Blog Template Theology of the Body: July 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006

And that's what we need in each of our stormy midnights

Fr. WB again. His sermons are always such a gift.

Mark 6: "When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 51Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."

In last week's gospel lesson, we left the Apostles in a state of exhaustion. They had come back to the Lord from their mission among the people, and they had come back tired and hungry. And just when they think they've nothing left to give, the Lord reminds his hungry servants that they have still got five pieces of bread and two fish. And the Lord is able to turn a snack for twelve into a meal for five thousand. Jesus shows them that he is able to take their meagerness and turn it into life-giving abundance.

In today's gospel lesson, we see that the disciples didn't get it. They understand that Jesus has performed a miracle – the gospel of Mark up to this point is full of Jesus' undeniable miracles – but they don't understand the deep meaning – what CS Lewis called the "deep magic" – of the miracle. They don't get it. They seem unable to see the feeding of the five thousand as anything but a magical picnic. They can't get past the miracle's surface, to the Mystery of the poured-out substance of the Son of God that is the bedrock and the import, the significance, the real magic of the miracle.

And so Jesus performs another miracle. After sending the disciples away in the boat, Jesus goes up onto the mountain to pray. The disciples, perhaps, wondered how the Lord was going to join them. After all, they had taken the boat, the only boat, and its miles overland. And it's the middle of the night. How was Jesus going to reach them? And on top of that, a storm has arisen. So there are the disciples… struggling against the wind, battling the waves. And the passage says that "about the fourth watch of the night," just before dawn, Jesus "came to them, walking on the sea." Just like that. [Stop.] Oh, so that's how he's going to find us. Okay.

But once again, the disciples don't get it. They're terrified. They think Jesus is a ghost. There's a curious sentence in verse 48. It says Jesus "meant to pass by them." Why? Why did he mean to pass them by? I mean, they're in real trouble. I think this is a symbolic way for Mark to tell us that they don't recognize Jesus, and so Jesus is going to walk right past them as though they were strangers. Not only do the disciples not recognize Jesus as their friend and teacher, the guy they've been following around for some time now, but more than that – just as they hadn't recognized the deeper significance of the feeding of the five thousand, just as they hadn't seen the message of God's abundance underneath it… so also here, struggling in the boat, while they recognize something extraordinary is going on, they can't see the deep magic – the real miracle – underneath the surface. They can't see the mystical significance of what's really going on. They can't see the rootedness of this miracle in God's own being. Not only do they not understand that this is Jesus walking to them on the sea, but they don't even understand who Jesus is to begin with.

Seeing their fear, and hearing their cry, and once again, no doubt, having compassion, Jesus gives them a big hint. He says to them "Take heart, it is I; have no fear." This is a profoundly unfortunate translation. The Greek says: tharseite, ego eimi, meh phobeisthe. The middle phrase there, ego eimi, means "I am." It's the same phrase used in the Septuagint when on Mount Sinai Moses asks God to whom he is speaking. "Yes, hello? This is Moses, to whom am I speaking?" "I AM!!!" It's the same phrase here. Jesus is telling the disciples, and he is telling us, who he is. He's telling us that he is God. And as with much of the rest of the gospel teaching, its oblique; its indirect; its veiled under a layer of double-meaning and symbol. Why does Jesus do it like that? Why doesn't he just come out and explain things straightforwardly? Why can't he just say "Okay guys. Here's the deal. I am the only Son of God. I am the Eternal Word. I've come here to save you from your sins, and to give you a share in my infinite self," etc. Why doesn't he just do that? Why does he have to take five loaves and two fish and give thanks, and feed five thousand, and then walk on water and speak in parables and utter cryptic messages about who he is? I mean, this is important stuff! What if we miss it? What if we misunderstand it?

[NB: For one thing, he's packaging propositional truths about himself and his identity in life practices. I.e. he's giving a lebens form to himself, to make himself comestible, so to speak, to his disciples. If he just said "I am the Eternal Word. I am the only-begotten of God," that may seem at first to be direct and straightforward, but what really does that mean? What is an "eternal word"? What is it to be the "only-begotten of God"? He's mercifully wrapping all this stuff about himself in life practices, in things we can get hold of. He's giving us handles on himself. He's providing little points whereon we can attach ourselves to him. Etc. And that's also why we, in turn, don't just hold up a sign that says "John 3:16" and consider that to be enough. Instead, we do what he did. We wrap all these propositional truths about Jesus in life-practices. When we gather together, we don't just read true sentences about Jesus. We do do that, but that's not all we do. E.g. we also take bread, bless, break it, give it, eat it, etc. We walk around, we swing incense, we sprinkle water on ourselves, etc.]

The short answer is: ask Father Duncan. Just kidding. I think Jesus teaches this way for the same reason that "he meant to pass by" the disciples in the boat, when he came to them walking on the sea, in the darkness, in the chaos of the storm. He wants to provoke a response in them. And he wants to provoke a response in us. Because salvation won't work in our lives until we need it, until we need him, until we, like the disciples, are terrified and cry out in the tempestuous darkness of our lives. And its not that God is strict or tricky. To borrow another one of Jesus' symbols: salvation is like seed. God scatters it liberally, all over the place, near and far. But if it falls on concrete, it just won't take. There's nothing for it to latch on to. It can't take root and flourish. Rather, It has to fall on soil that is prepared to receive it, soil that has been broken-up and opened, so that the seed can enter in and take root. Just so, its not that our Lord is just withholding salvation by revealing himself in obscure symbols, but the deepness of his difficult self-revelation is gracious. It's a double mercy. The difficulty and the obscurity of it causes us to struggle to get at it, and our struggle to understand, our struggle to know who Jesus is showing himself to be, is the preparation of our hearts to receive the secret, the mystery of Who he really is, and the mystery of who we really are in him. In one stroke the seed is scattered and the soil prepared.

That is the process we see unfolding for the disciples in the Gospel of Mark. Their hearts are slowly being broken-up and opened to receive the fullness of the mystery of Who this Wonder-Worker really is, and of who he is calling us to be. At the end of today's gospel lesson we read "And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand… but their hearts were hardened" (Mk. 6.52). Pretty soon in Mark there is a very noticeable shift in the narrative. Soon after chapter 8, Jesus will abandon all of his miracles and teaching ministry in Galilee; he will turn his face toward Jerusalem, and go there to suffer and die. And only then, on the other side of death and resurrection, will the pieces begin to fall into place for the disciples. Only then will they look back on all the miracles and obscure sayings of their Master and understand the Mystery of the Gift of the eternal Word, the Only-begotten Son of God, the secret of his very own substance poured out for them. Then they will look back and remember that hour before dawn, in the middle of a storm on a lake, when Jesus came to them walking on the water. Then they will understand not just that he walked on water and silenced the storm, but they will understand why. Because the disciples cry out to him, and because he is the Lord of the wind and the waves. Because the wind and the waves and the disciples themselves were brought into being through his power, and obey his voice. They will see who it really is that suffered and died: the Lord of all Creation, who was in the beginning with God.

