Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Sermon on the Plain 

My RCIA instructor, knowing I was struggling with the concept of moral living leading inevitably to suffering, sent me a wonderful paper by Brother Giorgio Gonella: "Song of the Beatitudes." I can't copy the paper here, since it's under copyright, but I believe I can pass along some of the flavor of it. And the fact that this instructor is not just going through the motions, but is trying to reach me, trying to teach me, makes me feel at home.

The paper talks about the sermon on the plain and says that Jesus is not speaking on a moral level when he says, blessed are you that hunger, blessed are you who weep, etc. here's an excerpt:

Jesus is not talking about rewards or merits or exalting good, holy people. Jesus is speaking about "up and down." God will come "down" in order to lift "up" those who have been pushed "down," and with this hope God cheers them "up," and congratulates them.

The God of the Beatitudes is not the God of the official Jewish theology, who rewards the good and chastises the bad. Nor is this God a "bookkeeper," boringly weighing people's merits and sins, deciding what to do with them. The God of which Jesus is the herald is different. This God forgets about merits and sins and sees only the pain of those bowed down. This God's compassion does not depend on whether people are good or bad; it has to do with the fact that they are bowed down.

The paper goes on to discuss the sermon on the mount where Jesus tells us about how our spirit should be whether we are poor and downtrodden or not:

He proclaims as blessed not the poor of society, but those who have made themselves humble and meek. Not those who are short of food, but those who hungrily pursue justice and righteousness. Not those who are abused, but those who are persecuted for the sake of justice.... blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure of heart. Jesus does not promote self-inflicted renunciations or ascetic discipline. He promotes solidarity--solidarity with God, the defender of the afflicted, solidarity with the poor, the king's friends.

While we tend to exalt skill and competence, the Beatitudes exalt the "bite" of need, the condition of one who is empty. They exalt desire, want, lack. They exalt, as a psychologist once wrote, "the emptied and deflated ego." The Beatitudes raise the value of empty, abandoned ground because it is open space for God's visit.

So, as Brother Gonella explains it, Jesus addresses the rich and the full as unhappy and unlucky because their approach to to God, if they have one, is shallow. "Life has made some of the blessed empty," Gonella says, "others have decided to empty themselves."

I'll be reading this paper, (it is six pages single spaced, so I haven't included too much of it here) over several times because it does help approach the question of suffering quite well. Perhaps, after all, God does not expect me to beat myself up and empty my pockets... perhaps He wants me to cry for the injustices of the world and realize, no matter how much I have, I have nothing without Him.

I keep hearing on our local news that a county nearby has improved its sex offender database to make it easier to search in a variety of methods. It occurs to me that, much like the Internet, a sex offender database actually makes it easier for these creeps to find each other. I haven't actually tried to use these sex offender laws to look up my own neighborhood... perhaps I should, but nothing beats keeping your own eyes on your own kids.

On another subject, I wrote previously that our RCIA instructors told us that some of our favorite Old Testament stories are myths, meant to transfer knowledge and ideas... kind of like the parables of Jesus. This bothered some of the older members of our group and, in fact, we have come back to that issue several times for clarification. An email I received (thanks!) asked that I point out you can be a Catholic and still believe that the Old Testament stories are literally true. Our teachers said that people who spend their lives studying the Bible believe these stories to be myths, but their teaching doesn't mean that we, as Catholics, must believe exactly what they believe about stories like Jonah and the Whale, or Moses and the Red Sea. One of the older members of our group, in fact, has continually returned to the statement one of our teachers made, that God is neither male nor female. He couldn't let it go since all his life, God was a man... Jesus was a man, God was his father, not his mother. Finally, our teacher said, "How about if we say that God is both male and female..." and then, relenting, "It's OK to believe how you want."

Which is what my emailer points out is the Catholic position: "As long as you believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans with souls, imparted by God, and that they sinned, you can believe or not believe the literalness of the stories that surround the Old Testament."

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


We had a pretty good RCIA class last night. We thought up, as a group, as many names for Jesus that we could think of: Christ, Messiah, King, Teacher, Rabbi, Father, Savior, Redeemer, Cornerstone, Bread of Life, Lamb of God, etc... we had over a page and a half when we were done. Then we went around and chose the one that currently meant the most to us. I chose Savior and Redeemer. Read "The Room" by Joshua Harris sometime, it explains why I feel that way.

We talked about a section of the book ("This is our Faith" by Michael Pennock) that states, "Moral living and service will lead first to renouncing sin and the world's false enticements to happiness and then, inevitably, to suffering." I struggle with this. Even tonight I struggle with this after the teachers discussed it for awhile.

I asked if Saint Therese suffered in her sheltered life and our teachers said she had had TB and worked very hard. Is this supposed to mean that disease and hard work are somehow connected with Christianity? If I am a Christian, must I then develop a disease? In fact, doesn't everyone get sick and die whether they are Christian or not? Doesn't everyone suffer death without regard to their religion? In fact, if suffering is a result of Christianity, how can 99% of Americans ever hope to call themselves Christian? There are hungry in the world (they aren't in America, but there are hungry in the world) and here I sit, typing into a computer, surrounded by books and watching the long jump on the Olympics on cable TV for $35 or $40 a month when I could be watching it for free over the free airwaves. Feed the poor? Who, me?

Our teachers said there were many kinds of suffering. They did a pretty good job, they didn't belittle what I was saying at all, just noted that everyone struggles with "taking up the cross" when following Jesus and just what that means.

Well, me too.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

John Kerry is suing the FEC claiming President Bush's campaign is connected to the 527 organization, Swift Boats for Truth ads.

Here are John Kerry's connections to the Democratic 527 organizations. And that graphic doesn't even show Michael Moore sitting in the Presidential box with Jimmy Carter at the Democrat Convention.

Updated Chart.

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