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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jesus Christ: God's Sacrament

These reflections are generated from my sermon this weekend. My conclusion about church mission and ministry is founded in the life-changing insights I garnered thirty years ago from the little book by Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of Encounter with God. Now if you pay attention to detail you will notice I read it before 1980 or, and my guess is I have left out much and maybe reshaped quite a bit. If what follows interests you check it out at

[A meaningless side note. I met Schillebeeckx in Leuven when he came to speak at our school. One of my highlights in seminary was being the person who brought him his lunch, he was not feeling well. The most memorable part of his visit was hearing his voice. He sounded like Bella Legosi. I was not the only one to notice it. I cannot recall any content, but I do remember endless hours of entertaining ourselves imitating Count Dracula's take on theology.]

The term sacrament is popular in the Catholic world. It is ignored, frequently rejected and sometimes even detracted in the Protestant world. In the Middle Ages, after many years of alternative practices and different numbering (for a readable overview see Joseph Martos' Doors to the Sacred) the Church eventually settled on Seven (probably driven as much by the magic number seven as anything). The number seven is clearly problematic because if Baptism and Confirmation are two separate sacraments, then Holy Orders (bishop, priest, deacon) should be three!

The reformers made quick work of the Roman sacramental system and accepted only two as given by the Lord (baptism and eucharist). This is because Jesus said "Do this..." (I pointed out in my sermon that Jesus also told us to heal, teach, preach, exorcise and the sacrament of healing is certainly from Jesus and done at His command.) I am not going to enter into a thorough historical discussion on the issue at this point (who knows what may come) but I do think discussion of sacraments, like many other topics, is driven by "team spirit" (or what St. Paul calls "I am for Cephas, I am for Apollos, I am for Paul.") And we know that shuts done thinking quicker than anything.

Leaving the word sacrament aside, what is the reality or phenomenon we ar speaking about? Signification. An outward, material thing or act in and through which a spiritual reality is conveyed. A sacrament is a sign which does and means what it signifies. A kiss is a sacrament. Or a hug. A wedding ring. Or a marriage. At core, our bodies are sacarament. Our bodies convey meaning. In the days ahead I will try to lay out my thinking more, but to start with ponder this: what can I SEE and what can I not SEE in the things/actions which matter deeply to me?

Friday, September 28, 2012

On Hope and Evil

"Lack of Hope called world's greatest evil" said the headline at ZENIT. Which made me pause and say, what a wonderful question. What is the greatest evil? Some of this comes from an exercise my daughter recently asked me to complete. There was a series of words which I was asked to number 1 to 7, worst to least bad. It included prostitute, sadist, killer, alcoholic, thief, etc. The point of the exercise was to justify your position. As my daughter pointed out, a killer could be a soldier. As I pointed out a sadist may have the desire to hurt others, but choose not too, much like an alcoholic. The purpose of such a process is to sharpen our thinking skills and help us to consider issues from many angles. It is also revelatory of our own values and our hearts.

As I ponder the evils more prevalent in our midst (i.e. the white, middle-upper middle class world of the Mid-South) many of them are terribly mundane. And that word reminds me of an essay I read in the seminary, circa 1979, written many years before that by Thomas Merton. It was an essay on Nazis and the war criminal trials. I cannot remember the name of the essay or which of his dozens of books contained it. I tried to google a series of words but came up empty. What I do recall, is his assessment of one of the Nazi architects of so much evil and suffering. Merton recalls being disappointed by how ordinary and bureaucratic the man was. He pondered that such malevolence should be wrapped in a sneering, grotesque face, exuding a wretched ugliness. Instead, he looked like an accountant.

Merton's point, spoken from a place of spiritual journey few of us can fathom, is that we are a fallen race. The Christian doctrine of sin means that all are touched by (and embrace willingly) evil. It is hard to deal with such a concept. We like to think of evil being "those guys" (and we all identify different groups). We like to believe we are the "good guys" even if slightly flawed....

My thoughts, as much as I love a top ten list, is that the use of the term "worst" or "greatest" is hyperbole. It is probably not possible to actually figure out the obvious greatest evil. Yet, there are degrees and kinds and some evils are worse than others. The loss of hope certainly deserves conisderation. We live in a post-belief society. Even Christians are weighed down by the assumptions and beliefs of secularity and materialism. I see it at work every day, decaying the faith commitments of church goer and drifters alike. It produces a sense of "what's in it for me" and the mindless pursuit of distractions and pleasure. And it provides a venue for more sinister forces to work. Confronted with a lack of meaning, we are left to our own devices, to spin meaning out of the daily events which we plod through each day. So my team's success (or for me lately, inexplicable failure) determines my happiness (or sends me to bed each night swearing I will not watch another White Sox game ever!). Doing good and getting acknowledgment is a temporary reprieve, but then the poisonous whisper hisses in our mind, "does it matter?"

To follow Christ is to be a cross-carrying Liberator. We are freed from despair and empowered to give hope. Maybe we church folks have failed in the mission. Maybe we need to see the societal wide "pursuit of stuff" as a fruit of our poorly conceived and more poorly executed evangelism. Or maybe we need to recognize that the world is a battle field and our souls are the booty. We need to know that the great evils (loss of hope, love and faith among the worst) are actually the weapons of spiritual forces. We need to "awake from sleep, our salvation is near at hand." We need to be praying more, reading more, thinking more, serving more, focused more. I am glad there are bishops meeting to discuss the loss of  hope. I am glader still that there is a God Who plans to rescue us. And I am glad if this essay provides some fodder for conversion and renewal in someone's life, even if it is only mine!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus Had a Wife?

TV and print media are a buzz with the latest "Jesus was married story." The last couple of decades it seems that most of the news stories about Jesus have had an edge. In many cases, the articles are actually based on respected scholarship and even try to offer balanced insight into the different theories about Jesus and His times. Most Christians have not engaged in deep studies, or they have approached their studies from a pretty established point of view. When you mess with someone's religious faith you are messing with their heart. In light of that, and coupled with the theological ineptitude of most news people, the stories frequently tend toward the scandalous and controversial. The stories are told in a way to do damage, not inform.

There are also all manner of folk who have a bone to pick with "the church" and who harbor ill will toward organized religion. I often hear complaints about organized religion. I am not a fan of it, but I tend to detest disorganized religion. I find that when "spirirtual, not religious" people start talking, I am often confused by what they are talking about. It can get pretty vague and frequently includes a large amount of self in it all.

The most recent claim is that a small parchment which contians the words "Jesus" and "my wife" together is proof that Jesus was married. In fact, it was Mary Magdeline, and the official church in order to put down women, stamped out the truth. And because we live in an age of movies, where all manner of conspiracies seem possible, even probable, many people assume it "may be" true.

