Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

Party Animals



It was an active holiday weekend around these parts, with the high point being a party for Willow and Liam's birthdays. They'll both be with their dad on Liam's actual birthday in June, so we decided to have one party to celebrate both birthdays. Here's a pic from the festivities.




Just for the record, that card table isn't usually in the living room. That's the "kids table," which we drag out whenever there's anything like a crowd at the house.

Friday, May 27, 2005

 

Like a Peanut Butter and Tuna Salad Sandwich



Some things, while great on their own, do not go well together. I love Metallica, and I love bluegrass, but I DO NOT love this.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

 

American Idol: A Sentimental Look (Yaaaaawn) Back



I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the big American Idol finale is on tonight. If you’re like me, you’ve been looking forward to tonight with giddy anticipation. That’s because, if you’re like me, you plan to clip your toe-nails tonight. So it’s going to be a big night in more ways than one.

This contest is not to be taken lightly. American Idol has changed the face of popular music like nothing before it. It deserves credit for launching the influential and iconic careers of ... uh... of what’s-her-name, and that fat black guy, and that other dude. Tonight, an anxious nation awaits the results: Who will win? The dirty long-haired guy or the blond chick?

It’s been an amazing season. I’ve not missed a single episode, except for the ones I slept through, the ones I decided not to watch, the ones I forgot about, and the ones I thought I was watching but turned out to be, in fact, “Nashville Star.” I’ve seen some outstanding talent, and some unforgettable performances, like the time that one guy sang that one song and it wasn’t awful.

The big question, of course, is “Who Will Win?” I, for one, can’t begin to guess. Both of the remaining finalists are poised to take over the charts for possibly up to a week. Let’s look at the finalists, shall we?

Carrie Underwood



When I hear Carrie Underwood sing, I find myself lulled into an almost hypnotic state. It’s the same reaction I have to the soothing tones of Faith Hill, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Christina Aguilera, and Faith Hill. It’s also the same reaction I have to the tone they play on the radio when they do an Emergency Broadcast System test. In fact, I’ve often found myself dancing to that tone, having mistaken it for a Faith Hill song. I’m sure that, regardless of what happens tonight, American Idol will launch a career for Carrie Underwood, that I’ll hear her on the radio, and that I’ll have no idea who I’m listening to.





Bo Bice


Who can forget Bo’s unforgettable performance of that song he sang that one week? Well, I suppose I can forget it, because I have. Nonetheless, it was amazing, and if I’d not gotten up to go get a bowl of sherbert, I’m almost certain that I’d have heard the whole thing. It’s been a long hard road for Bo, who’s spent the last 57 years singing in bar bands, and hopefully has retained the phone numbers of some of them.




These two finalists have had to beat some pretty stiff competition to get where they are. Here’s a look at some of the others who, shockingly, have missed their chance to be famous for upwards of a month:

Scott Savol


Who can forget that time that Scott sang that one song and it sounded alright? I know I can't forget it, and I've tried. Then there was his heart-wrenching performance of Some Song, which sent shivers up and down my spine; or would have, had I not slept through it. Scott’s image, that of “the average guy trying to make it big” was a serious part of his appeal. His appearance and personal hygiene weren’t.




Anthony Fedorov


It was hard to stay in my seat whenever Anthony would sing. That’s because I have a tendency to slide out of my seat when I’m sound asleep. It’s hard to limit myself to two favorite Anthony Fedorov performances, but if I had to pick two, I would. I guess it would be that ballad, and that other ballad.




Vonzell Solomon


Vonzell had a style and image that was all her own... and was also all Beyonce’s own and Whitney Houston’s own and Brandy’s own and that other chick who died in that plane wreck’s own. I’ll never forget her amazing performance of that one song she sang that time. No, not that one, the other one. No, no, wait, you were right, it was the first one. I think. Anyway, whatever it was, I’ll never forget it.




Constantine Maroulis


At first, Constantine seemed like just another rock dude. But with his sensitive delivery of torch ballads, broadway showtunes, and pop ditties, he proved his range. Constantine wasn’t just another rock dude. He was, in fact, just another boy band dude.




Mikalah Gordon



Mikalah Gordon reminded me of a young Barbra Streisand, in that I hated and despised her.




