Monday, May 31, 2010

The World According to Jack

My three-year-old, Jack, was watching me shave yesterday morning before leaving for church. Small rivulets wended their way from razor to hand to the lowest place possible, my elbow, and dripped. "What's dat?" he asked.

"That's water dripping from my elbow," I said, trying not to cut off my ear.

"No," he said. "It's milk coming from your boobies. Dat one," indicating my right nipple, "has chocolate milk and dat one has juice."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Knowledge and Communion

I'm busy this weekend, finishing up some articles and trying to spend some time with family on a holiday (national) weekend. And I have to mow. And in the midst of it, busily looking forward to next week, which is one of the crazier weeks of our year. Here's the rundown: Monday is Memorial Day (of course). Sophie is turning 11 on Tuesday. Will is turning 6 on Friday. And on Saturday Avery will receive her first Holy Communion. Her final two practices for receiving the Blessed Sacrament are, drumroll please, on Sophie and Will's birthdays. So it's going to be crazy. But crazy good. I don't know yet if we'll postpone birthday celebrations and take care of it all on Saturday or shift the birthday celebrations to different dates, but it will work out. The kids enjoy having their birthdays spread out over several days anyway.


There's an article/post that has been rattling around in my brain for over a week now. I'm not going to link to it here because it would be offensive to many, as it was - to some degree - to me. It's rather harsh concerning the Evangelical idea of one's necessity to having a "personal relationship with Jesus." But partly because of it I've been re-evaluating my previous notions on cultural Catholicism, religion per se and the like - on knowledge and the Faith. I'm not so sure ignorance is always such a bad thing. What does it really matter whether my children can recite the books of the Bible? On the other hand, I know that knowledge is often not a good thing. I was raised in an environment where Scriptural knowledge is power - and there's something terribly perverse and manipulative about that. There is a knowing that's good, of course, as we come to know God and be known by him, but that knowing can happen perhaps more in our homes and everyday life and even in a cultural Catholicism or in "religion" than in our ability (as we think of it) to properly exegete the Scriptures, to know the Scriptures by chapter and verse, or to even know a particular teaching is found in the Scriptures. Does it matter more that I know the arguments surrounding justification and where my church community stands on such arguments or that I am justified? Does it make a difference whether I read that I must love my enemies or that my Church teaches me to love my enemies? I'm not saying that the Scriptures have no place. Certainly not! But I am saying that we often imagine that every Christian must have a grasp of them that is unnecessary for a pipe-fitter or stay-at-home dad or mathematician, or that it is somehow not enough for a Christian to simply hear God's Word in Liturgy - even though hearing is how the early Church, which many of us so desire to emulate, received the Scriptures; hearing is how most Christians throughout history received the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with simply hearing the Scriptures.

That being said, is it good to be able to have the Scriptures in my home, important for me to read them? I think so. But only for the purpose of seeing Christ. The Scriptures are iconic. They are not for the purpose of lording something (an idea, a doctrine, a view of science) over another believer. They are not ever for the purpose of discovering who is Christian and who is not. They can never show us something contrary to what has been faithfully passed down to us by the Church. They proclaim Christ, who shows us the Father. And the Spirit reveals it to us - not as something new or different or never-before-thought-of, which is nearly always of the devil, but as freshening as and in the humility of a summer rain. The Scriptures should never be, as they often have been to me, an ammunition depot. The Scriptures should never be a place where I am elevated above my brother or my sister. The Scriptures should never teach me anything other than to love my enemy and my neighbor. If I learn something else from them, I have mis-learned or mis-read them. The Scriptures will never teach me anything contrary to "God is love." If I have learned something other from them, I have mis-learned or mis-read them.

It is enough to find Christ in Liturgy, to participate in his life there. We hope and pray that many are given special vocations to go and do and be something extraordinary for God. To truly become saints in their vocations. But sainthood can be found in being ordinary too, thanks be to God. In quiet and simplicity. In giving alms and in praying. In fasting. In attending Liturgy. In raising children. We too must become saints, ordinary saints living in ordinary time. Sainthood is found in my vocation and not in another's. It is found in becoming nothing rather than in the desire to do something. Becoming a saint is communion with God - indeed that is salvation. It is not necessary for a saint to have memorized the Psalter or the Gospels or to be able to defend the faith. It is enough to know Christ. To know him in field and flower. To know him in Liturgy. To know him in obedience and love. To know him in the dishes that need washing and the floors that need sweeping. It is enough to know Christ.

