Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Denethor and Do-Overs

Remember the scene in The Return of the King where Denethor sends Faramir off to his death while eating his roasted chicken and cherry tomatoes? I feel like Denethor sometimes.

I warmed up some KFC for lunch today. And I achieved that heavy-browed, John-Noble stare and that ill-mannered chewing, and of course I couldn't avoid the greasy fingers. I was only missing the great fur cape, the cherry tomatoes, and a small tenor hobbit. (A couple of baritones were lying around, but what good are they?!)

And while it was all play today - Avery and Will laughing and telling me I wasn't using my manners - as I sat there play-acting, the clothes seemed a little too comfortable, too familiar.

And I think of how we are murdering our children with impatience and anger and harshness, how we muddy these pure springs with our busyness and inaccessibility.

What I wouldn't give some days for a do-over.

Mary Jane in the News

GW Pharmaceuticals is at it again - those crazy scientists. It's a wonder they get anything done.

The word on the street is that they've gained ten pounds since the inception of the study.

To Be 18 Again ...

Grapeseed oil? Ingenious.


Does anyone else get these crazy automated phone calls: "Please return this call at [toll-free number]." Excuse me? Like I'm going to call someone who gives me no more information than that. Pleeease. I may be desperate for post-preschool, semi-intellectual, human contact and all, but I'm not that desperate.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Bible, the Whole Bible, and Nothing but the Bible

I am trying to post new quotes for my "Meditation" and "On Writing" sections of my sidebar each Sunday. I will also begin blogging about the meditation at the end of the week. For this past week's meditation, I'm writing down some thoughts today. In the future, I'll try to get it done on Saturday.

My meditation this past week was from St Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea. He wrote:

“Of the dogmas and kerygmas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kerygma to a mere term.”

The quote describes a reason for my Catholicism. Most of my family and friends embrace the idea of sola scriptura, and I'm fine with that. I understand it. I simply cannot believe it anymore. I know that slides me into the category of apostasy for some, but while that grieves me, it is no longer my concern. I can only bring my brothers and sisters and my relationships with them to Christ in prayer.

So let me offer a brief overview of why I can no longer accept this sola.

First, and ultimately, it comes down to authority. If I say Scripture Alone, what does that mean? I can enter ten different sola scriptura churches and hear utterly different interpretations of what the scriptures are saying about divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and salvation itself. Which interpretation is valid? Are all of them valid? Any of them?

Every denominational construct forms a different interpretation of the scriptures. In some cases, every pastor. More specifically, every man or woman becomes his or her own pope/magisterium, deciding what the scriptures mean. Why is my interpretation or argument more weighty than someone who says they believe that abortion is permissible? Or homosexual activity? Or their beliefs about the atonement? Or the scriptures themselves?

Some people think those issues are cut and dry issues in evangelical Protestantism. But of course, they are not. They are not even so among the members of the Catholic Church - even though the Church herself defines its position on the issues quite clearly.

I have been involved in countless conversations about morality where it came down to a person's "interpretation." These conversations concern issues about which I grew up believing were the "clear teaching" of the scriptures. But I've found that the scriptures are simply not that clear about certain things. I've spoken with some who believe that the culture that produced the text about a certain morality is not relevant to our activity and our culture. And some of these protestations are points well-taken. (For instance, how many women cover their heads as they worship today?) The scriptures are not a handbook of propositions, or an exercise in systematic theology: You shall believe thusly about this, and suchly about that. It is a narrative - a narrative that certainly cradles propositions, but a narrative nonetheless.

So no more: I submit my private interpretation to the interpretation of the Church - what the Church has believed always, everywhere.

Some of my decision to embrace the Catholic Church, honestly, came out of my search for authority in an age when there simply is none.

(And let me say here what ought to be unnecessary: I love the scriptures and value them as having the authority of God. When I hear them read, or read them myself, it is as if Christ himself were speaking to me. And so He does.)

Second, it is important to discover what the scriptures themselves say about tradition and scripture. What does St Paul call the foundation and pillar of truth? It is not the scriptures, but the Church herself (1 Timothy 3.15).

St Paul also says that we must cling to what we have learned from the apostles - whether by letter or by word of mouth (2 Timothy 2.2; 2 Thessalonians 2.15).

Jesus also told his disciples "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me" (Luke 10.16).

The Church is our living teacher. And her teaching has not added to or changed or taken away from what was given by our Lord or the apostles. We come to understand those dogmas and doctrines more clearly, but they cannot change.

