Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Quote: Bishop Kallistos Ware

The whole person is on the one side open to God, and on the other side open to other people. The isolated individual is not a real person, for a real person lives in and for others. This idea...could be summed up under the word love. We become truly personal by loving God and by loving other humans. By love, I don’t mean merely an emotional feeling, but a fundamental attitude. In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of the Creator in us. We are not truly human as long as we are turned in on ourselves. We become whole only insofar as we face others, and relate to them.

Links: 02/28/2006

. . . and may all your Tuuuuuesdays be faaaaat . . .

  • Pun o' de gras -- Krewe d'Etat
  • Your questions about Carnival answered
  • Outstanding loos
  • I don't know if you can actually baptize the Onion, but they're trying . . .
  • Nice note on ashes from Neil Shave of mootblog along with general Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday notes from David Rudd of WatersEdge and Kyle Potter of Oxford (sometimes known as Captain Sacrament . . .) -- remember that emergent in Britain tends to be resurgent Anglican, which makes it rather interesting

Child, where are you going with that king cake -- it's hours until midnight!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The good, the bad, and the tacky

I found this via Fr. Jude Sicilliano's Preachers Exchange:

Perhaps as preachers we should expose ourselves to the television shows, the entertainment, and the talk radio our parishioners are listening to—not to the exclusion of the materials that feed our faith and our preaching already, but as small, metered doses of reality of the lives of those who sit in our pews. Rather than reveling in the preaching event as our weekly chance to conduct a one-way conversation in which we tell the listeners about the books we have loved, or the great films we have admired, or the creative art that has brought us closer to the great Creator, what if we asked the same questions of them? What if, in the visits into people’s homes, we carefully noted the shows that were playing on the television, or the songs on the radio, and followed up respectfully, listening, in order to understand why they listen? For we follow a Savior who did not teach using the tools of disdain, but joined the people and taught them of the beauty of God in both the beauty and in the ugliness of life.

—Lillian Daniel, Preach What you Know: the Good, the Bad, and the Tacky (JOURNAL FOR PREACHERS, Pentecost 2005, p. 52)
I think that this is both a good and a dangerous piece of advice. It's good because it highlights a key challenge in ministering in a postmodern and postchristian culture: how do you find a common language, a shared basis for communication and ministry? It's easy to get caught between your own background, the Gospel, and current culture. But as the title of the piece implies, it has to be popular culture that you know, that is relevant to you own faith experience. My own time in youth ministry taught me that kids of various kinds and ages can accept a genuine mossy oldster, but can quickly spot the false hipster, no matter how facile with language or pop culture.

Links: 2/27/2006

This Monday is not so much blue, as wet.

And now, out into the wind.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Not so fast there

The lessons for the eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • Hosea 2:16b, 17b, 21-22
  • Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8+10, 12-13
  • 2 Corinthians 3:1b-6
  • Mark 2:18-22
A wedding usually means parties and food, but you would have to ask someone else about that. My wife and I were married more than 25 years ago in the Episcopal church we attended, and our reception was at my mother's house. (Mom was the only parent either of us had left.) However, the photographer did not show up (mistake in communications) and we sat and waited at the church for a while. By the time we got to the reception, almost all the food, with the exception of the cake, was gone. Even worse, our friends arranged to have dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant after we left. We were very hungry by the time we got to San Francisco.

Jesus knows that food and celebration goes with weddings -- his very first miracle at Cana made sure a wedding dinner had enough wine. Another time for food and celebration around much of the Catholic world right about now is Carnival, in it's traditional sense, which is called Fasching in parts of Germany and Mardi Gras in New Orleans and some other French speaking communities. Parties and food and drink right up to the start of Ash Wednesday (just this next Wednesday), then it all stops. The flash and revelry falls away for the ashes and fasting of Lent.

Feasting right next to fasting can be confusing -- and that predicament is what Jesus deals with in this Gospel story from Mark:
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.
People came to him and objected,
'Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
but your disciples do not fast?'
Jesus answered them,
'Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast on that day.
No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.'
My word, there is a lot here. Jesus is saying that fasting is not wrong, but it can be inappropriate at times, and this has to do with weddings and celebrations, and that this is involved in something very new.

When we look at the lesson from Hosea, we start to see why marriage, and therefore weddings, are very special. When Hosea speaks of the relationship of God and Israel, he often uses the image of husband and wife. His own insight into the troubled nature of the relationship of his people and their God came from his own troubled marriage to Gomer, who was unfaithful to him. Such a marriage image was not unusual for that time as other cults described a kind of sacred marriage between a deity and its worshipers. Israel has been unfaithful to God in much the same way that Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea. But, like Hosea, God will remain faithful to his unfaithful people, and will rebuild that relationship in right, justice, love, mercy, and fidelity.

