23 May 2019

Friendzoned by Jesus.

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Friday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

I call you friends...

This gets sentimentalized sometimes. Sometimes overly so. I remember when Jesus calling us (me) his friends used to cause me to wax poetical about Plato, David and Jonathan, and about someone important in my life. When I was at the Monastery, I tried to find some core in here that I could hold on to, to stay centered but that failed. The meat of this passage is not that God calls us friends... Because God calls Israel his beloved wife. Friends seems a bit reserved, to be honest. And later God will call the church his Bride as well. But here, we are all just friends.

So what's going on?

It's a couple of verses before. Greater love hath no man than this, as the KJV puts it, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And I have called you friends. So yes, that means that I will lay my life down for you... But he also expects us to lay our lives down for him and for each other.

We are are the friends of God, not in a Platonic sense, not in a creepy, pseudo-sexual, S.E. Hinton kind of way, not even in a David and Jonathan sense, but in the foxhole death on a grenade to save your buddies kind of way. In a today-is-a-good-day-to-die way.
In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others. - CS Lewis, The Four Loves 
Our friends were picked for us: we know the difference between friends and acquaintances, between coworkers (with whom we may all be close in one degree or another) and honest to goodness friends.

Jesus is such a friend: who has taken (literally) death for us who demands death from us for him and for each other. Jesus is not the bad boy your parents don't want you to hang out with: Jesus is the boy that says, "Let's all enlist. Someone's got to do something about this."

Jesus is that one friend whose opinion matters more than anyone in the whole world. When I am engaged in hypocrisy, it is the opinion of other Christians that most matters to me. And yet, "in the world" those folks might matter least. I didn't manipulate the universe to get these friends. These are not "the popular kids" in school. Jesus is always talking to the wrong sort of folks.
In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day's walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it. Ibid
Jesus calls us friends and then, a few years later, St Paul uses this divine, mutually-assured divinization as the model for a real Christian Marriage, too, and that marriage becomes the icon of the love of Christ for his Church. It is this Church, this circle not of cithara strumming band mates and worship leaders but rather of platoonmates, a Band of Brothers, who will screw each other's courage to the sticking place, cheer each other on in the games of the arena - gladiators, lions, crucifixions, bonfires, street lights... this great cloud of fellow witnesses (martyrs) cheers us on to death: COME ON!
Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour - in ten minutes - these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle, while I am in it, outweighs that of a thousand outsiders: as Friendship strengthens, it will do this even when my Friends are far away. For we all wish to be judged by our peers, by the men "after our own heart." Only they really know our mind and only they judge it by standards we fully acknowledge. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread.  
Jesus calls us friends. Don't make this out to be some kind of sexless eros or some pathetic high school ensemble movie: 

God's friends die.

22 May 2019

Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum!

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Thursday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

I have told you this so that... your joy might be complete.

Jesus said this just before he went out to die. You know this and I do too, but we often forget it. If you're not happy, some would say, you're doing it wrong. I am too blessed to be stressed. You gotta give up your spirit of heaviness... We forget that "Joy" here means to stay within the commands/love of God the Father by staying within the commands/love of God the Son. Which command was never "do what you love and the money will follow."  It was never "Follow your bliss". It was never, ever, a rose garden. It was ever was and always will the garden of Gethsemane where God sweat blood, or the fair garden of Calvary whereupon the only tree that ever bore life to the world, God died; or the garden just below the crest of the hill, where life conquered death by death died in death's despite and Jesus Christ won the victory for all time.

But no rose garden is or can be involved.

Take up your cross daily and follow me, he commanded. The other thing he commanded was to love as he loved us - by dying. Yup, we're good to go here for some serious Joy. Unless "joy" means something we don't think it means unless the "joy" we think we know is only somehow a pale and useless shadow of the real thing or even a mockery of it.