The apostolic tradition has been handed down and entrusted to the Church. Therefore, we believe and follow this tradition as we would the written tradition. For instance, St Ignatius, a disciple of St John the Evangelist, around A.D. 110 speaks about the sacramental, real presence of Christ in the Eucharist - that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ. How can we deny what the Church has held fast to since her inception, since Christ formed her? It is, therefore, necessary that Christians believe in and follow the holy tradition of the Church - whether by letter or by word of mouth. The leaders of the Church, with Christ, form the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2.20; 3.5). And, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has not apostasized (Matthew 16.18; John 14.25-26, 16.13). For her to do so would be to make Christ a liar.

Third, it was the Church who gave us the scriptures. Led by the Holy Spirit, she decided which books would be a part of the canon within the Councils of Rome and Hippo at the end of the fourth century. That canon remained the same for the next 1100 years until Martin Luther removed several books from the Old Testament canon (what most Protestants call the Apocrypha), at his discretion and by his authority alone. It must be noted that the LXX, the Septuagint, which was used by Greek-speaking Jews in Jesus' day, contained the very books that Luther threw out.

That is simply the history of the canon of Scripture. If we deny the Church's authority to do so, as Luther did, then we must, each of us, decide for ourselves the canon by our own authority.

O, lengthy harangue, wilst thou never end?

I end here, re-quoting St Basil the Great who said, "Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kerygma to a mere term."

As always, conversation is welcome.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Cult of Jesus and Me

When I became Catholic, the Trinity surprised me. It is not that I didn't believe or affirm the Trinity in my life as a Protestant - I most certainly did. I would have died for it. But the Trinity was often eclipsed by the person of Jesus.

As a Catholic, however, the Trinity is a towering reality - He forms our prayers and calls us to community. Our faith is grounded in God as Trinity (the creeds are organized to reflect this reality). Now, I love reading and listening to the wealth of what is written and spoken about in Orthodoxy. (Though my personal experience is that Catholics like Orthodoxy a whole lot more than the Orthodox like Catholicism.) And most of the time, I agree with the Orthodox position - not counter to my Catholicism, but in support of it.

(All that is good and beautiful and holy in Protestantism and Orthodoxy, belongs to Catholicism. I only make that statement to describe what I have discovered, not to offend or condemn. It is also why Catholics refer to the Catholic Christian faith as the fullness of faith. It is not a lowest-common-denominator kind of faith, as in What do I have to believe? Rather, it is all about the fullness of sharing in the life of the Trinity. It is truly catholic. Likewise, it is truly orthodox and truly evangelical.)

To get back to my story, I was listening to an Orthodox podcast, Our Life in Christ,this morning about the dogmas of the Church, specifically, the dogma of the Trinity.

The hosts of the show, Bill Gould and Steve Robinson, asked a question that got my brain cranking. The question ran something along the lines of, If we took the doctrine of the Trinity out of our churches, would it change anything? Does the Trinity have any bearing on how we live our lives and how we worship?

We are created in the image of God. And that image, the image of the Trinity, is not of absolute autonomy, but of absolute community/fellowship. "It is," after all, "not good for man to be alone."

During the podcast, the hosts shared a quote that I would like to share with you. The quote is from an article by Clark Carlton about his journey from the Southern Baptist denomination to the Eastern Orthodox church. Carlton has struggled through this idea of community and autonomy and says the following:

I discovered, however, that sin is not the mere breaking of a rule, but is nothing less than the denial of love and, therefore, of life itself. When I discovered the Trinity, I also discovered the true nature of man, for man was created in the image of this God of Triune love. Man was created precisely as a personal being, one who is truly human only when he loves and is loved. Sin "missing the mark" is not a moral shortcoming or a failure to live up to some external code of behavior, but rather the failure to realize life as love and communion. As Christos Yannaras puts it, "The fall arises out of man's free decision to reject personal communion with God and restrict himself to the autonomy and self-sufficiency of his own nature." In other words, sin is the free choice of individual autonomy. Irony of ironies: that which I had been touting all of these years as the basis of true religion the absolute autonomy of the individual turned out to be the Original Sin!

The other day, as I was going through my oldest daughter's Faith Formation (CCD for you Catholic Yanks) homework, I ran across a fill-in-the-blank worksheet. Under each blank was a number that corresponded to a letter in a Key on the page. On this worksheet were two telling questions. One was "Jesus is our _ _ _ _ _ _" with SAVIOR being the word that filled the six blanks. Another was "Jesus loves _ _." The depth of the worksheet struck me when Sophie and I found the corresponding letters that went with the two blanks of the second question. The word that completed that phrase was US and not ME.