Fasting in the ancient world was a form of self-humiliation or protest intended to move someone to action. The mandatory fast day in the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where the people of Israel fasted to urge God to forgive their sins. In the first century, groups such as the Pharisees had expanded the number of fasts, but retained the same motive, to plead with God for forgiveness of the sins both of individuals and the nation. It is, in a sense, the action of Israel beseeching God for the restoration of relationship that He promised in Hosea, to reestablish that marriage bond between God and His people.

Jesus is the answer to those pleas, the response to that fasting. God has heard us and sent his only son, to re-establish the relationship that we have been unfaithful to over and over again. This is a time for joy and feasting, just the same way that the friends and family of the newly married couple celebrate this newly established relationship of love and faithfulness. To fast in Jesus' physcial presence, if we understand the mission of Jesus, is unthinkable as it is asking God for what he has already given us. It is a sign either of profound misunderstanding or colosingratitudeutde. But the celebration, at least in this world, comes to and end at some point. Jesus'us's very presence is a new thing, and the old rules are not so much wrong, as indadequate and inappropriate in this particular circumstance. Jesus reminds us that if we try to fit this new experience onto the old understanding without change and development, we will ruin both the old and the new.

This is a very appropriate lesson for the last Sunday before Lent. It reminds us that whatever we do for Lent, it is with the purpose of tearing down the barriers between us and God, with God's help. During this holy time we once again beseech God for forgiveness. God said, through Hosea, that "I will espouse you to me forever . . . and you shall know the Lord." It is time once again to take on ashes, to ask for forgivess, and to prepare for the Easter foretaste of the wedding feast of the Messiah.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Links: 2/24/2006

It's Friday all day long, so you get links:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

In the desert

This is an excerpt from a liturgy posted by Jordon Cooper, and it seems appropriate as we approach Lent:

So Jesus goes into the desert, away from the pigeonholes of job and family to ask God who he really is. And by the end of the 40 days, Satan's repeated question “if you are the son of God...” tells us that Jesus had found out.

So who does God think you are?

In the desert all the things that we define our identities are missing and we are left with nothing except what we have inside. A lot of us fear that we found we had nothing inside, or only fear and pain, and so we never venture into the desert. In the desert there is nowhere to hide, if God comes to us, as he came to Jesus, as he came to Moses, as he came to Jacob, to show us who we really are to him. And we clutch our thin rags of identity to us like armor, and shrink back from his touch—better the little we have, we say, than risk even that being taken away as well.
If there ever is a time for "looking at God looking at you" it is during Lent. Yes, there are things to do during this season, things that are often very helpful -- but this is not a season about doing. If there is one time in the world when each one of us needs to spend some "quality time" with God, to do a little relationship building, it is during Lent. It's time to head to the desert, even if it is only inside our hearts and minds.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

For Lent

And in these days of Lent they shall each receive a book from the library, which they shall read straight through from the beginning. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.
The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 48

Well, while I have not finalized my choice on what to give up for Lent (I think it will be coffee again -- always a challenge) I do know what book I will try to work through. I think it's time to work straigt through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. I have picked at this one on and off over the years, and backed off from it every time. It's more than a little challenging, in fact so forthright it's frightening. But with some of the things I am considering these days, I don't think I can put it off any longer. You can look forward to comments and excerpts in this space as Lent progresses. From Chapter 49 of the Rule, On the Observance of Lent:
During these days, therefore,
let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service,
as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink.
Thus everyone of his own will may offer God
"with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6)
something above the measure required of him.
From his body, that is
he may withold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting;
and with the joy of spiritual desire
he may look forward to holy Easter.
I wish you all a holy Lent.

Getting it backward

I'm behind, so this will be a brief reflection this week.

The lessons for the seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
  • Psalm 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14
  • 2 Corinthians 1:18-22
  • Mark 2:1-12
Looking at the Gospel lesson for this week, I think we can learn more by looking at the end, then the beginning:
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
"Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?"
Jesus immediately knew in his mind
what they were thinking to themselves,
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
'Your sins are forgiven,'
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’

But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth"
—he said to the paralytic,
"I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this."
(emphasis mine)

In the question "Which is easier," Jesus demonstrates that the scribes are practical atheists. In the words of French Catholic philosopher √Čtienne Borne, "Practical atheism is not the denial of the existence of God, but complete godlessness of action . . . " A practical atheist may talk as if God exists, but acts as if it did not matter.

The scribes today mutter about blasphemy, looking only at the words that Jesus utter, and not what he is really doing. What they face instead is the question of whether it is easier to say that sins are forgiven, or to say that the paralytic is healed. To the scribes it is easier to declare forgiveness, no matter how forbidden, as they think that change would only be internal, or invisible. How would you tell if the paralytic's sins had really been forgiven or not -- things would look the same. Now if the paralytic really got up and walked away, that would be different. Jesus declaring the paralytic forgiven was just a meaningless and insulting grandstand play. It is just not reasonable that God is really acting in front of them -- they act as if God does not actually act in this world until someone proves differently.

