27 February 2017

The Dream

I was sitting in the second seat on a bus taking notes. Someone was in the first seat. The bus was stopped in a parking lot.

The driver got off the bus and the buss started to roll forward. I was not scared: the bus would stop from the little rise in front of us. But it didn't. It crested the rise and rolled down the hill in front of us. I thought, that guy in the first seat should get up and stop the bus. But he did not.

Near the bottom of the hill was a curb or ledge of stone. I thought the bus will stop at that curb. We should brace for impact.

It broke the curb and left the road we had been on. And kept going. I should get up I thought, and hit the brakes. But I did not: I saw, ahead some train tracks and I thought we'd hit those and lose momentum. So I sat tight. We did not stop: instead we hit the tracks and turned to ride them! Now we were going quite fast. Ahead there was a fork in the track - and I was suddenly aware of a train behind us as well. We took the left fork, as the gold and white metro-liner veered right and sped off into the distance.

The left spur dead-ended in water and we splashed into it... floating down river.

I woke and instantly realized this is how temptations, especially lust, pornography and self-abuse, all work.

18 February 2017

Blogistratory Administrivia

Dear Readers - 

Three important things! 

First: the name has changed.  I've been Doxos since 1998. I'm done now. In fact, the domain is up for sale (not the server space, just the name).  It's going to be up for auction. I'll keep you posted. In the mean while if you want a five letter domain and want to help me buy a bar in Ireland, let me know.

Secondly: the name has changed. Pilgrim's Egress seems a humorous pun and aptly describes my life. As I wrote on Facebook, I'm as stable as a peripatetic Franciscan. I've decided to embrace it. I'm not changing the URL though as that would break all the comments. So we're stuck with "huwraphael.blogspot" etc.

Thirdly:  the content will continue with a change after a minor delay. The post-Trent missal that is used by the Antiochian Western Rite communities, as well as the pre-Trent one that is used by the ROCOR communities, has an awesome thing in it. The daily office and the mass tie together via the lessons, especially in Lent. In Lent the same Gospel is read at Matins and at Mass. This comes, as well, with a Patristic Homily on the Gospel. This was always a cool thing to me, making the daily office very tight. But it is missing from the Novus Ordo because of the multiplication of readings. Ok, more Bible, good, but less patristics bad. So I've decided to try, at least, and produce a daily patristic lesson for the Gospel in Lent.  This will start on Ash Wednesday. My own ruminations may or may not continue through Lent, but will resume later. I don't expect any new posts between now and Ash Wednesday (1 March), but one never knows, do one?

Oh, one more: just because I keep getting asked it - even though I thought I was very transparent, but I guess not, mea culpa - I am attending classes at the Roman Catholic Church of St Dominic's here in SF. If God wills, I will be received into the Roman Church on Easter this year. Pilgrim's Egress make more sense, right?

Much love,


The Ark Option?

Today's readings:

By faith Noah... with reverence built an ark for the salvation of his household. 
Hebrews 11:7

We had a baptism at Mass last Sunday, a rejoicing with the family and a chance to renew our vows as adult Christians making our covenant with the the new Child of God, to support her in her faith. What struck me was how Fr M made it explicit what is always implicit in a baby's baptism: the parents and the Godparents are making their own promises to rear the child in a Christian home. Of course, that's what they're doing,  yet it seems to me that in today's world this is increasingly hard. What is Noah (or Noë, as he's called in Latin)  supposed to be about for us, today.

We've been meditating on Noë for a week. What have we learned?

Noë built an ark for the salvation of his family. The Church traditionally speaks of the family as a "little Church". For much of history that little Church was the extended family: not just Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis. "The Household" in Rome was the Pater Familias and his wife, of course, but there may be generations of family living under the same roof, or on the same estate. Add to that the servants and the slaves, then you get the household. It less like a "Little Church" and more like a "Little Parish" within the larger community: each household an island, if you will, in the archipelago of the parish Church. Given the size of some ancient households, this "little church" might be larger that some parishes today! Into such is baptized the new baby. Is her family not promising to build something of a little ark for her, in which to keep her safe from the rising flood of secularist, anti-Christian culture?

That culture no longer stops at the door, nor is the TV the only source in our house, for it comes in on any device you can us. Most popular media has advertising that, a generation ago, would have been "risque" and four generations ago would have been unthinkable.  We sexualize everything and say we are being "sex positive". No one wants to risk being called "sex negative." We refuse to allow critical thinking about "choices" which are moral violations. We defend the rights of those who violate the rights of the Church and we refuse to support those who make us feel uncomfortable by their piety.

What steps should we take for the salvation of our household? Can we build an ark that will help us weather this flood? It's not enough to hide. Until the flood comes we've an obligation to evangelize, to witness to the world, to preach the Gospel. We cannot, therefore, go hide someplace nor can we set up some isolationist Christianistan.

So, how do we in our households - and how do we, the Church - build an ark that will rise above this flood, carrying us and all we love with it? How will we find a place where this new Child of God can come into a full transfiguration of her own?

17 February 2017

Tower Crossing.

Today's Readings:

Take up your cross.

This phrase comes up whenever I meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. As I contemplate the Mystery of Our Lord carrying his Cross for us I hear this reminder that I must carry my cross as well. We don't do this "for Jesus" as if we could "pay him back"; nor do we do it "in solidarity" with him as if we could help him. We do this as the fullest manifestation of our "working out our salvation in fear and trembling". This is our faith in action, at least in a first-person way.

What is your cross?

I'm not sure what is the most correct answer any more. St Paul said he is "Crucified with Christ". St Mary of Egypt repeated threw her self on the ground to overcome the addictive urges she experienced. St Francis threw himself in the briers and in the snow. What is your cross? To parallel closely with Christ here is to fail: firstly, because none of us are called to save the world on our cross. Secondly, Christ's Cross was an instrument of torture, of capital punishment. Again, I don't think were called to that, yet; and even so that cannot be the only answer. For generations of Christians didn't die.

For some, their cross is their marriage: the constant sacrifice of self will for the benefit of the spouse. For some it is their children: the constant sacrifice of self will for the care of their children. For some it may follow on the idea of vocation, or ministry woven with this sacrifice of self-will, for the monastic no less than the parish priest.

Today we live in a world where we dare not sacrifice our self will: in fact, we sacrifice ourselves and those around us to our self will. Driven self will is seen as the height of success. Our jobs, our relationships, our hobbies, etc. are all followed because they "complete us", make us "more us". Even our religious choices are imagined to be that way. We should go to a church that we find fulfilling. We look for a church where we might feel free and "accepted," where were might "be ourselves". The most common comment people have about my religious journey is "do you feel comfortable there?" I'm so used to such questions that I discuss my own path that way by matter of reflex. Going from ECUSA to Orthodoxy to Catholicism can't be about "a quest for the real Truth" or even "more truth here than there".