Now, does Jesus love me? Is he my savior? Absolutely. But in the context of the larger community. The idea of community is an essential ecclesial truth that evangelical Protestantism has largely ignored (and even condemned) in its grasping for autonomy. When I say, "Jesus loves us," it broadens my world. It creates an opening for me to love my neighbor. The same is true for the Lord's Prayer. It is "Our Father ... Give us this day our daily bread / And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. / Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We do harm to our understanding of the prayer and the strength of the prayer when we individualize it.

In Protestantism, there is an increasing awareness of community. I hope it continues to grow in that direction as Protestants understand themselves as part of the communion of saints and in communion with God. It is an understanding that grows directly out of our personhood, created in the likeness of a triune God.

Quoting Chesterton

"Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded."

- G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Non Compos Mentis

The treasures of the heart are odd, funny-looking things. For instance, my stay-at-home children broke out into several fights and fits concerning my son's two Superman toothbrushes today.

I certainly have no bones to pick with the Man of Steel. Unlike many nerdy comic-book aficionados who think he's too perfect to identify with, I appreciate Kal-El's unwavering goodness and strength. But they're toothbrushes. We're not talking about their blankeys, their favorite toys, or - let's say - the Crown Jewels.


I know it sounds as if I'm bashing the kids again - and of course I am - but I imagined the soundtrack of my life sounding more like Top Gun's than Barney's. At times, it's enough to make me a bit batty.

In all fairness, I can be quirkily particular myself:

  • I love my metal Staedtler pencil sharpeners and erasers. I am usually carrying one of each in my right pocket.

  • Books are people too.

  • Writing instruments are sweet. Think of the staggering promise of a wooden No. 2 pencil.

  • My pencil box is my pencil box - get your kindergarten, pie-grabbing hands off of it. (Yes, I have a pencil box. Though I haven't been able to find it in a fortnight. Back off, man, I'm a writer.)

  • When I have cash, it belongs - ordered from larger to smaller bills - face-up in my wallet.

  • I'm a sucker for cool high-tech gadgets. And all high-tech gadgets are cool.

  • I'm a sucker for what others tell me is cool. (It's like calling James Dean a chicken, only different.)

  • Just let me hold the remote. It pacifies me.

  • Give me Jif or give me death.

(For the unabridged list, see my wife.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

La Tyrannie de Jour

Moleskine (mol-a-SKEEN-a)

"It's a notebook for Pete's sake!" he said, laying down a Hamilton and some change.

Today, Two Prayers

Yesterday, many Christians remembered with contrition the decision reached in the case of Roe v. Wade. Our country has perpetrated a great evil in the last 34 years. And we, like Daniel, are in some sense complicit in the sin of our country. We pray for the mercy of God.

It is imperative that we continue to work for a right respect for life - from conception to natural death. It is imperative that we continue to pray about this issue and the lives being wounded and destroyed by it. It is imperative that we love and pray for those who commit or encourage this evil. Many act in ignorance. But regardless of their understanding of what they do, we must love and pray for them.

Our consciences can be poor guides if they are not formed rightly. For those of us who are Catholic, that means conforming our lives to the teaching of the Church on these moral issues. We do not have the authority to make contrary decisions, any more than, after receiving the Decalogue, the Israelites had the choice whether to commit adultery or covet their neighbors' possessions or murder. That is not to say we are not free to choose otherwise. But it remains sin and breaks our relationship with Christ and His body, the Church.

And, remember, for all of us who sin - the Church longs for us to turn to Christ in repentance. We are all in need of the mercy of God. And, thanks be to God, God cleanses us from all our sin and provides for us pardon and peace.

Build us together in Christ,
Make us your dwelling place.

This week is a time set aside by the Catholic Church to specifically pray for Christian unity.

Unity is an issue that weighs heavily on my heart. Not that I am discouraged by the prospect of Christian unity, but rather that it is painful to live in the division between brothers and sisters. (And I offer up that pain as an oblation to God.) We are one body. Indeed, we are Christ's body. We are Christ.

Is Christ divided?

+ God, through your coming to us in Jesus and through using fallible people, you have shown yourself to be a vulnerable God; we thank you that you still trust us to offer service and work for the building of your kingdom. Keep us alert to your will and purpose and open our eyes that we may see the true needs of people around us. Enable us in humility to learn from one another, that we may be united in our mutual accountability and devoted in service for your kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, 2005

Monday, January 22, 2007


I love my Firefox browser. I do. And the cool thing about it is that you don't need a Mac - though Macs do make all things more beautiful - in order to access the quiet elegance and ease of Mozilla Firefox. (Did I mention it's better than the browser you're using?)

Why am I gushing about a browser I've had for months and months? Well, I just added a few extensions that make my browsing experience even more pleasurable: FoxyTunes, which places the controls for iTunes (or whatever your media player) on the bottom of your browser window; Clipmarks, which lets you grab quick clips from Web pages and save them publicly or privately for later reference - and it automatically remembers the source; and the Answer extension, which gives you, well, answers - definitions and explanations for words for which you need definitions and explanations. All part of your browser.

