Blog Template Theology of the Body: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Me and My Blogfans

At Fr. WB's ordination: two priests, a deacon, a brilliant thoroughfer; one professor of Art History, and another of Ethics; a director of ministry for prep schools; a novelist and an art dealer of 16th Century French drawings; and your own devoted blog author.

We all hope very much in the love of Jesus, which is above and beyond anything we could ask or imagine...

Protestant's Safari: Observations of an Ecclesial Anthropologist III

Observation: The Natives May Indulge In An Ecumenical Sense of Humor; Undoubtedly Annoying in Many Cultures.

So the Joint Statements on Salvation may have stalled at "Justification," and Professor Volf may rail against the proliferation of so many new Protestant splinter churches!... but I like the fact that these little bits could come up in any congregation...

Jesus' Dad's Name
> A Sunday school teacher asked her class, "What was Jesus'
> mother's name?"
> One child answered, "Mary."
> The teacher then asked, "Who knows what Jesus' father's name
> was?"
> A little kid said, "Verge."
> Confused, the teacher asked, "Where did you get that?"
> The kid said, "Well, you know they are always talking about
> Verge n' Mary.''

> Kids In Church
> 3-year-old, Reese:
> "Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is His name.
> Amen."

> Little Boy Praying
> A little boy was overheard praying:
> "Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about
> it.
> I'm having a real good time like I am."

> The Last Commandment
> A Sunday school class was studying the Ten Commandments.
> They were ready to discuss the last one.
> The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what it was.
> Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted,
> "Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor's wife."

> A Christian Home
> After the christening of his baby brother in church,
> Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car.
> His father asked him three times what was wrong.
> Finally, the boy replied,
> "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a
> Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."

> Deliver Us From Evil
> I had been teaching my three-year old daughter, Caitlin, the
> Lord's Prayer
> for several evenings at bedtime,
> she would repeat after me the lines from the prayer.
> Finally, she decided to go solo.
> I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated
> each word right up to the end of the prayer:
> "Lead us not into temptation," she prayed,
> "but deliver us some E-mail.

> Forgive Us Our Traspasses
> One particular four-year-old prayed,
> "And forgive us our trash baskets
> as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."

> Quiet In Church
> A Sunday school teacher asked her children, as they were on
> the way
> to church service,
> "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?"
> One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."

> The 2 Ushers
> Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were
> sitting together in church.
> Joel giggled, sang, and talked out loud. Finally, his
> big sister had had enough.
> "You're not supposed to talk out loud in church."
> "Why? Who's going to stop me?" Joel asked.
> Angie pointed to the back of the church and said,
> "See those two men standing by the door?
> They're hushers."

> Moral Lesson
> A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5 and
> Ryan 3.
> The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.
> Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.
> "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say,
> 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'"
> Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be
> Jesus!"

> Died And Went To Heaven
> A father was at the beach with his children
> when the four-year-old son ran up to him,
> grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore
> where a seagull lay dead in the sand.
> "Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked.
> "He died and went to Heaven," the Dad replied.
> The boy thought a moment and then said,
> "Did God throw him back down?"

> Dinner Blessing
> A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she
> turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to
> say the blessing?"
> "I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied.
> "Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered.
> The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I
> invite all these people to dinner?"

Hat- Tip: precious ARM

Monday, January 30, 2006

Miroslav Volf

In the Christian tradition, even condemnation is an element of reconciliation, not an isolated independent judgment- even when reconciliation cannot be achieved. So we "condemn" most properly in the act of forgiving, in the act of separating the doer from the deed. That is how God in Christ condemned all wrongdoing."

- Miroslav Volf

Mark: As One Having Authority, And Not As The Scribes

Mark 1:21-28
(New King James Version)

Jesus Casts Out an Unclean Spirit

21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

... Fr. Nihal emphasized the theme of the challenge of God's authoritative call to the believer...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Saint Brigid, Patroness of Babies, Scholars, and Travelers

This well-rounded young woman, daughter of a pagan king, founded missionary convents all over Ireland in the fifth century; Saint Patrick apparantly confirmed her final vows with a formula used for priests. Oops-

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present. I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven's family drinking it through all eternity.
- St. Brigid.

