Friday, March 31, 2006

On Being a Disciple

This morning I was doing some background reading on Stanley Hauerwas. I came across a 2001 TIME article that spoke of him as Christian Contrarian. The last paragraph follows:

A God who embraces powerlessness unto death is a message the world will never accept, says Hauerwas. Yet, he argues, it is that message the Christian is bid to take to all nations. If you were to ask Hauerwas to define himself by a single word, once he got Texan out of the way, he would probably say disciple and add that anyone who uses the word "better damn well mean it."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Menagerie

The tram was full. It was a teacher work day and parents had decided that the 70-degree, blue-skied day was one for the zoo. I was among them, though I had forgotten about the work day (my wife's schedule is different than the rest of the county's). I was next in line and told the tram operator who was loading passengers and had looked my way, "I'll just wait for the next tram if we can't all sit together."

"There's room for you to sit together here," she said. I started walking toward the back of the tram, pushing Will in the stroller. As kindly as possible in front of so many passengers with cell phones and the Department of Social Services on speed-dial, I encouraged Anna and Avery to walk quickly. I unbuckled Will and told the girls to get up in the seat. The tram driver took my stroller from me to store in the front, and I climbed into the last seat on the tram. Or tried to. Anna wouldn't move over. "C'mon, Anna, move over so Will and I can sit down." She and Avery finally scooted over toward the thirty-something father next to them with the three-year-old towhead on his lap.

I sat down and thanked the man for making room. His daughter looked at me and said, "I think you might be too big to ride on here."

"I think you're right," I said.

As the tram began moving the little girl asked if the two girls were my little girls. "Nope," I said, "I just found them wandering around the park and I picked them up." She stared at me as she tried absorbing the information until I relented and said, "No, they're my girls. This," I said placing my hand on her head, "is Avery, and this," I said, moving my hand, "is Anna."

The little girl's dad, who held her tightly, said, "I told you he was their daddy, Sweetheart."

One of the tram operators got on the speaker as we came up on the tram stop halfway back to the park entrance. "Can I see a show of hands of anyone who would like to get off at this stop?" Several hands shot up, including the man's next to me. The hands went back down as the tram drove silently past the tram stop. I turned to him and said, "I guess they just wanted to see."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Taxman Cometh

What a weekend. Laura did taxes on Saturday morning and delivered the bad news: We owe over a thousand dollars. This news on the heels of other fun financial news. This news after we were expecting (and needing) a large refund due to our legion of children and the federal tax credit that currently comes with them. So Laura, visions of Cinderella Man in her head, cried some and we took the kids to the park.

After we got home, I looked for more freelance work as well as a full-time job - with little success, as usual.

Laura continued on the taxes. She came up the stairs into my half-story office and said that she had just entered Sophie's social security number and that when she did the amount we owed dropped to $20. That drop came with one child. We have a bazillion children. So Laura's tears became smiles and my nervous laughter settled down into peace.

. . . . .

My two youngest children are coffee drinkers. That's right, my three-year-old yellow-haired child and my 22-month-old boy, whose use of wet coffee grounds from the trash as chaw makes room for easy belief, are drinking now. Of course it's Eve's fault. I don't drink coffee. Okay, occasionally I'll have a cup. But these kids drink the stuff whenever my wife does. It's disturbing. Sunday, on the way to church, my son had my wife's mug and was slurping down her last ounce while strapped down in his baby seat.

That just ain't right. Are cigars next?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hard Cash on the High Sea

Laura and I watched a pirated copy of Walk the Line last night. It was my first pirated DVD. Ar! We all know that piracy is wrong, but if someone lends you a copy of a movie to view, and you pay a monthly fee to Netflix to watch as many movies as you want each month anyway, how can you say No?

It was a very good movie. And I had forgotten that it was pirated even before the Legal Notice had finished burning its redness into my retinas. I enjoyed the movie and was amazed that Joaquin and Reese actually sang their parts and did not have Johnny and June's voices dubbed over them. Excellent jobs.

Automobility Regained

Both the Jeep and the Ford are home, fixed, and inspected. Now if only we could afford gas.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Falling for You

The van is working again. The mechanic slipped the drive belt on in no time at all and charged me nothing for his trouble. "Don't worry about it," he said - what an excellent little sentence.