That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how Firefox extensions allow me to personalize my browser and browsing experience. I also use coComment, Sage, and Scrapbook with great regularity. These extensions I use specifically for tracking blogs and comments as well as monthly archiving my own blog on my hard drive.

So I'm a nerd. But that's OK because I've got Firefox.

Embrace your nerddom. If you use Firefox, what cool extensions do you use?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Malcolm Muggeridge: On Being Catholic

I saw this blurb over at Pontifications.

"Rome, sweet Rome, be you never so sinful, there's no place like Rome." So, mockingly, wrote the wisest man I ever knew, Malcolm Muggeridge. A few years later, at the age of 80, Muggeridge knelt before an altar and was received into the Catholic Church. When I asked him why, he said: "The day will come, dear boy, when you must decide whether to die within the Church or outside the Church. I have decided to die within the Church." A few years later, he did. And so may I, I pray, when the silence of eternity beckons.

- Ian Hunter

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Belief Is

Belief is a mass of complexity and mystery. I throw rocks at the papery gray dome to simply hear it speak, to see if it will react. I prepare myself for flight. But it is silent. It's word already delivered, once and for all, to the saints. The swarming silence of belief still requiring belief. What is the alternative? It compels me further into Christ and that is enough.

Belief is hanging on with teeth and nails. It is being graced with enough stubborn energy to dig in for the long haul, whatever the price. It is hope.

And it is love that generates and sustains belief. And in my saner moments, in the haze of my lucidity, I walk around the house fingering a knotted woolen cord, muttering "Kyrie, eleison" in triplicate.

The Bestest and Strongest Daddy Ever

"Dear Daddy you are The nisdis and the sDrooGis Daddy iN The holl wid world"

Ah! The world never felt so mapped-out, so conquerable.

Friday, January 19, 2007

As It Is the Way of the South

More often than not, when it snows here, it doesn't last the afternoon. And so most of the snow had turned to pebbly ice by yesterday afternoon, and it is completely melted today. The boy is running around outside in a shirt and his diaper. His coat and gloves and boots are forgotten in the sun and relative warmth of North Carolina in January. Here and there you may find reminders of yesterday, but it is almost as if "Winter Storm 2007" did not happen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Believe it or not, snow is on the ground here in North Carolina.

I made the family stay home (he says to Berkhimer, flexing his big, complementarian muscles), after checking with my wife. I actually tried driving them into school, since most of the schools didn't close or delay - even though we are supposed to get snow and ice all day; ten miles into it, I called it off. We were slipping on the road. And I'm uncomfortable driving with other drivers in those conditions - especially with two children unbuckled in the back of the Jeep and a 45-minute trip ahead of us. I saw a couple cars slide off the road. And on the way back, a school bus had been rear-ended by a car as the bus was about to turn into the school (though it's not been reported on the news - not sure if it will be). I also heard there was a head-on collision between a bus and a private vehicle nearer my wife and children's school.

Snow in the South is a different animal than snow in the North. And while I used to think they were pansies down here, I am now convinced that it ought to be treated differently here. Not only are the drivers here unaccustomed to driving on slick roads (they drive too close and too fast, they don't know what to do when they begin sliding, etc.), but the DOT is unprepared for the rare wintery day. Yes, they get their brine and salt trucks out there, but they simply don't have the equipment and personnel to cover the area as those of you who live in the North do.

So I got a bit upset this morning when I woke up and saw the snow on our road and then heard that none of the county schools were closing. I got a bit upset when I heard the local weather saying (at the time) that everything was hunky-dory. I got a bit upset that the meterologists are now looking a little chagrined as there has been a 10-car pile up on one of the major highways. (Upset, because they have no right to say what the weather will or will not do when it comes to wintery weather - they should qualify their comments and remind parents that their children are their responsibility. Granted, parents should also have the wherewithal to say No to schools and employers.) Furthermore, I got upset because my children have not seen snow in two or three years in North Carolina. Give the kids a snow day and let them enjoy it - let snow be more about magic and wonder than disappointment. Let them play.

Let them eat cake.

Other than that, I'm happy as a clam. I'm enjoying the snow, the hot cocoa, and my family.

(An update: The city schools between our house and my wife's school have closed. And there is talk that her school may be releasing at noon after the state exams are over - the real reason, perhaps, they didn't cancel school.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Anna

Anna is six.

It seems as if I was just writing about her turning five. But apparently another year has passed.

I will never get used to my children growing up. It is so frightening and so beautiful.