I think a good case can be made that the Church has in fact worked hard to preserve the truth about Jesus, and the stories told in the 2nd or 3rd Centuries do not contain the real story. I do not think the reference to wife proves anything. After all marriage imagery for Christ and His church goes back to Paul, who lifted it from the Old Testament bridal metaphor for God and Israel. We cannot and should not jump to conclusions.

But the internet is littered with all manner of scholars hashing out the details.Rather than go there, I want to briefly reflect on whether it matters and why. First of all, the only reason we know that Peter was married is because his mother-in-law had a fever which Jesus healed. In fact, the wife is never mentioned. Paul alludes to other apostles taking wives, so we assume they had them, but the Four Gospels are silent on the subject. In light of that, the silence on Jesus' wife is not as significant as some might think. The Gospels just do not talk about that sort of thing. However, at the crucifixion, there are witnesses named. Would one not think His wife would have been there? Her absence from such scenes does seem to support the idea that He did not have a wife. There is also no mention of her at the resurrection appearances. Paul never says a thing about it and he lists lots of names. The long-tradition of the Church is Jesus was not married and the Bible does nothing to contradict that claim.

Is it important that He did not marry? Maybe for some of us and our piety, but that may mean we need to rethink our piety. The single or married states are neither one superior. Jesus is Lord. His marital status does not factor in as the reason for that. Perhaps, because it really does not matter, many of us are willing to let it pass. Here is, I think, a reason to pause. What is the motivation of those who advocate such things? It seems that it is usually to undermine the authority of the church and the Christian faith. While Jesus certainly takes religious leaders and institutions to task, it is not to advocate some flimsy "spiritual not religious" approach to life. He was thoroughly Jewish and interpreted His own life in the faith language Judaism and its Scriptures. He challenged Jews to  be more faithful and live the faith right. Many of those in the current discussions seek only to belittle faith and mock piety. Jesus has harsh condemnation for those who undermine the faith of His little ones. And that, in the end, is what much of this is about.

I do not think Jesus was married. If He was He would not be any more or less Lord. His identity would not be affected. What I do know is the story of Jesus does not include a wife and that is the key for me. And those who seek to offer an alternate view are often times in possession of a bigger and more nefarious agenda. So read these stories with that in mind. These are not always our friends trying to find the truth. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

What are you praying for?

In Bible Study Wednesday, we began chapter 1 of Luke. After a brief introduction, Luke launches into the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. He parallels and connects the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus from the beginnning. There are no doubt theological motivations for this and perhaps even apologetic concerns [scholars theorize that the disciples of John the Baptist were considered a rival to Jesus' followers as regards the identity and role of the two men and note the same thing present in John's Gospel.]. However, there is a power in the story itself which resonates with so much of life.

Zechariah is advanced in years; not spelled out but, one assumes, well beyond forty. He is getting his chance to perform his priestly duties. It is his tour in the the Temple. The fact that the Gospel begins in  the Temple (a place where the apostles gather in Acts) is no doubt significant. Luke has placed the start in the Holy Center of Judaism. [A possible indication to keep the Temple in mind throughout this Gospel to see how Luke uses it?]

Zechariah and his wife receive hight praise "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Blameless (Greek: amempto) is a pretty strong word. Only one other person is described with this word, St. Paul in Pil 3:6 in his own self-assessment: "concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." It is an interesting idea, that someone has never failed in keeping the law. I tend to think it is more hyperbole and a way of emphasizing fidelity, rather than perfection. Lots of directions one could go, but I fight that urge!

What I want to reflect on, however, was the angel Gabriel's announcement, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife, Elizabeth will bear a son, and you shall  name him John." Most assume the prayer was for a baby. It makes sense, that is the announcement after all. But I got to wondering and have to say I am not sure that the obvious is as obvious as we think.

First of all, we live in a culture which begins and ends with the individual. It is not bad, but it is how we tend to think. The ancient near east is more focused on the group. What happens to 'us' is their primary concern. Now I am not saying we only care about "me" and they only cared about "us." However, there are subtle and not so subtle differences in our approach. So what would Zechariah be praying for, as a priest in the Temple, offering incense to the Most High God (a rare opportunity, usually once in a lifetime. the priest is chosen by lot). What if the prayer reference was to the prayers being offered with the incense?
[For a fuller treatment this is a handy site: ] As is usually the case in Jewish prayers, they are not spontaneous but written. They also follow a pattern. Most commonly we see these features: Praise of God. Rembrance of God's gracious acts of salvation. Begging mercy and forgiveness. Imploring deliverance of the People Israel. [our self generated prayers probably have their own patterns and recurring themes as well, but most focus is on "me and mine"...]

My thinking is that these are the prayers which God has heard. God has heard this righteous priest pray for God to act in mercy and love for His people. And that is what the baby means. Salvation History has begun its definitive chapter. And the baby is a key player in that process.

I have known many people who want children but for a variety of reasons cannot  have them. It is a particularly painful thing, especially when so many children are born unwanted or to people ill equipped to care for them. However, in the Bible, when babies are born through God's direct intervention, it is never as an answer to their personal wants/desires. It is always because the baby serves some function in the Big Story. There is a larger point to the birth, how God will use 'this one' in His plan to 'save the world.' And in the Bible, such births almost always have a unique character. Women who are too old, or sterile, or both are the vessels chosen by God. (Mary is a big exception to this, although she faced another serious obstacle!)

Our tendency is to see this as a great blessing for an older couple who always wanted a child. It may be that, but that is not the point of the story. Rather, what we see, is God has chosen that older couple to manifest His power among us. He is sending a Messenger to prepare the way, and these two, righteous, blameless, and, we later learn, long suffering (Elizabeth calls her previous condition "a reproach") are the chosen venue to make it happen. God has let something wonderful happen for them but it is for a greater purpose than their desire for a child.

Now this is little more than idle speculation if it is simply me reading the text from a different angle. Yet, following the dictate that "Scripture interprets Scripture" and keeping in mind the import of "wider context" I want to continue with the story, forty verses later (I have read ahead and am familiar with the narrative so I already know). When the baby is born and named John, Zehariah, who has been struck dumb for over 9 months, can suddenly speak. His words, a canticle used daily in the Roman office and included in our Episcopal Morning Prayers as well, are the interpretive key to understanding the birth of the child.

Zechariah does not bless the name of God for giving him a son, nor does he thank and praise God for answering a prayer for offspring. Instead, he declares
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited His people and redeemed them.. As the prayer continues Zechariah declares that God has kept His promises, that He is saving His people and creating a possibility for Israel to worship, serve and obey God as it should. This is all in keeping with the typical liturgical prayers of the Jews. When his attention turns to his baby son, the words are prophetic and explanatory: You my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way, giving His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins...