I heard a story once, and my memory of it has faded - so forgive the errors of my recounting - of a monk who while reading the Scriptures, stopped abruptly, and closed them. He had read that he must love his enemies and refused to open the Scriptures again. When he was asked why he would not read more of the Scriptures, his response was that until he had learned to obey the Scripture he had read, it was unnecessary (and perhaps foolhardy) for him to read any more. There is something illustrative in this story for us, something that we have lost in our elevation of the importance of knowing the Scriptures.

It was St. Jerome who said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." But I do not think he meant what we think he meant, framing it as we do. Knowledge is a tool. It is not knowledge that we seek, it is communion. Knowledge serves communion. When it ceases to serve communion and life, then it becomes a wicked tool bent on wicked purposes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Why My Razor Will Get Me to Heaven Faster than Yours, and Other Thoughts

Perhaps, economically, your girly little disposable razors come near the affordability of a Parker, but my Blessed Parker treats hair - and, consequently, my face at times - as of no consequence. It cuts through whatever you will. Heavy beard - bring it. Not a problem for my Parker. It doesn't pull my beard out or snag in it. It's as sharp as a razor, girls. And if you grow a beard as fast as a 12 year old, like me - then it might just have to pwn your face too. No extra charge. But that's just part of the package. How else are you going to learn to shave properly if there ain't nothing at stake? And my Parker, thank you very much, is completely environmentally friendly. No Deepwater-type disasters from this baby. Now might someone dig up one of my rusty razors and slice into his fingers or palm resulting in a disabled hand or, at the very least, tetanus? Absolutely, but some kids have to learn the hard way. Stop digging near my children's swingset. All I'm saying is you won't find it in a pelican's gizzard 10,000 years down the road.


Avery has her first first Communion rehearsal tonight. I suppose I should shower sometime before then. And maybe shave. Avery, by the way, will be having tubes put in her ears next month. So please remember her in your prayers (if you disposable razor types even pray). She's quite unnerved by it all. She also is having problems with her throat - the pediatrician doesn't know what's wrong - says it can't be strep since she's been through two doses of amoxicillin recently (one for strep, one for scarlet fever). She's had a hard time. One tonsil has been swollen out to her uvula for at least a month. Pray to St. Blaise for her.

Speaking of Sacraments, Noah will be baptized at the end of June. Noah will be saved through water (and the Spirit) as Noah was.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

39 Going On Thrifty

I was at The Store That Shall Not Be Named a few weeks ago shopping for razor blade cartridges. Now since I began shaving, I have used some kind of Gillette razor, and was shopping for some cartridges for my Fusion razor. I pushed my cart and children to the proper aisle, and though I have bought razor blade cartridges before, I was shocked: Four blade cartridges in one package cost $15. And the freaky little things are locked away as if they are pot or something. So, like, I have to ask for help? That's $3.75 per cartridge! I was speechless. Why stunned this late in the game, you wonder, after spending years and countless dollars to purchase these little cartridges? I have no idea. Though I have been reading the early Fathers on voluntary Poverty. I can't picture St. John Chrysostom shelling out enough money to feed a third-world child for a month so that he could be clean-shaven. It's no wonder all the early Fathers were bearded. Buying these cartridges is almost un-Christian, I thought. Why not buy condoms while I was at it?! And then, as I was standing in the same aisle with two of my little ones piled into a cart like so much merchandise, I saw the double-edged razor blades my dad uses: Ten blades for $1.67. Of course The Store That Shall Not Be Named doesn't sell the razors, just the blades. So I found something completely frivolous to spend my $15 on and then went home and ordered a nice razor, a Parker 91R, for a little less than $30 - with 20 razor blades included. 20 cartridges for my old razor would have cost nearly $75, if I've done my math correctly.

When my Parker 91R arrived in that little Amazon box that I so love, I tossed my Gillettes. I've only used the Parker three times so far (I don't shave often as a stay-at-home Dad - it's one of the perks). I do, however, need to shave at least once a week, for the Lord's sake. While shaving today (I have to take a child to the pediatrician), in some bit of a hurry, I beat myself up good. After shaving, it looked as if a light bulb had blown up in my face. And after applying little pieces of toilet paper to my face so that I wouldn't bleed out in the sink, my face looked like that little bear's ass on those Charmin commercials. (Yes, right now my face looks like the butt of a bear who wipes with cheap toilet paper.)