These children make me want to be better than I am.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Communion of the Saints

I am tired of talking theology.

I speak with people who come from different traditions than my own faith tradition and it always seems as if there is no bridge where there ought to be bridges. It seems that many of us who love theology are more concerned with being right than righteous. And I am one of them (though less astute than most), making others feel as if they and their beliefs are somehow wanting.

I don't mean to. And I apologize for doing so. I try to walk the road of "Here is what engages and delights me about Catholicism" and I end up sliding a dusty toe onto the shoulder of "I know better than you."

It is not right.

I believe great things about Orthodoxy and Protestantism. I have been blessed by Protestantism, more than you can imagine. Since becoming Catholic, the Orthodox church has done little other than instruct me. But, Ah! I am Catholic.

Perhaps in conversion there is a natural tendency to be more critical of your former place than is reasonable. I don't know. But I do know that I have to wrestle with my pride as a Catholic as much as I did as a Protestant. I know that I still desperately need God's mercy. I know I am still desperate for Him.

And to those of you who will listen: Whatever the price of unity, I am willing to pay it.

So I get out of bed tonight because my soul is uneasy. I lay down a few words in search of rest: (1) Silence is almost always wiser than speaking. (2) The only apologetic is love.

Does God Ordain Evil?

"I think it's very wise for us ... to realize [that] God doesn't allow stuff, God orders stuff."

"[He] ordains hard things to happen in our lives."

"But no, it's not that He allows it. He ordains it."
- Podcasted sermon from my former church, January 14

Does God ordain evil?

I was listening to the podcast of Sunday's sermon at my old church and my former pastor said that God ordains evil. That God does not simply allow it, but that he ordains it - in order to shape our character.

God gives me cancer in order to shape me into His likeness? God kills my child in order to shape me into His likeness? God throws millions into concentration camps in order to shape them to His likeness? God slaughters parents in front of their children and children in front of their parents in order to shape them into His likeness?

Doesn't this position ascribe evil to God? Perhaps my pastor misspoke himself, which clearly can happen from the pulpit. But can I not choose to love God or turn from Him? If I cannot choose God (certainly our choosing God follows His grace toward us), or not choose God for that matter, then freedom is an illusion, the reality of which the grace of the cross fails to return to us.

Certainly our character is shaped by the evil we suffer, but that shows God's redemptive power within a broken creation, rather than that God has chosen to act with evil toward me in order to shape me.

This idea, for me, brings up the question of whether we cooperate with God in our salvation. And doesn't our cooperation with God simply make sense in the light of our daily lives (and, again, we cannot cooperate without first receiving His grace - it is all dependent upon His grace first)?

You can serve God. You can be rewarded for your service to God. You will be dressed in white robes that are your righteous deeds. Did you do those things purely by your own strength or innovation or force of will? Of course not. God gave you grace. But you have a choice in how you respond to His grace. His grace allows that choice.


Do you ever have days where you are just feeling ornery for no particular reason? I'm on Day 2. I need to take a break and find a closet, but it's difficult with these four thorns in my side. Perhaps the bathroom will afford some privacy today.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Anticipating Tomorrow

I love this Saturday night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours:

+ "Come to us, Lord, this night, and give us the strength to rise at dawn rejoicing in the resurrection of your Anointed, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen." +

War Photographer

Last night I watched a sobering documentary on the life and work of James Nachtwey. I'm still processing it, but it had the kind of effect that Hotel Rwanda had in me. I may write about it more later.

The Cussing Child and Parent

Blog-14 - for Language. You know who you are - stay away.

Avery crawled into the back of the Jeep as we were about to leave for the grocery store.

"Avery, you're going to have to get in a seat," said Laura.

"Dammit," she sighed.

. . . . .

Who the hell did she pick up that kind of language from?

I suppose I could blame it on the preschool kids. Only I'm her preschool, and she and her brother are the kids. "Maybe the neighborhood kids?" Uh, again, the only neighborhood kids are her sisters and brother. And I haven't heard Elmo swearing lately (though I wouldn't put it past the little bastard).

I suppose that leaves her mother.

. . . . .

I grew up in a culture where swearing was ... well, if you swore it was likely that you were going to hell. It wasn't a definite thing, mind you, your being hellbound, but it was a likely thing.

And now, at 36, I find myself not having too many problems with cussing. I enjoy language - even that kind of language. I find it refreshingly straightforward, and satisfyingly appropriate at times. Even literary, to be snobbish about it.

