Saturday, December 31, 2005

Quote: Thomas Merton

We too often forget that faith is a matter of questioning and struggle before it becomes one of certitude and peace. You have to doubt and reject everything else in order to believe firmly in Christ, and after you have begun to believe, your faith itself must be tested and purified. Christianity is not merely a set of forgone conclusions. Faith tends to be defeated by the burning presence of God in mystery, and seeks refuge from him, flying to comfortable social forms and safe convictions in which purification is no longer an inner battle but a matter of outward gesture.
The distinction that matters is not between those whose theology can be called conservative or liberal, but between those who are committed to Christ as he is, and those who are committed to a Christ that does not challenge, that matches their own expectations. May we all be willing, in this new year, to "believe firmly in Christ", accepting the struggle that requires.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Quote: Anne Rice

It’s our duty to tell the Christian story over and over again. Those of us who are doing it now for the first time are doing it for a new generation.

We need to do more Christian art of all kinds. Everything from stained glass windows to motion pictures to beautiful pieces of music. Art can give you an experience of Jesus that is available to everybody. Art seeks to resolve theological questions by the use of specific images, I think--to embody ideas--rather than long verbal arguments. It seeks to move you emotionally so that you accept in a way that you may not be able to intellectually if you’re dealing with argument. And I think that’s a magnificent thing.
from Prodigal Daughter: An interview with Anne Rice, by Jessica Mesman in Godspy

Nooz . . .

The World Pyro Olympics are running through tomorrow in the Phillipines. From the pictures of last year's fireworks competition, I wish I was there.

The Space Show has started the Deep Space Communications Project, which gives one person every other month the chance to have a message beamed out into deep space. Sam Dinkins of Transterestrial Musings was the first winner with this entry:

We taste terrible.
Sam apparently has a great combination of a) having seen all the same movies I have; and b) having his resulting priorities in good order.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


So what is the point of this site, anyway? Well, let's keep it simple . . .

In the mid-nineties, as the dot-com bubble started to inflate, I worked as a programmer in the Bay Area. I started to hear about Burning Man, the annual arts and whatever else festival held annually Labor Day weekend in the Nevada desert. Not only did I read about it in the SF Chronicle and Wired, I worked with people who attended, people I thought were otherwise fairly normal. But it was clear that their intense experiences at BM filled some kind of deep spiritual need, something that few of them felt that conventional religious groups, in particular most Christian churches, were capable of filling

In my earlier blog, I explored my own interest in those new and obscure ways that people were finding of meeting those needs, and I made several posts about BM. (All, of course based on other people's experience of it -- I have not made it to the Burn, and for good medical reasons, probably never will. I do think about it though.) One of the posts quoted extensively from BM cofounder Larry Harvey, who identified the success of BM as offering, as I wrote then, "powerful common experiences that fulfill the human need for ritual, for pilgrimage, for mysterious beauty in a postmodern society even though the participants do not share common beliefs." The final post for that series was never finished -- I started to trace both the background and consequences of those ideas, from the Christian viewpoint, and never looked back. What I found was that there were many others asking the same questions.

What I have decided to do is start to enter into conversation with some my fellow pilgrims on this journey, and that I still wanted to maintain some presence for my side of the conversation -- hence this blog. It will include my own experiences in trying to find out just what is the significance of postmodernity (of if it is significant at all) and how I need to work out my own life and ministry, in light of my own perspective as a Catholic. I can't promise daily posts, or great revelations. I can share my own experience as a pilgrim at ground level.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Technical Notes

Well, we're on the air, at least.

With a week to spare, this new blog is operational, replacing my old one. The process of moving from Manila to Blogger has been interesting, and educational. If nothing else, I am a lot more comfortable with rolling my own CSS than I was before. Not that I know what I am doing, of course.

There are a number of features of Manila that I am going to miss. The Frontier/Manila environment is richer than Blogger -- for example there are built in blogroll and print-friendly page features. But Blogger is working fine, and having a spell checker for posts is rather nice.