Nadia Turner


Nadia Turner, alas, did not have what it takes to be an American Idol favorite. Her vocals were beautiful and unique, she was a true individual, and she radiated class and personality. The poor girl. She’ll never overcome those handicaps.




Ah, yes, American Idol. What a year! We laughed, we cried, we napped, we ate some sherbert. It’s painful for me to see another season come to an end. Somehow, I suppose, I’ll survive until next year, when a new batch of hopefuls will start all over again. In the meantime, thanks to Top 40 radio, I guess I’ll muddle through somehow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

Wayfaring Strangers, Part 16



(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Deeper Into Romans

I got deeper in the book of Romans today, and I really like it. It's really an edifying read for me at this stage in my spiritual development.

The other day I wrote about the book of Acts, and how Paul came across (to my mind) in a bad light in that book. He seemed like, as I said, a "jerk." Romans has really lent some balance to my perception of Paul, and I see him now, first and foremost, as an amazing theologian. One of the best things about really studying Romans is that it's backed up and supported a lot of the theology I read and enjoy. It's clear that Paul was a big influence on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I can see his thumbprint on the ideas of C.S. Lewis, as well.

Now, I don't consider myself an expert on Romans in any way, shape, or form... but I do want to write today about three big themes that jump out at me from the book. I'll site specific scripture that seems to me to support those themes, and just write a little about what I get out of it. As always, input from anyone (Catholics, other Christians, and otherwise) is encouraged and anticipated.

The three themes that seem to me to be major threads in Romans are:

  • 01) The dangers of having a judgmental mentality

  • 02) The importance of ecumenical faith

  • 03) Basic tenets of the Christian lifestyle


  • I'm not suggesting for a moment that this is a complete or exhaustive analysis of the book of Romans. I don't think that having read the book twice qualifies me as an expert, and I really hope I don't come across like I think I know it all. Still, it is really amazing how complete and cohesive the book is when you read it as a whole. Growing up in church... and even as an adult... my actual time spent reading the Bible was pretty much limited to the passages we'd read at service on Sunday. Actually sitting down and reading the Bible like it were any other book seemed like a daunting concept to me, and I never really tried it. Now that I have, I realize how little I actually know about it. Anyway, let me get to those themes I mentioned:

    The Dangers of Having a Judgmental Mentality

    Since there were Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles living in Rome at the time of Paul's writing of this letter, he addresses it to both of them. At times, one section will be specifically aimed at Christian Jews, and other sections will be specifically aimed at Christian Gentiles. It seems to me, though that it's safe to dispense with those distinctions and presume that the book speaks to all Christians now. (But please take everything I say with a grain of salt. keep in mind that I'm just Joe Blow reading the Bible, here... I'm not a theologian or trained clergyman.) As I quote from Romans, I'm not going to try to differentiate between which passages are aimed at Christian Jews and which are aimed at Christian Gentiles. If you'll forgive the presumption, I'm going to assume that all of it is aimed at each of us... and me in specific.

    Romans 2:1-4
    ...You are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things. We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true. Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance?


    This leaps out at me, and makes me keenly aware of the times when I've deemed someone to be a "bad Christian" because of attitudes or behavior that I thought was inappropriate. How many times have I, who profess Christ as my savior, engaged in behavior or had attitudes that I know Christ wouldn't condone? More than I can count. I love the last verse, and the mindset that it says we should have when we encounter the sin of another Christian. Remember that it is through God's grace that we are saved, and that each of us is unworthy of that grace. We must not discount the grace of God by deeming ourselves worthy to condemn those who God himself forgives.

    Romans 2:19-23
    ...if you are confident that you are a guide for the blind and a light for those in darkness, that you are a trainer of the foolish and teacher of the simple, because in the law you have the formulation of knowledge and truth, then you who teach another, are you failing to teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?