We appreciate your prayers.

. . . . .

Last night, after the kids had gone to bed, my wife and I were watching American Idol. A commercial advertising the soon release of King Kong came on TV, and I leapt off the couch and walked like a gorilla over to the toy basket. I reached down and grabbed the naked Barbie doll and began quiet, ape-like gruntings as I ran and leapt back toward the couch.

Remember how Lucy continually tormented Charlie Brown with his inability to kick the football? She would convince him to try one more time through her most persuasive rhetoric. Charlie Brown would start running and, of course, Lucy would pull the football away just as he kicked at the ball. Chuck would fly into the air, reaching exceptional heights, and then fall hard onto his back. Remember?

That's what I looked like last night as I moved with Kong-esque rapidity. In my simian agility, I slipped on something. Then, like Chuck, my whole body came out from under me, and I flew into the air. After several moments, I came down like a ton of bricks onto my elbow and side and the wind was knocked out of me. I had started laughing while I was still in the air and continued to do so once I was able to uncrumple myself and catch my breath. Laura was sure I had broken something, but I did not. I didn't even wake the children with my great house-shaking. Barbie, played by Naomi Watts, was unharmed.

No more King Kong for the next day or two.

. . . . .

This morning when I went walking, I noticed that the porch was somewhat slippery from some frost that had accumulated there. I warned Laura about it before she left for school. I warned Sophie about it as well. They slowly made their way out of the house and cautiously made it down the steps and to the van. Laura set her coffee mug on top of the van and opened the door for Sophie. She then turned toward me and tried to communicate something to me with some gesturing. I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. She quickly set her things in the van and came back up to the house. She was about half-way across the porch when one leg went one way and the other another. She fell on her hinterparts.

I admit that I laughed.

She managed to get up without too much trouble and when she reached the door, she asked for Sophie's coat. I told her it was in the van.

(Yes, she remembered to retrieve her coffee from the top of the van.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Five "Damns," One "What the Hell"

About a week and a half ago, I posted that Laura's Jeep was running rough and that I, laughably, was going to take a look at it. The next day, on the way to work, the driveshaft fell off. It's been in the shop since, though our mechanic thinks it may be fixed today (he was waiting for a part). So for the past week, we've been a one-vehicle family and, for the most part, Laura has been taking the van to work. Last night, however, on the way back from picking up a few groceries, she drove through a puddle and immediately the power steering went out and the battery light came on.

She was able to make it back home since we only live a block or two from the store - mostly a straight shot.

It was a little worrisome, since it leaves us without a vehicle and without really any money to fix the vehicle. Today she called our mechanic and he said that it may just be that the drive belt was knocked off by the water and that I could put it back on myself.

I opened the hood, about the only thing I know how to do on a car, and checked it out. Check! The drive belt was off. I was able to re-route the belt by following the diagram under the hood, but I couldn't get the blasted thing around the last pulley. Frustration ensued. Called the mechanic. Oh, you have to get a 15mm wrench and loosen the drive belt tensioner? No problem, just as soon as I can find the drive belt tensioner. You do realize these things aren't labeled?

Looked for a wrench - none of mine are metric, of course. Walked, in the rain, to the auto store (it's a three-minute walk, no big deal) and bought a 15mm wrench. Walked, in the rain, back to the house. Pants too loose and kept falling off. I need a smaller belt for my pants, which is good news, just not today.

Found the tensioner bolt, reamed on it, belt magically loosened! But still can't get the damned thing around the last pulley. I can't ream and push at the same time and I've got giant man-size hands that make it difficult to navigate in the insanely tight spaces of under-the-hood. Damn, damn, damn.

Anyway, I've spent a good deal of time out in the cold (unbelievably 36F, only days ago it was in the 80s) and rain - though I am under the carport.

Anyone have any tips about getting the drive belt back on? We may have to just pull it into a shop down the street after lunch and see if the local mechanic can slip it on for us - I am praying he doesn't charge an arm and a leg for a five-minute, elbow-grease job. I'm willing to part with, say, $20. But any more and I'm likely to curl up into a fetal position, suck my thumb, and cry.

I wish I could get the damn belt on myself. What the hell, I'll just drive it to the shop - all this book-learnin' is useless. (Maybe I could leverage the wrench with a stack of books and then wrangle the belt . . .) Oh, Ack!