But in reality, things are completely reversed. All it takes for the paralytic to walk is to repair some physical defect, which in this context would be an act of magic, using supernatural power to carry out some change in a mysterious way. All Jesus would be is a more sucessful, or at least more more clever, sorcerer or wonder-worker. In declaring God's forgiveness, Jesus is saying the whole person, inside and out, is restored to wholeness in the most fundamental and profound way. In this case physical healing is but a sign of this more profound restoration. If you understand and believe what Jesus is proclaiming of the coming of the Reign of God, there is no question what is the more profound healing here. The scribes words imply their own lack of practical belief in the Scriptures they interpret or the God they describe.

The crowd is a little better -- at least they glorify God for what Jesus does. But it still takes the flashy healing rather than the profound deliverance to impress them. And, at least according to Mark, none of them ask for forgiveness themselves. Little wonder that Jesus will ask those he heals not to spread the word around. The sign is not supposed to upstage what it points to.

Now, the practical theists in this story, the ones acting as if God is real, are the friends who brought the paralytic to Jesus, even though they had to break through the roof. All of this brings out a few key points to remember:
  • Faith is as much group as individual - it is the faith of the paralytic's friends that moves Jesus. We as modern people we are individualists and are often blind to how much the faith (or lack thereof) of those close to us affects us. Or we are so isolated, so alienated from others that we get little help from other's faith.
  • Reconciliation with God is fundamental - The reality here that the physical healing points to is God restoring the relationship between him and the paralytic. As with the last few lessons, this affects more than just this individual's physical health. Jesus complete's the restoration by telling the former paralytic to go home. The person who had been disabled and unclean is now a full member of the community once again.
  • Not everyone is happy with change - Not too much surprise here, but we should note that it is often the ones who should be the most open to God's action that resist the most. We often need to look in the mirror on this.
On to next week.

Quote: Peter Maurin

What Makes Man Human
  1. To give and not to take
    that is what makes man human.
  2. To serve and not to rule
    that is what makes man human.
  3. To help and not to crush
    that is what makes man human.
  4. To nourish and not to devour
    that is what makes man human.
  5. And if need be
    to die and not to live
    that is what makes man human.
  6. Ideals and not deals
    that is what makes man human.
  7. Creed and not greed
    that is what makes man human.
Peter Maurin, Easy Essays

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mixed progress

Things are slowing down here for a short while as I have some big projects going on a work. Don't go away, though, as posts will simply get a little further apart, not stop. In fact there are some coming attractions:

  • I want to get back to the core purpose here, digging into how we must minister in the world we are in now, from a Catholic point of view -- one post coming up is on postmodernity and liturgy;
  • More links, but perhaps not every day for the next couple of weeks;
  • Format and technical revisions, cleaning up some current issues, and making this blog more print friendly;
  • And I will try to keep up on scriptural reflections, even though I am late with last week's.
Stay tuned.

Quote: Soren Kierkegaard

If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, you know that those who only admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors. The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness; but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back. Admiring the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be changed into exactly the opposite, to hate, jealousy, and revenge. Christ, however, never asked for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. He consistently spoke of "followers" and "disciples."

Friday, February 17, 2006

Quote: Henry David Thoreau

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only the wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. We can never have enough of nature.

We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"

Links: 2/17/2006

Made it to Friday once again:

Just one month to St.Patrick's day!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Links: 2/16/2006

Oh, nothing special, just Thursday

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Quote: Dorothy Day

Loving your neighbor means living in voluntary poverty, stripping yourself, putting off the old Adam, denying yourself, etc. It also means non-participation in those comforts and luxuries which have been manufactured by the exploitation of others. While our brothers and sisters suffer, we must be compassionate with them, suffer with them. While they suffer from lack of necessities, we will refuse to enjoy comforts.

These resolutions, no matter how hard they are to live up to, no matter how often we fail and have to begin over again, are part of the Vision. And we must keep this vision in mind, recognize the truth of it, the necessity for it, even though we do not, cannot, live up to it...though in our execution we may fall short of the mark over and over. St. Paul says it is by little and by little that we proceed.
Dorothy Day, Meditations

Links: 2/15/2006

Doesn't it still feel like Monday?