There is more detail to the canticle, but the illustration is clear. John is the one sent to prepare the way. His birth is not for the old parents, it is part of God's covenant promise. And so, the answered prayer is a prayer not for a baby, but for salvation, deliverance, the new Kingdom of God. And that means that IF Zechariah' is a model of prayer for us, then we need to pray less for "what I want" and more for "what God promises His people." This is why Jesus tells us "pray like this" and then proceeds to tell implore God, "Glorify Your Name and make it Holy!Your kingdom Come! Your will be done!" We need to pray for the right things. And those who are righteous and pray for such things, regardless of their personal situations, will be heard. And the prayer God answers will benefit all of us.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spider Surprise and God

There seems to be a regular supply of spiders in our house. I kill a couple a month. And our house is big enough and some rooms are occuppied infrequently enough that occassionally I stumble upon a web, usually along the floor board. With Baby Marx now into the self-propelled mode, we are more attentive to floor hygiene and last night after Bible study I was vacuming, sweeping and mopping. When I got to the breakfast room (one of those places we rarely use) I was surprised to see a fairly large spider and it's web on the wall behind the table. Then, on second look, I got a bigger surprise. Dancing up and down a string on the web was a very small spider, easily 1/10th the size of the first spider. And suddenly I saw that the bigger spider was kicking and shaking for all it was worth. I have never seen this before. A spider caught in a spider web...

The irony was too much for me to ignore. I sat in the chair and watched the proceedings. Up and down the tiny fellow glided, staying just out of reach of the large fellow's mouth. the big guy only occassionally gave resistance. When he did so it was violent and ineffective. I am sure spiders do not think, but if they did the big guy, who no doubt  had done his fair share of capturing and killing, was probably amused by the paradoxical realization that this little pipsqueak was going to do him in.

After a couple of minutes, several of  the legs were out of play. Tiny was coming in to add some webbing and then scurrying away. After five visits the big fellow had lost freedom of movement in half his limbs. The sheer difference in size, though most of it is those long legs, was amazing. It was a reminder that little fellows can do the job, too. In another time or place I might have been content to allow the entire operation unfold. It would have been interesting to see how Tiny consumed the big guy. But as Frost once daid, "I have miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep." A pieace of kleenex, a well aimed swipe and two spider carcasses later (a big spot and a tiny spot) I was back to sweeping and then mopping.

And that stuck with me as well. The two spiders, unaware of the wider surroundings, were engaged in their last meal. Tiny thought he was the victor and was careful not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He was very careful. But his care was useless because he lived in my kitchen on my wall and my baby is not going to crawl into his mess. And no matter how careful he was, he just could not forsee someone 1000 times bigger. But as I removed those spiders I found myself looking up. What hand was preparing my end? What choices were being made far away from my perview which will reduce me to a spot?

On September 11th I remember the emotions of watching the towers come down. My own personal reflections went in this direction. I wondered about office politics. I wondered about people who were worried about losing their jobs and people who were excited about new promotions. I wondered about people who were having affairs, or maybe struggling with the aftermath of having just ended one. I thought about all the worries and concerns, great and small, of each of those people. Perhaps some of them felt trapped and others were greedily anticipating devouring their own prey. Each and everyone had a list of "things going on" and all of them were no doubt, to their own satisfaction, being careful enough. And then a plane landed in their office and blew up and fire and chemicals and smoke replaced all the daily worries and concerns. Some went immediately to their deaths. Others took longer to reach their end. And every one of them is just like us.

The dimension of faith is the belief that as we spin our webs and survive day to day, we all know there are other hands at work. All we have accomplished may be wiped out in a second. This week may see a nuclear holocaust in Israel or a terrorist bomb in our local Kroger. Someone changing a radio station, or checking a text, or just plain driving without sufficient care could plow into you or me and make short order of our daily to-do list. Whatever the 'beyond' has in store, it, too, is under the watchful gaze of another set of eyes. For all life's (seemingly) meaningless suffering and tragedy, ironic messes (spiders caught in spider webs?) and being in the wrong place at the wrong time (and getting swept and mopped away); yes, for all that we cannot understand and control there is still that quiet voice. It has spoken and will speak again. "Fear Not. I am here."

So this morning I made lunches and walked the dog. I said my prayers and wrote my blog. I now head off to teach a class on Clement of Rome and Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. And later I will do PT and some marriage counseling. And all of it will be done, carefully, and all of it may be just another day, probably will be another day. But perhaps this is when I become a spot on a kleenex. or you. And if so, that is okay, because the Father of Jesus is also watching. And whatever else happens, that is enough!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is Heresy a Bad Word?

Some discussion generated on the comments section made me wonder if the word "heresy" has a negative connotation which makes it sound like hate speech in some quarters. I know that a few years ago when we debated such things in our local diocses there were some people who took great offense at the implication that they were teaching heresy. Obviously, the word is a negative assessment on what someone believes. I think, however, that the underlying issue goes deeper. There seems to be, among a large segement of the population, a vaguely held belief that the designation of "truth" and "falsehood" are not actually relevant. Of course, as I have made clear, the same segment of the population are not disinclined to define other groups' declarations as "hate speech."

The Greek origins of the word refers to the act of choosing. I do not know the exact history of the usage, but quite clearly at some point the connotation of choice became the denotation of choosing another way than the accepted, acceptable and orthodox way. Orthodoxy, of course, implies two questions. First of all, is there such a thing? Is there a "the right way to think and understand"? Secondly, what is "the" defined, right way to think?

There are endless 'orthodoxies" in every avenue of life. Baseball fans are used to hearing about "an unorthodox delivery" in reference to someone who throws a baseball in an unusual manner. Likewise, politicians who adopt a position outside of their Party's official stance can be called unorthodox. Any break with the accepted way of doing things is unorthodox. However, this is a milder sense of the word. It refers not so much to truth as it does doing what is accepted and standard. I think a pro-Life Democrat is unorthodox but I would also claim they were doing the truth. Herein lies the larger and more important sense.

The identity of Jesus is not simply "for me." One huge error popular in our church is the constant use of this prepostional phrase. "For us Jesus is the Messiah, or Savior, or Son of God." I hear people say. While it is techincally true, it is also false because it says too little. It focuses on the subject (me, us) and not the object (Jesus). It is a way to side-step making an absolute truth claim and replacing it with a factual statement about personal beliefs. This problem is deeply rooted in much of the current discussions. The emphasis on "personal" beliefs does not easily address the problem, in some ways it compounds it.