"Joy" is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The wiki has a rather wonderful entry on these, including this passage on Joy:

The joy referred to here is deeper than mere happiness; it is rooted in God and comes from Him. Since it comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly happiness, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time. 
According to Strong's Greek Lexicon, the Greek word listed in the verse is χαρά (G5479), meaning 'joy', 'gladness', or 'a source of joy'. The Greek χαρά (chara) occurs 59 times in 57 verses in the Greek concordance of the NASB. 
  • Original Word: χαρά, ᾶς, ἡ From χαίρω (G5463)
  • Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
  • Transliteration: chara
  • Phonetic Spelling: (khar-ah') 
Joy (Noun and Verb), Joyfulness, Joyfully, Joyous: 
"joy, delight" (akin to chairo, "to rejoice"), is found frequently in Matthew and Luke, and especially in John, once in Mark (Mar 4:16, RV, "joy," AV, "gladness"); it is absent from 1 Cor. (though the verb is used three times), but is frequent in 2 Cor., where the noun is used five times (for 2Cr 7:4, RV, see Note below), and the verb eight times, suggestive of the Apostle's relief in comparison with the circumstances of the 1st Epistle; in Col 1:11, AV, "joyfulness," RV, "joy." The word is sometimes used, by metonymy, of the occasion or cause of "joy," Luk 2:10 (lit., "I announce to you a great joy"); in 2Cr 1:15, in some mss., for charis, "benefit;" Phl 4:1, where the readers are called the Apostle's "joy;" so 1Th 2:19, 20; Hbr 12:2, of the object of Christ's "joy;" Jam 1:2, where it is connected with falling into trials; perhaps also in Mat 25:21, 23, where some regard it as signifying, concretely, the circumstances attending cooperation in the authority of the Lord. Note: In Hbr 12:11, "joyous" represents the phrase meta, "with," followed by chara, lit., "with joy." So in Hbr 10:34, "joyfully;" in 2Cr 7:4 the noun is used with the Middle Voice of huperperisseuo, "to abound more exceedingly," and translated "(I overflow) with joy," RV (AV, "I am exceeding joyful").

How does this Joy tie into love, death, and carrying crosses?

We know that the things of this world come from doing whatever we want. Everyone one of us knows that "whatever we want" soon devolves into one or two petty things done over and over... eating the same foods, going to the same sorts of movies, taking the same vacations, having the same arguments, engaging the same vices, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam, ad infinitum. Then we die.

Nearly everything we do in this world, apart from God, results from a fear of pain and quest for pleasure.

Yet Jesus promised real joy... and then silently suffered death in the 1st-century version of an electric chair set on stun.

How we do whine about our crosses even before we get nailed to them: unrequited love, broken homes, lost innocence, missed plans (my personal favorite of late), no one understands me, no one loves me...

me, me, me.

There is no joy in me: it's only in serving others, only in loving others, only in dousing our pride, in offering our hearts, broken and disordered, to the God who offers us his natural heart in exchange for ours made of stone.

Joy.

When we know we're whiners or when we know we don't understand... when we realize that maybe we're wrong...

We're on the path to Joy.





Nothing is strong. Very Strong.

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Wednesday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

Without me you can do nothing.

St Thomas Aquinas calls God the root of being, itself. God's being is the very beingness of everything. St John says that God is love. That means the very beingness of the entire Cosmos is rooted in Love. Or, as I tweeted earlier this month:
Ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. (St John) + Deus est ipsum esse per se subsistens. (Aquinas) = Love is all there is (Beatles)
Today, Jesus says "without me you can do nothing". That is literal truth. Nothing at all (of value) is done without Jesus by anyone at all. Even non-Christians can do nothing without Jesus. Jesus is the Logos, the word of God. Each thing has its own logos, its own "word". In that it has a being it is participating in God, in that it has a thingness, a function, a logos of its own that is its own participating in Christ. "At the heart of each thing is its inner principle or logos, implanted within it by the Creator Logos; and so through the logoi we enter into communion with the Logos," said Bishop Kalistos Ware back before he went off the rails. Your action to start the car, to type a blog post, to read a blog post, to whine in the comments is a participation in the Logos or it is of no value, no reality, at all. Even if you're not a Christian, even if you're not a theist.

The beingness of God the Father, from which every being generates, and the indwelling principle of the Logos, the very life of God communicated by his pneuma, his Spirit, makes all things an ongoing participation in the Trinity to the eyes that can see it; and yet this is no less true if you can't or won't see it.

Bishop John Zizioulas sums this up nicely: To be and to be in communion are the same thing.