And that's what we need in each of our stormy midnights. For here we are too: his disciples, storm-tossed, straining at the oars and reaching the point of exhaustion, surrounded in our lives by darkness and buffeted by the winds of chaos, or the waves of sickness, or family trouble, or difficulties at work, or financial trouble or loneliness – or menaced by sinful habits that we find loathsome but can't seem to change. How often do we feel trapped by this or that, struggling at the oars of our weakness, hemmed in by the rising tide, in danger of drowning. It is into this context that our Lord comes to us, piercing right through the turbulence and the darkness with his supernatural stride. And what attracts his attention is your cry for help, your recognition of the real danger posed to your soul by the darkness and temptation that surrounds you day by day. But thanks be to God that Jesus will not pass you by when you cry out to him in your heart, in prayer. He will come to you. And he will get into the buffeted, rocking boat of your life. The winds will cease. And he will begin to open your heart to the mystery of his life and his death in you, and to the true meaning of your life and your death in him. But let that mystery begin to unfold in your heart, or to unfold anew, today with his words: whatever your darkness, whatever winds of affliction beat against you, whatever waves of sinfulness threaten to pull you under: Take courage. Don't be afraid. I AM. AMEN.

The Neocaths

Michael Liccione, contributor to Pontifications and author of Sacramentum Vitae, has this article on the three "options" that appear to exist among todays Roman Catholics: the Neocaths, the progs and the trads.

I am a Neocath because I believe that to be one is to be neither more nor less Catholic than the Pope, and thus to be a mere member of the Church Universal rather than of an entrenched party of malcontents with a anti-Roman program. Catholics of such parties tend to be very anti-Neocath. I shall strive to illustrate what's involved in all the nastiness about Neocaths, especially by defending myself toward the end from a prominent critic of mine.

If only for credibility's sake, most Catholics who care about being Catholic claim some form of loyalty to the See of Peter. That can take some rather funny forms. On the Right, where one finds those Catholics known as "trads" (short for 'traditionalists'), there are many who believe they are more Catholic than the current and recent occupants of that see. A few, the "sedevacantists," even believe that the Pope is not the real pope—a personage who, if he exists at all, perhaps resides in relative obscurity somewhere in the Midwest. Many on the Left, whom I call "progs" (short for 'progressives'), are loyal only to the next pope or maybe the one after that—hardly surprising given that, for decades, they have encountered only popes who reject their agenda. These days most Jesuits, formally vowed to special obedience to the pope, are conspicuous in that respect; as Jesuit Paul Shaughnessy commented several years ago: “Jesuits are all loyal to the papacy, but to the future papacy—that of Pope Chelsea XII, perhaps—and their support for contraception, gay sex, and divorce proceeds from humble obedience to this conveniently protean pontiff.” Thus, while trads are angry with Rome for spoiling the oldie-goldie days of full pews and sound teaching, the progs are angry with Rome for failing to commit the Church to the liberal-Protestant agenda that their mythos still peddles as the wave of the future. Both sets of malcontents believe that the Second Vatican Council constituted a decisive break with the Church of the past; the main difference is that the trads, decrying the break, want the Council to become a dead letter while the progs, celebrating it as "the spirit of Vatican II," are impatient for the Church to complete what they take to be the Council's revolutionary work.

I didn't know they were called Neocaths, but I suppose that this is the option which pretty much describes me, and the majority of good, faithful Catholics that I know. Skim the article as I did; it is meritorious.

A deliberately provocative and ambiguous article

An evangelical pastor swims against the right-leaning mainstream of the megachurches:

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.


“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

Is Boyd simply de-politicizing the Gospel, or has he subtly, but profoundly, drifted from the core of the faith? Or is it simply another indication of the natural course of Protestantism?

Here's the link to the whole article on the NYT. (I hope this one causes fewer problems for our dear readers.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

"I took the challenge..."

..."and wrote a satirical song from The Liberal Perspective. Here it is, set to the tune of "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing."

(I say, with quite a chuckle, thanks to this way clever contributor for her good humor and her ever amazing way with words...)

Convention came, we pulled a punch--
An act beyond the pale.
We chose to break bread "down the street."
We preferred our Eucharist veiled.

As Anglicans we can unite,
Colonized, oppressor – kin!
We answer to shared heritage:
Choir boys, Oxbridge, and gin.

We've called upon the Global South,
As equals – without fail!
Dixie's always meant to partner up.
Let's forget those Sambo tales!

"Come Catholics, Broad Church, Evies too;
Unite against one foe!"
Then Rick Warren saw my scapular;
He won't talk to me no mo'.

O rest assured, we'll storm to heav'n,
Address our friends as saints.
The Network took St. Peter's place
And will rule who's in and ain't.

Took my vows under cloak of night,
at last I am ordained!
I've only met my bishop once,
and I can't pronounce his name.

O for a single tongue to sing,
As one triumphant male.
No tunes in four-part harmony
or solos for uncle Gayle.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Today is the birthday of Gerard Manley Hopkins, convert, Jesuit priest, and poet. This is one of my favorites of his, "God's Grandeur":

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Most Offensive Post Ever...

I hate political jabs because I love my friends and colleagues on every side of current ECUSA debates so much, and I admire them and learn from them, so what's the point of hashing out the issues? Uggh. BUT, this thing is funny. I think everyone will find it funny. And Fr. WB was humming this tune the other day like mad, for some reason. So bear with me... A Conservative Wrote It, to be sung to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation." Ahem:

The Anglican Communion
Was mightily distressed
When bishops of ECUSA
Their heresies expressed,
And in Convention showed not
Repentance or regret,
But chose to walk their own path,
Firm in their own ways set.

Political correctness
And chic diversity --
These are our church's hallmarks,
And quite our cup of tea.
We follow where the winds blow,
We are the church of NOW.
We're new Episcopalians
And trendier than thou.

"To God alone be glory" -
This used to be our song.
With Kathryn Jefferts Schori
It likely won't be long
Before we change our story
And sing another tune -
Not Father, Son and Spirit,
But Mother, Child and Womb.

Our church has no foundation
And Christ is not her Lord.
She is our new creation
By our own mighty word.
The Bible's too oppressive,
And morals leave us bored.
Who then is our salvation?
It's our own selves - adored


Since I received a new iPod Nano for my birthday in June, I have been listening to a lot more podcasts, or rather the same podcasts, but more frequently. Many of them I have incorporated into my daily devotions and/or are of a religious nature and are edifying and enlivening for the heart and mind. I thought I'd list some here (many of you may already know of these) and see if anyone else had some suggestions for some really good ones. All of these are available through iTunes.

Verbum Domini
, the daily scripture readings from the Roman Catholic Liturgical cycle. (>5min)

Pray-as-you-go, a product of the Jesuit Media Initiative, this is essentially a lectio divina/reflection on the one of the scripture readings for that week. They usually play some nice music and prompt you to consider how to live the Gospel on a daily basis. (10-12min)

Daily Breakfast with Father Roderick, no doubt you're familiar with the DB. Commentary on news, culture, movies, tv, music, technology, health, latin lessons, all from a Catholic perspective. Primarily, but not entirely aimed at the under-30 set. (I wish he'd shorten his theme songs, but otherwise, probably my favorite.) Fr. has created his own network, SQPN, to produce the show. (30-60min)

Rosary Army with Greg and Jennifer Willets, similar to above, but decidely family-oriented, covering topics like finances and grocery shopping. Not totally my bag. But good. Also an SQPN show. (45min)

I've also discovered that Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac is now available through podcasts. Which is great, since otherwise you have to get up about 5.30am to hear it here in Richmond. Today in literary history, plus he reads a poem. (5min)

That's about it. Sometimes I listen to smARThistory, but "smart alecks" about summarizes their podcast. It's two art historians wandering around NY museums pontificating about works of art. Low-quality, sort of condescending, but others of you may enjoy it. If so, let me know. I may be just missing something.