I do have some qualifications, though. And the following is where I draw my lines: (1) I cringe when someone misuses our Lord's name. (2) Coarse joking and language have no place in my life. I don't want to be around it. That does not mean that talking about some poor shmuck getting kicked in the balls isn't hilarious - because it is (even when that poor shmuck happens to be me, given enough time between the incident and the retelling). There's nothing funnier to a man than seeing another man getting dropped like a sack of potatoes - thus the popularity of America's Funniest Videos. But I'd rather people not talk about it in front of my daughters. What I mean by coarse is really lewd or sexual humor - humor that objectifies and degrades. Humor that objectifies and degrades is inappropriate even when it isn't lewd (Racial jokes told by prejudiced people, for instance). I don't like it. (3) There is a time and place for swearing. That place is not normally at work or school. That place is not in front of those who find it offensive. And that place is not in front of children.

Otherwise, it's hella fun.

Yes, I swear sometimes. And, apparently, I swear sometimes in front of the children.

I need to better discipline my tongue.


Friday, January 12, 2007

A List

  • Deadlines make me as ornery as an old bear.

  • Meeting a deadline is sweet.

  • I don't give a fig what anyone says, tomatoes are no fruit.

  • Likewise, a bug is a bug is a bug. Beetles? Please. Arachnids? Pshaw!

  • Hearing the baby's heartbeat through the tight drum of my wife's belly is what hope sounds like.

  • Thomas the Tank Engine rocks!

  • 24 begins Sunday night. And so endeth the People's Republic of China.

  • Regardless of what my son will be named, the show 24 played no role in the decision-making process.

  • Canker sores bite.

  • Granholm and Pelosi - two more reasons to be Catholic.

    • Sarcasm is a bad habit. Pray for me.

  • The movie recommendations Netflix shows me make me think they think I'm 65.

  • Eñes - one more reason to buy a Mac.

  • Sleeping children is what peace looks like.

  • The polls are in and it appears I could use a few months of St Catherine of Siena's ... austerity.

  • I once streaked in college. And it's true, I was the fastest thing on two feet.

  • My streaking story is far more tame than it sounds. It's more that I ran outside in a semi-naked state. I was wearing a short coat and a pair of shoes. And it was dark.

  • In defense of my coat and shoes, the winter winds in Indiana blow bitter-cold across barren corn fields.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I See London

The yellow-haired child likes freedom - not quite the freedom of the Garden, but it's close. It's hard to keep clothes on her.

The boy and girl run around outside sometimes in skivvies and diapers - sometimes even while little frosty clouds form from the moist warmth of their breath. So I corral them inside and persuade them that perhaps a shirt would be appropriate. And they allow it - given the right kind and amount of persuasion. Perhaps if it were colder here. But even when they deign to wear clothes, it is temporary; and the girl, when she wears them, changes them frequently. Perhaps if she had less from which to choose.

In public, of course, it is easier to convince her of the propriety of clothes-wearing: I simply tell her that everyone will laugh at her if she goes out in only her underpants. The fear of universal mockery always seems to work in a pinch. And, at the same time, I am building a strong sense of confidence in her. It's virtually a win-win.

"You're the parent. Just put clothes on them for goodness' sake."

Well, yes, I could. But that would be one more thing for me to do, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Up Series

I don't know what to write about this fascinating, longitudinal documentary of 12 children born in 1956. It is called the The Up Series. It first shows them at seven, and then revisits them every seven years. They will be 51 this year - the last installment is 49 Up. I finished the series four or five days ago, and honestly, I'm a mixed bag of emotions about it. I find myself thinking about these people, currently living in the UK, whom I have never met, as if we are old friends or distant relations. It is my story in many ways. I imagine it is yours as well.

Dan suggested the series, and I told him I'd let him know when I finish.

Jackie (I fell in love with 7-year-old Jackie, who reminds me of the yellow-haired child), Bruce, and Neil particularly fascinate me. I see myself, my family, and friends in them. I don't know what to say, honestly. It's a very moving series. Perhaps it's ridiculous, but I find myself praying for these people occasionally.

Again, more proof that I need to get out more. I'm my own kind of mad, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Early Fathers on Almsgiving

"The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit."
- St. Basil the Great

"There is your brother, naked and crying! And you stand confused over choice of floor covering."
- St. Gregory of Nyssa

A Possibly Convenient Truth

It's been another warm winter down here in North Carolina. I don't think we've seen snow in a couple of years. Global Warming? Looks like it. Our fault? That question - whether we have had, are having, or could have any effect on the change in climate - seems to be up in the air. But better safe than sorry, I would imagine.

I mean, imagine losing half of Florida and then discovering that my SUV and lawn mower had played their parts. I suppose I'd feel kind of guilty about that. Granted, nothing a pint of Ben and Jerry's and a Disney movie (L'chaim! Mickey) couldn't cure, but there'd be some remorse. I'm sure there would be.