Culture Pop: Beato Again

Fr. WB and I re-visited the Met's Fra Angelico exhibit again over the weekend, this time on a private tour led by the exhibit's curator. It was an amazing time, revealing so much more of the detail of the works and the adventures of the acquisition process ("this praedealla was incomplete until I had dinner at X's house and found the missing panel hanging in his living room..." ...."these paintings turned up in an old drawer at Yale..." Etc)

Fra "Angelico" got his name from one of his superiors, who found the didactic insights of his work to be worthy of the apellation attached to the "angellic" doctor, fellow Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas. One visits Fra Angelico's work at S. Marco in Florence and is struck by the sheer awesomeness of his frescos; at the Met, one is struck by the tiniest, most gratuitous details in altar pieces and devotional images. The striking thing in these tiny moments is their hiddeness; why would an artist bother with such miniscule gestures of humor and shading that no-one could even see? Why would an artist renown for his virtue and the practice of his art as devotion and prayer Waste The Time?

The answer, I think, is a profound theological truth which our Protestant Work Ethic so easily avoids, to the detriment of our souls, though it is a notion inscribed into our beings with our taste buds: Our God is FUN. He rejoices. He creates and maintains purely gratuitous beauty and little jokes and functionless detail throughout the universe for His own amusement. How wonderful to walk with a happy God!

"... because no-one is happier than He, no-one more powerful, no-one more just, it follows that we ought to be such towards others..."

St. Augustine, Letter 153.

How to Write Good

I just finished putting this together for one of my little brothers.

... I'm indebted to a kind English professor who shared this method of old Quintillian with me, on a flight home from England many moons ago....

Narratio/Section 1:

a) Draw your audience in by explaining the problem to be solved; appeal to emotion and imagination; lay the paper’s purpose out clearly for your reader.
b) State the main issue on which your paper will focus: Given that …., this paper will address the issue of whether….. I will conclude by proposing that…”

Peroratio/Section 2:

Explain the history/historical background of the problem: “to contextualize this issue, we note the following background…”

Oratio/Section 3:

Illustrate your proposal/claim and defend it with evidence, arguments, or examples.

Refutatio/Section 4:

Offer/anticipate a hypothetical opponent’s (one-two) counter arguments and refute them with evidence, arguments, or examples: It could be argued that…;however, I will show that…. thus my proposal offers the clearest solution to the issue at hand.”

Conclusion/Final Section:

a) Re state your claim/proposal
b) Re-state/summarize the illustration of the problem and its historical background.
c) Re-state/summarize your arguments for your proposal, and remind the reader why the opponent’s anticipated arguments are unsound.
d) Back up your position by offering some further advantages which attach to your proposal.
e) Summarizing sentence: “I have shown that…”

Chains: The Poor

..I hear that U2's Bono is the Special Guest at this year's National Prayer Breakfast- so we should join his noble campaigns by praying for those whose lives and liberty are limited by poverty (while rejoicing at the power of the Gospel to thrive even in the most adverse of material circumstances).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Culture Pop: Deus Caritas Est

... the best yet on this blog... The Holy Father has his first Encylical out! Another definitive and certain guidepost on our way to Heaven! Praise the God who is Love, and thank you, Papa Ratzi.

Here it is!

...Thanks to Thursday.

Apologize: Homosexuality

The RC Church's statement on chastity and homosexuality goes as follows below; as usual, Rome provides us with a most comprehensive and Biblical treatment-

"Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex. it has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity (Genesis 19:1-29, Romans 1:24-27, I Corinthians 6:10, I Timothy 1:10), tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. they are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, and by the support of friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation III

Two helpful books which I think are especially comforting to anyone facing any sort of discernment, one particularly good for women, and another one for men, and each good for both! (I am SUCH a gender essentialist)

1. Discerning Vocations to Marriage, Celibacy, and Singleness

This little book is amazing; it's good for completely undressing your soul and seeing what's really there in terms of desires, existential quiddity, and potential. I loved it; the whole idea is to apply personalist views and a very tender view of the human heart to the discernment process, and to order all under the love of God. Think of it as a lots of appointments with a very gentle spiritual director.

2. Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul

This book by John Eldredge took the Evangelical crowd by storm a few years ago; it's the product of a poetic imagination, a lot of enthusiasm about What It Means To Be An American Male, and a lot of confidence in Whatever Drives You (oh dear). The whole thing could be vastly improved by some systematic thinking on matters of just how reliable our fallen hearts really are, and the proper meaning of "freedom," qua "wildness," etc. There is a sad dearth of references to definite examples of godly manhood in the Tradition- where did we ever get off talking about "a Christian husband" without a fundamental reference to Jesus Christ, for instance?- but I appreciate Eldredge's allowance that women have a "wild heart" too, and a capacity for adventure. Read it if you need courage before facing the other stuff.

3. And perhaps The Best One: Decision Making and the Will of God. Its just wonderful- very full of Biblical wisdom, and thoughtfully critical of a lot of half-baked trends in the Protestant discernment process.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Damascus Road

Today the Church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul!

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience, as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
I Timothy 1:16

Good stuff for this Feast at Wally's blog...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Charity or "Sodomy"?

I stumbled into a conversation with some remarkably ardent, fellow young Fundamentalists yesterday; the issue was the propriety of (gay) Chad Allen depicting the Protestant Saint mentioned below in the new film "End of the Spear." Apart from disregarding the impropriety of adopting the Dontatist heresy's assumption that the efficacy of God's work depends on the sanctity of the agent, these able interlocutors insisted that faithful Christian dialogue about homosexual practices requires the designation of "Sodomite" when referencing the homosexual practitioner. Uggghh, I said. Why do I recoil this way from such language? Im not sure. Two possible explanations:

1. Assuming the Church's designation of homosexual activity as a sin, I would note that "sinner" is a term which properly designates people on both sides of regeneration; the unbaptized unregenerate is a sinner, but so am I. I am ALWAYS repenting of some sin or another, sadly. So was St. Paul, as I remember. One particular sin does not adequately describe me- I am both robber, murderer, adulterer, etc., frequently, if only in my poor sin-ridden heart. So why should the particular sin of a sexual "offender" describe him, point blank? Especially when he still stands on this side of God's judgment seat? Which particular sin ultimately defines YOU, dear reader? Again, ugghh. Being "in Christ" seems to allow for so much more, even for those who are only potentially in Christ.

2. Such pejoratives delimit the nature of the discourse automotically to one of censure, rather than one of charity; and the last time I looked at the New Testament's order of discourse, charity seemed to be the order of the day...

"We pity the person while detesting the deed or the crime, and the more the vice displeases us, the less do we want the culprit to die unrepentant... in one and the same person we disapprove the guilt and approve the nature, and we thereby hate the guilt with a more just reason because by it the nature which we love is defiled..."
(Augustine, Letter 153, Ad Macedonius)

Protestant's Safari: Observations of an Ecclesial Anthropologist II

Observation: Natives Wonder What To Do With Their Saints...

Over Christmas, the buzz around various Protestant dinner tables involved another exciting cinematic development, namely, the making of "End of the Spear," which documents the events surrounding martyred missionaries to the indigenous Auca people. The film, which I have not yet seen, is apparently inspired by the earlier treatment of the same in "Through Gates of Splendor;" and the subjects, familiar to any good Wheaton grads, are the heroic missionaries Jim Elliot and Nate Saint.

Now, like most Evangelical young people, I grew up with these names. I had placards with quotes from their biographies pasted on my closet door. When I went through missionary training for a year before a stint in Eastern Europe, their stories were invoked to inspire timid trainees with great passion, and to great effect. Once in Eastern Europe, I found the full-time missionaries (the consecrated Religious of the Protestant world) living and breathing to devotionals inspired by these men and their wives. Some would say in prayer, "Lord, in the words of Jim Elliot, please X..." Etc.

All this is as it should be. These young men lived pure lives marked by heroic virtue, which ended in martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. Their wives returned to labor among the murderers of their husbands for years. Amen! We desperately need such living, breathing models of What Christians Look Like, so that the abstractions of Christian wisdom may become properly incarnate in us as well. We need to see their photos, hear their stories, pray their prayers, rejoice at their biographical sketches on film.

My Catholic friends do this too. They have their placards, their prayers, their profound memories of service and sacrifice by their heroes in the faith, so that their own lives may better imitate Christ's. The only difference may be the heightened rigor attached to recognizing a Catholic saint, who must demonstrate their continued intercession before the throne of God in Heaven by means of miracles on earth. But I digress. Jim Elliot, pray for us.