Which ones do you listen too? Put your recommendations in the comment box, or link me to your blog.

The Place Where Your Glory Dwells: Fenelon I

I have begun reading the letters of Francois Fenelone, Archbishop of Cambrai in the seventeenth century, on the topic of the peace and joy of utter surrender to God. These letters are interesting because despite their ascetic quality and general theme of renunciation, they are addressed not to a cloister, but to secular lay people living in the decadent court of Louis XIV. How appropos for most of us. These letters are becoming a part of my daily devotions, and I would like to to share some of them.


"I often pray to God that He would keep you in the hollow of His hand. And this He certainly will do, if you remember to keep a humble and obedient spirit... (which) produces the teachable spirit... which makes everything easy. I pray that God will give you a simplicity of trust that will bring your peace."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Had to copy this one

A certain dear friend of mine and Mrs. J's authors the wonderful little blog entitled "This is Happily Ever After." She has just put these provocative thoughts together, in addition to preparing to be a mother for the first time very, very soon. I was so impressed; so often modern apologists stall at the conglomerate evidences of Other Credible Religions, without pausing to resolve the discussion by merely pointing out the key distinctions between us and them. In my humble opinion, the author below perfectly demonstrates how decent catachesis cleverly trumps mere cleverness in a theological quandry any day.

There are positive things about living equal to the poverty line. I am much more content with my belongings. I am learning to be more creative and efficient and I watch public television. I recently saw on PBS ( a program about the impact art has made on the world. In it, they discussed images of death and the afterlife. They sought to find out where these images came from, their significance, and specifically why did some images regarding death were fearful, and others, like the cross, were both gruesome and comforting. They said the Aztecs were ruled by images of the Sun god holding human hearts. They believed that the sun sacrificed his own blood to bring life to the earth, and in return demanded repayment in the form of human blood. If the demand was not met, life would be snuffed out entirely. This resulted in thousands upon thousands of people climbing to the top of the pyramids to be sacrificed for the greater good.

PBS posed the question, what then, is the difference between an image of a god holding human hearts, and the image of our Jesus hanging on the cross? Both symbolize death and sacrifice, both are horrific, both are bloody. The answer ( which they fail to point out so specifically) is that the Aztec’s image is a reminder of a debt owed, whereas the Cross is a reminder of a debt paid.

The Church in Algeria (full text)

For some reason, I am still able to access the full text of the article from the NYT on the archbishop of Algeria from Saturday, so I am posting the full thing below. The link, once again, is here.

HENRI TESSIER is a quiet man, a serious man, a man who exudes a certain air of disappointment at the end of a long career. He is two years past retirement, waiting patiently for Rome to name his replacement as the archbishop of Algeria where he has been witness to what he says is the slow “death of a church.”

In the archdiocese’s offices off a narrow street here — a few doors down from the old St. Charles Church, which is now St. Charles Mosque — Archbishop Tessier, 77, reflected on the ebbing of Christianity from North Africa’s shores as Islam spreads across Europe.

Algeria, Roman Catholics here are quick to point out, is where St. Augustine was born and died. (A bone from his right forearm is displayed at a basilica in the northeastern town of Annaba.) By the fifth century, 700 bishops were scattered across North Africa.

But the church withered 300 years later as Islam swept west across the continent and leapt the Mediterranean to Spain. It did not return with any force until the colonial conquests of the 19th century. Archbishop Tessier’s family has deep roots in colonial Algeria, where they once owned a shipping company and a bank. He was born in Lyon, France, in 1929 and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and theology at the Catholic Institute of Paris. His father served as an officer in the French Army and later worked in the Algerian oil industry here.

When he began his work as a parish priest in 1958, there were more than 700 churches in the country. But even then Christianity was only an implant.

Within months of Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, 900,000 Christians had fled to Europe’s shores. Most of those who remained left after the government nationalized land and businesses in 1964, and all but a few thousand of the rest were forced out when Islamic radicals started killing foreigners in the 1990’s. Nineteen Catholic clergy members were killed, including seven Trappist monks. Only their heads have been found.

There are only about 20 churches left in Algeria, and they are mostly empty. The rest have been converted into mosques or cultural centers or have been abandoned. All of the church’s schools and hospitals were nationalized in the 1970’s. Recently, the church’s activities have been further circumscribed by a new law against proselytizing that leaves many of the church’s charitable activities vulnerable to politically motivated interpretation.

BUT the archbishop is not a man to show despair. He maintains that the Roman Catholic clergy has a role to play in Algeria and elsewhere in the Muslim world even if there is no indigenous church left to maintain. Most of the Catholics in the country today are temporary residents from sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our job isn’t to be a church that takes care of the church, but a church that works for the country,” said Archbishop Tessier, sitting among the books and photographs that line his office walls. As on most days, he was wearing slacks and a short-sleeved shirt.

Every morning he celebrates a Mass for 15 or 20 people at the chapel of the diocesan house where he lives and then goes by car to his office. There he receives visitors and addresses the problems of his small flock.

On one recent day, he was listening to a group of African students who had been expelled from their university for organizing a Catholic association on campus. He helped get them reinstated.

After independence, some of the country’s Muslims were glad the church was there, he said, because they wanted to show to the world that Algeria was open and tolerant. But there were others who saw the church as a threat and wanted it to leave.

Like many observers of the Muslim world, Archbishop Tessier, who is fluent in Arabic, blames the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for fueling anti-Western sentiment and propelling the rise of a radical, political Islam. He said he believed that the Iraq war had only accelerated that trend. He also said conservative Islam’s anti-Western shift was linked to the failure of Arab governments to properly develop their economies.

“If the Arabs had known the same rhythm of development as the Asian dragons, we wouldn’t have this extremism,” he said.

In Algeria, he said, the trend was exacerbated by the failure of socialist policies, which were followed at the encouragement of the cold-war patrons who had backed Algeria during its war of independence.

“The people were disappointed by the West during the war and then they were disappointed by the East during the socialist period, so they turned toward the Islam,” he said.

Since then, he said, Algerian society has shifted from the French language and European culture toward Arabic and the culture of the Middle East. “There’s been a progressive loss of contact with the West,” he said.

When satellite dishes first appeared, he said, for example, they were predominantly positioned to receive French broadcasts. Now, he said, the majority are pointed toward the Persian Gulf.

“If you watch Western television, you live in one universe, and if you watch Middle Eastern television, you live in another altogether,” he said, adding that he thought Middle Eastern broadcasts tended to denigrate the West.

He said another big influence in Algeria came from audiocassettes made by fundamentalist imams in Egypt and the Persian Gulf. “People see the West through the tension of the Middle East,” he said.

But the central tension in Algeria is not between Muslims and Christians, he noted, but between Muslims and other Muslims, as competing currents within Arab society struggle for domination.