The reason why I think it is important to understand the source and status of Islam is because it is a framework for discussion. Is it the final and ultimate revelation? Is it a corrective of the errors which Christians made about God, Jesus, salvation, etc? Knowing that the geographic area in which Islam was born and grew was also rife with teaching about Jesus, but teaching which denied His divinty and was heretical, is an important fact. There are roots which can be investigated. And if it is an extension of ancient heresy it is treated the way all heresy should be treated. It is rejected, even if we understand the need to respect and treat kindly the one who holds such falsehood.

One element of current religios practice in our culture is the strongly held belief that "no one has the right to tell me what to believe." While true as a political and ethical right, it is false as a philosophical assumption about truth claims. The Church (led by the Holy Spirit) is who defines doctrine. The creed is no more, and no less, a human construction than the Scripture. In fact, without the Creed the Scriptures can be and have been interpreted in all manner of ways. Who is Jesus? The Bible is our source, but the definitve, true and orthodox interpretation of those Scriptures is not my role, or yours. It, too, has been given us. Revealed to us for our salvation. Those who reject this teaching on Jesus also reject Him. And we who follow Him can treat such folk with love, respect and kindness, but we can never equate their false, heretical beliefs with our own true and orthodox beliefs. And we should be thankful that we have been given the truth, no matter how undeserving we might be. In the end, all heresy is error and error leads to sin. I care about the heretical status of Islam because I care about the heretical/orthodox teaching of all people and instutions. I know such concerns can go overboard. It can become stifling and hostile when people are running around being "the orthodoxy police." It is not life-gifing to endlessly debate every nuance of every statement to decipher every possible truth claim. However, we can err in the other direction as well. Ignoring orthodoxy completely devolves into "each one doing what he thinks best." And that did not work in the time of Judges and it will not work in our own age.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Islam A Christian Heresy

My most recent blog on Islam illicited a reminder that I sometimes mention things on my blog without "footnoting" and can leave people scratching their heads. Abraham is called the Father of the three religions because of his parenting Ishmael and Isaac. Some call them the "Abrahamic Faiths." I contend that Islam is a Christian heresy, though some see it as a Jewish heresy with a higher respect for Jesus. It is a simplification of the Christian faith in that it rejects the Trinity and The Incarnation of Christ. Hence, it is heretical by Christian standards (and truth by their own claim). There is nothing new here. As regards this claim I wanted to provide some jumping off points to easy access to websites. The first is the ancient theologian John of Damascus' work. He was a contemporary of the Muslim movement and in rather strong language shares his thoughts.

This overview from a Roman Catholic website. He discusses Belloc's warning of Islam's coming resurgence in the West, several decades before it happened. In fact, I found two differen sites quoting the same thing and one of the commenters mentioned that both were writing about Belloc at the same time.

This is from an Eastern Orthodox blogger and would follow on the first blog reference...
   His interest in John of Damascus is consistent with the veneration of the writings of the Church Fathers in Orthodoxy. I read John some years ago and was stunned when I came across the texts. It makes perfect sense. Muhammed was a pagan with regular contact with both Jews and Christians. There were two sons of Abraham. The first is Ishmael, fathered by Abraham and Hagar (at the insistence of Abraham's sterile wife Sara). Abraham had asked God to make Ishmael his heir but God said that he had another in mind. In Gen 18:20 God says, "I have blessed him [Ishmael] and I wil make him fruitful and make him very, very numerous. He will father twelve chieftains and I will mkae him into a big nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac." In Richard Friedman's Commentary on the Torah page 62 he writes "People sometimes speak of Ishmael as if the Bible were picturing him as the ancestor of the Arabs, but the Bible pictures Ishmael only as the ancestor of the Ishmaelites."] In Muslim thought, according to several internet sources, Ishmael is a prophet and Abraham took him and his mother to Mecca early on. There are also numerous Islamic commentaries which say that he is the son whom Abraham almost sacrificed. (google Ismael and Islam and you will find various sources)

At this site you will see a more protracted argument for the thesis. I am unfamiliar with the blog and its writer but thought it another example of someone saying the same thing.

In inter-religious dialogue the key element is being clear what you believe and getting clear on what they believe. In the end, we make truth claims and that means we reject those claims with which we disagree. It is a good idea to believe strongly and be respectful in disagreement. Killing heretics, however appealing, is not helpful. It leads to more killing. However, demanding "respect" and "tolerance" needs to go both ways. And I guess we all know that God is the One Who will sort it out in the end....

Friday, September 14, 2012

Middle East Problems

As we all know, there have been major problems in the Middle East for a very long time. We also know that recently there have been riots and the resulting violence has expressed strong anti-American sentiments. News reporting indicates that the attacks in Lybia included some organized para-military actions which were too coordinated and effective to be simply the result of spontaneous street violence. Of course, here at home, there have been all manner of politically inspired assessments. Not surprisingly, our strongly held beliefs seem to influence what we think.

There you  have it. Just as Democrats and Republicans are spinning their own take on the situation, so, too, do we find particular 'agendas' in assorted news outlets. One huge question is, "Did the government know about the impending attacks and do nothing, leading to the deaths of four people, including the ambassador?" And this question is all the more poignant in our little church because one of the ambassdors over there is related to a parishioner. It is a small world, after all, and the people involved are real humans with real lives and real families...

I think we need to understand that Muslim Arabs are just like us in many ways. They, too, have assumptions, beliefs, and strongly held opinions. These are the lenses through which they see the world. They do not understand, at a core level, our insistence on 'freedom of speech.' They do not tolerate certain anti-religious slurs (if directed against their religion). Their culture celebrates certain types of behavior. In all these things they are just like us, only different. That, to me, is the starting place. We need to  understand that they "do not get us" any more than we "get them." We also need to apply a lesson from Saturday football. People cheer for their team. And the more fanatically one loves one team, the more likely one is to see other teams in a negative light. Many (most?) Arabs do not think the USA is the good guys. They can point out concrete examples of American offenses. They have probably got some objectively valid complaints (mixed in with tons of more subjectively generated concerns). All this does not mean we are wrong and they are right. It does not justify what they are doing. But it is helpful to think and ponder before we react in kind.

To further muddy the waters, it is a Christian's duty to give his/her first allegiance to Jesus. It is why we make lousy citizens on occassion. No matter how loudly we cheer our nation, love our nation, serve our nation, we can never be "America (or England, or France, or Irag, etc.) First" patriots. For us it is always Jesus First. His vision and His values shape our citizenship in this world.

That is what makes it so hard to know what to do. Once I understand that the rioters suffer from the same blindness and ignorance which plagues all human responses (reactions) I can have some insight into their rage and its source. There is no lack of extenuating circumstances at play. One hears that the typical Arab is poor, uneducated and enjoys few opportunities to improve things. We also hear that their understanding of their faith is often very narrow and tolerates no disrespect (as they describe it). But, if they are 'invading' US 'soil' and installations and killing American citizens, then they have engaged in behaviors which demand a response. For my tastes, the first response should not be an apology. It may be the expedient thing to do and perhaps it is diplomatically more effective (I do not know), but it is not helpful back home and at some point our citizens also have a right to have their beliefs respected. Christians have been murdered for their faith in Arab countries. So who wants to talk about religious rights and respect?