We are living out Babel: the division of the people at the tower by their languages. Imagine how scary that must have been, to hear someone clearly say they "Wanted a cow" when what they hear themselves say was "this brick is broken"; to hear "wow, look at that cricket" when what was said was "the wife wants to go to Vegas this year." To say, "Bro, pass me that mortar" and hear, in response, "no, I can't serve a wedding cake." Did each person suddenly speak his own language? Did you have to run around looking for the other speakers of proto-Farsi? Or was it just you? Was it hundreds of individuals each speaking their own languages or did it only take five or six languages mixed up with each other to terrify the whole mob?

We are living in Babel now: you don't understand what your friends are saying on Facebook or Twitter. You've known them for years, but suddenly they're following the wrong "fake news" sites and you have no idea what they're saying. Or their saying something all to obvious and hateful for you to care. Or maybe, sometimes you get it and it's not hateful, but your mutual friends rip them apart for saying just a shade too blue, or too red. Babel. I begin to think we're just re-experiencing the curse of Babel.

What if your cross is to put up with the fact that the Christian standing next to you at Church, or sitting in the pew in front of you, has an entirely different political construct in the world and yet is your brother in Christ? What if your cross is to hear that gobbledygook that she's speaking, to have no understanding of it, to be afraid of what it might mean, but to love her anyway? What if your cross is to freely give up your political talking-points for the sake of your brother's weaker faith, knowing full well he's never going to give up his for you?  Some people what me to imagine my cross is for me and me alone. But Jesus' cross was for me. My cross can't be more "self-fulfillment," it's got to be a sacrifice of self-will as salvific for our world as Jesus' was, but in a different way.

What could be more self-willish than the assertion that one is correct politically and judging others for being wrong?

16 February 2017

On the Road to Babel

Today's readings:

Dread fear of you shall come upon all the animals of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon all the creatures that move about on the ground and all the fishes of the sea; into your power they are delivered. 
Genesis 9:2-3

One way to view Genesis is a whole lot of Middle and Near Eastern mythology duct-taped together to account for a pseudo-people wondering around looking for a new home.  Another way to view it is the psychological descent of man from divine creation to starvation and slavery.  Without any regard to sources, the author of Genesis is a brilliant psychologist! He knows us well.

Earlier in the story, coming out of paradise, God had given us all the greasses of the field to eat. And here it it is the beasts themselves. Abel, of course, sacrificed a lamb, so killing animals, as such, was not out of the question even earlier in the story. But here suddenly, we get the whole thing. You might be able to say in this story Mankind is growing up. But we are also falling. We are finding, more and more, that for us to live we need to suck other life into us. We are disconnected from the life of God and plugging in to the life of this world. This is also why the lives of the men get shorter - from a whole age of the world (nearly 1000 years) to just over 100. The further we fall, the less we live - even though God gives us more to eat! Tomorrow the tongues are divided, the Anti-Pentecost, and the fall will be complete.

A passion is, really, a temptation over indulged and turned into an addiction: a self-perpetuating cycle of pleasure and shame well-crafted to manufacture a false sense of self: a "self" that needs the addiction to exist and a self that only exists because of the addiction. We don't get to choose our temptations, but we do get to pick how we interact with them. What becomes our false self, built on our passions, is our enslavement.

We start out eating only plants (which can be like what we had in Eden, but we have to grow them ourselves - already our sin making us toil). Then we move to eating animals - sustaining our (false) life by consuming the lives of others, being totally detached from the life of God, not even pretending to be in Eden anymore.

It is our stage now - consuming the lives of others just to stay afloat, if you will - that most people will recognize as "high functioning addict", the "social drunk". We are able to move through the world, totally imprisoned in our sin. We are able to function not only "normally" but in some cases we are "the life of the party". We may indulge our additions so much that others with the same passions look up to us. We may find ourselves highly desirable in certain circles because of our sins. (Courtesans are highly desireable, yes?) Those certain circles can be highly placed: some Courtesans only play the Palace. But Courtesans are consumed: men consume them to feel "validated". Courtesans feel "validated" by leading others into sins and consuming them as well. They, themselves, got to their position also through consuming and being consumed. They find themselves on the lowest rung of a social ladder able to bring down even the highest with one wag of the tongue.

All sins are like this: from sex to telling lies. The point where it begins the sin is nearly like Eden, just outside it really. Even slavery to sexual sins will start out feeling fun. But it ends in Babel tomorrow.

Again: this is not punishment. This is what happens - natural consequences - when one disobeys God especially when everyone else is doing it.  Every sin is the  original sin. Every sin leads to deeper falls, as every good action raises us up.
The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.
It is into this world that Jesus comes, God and Man, to restore us to the upward track. In this world Jesus says to Peter, "You are thinking not as God does, but as men do." Do you think it's interesting that Jesus calls Peter "Satan" and compares his thinking to other men? "You're thinking not like God, Satan-Peter, but you're thinking like men." Even the Apostles fall like this. This is how men think. Satan may show us a path as a cool option, but we walk down it. We - with God's help - can come back.

But first - like all addicts - we hit rock bottom. We must go to Bable.

15 February 2017

A Massage, Please Lord.

Today's Readings:

Looking up the man replied, "I see people looking like trees and walking."Then he laid hands on the man's eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Mark 8:24-25

Once a preacher described this as Jesus committing malpractice. Of course she didn't actually believe this had happened anyway: Jesus was just a good teacher and all this was just mythology. There were lots of wonky stuff in her preaching. But that phrase stuck with me for a long time: what is going on here?

What's going on here is a miracle that only we can see, with all of our knowledge. A man born blind has no way to connect what he is seeing to words in his head. We know this now - the difference between etic and emic reality means that, in a very real way, our words shape our brain's experience and understanding of that experience. Jesus - and the Gospel - are showing us something only moderns can understand to help us know Jesus is God. Jesus not only must heal the organ of sight, but the mind, too, must be set aright.

Today when we perform the sacrament of healing we don't us spittle, but rather holy oil. We anoint the sick with oil that has been blessed by God in the rites of the Church. And oil is the Mercy of God in symbol.

In the rites of the Church, East and West, we very commonly say, "Lord, have mercy" or, in Greek or Latin, Kyrie Eleison. To our modern minds, for some reason, that has come to mean "stop beating me up" or "please stop hurting me." We think of a slave being whipped and crying out for mercy. So we project this mistaken image on God: of someone beating us, whom we began for mercy. God's going to throw us all into hell unless we began his mercy.

That word, Eleison, translated "mercy" or "have mercy" has such a deep meaning and has so much more to say to us than just "stop hurting me".
The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for 'Lord, have mercy,' are 'Kyrie, eleison'  that is to say, 'Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.' Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal  a very Western interpretation  but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray 'Lord, have mercy,' with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.
See the whole article on Mercy here.