    I read this as a clear and obvious call by Paul to self examination on the part of Christians. I don't think he's only addressing "teachers" in the obvious form, here. I think he's addressing all of us. If I call myself a Christian, I must remember that my behavior "teaches" non-Christians what a Christian is. It's a heavy responsibility, and not one I'm sure I'm up to... but, I think it's an indication that I should try live as though I am the only Christian that non-Christians will ever meet. That is not to say that I think I'm supposed to get on a soap-box. In fact, it's the opposite of that. If I am the only Christian that a given person ever meets, and I come off as a crass and obnoxious hypocrite, I'll do more harm than good. I think Paul wants the reader to look deep within himself and do one of those "fearless and searching moral inventories." That can really be uncomfortable. The cool thing about it, though, is that Paul does it himself, right here within the book of Romans. (I'll get to that later.)

    I don't think that the verses imply that we should excuse or accept sin where we find it, but it certainly implies to me that if I want to cast a judging eye, I better cast it on myself.

    Romans 3:19-20
    Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin.


    Again, it is not for me to memorize the Ten Commandments, nor the Golden Rule, nor any passage of scripture, and use it as a way to indict those around me. The worst way I could abuse the Bible is to scorn other sinners (of which I am one... big time!) by quoting scripture at them and getting high-and-mighty when I perceive their sin. I must remember that scripture is best used to seek out, understand, and try to destroy my own sin, not to drive a wedge between others and God. And I must remember that observing the law, in and of itself, doesn't make me righteous. I'm justified through the grace of Christ, not by any actions of my own.

    Romans 12:2-3
    Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.


    Another verse that seems to encourage serious introspection and reflection, and to discourage being self-righteous. I like the use of the word "soberly" (that's the word used in the King James, the New International, and the New American versions), and what it implies. To me, "thinking soberly" means being totally honest with yourself, even if what you find within yourself isn't what you want to find. I know how hard that can be, trust me. It's a lot harder to really examine my own faults than it is to take note of the faults I see in those around me.


    The Importance of Ecumenical Faith

    These verses in Romans really got my attention when I first read them. I'm ashamed to say that the first thought in my head was "I should memorize these verses and use them as ammo against anyone who condemns me for converting to Catholicism!" Then, a careful examination of the stuff I quoted above made me feel foolish. I'm not supposed to use scripture as a weapon. If I want to get preachy with it, I better get preachy at myself. So, while I draw comfort from these verses with regard to my own choice of church, I realize that I have lessons to learn from them as well.

    This first passage I'm going to mention is a long one:

    Romans 14:1-8
    Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (For) one person considers one day more important than another, while another person considers all days alike. Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the Lord. Also whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while whoever abstains, abstains for the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.


    A long passage, the heart of which, I think, is "Quit your nit-picking!" We do that a lot, as Christians. Look at all the divisions and separations among Christians. Churches split and break away from each other over the color of carpet and the size of a steeple. I especially like the verse that says " Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant? Before his own master he stands or falls." That's a great point. If I look down my nose at the members of Church X because I think that any one of their practices is wrong, or less than right, or not complete, or whatever... then I am appointing myself fit to judge someone else's servant. They aren't serving me, they're serving God in their own way. If something really is wrong with the way they worship or the things that they believe, that's between them and God. It ain't my business.

    Romans 14:13-19
    Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; still, it is unclean for someone who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being hurt by what you eat, your conduct is no longer in accord with love. Do not because of your food destroy him for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be reviled. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others.


    This takes the "don't nit-pick" theme a little further, and uses food as a specific example. Apparently, diet was assigned a great deal more religious significance than it is by most of us these days. I think, though, that the point is the same, whether it's about food or music or clothing or just about any innocuous thing. If I know a Christian who thinks that "practice X" is unholy or anti-Christian, then I really should make an effort to avoid participating in "practice X" in their presence. Not because it is unholy, but because I shouldn't do anything that consciously causes rifts between myself and fellow Christians.

    As an example, I have a couple of tattoos. I enjoy them, especially my most recent one, which depicts an image from a C.S. Lewis book. I know, though, that some Christians think that it's wrong and sinful to get tattooed, and that they can site Biblical evidence that seems to support their belief. I don't share that belief, and I read those verses of the Bible differently, and I don't think that the Lord really cares about my harmless little tattoos. Still, if I'm going to be in the company of another Christian who thinks tattoos are sinful, I ought to go ahead and wear long pants and long sleeves to keep my tattoos hidden, so as not to offend them. It's better for me to make that small sacrifice than to let something that I see as trivial become a real wedge between me and another Christian. It's a small sacrifice to make... especially compared to the Sacrifice that's been made for me.