He bids us to come and die

I was born almost 10 years after the end of the Second World War, and as I grew up, consciousness of the Shoah as a central moral issue grew -- I barely remember coverage of the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann. By the time I was in high school, I was living in (then West) Germany while my father was stationed at Wiesbaden. While there, I visited Berlin, and as part of that trip, went to Plötzensee Prison, now maintained as a memorial. This is where many member of the German resistance to Hitler were executed. In my teens, as I started to become a more active Christian, and began to wonder about the role of our faith in that time. And then one day at the Fresno Bible House, I found Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Or, at least his Nachfolge, or The Cost of Discipleship. I moved on to some of his other works, then read about his own story as a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who opposed Hitler. Even though he had a job away from danger in England and other offers there and in the US, he chose to return to Germany to help start an underground seminary. He was a pacifist, but became involved in the plot against Hitler, unwilling to be a bystander. He was arrested, and just a few weeks before the end of the war, was executed by the SS at Flossenburg concentration camp.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of Bonhoeffer's death, and there is a brief discussion. along with the text of his April 30th, 1945 letter to Eberhard Bethge at Allelon. One section made a particular impression on me:

. . . I've come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, which they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?). It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man's life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the 'solution' of the problem of death. God's 'beyond' is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties. The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village. That is how it is in the Old Testament, and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little in the light of the Old. . .
This letter includes a reference to one of Bonhoeffers more intriguing speculations, what he called "religionless Christianity." His reflection on that idea was cut off by his death.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Links: 2/14/2006

Love is in the air, or is that the new air freshener?

Quote: Richard Gaillardetz

The fundamental insight of the doctrine of the Trinity is that God's being is essentially relational. The Johannine tradition expresses this (without, of course, anything like a developed Trinitarian theology) in its simplest and yet most ontologically profound affirmation: "God is love." It follows that, as beings created in the image and likeness of God, our salvation comes as we "put on Christ" and allow our lives to be patterned after the loving, generative and reciprocal relationality that is the very being of God as revealed to us in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

In the Eastern Christian tradition, this account of our salvation is called theosis or divinization. We might also call this capacity to share in the divine life of God spiritual communion. But this spiritual communion does not demand an escape from our world. Rather, our participation in spiritual communion comes in our authentic engagement in the multi-faceted web of human relationships that constitute our historical existence. This life of communion is disclosed in the creation stories of the Book of Genesis, in which we discover the call to the life of communion in our basic need for human companionship and in the demand for faithful stewardship of the earth itself. Salvation is concerned with the transformation and empowerment of our capacity for authentic engagement with God, others and the world itself.

The arena in which we work out our salvation and seek after God is bounded by the patterns and practices of daily living. Consequently, the Gospel of salvation stands in direct confrontation to the overarching ethos of our consumerist culture. It stands as a challenge to the seduction of modern technology, which seeks to render the world around us and time itself subject to our manipulation and control. It is this Gospel of salvation that must be proclaimed with renewed vigor by the church. The effective proclamation of this Gospel demands the cultivation of a new Christian mystagogy and a new asceticism.
Richard R. Gaillardetz, America, December 7, 1996

Monday, February 13, 2006

Links: 2/13/2006

Monday, Monday, da daaa, da da daaa da:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lepers, all of us

The lessons for the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time are:

  • Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
  • Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
  • First Corinthians 10:31—11:1
  • Mark 1:40-45

There are Gospel stories that can seem, to some, as quaint reflections of ancient times, tales from long ago. We live in a day when Hansen's disease, better known as leprosy, is curable, so we can look at this as just one more miracle story. If we do that we will miss what God is offering us in this portion of the Good News.

Leprosy is often called the world's oldest disease, as there are records of it going back more than 3,000 years from ancient Egypt. But Israel did not make fine distictions in diagnosis, either when Leviticus was compiled, or during the time of Jesus. It appears that almost any scaly or disfiguring skin disease might be considered leprous -- in fact, Leviticus notes that even clothes and the walls of houses could be affected by leprosy. Hansen's disease, left untreated, will bring facial disfigurement and loss of extremites like fingers and feet, and finally death, all through nerve damage caused by the very slow and hard to transmit infection. Many of the other diseases referred to in Scripture as leprosy were much less serious, occasionally more contaigious, but could be recovered from. That made little difference in how people reacted.

From the beginning to the present day, leprosy inspires fear -- fear of ostracism, disfigurement and death. Most societies have felt it necessary to isolate or expel these sufferers, giving the words leper and leper colony the fearsome associations they enjoy. This lasted up until less than 50 years ago in the United States, and continued well after that in some other places. One of the most extreme cases was Japan, where Hansen's disease patients were quarantined until just ten years ago. Up until the 1950's, even while effective treatments became available, the Japanese government removed babies born to leprosy patients, and fearing contaigion where there was none, put the babies to death. Little wonder than persons fearing they might have leprosy would do anything they could to prevent others from finding out, as long as they could.