The traditional Greek East slam on the Latin West aside it is important to note that the Latin Mass does not use Miserere Nobis - Latin for "Have Mercy on us" - but rather the Greek Eleison when we say, Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison. The same word is used in Holy Week, the only time the Western Church traditionally prays "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy on us." The Traditional liturgy sings that in both Greek and Latin. It is as if the Latin Church is saying, "Forget what you used to think about miserere and let it mean eleison now." Lord, soothe us, comfort us, take away our pain - give us a massage. Rub it in, good and deep.

This is the mercy of God for which we pray. With it, God can heal not only our bodies, but also - as with the man born blind - our mind, even our souls. We can be made whole again. Kyrie Eleison.

14 February 2017

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Today's Readings:

...Great was man's wickedness on earth, and... no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil...

We will be reading about Noah (or Noe, as the Latin text calls him - which I like because of Noe Street, here in SF) over the next few days. This whole story scares people. I get it. The entire world is damned except for Noah and his kin (and as we learn later even his kin are wonky). This bothers people. This bothers people a lot. I get it. I've also got one piece of advice: get over it.

I had a conversation once with a coworker at the California Institute of Integral Studies. We were drifting in and out of theological murkiness and finally he said, "Huw, you keep talking like truth comes in black and white. Truth is grey." My reply was, "That's just your truth, Brian. My truth comes in black and white." I feel like I successfully turned the Newage Parlance in on itself. Maybe. But I'd spent a whole lifetime by then devoted to the idea that there was truth to find - and I'd kept looking for it in the assumption that the quest, itself, would be a good thing.  But what if there is, really, Truth to find? What if the quest, itself, is supposed to have an end?

The Fathers see Noe as a prophetic foreshadow of the Church. But, repeatedly, they see it as a mark of God's mercy. God takes care that the life of man will not parish, and he uses it (the Ark) to save mankind - even though many men die. The Church - as the barque of Peter - is the Ark of Salvation. Outside of the Ark there is no salvation. That does not mean that all Non-Christians are going to hell. It does, however, mean that anyone who is saved is in the Church - even those that do not  know it. Who is saved in the ark? It's Noe and his household. Noah and even the Wonky ones that will get into some serious trouble later. Thy are all included here. And remember later in Genesis when Abraham is going to bargain with God for the life of his family in Sodom. Much later Jesus says the man dropped through the roof has been saved by the faith of his friends. And later again - in Acts - the Apostles tell their Jailer that he and his whole household can be saved if he will believe on Jesus. God hears and responds to the prayers of his people. God is not saving us through some institutional act, but rather through his Body, the Church which is, with us in prayer. You are saved because God's saints pray for you to be saved. As am I.

For whom will you pay this forward? Who will you pray into the Church?

I've been praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It's a bit of an odd thing to me, as it seems more of a mantra than anything else. But it presents a pray to God, celebrating the priesthood of all believers, to offer to God the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for "our sins and the sins of the whole world." Each prayer is offered that God will "have mercy on us and on the whole world".  And at the end, the liturgical Trisagion is sung, begging the "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world." At Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin urged prayer for sinners. So too, at Fatima, Our Lady urged the visionaries to "pray much" for sinners.

This, really, is our job as Christians, as the "Worshipping Man" or Homo Adorans created by God. There are priests in the Church, yes, whose job is to offer Mass, but all of us share in the priesthood of Christ, offering himself on the altar of the Cross for the saving of all the world. We can participate in the offering of that sacrifice for everyone. We can pray God's mercy on all. And I do believe God will hear and will save those for whom we pray.

We will explore "mercy" more tomorrow, when Noah sends out the birds looking for land. But for today: pray God's salvation on all whom you see - even especially those who are convinced they have no need of it. You are bringing them into the Church - believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. You and your whole household.

13 February 2017

Mark of Cain

Today's Readings:

Why are you so resentful and crestfallen. If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.
Genesis 4:6-7

This story of Cain and Abel is so curious. There are a number of things "Wonky" about it. First, how do the brothers know that God has "looked kindly" on the one and not the other? Secondly, is it not odd that the Lord seems to have intimate conversation even with the one who had the "wrong" offering?

The first question was answered rather graphically when I was in grade school. My Children's Story Bible showed the two brothers praying and fire falling from heaven on Abel's altar, while Cain "got nothing" for his trouble. I remember that Abel was also blond and very muscly and that always helps with knowing who the good guys are (reversed above - but still white folks). Other teachers as I grew older said that Abel was offering an animal - which sacrificial system God approved. But this whole fruits thing was pagan and not so pleasing to God. Yet that cannot true either: for by the time we get to the Exodus, God asks for and enjoys offerings of just about everything.

Then there's this curious dialogue where God says "If you do well you can hold up your head. But if not, sin is lurking at the door." The Fathers read this as a commentary on Cain's pride: not on his worship, but on his state of mind/heart during worship. That has me thinking today of how we worship God.

All of us are commanded to worship God. None of us are exempt from this command. Some of us decide not to follow the command, avoiding man's innate sense of God, of being homo adorans, but all of us have the obligation. The how (which liturgy) seems to me very important, but I will not get into liturgy wars in this blog post - that's too easy. As the Christmas Carol says, "People look east but not the priest". I won't turn my back on the rest of the issue though. What I do know is that some of us seem to worship God, and some of us seem to talk about us worshiping God.

We sang this ditty yesterday at Mass (at the recessional) which reads less like a worship song and more like a Choir Recruiting Ad. It talks about God mostly in the 3rd Person. I see nothing wrong with the theology of Music expressed in the song, but it's not addressed to God - it is addressed to us who are singing. It says, essentially, Don't we feel good about singing about God? Why yes. Yes, we do! Let's sing some more about God, OK? Because that feels good! One day, we'll be able to sing about God all the time. Alleluia! That's like going to confession and saying, "Mistakes were made. And I feel bad when mistakes are made." I use this example because even though I've been going to confession since 2002, I need help all the time.

I don't think liturgy, itself, fixes this problem. I've known people who can talk in about God in the 3rd person while they perform the Traditional Latin Mass or the Diving Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Anglo Catholics can get all hung up on the "Anglican Patrimony" and forget the God it's all about. So can Russians. In the Liturgy of St Basil, in the middle of Lent, once I jumped an octave and perfectly hit a high D near the end of a setting of "All Creation Rejoices in Thee". A friend gave me a thumbs up... and I still need to go to confession about how prideful that makes me feel. As if I were performing instead of praying. I was - and I wasn't doing the thing I was supposed to do. Liturgy doesn't fix this problem.