There is no way to act that is not an active participation in God, even if you are trying to undermine Godly people in the world. And yet to the degree that you manage to close yourself off to God, to reject participation in God, it is entirely possible to achieve the opposite goal. There are only two choices: being and non-being. There is nothing you can do that is not God in Christ working in the world... Unless it's not. Then it is exactly the reverse. There is no way to express love that is not a participation in God - even if you reject the idea that God exists. You may have imperfect or disordered love, but God is love. You may deny the very being of those around you or in your womb, but God's being makes them. You may rip their life - or your own - out of the body, but that life is God's nonetheless. It's only you that are cut off.

Without Jesus you can do nothing. Uncle Screwtape knows this. CS Lewis gives him this amazing text in Letter XII which is even now describing Facebook on your phone, Game of Thrones on your TV, twitter on your computer at work, porn...
As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. 
You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. 
All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.
Porn makes you imagine sins... but you never get to do them. Facebook feels like gossip, even if no one reads your post. Humans are the only being with an ongoing choice, open and active until death, to decide for or against God. To bear fruit, much fruit, good fruit, you must be in Jesus.

Now, some pagans do an awful lot of good: that's all Jesus. Some Christians do an awful lot of evil. That's the non-being swallowing things up.

Without Jesus you can do nothing... and you'll get around to liking nothing, and soon... that's what you'll get. As Magenta says to Dr Frankenfurter,

"I ask for nothing! ...Master."
And he replies, "And you shall receive it. In abundance."




14 April 2019

Second Birthday

+JMJ+

Two years ago today, with the helpful n of my fraternity Brother Joe on my shoulder, Fr Michael officially welcomed me into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. By her own teaching, I've been Catholic since 2002 when Fr Victor gave me the sacrament of Chrismation, but I was "not in full communion". While there are vagueries of theology that may not interest the non-Christian, and while there are similarities in politics that may not let the outsider see any difference at all, yet perhaps to other sheep, all sheep do not look alike.

I still can't put my finger on it.

Two years.

I've made so many friends, found so many locals, both in the spiritual and the physical way. In my rooted, Benedictine desire to be a San Franciscan, I'm not alone. To be clear, I've discovered that Stability and Spiritual growth are somehow connected. My peripatetic past notwithstanding, it seems important to be here now, to be Catholic in the Local, to incarnate in the scandal of particularity the universal truth of the faith.

How's that read?

What I mean is I think I spent 50 years running hither and thither as an Orthoneo-Episcopagan Hedonist just to finally land as a rooted lay monastic in San Francisco. Somehow it's all connected: location, vocation, and salvation. If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there I never really lost it to begin with.

06 April 2019

The Religion of the Incarnation



From Robert Hugh Benson's Confession of a Convert. Wherein he discovers the meaning of the Incarnation. Christ took flesh of his mother, the Church is his body, ergo...

---

§ 3 In Rome I learned one supremely large lesson, among a hundred others. It has been very well said that Gothic architecture represents the soul aspiring to God, and that Renaissance or Romanesque architecture represents God taberna cling with men. Both sides are true, yet neither, in the religion of the Incarnation, is complete without the other. On the one side, it is true that the soul must always be seeking, always gazing up through the darkness to a God who hides Himself, always remembering that the Infinite transcends the finite and that an immense agnosticism must be an element in every creed; the lines of this world, as it were, run up into gloom; the light that glimmers through carved tracery and heavy stains is enough to walk by, but little more. It is in silence that God is known, and through mysteries that He declares Himself. “God is a spirit,” formless, infinite, invisible, and eternal, and “they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Here, then, is mysticism and the darkness of spiritual experience. 

Then, on the other side, God became man – “the Word was made flesh.” The divine, unknowable Nature struck itself into flesh and “tabernacled amongst us, and we beheld His glory.” What was hidden was made known. It is not only we who thirst and knock: it is God Who, thirsting for our love, died upon the cross that He might open the kingdom of heaven to all believers, Who rent the veil of the Temple by His death-groan, and Who still stands knocking at every human heart, that He may come in and sup with man. The round dome of heaven is brought down to earth; the walls of the world are plain to the sight; its limitations are seen in the light of God; the broad sunshine of Revelation streams on all sides through clear windows upon a gorgeous pavement; angels and gods and men riot together in an intoxication of divine love; the high altar stands plain to view in a blaze of gilding and candles; and above it the round brazen and silken tent of God-made-man stands that all alike may see and adore. 