Monday, March 20, 2006

The War in/on Iraq (Or, What's in a Preposition?)

At the outset, I want you to know that I only have questions.

It has been three years and I am still very much saddened by our involvement in Iraq. I don't think we should have gone to war. Would we have been justified going to war even if WMDs had been discovered? I don't think so. And, anyway, how do you win a war against terrorism? How far do we go with this war? Do we engage in arguably terrorist activity in our pursuit to stomp out terrorism? (Terror: violence [as bombing] committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands.)

Could terrorism be more effectively dismantled in some other way?

What ought the Church's response to this war have been? And what ought it to be? As followers of Christ, how ought we to act?

Let me make it clear that I do believe that it is important to pray for the men and women involved in this conflict (on all levels). We want no harm to come to them and we want them to act justly on behalf of the oppressed while they are on foreign soil.

Now, I am glad that Hussein is on trial, and I hope Iraq will eventually be able to put itself back together as a peaceful nation. But here are some of my questions: How many countries have leaders that need deposing? Will our deposition of one tyrant solve a country's problems? Is the United States right in taking on the responsibility of deposing a tyrant? Or should that be left to a more international group? Should we use the UN to handle such international problems? (Granted, there needs to be some reform within the UN, but it seems to me that we may be hurting ourselves tomorrow by ignoring the requests of the UN today.)

Sadly, I am not very involved in the goings-on in Iraq. In fact, I've put blinders on so that I don't have to think about it. I don't like thinking about it. Perhaps these very questions have been hammered out by others. If so, I'm certain they did so with a better understanding of the situation and I would love to be pointed in the right direction.

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. (Luke 1, Magnificat [partial], ESV)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Tolkien Was No Hobbit

There is a funny article by Don Miller over at "The Burnside Writers Collection" titled, "Tolkien Was No Hobbit." I understand that some of you have a problem with James Frey, so don't get too upset by this article - just enjoy the tongue-in-cheekness of it. Here's an excerpt:

The truth is I wasn’t surprised by the whole Frey incident. As a book insider, I’ve known for a few years that the stuff in books is made up. I’m not trying to sound condescending, which means to talk down to you, but it’s something I discovered in my mid twenties.

I remember how much I loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” for example, but was enraged when I finally saw a picture of the author, smoking a pipe wearing a hat and jacket, no floppy ears, no webbed and hairy feet, a complete con. Lying bastard, I said to myself, throwing the book across the children’s section of a bookstore. Hobbit my ass.

Now go read the rest of it. Go on. Read it. One . . . Two . . .

I Arise Today

A stanza from "St. Patrick's Breastplate." Have a blessed St. Patrick's day.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Anna, Anna, Bo Banna . . .

She leaned down and hugged me. I hugged her back.

"I will never forget you," she said dramatically.

"I will never forget you either," I said.

"Okay, the hug's over," she said, laughing and pulling away.

Notice

Dreams die quietly, with little to-do. They fail to acknowledge your investment of time or tears. They fail to appreciate your hard work. You woke up this morning as you have woken up every other morning; then, in the afternoon, notice arrives in the mail:

I am dead. Dream another dream, if you dare.

And so, broken, you sit in front of a machine, another man's dream realized, and you gently, hesitantly, tap out . . . something. Plastic keys, arbitrary letters and words, are rallied together to make some sense. But even while they do, they don't. Not to you.

Ash and dust. Beauty? Where are you?

A nice letter, all in all. Clean and concise. Impersonal. The envelope lies torn open on the table. The letter has been neatly refolded and replaced. The dream too. Maybe dreams are not for you.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Two Stories: Sacrament and Symbol

I share the following stories only because they have been joined in my mind - and, lately, they have been weighing on me heavily. I have no brilliant conclusion to draw from them. They simply trouble me. They beg of me a decision; and they beg of me a chest, a heart, a soul.

The first story is from Fox's Book of Martyrs.

The erroneous worship which [William Gardner] had seen ran strongly in his mind; he was miserable to see a whole country sunk into such idolatry, when the truth of the Gospel might be so easily obtained. He, therefore, took the inconsiderate, though laudable design, into his head, of making a reform in Portugal, or perishing in the attempt; and determined to sacrifice his prudence to his zeal, though he became a martyr upon the occasion.