Yet while I nearly took off my nose today, all I could think about was the money I was saving. How sweet is that? And wouldn't God be pleased? It shouldn't take more than a couple of years to get used to this, well, weapon. And around that same time I might even be ready to open the second package of blades that came with the razor. Man, I am such a good Christian.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I didn't want you to miss a post by Fr. Stephen Freeman that I'm sharing in my sidebar. It's titled, "The Struggle for True Communion." Some of my family and friends have in the past expressed to me their frustration concerning why they can't or shouldn't receive Holy Communion when visiting a Catholic or Orthodox Church. I understand their frustration, especially given the openness of Communion in many Protestant church communities today. It is not because they have no communion with Christ. It is not because we are better Christians than they, or holier. I regret that I cannot share in Holy Communion with Fr. Stephen, who is Orthodox, or with my family, who remain Protestant. But his post, in my estimation, says well why we are sometimes told "No."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Rundown

Life with a new baby can take some time getting used to. This week has been one of those transitions in our family as my wife headed back to work and I was home with three little ones. All of whom are in diapers. Now the diaper changing isn't so bad. Honestly. Well, some diapers are. Some I dream of mounting on my office wall, shellacked, to show off to visitors:"Now let me tell you the story about this one over here - flailing heels, the baby screaming ... crap everywhere." But for the most part the diaper changing is the least of a lonely stay-at-home parent's worries. It's everything else. It's being consumed by the needs of others. And while this is a good - being saved/deified through childbirth - it is, by definition, very difficult.

With Noah's entrance into our daily life, something strange happened in my brain. For weeks, every time I looked at him, I thought "Robert" instead of "Noah." Now we have never had any intention of naming a boy Robert - it was pure brain flatulence. But it was the strangest thing and took me nearly a month to get over. I also constantly referred to him as a her, which can probably be understood as we also just had a girl last January. He is sweet, however, even though he cries much of the time. Long story short, I'm getting older. It's really quite a miracle that I can still make babies. By the time Noah is my age, I will probably be dead. But I hope not.

By the way, we have officially become a large family. So our new 12-passenger van silently proclaims us. Yes, we are weird. Yes, we are different. People wonder at the size of our family when just half of us go somewhere. Our carbon footprint is bigger than yours. Officially, the oil SNAFU in the Gulf is our fault, our responsibility, and BP, Transocean and Halliburton might as well get their stories straight and start blaming us. (To be frank, you're responsible for that mess as well.)


We had friends surprise visit us on Saturday. These are people who speak peace into your soul, like an afternoon in the shade on a breezy pre-summer day. We are sad they couldn't stay longer. We are sad that they no longer live near us.


I want to be Catholic. Simply Catholic. I don't want to be an American Catholic. I don't want to be a traditionalist or a progressive. I don't want to be a neo-Cath or an Evangelical Catholic. I just want to be Catholic - part of Christ's Body, a lover of God and my neighbor. Not defined by my politics or my past, but liberated by Christ to be Catholic. Sacramental. Orthodox. Quiet. Who can show me the way? What does being Catholic mean? What does it look like?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tragedy and Perspective

Today I was listening to a fundamentalist Christian radio station that I used to listen to quite religiously. The president of the radio station spoke briefly today about the flooding in Nashville and that a radio tower of theirs had been ruined in the flood. He addressed why bad things sometimes happen to good people with, I imagine, a shrug of his shoulders and the statement, "God sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." And he spoke about how the Enemy is always trying to undermine the work of God.

But who are the just and who are the unjust? And why use this verse to say that sometimes bad things happen to good people when Christ is speaking of our need to be impartial and prodigal in our love toward others since God is impartial and prodigal in his love toward us? How can this be both the impartiality of God and the work of the Enemy? Are they the same? I also marveled at one's confidence in proclaiming one's own work as God's work. But putting all that aside, much of what he said could be spot on. Then I realized why his statements seemed so odd to me - in tragedies by which we Christians are unaffected we don't often say, "Shit happens." (My paraphrase of the misinterpreted verse.) Though it would be an appropriate conjecture, and the more appropriate time to use it. Sometimes, tragically, we are too quick to count the tragedy that affects others as the judgment of God rather than as happenstance or as God's impartiality or even as the work of the Enemy. Perhaps we would be better served to reverse our perspectives: When tragedy strikes me, I should wonder at the judgment of God and humbly acknowledge that his judgments are just (have mercy on me, a sinner). And when tragedy strikes my neighbor, I should understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people, pray, and find a way to help.