In the end, there comes a time when people have to make truth claims, too. Is Jesus the Son of God or not? There is good reason to believe that Islam is actually a combination of Jewish and Christian heresies. I came across this reading a 7th Century theologian. It is what I truly believe. Does that justify assassinating me?There is, after all, a reason why all three are called the religions of Abraham. And this relationship means that eventually the three streams make an assessment about the truth claims of the other. Jews do not buy the Jesus claims of Christians. Many centuries after Jesus Islam reworked His story with their own truth claims. I am part of the group which believes Jesus is The Son of God and the Savior of the world. Do we need to kill one another as a corollary of our religious beliefs? No. Not at all. But we often have and that history is writ large in the memory, imagination and hearts of many people. We cannot start from scratch. And history shows we have all been as likely, sometimes more likely, to kill our co-religionists with whom we debate theological points than we are the other-religion's believers.

If people want to protest, fine. Give voice to your outrage. However, at the point that shouting becomes shooting, the game and its rules change. As a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, I have to wrestle with that response. I need to decide what I can and am willing do. But as a citizen of a nation I understand that if nations around the world continue to justify violent attacks on my fellow citizens then at some point my government may well decide appeasement must give way to defense. Perhaps the rioters on the street are seeking martyrdom. I understand why some people think armed Marines should be happy to accomodate them. My inclination is to warn them off but not allow any breaching of the wall. I do not want to flippantly say such things. Those Arabs are also brothers and sons and mothers and sisters. What I know is whatever choice of action, Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And today, that admonition for true discipleship is being tested. To love and pray for people who have destroyed and murdered is hard. But then, following a Crucified King has always been hard.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Weight Loss

I generally write about topics related to faith and the Bible. I wander at times into philosophy. All of it is pretty pedestrian, not really terribly deep by the standards of the learned. On the other hand, it is plenty good enough for those of us holding down full time jobs and full time lives, with only short periods of time to ponder at all (much less ponder deeply).

I detour from my normal fare to share something that  has happened to my body in the last six weeks. I have shed a lot of weight. It has been quick and relatively painless. In a world where many folks struggle with their weight I wanted to write about what I am doing. Maybe it will help someone else.

I am a desk jockey. My life is spent reading, writing, studying and counseling. A chair is attached to my back end most of the day. Since the arrival of  the baby I have been less able to move at home. My daily forrays to the YMCA were about the sum total of physical exercise I could get. Always the owner of a voracious appetite (one of my earliest memories was crowing like a chicken about how many pancakes I had eaten at age 5) periodically my bulk increases to an uncomfortable level. The big difference in recent years has been the accompanying medical results. Numbers on the tests were not good. The doctor starts handing you prescriptions for medication to lower this and drop that. Middle age pharmacological syndrome!

For years I have made the decision to drop some weight. And I have done it, several times. I recall six months ago when I shed five pounds. "Good!" I said to  myself, "only five pounds to go and I will reach the weight I was when I decided I needed to lose ten pounds a year ago!" Inevitably, five off became five back on and the endless ups and downs included a slow trajectory of up.

I am not as young as I was when I was young (the sort of infallible statement I love to craft). And I am a father of three with one of them very early on the trail of life. My duties as a dad require that I continue to be productive (= can make a living and pay the bills) far beyond the original retirement date which I had set. A corollary of production is being able to produce. I know I need to be getting better, not slowly getting worse.

So I began in earnest and over a three week period lost that first five pounds and then I stalled..... Frustrated with myself I decided to notch up the effort. Then I read about the challenges of losing weight when you are imobile and sleep deprived. Those are two things which I have little control over. Cannot sleep if baby is up. Sometimes there is nothing you can do. I wondered if I had hope.Then I talked with a guy at the Y. He shared his new way of eating with me. I listened and reluctantly I decided to try out his plan. I had to do something besides prescriptions!

So I cut out grain. NO wheat, no oats, no cereal, no bread, no pizza, no spaghetti. And I cut out sugar. NO drinks, no ice cream, no sugar added anything. Basically, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and good oils. and Nuts. Week one of the new me coincided with week one of the "new me baby edition." Little one literally was up most of the night for a week straight. So I am unclear if I felt so bad because of a change in diet or not. But I made it through. Barely. And then I looked in the mirror and it was shrinking. Visibly. My gut was disappearing and in two weeks I had lost over ten pounds. Mind you, I was eating. I was not hungry all the time and protein heavy breakfasts seemed to tide me over better than the big bowl of All-Bran I was used to taking. Seeing the loss of inches and pounds motivated me to hang with it. On my follow up testing the doctor said all my numbers were back within the normal range. Two weeks is not a long time to get so much good news.

The rate of loss slowed, even seemed to stop for a week but then another burst. As of today I am down almost thirty pounds. Dropping slowly but surely week to week. I know some day I will eat some of what I am forgoing now again. But I will attend to what I eat. Acid reflux is no longer a nightly visitor. I am still tired because of things beyond my control. But I teach classes standing now, rather that sit at table with folks. I am parking across the street and try to walk for a couple minutes every now and then (little successes). When I play with baby I am conscious of dancing around and doing some movement. Again, nothing amazing but little things which can provide a chance to move. But the key is what is going in my mouth.

Vegetables. It is hard to get fat eating broccoli. You cannot eat enough. There are lots of salad possibilities. And smoothies can include all manner of healthy additions. Pear with spinach and celery anyone? My guess is everyone would not have the same success. Some, like me, may be brought to tears thinking of all the foods which are no longer part of the diet. I am weak. It is easier for me to not eat cake than it is to just eat a little piece. Anyhow, I have felt fine and have even begun running again. I did 3.5 miles Tuesday (slow jog). I am not now and have never been an athlete, but the fact is I can lift weights and do aerobics and feel pretty good. What I am eating allows me to continue to do exercise at a decent intensity.

Research it and be aware of your own personality. Maybe it will work for you. I know that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I think that primarilly means the body of the church, i.e., corporately. However, there is a related sense in which it means the physical body of each one of us. Bodies are very much connected to spiritual journeys. And our physical disciplines are a road to spiritual disciplines. Being fat did not make me a better man, husband, father or priest. Being fat put me at increased risk of maladies. It is a good idea to be healthier.