To this end, he settled all his worldly affairs, paid his debts, closed his books, and consigned over his merchandise. On the ensuing Sunday he went again to the cathedral church, with a New Testament in his hand, and placed himself near the altar.

The king and the court soon appeared, and a cardinal began Mass, at that part of the ceremony in which the people adore the wafer. Gardner could hold out no longer, but springing towards the cardinal, he snatched the host from him, and trampled it under his feet.

. . . . .

Gardner, being carried before the king, the monarch asked him what countryman he was: to which he replied, "I am an Englishman by birth, a Protestant by religion, and a merchant by occupation. What I have done is not out of contempt to your royal person, God forbid it should, but out of an honest indignation, to see the ridiculous superstitious and gross idolatries practiced here" (74, 75).

The second passage is rather long and comes from C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the third book of his Space Trilogy. It is about an institution's attempt to train one of the protagonists, Mark Studdock, in "objectivity."

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room, something like a crisis had developed between mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic. "We have half an hour to pursue our exercises," said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

. . . Mark had never believed in [Christianity] at all. At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. . . .

"But, look here," said Mark.

"What is it?" said Frost. "Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal."

"This," said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance at the horrible white figure on the cross. "This is all surely a pure superstition."

"Well?"

"Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn't it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean - damn it all - if it's only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?"

"That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a quest for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with."

Mark himself was surprised at the emotions he was undergoing. He did not regard the image with anything at all like a religious feeling. Most emphatically it did not belong to that idea of the Straight or Normal or Wholesome which had, for the last few days, been his support against what he now knew of the innermost circle at Belbury. The horrible vigour of its realism was, indeed, in its own ways as remote from that Idea as anything else in the room. That was one source of his reluctance. To insult even a carved image of such agony seemed an abominable act. But it was not the only source. With the introduction of this Christian symbol the whole situation had somehow altered. The thing was becoming incalculable. His simple antithesis of the Normal and the Diseased had obviously failed to take something into account. . . . "If I take a step in any direction," he thought, "I may step over a precipice." A donkey-like determination to plant hoofs and stay still at all costs arose in his mind.

"Pray make haste," said Frost.

The quiet urgency of the voice, and the fact that he had so often obeyed it before, almost conquered him. he was on the verge of obeying, and getting the whole silly business over when the defencelessness of the figure deterred him. The feeling was a very illogical one. Not because its hands were nailed and helpless, but because they were only made of wood and therefore even more helpless, because the thing, for all its realism, was inanimate and could not in any way hit back, he paused. The unretaliating face of a doll - one of Myrtle's dolls - which he had pulled to pieces in boyhood had affected him in the same way and the memory, even now, was tender to the touch.

"What are you waiting for, Mr. Studdock?" said Frost.

Mark was well aware of the rising danger. Obviously, if he disobeyed, his last chance of getting out of Belbury alive might be gone. Even of getting out of this room. The smothering sensation once again attacked him. He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way - neither as a piece of wood or a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself the image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight - what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross.

"Do you intend to go on with the training or not?" said Frost. His eye was on the time. . . . "Do you not hear what I am saying?" he asked Mark again.

Mark made no reply. He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him - had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised the question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? He began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed to have momentarily vanished. They had been a safeguard . . . they had prevented him, all his life, from making mad decisions like that which he was now making as he turned to Frost and said,

"It's all bloody nonsense, and I'm damned if I do any such thing" (334-337).

Monday, March 13, 2006

Coca-Cola Blak


Have you heard about Coke's newest venture? Coca-Cola Blak is a new product soon to be released in France, to be followed with a release here and elsewhere - "Coke mixed with coffee" is the basic idea. I think, with my primary migraine trigger being caffeine, this product could kill me. Oh, but I'm tempted. Now, sure it sounds kind of disgusting to me, but it has curiosity as its initial drawing power. If the taste is good, the whole world might just be hopped up on Blak.

And then I think, as my mind is wont to wander, carbonation + coffee beans = some serious trumpeting. 'Cause both of those things tend to give me gas.

