Friday, May 21, 2004

I began reading G.K. Chesterton's "Everlasting Man" last night because it's referenced by so many people (even C.S. Lewis references it in his books). As does Lewis with "Mere Christianity," Chesterton says his book is for non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, etc. But I find that both books are must reads for Christians as well because they arm us, the prepare us for our teenager's questions, our co-workers cynicisms, our fallen friends agnostic views.

Chesterton writes with much more humor than Lewis. He opens his introduction with the line, "There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there." Another line I remember, especially today, "Some say the war has discredited the Church, they might as well say that the Ark was discredited by the Flood."

I'm looking forward to a good read.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

We Get No Christ from You *

I hear
a child cry
and move to comfort her.
Her eyes: a never ending stream
of tears --
of Men --
encapsulated here,
in her. What comfort can I give
the world?

*The human race
To you means, such a child, or such a man,
You saw one morning waiting in the cold,
Beside that gate, perhaps. You gather up
A few such cases, and, when strong, sometimes
Will write of factories and of slaves, as if
Your father were a negro, and your son
A spinner in the mills. All's yours and you,–
All, coloured with your blood, or otherwise
Just nothing to you. Why, I call you hard
To general suffering. Here's the world half blind
With intellectual light, half brutalised
With civilization, having caught the plague
In silks from Tarsus, shrieking east and west
Along a thousand railroads, mad with pain
And sin too! . . does one woman of you all,
(You who weep easily) grow pale to see
This tiger shake his cage?–does one of you
Stand still from dancing, stop from stringing pearls
And pine and die, because of the great sum
Of universal anguish?–Show me a tear
Wet as Cordelia's, in eyes bright as yours,
Because the world is mad? You cannot count,
That you should weep for this account, not you!
You weep for what you know. A red-haired child
Sick in a fever, if you touch him once,
Though but so little as with a finger-tip,
Will set you weeping! but a million sick . .
You could as soon weep for the rule of three,
Or compound fractions. Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you must remain
Uninfluenced by you. Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doating mothers, and chaste wives.
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you

-- from Aurora Leigh, Book 2, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ascension Sunday 


Winter grows in the hearts of birds
until they burst to flight,
as Heaven grew within the flesh
of the resurrected Christ.


“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”

Ruth 1:16

There was a man, a Sherpa, named Tenzing Norgay. Ascension was his life. He was on the team of most, if not all, early attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He was with Edmund Hillary when the summit was finally reached in 1953. He spent more time on the mountain than anyone, ever. He said, “In my heart, I needed to go. The pull of Mt. Everest was stronger in me than any force on Earth.” Just as Ruth couldn’t part with Naomi, Norgay couldn’t part with Mt. Everest. Just so, how heartrending it must have been among the faithful when Jesus died, came back for forty days, and then ascended into the clouds. How painful to have lost all you seek twice in forty days. It must have been Mt. Everest crumbling for Tenzing Norgay. It must have been Namoi sneaking off in the night for Ruth. It must have been like waking up alone in a silent house after your spouse and children have all gone away.

Last night was my son’s Senior Honors Night. As each student was announced, a quote the student had selected was read. One student had chosen a quote from Marilyn Manson: “If all of your wishes are granted, then all of your dreams are destroyed.” There was an intake of breath that everyone could hear when that was read, for the quote was so different than any of the others, and the name “Marilyn Manson” so controversial. But of all the quotes last night, that is the one that has most stuck with me. (Well, one other stuck with me: “Everyone is gifted, some just open their presents later than others.”) Anyway, Tenzing Norgay had a constant dream to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. If he had been somehow transported there without the effort of the climb, his wish would have been granted, but his dream destroyed. The Apostles wished to sit on the right hand of Jesus in Heaven, but if that wish had been granted when Jesus ascended into Heaven, the Church would have been destroyed, would never have been built. It is the summit we wish for, but the climb is our dream. If our wish is granted, our dream is destroyed.

If our wish is eternal life with Christ, then managing well the climb through the canyons and crevasses of our life should be our dream. Yes?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Via Jeff Miller's Blog, "The Curt Jester:" Justice of the Peace Linda Gray resigned in Marlton, MA rather than issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

I admire her for her convictions. Do you think ABC will run a story tonight about this Justice of the Peace who stood up for what she knew to be right instead of just following orders like the soldiers in Iraq who humiliated their prisoners?

There is just no escaping the culture wars, not even if you go back to live in the year 1628 like those hardy folk on the PBS series "Colonial House." The premise is that a colony will be established on 1000 acres where the participating colonists will live under 17th century laws using 17th century tools, methods, clothes, etc.

Last night, one couple (self-admitted atheists) decided that they would no longer attend the Sabbath. They took their near-teenage son skinny dipping with them instead (showing quite a bit more than I wanted to see, truth be told). The governor cracked down and made them wear a scarlet letter and he staked the wife (tied her feet to a stake) in the yard and made her sit there for a few hours. This didn't work. More couples decided the punishment was worth the crime, they wanted the Sabbath time for their own personal time, too. Soon, so many people were being punished the colony couldn't get their work done. The governor backed down and no longer enforced the Sabbath laws.