Regardless, it seems to be the next big thing. Does that mean the end of the world? Hardly. First, if the waters were to rise twenty feet or so, would that make my property beachfront? Probably not, but maybe I could think about investing in property where it would. A little research could equal a lot of money for the grandchildren. Second, the warming climate would seem to lessen my reliance on oil, pushes back my need to buy a solar-powered vehicle, gives battery scientists a few more years to get their asses in gear, and what have you.

I'm sure there are other pluses as well, but I've got to get back to work on my cartography degree.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Question of Unity and the Emerging Conversation

I was attracted to the "emerging conversation" before becoming Catholic because it was, as far as I could see, a way toward unity - among other things - especially those on the conservative side of the broad spectrum known as "emerging." But I have begun to wonder whether unity is a goal of those who consider themselves emerging Christians - and how large of a goal it is.

I would like my own conversation: A push toward the ordination of women and toward a flattening (or elimination altogether) of authority structures within churches is antithetical to unity. Now perhaps you may unite some Protestant denominations. But in the meantime, the majority of the church will be shoved aside by you - the Catholic and the Orthodox traditions.

At the end of the day, regardless of how much the emerging conversation gets "right," it will get unity wrong. It will continue to foster denominational splintering.

Perhaps it sounds as if I am saying your only viable road is Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Trust me, it is not what I am intending to say - though that will and ought to be the road for some. What I am intending to say is that to advocate for these kinds of issues - issues that will not change in the Catholic Church - then you advocate against future unity. Advocating for women priests is a forked road, not a merging one.

(I would like to pause for a moment and remind everyone that I can be a priest in the Catholic Church no more than a woman can be. Though it seems like it to some, these issues are not about power or control, but about truth.)

I know many who consider themselves "emerging." It is not my desire to say, "It's my way or the highway." It is not about my way at all. But I want to remind my brothers and sisters that the law of believers is love. And unity is a fruit of love. However, once a group attempts to restructure, rethink in such a way as to deconstruct what the Church has always taught, then it ceases to strive for unity and begins walking down the path of heterodoxy. (And this same spirit is found within those who call themselves Orthodox and Catholic.)

So I would implore you not to do so. Just as I would implore you not to procure abortions for your pregnant teenagers or bless domineering men or celebrate lust.

Perhaps this post will seem overly abrasive. If it is, it is only because this group of men and women remain my family, in many respects, and seem to me to be a beacon of hope in Protestant Christianity. I think of you the same way still. Your concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the lost is praiseworthy. But if you wish to change things, consider fully what it is you are attempting to change - and please do not burn any bridges. And forgive me my bluntness.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

From the Front Line: Toys from Hell

Last night, coming to bed after midnight, I entered the bedroom as quietly as possible so as not to disturb my wife. Just as I was about to lie down, I stepped on Koda, Brother Bear Talking Bear Cub, who yelled out: "RAW-AWR! Scared ya, didn't I!"

After catching my breath, I began giggling uncontrollably.

Friday, January 05, 2007

In All Things, Sex

It's late - I'm tired and have a headache - but I wanted to throw together a few thoughts on the issue of sexuality tonight. I apologize for the sloppiness of the post/my thinking. Also, there are issues here that are of a rather sensitive and possibly offensive nature.

The ongoing sexual obsession of our society is disturbing. We see sex everywhere. And it has become who we are and how we think - so that a first grader who kisses a girl is suspended from school for sexual harassment. We do not understand innocence.

"With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
with the pure you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you show yourself perverse."

And Christians are no exception. We see this evidencing itself in our beliefs about sexuality. And our beliefs, or lack of beliefs, about sex are shaped by the silence of many of our churches on such issues as pornography and abortion, and an even greater silence concerning contraception and masturbation.

Our obsession is evidenced in our marital unfaithfulness and our pastoral sexual abuse.

Our obsession is evidenced in our immodesty and in our coarse humor - the very patterns of our thoughts relentlessly turn toward sex. And we begin to be unable to think of our thinking as possibly dysfunctional.

For example, in conversations about the ever-virginity of Mary, the idea of a man being married and also being chaste is, for some, inconceivable. Understand that I am not arguing here for Mary's perpetual virginity - but to be unable to even see chastity as a possibility is surely, at the very least, lamentable. (Mary's ever-virginity is not exclusive to Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The Reformers also believed in Mary's ever-virginity. So the rejection of Mary's ever-virginity is not simply a Protestant phenomena, at least not at Protestantism's own conception.)

Homosexuality and abortion are big issues in Christianity. Yet even these issues are, in some corners of Christianity, post-issues. I hear people making less of them. So it is no surprise that we do not talk much about more private issues, such as contraception and masturbation.