Now, this side of the religion of the Incarnation had hitherto meant almost nothing to me. I was a Northerner pure and simple, educated in Northern ways. I loved twilight and mysterious music and the shadow of deep woods; I hated open spaces of sun and trumpets in unison and the round and square in architecture. I preferred meditation to vocal prayer, Mme. Guyon to Mother Julian, “John Inglesant” to St. Thomas, the thirteenth century — as I imagined it – to the sixteenth. Until towards the end of my Anglican life I should frankly have acknowledged this; then I should have resented the accusation, for I was beginning to understand and, therefore, thought that I entirely understood — that the world was as material as it was spiritual, and that creeds were as necessary as aspirations. But when I came to Rome I acknowledged to myself once more how little I had understood. Here was this city, Renaissance from end to end, set under clear skies and a burning sun; and the religion in it was the soul dwelling in the body. It was the assertion of the reality of the human principle as embodying the divine. Even the exclusive tenets of Christianity were expressed under pagan images. Revelation spoke through forms of natural religion; God dwelt unashamed in the light of day; priests were priests, not aspiring clergymen; they sacrificed, sprinkled lustral water, went in long, rolling processions with incense and lights, and called heaven Olympus. Sacrum Divo Sebastiano, I saw inscribed on a granite altar. I sat under priest-professors who shouted, laughed, and joyously demonstrated before six nations in one lecture room. I saw the picture of the “Father of princes and kings and Lord of the world” exposed in the streets on his name-day, surrounded by flowers and oil lamps, in the manner in which, two centuries ago, other lords of the world were honoured. I went down into the Catacombs on St. Cecilia's Day and St. Valentine's, and smelled the box and the myrtle underfoot that did reverence to the fragrance of their memories, as centuries ago they had done reverence to victors in another kind of contest. In one sentence, I began to understand that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”; that as He took the created substance of a Virgin to fashion for Himself a natural body, so still He takes the created substance of men — their thoughts, their expressions, and their methods — to make for Himself that mystical body by which He is with us always; in short, I perceived that “there is nothing secular but sin.” Catholicism, then, is “materialistic?” Certainly; it is as materialistic as the Creation and the Incarnation, neither more nor less. 

18 March 2019

Typology


As Typology is such an important tool for understanding the Bible - in fact, the Bible is meaningless without it - it can seem odd that it's largely unknown outside of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. For 1,000 years Typology was really the primary tool used to understand the scriptures, but today the twin errors of fundamentalism and literalism, both of which come in liberal and conservative versions, have deprived readers of this understanding. Those same errors have provided ammunition to antichristian attitudes which claim to know what the Bible says, based on the same fundamentalism and literalism. If you hear a politician or other "Talking Head" expounding on what "the Bible says" or "your Bible tells you to..." they have bought into these false ideas. The Bible is the Church's book: reading it outside of the Church's authority and spirit will always result in grave errors. You may read the text and even understand the meaning of the words as strung together, but if you have not the Holy Spirit and the mind of the Church, you will still be wrong.

Typology allows for the literal meaning of the text, the historical context, and the writer's intentions whilst opening our eyes to the Spirit's action in using the story to bring us, through the Bible, to the one and only proper context: Jesus, God and Man made one, dead and raised.

What is typology? Reading text while acknowledging and using the repetition of patterns.

Imagine a still, clear lake. Along the shore, there are massive groves of trees growing in the water. Everything is clear, still, silent. Imagine we are above the exact center of the lake. We can ses fish in the water. They swim here and there, but the lake us so deep and still that they do not disturb the surface. Everything is in perfect, quiet balance.

Now we drop a small pebble into the lake. Plop!

Ripples move out in perfect circles, but, eventually, the motion stops. The shape of the stone was repeatedly echoed in the widening circles.

Now... Let's take a giant bolder and drop it in the lake. Kerploosh!

The widening circles will be giant and strong. Waves will wash on the shores. The fish will run away, the bottom of the lake will be churned up. The muddy water will wash among the trees around the lake, leaving high-water stains easily seen. Anyone with eyes to see can see the evidence of the event.