"Living and breathing give you gas," says my wife, walking by.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Some Nights

Some nights I don't want to go to bed. Silence and solitude seize me and whisper Exploration. Time to be. Time to enjoy a simple reward won through housewifery. Typing words. Laying structure on the altar of art.

Some nights I run into 1:30, imagining I have no children. But then I hear troubled cries from restless sleep and my heart is conquered again. Again. It's a city never reclaimed - just a fool's dream of hell. I have those dreams sometimes, some nights. I believe lies. I run from joy into the arms of ease. Joy isn't easy. The earth it grows in is hard ground to till, but the greening is worth the sweat. Watered with sorrows, it grows.

Yes, some nights I doubt. I cry.

Some nights I wake from sleep laughing. Lightly, so lightly. The bed trembles with me and so I take hold of this joy that is wanting to shake loose. Tightly, so tightly. Don't wake her. But this maddening, irrepressible joy swells within me like laughter in the middle of a funeral. The seams are not strong enough. They stretch and tear.

This body is not big enough for joy or sorrow. They burst out. They pour out. Some nights they mix into green.

And so some nights I don't want to go to bed. I don't want to sleep. Shh. Some nights I just want to be green.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Yellow-Haired Child Sings (with a Cold)

O Susanda, do't you cwy fo me.
I have a bajo on my weg.

O Susanda, do't you cwy fo me.
I have a bajo on my weg.

I have a bajo on my weg.

I have a bajo on my weg.

(crescendo)
I have a bajo on my weg.

O Susanda, do't you cwy fo me.

O Susanda, do't you cwy fo me.

I have a bajo on my (forte) WEG!

Notes from the Infirmary

The Lyons' house has been full this week. But Laura and Sophie, home because of the flu, are heading back to school today. Avery got it too, but it hasn't seemed to hit her as hard as her sister or her mama.

The Jeep's running loudly. I'll be looking at it today. And if you know anything about my automobile expertise, you are now laughing out loud.

I am meeting with our local priest to discuss sin and grace and justification tomorrow afternoon (4 p.m.). I'd appreciate your prayers about this meeting, as I'm having difficulty verbalizing my questions and ordering my thoughts.

Anyone have an extra Easy Button lying around?

On a bright note, it's supposed to be in the 70s and sunny (80 on Sunday and Monday?) for the next five or more days╬ę.

My son just typed that omega. I don't know how. The Raccoon has this thing with computers - after he's touched it, I usually have to do a search for help on how to get the computer running normally again. The last time he had access to it, he set the computer to "VoiceOver" so that the machine was reading every text out loud as I scrolled over it. It was not a sultry reading either - just sterile computerized vocalizations. (Blast!) It only takes him a few keystrokes to confound me.

Today's Big Thoughts for Little Brains

N.T. Wright says that the discussion of justification (and the argument surrounding Sola Fide) belongs not so much within soteriology as it does within ecclesiology.

He goes on to say that being justified by faith says less about how we are saved as it is a declaration that we are saved. Therefore faith is the badge, the declaration of our justification rather than its source. We do not merit justification through our believing, but our believing (our faith) is the evidence of our justification.

N.T. Wright can be difficult to understand. His ideas are especially difficult to understand after they're squeezed through my brain - perhaps they make no sense after I process them. Maybe it would just be easier to call him a heretic.

Chapter 3: A Disagreement

"I own part of these woods. The stone wall that runs not half a mile from here is the border of my property."

"It is all the King's land," says the gardener, "and under the King's rule through the authority He's given to His Ministers and to His Prime Minister."

"I recognize the King's authority, but not the Prime Minister's." I do not know why I am suddenly so offended, or why the bitter argument springs up out of me. But I am enraged.

"Regardless, His authority is the King's," says the gardener. "And, if I may, how can you recognize the King's authority if you do not recognize His Prime Minister's?"

I leave the garden angry. "He is a false Prime Minister," I say under my breath. "He reaches too far."

Why do I accept and even demand hierarchy and authority in every institution but the Church?

There is something in me that rejects human, spiritual authority. "I am Christ's man, and His man alone," I want to say. And that is correct: I serve no King but Jesus. But what if He has established His authority on this Earth in a man, in a council of men, in order to guide His Church? Or, to put it differently, is there another way, given the heart of man, to have His Church be one?