Monday, January 23, 2006

St. Augustine of Hippo

"Men are rescued by the name of Christ from the hellish thraldom of these unclean spirits, and from a participation in their punishment, and are brought out of the night of pestilential ungodliness into the light of most healthful piety...this is the religion worthy of your desires, O admirable race..."

The City of God, Book II

Mark: Follow Me, and I Will Make You

Mark 1:14-20
(New International Version)

The Calling of the First Disciples

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

...Fr. Bruce emphasized Freedom in the Christian life at ECY yesterday; not only from sin, fear, anxiety, and bondage, but also in the more difficult and reponsible freedom to follow our Lord.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Saint Agnes, Child Martyr

This little girl laid down her life for Christ at the age of 12, during the great persecution of Diocletian (284-305). She was beheaded for her refusal to renounce her Savior; she was buried on the Via Nomentana, just outside of Rome. Constantine erected a church in her honour about the year 350.

For centuries, an annual celebration blesses two lambs at the altar in this church where her relics lie in honor of her life, witness, and innocence. The lambs are then sent to a cloister and raised. Their wool is used to make the palliums sent by the Pope to archbishops. The palliums are worn around the archbishop's shoulders as symbols of the sheep carried by the Good Shepherd.

All-powerful and ever-living God, you choose the weak in this world to confound the powerful. When we celebrate the memory of Saint Agnes, may we like her remain constant in our faith and purity. Amen.

Culture Pop: For a Culture of Life

I was busy attending a... "housewarming" shower for The World Youth Alliance's new headquarters in midtown Manhattan yesterday. Third to the Church and the Family, WYA is perhaps my favorite institution in the whole world, and is as evidently God-ordained as they come. I have been privileged to work with WYA for several years in their mission to promote the dignity of the person at the international level, to encourage solidarity among young people everywhere, and to build a culture of life.

And the new offices and staff housing are incredibly beautiful, exhibiting the loving aesthetic of my dear friends Anna and Maria... stop by and say hello if youre ever in the neighborhood...or sign their charter and become one of their millions of members!

They've also got a great blog...

Jürgen Moltmann

"On the Cross this love of God is there for the Other, for sinners, for the recalcitrant, for the enemy. The reciprocal self-surrender to one another within the Trinity is manifested in Christ's self-surrender in a world which is in contradiction to God; and this self-giving draws all those who believe in Him into the eternal life of the Divine Love."

Moltmann, The Spirit of Life

Friday, January 20, 2006

Chains: Sierra Leone

Sr. Tiziana of AIL informed me of the plight of hundreds of child soldiers kidnapped and forced into service by drug-induced mind control in Sierra Leone.

Pray for the work of the Church and her missionaries in Sierra Leone on behalf of these children. Perhaps The invisible Children's project will take up their cause along with the plight of the little ones of N. Uganda...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Apologize: Knowledge and Belief

In the end, most of what we claim to "know" in any area of life is merely that which we believe on the credibility of the witnesses.

Christianity has credible witnesses to its definitive and essential historical Events, which no other faith can offer.

Hat-tip: Sr. Raffaella of AIL

I am orthodox today

I took the heresy quiz! Here are my results-

You scored as Chalcedon compliant.

You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe
that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from
sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant- 100%
Pelagianism- 67%
Arianism- 33%
Nestorianism- 33%
Adoptionist- 33%
Monophysitism- 33%
Socinianism- 33%
Monarchianism- 33%
Docetism- 0%
Apollanarian- 0%
Donatism- 0%
Modalism- 0%
Gnosticism- 0%
Albigensianism- 0%

Hat-tip: J-Tron, who apparently is more orthodox than I am...

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation II

I spent the weekend with the Sisters of the Apostles of the Interior Life at the St. Paul's Center at the University of Wisconsin. The Sisters' charism involves extensive evangelization and spiritual direction for university students; I was so blessed by their beautiful, enormously fruitful ministry.

One of the most dynamic aspects of the Sisters' work involves the vocational discernment process of their Samuel Groups. The Samuel process is designed to prepare students for the recognition of their vocation through self-knowledge and the inculcation of the virtues in "small ways," in preparation for correct discernment of a lifelong calling.

In this regard, the Sisters' recipe for ongoing discernment revolves around the topics of developing trust in God; personal reconciliation with past issues; dealing with sin through confession; healthy spiritual direction; the practice of the virtues; life in the spirit of the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, in any state of life; a thorough understanding of the contexts of marriage and the consecrated life; and the importance of developing a sense of mission.