But it shocks me that 80 years ago, all traditions within Christianity opposed contraception. And tonight, on Nightline, the broadcasters seemed surprised to hear of a Christian group (the Quiverfull Movement) that was against contraception - as if this belief were a new thing, and extreme.

Nowadays, of course, most Christians do not think twice about contraception. That, in itself, is troubling. It is not even so much that Christians use contraception, though I believe contraception is wrong, but that we do not even ask questions about the dangers (the chemical regulation, shortening, or elimination of a woman's period) or morality of contraception - that it has become quite normal for us. Taking a pill or having a vasectomy is just what we do.

Finally, masturbation. I attended an evangelical Protestant college - perhaps fundamentalist, certainly dispensational. In my first year, students were not permitted to see movies. In my third year, as part of a Christian living class I took for my Bible minor, we discussed masturbation. The professor thought it possible to masturbate without sin, without sexual fantasy (or improper sexual fantasy) - that, perhaps even, Jesus masturbated.

Shocking as that may be, my point is this: The lecture was the only time I can recall hearing a discussion about the morality of masturbation. And outside of discussions about lust, I certainly was never taught that masturbation itself was disordered. In fact, we simply did not talk about it.

Ultimately, I suppose, I'm disheartened by our willingness (and even desire) to live broken lives. Our churches cannot afford to be shy about sexuality. Silence breeds acceptance. And impurity is still not the road to holiness.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On Fatherhood

We walked downtown to the mom-and-pop grocery today (our town population is about 1,500). Anna and Will rode in the Step2 wagon, Sophie helped me pull the wagon, and the yellow-haired child was our intrepid leader. She stopped us at all the intersections, both sides, and kept us from even the suggestion of a motorized vehicle.

I recently read a quote from Lynn Hybels that said Nice girls don't change the world. This one's changing things. I pray daily, fervently, that it will be for the better.

Our little gang walked into the grocery, looking like trouble. Will carried the basket and began loading it. I emptied it behind him. He chose, among other things, pink Sno Balls. Now, I despise Sno Balls - white or pink. It's a coconut thing. And I also hate them because they're disgusting. They're just something that should have never been. But I let him buy them anyway - sometimes you have to let kids make their own mistakes.

As we left, Will wanted one. I opened the package and handed him a Barbiesque teacake. He dove right in, ignoring his sisters' Yucks and Icks and Dat's Iscusstings. A third of the way in, he offered it to me. I took a bite to confirm that I still despised the spongy little poison and then offered it to Avery. The yellow-haired child, nibbled on it and quickly handed it back. I tossed it into the ditch. I have no scruples about littering with food - it keeps the wildlife at bay.

When we got home, I put the second Sno Ball on the counter, thinking perhaps my wife enjoyed them (she doesn't, for the record). After talking to Laura, I threw it in the trash.

And that's when the Raccoon wanted it. Naturally. So I told him to get it.

He couldn't reach it, so I bent down, reaching past the empty Campbell's cans and pulled out the pink Sno Ball. As he reached for it, I said, "Wait, Will, until I pick off the SpaghettiOs."

And that, my friends, is the fundamental difference between a stay-at-home dad and a stay-at-home mom.

Once More into the Breach

Laura goes back to work in the morning, without the girls. The girls go back Wednesday. That means tomorrow (today?) is all about me and Legion. I'd love to take them to a movie, only I don't have a vehicle that runs. And I have a two-year-old. And I'd rather not be banned from the theater.

The park would be nice too, of course. I may be able to swing the park. If we had a van that worked.

Speaking of which, this vehicle situation is getting old - I probably just need to fix the gasket on my sweet mini. Ack! I just can't get the image out of my head of my money looping the bowl three times before disappearing into the toilet. I've thought of just doing without the mack-daddy mobile, but six, soon to be seven, people in a Jeep just seems, well, nuts. They stack nicely in the back and all, but still.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's, Shmew Year's

Ah! Another year, another yen.

I haven't thought much about resolutions this year, though I have plenty to make. Yesterday, however, I was thinking about my writing and how I want to become more disciplined, more serious about it. I know a general resolution won't do the trick, so I'm putting together a schedule.

N.T. Wright

Tom Wright is going to be lecturing on Space, Time and the Sacraments at Calvin College this Saturday. Agh! I wish I could be there. It's $35, which is a little expensive (though it includes lunch - probably a nice college cafeteria lunch at that - Smokin'!), but I'm sure the lecture would be well worth the price.

If you live in the area (and I know some of you do) and you have the time and the cash, check him out. He's a brilliant theologian.