In Old Testament times, the people of Israel were afraid of more than that. Many natural events were seen to indicate either God's favor or anger, and this included illness. Bodily wholeness and integrity were associated with holiness. Some diseases seemed to specifically show spiritual imperfection as well, and therefore were considered ritually polluting. Contact with these unclean persons could result, they thought, in God's displeasure expanding to include them as well.

Understanding this helps us in properly reading the lesson from Leviticus. God worked with Israel from where they were. They already feared lepers, and like almost all other societies, drove them from normal life -- most probably, in those days, to their deaths. Our Old Testament lesson, in my opinion, is there to set a limit to the reaction of the community. You could not brand someone a leper on your own -- you had to bring them to the priest, who would make the determination using detailed rules. The person was ostracized from the community, but was not to be punished or harmed beyond that if they followed the law themselves. And if the person recovered, they could be declared clean and restored to the community. To our modern eyes, this rule sounds like punishment, while in terms of the time when it was set down, it was a law of mercy.

As always, God's mercy is good news indeed. It is good news, not only to those suffering Hansen's disease, but the rest of us as well. For we are all, in one sense, lepers. No, I am not saying we all have this particular disease, but that we all have something, some problem or secret that we are sure others will find disgusting. We are scared silly that we will be found out, be rejected by others, even be judged as undeserving of God's love. We are willing to do almost anything to prevent others from finding out. And we may despair of any help from God with our own emotional or spiritual leprosy.

What can we do? We can look to today's Gospel story for guidance. Jesus responds with compassion to a cry for help:

A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish,
you can make me clean."

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I
do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

Then he said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."

What Jesus responds to here is the combination of first, an statement of need, the admission that healing is beyond our control, and the acknowlegement that He can. The first step in dealing with our own personal leprosy is to admit we have a problem, that there is a part of our lives beyond our own ability to repair. Then we have to be willing to give up our attempts to hide and control this part of our lives and submit them to God.

And the response? "Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean.' " The person who touched a leper became ritually impure or polluted as the sufferer was. Jesus shows that no ugly secret disqualifies us for God's mercy, that he is willing to share whatever dishonor we face, right beside us.

Jesus then moves beyond merely comforting us in our afflictions. He acts to make the leper clean again, to restore him to full membership in the community. This is the reconciliation forseen in Leviticus, where the sufferer is now seen as being favored by God.

Finally, the Church plays an important part in this. Jesus does not just say the leper is now clean, he sends him back to the priests for his status to be confirmed and to be restored in the sight of all Israel. Dealing with our own personal leprosy is not simply a individualistic matter of "me and God". We may need the help of the sacrament of rcconciliation and spiritual direction. Counselors or therapists may be essential for dealing with the emotional component of our problems. And our fellow Christians can be critical for our recovery, supplying acceptance, support and accountability.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Links: 2/12/2006

Hey, it's a weekend -- you just get one set.

Eh, that's it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Be aware that He has been waiting and listening

Be aware the for a long time He has been waiting for you in the deepest dungeon of your blocked-up heart. Be aware that he has been listening for a long time, to see if you - after all the busy noise of your life, all the talk that you call your "illusion-free philosophy" or perhaps even your prayer, noise and talk in which you are only talking to yourself, after all the despairing, weeping and silent sighing over the need in your life - He has been listening to see if you might finally be able to be silent before Him and let Him have the word, the word that appears to the person you were up until now only as a deathly silence.
Karl Rahner, from The Need and the Blessing of Prayer (with thanks to Steve Bogner)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Links: 2/10/2004

Happy Friday, and now on to the links:


A fast note of thanks to the folks at University Surgery Center -- I had a colonoscopy there today and everything seems to have gone fine -- no biopsy or such necessary. This is my first time in an ambulatory surgery center, and I am duly impressed. I have been taking it easy here at home all day, including a lovely long nap. Even though I feel fine, the orders are to not go to work, not drive, no key decisions, no signing of legal documents, et cetera for 24 hours. They even make you sign a form with those instructions -- before the medication starts, of course.

One good thing was that I was one of the first patients, having to arrive at 6:30 this morning. We were out by 9. I could not have been treated better, and would happily reccomend this place.

Links: 2/9/2006

In no particular order:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A gift

I won't have a lot of comment on this rather beautiful story by Robert Krulwich on Morning Edition today, and I could wish that everyone on various sides of various issues should just back off from this one, just for today. Don't use it for some purpose, just sit and think about it -- and smile a little.

Some scientists have proposed that when a woman has a baby, she gets not just a son or a daughter, but a gift of cells that stays behind and protects her for the rest of her life. That's because a baby's cells linger in its mom's body for decades and -- like stem cells -- may help to repair damage when she gets sick. It's such an enticing idea that even the scientists who came up with the idea worry that it may be too beautiful to be true.
I'm sure that there will be a lot of posting on this, from various perspectives. But there is an almost transcendent lovliness to it, a wonderful unexpectedness. My wife made me stop when I was about to leave (late) for work, and just listen to it. If you haven't heart this one already, follow the link, sit down, and listen.