Just wanted to share. If it inspires you or keeps you going, all the better!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Works Without Faith is Dead

I am by nature a teacher. It is what I do. And between my gigs as a Roman and now an Episcopal priest I worked at Youth Villages. I was promoted to Director of Training which forever changed me. Trainers are teachers, in a way. I always said we were the lowest form of teacher. Trainers are big on gimmicks and tricks and little things which entertain and make things stick in people's heads.

One thing we do is "paradoxical brainstorming." This is when you gather a group and ask them to think up ways to be awful. Some days ago I did a sermon and blog on "5 ways to make a bad marriage." That is paradoxical brainstorming. It is a way to come at something old and familiar in a new and inventive way.

Today's blog title is another example of the training goal. Give something a twist so it can be viewed afresh. Everyone knows James' dicum, but what happens when we shift the two nouns in order? Does it lend clarity?

Some things are interchangeable. A head without a body is dead. A body without a head is dead. But it is a different emphasis. Campy 1950's horror movies included one where a head was kept alive in a glass jar. Then, of course, there is the legend of the headless horeseman.

By switching two words, faith and works, one can perhaps get a feel for what James is saying without the accompanying weight of  the theological debates of different times and places. Those debates, for some of us, are potent and powerful. They cloud our thinking because we are defending home turf. The blood of the martyrs and all that, not things we can easily dismiss.

Work without faith is dead. It is empty and meaningless. It is a performance drained of the needed source. Much like a faithful husband who does not love his wife, the acts of marital fidelity pale in comparison to the missing love and affection. He is nice and all that, but there is no life, simply the absence of adultery. Likewise, our activity can be done for a variety of reasons. Herein lies the main point of Christian faith. It is an ordering of life and a giving of one's heart. It is saying, to God (Who by the way remains generally invisible and somewhat inaccessible to all of us on some level), "I am yours and what I do is done for you."

Kindness to the poor may be done out of guilt, out of a desire to feel good, out of a twisted sense of personal power, or in response to God (and even there with a variety of motives). Whatever the behavior, the cause, i.e., love of God, gives new meaning to the acts. And do not doubt there are all manner of folks offended and disgusted that that is a motivation. They say you should help the needy because it is right and leave God out of it. I have much to say in response, sadly none of that here. Time & space constraints have their control! But I can say that the infinitely important is the infinite and only God fits that position description,

Once I see my works are meaningless without faith (and I agree with any critic who says I am more declaring it than laying down a formal argument to prove it) then it makes it easier to see how the reverse is true. We can linguistically slice and dice reality. We can talk about thoughts, emotions and will. But real life is interconnected and there is no clear differentiation between beliefs, trust, choices, actions.... They interpentrate. Like a thread, once you start pulling the whole sweater unravels.

To believe, to trust, to entrust, are all layers of the same fruit. And to trust is to obey. Hence the question, "Do you trust me? then do what I told you to do." Therein lies some of the answer to the dilemma. I cannot believe in a vacuum. It entails a life. A human life. And that is a complex thing. SO faith without works is dead, just as the reverse is true. They are two parts of a sacred whole. And it is better to see it as a mystery to understand and live faithfully rather than a dictum to argue about and bash heads over.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Can a Racist have faith?

Oh, how I wanted to preach on healing and exorcism today. There is a healing conference here (Oct 26-28, sign up at and the Gospel today was perfectly aligned for me to focus on Jesus' healing ministry then and now. But as I began the writing process, low and behold, those words from James in our second reading boomed loud and drew me in: "Faith without works is dead."

I just finished up a bit on transubstantiation. And even though what I said squared with the findings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, I am afraid I still upset people. So to follow that up with another "breach" seemed too much. Yet, try as I might, I kept finding myself drawn back into James. In the end, I believe I was able to address it in a broader way which did justice to the  readings. (The actual audio will be posted later this week at the same church website.) And I will be blogging on it, in part because it is something I am teaching on at the Healing Conference and I want to get my thought process on that going.

James 2:1 is a difficult sentence in Greek. Looking at various English translations it is pretty clear that there is no clear and clean translation. However, the basic sense of it  is straightforward. In the actual order of the Greek it says:
"My brothers, do not in "preferences" have the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ."
The Greek word, prosopolempsia, is a compound of prosopon "face, outward appearance" + lambano (take, receive, have). It means to "show favoritism" and conveys concretely the idea of one making a decision about a person because of the way they look. James talks about the way churches treat a rich man versus a poor man. And I will treat that more in depth later in the week.

Within the context of the salvation discussion, and the place of faith, it did lead me to ponder. James seems to be saying that one cannot be a pre-judger and a person of faith. So, as is usually the case when I preach, I said something which was not part of my text, nor had I really thought about it much until it flowed out of my mouth. What about the person who is a racist? They "hold-the-face" in making decisions. Can a "racist Christian" be saved?

Living in West Tennessee, I have encountered all manner of racists. I am a white guy, so I am directing this at my group. I do believe in Black racism (and Yellow, Brown and other forms). This is debatable in Progressive circles, but I think it is silly to say only White folks can be racist. In Memphis, for sure, there is no lack of White minorities in many institutions. But I do not want to get sidetracked, so I am saying "White" and you can fill in whatever colors (or groups) you want....

I know many devout, even conservative Christians, who hold racist views of Black folk. I have argued with them, taught them, discussed with them, listened to them. The idea that such feelings could be a bar to heaven, however, is something many of these people refuse to believe. In simplest terms their response is, "I believe in Jesus, and one is saved by faith alone, and I am assured of my salvation." So here is the dilemma. Does one claim that salvation is a gift through faith or not? And if racism is a barrier to the effectiveness of faith, what about other -isms? Sexism? Agism? Fatism? Etc-ism? There are lots of prejudices which we all have, some worse than others, but all real.

On the other hand, can I imagine Jesus throwing open the pearly gates and welcoming someone to eternal life when Jesus knows that that person has a heart full of hatred for people based on race? I cannot go there, either.

But then I remembered Jesus is really smart and can be awfully tricky. And I recall an experience of my young adult life with a dying family member which seemed to reveal some of how God works. So here is what I think.

I think that the Christian racist is saved. I think Jesus will keep His promise. However, I think this is how it will look. The newly dead guy/gal will head up for the meeting with the Lord, no doubt flush with anticipation of an eternal reward. St. Peter will usher them into the room and say, "Jesus is on the way." Suddenly, there He will be. Now, remember, Jesus is a Middle Eastern guy, so our Christian racist is going to be looking into the eyes of a swarthy face. And Jesus will tell him, your faith has saved you, now enter your reward. And Jesus will plop that guy smack square in the middle of an all-black section of heaven. And I think it will be set up where that is all this guy will meet and see. Ever. And there are millions of Black saints, and this guy will have a chance to meet them all. [obviously I would see the same thing happening for all sorts of other folks as well] The beauty of it is God will be true to His word. And the deeper beauty is an unrepentant heart without love will have to be changed over or else Heaven may feel like Hell (hat tip to CS Lewis and The Great Divorce). It is the sort of clever thing Jesus did over and over (like "render under Caesar..."). And it would be pretty funny.