    Romans 15-1:4
    We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, "The insults of those who insult you fall upon me." For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.


    More of the same kind of thing. It's important to be tolerant and accepting of one and other in the brotherhood of Christianity... and the burden is especially on those of us who aren't troubled by things that trouble other Christians. It's better for me to do without something trivial, if a fellow Christian finds it offensive, than to rub it in his or her face and cause friction between us.

    My first reaction to this was "But why should I have to do without things I like just because somebody else has a hang-up about it?" Then I remembered what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him, come and die." And I remembered what Chesterton says: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it's been found difficult and left untried." Nobody ever said that being a Christian meant getting every trivial thing I want, or that I wouldn't have to make sacrifices along the way. Making sacrifices, in fact, is what it's all about. The trick, for me, is going to be learning to make those sacrifices with a loving heart, the way I'm supposed to. If I make those sacrifices bitterly, I may as well not make them at all.

    Romans 16:17-18
    I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.


    I suppose there is a limit to the amount of condemnation we should tolerate from other Christians, and Paul seems to recognize this. It seems like there are those who share my faith, but who are just always negative and judgmental. (In fact, ever since I made it known publicly that I'm converting to Catholicism, they've been coming out of the woodwork!) Some people just seem to have personalities that cause them to always look for something bad to say. I think Paul is saying that it's better to just avoid them than to fight with them. I know a few people who I should limit my contact with to a simple wave and a smile. It's not always easy to do that, but it really is the best way, I think.


    Basic Tenets of the Christian Lifestyle

    This is the part of the book of Romans that reminds me the most of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. I think it clearly influenced Bonhoeffer's work. This is a long passage, but I think it's really beautiful:

    Romans 12:9-19
    Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."


    What else is there for me to say to that? It's all there. Faith, hope, charity, love, humility, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, forbearance, reverence. I don't see how anyone, agnostic, gnostic, atheist, or otherwise, could argue with the lifestyle advocated there.

    Romans 13:8-10
    Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, (namely) "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.


    I like how Paul puts it in a nutshell, there. If I remember Christ's commandment to love others as he loved us, I'll keep the other commandments without even having to think about them.

    Here are some other passages from Romans that got my attention.

    Paul's confession of his nature

    Romans 7:14-25
    What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if (I) do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.


    Wow. The poor guy! It's obvious that he was aware of those elements of his nature that Luke writes about in the book of Acts, and was struggling to overcome them. I feel bad for having called him a "jerk" when I read those verses. I feel a real sympathy and admiration for Paul because of that confession. That passage makes it clear that there was more to him than just a guy up on a soap-box.

    Paul argues against moral relativism

    Romans 3:5-8
    But if our wickedness provides proof of God's righteousness, what can we say? Is God unjust, humanly speaking, to inflict his wrath? Of course not! For how else is God to judge the world? But if God's truth redounds to his glory through my falsehood, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say--as we are accused and as some claim we say--that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.


    Pretty cut and dry, I think.

    The existence of God is obvious

    Romans 1:20
    Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they (non-believers) have no excuse.


    If I had to pick a single favorite verse of Romans, that would be it. I'm hard pressed to really say why, it just hits home for me. I think it has something to do with the years when I was an agnostic, and justified my unbelief by saying that there was no proof of God. There's proof of God everywhere if you just look around.

    That's all I have to say about the book of Romans for now. I'm not sure what I'll read next, but I'm sure that, whatever it is, it will lead to more verbose posting. I'm considering picking up some theology again. The theological nature of the last few things I've read seems to validate the value of the theology I'd been reading, and to provide evidence that the stuff I've read is scripturally sound. As of right this second, though, for the first time in a few months, I have no idea what book I'll find in my hands tomorrow.

    Monday, May 23, 2005

     

    Star Wars and Team Swap



    Just a couple of quick links:

    We saw the new Star Wars movie, and although the kids loved it, Wendy and I didn't enjoy it very much. That leaves us in the minority. Oh, well. Nonetheless, Wendy and I have both posted our reviews at film geeks.