Immediately upon seeing this, a woman went to the governor and said she would no longer be covering her hair with a hat or a bonnet. She said she would bear the punishment (another scarlet letter) until he rescinded that law as well. Also, so many of the people were swearing (also against the law) that the scarlet letters they were all wearing became meaningless, many people had two or three scarlet letters pinned to their clothes and nobody seemed to notice or care. The governor found out that he really had no power over these people. They had signed on to the show saying they would submit to the governor's laws, but if they didn't, and if they had no shame... so what.

Soon a man decided to drop his work and go for a walkabout. He ended up off the 1000 acres having a beer in a nearby town. What could the governor do? Then a man, apparently so internally restricted and tethered to unhappiness by the fact that the other colonists didn't know he was gay, decided to announce that fact in church on Sunday. 1628: punishable by death. 2004: applause.

Many areas of the show are interesting and touching, you get a feel for the loneliness and distance and yearning our first settlers endured as well as the back-breaking work that went into staying alive. The early colonists lived on the edge, and no, of course I don't want to go back to staking people into the yard, making women where corsets, making it the law to go to church on Sunday or killing homosexuals. That's not at all what this is about. It's just, well maybe I'm starting to feel a little of that loneliness, distance and yearning myself. Christian periodicals are full of arguments about the liturgy, what to teach in the schools, how these Bishops aren't standing up, how these are standing up for the wrong things, how here we should kneel and here we shouldn't... it all ends in just wanting a little quiet and time alone with your thoughts.

I'm not one who hasn't read the Bible, so I know this type of strife has been with the Church its entire life, from day 1... from before day 1. Maybe one of the best purposes of prayer time is that a bubble grows around you, a cone of silence, where you are no longer part of it all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

St. Paul's Catholic Church is to be torn down in Fort Wayne, IN. Maybe I'll go get some pictures before it goes.

What do you want from God? 

I have to get these RCIA questions completed by next Tuesday, so I want to think about another one: "What do you want from God at this point in your faith journey?"

I think I should go at this backwards and examine what I have been praying about, that should answer "what do I want from God." I ask God for a clean heart when I pray and for the Holy Spirit to fill me. To me, asking for a clean heart means that I want to push despair and pride and lust and all other bad thoughts and attitudes out and let in hope and peace and faith and charity and patience and other good thoughts and practices. I ask to be better able to understand and process what I'm reading and learning about my faith.

I then go through each of my kids and my wife in my mind and ask for the Holy Spirit to visit them and push out the bad and let in the good. I ask for Angels to guard them and help them with their decisions and with their particular challenges. I also ask that my grandparents be allowed to guide and help my children, too, even though, as I wrote before, I tend to believe that people don't just sit around up in heaven waiting for me to die. I think we all die on (what in Heaven is) the same day, or else we die and sleep until the final day arrives. So why do I ask for this? I think, truth be told, that I like raising the images of my grandparents to mind while I'm talking with God.

I pray for my relatives and friends and for others who have asked for prayers or who I have been thinking about. I pray for wisdom and courage in America and in President Bush and his team and for Laura Bush and for our soldiers.

Writing this down it seems long, but it really doesn't take very long to be silent and pray for these things. So, in the end, I want God to help me be a better person, stronger in faith, better able to resist temptations. I want God and Angels to be available for and to nudge my children when they need a good nudging. I want the same for our leaders, who also need nudging now and again... as do I.

To see the lizard there,
I was amazed I did not have to beat
My breast with a stone.

If a lion lounged nearby,
He must have curled in a shadow of cypress,
For nobody shook a snarled mane and stretched out
To lie at my feet.

And for a moment,
I did not see Christ retching in pain, longing
To clutch his cold abdomen,
Sagging, unable to rise or fall, the human
Flesh torn between air and air.

I was not even
Praying, unless: no,
I was not praying.

A rust branch fell suddenly
Down from a dead cypress
And blazed gold. I leanded close.
The deep place in the lizard's eys
Looked back into me.

Delicate green sheaths
Folded into one another.
The lizard was alive,
Happy to move.

But he did not move.
Neither did I.
I did not dare to.

-- Jerome in Solitude, by James Wright

The lion is the companion-animal of Saint Jerome, the lion traditionally appears in paintings at the saint's feet while Jerome leans over his translations of the Bible. This poem caught my eye last night. I've read that we're to take nature as a gift from God and I think Wright captures that well here. I particularly liked the missing lion, maybe curled in the shadows of the cypress, and then a rust branch falling, blazing gold in the sunlight, like the lion moving.

I need to seek that state Jerome finds in the poem. I let some newsman's Iraq opinions upset me last night. He was coming at The Bush team from the right, saying we are throwing away our opportunities by not putting Saddam on trial now. The word is that the Iraqi's will try Saddam in 2006, but here we are with this prison abuse story rolling over the Arab world while the master abuser sits in seclusion. If Saddam's trial were held now, it would be his face and his generals faces that the Middle East would be watching on television. It would be their mass murders that would be the news and not these few, these twisted Americans.