Are we demanding of God because we have a "right" to stand before him? I think of women who ask for ordination and - being told no - run off and start "WymynChyrch" and get in the paper for being "really ordained Catholic women priests". I think of me, not getting ordained, and running off and joining an "Indy Orthodox Church" and becoming a bishop. We have all kinds of pride. We demand of God a sign that he likes us. No sign will be given - because it's already been given in Christ's blood.

When pride gets the better of us, we are like Cain and his story doesn't end well at all. Yet, God reaches out to us - to sinners especially. Take comfort in the fact that God may like Abel's heart, but he loves Cain just as much and wants to fix him. He knows that he has to lure Cain home. He knows that Cain can easily be tripped up by his own pride - tripped up and landing in sin. And yet even in punishment, God has mercy. In the end, Cain may well repent.

But how about us?

12 February 2017

Twerk It!

Today's readings:

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Sirach 15:15-16

The traditional understanding of man's freedom is set out in today's readings. Before man is life and death, what you seek is what you get.

There is a great scene in the first volume of the Lord of the Rings, both in the movie and in the book here, the former being quite faithful to the latter at this point. As the Fellowship is fleeing from goblins in the Mines of Moria, they come running down a stair. To one side is a deep chasm filled with fire. To the other side is a deep abyss of nothing crossed by one slender bridge. It is this route that leads to escape and this one that they must take. But they have a choice, if you will: for the goblins are even now building bridges across the fire. They can stand and face them to death. They can despair and fall into either the abyss or the chasm. No, the bridge it is and so they flee to safety (no spoilers).

It's all rather like that in theology although the chasm and the fire might seem a bit more obscure, we're asked always to pick. And the way forward, generally, is clearly marked: it's the only way out, really. It's when we think we have the freedom to pick anything (and we try to) that we stumble. We are, indeed, free. But there are only two choices: wrong and right. In fact there are rather a lot of the first and only one of the second. Chasm of Fire or Bottomless Abyss? Both lead to death - the only way out is that narrow bridge.

Man's ontological freedom is only thus: I have sat before you life and death, whichever your choice, that you'll get. Ben Sira does, however, say that if you make the right choice things will go better for you - and not for you, but for all men. The incoming tide raises all ships. Your actions for or against God, for or against self-will, all trigger that same energy in those around us: as we going. Together we are saved - or damned.

Together - that's why Jesus' opening out of the Torah is so important. God came to us to teach us not only the external "rules" but the internal application. Not to undo the Torah, but to help us outgrow it, to see the law "written on our hearts." We know that Adultery is a breaking of the moral code, but the action starts long before anyone gets to the Super 8 out by the airport. You're cheating on your wife looking at the "Casual Encounter" ads on Craigslist. Porn is adultery. Anyone who has ever shouted one name/slam/vulgarity in full anger at an opponent and felt the anger shoot out of them as they said it knows that to call someone a "fool" is to murder them. Jesus shows us how the laws of God are a way of connecting us one to another. It's not enough just to act in a certain way... we must actually love each other.

Traditional theology speaks of the cooperation of Man and God in Man's salvation. There is a fancy Greek word for it: Synergy. It is a dance we work out between us. God is in the lead and we are in the follow position - all of Creation is Femme to his Masculine. But we dance together. The choice to do so, since man is always free, is continual. The choice to dance is never irrevocable. When we are all swirling around the room you can still stop, or pick another partner, or break into some sexy, egotistical gyration that ties to take the spotlight from your partner. You can even twerk and make a real ass of yourself. The end result, however, is lonely and sad: a dance is a grace-filled joint creation between lovers and the music. The choice to leave the music behind, too, is never irrevocable. In fact, God's rather like that internet creeper that keeps sending you emails. He looks at your online profile and hums that tune you both love so much, wondering when you'll come back.

Stretch forth you hand. What is your choice?

11 February 2017

Take yer meds, bro.

Today's Readings:

Adam, where are you?
Genesis 3:9

This is such a scene as no writer could invent. Sure, an all powerful Creator, that's OK. Paradise is easy to imagine, as is a willful creature who runs away. But what writer (save one who knows this story by intimation or intellect) would send the All-Powerful into Paradise to befriend and then be hurt by his creature? Adam? Where are you?

Grieving for our sins. We are hiding from ourselves.

Many in today's world - including not a few who would be Christians - see the ensuing dialogue ending this way: YOU ATE THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT! NOW YOU! MUST! DIE! (And the thunder rolls.) This is not what the Church has historically seen here, nor is it what should follow from, "Adam? Where are you?"
The God whose holy name, whose very being is Love, who made us for himself, who desires us to love him and each other fully, needs to be seen as nearly weeping here as he says, "Adam, you've eaten that... You're dying now..." All of salvation history is an undoing of this hurt (even this is not beyond God nor a surprise to him). The Fathers understand this: the Gospel was never plan B. It was always the way love would walk. God's Love was ready to move. The Gospel was the plan from the beginning, written into the very fabric of a Universe where even atoms release more power when they are broken. And God's life comes through our brokenness and when we break bread in his name, it is God himself! Jesus looks out over the crowd and sees that we are hungry. In pity He feeds us: this has been the Gospel forever.

We are used to thinking of the words of God here as "curses": childbearing in pain, sweat of the brow, toil and labour. Submission. But the only curses God gives are against the evil one and the Earth herself. Elsewhere, the Apostle says that all of Creation groans awaiting our redemption. God has hindered ("cursed") the very fertility of our home, has prevented it from doing its job: giving freely our food. Now we, too, are doing this: raping the world for food and resources as a brute might beat his wife for failing to cook supper on time. Neither Adam nor Eve are cursed in the same way as the Earth and the serpent. We must think different about these things.

God's punishment, though punishment it is, is never to be seen as merely a cruel gesture of omnipotence offended; as if God were not a Loving Father, but only some days paddle-wielding Authoritarian, upset because the kids are making too much noise during study hall. Since God is exactly our Loving Father, his punishment, whilst awesome in its scope, is also awesome in its magnanimity and intended for our education; an open channel of healing grace if we will but submit in pious humility. The "School of Life" is become exactly that: a path through toil and labor, through pain, submission, and service teaching us our reliance on God; leading us back to the Divine Life that has always been intended for us.

When God does something ups for our healing. These are not "punishments" save in the sense that taking an Alka-seltzer is punishment for having a hangover or having surgery is punishment for having a heart attack. These are not only the natural consequences but they are the remedy. This sweat of our brow, this harvesting, this painful labor, submission, and craving; these are all cures for what ails us. Even death itself, whilst being the last enemy, was the first cure: God did not want us living forever in our sin, getting more and more evil. So everything ends. The hindering of the Earth, the growing of thorns and briars is all for our salvation. All in the way that more advanced students (Creation herself, which has not sinned) must wait while the teacher spends time and needed remedial work with slower students.