The archbishop travels outside Algiers, the capital, to offer Masses for small groups of Catholics in smaller towns, and he is a frequent guest of the Algiers diplomatic corps as well as various Algerian groups. It is not a solitary life, but his circle has narrowed over time. His sister and her family, the last of his family to remain in Algeria, left the country in 1972. His closest friends are now fellow priests committed to the country.

DESPITE a decade of bloody violence, the conservative Islamist trend has continued to grow. Earlier this year, Algerian television began interrupting programming five times a day for the call to prayer. “Numerically, they are winning,” he said.

He said the Roman Catholic Church would like to help stem that tide.

The continued presence of the church, he contends, is not to convert Muslims to Christianity or to minister to a dwindling Christian flock or even to engage in a doctrinal dialogue with Muslims, which he said he believed lead to confrontation. The importance of the church in a Muslim land, he said, is to act as a kind of living exhibition of Western values for Muslims who are otherwise cut off from the Western world.

It is not easy. While the church has good relations with what he calls “humanist Muslims,” it has little contact with fundamentalists.

“The fundamentalist Muslims who want a return to the Islamic law of the Middle Ages are not interested in meeting us,” he said.

Still, he said, he believed the church had won a measure of respect from Algerians for refusing to abandon the country. “With all of these problems, the church is a sign and an instrument,” he said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The New Faithful

Have any of you ever had the rather narcissistic experience of surveying cultural surveys at Barnes and Noble, and thinking (like those of us who were ever naughty enough to scan a horoscope, perhaps) "Woah, that's ME! These people have got me so figured out!" It feels great- a sigh of relief- so there IS a box which neatly circumscribes my identity...

I had such an experience the other day while staying at the home of a modern cultural revolutionary. Her library is so sleek and effective, and I have enormous respect for it. Thus, even though I was stumbling into her guestroom bed at 2 AM after a return flight to New York from London, I had to browse quickly through this title on her shelf, thinking that at last, here is something that will explain me and my friends to our concerned parents! I think I am on to something. The title is The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, and in it, the author purports to explain why an apparent emphasis on orthodoxy and ancient liturgical tradition among young educated elite is "both novel and timely." The author addresses in particular the record-breaking conversion rates in conservative Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the rising voices of young people who yearn for conservative interpretations of the Bible, the mystery and symbolism of liturgy, and even such pre-Vatican II practices as Eucharistic adoration... (I love it.)

I have just purchased several copies for myself and my perplexed family. At last, a credible and hopefully reassuring summary for those parents of ours who were so comfortable with exploring the realms beyond that Traditional Institution, which now, in itself, seems so exotic and alluring to their offspring, and which beckons us to return...

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Church in Algeria

Did anyone see this article in the Saturday edition of the Times regarding the Archbishop of Algeria?

BUT the archbishop is not a man to show despair. He maintains that the Roman Catholic clergy has a role to play in Algeria and elsewhere in the Muslim world even if there is no indigenous church left to maintain. Most of the Catholics in the country today are temporary residents from sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our job isn’t to be a church that takes care of the church, but a church that works for the country,” said Archbishop Tessier, sitting among the books and photographs that line his office walls. As on most days, he was wearing slacks and a short-sleeved shirt.

Our Contributors On: The Super Man and Jesus

From my inbox this morning:

"I went to see "Superman Returns" Saturday. It is obviously an allegory of the life of Jesus- I had never made that connection before- I look forward to hearing what you think-"

... but here some contrary thoughts from Mrs. J, as may appear in an upcoming edition of World magazine:

A few thoughts on (recent reviews):

"While I completely agree with the assessment of Superman Returns' directional, stylistic, and plot strengths, I think (we) may have overlooked a major problem with the film in two ways. Your comparison of Superman with Christ has major flaws which lend to many more moral problems than your mention of Lois' live-in fiance situation.

Recall that halfway through the story Lois Lane's illegitimate son begins to display amazing superpowers, and towards the end of the film, Lois whispers ambiguously into Superman's ear that the son is his.

Perhaps the director attempted to portray Superman as a Christ figure, but Superman's scoundrelesque behavior to Lois and the son she bears him destroys any such resemblance. The last scene of the film shows both Lois and the son of Superman alone in the windows of their home, asking him when he'll be back. It looks more like joint-custody than joined reconciliation.

The true hero in this film would have to be Lois' poor fiance, Richard. Although he lives with Lois, he is trying to marry her, restore her honor, and assume a role as father and husband, though he is deceived in this and pushed aside when Superman returns.

The family situation in this film is hazy, confusing, and pitiful. Lois can no longer be the gutsy and resiliant reporter we all knew and loved. Now she sits alone on rooftops smoking cigarettes and crying, wondering what to do about her kind fiance and her absent superhero, and in the meantime trying in vain to promptly pick up her son from school.

Superman can no longer be the hero we search for. He has a shady past of loving and leaving, who creates domestic messes instead of resolving them.

Lex Luther's crime in the film involves taking Superman's secret powers and using him for his own evil purposes. It seems that Hollywood has done the same in taking a virtuously moral hero and transforming him into an adulterously abandoning cad.

Don't get me wrong, the film was beautiful: lovely icons of American tradition abound, but Superman's behavior in this film is anything but Christlike. Don't mislead us."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

An Ego the Size of Mt. Blanc: Lurkers, Show Yourselves

I am sitting in FR. WB's office at church on Sunday morning while he celebrates his second Mass of the day. I snuck out, since I have already attended one Mass + preliminary Morning Prayer. I am confused as to my role- some women insist that you only attend one service per day if your Priested Other must perform at several, but those in the Very Very camp say that if your Priested Other desires your presence for four hours of Mass, you had dang well better show up. Fr. WB seems to fall in the latter category, but the mind begins to wander around the third Epistle reading of the morning, and I tend to indulge the notion that my Savior sort of LIKES my restless nature and the sudden impulse to go stare at the clouds, so out of the sanctuary I scampered.

Which finds me pondering my favorite hobby, THE BLOG. In the midst of my current insecurities re My Role avec my Priested Other, I am wondering about the role of this forum in the blogosphere as well.

Do I have lurkers, I wonder? Give a girl a hand. Lurkers, show yourselves. Who are you and why in the world do you visit here, of all places....?

He will take all you've got

Fr. WB preached this amazing sermon at St. Matthias in Dallas this morning; I wanted to applaud. Best he's ever done.

You have been formed by God and given his Spirit. The power of God in you is not meant to lie dormant.

Today’s gospel reading from Saint Mark recounts the return of the apostles to Jesus, after he had commissioned them and sent them out among the people, among whom they taught and healed in his name. In today’s gospel lesson they come back from their ministry, returning to Jesus who recognizes that they need a break. I imagine the apostles’ were both excited as well as exhausted – excited because they were just back from their first real mission, having taught among the people, and having healed many, I imagine them yet thrilled, still awed by the power the Lord had given them, with which they had been working miracles among the people.