    Speaking of Star Wars, Reverend Milton Stanley has an interesting take on the movies.

    The other day, I found out about Team Swap, and I enjoyed browsing their website. I also liked what I read at their blog, and I'm happy to add it to my blogroll and encourage you to read it.

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 15



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Romans: WOW!

    Yesterday I wrote about my reaction to the book of Acts, and complained that Paul seemed to be a whiner and too self-righteous for my taste. Today, I read Philippians and Ephesians, both of which were written by Paul while he was in prison. He wrote them as letters to the Christian churches in Ephesus and Philippi, brand new Christian churches that he wanted to encourage and advise.

    Both of those books present a Paul quite different from my impression of him in Acts. They're both very uplifting, positive, loving, "Christian" books, and I enjoyed them quite a bit.

    Then, I decided to tackle Romans. Paul wrote Romans, too, as a letter to gentile Christians in Rome. I read it today, in it's entirety, and it blew me away.

    If you'd asked me yesterday what I knew about the book of Romans, I'd have said that it's the book that many Christians use to justify their hatred of homosexuals. That's really all I knew about it. The last protestant church that Wendy and I attended exposed us to Romans in that context. All I really knew about it was those passages involving the apparent condemnation of homosexuals.

    It always bugged Wendy and me when the members of that church would get on a homosexual-bashing kick. We always thought it was kind of pointless. After all, regardless of whether or not it's a sin, none of us there were homosexuals (at least, not out of the closet ones), so we always saw it as kind of a waste of time. After all, if I'm not a homosexual, how can it do me any good, one way or the other, to sit around and talk about how awful homosexuality is? Why shouldn't we have been focusing on the sins that we committed ourselves, both individually and as a church?

    Of course, any time we asked about what we were observing, we were told by other members of the church that they didn't hate homosexuals, that they "loved the sinner but hated the sin." They'd say that, and then they'd go back to furiously highlighting and underlining in the book of Romans so they could memorize any verse that made them feel that God hated homosexuals as much as they did.

    Today, I read Romans in its entirety, in context, and you could have knocked me over with a feather. There is nothing in that book, NOTHING, that justifies a Christians hatred of anyone. It even makes it very specifically clear that NONE of us are fit to judge anyone else, since judgment is the province of God alone. Romans is a book about obedience, humility, and service to your fellow man. It doesn't justify or condone any sins in particular, but it makes it clear that we are not to use the word of God to justify our personal hatreds. Doing that is to seriously, harmfully take the Lord's name in vain.

    After having read those books today... especially Romans... I have a new understanding of Paul. The guy was an outstanding theologian. He was absolutely amazing! And he was as honest about himself and his faults as anyone. Romans even contains some passages wherein he uses himself as an example of a sinful, constantly failing, wretched man.

    Romans really changed my attitude about Paul. He was everything I thought he was, but he was a lot more, too.

    I'm gong to have to do a real in-depth study of the book and try to write about it again later, once my head has stopped spinning. I'm pretty sure that I'll be doing a lot of writing about Romans, in fact. There's so much in that book, and I want to try to study it and learn from it, and I hope to come up with ideas worth sharing.

    It seems so ironic to me that the Catholic church has a reputation for not encouraging it's members to read the Bible. When Wendy and I first met with Father Ken, I asked him if there was anything in specific I should read with regard to studying Catholicism. His exact words to me were "Do you have the Bible?" I can't help but think about that when I consider how I've heard so many protestant preachers cherry-pick verses from Romans to justify their hatred. I'm not indicting all protestant preachers with that remark by any means, but it is a valid personal observation from my own life.

    So, in closing for today, let me re-emphasize that I know that I still have a LOT to learn about Paul... and let me recommend the book of Romans to any Christian (Catholic or otherwise) who hasn't read it. It's an amazing, profound, humbling read, and reading it today did me a lot of good.