What is most insidious in today's culture is the way that we strive so heartily to find ways around these things that are intended to be our cures. We are like the adicts in the clinic where I work, taking their antibiotics and hiding them in their mouth so that they can snort them later - just because. We will do anything to undo the work God has given us to do for our own saving. Abortion, divorce, medical destruction of human life (by unnatural prolonging or shortening), even the human slavery that brings us tomatoes in winter, these are all attempts to "self medicate" instead of following the Doctor's orders. We try more and more to be happy the way we are, make do with our mess, anything rather than to take the Bread of Heaven offered us daily. At each away turning instead of becoming more free, we become less human.

10 February 2017

Who's Yer Guy?

Today's readings:
I've been re-experiencing JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit: this time in the glorious audiobook recording by Rob Inglis. He's long been the "canonical" voice of Middle Earth for me. Back in the Wild West days of the Internet ('97 or '98) I found a downloadable (illicit) collection of audio files, MP3s dubbed from cassette tapes! They were of Inglis reading the Lord of the Rings. It was an incomplete recording, and you could hear the tape start and stop... but there it was. For a long time I've listened to him read from Tolkien's masterworks. When I purchased a copy of the audio, and could hear the entire book - even the appendices - I marvelled at the reader's skills. I'm not sure why I never indulged in more, but just recently I purchased his recording of the Hobbit and I'm so thankful! Today, just before breakfast, the troupe of Thorin and Co, plus Bilbo Baggins entered Mirkwood. One passage struck me as I was preparing this post:

The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark—not what you call pitch-dark, but really pitch: so black that you really could see nothing. Bilbo tried flapping his hand in front of his nose, but he could not see it at all.

I've only been in such a place once: in Mammoth Cave - when they turn out the lights just for a moment, while you're underground. That is pitch black! It provides a realization of the miracle of our senses: which take the world and read it to us, not as one might imagine a telescope - I see something over there "pulled in" to seeing over here. But more like a computer simulation: my brain projects outward the experiences it has, interpreting what input enters the eyes, ears, and nose. Last night at Mass we sang a few verses from the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth" by Folliot S Pierpoint. We sang one I've never sung before:

For the joy of ear and eye,
   For the heart and brain's delight,
For the mystic harmony
   Linking sense to sound and sight:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

That's the miracle we have - that "mystic harmony".  So, in today's readings compare two openings of that harmony, two from very different sources. In one, the Creator of All opens something that should never have been closed. In the other, creatures open something that should never have been open.

When the Hebrew speaks of the "Knowledge" of good and evil, we tend towards seeing this wrong. Think of it: by the command "do not eat" God had already divided good from evil. The Earthlings, Ish and Isha, already were aware of Evil.  God had told them what evil was and added, "Don't do it."  The Hebrew word for "Knowledge" here is from the same word used to describe Adam "knowing" his wife - having sex with. Eating this fruit doesn't give Adam and Eve some kind of new magical power, but rather it is the Eating Of It - the act of doing - that teaches Evil. The act is performative. I know it is evil, yet I do it anyway. It's the Experience - I now know the difference between good and evil because I've experienced them both.

Their eyes are open - not because they were closed before - but because they suddenly objectified each other. They suddenly saw that "that other one" can see me. I feel exposed in front of you. You see too much. I must hide. They firat put on fig leaves not to hide from God, but to hide from each other.

So there: that's the opening in Genesis. We've another opening though: caused by the first, really. In God's creation there are no breakdowns in the mystic harmony linking sense and mind. All such breakdowns are a result of the Experiential Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our First Parents rode in where angels fear to tread and we all bear the fruit of their labors. And so a man that should never have been deaf in God's world, comes to God for healing.

In listening to the serpent the eyes of the first were opened and their words were broken, their heart were turned away and their souls died. In listening to God the ears of the second were opened, his words restored and his soul brought back to life. The serpent can speak a word - but it is us who must act. God the Words speaks a word and it is an action. Both conveyed an experiential wisdom, but the first destroyed while the second healed what was destroyed.

We always have a choice: but what we think is wisdom is often just our pride. The serpent's temptation was not, "If you eat this you will have new magical powers". Yet it sounded like that to Eve and the proof of this idea is that it still sounds like that to us. Even people who are not Christian, who have no respect for the text, wonder "Why would God not want you to eat that?" What the serpent said was, "If you disobey you will become your own decider guy." And in both the seeming and the reality he was - and always is - a liar.  You don't get to be the Decider Guy if you sin - the more you sin the more Satan is your Decider Guy. The light goes out just a little more each time until you can't even see your hand flapping in front of your nose.

Even then there is no loss of hope. Just come - or have your friends bring you - to Jesus. He is the only restoration possible for the mystic harmony of sense to sound and sight, only in him can we see by the true light of the world.


09 February 2017

Have You a Spare Garret?

Today's readings:

  • Genesis 2:18-25
  • Mark 7:24-30

"This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."
Genesis 2:23

One of the Greek Myths that so parallels our creation story is, I think, from Plato: the gods made all humans conjoined, but as punishment they split us apart. We thus spend our lives looking for our other half. The creation myths of Scientism haven't really have a reason for sexual bifurcation - it's one of their weaknesses. Moses, in telling the same story, makes the division to be done before any fall: not as a punishment but as a healing. In Genesis 1 God makes humanity as "male and female". There is no "man and woman" in the earlier story. Here, that Male-Female creature is split in half and becomes Ish (Man) and Isha (Woman). This is done because God sees that it is not good that Ha-Adam - The Male/Female Earthling - should be alone - and so, Ha-Adam becomes Ish and Isha. And as in Plato, it is for us still: a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.

Today we need to learn the lessons though that The Earthling learns in this passage: God knows it's not good for us to be alone. We make jokes about crazy cat ladies and batchelor farmers. (I think there is such a joke in this text: because what does God do first in seeking for a partner? He brings the animals one by one to be tried out and none of them are a suitable partner.) We know that rarely do the men and women we find homeless on the street come from solid families and they often just move singly through the world. Addictions and diseases are found in higher numbers among the single.

What should the Church be doing about this? When people marry later, if at all; when the elderly live longer and so, should one die, the other is alone longer, what should the Church be doing? In traditional societies the answer was "What do you mean, the Church?" for families took care of their family members. There may have been old maids in the garrets or bachelors out on the farm, but they all came to dinner. They all had a place. They all knew that they were to be taken care of. It was not the Church that did this, it was not the state: it was the family, the culture. It was the culture that gave rise to the state - which supported the culture. It was the Church that blessed and guided the family and the state in the nurture of persons in God's image.