The main technical point so far is the template for this site. I tried out the standard ones from Blogger, and some rather nice third party stuff. But I pined away for the simple layout I had over on Manilasites so I started hacking. This format started as the standard template Tekka, as it was simple enough that I would not have too much in the way. I then started working through the code of my old blog to figure out what to do. After dumping the Tekka template into a text editor to clean it up a bit (like, how about a consistent format so one can read it) I then started to bring over elements of my former Manila theme.

The irony is that this theme has moved from one platform to another before. I was using a slightly modified version of Movable Manila Green, adapted for Manila by Bryan Bell. I have just continued the process on to Blogger. My current name for this is MM Blogger Green, version 0.5. The technical to do list is growing:

  • Clean up CSS for the right hand column, especially the bloglines section;
  • Add the proper doctype, style, and script type attributes so that the W3C validator utilities have a chance to figure out what's wrong;
  • Bring up to validated HTML 4.0 Transitional at the minimum - validated XHTML would be better;
  • Bring up to validated CSS;
  • Add Google search;
  • Rethink the various sections to provide a better Archives display page (I'm thinking of making it a single column, more printer friendly page);
  • Consider adding one of the calendar or category display hacks that are floating around.

I have all the content from the previous site downloaded in the Manila backup format. For a variety of reasons I don't have the facilities to use some of the scripts that have been helpfully created to convert it to different formats. But, just like a programmer, I have been noodling around with a text editor, and I think I have it worked out, enough to figure out what is what. I will be posting some of the more relevant old stuff under the original date as I move forward.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Holy Night

We worked the 4:15 pm "overflow" Mass in the parish hall last night. The 4 pm children's Mass was in the Big Church, but there is never enough room for everyone at that service. The late mass started at 10:30 with a choir concert, and there will be three Masses today. Marilee as usual was on flute, while I was a combination of lead usher, lead EME, and deputy sacristan. As usual, there were some problems, but things went well (for example, there wasn't water for washing set out, so I had to scamper back into the big kitchen to find a pitcher). I get the feeling, this is something I better get used to.

About the only thing that I can remember from confirmation class, is the priest telling us that at some point while taking communion, we would feel the connection with all the other people who are taking and have taken part in the Eucharist, especially those close to us. It happened last night, as was giving the Host to a couple of hundred people. This is always a strong experience for me, but last night a great deal of feeling rushed in without warning. My mother, Ann, died two months ago after a long illness, and her twin sister, Nan, died suddenly day before yesterday. As I have written before, I have felt that my grief breaker had popped, and I just couldn't feel certain things right now, which worried me. Last night it all seemed to come through, not just in pain, but also in joy. It was hard to hold on, and concentrate on the people in front of me. It was difficult, but good, and I think it will lead to other good things.

We are going inside today, perhaps for the last time for a while due to some personnel issues at the facility we visit. Christmas is a difficult time in prison, and we have had a lot more violence inside reported than usual, including one fight we saw ourselves. It will be a good day, though. Please remember all those who are away from home today, whether in prison, the military, hospitals, traveling, or trapped in poverty.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The once and future blog

I have had a hard time working on what to say in this post. It is the first post, but it isn't the first post, in a way. While I have moved to this space on Blogspot, I did blog for four to five years on, until they shut that down at the end of 2005. That site was One Pilgrim's Walk, a name that I first used on a tiny Netcom user website. I had a good experience with Manila and the folks at UserLand, and am nothing but grateful for the free ride.

But a variety of changes in my life have brought me to look over much of what I had been doing, and the intent that I had for the blog. It started mostly as a technical experiment, and then a brief attempt at pundithood. I got to find out that I don't have the spleen to be an angry ranter, and I am a slow and private writer with limits on my time, so trying to wallpaper the internet with complete coverage of something was not going to work.

So I am combining the move with a change of name. So this is not my first post, but it is the first post as well. As I manage to decipher the backup file from my old site, I will be posting some of my older material under the original date, so a bit of the history will survive. (And some will, thankfully, disappear.)

Monday, April 18, 2005

A leader for a pilgrim church

I'm not sure what the usage is in many places, but at our parish, we observed nine days of mourning for Pope John Paul starting immediately after his death, and concluded with a special Mass last Monday night. His body is now at rest in the earth as he asked, and the conclave starts in a few hours. We may never in this life understand all that John Paul did for our church -- we haven't really closed the book on the effects of many of the popes of the last century or so. But we can start to get some perspective. Many call for immediate sainthood, while others, both in and out of our church, point to feet of clay. I think that the proper place to start is not with how we see this one dear and holy man, but how we see our Church, and how the Church changed over the past 50 years.

God gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity. While it transcends all limits of time and confines of race, the Church is destined to extend to all regions of the earth and so enters into the history of mankind. Moving forward through trial and tribulation, the Church is strengthened by the power of God's grace, which was promised to her by the Lord, so that in the weakness of the flesh she may not waver from perfect fidelity, but remain a bride worthy of her Lord, and moved by the Holy Spirit may never cease to renew herself, until through the Cross she arrives at the light which knows no setting. -- Chapter 9, the Dogmatic Consititution on the Church, Lumen Gentium
During most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was in a defensive stance in relation to the rest of the world -- and who could blame us? After the Enlightenment, French Revolution, Napoleon and the spread of secular nationalism, I can understand the need to take a couple of aspirins and lay down in a darkened room for a couple of decades. (By the way, this is a topic that we could spend years on . . . but not today.)

It was becoming clear by the end of the Second World War to many in the Church that it was time to change, to become in the words of the Council, a pilgrim church. In my view, each of the four postwar popes has played a specific role in this process:
  • Pope John XXIII opened the windows of that darkened room and committed the Church to figuring out just how it could bring the eternal truths of the Gospel to a changed world while still remaining the Church.
  • Pope Paul VI did the hard work of leading the Church through and past Vatican Council II and into that new relationship. We came out of that room, but stood blinking in the sun and noise that we were not used to any more.
  • Pope John Paul I in a few short weeks changed the idea of what a pope could be.
When John Paul II was elected, the Church was out and involved in the world in any number of ways -- to continue to stretch a metaphor too far we were out on the street, but we resembled a mob -- some busy, some not, many going in different directions. To shift images, we had decided that yes, we were setting out on pilgrimage, but to some it seemed that we could not choose between Lourdes and Las Vegas. My belief is that John Paul II knew that he had to be a new kind of leader, a different kind of pope, a pilgrim leader for a pilgrim church.

To do this, he had to call the Church back to a fuller understanding of her eschatological dimension -- that we are to be prophets proclaiming the Reign of God and calling all men to join on a pilgrimage that is aimed not at a geographic destination but to union with God. To be this kind of church required a renewed humility, and a restored unity. In his own style, John Paul II was in so many ways the simplest of all modern popes, losing the regal trappings and emphasizing his role as bishop, not prince. You could see this once again in the funeral Mass -- no damask pall or golden vestments, but cardinals vested rather simply in red, and just a simple wooden box. The too glibly repeated title of "Pilgrim Pope" came from his numeous trips, but it could be better applied to his efforts to energize real ecumenical progress, especially with the churches of the East, and with other religions, especially the Jews. He was not afraid to take the first step, to apologize or offer change without any final assurance of a response.

And he never stopped calling us all onward. Many (including me) have recalled over the past weeks the impact of hearing him say "Be not afraid" and feeling it as a personal call. In recent years though, I noticed his use of a different phrase, duc in altum from:
ut cessavit autem loqui dixit ad Simonem duc in altum et laxate retia vestra in capturam
Which is from the Gospel of Luke chapter 5:
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."
It was no longer enough for us to simply not be afraid, we need to move well past where we are used to being, we need to put out into the deep and lower our nets. This is the challenge I am trying to live up to now.

A very wise person once said to me that the most important choices one makes sometimes are the choices of what not to do. In choosing to be a leader for a pilgrim church, in doing what was necessary as completely as he could, John Paul II made choices of what he would and would not do. And choices have consequences. By choosing to be the kind of leader he was, he could not be other things, such as an administrator or Curial reformer, and that has had its consequences, some of them bad, including many of the problems that some critics are citing. There is no way around this for any of us, this side of the grave. All we can do is make the best choices we can. If things do not go as well as we would like, it does not mean that we have made the wrong decisions, just the best ones that we could.

The leader can only take you so far, can only show the way -- the rest remains to us. As for the next person chosen, they will have to make the best decisions they can based on what they see. But we truly are a pilgrim church again, and I don't think any one pope could change that.