Ah, well. I don't want the seeming truth of that to ruin today. Instead, I will work and listen for the rustling lion in the cypress. I will work and look for the turning peace of a green lizard's eye.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Your Local Church 

My next RCIA question is, "What do you want from your local church?"

The easy answers spring to mind, like 'friendship' and 'knowledge,' 'unity' and 'prayers,' 'faith' and 'a home for my children.' Perhaps every Christian Church should provide these things. Our move from a Methodist Church where I was a member all my life to a Catholic Church where we know nearly no one is a major life change. We have children ranging in age from 5 to 21 and parents in their seventies. I look ahead and see marriages, births, deaths, first communions, confirmations, joys and hardships galore.

My older children, though still living at home, have not joined me (yet) in joining our new Catholic Church. My parents have not joined me. My friends have not joined me. I have a new home, a wonderful new home in the Catholic faith that's filling me with knowledge and joy... but if/when my children get married, where am I and they to go if not here? If my children have children, what church will they find or choose to raise them in if not mine? If, God forbid, my parents pass away how best will my brothers and sisters and I handle this in our differing faiths?

My new joy is also a new hardship.

What do I want from my new church home? I want a place to go where God seems nearer to me. Nearer than He is when the butterfly bush is blooming. Nearer than when my daughter lays her head on my shoulder. Nearer than He ever seemed to be at my old home church. I want a place to go to where I can pray about all those hardships listed above and all those hardships faced by others in the world who have touched me. I want a place to go to where you can feel the expectations God has for Man and, especially, for me.

Sunday couldn't have been much more beautiful. Walking in the neighborhood with my five-year-old daughter, we heard and saw birds and squirrels in almost every tree. We saw robins in almost every yard, sparrows here and there, many red-winged black birds and one bright red cardinal, sitting on a street sign. The air was full of the smell of new mown grass and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We snipped some branches from our white butterfly bush for a vase, did plenty of yard word, did plenty of swinging on the swingset. The butterfly bush is in full bloom and the odor infuses the back yard.

We have video cameras so we can record and playback events like my daughter's pre-school graduation or my son's baseball games. We have still cameras to record memories of birthdays and anniversaries and every day fun. We have CD's to play our favorite music and cassette recorders and mp3 records to keep memories of music and voices fresh. I've even been seeing these any-flavor beans, or belly beans, like from Harry Potter, that seem to give you a hint of just about any flavor you'd like... but why has no one invented a way to record the smell of our butterfly bush mingling with the smell of the cut grass? Why isn't there a way to replay the sensation of your youngest child leaning her head back into your shoulder as you read her favorite book to her.

There was a Star-Trek movie where people were swept into a ribbon of light called, "The Nexus." Inside the light, they had no concept of anything but living their perfect life forever. Some seem to believe that's what heaven will be like, like living yesterday's beauty out forever... but I don't much believe in that kind of heaven. I think God is outside of Time as we know it. I've always rather thought that everyone dies at the same time, related to Heaven. So when I die, it will be the same day in Heaven as when my grandfather died, the same day as St. Peter died, the same day as Adam died... what a day in Heaven it will be, that final judgement day, when all Men and all Women who ever were or will be enter the gates. So I don't put much hold in psychics, like Sylvia Brown, who see ghosts and relatives all around us who don't even know they're dead. The Bible says that when people die, they are sleeping until the day Jesus returns. Of course, I may have to alter my view to allow for the communion of the saints now that I'm becoming Catholic.

Speaking of the Gates of Heaven, why does Heaven need walls and gates? Our 2nd reading on Sunday was from Revelations 21. John saw the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven with "massive, high walls and 12 gates for the 12 tribes" and "The walls of the city had 12 courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the 12 names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb." Does that mean "Judas" is one of the inscribed names on the walls of heaven?

Something for me to ponder today.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Here, by way of Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, is a nice entry from a web logger in Iraq:

I asked them about their opinion about the government and the president they would like to have in the future, here, a man said “ I’d prefer a Christian president” as a matter of fact I was shocked as I wasn’t expecting to hear such a perspective in an almost exclusively Shei’at village. Here the others agreed and clarified their friends point “we mean that we don’t want an Islamic or Shei’at government” “see, the SCIRI party established a library and a school to give religion classes that no one attends despite it cost the party thousands of dollars and occupied one of the towns’ buildings. Take a look at the water treatment plant that the coalition established, people gather around it every morning”. “We want those who know what we need, not those who tell us to do what they want” another man added”.

I don't think the man in the quote above understood his use of the word 'Christian.' I think he views, perhaps through the Arab news, 'American' and 'Christian' as the same thing. They want their government to serve them and not the other way around. This is how the American government is setup, "By the people, for the people." But, thinking back to what I wrote before about how Jesus could have ruled, but instead served, perhaps the Iraqi is a little big right. The American government, given the right circumstances (as has been played out in many books and movies over the years) could tell us to do what they want instead of knowing what we need. Of course countless people can argue against the American government "knowing what American's need" and not "telling us to do what they want." But, in comparison to the rest of the governments in the world, I think ours is on the better side of that equation. I wonder how many Americans, this fall, will consider answering the question, "what type of President do you want?" would consider answering, "I'd prefer a Christian president."

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