What should the Church be doing about this? Families are rarely all in one place any more, when multiple generations of the family are nearly never in one state, let alone one city, and certainly never in the same parish (if, even, in the same religion). I think the Church of Christendom is going to be lost in this world. It's the Church of Pre-Christendom, the Post-Apostolic Church that needs to come back to fix this: the Church that gave us communal living and monasticism, the Church that sustained us through martyrdom and that startup phase. That's what we need now, again.

Here's a story I heard told by an Orthodox Monk: when he joined the EOC, his new priest said, "Are you the marrying kind?" And the monk said, "No." So the priest sent him to a monastery. It's an easy way to get rid of people who might cause trouble in your congregation, I think: ship them away. Of course, in America, that "away" is not the same as it is in "the Old Country" - wherever that is. Here Monasteries are not sitting on endowments, they don't have massive networks of financial and communal support. One monastery was thrown into financial implosion when a wealthy brother left. All the monks personally known to me are on welfare - food stamps and/or medical assistance. This, dear friends, is not caring for our single folks.

It's not good for any Earthling to be alone: and life even with a mass-a-day habit can still be lonely. What can the Church do about this? In our culture today we can speak of "urban tribes", of "families of choice", or of "logical families" as opposed to "biological families" - to borrow from Armisted Maupin. These constructs don't work very well in rural communities, but I know of at least one "urban tribe" that rescues lost sheep in rural Western North Carolina, and I am aware of one in the sandy lands near where Mt Olive pickles are made. Humans don't function well alone - and we will make up things to support us. Shouldn't the Church be stepping in, as part of Evangelism or else as part of faith support systems, to create tribes that are moral goods to plug into?

Jesus reached out in healing to people he - a good Jew - shouldn't even have been talking to. But Jesus wasn't a good Jew, he was God: the very God who made Adam and Eve out of the Earthling because the Earthling should not be alone. How can the Church, the Body of God on Earth, reach out beyond the comfort zone of her people - just as God did - to bring in those who are alone?

08 February 2017

Straight Outta Red Clay

Today's readings:
The Spirit Over the Waters: 2008 DHR
painter's tape and ink on cardboard

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.
Genesis 2:7

There is a whole anthropology in this verse: a whole way of understanding who we are, of what we are.

The first thing to note is that in Hebrew (and in the NABRE, at least) the thing being made here is not named "Adam" but rather a class of being called "Ha-adam" which means the-something. The understanding of the word is one of "earth-creature" because God made this creature out of dirt. It's a common-enough trope in many mythologies around the world, including our current one of scientism: some action takes a lump of inanimate matter and makes it animate. That is exactly how scripture says it happened. Even Carl Sagan taught us that we are made of stardust. Genesis is more prosaic and says dust of the ground. And here we have "adam" words twice in Hebrew: Ha-adam apar min ha-adamah. The-adam of the dust of the-adamah" That last adamah means "dirt" or "ground". It also means "ruddy" or red... and so: God made the-adam out of good, holy, and red Georgia clay.

And then God breathed into the earth creature the breath of life, the Nishamah-Chai'im: our soul.  The Nishamah-Chai'iam is important. Because God did not give this to any other creature. It is ours.

And then, it says, the Earth Creature, ha-adam, having received the Neshamah became A Living Being, Nephesh-Hayah, a Thing that Is.  We were not that when we started this story, 13 hebrew words before. We started as dirt. And God breathed into us. Then we became. We are Ha-adam, the earth creature-with-soul. We are dirt-that-lives, raised by the Lord God our Father from the Earth our Mother. (Ha-adamah is a feminine noun.)

We have here the creation of us. And it is the salvation of us as well: for we often forget that we are not earth creatures with souls.  We are not a "soul trapped in dirt". Nor are we merely dirt with something added. The adam part of us, the dirt, is entirely at one with the breath of life, the nephesh of us. It is breath+dirt that makes us Nephesh Hayah.  God (Yah) who is being himself made all the things of the earth out of dirt (as we'll see tomorrow) but in us he put something of himself, something of Being.

Almost all heresies forget this.

In all distortions of the truth, humans are either "spiritual beings with bodies" (Gnosticism) or else just "bodies" (Materialism). This is true of all heresies in one degree or another: if you say something wrong about God you will also say something wrong about man. The reverse is equally true. Only Christianity demands fully that salvation - being made whole - is a restoration of this fully living being, this breath+dirt that is God and Earth.

This story is fulfilled - made full - in God becoming Earth himself in the Incarnation. God became the New Adam, the new Earthling, in order to fully restore all of us to himself. The very God of Communion who gave us Beingness, comes to us who gave up our Beingness for selfishness, to restore us to full Communion.

06 February 2017

Ex Nihilo. But why?

Today's readings:
  • Genesis 1:1-19
  • Mark 6:53-56
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.
Genesis 1:2 (Knox)

It's quite a la mode to not dress up for anything except irony. I shall put on a bowtie for my trip to the grocer. I shall wear this thrift store tuxedo for the office Christmas party. (Ugly sweaters are part of this, although wearing them as a theme is a different matter.) Dressing for dinner at home never happens. Dressing up for dinner out nearly never happens. I'm a jeans and a time sorta guy you know. Very laid back. And who dresses up for Church anymore?

I am, of course, writing in one hella laid back part of the world. In San Francisco people wear flip-flops and shorts to the symphony. But seriously, even in my homeland of Dixie dressing up for Church just doesn't happen. I've seen sweats and shorts, flip-flops, string tops, short skirts, torn jeans... Whatever works. Among the Orthodox in the mountains of North Carolina, I've seen the full spectrum of clothes at Church, but ties were rare. Long dresses were common but they were almost always shapeless sacks (the Ortho-Burqa Fr J called it) and never anything you'd call beautiful.

That last word is important: I'm not talking about fashion or cost. I'm talking beauty. I'm not talking about immodesty nor about wealth. I know, too, all the reasons God doesn't *need* you to dress up. God loves you just as you are. You don't need to show off in front of anyone. You are not there to brag about how much money you make. You feel self-conscious. You need to blend in. You can't waste the time.

This week (5th week of Ordinary Time in Year 1) we are reading the story of the Creation and the Fall as the first lessons at Mass. Today and tomorrow we get the 6 days of creation. I don't care which myth of origins you buy into, the traditional one or the more recent one, but as a Christian you have to believe that all of this - no matter how it got here - came from God. There is no other valid Christian belief. Regardless of how he did it, you have to admit it should beautiful. It's not some "mysterious inner beauty" either: it's lavish, luscious, almost entirely erotic beauty right on the surface. It is stunning. It is breathtaking. You might say it is so commonplace as to be not beautiful at all, but it is *so* beautiful that it never wears out.

God did this for no other reason than to put us in the middle of it and to surprise us with it at every turn. We are loved - see how beautiful the universe is, how vast, how mysterious. Can you imagine? The entire thing (at least from our POV) is there to be awe-inspiringly beautiful, for us to see that beauty and bring us to God.