Thank you for your powerful ministry and your kindness to me, Sisters!

Be not afraid; I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Martin Luther King Weekend

One of my favorites from this icon- wherein he resounds with the Tradition beautifully-

A just law is a man-made code that square with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority... so segregation is morally wrong and sinful. Isnt segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.”

From Letter from a Birmingham City Jail, 1963

...Would that The Episcopal Church USA saw fit to apply such godly rhetoric to the human personality, civil rights, and dignity of unborn infants... see the post at The Rome Report for a highly and justly chagrined update on ECUSA's hurrah in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice... how exactly do we get away with denying the right to life to a specified class of persons these days?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Chains: China

Although John Berthrong of Boston University reports growing freedom of state-sponsored Confucian practice in China, the Church there remains in trouble. Pray for Christians in China; Chinese Christians suffer for the privilege of following historic Christianity rather than the government's revised version.

Apologize: Miracles

William P. Loewe of The Catholic University of America offers a fairly good discussion of miracles in his work on Christology.

"What is meant by a miracle? Many people when they hear the word think of something unexplainable or something that violates the laws of nature. The key to this common understanding of miracle lies in the question of causality; either/or characterizes the approach to this understanding of miracle- either there is some natural explanation or God did it. On this understanding something is a miracle if cannot be explained. "Cannot," however, is a tall order. There is a large difference between saying that we do not in fact understand something and saying that we cannot, in principle, ever come to understand it. The history of science itself suggests that we should exercise a good deal of modesty in making the second kind of statement...."

(Rather garbled image from the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, on the campus of CU; the image of Christ in Glory is in the Apse. It's my favorite.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

What Rowan Loves

On good authority from WZ: ++the Archbishop of Canterbury just loves marzipan. Also asparagus.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

In the spirit of Epiphany's sense of hopeful revelation, I think I will focus Wednesday's prayer segment thing on the duty of vocational discernment.

First: It's terrifying.

Second: You find this kind of conversation popping up most frequently in The Liturgical Traditions, as my good friend SE laments; good, great, necessary thing that he is focussing his work lately on preparing a more robust sense of vocational guidance in the Protestant millieu. (Its not just marriage or missions, people.)

Lately: My precious dad has lately seen fit to arrange conversations between his myriad children and Mr. Bobb Biehle on this topic, who has served as a founding consultant for the vigorous Focus on the Family, NASA, and others- if that's what it takes. I am so grateful for the chance to go over My Sense of Calling with this insightful author. I commend you to his book Why You Do What You Do; and here is a brief synopsis of some of his most poignant remarks-

1) The Fourth grade was the most formative year of your life; reflect on what you were doing then, and you have a pretty good picture of the kinds of life youre subconsciously seeking now.

2) Avoid the following at all costs in your discernment lifestyle: fatigue, fog, and flirtations.

3) Ask yourself: "I never tire of doing X..."

4) Ask yourself: "What do I admire most in others..." and then recognize that this admiration indicates a similiar capacity of your own.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Protestant's Safari: Observations of an Ecclesial Anthropologist I

Observation 1: Natives who follow the Crucified shy away from the Crucifixion;
impetus unknown.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified." (Matthew 28:5)

There are two trends in the modern Christian comfort with wearing and displaying that horrible Roman instrument of torture: A) the Protestant cross, which is bare (with the exception of those which are bedecked with flora and fauna or Ralph Lauren plaid or colorful ethnic design- I have a few of these on my own wall, I admit, and a gold one hanging around my neck) and B) the Other Kind, which has the shameful image of a half-naked, dying young Jew on it.

Most intriguing is the highly divergent behavior of Christians regarding the Cross.

Protestants seem loathe to tolerate the image of the Crucified One on theirs; I have seen them roll their eyes at it, hide it, sheild their children from it. The explanation I have heard for such behavior is the proper observation that expected "But Jesus is not on the Cross! He is risen! The Cross is empty." And this is very true.

Now, true Catholics believe the same thing, but their behavior is different towards the Man on the Cross. As He hangs prominently in view in their churches and on their rosaries, they fix their eyes on the crucifix, kneel before it, make their children do the same, bend low to kiss the image when they have the opportunity, even make its shape on their bodies. Their explanation goes that this is an image of their Lord, and their response is worship.