But the apostles were tired. They needed a break. Jesus said to them “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mrk. 6.31). And they get in the boat to go to some secluded spot on the shores of the sea of Galilee, to rest in the shade. But wouldn’t you know it? The crowds – the same crowds that had been coming and going, to whom the disciples had been ministering, among whom they had been teaching and healing, wearing themselves out – the crowds see our Lord and the apostles going, and they follow them. I’m sure this has happened to you before: you’ve been running around, managing one crisis after another, with kids or at work (or at church); you’re as busy as you’ve ever been, and just when you are about to have some time to yourself, to relax…. Up pops another big emergency that you absolutely have to tend to. It’s a terrible feeling. You’re drained. You’ve been going and going, and giving and giving, and you are worn out. And now there’s this

As the apostles are going ashore, at the spot they had picked out to get away from the “great throng” and get some rest, what do they see but… once again, the “great throng.” The same crowds among whom they had been ministering, wearing themselves out, had followed them to their weekend retreat. And rather than sending them away, Jesus has compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mrk. 6.34). How the hearts of the apostles must have sank! Jesus is always having compassion on these people! And rather than sitting back, sipping margaritas in the shade, Jesus and the apostles spend the rest of the day with the crowds, teaching and working. And it gets late. They’ve had nothing to eat and they are absolutely exhausted. The apostles come to the Lord and say “Send them away! Its late. They’re tired and hungry. We’re tired and hungry. And there’s nothing to eat out here.” And what does Jesus say? You give them something to eat” (Mrk. 6.37). “You have GOT to be kidding, Master.”

Enough is enough. They have given everything they have to give and now the Lord is asking them to do the physically impossible. One of them asks “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” A deniarii was a day’s wage. Two hundred days’ wages would buy a lot of bread. But they hadn’t taken any money with them anyway. Jesus had told them to leave it behind (Mrk. 6.8), and now he’s telling them to feed five thousand people! With what?! “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread…?” This question is dripping with sarcasm… sarcasm born of exhaustion, hunger, and most of all frustration with Jesus. Its like saying “Right, Lord. Let me just reach into my toga and pull out that six tons of spaghetti I always carry around with me.”

But Jesus, understands what the disciples don’t: that they can do the impossible through the power their Lord had given them. . . With God, all things are possible. And the disciples were with God. Jesus understands this. And he tells them to go see what kind of food they’ve got. They come back and report. They have five pieces of bread and two fish. For five thousand people. We know what happens next. But pay attention to verse 41, towards the end of the passage. It says “And taking the five loaves and the two fish Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people… And they all ate and were satisfied.”

Jesus didn’t demand from the disciples what they didn’t have. Its true, he did tell them to do the impossible, but that’s not the same thing. He did not demand from them what they didn’t have. Jesus asked from the disciples only what they had, five loaves and two fish… he took it from them, and then gave it back to them changed. This is what Christian priesthood means, and this is what the mass is all about: Jesus takes what we offer to him and he gives it back to us changed. And this is what the Christian life means: Jesus asks from us what we have, we give it to him, and he gives it back to us changed. That’s why he says unless you forsake everything, you can’t be his disciple. He only asks for what you haven, but he asks for everything you have. That’s why he says if you want to be his disciple, you have to take up your cross and follow him… because the cross is a symbol of laying everything down, of pouring everything out, of draining the dregs, and of giving up your life to him. But then you get it back, and its not the same as it was before. Its changed.

Now this isn’t easy for us. It requires trust. Remember the disciples were hungry, and Jesus was about to take from them the only food that they had, and give it away. But they trust him anyway. He’s worked miracles before, and he’s never let them down. They give him everything they’ve got, and in Jesus’ hands, and then in theirs, its more than enough. Verse 43 says after everyone had eaten all they wanted, they went around and “took up twelve baskets full of” leftovers.

Jesus never asks us for more than we’ve got. He asks for everything we’ve got, but not more. And like the apostles, we too have an impossible mission: the Lord has asked us to save the world. Jesus looks at the world we live in, at the multitudes of people wandering aimlessly, indulgently, cluelessly; He sees a world full of drunkards, couch potatoes, insolent children, abusive parents and spouses, a world full of addiction and violence, manipulation, unbelief, greed and lust and corruption and blasphemy; our Lord looks at a world full of darkness and depravity, full of lost souls… and he has compassion. Then he turns to you and he says “You give them something to eat.”

At bottom, our godless society is hungry. And it is hungry because it is godless. But thanks be to God, the Lord Jesus has taken, and continues to take, our ordinary substance and he changes it. He gives it back to us charged with his own divinity. He takes our bread and wine and gives us back his body and blood. And bread and wine are not all we offer him in the Eucharist. Remember: he asks for everything. And so we offer and present unto him our very selves, our souls and bodies. And he gives us our selves back… changed, charged with his own divinity. And then he sends us out to serve him in our world, in our own daily contexts and social networks, where many of our coworkers and friends and loved ones are living in darkness, wandering around hungry, like sheep without a shepherd.

You give them something to eat. Give them what the Lord has given you – because he’s given it to you to give to them. . . His own body as food, his own blood as drink. He’s given you the gift of his own life, an eternal life, no longer darkened, sin-stained and aimless. And he’s commanded you to give it to others. That’s the essence of your mission in the world; that’s the core of your vocation as disciples of Jesus: to set before others what he has given to you: a life enlightened with the uncreated light, a life no longer constrained by sin, no longer bound by death. The crowd of five thousand has become, in our day, a crowd of five billion. A very great throng indeed. “You give them something to eat.” To be sure, the Lord asks of you everything you have, everything that you are. But he gives it back transformed, so that you can go out and do the impossible. Offer him the sacrifice he asks: your own life, your own broken and contrite heart. Then receive back from him your changed self, and go in peace, abiding in his divine love, to serve him in this broken world. Amen.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Some Reasons Why I Don't Share My Faith

... on an off day: (HT to those remarkable guys at Rebelution)

#8 - I might get beaten up, kidnapped, mistreated, manhandled, or taken for a troubled flirt
#7 - I won't make sense to my Skeptical and Sophisticated audience
#6 - I Might Be Ridiculed!!!!!
#5 - I will not know how to begin/conclude/ find the Middle Ground for Constructive Dialogue
#4 - I'll be a bad, intolerant, inconsistent witness anyway
#3 - I'll say the wrong thing and be taken for an Insensitive Fundy
#2 - ... or worse, I'll be taken for a Religious Nut
#1 - I don't know enough yet... (sniff)

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. What if every one of you dear readers bore a heartfelt desire to really SHARE the Gospel with your world? I think it would be pretty wonderful. And how fun, really. I have been into subtle tactics lately. But I recall my younger days when I would outright TALK to strangers, and I feel inclined to return to that point. I am always surprised at how quickly a friendly conversation can turn from commentary on the weather/politics/demographics/ to spiritual things, and then...

Any creative ideas on how to better carry out our duty to Share the News?

Malcolm Gladwell: He is just so cool

... Few should purport to engage seriously in Christian work in our culture without consulting Malcolm Gladwell (New York Times writer, guru of modern culture, and true scientist of the mysteries of the human person) qua his definitive ground-breaker The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, or his latest chic hit Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

I have read both of these titles, and after finishing them, congratulated myself on becoming much more of a sleuth regarding Christian duties in relation to our world's phenomenae. I love this guy. And Joy of Joys, I have just discovered that he has a blog!