Now if this is how Jesus actually does it, then I think you now know what I mean by the word Purgatory. It is the process of getting acclimated to heaven (and its values). For anyone who has a deep prejudice, that group of folks which you hate will be your only neighbors when you get inside the Pearly Gates. Eventually, I assume the heart will soften and the love will flow. But there is no escaping the consequences of an unconverted heart. Best way to avoid it? Start living right now in a way that prepares you for the celestial society ruled by Christ. St. James knew Jesus and he knew what Jesus taught. It is a good idea to listen to his words and keep in mind. You cannot have favoritism based on prejudices and have the faith of our glorious savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 7, 2012

In and Through

We have all heard it. Some of us have probably said it. A freshly prepared meal sits steaming in the bowl and the cook says, "I poured my heart and soul into this!" Or, a small gift box, cutely wrapped and adorned with a tiny bow sits in ones hands; as the Recipient unwraps the Giver explains, "This is my heart."

Language is a funny thing. We say things without thought to the actual meaning of the words. We don't do deep philosophical reflection upon things (too busy, too tired, too hard!). We also do not argue that the green beans can not convey the cook's soul or that a bracelet is unable to transport the heart of anyone. That language is symbolic and yet it is also real. And reality is tough to explain.

Self-gift is, after all, always a difficult thing to measure. Connecting an object and an internal disposition can seem tenuous. And it is no less problematic when the object is our actual bodies. When we kiss our beloved, be it a parent's kiss of a sleeping child or the lover's passionate expression, those actions convey meaning. They can be a self gift, or perhaps the empty action of a sham-artist. There are even times when a myriad of emotions make it hard to know yourself. ("Am I kidding myself?")  But the inward "spiritual reality" is not discernable with the naked eye nor is it measurable by human instrumentation.

The recent discussion of transubstantiation was intended as an apologia for an ancient approach to understanding the world. It was not an argument to convince anyone of its validity. It was, however, an invitation to hear. We live in combative times. (And I think that is more or less true of all times!) I grow weary of battles and I long for connections. I am not alone in this, even when, perhaps especially when I am combative. And so I have sought to raise questions about life in general. How to see holy things in connection to all things. How to imagine the reality which we assume yet poorly articulate.

The word sacrament is not found in the Bible. Some people, therefore, deny that sacraments exist. But before we discuss sacraments, it is helpful to think about the world and how it works. We know that there are unobservable realities expressed in observable realities. We know that a gift is more than simply the concrete object. We know that a kiss is more than lips touching. We know as we try to express ourselves in word or deed that it is always an attempt to convey something more. We also know that the one receiving has to be able to discern what is taking place.

In and through concrete entities we are able to convey a deeper spiritual reality. This is the point of saying "the openness of being." There is a remarkable quality to things that allows us to "change" them. A chair is a chair until it belongs to the kingdom and its ruler and becomes a Throne. And the symbolism of these changed entities (a wedding ring, a flag, a monument, a relic) is real and true. But eyes cannot see what the heart cannot fathom or the mind does not acknowledge. One criticism of our culture is that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We are also tone deaf to the deeper melodies, blinded by materialism and unable to see beyond the shallow depth of the five senses.

There is a disease which consumes the people whom I counsel, and which eats my own soul. It has many names and manifests itself in the question, "What is the point?" It is a manifestation of the limited capacity to see and hear and feel the deeper reality. A sacramental world view, one which recognizes that things and actions can convey truth as effectively as words, opens one to a fuller experience of life. It makes those connections more powerful and life changing. It gets one in touch with the Holy Spirit which is the Creative Power beneath and within all things. That Spirit among us, in and through the created reality which we know so well, yet do not really know at all.

If matter can contains spirit...
If spirit can act in and through matter...
Then, human beings are possible. A material brain and an immaterial soul can co-exist. Freedom to choose, to love, to give is possible. And the question, "What is the point?" while perhaps remaining only partially answered, gives way to a deeper assurance. I may not fully know the point or be able to completely articulate the point, but I am sure that there is a point. And believing life is not pointless, I journey on to its consummation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Transubstantiation 4: The Openness of Being

No more baseball, although I am still going to talk about a batter.... There are many kinds of cake: chocolate, strawberry, German chocolate, white cake, coconut and wedding cake and birthday cake. As you look at that list, would you agree those are all different kinds of cake? Would you also agree that the latter two are not the same kind of different cakes as the first five?

The latter two have to do with a different kind of question about a cake. When I ask "What kind of cake is it?" and you say "a wedding cake" I may still end up asking, "But what kind of cake is it?" In truth, I will eat any wedding cake, if it is chocolate. I am not a fan of white cake, even if it is for a special event.

Is a wedding cake different from other cakes? Well, no, well yes. A wedding cake is a cake but it has a different essence. It is not the meaning which it has for me which makes it different. Perhaps I hate the couple, or h ate cake, or do not believe in marriage, or think it is a bad union and so the cake for me means nothing. That is my response to the reality of the cake. I reject it. But I reject the essence of the cake, that does not mean the essence changes. The essence changed when it was baked, created and served that function.

So this is another angle on what I have said over and over with baseball. What is the point? My point is that the essence of something can and does change, essence in a non-material yet real sense. And, I repeat, my emotional response is TO THAT CHANGE, it does not cause it. Also, someone who does not know what a wedding cake is could see one and have no idea what they are looking at. Our ignorance or indiffernce do not change the cake; they change our response to the reality!

The problem with Religion, in our culture, is we are often so "in love" with the miraculous and so uncomfortable with God being involved in mundane things, that we fail to see the repurcussions of our beliefs. One huge example, Christians believe that Jesus is Human and Divine. We say He is ONE person with TWO natures (essences, beings). Jesus is a human being and a divine being at one and the same time. This is called a mystery (and for good reason). How, we ask, can God become human?

Well, something I rarely hear spoken about is that this doctrine/dogma includes something radical and amazing. It includes the idea that human nature is essentially open to divinization. [To the extent I understand Orthodox thought, divinization is the fundamental focus of its theology.] What I mean is when God created humanity (abstractly as an idea, first) He formed it in such a way that it is able to be filled with divinity while remaining human. Perhaps, transubstantiation is more important for understanding the Incarnation than we thought. (and I have not thought this through all the way). Jesus, the God-Man does not obliterate humanity (any more than He obliterates the bread when it becomes His body).