Have you even seen how beautiful we are? Every last one of us. And again, I don't mean some bizarre inner beauty. Get off that Gnostic crap. Even when we are broken, it's shining there on the surface, maybe covered in scars, maybe disfigured. But tell me the Venus de Milo is not beautiful. Stop what you are doing right now, look up and look around. Can you know that everyone you are seeing right now is beautiful? Can you walk through your day knowing that? Can you make it without crying?

How, then, can your worship of the God who made all this beauty for you not ask of you some sacrifice of beauty in return? The Divine Liturgy, the Holy Mass, is not a show. You are not there to watch the gloriously-clad ministers go through their complex gavotte while you recline in your torn jeans before the game or brunch of a Sunday. If you make it to Daily Mass, of course you appear as you would also at work. But Sunday, at least, can you not add rather than detract from the beauty of Liturgy?

Can we not tell the difference between the t-shirt and yoga pants of today's "liberated" woman as paralleled with the Ortho-burqa sacks, both on the one hand, and the plain, simple, and beautiful lines of an Amish Church Dress or a woman's dress suit, on the other? Men's clothes can be likewise divided between "modern trashy/modern ugly" and "Something simple and beautiful." Imagine seeing a conscious adding of beauty as we come to church rather than a sloppy "Look, be happy I made it."

Following on yesterday's text, this is also why we cannot sexually, fiscally, or politically objectify people. We cannot turn people into things (objects) to be used by us or for our ends. Beauty, all beauty like all truth and all good, is there to lead us to God the Creator of all beauty. All of Creation has been made out of the nothingness that was into the somethingness that is. And all of it, from tarpits to that grumpy person at the starbucks counter is so amazingly beautiful.

Shouldn't we dress up for this party?

05 February 2017

Job in Sodom?

Today's readings:
  • Isaiah 58:7-10
  • Psalm 112:4-9 (Responsorial)
  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 
  • John 8:12 (Alleluia)
  • Matthew 5:13-16
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Share thy bread with the hungry, give the poor and the vagrant a welcome to thy house; meet thou the naked, clothe him; from thy own flesh and blood turn not away.
Isaiah 58:7 (Knox)

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah will be familiar to you, if only because you have been exposed to the horror story version or the sexualized version in some movie or TV show. You may also know the Bible Version in Genesis 18 and 19. When the cities were destroyed, God led Lot and his family out of the way of harm. Yet while they were fleeing, Lot’s wife turned around to look back and she was turned into a pillar of salt. Traditional and very conservative Jewish Biblical commentary is filled with reasons God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: greed, abuse of slaves, injustice, pride; lack of care for the poor that was so extreme you could be punished for feeding the homeless - like in Fort Lauderdale and some twenty other locations in the USA.

The Midrash tells two tales of righteous women who dared extend a helping hand to beggars and were put to death:
Two maidens of Sodom met at the well, where they had both gone to drink and fill up their water jugs. One girl asked her friend, “Why is your face so pale?” Her friend answered, “We have nothing to eat at home, and are dying of starvation.” Her compassionate friend filled her own jug with flour, and exchanged it for her friend’s jug of water. When the Sodomites found out about her act, they burnt her to death.
A second tale:
It was announced in Sodom, “Whoever will give bread to a poor person will be burnt at the stake.” Plotit, the daughter of Lot, who was married to a prominent Sodomite, once saw a poor man who was so hungry that he was unable to stand. She felt sorry for him. From then on, she made sure to pass him every day on her way to the well, and she would feed him some food that she had stashed in her water jug. People wondered how the man managed to live. Upon investigation, they discovered her act and prepared to burn her. Before she died, she turned to G‑d and cried, “Master of the world, carry out justice on my behalf!” Her cries pierced the heavens, and at that moment G‑d said, “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me.”
The primary point of the Sodom Story is not the sexual content, it is the moral content. The sex stuff there is to shore up the other points. All humans are created in God's image and God would not have us treat his icons as sex object, political objects, or fiscal objects. If you're going to oppress them for economic gain, you might as well force them into sexual slavery too. God did not tell Lot to flee the Castro or West Hollywood. God was not out to destroy Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Dupont Circle, or Provincetown. God told Lot to flee fin de siecle America. God told Lot to flee the country that Apotheosized into Trump. God said: get straight outta there before I blow the place up - it doesn't matter if he uses fire from heaven, suicidal maniacs on jets, or guns wielded by white folks.

Which is to say, we're screwed.


Share thy bread with the hungry, give the poor and the vagrant a welcome to thy house; meet thou the naked, clothe him; from thy own flesh and blood turn not away.

And then...

Sudden as the dawn, the welcome light shall break on thee, in a moment thy health shall find a new spring; divine favour shall lead thee on thy journey, brightness of the Lord’s presence close thy ranks behind. Then the Lord will listen to thee when thou callest on him; cry out, and he will answer, I am here at thy side.Banish from thy midst oppression, and the finger pointed scornfully, and the plotting of harm, spend thyself giving food to the hungry, relieving the afflicted; then shall light spring up for thee in the darkness, and thy dusk shall be noonday

I struggle with this - don't get me wrong. I don't know how to do this yet. However, the morality of it is very straight forward. The Fathers ALL agree on this:

Give your crap away.
You may not have enough.
Give it away.
You may have too much.
Give it away.
And when you do: it changes you and your relationship with God AND the other person.

When you hoard your stuff. When you hide from the poor. When you diss the oppressed, you're not protecting anything: you're acting like Satan. You're being a Sodomite. Your trust is not in God - it's not even in yourself. It's in stuff. You are treating stuff as more important than a human being which means, really, you don't even value yourself as much as that stuff. Give your stuff away.

It goes well with the man who lends in pity, just and merciful in his dealings. Length of days shall leave him still unshaken; men will remember the just for ever. No fear shall he have of evil tidings; on the Lord his hope is fixed unchangeably.
Ps 112:5-7 (111 LXX)

This will not make you popular in Trump's America - or even in Obama's America. We give stuff away here to manipulate others into doing our will, not to be Godlike. Ungodly men are ill content to see it. Vainly they gnash their teeth in envy; worldly hopes must fade and perish. (Psalm 112:10)

There is only one way forward for us Christians. I don't preach to the Gentiles for they don't stand with us even in the best of times save only for their own ends. They agree with President Trump on all aspects: they, too, make up their own morality. They, too, reject the idea of "truth". They, too, object to "being judged". They, too, reject the values of life. They, too, reject the idea of people over stuff. They, too, would turn Syrian refugees into political points - for they didn't care about them very loudly when Obama wasn't letting the Christians in. They only care now that it is a Republican doing it. They didn't care loudly about the war that has cost thousands of American lives before, but suddenly they are out in the streets because they didn't vote for this guy. Morals change. It was ok before, but bad now. They have created Trump: the first post-modern, post-Christian president. He is exactly their president. The Gentiles have won.