Three observations off the top of my head-

1) Matthew 27 and Mark 15 both portray Jesus' mockers as demanding His descent from the Cross to prove Himself; "Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him!" As we believe, Jesus did not "come down" from the Cross. He died on it, and thus achieved our salvation. The crucifixion becomes an inextricable part of His story, and ours.

2) Muslim aesthetics would sympathize with the Protestant tendancy; hanging on a Cross is just not what a Prophet of God does. Christians like Soren Kierkegaard, (who was Protestant) on the other hand, urge to the contrary- hanging on a cross is the unique prerogative of our God.

3) The Risen One is ever the One who was Crucified. But in all fairness, the early Christians, many of whom risked crucifixion themselves for their faith, did not like to portray the Crucifix either. Too close to home. Thus you find Jesus portrayed as the Good Shepherd, or as a kind of Apollo figure in the Catacombs. Understandable. But surely not the case for your average WASP.

So what's the problem???...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mark: The Exemplary Baptism of God

Image of the cupola of the Neonian Baptistry at Ravenna, one of the earliest Christian depictions of Christ's Baptism, circa 4th Century.

The Baptism of Jesus
Mark 1

9"One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10And when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven saying, "You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you."

Fr. WB preached on this text yesterday. Given that he is perhaps one of The Youngest Priests in the Anglican/Episcopal Communion, he did a pretty good job....

Today, the first Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord Jesus at the hands of St. John Baptist. Fittingly (given than this celebration falls within the season of Epiphany), the Baptism of Jesus is a part of his manifestation. And in digesting the story of Jesus’ Baptism, in meditating on it, hopefully, something about him and about our life in him, will be manifested to us.

In today’s lection from Mark’s gospel, we read John’s words concerning Jesus and the contrasting natures of their respective ministries. John says “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mrk. 1.8). This represents the fact that repentance precedes holiness, and that in the economy of salvation, the prerogatives of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, are gifts only to those who have been initiated, through the water of Baptism, into the sacred mystery of the death and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus, the only Son of the Father, the first person of the Trinity, who sent him to save us.

But wait. Just before the gospel reading for today, in verse 4 of the first chapter of Mark we read that the baptism of John was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sin.” And yet Jesus is supposed to be without sin. In Hebrews (4.15) it says explicitly that Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, yet was without sin. Why then was he baptized, if John’s baptism was “of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins”? The answer is appropriate to the season of Epiphany: Jesus was baptized to manifest something to us (cf. John 1.31). First, because we are to be imitators of him, he manifests that we are to be baptized with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – with the same baptism, in other words, with which he himself is baptized. Because, unlike Jesus, God knows we can use a bath. Particularly if it washes sins away. Secondly, Jesus baptism reveals to us who he is. “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’”(Mrk. 1.10-11). This isn’t news to Jesus. Remember, in the words of the opening of St. John’s gospel, Jesus was “in the beginning with God.” He knows who he is. But the descent of the Spirit on him and the voice from heaven at his baptism are for our benefit. So that we may know in clear terms that we are not dealing with an ordinary person, and that because he is no ordinary person, he can help us. He is not just another prophet like Moses, or Elijah or John Baptist. He may be a prophet, but he is not JUST a prophet: he is in fact the Beloved of the Father, the only son of the Father, upon whom rests the Holy Spirit of God. At Jesus baptism, he is manifested to be from God and to be God.

Jesus is revealed to us to be him of whom Isaiah prophesied in today’s OT reading:

“Thus says God the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: [here is what he says] I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