Quote: Thomas Merton

A contemplative is not one who takes his prayer seriously, but one who takes God seriously, who is famished for truth, who seeks to live in generous simplicity, in the spirit. An ardent and sincere humility is the best protection for his life of prayer.
Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation

Links: 2/8/2006

I am frankly stealing, with no apologies at all, an idea from Jordon Cooper (already on my short list of essential blogs). He calls these lists contextless links (see example) but a strange sort of context is what I am aiming for. These links will reflect what I am finding interesting, particularly in regard to the main topics of this site. In that way they will supply, as a group, their own context. I'm not even promising that they will be fresh or original -- as I have a real backlog to work out. Everything should be safe for work, but I am not guaranteeing that the viewpoints in these posts are congruent with each other, or even with my own views -- read at your own risk. If your head explodes, don't blame me . . .

Well, now on with the links.

Surfing the web so you don't have to . . .

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Going where God already is

There has already been a lot of blogging about Bono's sermon (it was more than just a talk or "remarks") at last week's National Prayer Breakfast. If you have not yet read it all, then you should -- right now, if possible. There are all sorts of things to quote from it, but I would like to focus in on one bit that expresses the experience I have had in detention ministry. He sets out the simple fact that God has a special place for the poor, or in Bono's words, "In fact, the poor are where God lives. Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone."

After an eloquent passage reviewing just where God is, and how different faiths witness to that, he brings up his own experience:

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it…. I have a family, please look after them…. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

Several years ago, after a bout with chronic illness, I started to feel the pull toward social ministry, to the kinds of action mentioned in Matthew 25. (Before that, the idea scared me silly.) Unbeknownst to me, my wife was feeling the same pull. Detention ministry is an obvious choice where I live -- the Diocese of Fresno encompasses more prisoners than any other American diocese, perhaps any Catholic diocese in the world. We live near the largest women's prison complex on earth. When an invitation came to attend a presentation on jail and prison work, we went. Diocesan training followed, and not too long after that, we found ourselves helping in a prison chapel at least twice a month. That was more than three years ago.

I have run into a number of Christians who are admiring of our choice, but will not consider doing something like it themselves. It's hard to explain that we are being very selfish indeed. From the first day, we found God's presence in a strong and special way in that chapel, with those inmates. We are not sacrificing to do some unpleasant task -- we are going to where we know we need to be. It's a hassle in some ways, and an extra Sunday off from time to time is rather nice, but we feel the lack if we are away too long. We are going to where God already is, and we get to take some of the blessing home with us.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Nobody expects the Orissan coconuts . . .

There are some stories you simply cannot resist. BBC News today today tells of a temple in India that gets 15,000 coconuts a day for it's ritual, by a unique volunteer relay system:

Hold a coconut in your hand on a highway in Orissa and the next bus will surely stop to pick it up to take it to the temple in Ghatgaon in Keonjhar district.

The drivers' faith in the goddess Maa Tarini is complete - it is common to find the space behind their seats stacked with coconuts.

Even if the bus is on a different route, the driver will make sure to drop the coconuts in a collection box en route or pass them on to a bus headed for Ghatgaon.

"If I refuse to carry coconuts to the goddess, I may face various odds on my way," says Arun Sahoo, a bus driver.

The drivers believe that carrying the coconuts to the deity ensures a safe journey.

They tell stories of bus drivers who failed to pick up coconuts from devotees and met with engine failures or accidents.

"No one can refuse to carry a coconut," says shop owner Rabindra Patnaik.

The buses usually dump their coconuts in collection boxes across the state, from where other buses or devotees headed to the temple pick up them up on their final journey.

Temple officials say coconuts land up from neighbouring states like West Bengal and Bihar through this amazing network.

"The coconut changes hands like batons in a relay race before reaching its destination," says devotee Bijay Laxmi Rath.
I love it. The priests at the temple break open a few hundred coconuts each day as offerings -- the rest of the thousands of coconuts are sold inexpensively, which has helped build a local coconut candy industry.

The assumption seems to have been over the last century or so that when a country modernizes, religion should just fade away -- and India is modernizing rapidly. It doesn't work out that way. Faith is hard to kill, and finds it's way through some very small cultural cracks, sort of like kudzu. Bags of coconuts behind the driver's seat . . .