In addition, all created entities have something at work in them which is similar. My daughter did a science project on iron in cereal. We soaked some flakes and used a magnet and, lo and behold, ended up with tiny little iron flakes. Wow! We actually really eat iron when we say it contains iron. Which leads to questions about the physical makeup of human beings: chemicals, molecules, atoms, etc. We are all manner of dumb matter. We are made of the same stuff as rocks and trees and lakes. Yet, somehow, that combination of unliving things is brought together and constructs a thinking, feeling, hungering, laughing, praying person. There is something in those elements which is "OPEN" to something more. There is something about stuff which can be essentially changed while remaining what it is. Now this may be more analagous to transubstantiation than eucharist, but it does remind us that the world is not so simple as we like.

I believe that the problem with the word 'transubstantiation' is that it is late in Christian theology (because Aristotle's thought is not discovered and integrated until the 13th Century). If you do not buy Aristotle (and I do not completely) then his language system is a problem. Snatching up a concept out of its context leads to saying things that are confused and confusing. But saying Jesus is "present in a heavenly way" does not avoid the question of change. It does not escape the question, "is that heavenly presence unique here? Was it there before in all bread or just now in this bread?"

We also speak with unmeasured words (who has time, seriously, to measure every word?). So we say a mass murderer is "not human, but an animal." Never pausing to ask what are we saying about human nature. Is it transient? Can killing people change my substance? Is humanity a fleeting nature, requiring us to regularly focus on certain values and skills to retain it? Is a person who would like to kill but doesn't also an animal? or maybe a mixed human-animal? I hope you see my point.

In conclusion, each Sunday I pray that the Holy Spirit will fall on us and these gifts (bread and wine) so they will become for us the body and blood of Christ. If the Holy Spirit is doing something then I believe something is done. Something signifcant. And if it is just a 'remembering' (in the weak sense of the word) there is no need for the Spirit. I can remember all manner of things without God enterring the picture. However, if it is anamnesis then our memorial is a participation in that first meal where Jesus gave Himself. Like Passover, we transcend time and enter actively in the past event. It is present to us (or better, we are present to it) inspite of the pasage of time (and we do not even want to talk about time and what a slippering concept "past, present & future" really is).
If it is not a sacred event, then I would expect all Christians who think that way to not celebrate the Lord's Supper regularly.

I get why people reject "transubstantiation." Probably the same reason others embrace it. It is what 'our church team' says. It was what I was taught as a kid. It was what my daddy or grandma or favorite teacher taught. My hope is people would get out of themselves long enough to think about what we do believe. I also hope my RC friends note that bread (and priests) is not the only thing essentially changing on the planet. Even if we do not know much about Aristotle, we can see that there are invisible realities, not-physical at all, and whatever we do call them, we know that they there. And they change. And the change is in them (as well as in us). There is a real world. We are in it, but we do not create it out of ourselves. And when we pretend we do: disaster.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Transubstantiation 3: Is belief 'causal'?

I have had many postings which received many more views than the current series, but I have never had one generate more inquiries and responses. I have gotten lots of e-mails. Most of them making the same point: the baseball example does not work.

So, let's try again.
First of all, the criticism has made a category error. This is a discussion of ontology or being (essence, substance, etc.) not valuation. I personally do not think the Barry Bonds baseball is worth $750,000. I also know most people agree with me. I also know the vast, vast, vast majority of people think it is stupid. But that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is For people who care about such things having the authenitc, real, actual baseball does matter. Not just any baseball, but the one Bonds hit. In other words, it is a discussion about the objective sphere. (no pun intended!)

My son plays baseball. He has hit several home runs. Each time we got the ball. Each ball has value to me personally. THAT is NOT what changes the ball. I understand none of you care if my son hit the ball and the ball has no meaning to you. I would never argue with anyone that it should have any meaning or value. I would not even argue that they should agree it would have meaning to me (some folks would say baseball is stupid and I am stupid to care about any home run ball). The valuation of that ball is, in part, a subjective thing. Please understand, I get that. But there is not just a subjective element to this, there is also an objective reality outside of me and you.

The actual ball which Luke actually hit over the actual fence is actually and really and truly THE homerun ball. THAT is the change. THE ball is different from every other ball (beyond the other 5 he hit) and that difference is NOT physical, observable or measurable. The change in the ball is it is part of a different kind of ball, a kind of ball called "Luke's Home Runs." That is a quality of the ball's "substance" (used philosophically NOT scientifically or the way we usually talk)

Now you could care less that Luke hit that ball. It is worth nothing to you. You would throw it to your dog. That is fine. But IF you came to my house, I showed it to you, and you did that in front of me, it would generate a reaction. IF you said, well here is another ball, pristine and superior to the smudged and dirtied ball Luke hit, I would not be satisfied. I think it is clear why that is not an even trade. It is not simply based on my feelings. If it were then I could take the newer, better ball and be happy. Also, if it is just about remembering a home run then any ball, every ball could serve as a helpful reminder that Luke hit one out! In fact, that does happen. I often see home runs hit, or balls thrown and remember the excitement of those games where he banged one long and hard.

To say that the home run ball is not changed, but the only difference is how I feel about it is true in a sense, but it denies one simple fact. I feel the way I do about THAT ball BECAUSE it is THE ball that he hit. Now claiming I am generating "all" of that is not true. In the end, I generate all my reaction to the ball, but I do not "make" the ball anything different than what it is, THE ball that my son hit for a home run. Once it was hit over the fence the ball changed. Now everyone at the game admits and acknowldges, "Yes that ball flew over the fence and is a home run ball." That change the ball. Because it was changed, I cared about it in a different way.

Valuation, like faith, is our part of the process. Faith does not create reality. Saying "I think the bread is the body of Christ" is not what makes it so. It is possible that someone does not care about baseballs (most people don't). It is possible that someone does not care about eucharist (once again, most people don't). It is possible to believe or not believe Jesus is present. But since when does believing something cause it to be true?

If I say, "Your mom played that guitar with the Beatles." and you say, "My mom does not play guitar and she never met the Beatles." and I respond, "Oh, but I do believe it. I believe it with all my heart and soul. I believe it and it brings me great joy. That is why I treasure this guitar" You may choose not to argue out of kindness, or pity, or just because it seems fruitless to argue with someone about such a thing. However, my guess is you would never honestly say, "if you believe it is so then it must be true." You would not say, "that guitar was played by my mom with the Beatles because we believe it is so."

There are many reasons this is so important to me. One of the biggest is "Nominalism" has produced grave moral problems in our society. To say "nothing changes" it is only your feelings (beliefs, values, etc) which make things what they are creates all manner of problems. It leads to saying things like "That may be true to you but it isn't true to me." I.e, it makes truth a personal creation. And it everyone is free to create their own reality (only subjective) and there is no nature/essence of things (objective) then the world becomes a scarey place.