We are the blind. We are those whose eyes are opened only by the light of Christ. We are the Nations, the Gentiles, with whom God did NOT make a covenant, as he did with Israel, but upon whom the dayspring has nevertheless dawned (cf. Luke 1.78-79), because of Christ’s epiphany to us, the Gentiles hitherto languishing in darkness. Thus St. Paul says (Galatians 3.28) that in Christ the distinction between Jew and Gentile is eliminated, for salvation, in the person of Jesus, has been manifested to all. That is good news. We are no longer left in the dark prison of our sin and sinfulness: but Christ has been revealed to us, and his Epiphany is one of light and freedom. For Christ, as Isaiah says, is given to us as a covenant, to bring us out of the prison where we sat in darkness. Christ not only shows us what we must do (that is, we must come out of our darkness and bondage to sin), but he does it for us. By dying, by entering our darkest darkness and our tightest bondage, and rising again to the light of eternal life. That is the nature of the love of God manifested to us Christ Jesus. (Jesus) shares with us his own kinship with God: that is, he makes us heirs of God’s Kingdom, because he is the heir of God’s kingdom and he is one of us. He turns us into a mystical family, whose bonds are more tightly knit than those of biology. In Christ, and only in Christ, God becomes our Father, Jesus becomes our brother, and we become brothers and sisters of one another. We are God’s own people. And as his sons and daughters, sharing in his own holiness, we are empowered and commanded to proclaim his mighty acts in calling [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Thus, do not be ashamed of the gospel. Bring a friend to Church. And, better yet, serve the poor. As many non-Christians as there are around us at Yale and in New Haven, there are many, many more people who do not have the means to eat or to keep warm. You see them every day. This semester at ECY we will have a number of opportunities to serve the poor, feed the hungry, and warm those who are cold. Do it. And by all means, bring a friend. And always remember why. You serve others because you have been served. You have been served by the salvation of God, the babe in the manger who grew into the man baptized by John, and after that to the Man on the cross- to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Miracle at Loretto, and Other Cool Moments in Santa Fe

I am in Santa Fe for a very old and dear friend’s wedding; and I am pleased to report a generous mood of charity and, for the most part, ecumenical momentum between my devout PCA friends and their Roman Catholic environment. Could it be the Spirit’s working with the architecture? Read on…

Between pre-wedding jitters, the bride and I explored San Miguel, one of the oldest chapels in the United States. It was built in the early 1600’s by the Franciscans, dedicated to St. Michael in the hope for his help in driving out the demons of an unfamiliar culture, and houses the typical, colorful high altar piece found in all the Franciscan churches which sprung up throughout Mexico and the SW in the 16th century.

Note to self: Rome sent out lots and lots of evangelizing missionaries before the Reformed ever thought of getting their missiological act together, and praise the Lord for it- The Church’s original “evangelical” culture is to be found in mendicant communities of itinerant Catholic friars…

…But the main sight seen is the breathtaking, and frankly, chill-inducing famed miraculous staircase of the Loretto Chapel, where the wedding of my precious PCA friends took place. The stair is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The story goes that in the early 1800’s, a small band of religious sisters arrived in Santa Fe to establish a school for young women. Their meager funds did not afford the completion of the chapel which they had planned to attach to their school, such that they were left with a gorgeous sanctuary modeled on France’s St. Chapelle, but with no choir loft. Seeking to complete their sanctuary for God’s glory, the sisters engaged in nine days of prayer for divine intervention in their architecture.

Then on the eve of the ninth day, and unknown carpenter mysteriously appeared at the sisters’ door, bearing the meager carpenter’s tools of a hammer, a bucket, and a saw. He offered to construct the loft, with a staircase leading to it from the ground, without payment. He labored for months; and when his staircase was complete, the mysterious stranger disappeared.

That staircase took my breath away. The chapel was dedicated to St. Joseph the Carpenter from its initial construction. Whoever the mysterious carpenter was, he fashioned this masterpiece ascent without nails, pegs or any external support. The shape is that of the most exquisite double helix, like a strand of DNA, with a sense of mastery that even the 19th century Antonin Gaudi, who sought to replicate such natural forms to God’s glory in his Spanish architecture, in no way approaches. Apparently it is modern engineers and architects who have designated the structure as “miraculous” and inimitable; the groom of said wedding, who is an engineer, concurs. (You can look up the skeptic response here. So sad.)

Is this for real?!?!?!?

Note to self: Wow. May we all mark the miraculous in our modern age as well as did the good sisters of Loretto (and speaking of, praise God for the Loretto miracle of Oliver and Summer Jeromin too- the now Mrs. Jeromin was always teaching me to believe in miracles.


The Church now celebrates the manifestation of the Incarnate God in the world and the mission of His Church.

Dennis Bratcher, a Wesleyan with a mission that I think I really, really like, explains that "The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few...

...Epiphany is observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children."

An Epiphany Prayer

Father, we thank you for revealing yourself to us in Jesus the Christ, we who once were not your people but whom you chose to adopt as your own.