...For a taste of the way this youngish genius approaches matters relevant to this humble forum, consider his New York Times article of September 12, 2005: The Cellular Church: How Rick Warren Built His Ministry. Here's a snippet:

"We are so accustomed to judging a social movement by its ideological coherence that the vagueness at the heart of evangelicalism sounds like a shortcoming. Peter Drucker calls Warren's network an army, like the Jesuits. But the Jesuits marched in lockstep and held to an all-encompassing and centrally controlled creed. The members of Warren's network don't all dress the same, and they march to the tune only of their own small group, and they agree, fundamentally, only on who the enemy is. It's not an army. It's an insurgency."

Read the rest here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Need Some Suggestions

For any of you academic types: I have undertaken to help an education-oriented missionary society locate some key documents in French for one of their training programs in Francophone Africa. Do any of you have any good ideas as to how to go about searching for academic essays in another language? Are there any databases for the linguistically challenged? ... I am contemplating simply translating the titles from English to French myself, and then conducting Google searches for the French titles. But perhaps some of you might have a better idea... (???)

The New Ecumenism

Fr. WB and I are blessed to have the same group of best friends, whom we have loved, laughed, traveled and learned with since high school. We got everyone together in VA for a summer evening a few weeks ago. I think that we must represent the entire ecclesiological spectrum of commitment to Jesus, and what a great thing it is. In dialogue since 1994, or something like that. I love you guys! Thanks for the photos, IC!

(We sorely missed Garland and Mrs. J...)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Googling Self: An On-Going Pastime

On a less urgent note, here are the results of my recent Google search:


I think this actually beats the fact that I share a name with an OB/GYN in Baton Rouge.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

MM's Out of Africa V: Those Little Moments of Restoration

We teach our young people of the World Youth Alliance that the monumental changes that lead to authentic improvements in the developing world happen slowly, beginning with the the heart of the individual person and extending from his conversation and committments to the rest of the culture, such that little by little, political changes must follow. In the words of Vaclav Havel, author of "The Power of the Powerless," transformation begins in the small places, in the hidden gestures, in the tiniest assent to living according to the truth. It seems so often that this is the way that God works too. Certainly His work is steady, progressive, and "small" in the tiny nation of Rwanda. His gestures are wonderful. Yesterday, I was struck by two instances of God's restoration here.

First, our Nairobi staff were invited yesterday to broadcast an address to young people over the national radio. Bear in mind that the KLM radio station of Rwanda was the major networking tool of the Hutu Power/Interhamwe genocide, in which a million people were killed in three months- just twelve years ago. Yesterday, that same radio station became the voice of young people eager to serve one another by building a culture of life.

Secondly, some friends and I traipsed over to the national stadium last night for the Hillsong worship concert. During the 1994 genocide, thousands of people had clustered there under the frantic watch of ill-equipped UN peacekeepers, and there hundreds of men, women and children died from starvation, disease, or Interhamwe assaults. Last night, thousands of former enemies were gathered to worship God together. My friends and I realized the enormity of the fact that yesterday (a very tense national "holiday," since all Rwandans had to appear for jury duty under pain of arrest) was the final national trial of persons accused of genocide. So, many of the people who had to deal with justice in the morning were gathered to praise God for His awesome forgiveness in the evening. What a very clever God we have.

And finally, there is that weekly moment of celebration every Sunday in the enormous cathedral of St. Famille; although almost every Rwandan living in the capital city has tragic memories of failed asylum in that building, on its altars the greatest gift of love ever made still recurs again and again... and the faithful are there to taste and to see. It is the most beautiful thing- during the Eucharist, the Rwandese do not stand in hushed silence nor do they kneel in prayer- rather, the Rwandese shout for joy and applaud.

Friday, July 14, 2006

MM's Out of Africa IV: True Religion in Central Africa

Our young men of The World Youth Alliance in Rwanda amaze me. They are articulate, committed, and full of joy. They are strong, slightly wild, and they care for we women of WYA International like queens. It is therein that they demonstrate the purest and noblest kind of manhood... in the promotion of their sisters. They have deliberately placed capable young women in prominent places in our five-hundred member national chapter, and they beam with pride at the results of their initiative: young Rwandan women who can reason thoroughly and speak clearly on the most serious political/social issues facing the future of their families, and who will thus form and restore their culture for those they love. In a country where the average university classroom contains a student population that is 99% male, our young men have tackled this disparity because they realize that the future of Rwandan culture is in the hands of those who rock the cradle and teach toddlers. Just today, in a classroom full of men, a new male recruit urgently asked us "what are your goals for increasing women's participation in society?"... and then he asked one of our young women trainees to respond. Our young men take seriously their responsibility to invite their women to flourish, and it is working.

Even above and beyond this call of duty, our young men have taken on the call of James 1: true religion lies in the practical care of widows and orphans. Last summer, our young men insisted that a good part of our training seminars be devoted to the issue of genocide widows and their practical needs. This year, their hearts have turned towards the child orphans of Rwanda, and after a networking visit today with a fabulous NGO called simply "Orphans of Rwanda," our young men are making plans to send our WYA young people out as formal mentors for these precious children. Along the way, we plan to teach them to dance, to sing, to sew and chop wood, to laugh with the best of them, and to plan to do anything.

The Southern Cross

One of my favorite things about this hemisphere.

This constellation is visible from rickety mountain roads, whereon my team has been riding in questionable buses late at night; as we go, I tend to stare at this constellation in wonder at the very explicit way in which the southern heavens declare His glory...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

MM's Out of Africa III: Two Hundred New Members, Forgiveness, and a Jaunt into Congo

The directors of WYA- Africa and I spoke to an audience of over five hundred university students today in the NW province of Rwanda called Gisenyi, and after a productive presentation which resulted in our doubling our Rwandand membership (!) we celebrated with a lot of chicken stew eaten with our hands for lunch, and a motorbike ride along the beautiful shores of Lake Kivu, over the Congo border into Goma. What a wonderful day!

During my talk on the solidarity of persons as the foundation for social progress, a Rwandan man raised his hand for a question. I have anticipated this for years, but I still wanted to cry when he raised the quiet, ever-present issue: "who are you to presume to propose these notions to us?Who are you to show up from the West to deliver these ideas, when the West destroyed our culture through colonialism and the slave trade in the first place? Who are you to speak to us about "solidarity" when solidarity was made impossible in Rwanda by the colonists of your culture? Indeed, how can you speak about solidarity without first offering an apology for these historical offenses?"

It was a just and dreaded onslaught of issues. I have written and studied so much about this sort of thing from the comfort of a library, but when the issue was addressed to me, in front of hundreds of my peers, when I stood for the bad guy who had oppressed and abandoned the innocent in the eyes of hundreds of genocide survivors, I felt incredibly defensive as the tears welled up. I waited while two gracious members of our Rwandan panel took the microphone and explained the apparent fallacies in the young man's questions. But I knew what had to be done.

There can be no "solidarity" without reconciliation. As Christians, we are they who agree quickly with their adversarys while we are on the way because we long most of all persons for the unity of Christ's re-creation. I had to swallow up the fact that I personally had little in particular for which to apologize; I asked that young man to consider me a representative of the West, and I asked him to give to us the gift of his forgiveness.