At the very least, can I say that perhaps it is true? If I could say, "Perhaps," then I may be able to approach the question honestly.

Unity is the fruit of charity. And without charity, who can be saved? What does that unity look like? Is it unity within diversity? Is it unity under the recognized authority of the Bishop of Rome? Or is it a completely invisible unity? Is invisible unity even unity? One thing becomes clearer to me as I get older: The gospel demands unity. In Question 3 of N.T. Wright's February 2006 Wrightsaid Q & A, Wright says that the existence and propagation of denominations is "a flagrant disobedience" to the teaching of the New Testament. That statement, if I believe it, demands something of me.

I walk through the woods, and then turn and run back toward the garden. The gardener stands and watches my approach as I crash gracelessly through the forest. He is grinning.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sola Fide

How is one saved?

What are your arguments for "by faith alone"? And, perhaps more importantly, what do you mean by faith?

"You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2.24, NASB). And "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3.28, NASB). Paul and James seem to disagree sharply, though they do not. Together, then, what are they saying? The danger of "faith alone" is that we can believe that faith is simple intellectual assent. But faith as intellectual assent does not save, does it?

Also, what does Paul mean by "works of the Law"? Is he simply stating that works do not save, or is he saying something else entirely?

What do the Scriptures teach?

The Best Movies of 2005?

I did it. I stayed up until the last credit finished rolling on the Academy Awards. Sort of a bust. Afterward, I wondered if there had been any good movies made in 2005. Oh well. I'm not a big fan of Crash, myself. I know some of you liked the movie, but I found it too didactic.

Jon Stewart was funny. My favorite part? They'd just aired a montage highlighting the many social issues that movies have dealt with in the past and Stewart says, "And we've never struggled with those problems again." He then follows that comment with "Congratulations, us." Good stuff there.

And while I'm talking about movies, I watched Doctor Zhivago this weekend. It had been a while since I'd seen the movie, and I was looking forward to it on DVD. It was excellent. The older I get, the more I enjoy the movie. Of course it was long - so long that I had to flip the disc over twice to watch it in its entirety. Regardless, it was better than any of the movies up for "Best Movie" last night. Way better.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Riches of Emmanuel

I know that most Protestants who have thought about and determined to be Protestants have manifold problems with the Roman Catholic Church - many of the problems arise out of competing worldviews (sometimes differing eschatologies) while most of them, in my opinion, bubble up out of simple misunderstandings of or misinformation about what Catholics actually believe. Though only a novice, I have begun studying the Roman Catholic Church, and I have found richness there. And, possibly, exceedingly great richness.

Let me share with you the true riches of the Catholic Church. It is not found in her history, and it is not in her unity or charity (or even her hats). I do not find it in her strong moral stand within our culture or in her unrelenting grasp of right. It is not that she has given us the Scriptures or that she is, after two millennia, thoroughly orthodox. Don't misread me - there are riches here. But her true riches are, unquestioningly for me, in her Mass.

Many of the riches in the Catholic Church I can explore as a Protestant. In many cases, I can even make them my own. But the Mass is wholly different, wholly other. It has its liturgies (the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist) that must be performed. And though the priest plays an essential role in the Mass, it is not about the priest. Or the music. Or the homily (sermonette). The Mass is a celebration of the Eucharist. And the Eucharist - and here lies the scandalon, the stumbling stone - is Christ.

The dogma of the Real Presence (the transubstantiation) is a difficult one. The Church claims that the wafer and the wine truly, really, and substantially transform into the body and the blood, the soul and the divinity of Christ - though completely indiscernible by the senses. The Eucharist, therefore, celebrated as such, is either the greatest good or it is foul evil. I don't know that there is a middle way.

And therein is my great struggle with Catholicism. It is the most profound and life-changing news I have ever received as a believer - that I can touch and experience and feast upon our Lord. And it is the most terrifying.

What am I to do with this Sacrament?

For the first millennium of the Church's existence, the Real Presence was never questioned. And it was not rejected until the Reformation (even Luther and Calvin believed in the Real Presence, though they rejected the Catholic Church's teaching about its transformation - some of our "higher" Protestant traditions still believe in the Real Presence as the real spiritual presence of Christ). The Early Church Fathers write about the Real Presence and believe it. The Scriptures certainly allow and even suggest such an interpretation (This is my body, whoever does not discern the body, etc.). Is the Reformation more weighty than the first 1500 years of Church tradition? Wouldn't the Early Fathers have better known what our Lord intended than Luther or Calvin?