May we, through your guidance and our faithful obedience, find new avenues in ways that we have not imagined of holding the Light of your love so that it may be a Light of revelation for all people.

We thank you for your love, praise you for your Gift, ask for your continued Presence with us, and bring these petitions in the name of your Son, who has truly revealed your heart. Amen.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Sometimes love is a force of nature

I went to see this movie about two homosexual men- awkwardly expecting the whole thing to be boycotted here in the SAT Bible belt, I was surprised to find a full theater. Not surprisingly, the theater was full of gay couples of all ages, some well into their eighties, and it was indeed a tender sight to watch their faces during this heartbreaking film; it was more touching still to watch two frail old men assisting each other out of the theater afterwards. The whole experience is testament to how actually showing up to see and hear the persons engaged in Controversial Matter can provide so much more of the grace of charity in one’s evaluation. But my conclusion remains- contrary to this film’s byline, love is no force of nature.

First of all: as the daughter of a Real Cowboy, a man made of 3 AM roundup calls, bitter cold, runaway horses, and violent cattle, I am generally intrigued by Hollywood’s depiction of that standard American icon, the Marlboro Man. Will they get it right, I ask? Will they do justice to my dad’s rigorous, hard work? This daughter, raised in a barn, becomes indignant. In that regard, as J-Tron points out so well, the directors of Brokeback have got it right; the rugged, smelly life of the Wyoming cattle herd which the film depicts is conveyed to the senses vividly, and without a hint of sentimentality ("Brokeback Mountain is stark and sensory oriented. You feel the wind and the rain. You can almost taste the coffee in the small metal cups, feel the campfire against your bootheels. You start from the outside, moving inside of these characters slowly, almost without realizing you’re doing it"). The technique is wonderful. And after all, it is the performance of Heath Ledger’s career.

Secondly: I was armed and ready to encounter a manipulative and over-the top onslaught of a Hollywood agenda; after all, how blatant to take our American icon and present him with a twist- he is now gay- such that disordered sexual disposition must be a thing so natural, so inevitable, so frequent, that it finds itself in anyone- in the Marlboro Man as much as in the Manhattan hairdresser really, it could be YOU…. so we would need to accept, endorse, promote! homosexuality, the subtext would seem to run. But this movie is not manipulative. I am prone to think that the film is realistic. Lust is, indeed, a force so natural, so inevitable, and so frequent that it occurs in anyone and everyone. But it is not love.

Which brings me to my point. I cannot help but think of a story which my father brought home a few weeks ago. Dad was tired, cold, covered as he often is, in blood from a tangle with barbed wire or horses or very large cows. The months have been dry in Texas; the plains are “blonde,” parched without rain, and the cattle grow tired and thin without food. On that day Dad had discovered a lone heifer, too weak to continue, having settled down on the ground to die, suffering from a diseased joint that could not heal while she remained malnourished. Dad called in our veterinarian to assist her; but the next day, before the vet arrived, my father found her dead, her spine having been snapped and her back broken where she lay helpless. There were ladies present, so my dad described it thus: “there was a bull who found her, and she was in season. He rode her. She was already so broken down. So she died.” (You will forgive the rather earthy scenario, I’m hoping- this thing is about sex, after all.)

My father, like the cowboys in the Brokeback film, knows that forces of nature are as strong and sudden and driving as wind and rain and the procreative instincts of animals, and that they can be just as deadly. Nature can break the back of the weak and leave it for dead. And it is not love.

So here it is. Obviously it is a poor analogy to compare animal instincts to the emotional/ physical interaction which occurs between human persons. And that’s just it. Human love is not the activity of a natural force; rather, it is the gift of self, governed and guided by regard for the other’s benefit- and here I mean CHASTITY, that unique prerogative of the human person, that glorious, healing, life-giving thing which recognizes the valid duty of sexual self-expression only in conjugal union tending towards the human family. On the other hand: sheer natural force let loose on the other can only take the form of predatory feeding, and without the discipline of love, expends the vulnerability of the other for the sake of a cancerous parody of gratification.

Oddly enough, Brokeback Mountain does not end with a happy “alternative family” or with sex which tends to mutual benefit and life; rather it ends with violent death, degradation, and heartache. Left alone to nature, without discipline, without renunciation, without the stricture of chastity, the weak are crushed. And that is no “love” at all.