There was a thunder of applause. I suppose the Rwandans had been waiting for that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MM's Out of Africa II: The Dignity of the Person

"And the people, when they saw Jesus, followed Him; and He received them, and He spoke unto them of the Kingdom of God, and He healed all who had need of healing." (Luke 9:11)

... just another bit of evidence for the intrinsic dignity of the human person, who is created in the image and likeness of God, and for whom Christ gave His life. As we tell our Rwandese:

"Every human being has an intrinsic and inalienable dignity that begins at conception and extends through our natural lives until natural death. This dignity, the most precious endowment of the human person, is involiable. The dignity of the human person must be cherished in custom and protected by law. We recognize that the intrinsic dignity of the person is the foundation of every human right, and is independent of any individual condition. No human community can grant or rescind that dignity... we invite all those who share these convictions to join us in affirming them and to give them effect in public life at all levels."

-The World Youth Alliance Charter.2 and Declaration on the Human Person.1.

(We have spent productive hours today newtorking our Rwandan World Youth Alliance chapter with local NGO's and consulting firms, and then an afternoon around the table on the hotel "terrace" hashing out the nuances of our WYA principles, as applied to prospective initiatives against the spread of HIV/AIDs. Our young people are amazing! They inspire me more than I could ever say.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Vocatum: Finalist!

Word has reached me across the Atlantic, and sure 'nuff, this humble blog is in the running to win two awards in the 2006 Blogs of Beauty Awards! 'Theology of the Body' is one of several finalists in the Best Design and Best Artistic Content categories at Gracious Home. Heartfelt thanks to our nominators and fun, beloved readers, and to our awesome contributors! How fun is this-

If any of you feel inclined to support this blog further, you can send your vote to by 8:00 p.m. EST, Monday, July 17, 2006.

Be sure to check out the other nominees:

Best Artistic Content: Has the best use of artistic content (photos, graphics, etc.) in daily entries.

A Picturesque Life
Everyday Mommy
The Sparrow’s Nest
Theology of the Body

Best Design - Traditional: The most beautiful blog of a non-contemporary design.

Theology of the Body
Biblical Womanhood Blog
The Sparrow’s Nest
Windows to My Soul

MM's Out of Africa: An NGO Safari

So this year Kigali is not so exotic as to prevent an internet connection. I hope to be posting almost every day on something discovered in Rwanda...

An NGO= "non government organization"- is one of those marvelous post-colonial inventions that provides an amiable outlet for those whose heart lies in Helping Others, while charmingly maintaining every bit of the otherwise gone and forgottten colonial life and aesthetic: range rovers, big gates with native porters, khaki, and the weekend getaway to Victoria Falls...all to be had on a missionary's salary. Evangelical kids really should just get over the terror that tends to accompany the thought that One Might Be Called To Africa...

All skepticism aside, today was spent consulting with WYA leaders and recruiting a handsome bunch of new members at the Kigali Technical Institute. In the meantime, the day was spent on a veritable tour of local NGO's for prospective partnership. The great ones that I really liked (for anyone who Might Be Called To Africa) are as follows-

1. Trocaire: the official overseas development agency of the RC in Ireland, "expresses the concern of the Irish Church for the suffering of the world’spoorest and most oppressed people." Trócaire's dual mandate is to support long-term development projects overseas and to provide relief during emergencies, and to inform the public about the root causes of poverty and injustice and mobilise the public to bring about global change.

2. Open Arms International: Met this enthusiastic non-dom American bunch at breakfast; they are a recently new outreach, and are doing great things in medical missions in Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. This seems to be the place for nurses, doctors, dentists, therapists, etc. I was very impressed: they "combine medical care and Christian ministry into a powerful combination that can deliver the healing touch of God." I plan to join them for their morning devotions at our hotel from now on.

3. Hillsong strikes again! A glance at this website will give you a clue as to the nature of the banners strung up all over town, because this mega church worship team is coming next month to set Rwanda on fire! Hmmm. I have mixed feelings. Rwandans KNOW how to worship, such that we westerners really have nothing to do but learn from them. That includes the 96% Roman Catholic population who are whooping and waving at Mass with the best of them. I've seen it! Hopefully Hillsong will have the good grace to incorporate their distanced RC brethren in Christ in their outreach to this teeny country.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

En Route to Nairobi

With the Thomist scholar Josef Peiper, the World Youth Alliance teaches its young people that the ultimate fulfillment of the human person, the most powerful expression of being alive, happens in an instance of beholding... God.

From my airplane window, the clouds cluster here in a fantastic Saharan afternoon display- the way they do over tropical oceans- but here it is a sea of sand. These clouds... a breathtaking arrangement of shapes and shadows, from God's hands, cast over the sky for the handful of people who happened to be awake for it on the right-hand side of Swiss Air Flight 292. I saw one of the wakeful ones- he is African, just a little older than me- very young and lithe and intense, strained against his window with absolute focus to see the beauty out there. It was because of him that I took my own look out of my own window. It was because of him- he had the look of someone so very eager and alive- (God only knows why he is returning to Nairobi from Zurich- he hardly looks like a banker. A freedom fighter? A peace worker? A notorious advocate? A spy?)...

I had given up. We had already flown for two hours from Zurich over the awesome beauty of the Alps, over their cold little lakes, St. Moritz, the Badrutz Palace Hotel, over Lakes Como and Maggiore with their alfresco cafes, over the sparkling Mediterranean and a dozen Italian pleasure islands, (Capri? La Corse? It was the wrong side for Portofino) where countless yachts made white streaks in the water before the place where the water shone like clear turquoise near the shores- and then we were over Tunis and the Kufra basin and the touted desolation of Northern Africa, and then we knew that we were over war-torn Sudan, and you could see smoke in the air. I curled up tight for a nap then- my peculiar talent- because at least this present genocide, in the country thousands of miles beneath the plane, is not the fault of colonial blunders. There is nothing to be done- everyone says so. I certainly cannot jump off this plane and parachute through the atmospheres to rescue the children in Darfur (death and rape every minute)- can I? Oh, I can pray. I breathe something about "peace" and draw my cashmere wrap thing around me and I sleep deliciously for a while, and I dream something about having lunch with Larry King.

I am so glad that I woke up in time to see that young man (political asylum seeker?) straining against his window, loving the beauty of the ground and the sky so much. On this ground (it is soaked with blood) and on this sky (the sun can be merciless here and can kill young things) God writes His majesty. It will always be this way. Though the earth's crust here may be very thin, such that Hell breaks through so frequently (whether in the anguished violence of Darfur or in the trudging drudgery of daily poverty's burdens) it is uniquely here, on this continent, that God's children call to each other with shouts and stamping feet and glinting eyes and drum-beats that sound exactly like the human heart in the night. It is here too that the Lord goes forth with a shout. You should see the very clouds He casts.

This is why I come to Africa. I come to know the power of the Incarnation and the Resurrection in that thing- that resilience- of poor, powerful people. I wish to be taught by the posture of the young African man who studies this sky outside as though he need never look away- here is grace. It is as though he said to me, "this is beauty for ashes. This is the sound of a song in the night."

We are over Northern Uganda now. There is the slender Nile that Livingstone found, snaking its way through all the trees. There are the lovely green hills were Joseph Konye tortures kidnapped children, at this moment, one by one, ideally four years old, so that they too can torture others and kill in his armies. It takes this plane just a few minutes to pass another place where Hell has broken through. Another place where God goes forth with a shout. I think that whatever sort of "parachute" God may choose to give to me for jumping off, for intervening, for joining His gracious onslaught on this country against its evil, I will take it.