If the Real Presence is true, then I cannot keep myself from the Catholic Church.

What am I to do with this Sacrament?

Chapter 2: An Encounter

I walk through the woods. A brown-headed nuthatch appears, hopping from branch to branch, chasing after her bridegroom. They chirrup smart sensuous songs to one another. A stream, clean and new and cold, runs through birches and white pines. I step over the low, broken stone wall that marks the far edge of my property. Ivy runs over it and a variety of mosses huddle together in community. I am crossing into another's woods. Whose, I do not know. The woods are not wholly lovely. There are dead trees and rotting trunks, just as on my property. Here an old oak, once a prince of the forest, lies split asunder. It rots. There are also denser spots that are dark and leave me feeling rather uncomfortable, making me look nervously over my shoulder.

The Church is sensory. It fills my five senses until I know somehow the spiritual. Pictures and smells and symbols, water and bread and wine - the invisible becomes incarnate. And I find myself remembering Jesus. The Church calendar takes me through the birth and life of my Lord. It participates in his passion. It mourns his death and celebrates his resurrection. It adores him in a world that forgets him. Many churches are letting go of the Church calendar, claiming that every day is new in the newness of Christ (which, of course, is true). But I wonder if, in removing the celebration, we have removed the reason for the celebration. We make ourselves a dead and empty marriage without memorial, devoid of intimacy or anniversary, reft of romance.

As I continue, I come into a clearing. And before me is a garden, perfectly kept and newly in bloom. Rose bushes are red-and-green alive, though still without rose. Forsythia shine. Dogwoods unwrap themselves in an ever-widening circle, white and pink, and spread gloriously into the forest beyond - ethereal beauty floating between heaven and earth. Sounds catch my ears and draw my eyes. They are gardening sounds: pruners pruning away dead branches and shovels shoveling soft, good earth. The gardener wears white, somehow kept clean. I greet him, and he I.

"I was walking through these woods," I say, "but I do not know whose they are."

"They are the King's," he answers.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Chapter 1: A Walk

Wooded acres stretch out from the back of my house, seemingly endless woods. They begin rather abruptly at the crest of the hill that rises up from the quiet pond; they have always been present, mysterious, wanting exploration, and quietly beckoning. I've heard godly people tell stories about the woods, horrific stories: It has lapped up the blood of the martyrs; within it there is worship given to strange gods and goddesses. But I wonder at them, for there are also those whom I've heard, other godly men and women, tell such beautiful stories about it - of celebration, of fullness, of seeing their Lord.

As a Protestant, one of the first things that one notices about Catholicism is its otherness. It is, in many ways, wholly different than Protestantism.

I was in the Catholic church until I was about ten. Baptized into the Church, old enough to take First Communion, but not yet old enough for Confirmation. So when I think about the Church, much is familiar and much is foreign.

As I draw nearer, I discover that the forest is carpeted in yellow daffodils and shades of mossy emerald - it is that time of year. A time when all things are being made new. The air is incensed with honeysuckle.

Protestantism did not spring up out of a vacuum. Christ did not come down from Heaven and establish the Church in the sixteenth century or bring her a new rigidity in the twentieth century, but most of the time we believe that it is so, we act as if it is so. "Ah," we say, "after 1500 years we have reclaimed the true church - we are like that first-century church." We pretend that, immediately following the death of the Apostles (John, A.D. 100), the entire Church began to go off the rails and that by the fifth century, institutionalized and now the state religion, she no longer even resembled what Christ had called her to be, made her to be.

I read about her early councils and find the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the hypostatic union of Christ, the canon of the Scriptures - our heritage, our life, the very substance of who we are, the very hope of who we will be, the very charity of Christ.

She is not perfect. But then did anyone ever think she would be? "Of course not," I hear, "but that imperfect?"

The Church has had truly miserable moments in her history as well as truly glorious ones. She has been both adulterous and faithful, murderer and Mother. Sometimes more miserable than glorious. But as I rise to condemn her, I realize that I am she.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.