Typology reads the Bible in that way, tracing ripples from the central event of all history: the incarnation of God in human flesh, his life, death, and resurrection. The ripples are everywhere in our timeline: from the fall of Adam and Eve to the myths of the Hopi, from the Chinese Lao Tzu to the Irish Lugh. These ripples go from the past to the future as the life of Christ is continually echoed in the lives of his people, in the actions of the Church, in the Holy Mass.

Typology allows us to read history not as linear tedium, nor as a cyclical return, but rather as a great work of music carrying leitmotifs and interwoven fugal tapestries.

To correct Terence Mckenna, all of history is the shockwave of the Incarnation.

The question is not does this ancient event foreshadow Jesus, but rather how does it do so? The question is not does this current event echo Christ, but rather how faithfully does it do so?

11 March 2019

Lent's Here. Let's talk food.



+JMJ+

BBC Radio 4's The Kitchen Cabinet is one of my most favourite things, right after whiskers on kittens and Atmospheric River Events on roses. They travel the UK looking for regional specialties and sharing cooking advice. Most of the members of the panel are from some part of the UK (I think), but they even have a token American who is called on to explain things like corn dogs. I love them not just because they read one of my recipes on the air (and raved...) but also because I keep learning stuff from them. Some cooking shows only make me hungry, this one makes me laugh and also put on that "thinking emoji" face that spins.

The recipe they shared from me involved split peas, or, as they seem to prefer it spelled, pease. You've heard the nursery rhyme, "peas porridge hot". Or, to use the correct spelling,

Pease porridge hot. 
Pease porridge cold.
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

The Wiki notes that "pease" was the original mass noun like "sheep". Pea is a neologism and "peas" is even newer.

To make pease porridge, one uses yellow split pease. The nutrition information for this is really quite surprising. In 100 grams (uncooked) we find:

Dietary fiber 50g
Sugar 16g
Protein 48g

Fiber and protein far out-weigh the sugars. That same cup of uncooked veggies has a tiny bit of fat and a whopping 341 calories. (100 grams of brussel sprouts has 46 calories. 100g of russet potatoes has 79 calories.) Pease are high energy, high protein treats! No wonder they were a huge part of the diet not only in the Mediaeval period but also in the many parts of the world right up until the modern era. They don't have a lot of different vitamins, but they are very high in magnesium and iron (nearly 50% RDA of each). This is a good food value for folks.

It's simple to make: soak 200g yellow split pease in water overnight. (It's the 21st century, folks. Buy a scale. If you prefer traditional imperial weight measurements: .03 stone.) Drain but don't rinse. My rice cooker is perfect for this: just add water to cover and then run in through a cycle, stir, add water to cover again, and one more cycle. Done. Texture is an issue for some folks: if you like it bit on the chewy side and you can add about a quarter cup of raw pease before the second cycle. Other's like it very smooth and will run an immersion blender through it. Simple, right? As it cools it turns into a think goop rather like very stiff mashed potatoes. Add butter if you want. The trick is how you decide to flavor it.

Traditionally, you would dice a carrot and a small onion, add salt and paper and a bay leaf or two. There is a California Bay in the back yard and I can vouch for the goodness of this recipe. You upscale with bacon or ham. Serve it on bread, toast, biscuits, etc. Some Bisto gravy makes this completely amazing. It seems it's also traditional to use this as a sandwich spread of some sort, but I can't figure that out.

But flavoring, or flavouring...

The first time there was no ham so broth was made with red miso paste. It was amazing.
The second time there was no miso, so only bacon went in. That was astounding.
The third time I used a packet of onion soup mix in the water. Sooo good! Add garlic!
And this time, going a little crazy, a packet of mild chili mix was whisked into the second addition of water.

Also: evidently the Greek food "Fava" is sometimes made with split peas... but I don't know if that's really the case. I can see this being used  for hummus, too.

When it gets cold it's quite like mashed taters. I've fried it up in pancakes at that point. It's really good on toast and my best way of eating it has involved a garlic naan (from TJ's) with a mound of pease. Put a deep divet in the pease and break an egg into it. Put it in the toaster oven until you're ready to eat the egg: sunny side, over easy, over medium, etc... it just takes getting used to your oven.

Some like it hot.
Some like it cold.
I like it in the pot
Nine days old.

Benedicto benedicatur!