Dear people, come to Africa. Get on a plane or send your dollars or write to someone in Washington who can make things happen. Do something. Respond somehow to these very real screams and tears. But do it for your own soul- there is absolutely nothing so exhilerating as extending yourself to see and to be where the gates of Hell cannot finally prevail.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hoping that my contributors will take up the slack...

Because I am off to Rwanda today on a two-week trip on behalf of the World Youth Alliance. This is a return visit for me, and I am so excited. I will be working with the Alliance's Nairobi-based staff to recruit new members for our organization among Rwandan univeristy students, and training existing members in principles of the dignity of the person and the social policies which should follow.

Hooray for catholic social teaching at its best! (To get in on the fun yourself, read more here...)

Please pray for me!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Our Lady Liberty

Here's an interesting tidbit from the NYT:

The Statue of Liberation Through Christ, as she is called, stands 72 feet tall from the base of her pedestal to the tip of her cross. She was the idea of Mr. Williams, a very successful pastor whose church, World Overcomers, qualifies as mega: it has a school, a bowling alley, a roller rink, a bookstore and, he said, 12,000 members....

The statue, inspired by a Memphis church that has three giant crosses, strikes him as "a creative means of just really letting people know that God is the foundation of our nation," he said.

One can but hope that this will encourage the neighboring Catholic church to build a 250-foot high statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe...

Good things in the heartland

There is a cool foundation down here in San Antonio, funded by Texas businessmen, that sponsors various legal initiatives in protection of the unborn. One of their new projects is called Operation Outcry, which has recently composed a television show for worldwide premier called "Faces of Abortion." The filmakers have interviewed hundreds of young women who have undergone abortions in an effort to reveal the effects of this procedure on a woman's life.

If any of you are in the San Antonio neighborhood, you can attend the (free) local premier of this show on Friday, July 14 at 6:45 pm, at Community Bible Church, 2477 N Loop 1604 E.

Stanley again

He is just so good.

"The Church must learn time and time again that its task is not to make the world the Kingdom, but to be faithful to the Kingdom by showing to the world what it means to be a community of peace."

- Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom 103.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Lay Baptism

According to every denomination, anyone can do it in times of necessity. You need water, consent, and a Trinitarian statement with a name: "N, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Optional: "N, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ's own forever." Goosebumps.

Read more about the theology of lay baptism here-

A thorough statement on the sacrament of Christian baptism here...

And see a really impressive treatment of the theology of sacramental baptism at Wittenburg Trail.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Political Theology

Happy Independence Day to all! ... what a grand thing to celebrate one of the finest nations in which the Kingdom of God has ever sojourned. Hooray for celebrating the proper filial love of our nation, for which we pray, and which we respect and serve as the resident aliens of another Home.

Professor Jones is a contemporary theologian who reflects on the Christian's relationship to the state; I respect (and tend to follow!) his work in every way. In a recent sermon/essay entitled "Is Jesus Lord in Time of War?," he put the dilemma so well:

"In my judgment our steadfast refusal to put any common and shared conceptual meat on the mantra of ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and Savior and Lord’, is at the heart of the widespread disarray and even discouragement in our political tradition today. Our discourses and therefore also our practices in regard to Jesus are in chaotic discord. This leaves us vulnerable to having the center of our faith occupied by idols of the moment, whether those idols are the politics of the state or the fear of enemies far and wide. When the discourses and practices of the church are in disarray, then we can also conclude that the way its members construe themselves, construe Jesus, and construe the world may be in stark contrast to how the New Testament and earlier traditions have construed Jesus and the reality of God and the destiny of the world."

Read the rest here.

The Man of Steel

Just saw Superman Returns. For some reason, it has never really occurred to me that there are striking, nay obvious and heavy-handed, parallels between the Man of Steel and the Son of Man. This movie spares no effort to point them out. (Of course, there are also obvious Nietzschean overtones as well.) But the movie's not bad; it's quite good. Excellent, even. Go see it at the theater so that it will do enough box office to merit a sequel.

Musical Meme

The Ranter has started a musical meme. You post seven songs you are "into" at the moment, regardless of quality, genre, sexual orientation, etc., then tag six other people.

Let's see, mine would have to be...

"My Heart is Broken" Ryan Adams, Jacksonville City Nights

"Strawberry Wine" also Ryan Adams, 29 (what can I say? I listen to a lot of R.A., and then his songs tend to get lodged in my head)

"Transfiguration #1" M. Ward, off the Transfiguration of Vincent album. I love this whole album (thanks, WB+, for recommending it), but I love this song, which begins with chirping crickets. It seems esp. appropriate for summer nights.

"Steady, As She Goes" The Raconteurs (Jack White's new band), Broken Boy Soldiers

Mozart Violin Sonatas Nos. 35 and 36 (Naxos label). (I know they aren't precisely songs, but I listen to this while working.)

Last night my brother passed me along Chatham County Line's album Route 23, and I think that I am going to be listening to this a good bit in the near future.

Finally, "Seven Swans," Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans (prompted no doubt by the meme's request for seven songs...)

I know so few other people, but I tag everyone else at TheoBody (which makes three) and then two of my two friends Metafiz at ...perception... and Alexis at Adventures in Croatia. I think everyone will have to content themselves with five.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"I am not simply content to manage a diseased system"

Another note from the rector of a faithful ECUSA church in downtown San Antonio...

I am not simply content to help manage a diseased
system nor am I resigned to accepting these things
as the way that they must be. I intend to lead and
work for change in our church, and I need your help
in doing this.

I'm convinced that ECUSA is a diseased system and
that there is no hope to revive it or change its
direction. There's no going back on what ECUSA has
chosen to be and where our presiding bishops will
lead us. I happened to hear Griswold interviewed on
NPR and Schori interviewed on Diane Reams, and they
are not budging an inch on the agenda that has led
us to this crisis. In terms of ECUSA, it's over and
our only choice is to disassociate.

From your comments, I read in to them that you are
cautious but open to the "covenant" relationship
Archbishop Williams is suggesting, and to us
becoming a "constituent church" in communion with
Canterbury. I'm sure he has the Network and Windsor
dioceses in mind. This is definitely where we are
heading at Christ Church, and it would be great to
walk this road with our bishop and diocese.
I know that all these things take time to work out,
but I need to tell you that I'm dealing with a very
high level of frustration and impatience at Christ
Church. For five years I've been telling our folks
that this crisis will be resolved one way or the
other, and what we've heard is either denial (It's
not a crisis, or it's going to go away), or
platitudes about how we in West Texas are different
and better (We'll go it alone). These responses
don't help. And to be a "Windsor diocese" is helpful
to a point, but if we don't see definite
Windsor-guided actions that lead us away from ECUSA
and closer to the wider Communion, it is meaningless
to most of our people. My hope is that we can walk
the path of realignment with our bishop and diocese
and I can see this happening as long as there is
progress. I will talk with you more about this when
we meet before our July 12 parish meeting.
Anyway, all this is to thank you for the strong
statement above. It sure sounds like we are on the
same track and this gives me hope for working with
our diocese. On a personal level, I have tremendous
empathy for the challenges you face as our leader
and I really appreciate the friendship and support
you have offered me. I am thankful you are my bishop
- the right leader for these days!

Rector, Christ Church