Back where we belong

The lessons for the fifth Sunday in Ordinary time are:

  • Job 7:1-4, 6-7
  • Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
  • First Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
  • Mark 1:29-39
Looking through these lessons, one contrast is apparent, between the first and second lessons. Job and Paul are clearly in different states -- Paul is a man on a mission, a man with a purpose. Job can't find any meaning in his life.
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, 'When shall I arise?'
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.
Sound a bit too familiar? This is the kind of life many people complain about today. In this story, Job in one day lost both his children and all of his material goods. He has also become afflicted with disease. He has kept his faith in God, even though his wife has lost hers. He is interrogating God as to what meaning there is in the life he is now leading.

We do the same thing, even though we may have family possessionsions galore. We look at all we have, and find no meaning in any of it. Our relationships with other people, and even our relationship with ourselves, seems empty. Job's image of the weaver's shuttle, the piece of wood tthat quickly travels back and forth, carrying the crossing thread to make up the weave, is telling. The shuttle moves quickly, never stopping, but never really gets anywhere. There is no shortage of activity, we are always busy, our lives are crowded, but is does not help. We somehow seem to have missed the point, and something is seriously out of balance. By reading Job, we realize that our situation is nothing new.

What we need is what Jesus is offering the sick and possessed in today's gospel lesson. This lesson is a continuation of the lesson from last week -- This is all the story of Jesus's first day in town, how people initially react to him and how he has established legitimacymacy to preach and heal. Once he heals a possessed man, he moves on to the family of one of his followers:
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
Consider this along with the other things that Jesus was doing on this first day -- healing the sick and delivering the possessed. In all these cases, it is more than a physhealingliing, the person is restored to their rightful place in their community -- the demoniac is no longer an outcast and Simon's mother in law is able to serve those she loves. It is this restoration of people to the full dignity that God created them with that lies at the heart of these acts of healing. Jesus is bringing us back to where we were intended to be.

We gain meaning in our life from relationship, and we must have this kind of healing, this kind of restoration of relationship to be able to have a life full of meaning. Jesus restores our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God.

To begin with, many of us do not know who we really are ourselves. We have spent our lives trying to be someone we are not, living a life based on what our surrounding culture is telling us. We simply do not fit inside the life we are trying to live. God calls us by our own true name, something we may have forgotten, and teaches about ourselves, if we are willing to be taught. We are furiously busy throughout our lives, running away from our own emptiness by seeking ever more intense experience or pleasure. We need to stop, and try to listen to the healing word God is already speaking in our hearts. The healing that Jesus brings can restore us to ourselves.

Our relationship to others, perhaps to the whole of society, is also in need of restoration. We will find little meaning in relationships where we see the other person or persons only as a means to the fulfillment of our own desires. Jesus is proclaiming the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, the time when the greatest law is not written on stone or paper, but within our hearts. This demands that social relationships, from the simplest personal to global socio-political structures are due to be rebuilt. The root of this rebuilding is that engraving of the lalovef ove in our hearts -- Jesus restores our ability to value others as much as ourselves.

Finally, Jesus brings us back into a right relationship with our Creator. The other forms of restoration, no matter how desirable or immediately successful are not enough. Separation from God is the root of our other problems, and no final remedy can be found away from a relationship that is both brand new and what it was intended to be from the beginning. Jesus is only beginning this process of reconciliation in this village -- it will be brought to a climax on the Cross and come to first fruits in the Resurrection. It continues to this very day.

A note about the miracles of healing. It is easy to get fixed on the flashier miracles, or instant healings. They still occurr, and still have the same significance. An extraordinary miracle is a special sign, not that the "laws of nature" have been "violated", but that a greater law above and behind them has overruled them. These signs point us to what God is doing all the time, the ordinary miracles of reconciliation and restoration in lives all around us. God is not a substitute for aspirin or antibiotics. Doctors find curing physical illness much easier than dealing with emotional and spiritual disease -- just ask them. These little miracles, these signs of hope are visible if we wish to see them. They are a sign that the work started in Capernaum continues today.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Quote: Walter Burghardt

As you exit this sacred spot hosting the Bread of Life, pledge yourselves to be a kind of sacrament—I mean, vibrant symbols that speak to the fears and tears of a broken world. Vow not only to joy with all whose laughter is richly human, but to weep with all those whose pain parallels your own. Take the first step wherever dislike divides; be willing to walk the extra mile. Challenge courageously a resurgent rugged individualism where the strong and the swift survive and the devil takes the hindmost. Such must you be, for sacraments are not magic. You will be effective symbols to the extent that St. Paul’s triad pervades you: “Faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13: 13).
Walter Burghardt, S.J., from a homily given for this Sunday

Friday, February 03, 2006

OK, Kelly, I'm It

Kelly Clark from The Lady in the Pew just tagged me with the "4 things" meme. I am sort of cheating, as I posted this over on Making Light on Christmas Eve. But only sort of, as I never posted it on my own blog.