There is only one way forward for the Israel of God: the path of "Jesus Christ, and of him as crucified." Our God, the only true and living God, the God for whom and by whom all things were made is the son of an unwed teenage girl, born amid cattle fodder and dung, fleeing the powers of the world, living homeless and preaching a spiritual revolution on the streets of an occupied country, and thus subjected to torture and public execution by the oppressing government.

That is God.

He is our Identity.

It is he whom we serve.

And we recognize him most easily in people who are - like all of us - in his image and likeness; but most especially like him in the world.

Christians have no home. Yet, unlike Lot and his family, before the sky falls, we have a ministry, a duty. We have a job in Sodom.

You are the salt of the earth; if salt loses its taste, what is there left to give taste to it? There is no more to be done with it, but throw it out of doors for men to tread it under foot.
Matthew 5:13

Salt is the flavor needed in everything (including the Super Bowl feast you have there) but there is another use for it and props to Bishop Barron for pointing this out: if you toss it out and trample it underfoot, you're cursing. You're "Salting the Earth". Jesus' listeners would know this: #Carthagodelendaest If you really want to ruin a place, pour salt on the earth and walk all over it: trample it under foot, pack it in. You're making the earth unfruitful, unblessed. When Christians lose our taste we become a curse. We become death to those around us. When we become just like everyone else, we're tearing stuff down without building it up. We're cursing those we should be saving.

So, for God's sake, get out there and be the best kind of salt (fleur de sel). Don't ruin stuff, add flavor (or flavour if that's your thing). Do not, do not, do not let the silly stuff of this world, including the politics of this world, distract you from always looking to Christ and him crucified. Give it all away before it has a chance. Give your passports to foreigners. Sell your stuff on the internet. Lighten up.

And you can't be held down even when they nail you up on the tree.

03 February 2017

Neologism Alert!

Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 13:1-8
  • Psalm 27:1-9 (Responsorial)
  • Luke 8:15 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 6:14-29

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE

Propter iusiurandum et propter simul recumbentes noluit eam contristare.
Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her.
Mark 6:26

King Herod and I share a birthday, at least liturgically: August 29th is the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist and so the day of Herod's party and also my birthday. This story always resonates with me: the illicit, sexualized relationship with his stepdaughter, who is also his niece, the child of his own brother. The family drama of it all, pardon the unintentional double entendre, but I didn't write this. It always reads to me rather like The Edge of Night or maybe Dark Shadows. Today though I think there is a payoff: the connection of this with a lot of sin.

At Courage last night we were discussing entropy: things fall apart, it's scientific. It came up that the Evil One is trying to get us to dissolve, to fall apart as well: that is his goal. And there was a connection with this false self we've constructed and feed by indulging our passions, those sins that make us think they are really "me" when, really they are not. (How can I really be a sin?) So we create this false self, and by continual reindulgence it becomes stronger: it becomes the only me that really is left. I have entropically dissolved into my passion. In the end the sin, itself, becomes about destruction: courting death, demanding pain, ever greater and ever more. Repeating the patterns until they are only echoes of themselves. There is nothing left to be saved. I become my sin: there is no me left, nothing left to sin, and sin and me vanish in a puff of ontology.

Herod swears an oath of which he repents almost immediately, but because he swore the oath in front of guests on his birthday he won't go back on it. In less than six verses in the Gospel of Mark, Herod creates a false self and dissolves into it in front of his guests. His evil is crafted by his adultery and lust, sealed by his oath and performed at his orders, even though he, himself, is sorrowful and wishes this would all stop.

How often do we do this to ourselves, missing the hope that comes from Christ: the hope that says by faith we can be made whole, the entropy can be reversed. "For he hath said: I will not leave thee: neither will I forsake thee. So that we may confidently say: The Lord is my helper: I will not fear what man shall do to me." Yet we swore an oath! Our pride will not let us go back. We start a job and, even though it is immoral, we keep doing it because someone has to feed me. We obey a leader because we are Patriots, even when the leader, himself, is not. We continue in our lust for fear of what our friends will say. We continue to dance even when there is no music, because we can't shake off the bugs.

We create, feed, and enliven a false self, a golem.

So that into it we die.

Who will save us from this mess?

01 February 2017

A Personal Trainer

Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15
  • Psalm 103:1-18
  • John 10:27
  • Mark 6:1-6

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Come then, stiffen the sinews of drooping hand, and flagging knee, and plant your footprints in a straight track, so that the man who goes lame may not stumble out of the path, but regain strength instead. Your aim must be peace with all men, and that holiness without which no one will ever see God.
Hebrews 12:13-15

St Paul tells us to strengthen our weakness and to walk the path carefully so that those who are weaker, coming behind us, may not stumble.

How do we strengthen ourselves, however? The obvious answer is: the sacraments, the prayer, fellowship. By participating in the life of Christ, that is, the Church, here in the world, we are made strong. But the first thing to do is realize we are weak. Only in confessing our weakness can we grow - and only in relying on God. This generous idea reads to me as if God is less like an Angry, Vengeful Patriarch and more like the Dad that wants you to be good at sports: training you to become the Man he wants you to be; or like a good trainer, who will set a tiny bit more weight on you and encourage you to reach further than your goals.

Yet, you know, when I set goals for myself: it is always too hard. I know, of course, what manner of man I am and I know my weakness. I'd rather just cut it off. God wants to heal it, to make it stronger so that those who come after may not stumble, as it were, over the parts I cut off and tossed into the path.

By happenstance, this came up as the assigned reading from St Francis de Sales yesterday:
What love have you for your own heart? What trouble do you take to care for it in its illness? You owe it this care, in order to help it and to obtain help for it when it is tormented by passions, and to lay all else aside for that. 
- St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life 5.5.3
As I sat there in my Salesian Meditation mode I began to realize how cruel I can be to my own heart: for, as I said, I know what manner of man I am. And I'm not good enough, so I will set a bit of cruelty for myself, or I will hide away from all possible errors. A good teacher would walk me gently through them so that I might learn to navigate my way. But I will avoid them - not becoming stronger, staying just as weak as I am. This is not a call to "lead me into temptation!" Rather it's a realization that avoiding such things in loneliness is not the way to become strong in Christ. Nor is it kind to my heart to hide away.

So I will cut this short: it's late and time for sleep as I write. But there is the call - especially as we are leading up to Lent. To care for our hearts which are tormented by sin, to lay all aside to care for the heart in it's sickness, and thus make it stronger. We can not do it alone. St Francis was writing to one of his spiritual children and we, too, would need our spiritual father or mother, our spiritual friends to pray for us, to help us in loving and growth.

Care and love.