by an immigrant; I lament and pray for both of them. The person whose reaction to every news item is to curse the opposing politician is not meaningfully engaged in the process.

Whatever my involvement in the political process, I owe a certain dispassionate reflection upon the issues of the day to the people around me. We need it a great deal, and in greater measure than we have right now.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Truth Is Truth, Volume 7000

Another steaming pile of excuses for why Trueman can't be Catholic. It's dogma that matters, and it was the contrary dogmas which I had no basis for holding that opened me to the call of Jesus in the Catholic Church. Orthopraxy matters, too, obviously, but if I don't have a basis for dogma at all, the practical weakness of the average Catholic parish is irrelevant.

That's what Trueman is saying here, you know. "Clean your own house, and then we'll talk." But some subjective assessment of my own solidity in discipleship, or that of my fellows, does not answer the question of whether God is commanding me to hold doctrine x, or doctrine y. Frankly, if I had made the decision based on who lived more in accord with the truth, my PCA church or Trueman's OPC one wins easily. Again, irrelevant.

He's cloaking it all in talk of cultural engagement, but he's feeling The Pull, as are the other non-Catholics at First Things.

Blessed Newman, pray for us!

Deep Breath

So you've hit a rough patch; all your pretended piety, it seems, is a big fat lie. It could be said in one moment or another that you neither love the truth, nor obey it. What now?

But God demonstrated his great love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You know, the grave flaw in certain ideas about salvation is that it's so much about God that it can't speak to struggling people without encouraging them to presume upon his mercy. Somebody yells, "It is finished" a bunch of times, and you're just supposed to ignore St. John, St. James, St. Peter, and actually, some pretty big chunks of St. Paul. But then, OK, what do you do?

I used to get jumpy when critics of our theology would say, "You kill Christ again and again!" Well, no. It really is finished. But...yes. The Cross is brought into the present. Not back a long time ago, where it's only a memory. What is Christ saying to the struggling person?

Look! I would do it again, for you. I'll do it as many times as it takes, until your heart is one with Mine. Your sins are not, and have never been, bigger than My love.

That's enough for you and me to go forward.