  • 4 jobs: Dishwasher/fry cook; assembly line worker (aluminum windows and doors); radio news director; database programmer.
  • 4 movies: The Shawshank Redemption; Babettes gastebud; Shichinin no samurai; The Thing from Another World (Hawks).
  • 4 places I've lived: Bossier City, LA; Oscoda, MI; Wiesbaden, Germany; Merced, CA.
  • 4 TV shows: Good Eats; Iron Chef America; TCM; little else.
  • 4 places I've been on vacation: London; Yosemite; southeast Alaska; Seattle.
  • 4 websites I visit daily: Making Light; SFGate; Wikipedia; Whispers in the Loggia.
  • 4 of my favorite foods: chili; Minneola tangelos; freshly baked bread; strawberries.
  • 4 places I'd rather be: New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur; Seattle; Yosemite; Bartlesville, OK.
Kelly has been a friend on the net for over a decade and has supported me with a lot of prayer and encouragement over the years. A very classy lady in the pew indeed. I'll update this later when I figure out who to tag.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Quote: Karl Rahner

When the angels of death have swept all the worthless rubbish that we call our history out of the rooms of our consciousness (though of course the true reality of our actions in freedom will remain);

when all the stars of our ideals, with which we ourselves in our own presumption have draped the heaven of our own lived lives, have burned out and are now extinguished;

when death has built a monstrous, silent void, and we have silently accepted this in faith and hope as our true identity;

when then our life so far, however long it has been, appears only as a single, short explosion of our freedom that previously presented itself to us stretched out in slow motion, an explosion in which question has become answer, possibility reality, time eternity, and freedom offered freedom accomplished;

when then we are shown in the monstrous shock of a joy beyond saying that this monstrous, silent void, which we experience as death, is in truth filled with the originating mystery we call God, with God's light and with God's love that received all things and gives all things;

and when then out of this pathless mystery the face of Jesus, the blessed one, appears to us and this specific reality is the divine surpassing of all that we truly assume regarding the past-all-graspness of the pathless God

-then, then I don't want actually to describe anything like this, but nevertheless, I do want to stammer some hint of how a person can for the moment expect what is to come: by experiencing the very submergence that is death as already the rising of what is coming.
Karl Rahner (who else writes 280 word sentences?)

Some things take longer to go away

Reading this story left me feeling strange -- not bad, just strange. It was reported that the last Western Union telegram was sent this week.

The company formed in April 1856 to exploit the hot technology of the telegraph to send cross-country messages in less than a day. It is now focusing its attention on money transfers and other financial services, and delivered its final telegram on Friday.

"The decision was a hard decision because we're fully aware of our heritage," Victor Chayet, a spokesman for the Greenwood Village-based company, said Wednesday. "But it's the final transition from a communications company to a financial services company."
Well, that's almost true -- The end of the original telegram service came in the early 1990's with the bankruptcy of Western Union Corporation's bankruptcy, and subsequent purchase by what became First Data. What ended Friday was a newer commercial message service floated by First Data using the Western Union brand.

I am just old enough to remember telegrams -- for example the pads of Western Union forms that were always around hotel lobbies (with the famous disclaimers on the back). The last real telegram that I remember was one my grandmother sent to us on Christmas when we were stationed in Germany. I've never sent one myself, that I remember. But the Morse's electric telegraph (there were others before, using different signaling technology, such as semaphores) created a boom much like the internet (there even is a rather good book on the topic, The Victorian Internet). Even more, within 20 years of its invention there was a network of telegraph lines on more than one continent, and a desire that these be tied together into a truly global network. That took a lot more work and time, with lots of failures along the way. The internet works largely over direct cable links, not satellites. We figured out how to lay those cables to connect telegraph networks.

In fact, one can really say that the telegram has not gone away, but the telegraph company has. The capability was created with the first telegraph to move text over a wire. That technology developed into teletype, telephones, telex, TWX, AUTODIN, and fairly directly to dial up networks and the internet itself. There is no need for a telegraph company if email is available -- the 21st century telegraph. Lots of other technologies are flashier, but email remains the fundamental "killer app" of the internet.

The last 10 telegrams?
Last week, the last 10 telegrams included birthday wishes, condolences on the death of a loved one, notification of an emergency, and several people trying to be the last to send a telegram.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Onward to the Past

For the first time I have managed to recover a post from my old blog, One Pilgrim's Walk. This is Surviving Anaheim, my take on handling the LA Religious Education Congress, and probably my most linked to post. The content (with my enthusiastic permission) is even on Congress' own web site.

The irony is that I will not be able to go to Congress this year due to work conflicts. As I reconstruct the posts and their original dates, I will be posting them by date.

A quiet place

Sacrament Chapel

I can understand why some people don't like the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA -- from the plaza it's more than a little fortress-like. But there are jewels inside, like the sacrament chapel.