    Sunday, May 22, 2005

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 14



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    The Acts of the Apostles

    I've finished reading the book of Acts, and I have to admit, I've struggled with understanding a lot of what I read. I've resisted turning to theology or Bible study to sort it out, instead trying to make myself come to an understanding of it on my own first. It's a book that represents something of a challenge to my logical, almost clinical ideas about faith. That's a big part of the reason I decided to read it. I wanted something that would make me uncomfortable... challenge me... even rattle me a little bit. Well, Acts definitely rattled me. I'd love to know what my spiritual mentor, C.S. Lewis, made of that book in specific... but I've not tried to find out yet. First, I've felt that it was necessary for me to come to terms with it personally and individually. At times, as I've immersed myself in the book of Acts, I've felt like a button-down banker in a church full of snake-handlers.

    I've always been uncomfortable about the Charismatic arm of the Christian church, and it's natural that someone as stoic as I tend to be would be put off by a religious practice as lively, unscripted, and (pardon the phrase) in-your-face as Charismatic and Pentecostal church services often are. It's obvious to me why those kinds of Christians draw so much inspiration from the book of Acts. With it's tales of visions, speaking in tongues, and other supernatural elements, it's a natural source of inspiration for Charismatics. A lot of it rubs me the wrong way, though, and I have to work through that.

    I've had strong reactions of all kinds to the people who make up the book of Acts:

    St. Peter: Peter is the most instantly likable person in Acts for me. I like his single-minded determination to preach the word. I like him for his humble response to the Lord's message that he must take the gospel to the gentiles. (Being a gentile, that part means a lot to me.) A lot of what he does makes me really love the guy. I can't get over a passage wherein he and other disciples get arrested and thrown in jail for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and an angel comes to their jail cell in the night and frees them. So what do Peter and his friends do? Do they high-tail it out of Jerusalem like fugitives, counting their blessings that they got out of jail on the sly? No. They go right outside, right back to the courtyard, literally only a few feet from the jail they were just freed from, and start preaching the gospel of Christ again. The next morning, the jailers find out that they are gone and panic. They hurry out of the jail to begin searching high and low for them, and they don't have to go far. There they are, Peter and his friends, right out front, preaching the same gospel they were arrested for preaching the previous day. There they are, preaching away, oblivious to any law that says they shouldn't. Pardon my slang, but that's just the coolest thing ever. Talk about fearlessness! Talk about selflessness! Peter wasn't worried about his own human freedom. He was more worried about the spiritual freedom of his friends and neighbors. It just makes me want to hug the guy. By the way, when the jailers found them, they dragged them back inside and flogged them and put them back in their cells. I can't help but imagine Peter being flogged, barely even aware of the physical pain, just thinking what a distraction it was and how it was keeping him from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Ananias and Sapphira: To make the church stronger, Christians had taken to selling everything they had and offering it to the church. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold some land they had and kept back some of the money for themselves, but gave some of it to the church, pretending that they were giving every dime of it. Peter saw right through them, though, and called them out on it. When their lie was exposed, both of them literally dropped dead. When I first read this passage, it bugged me. It seemed like the passage presented Peter as almost omnipotent and I saw the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira as really harsh; a punishment that they maybe did not deserve, considering that they'd given at least most of the money to the church. Besides, couldn't they have repented and given all the money? Then I thought about it and came to a different understanding of the passage. I imagined Ananias and Sapphira, both nervous, wide-eyed with paranoia, both literally trembling with panic as they pretended to offer all of the profits from the sale of the land, knowing that they'd kept some of the money in secret. I imagined them so sweaty and nervous that Peter just had to know that something was up. I could just see Peter asking them "Ananias, Sapphira, what's going on with you two? What are you so worked up about? Are you holding something back?" At that, I imagine, Ananias and Sapphira would literally be overcome with panic. Being exposed would have been too much for them, and they literally both would have dropped dead from massive heart attacks. I suppose that the lesson in that is that you shouldn't give to God in a false way. It's probably better to give nothing at all than to pretend to give something you're not really giving. We weren't built to deceive God, and we're hard-wired to go all to pieces, both physically and mentally, when we try to. The price of that kind of deceit is paranoia, panic, cold sweat, trembling.... Maybe even a massive coronary. It's not good to pretend to be something you're not. I'd do well to remember that.

    St. Stephen: Stephen was martyred for refusing to stop professing his faith in Jesus Christ. He died a Christ-like death, his last recorded words were a prayer to God that his murderers be forgiven for murdering him. That's humbling. How often do I hold grudges against people for even the slightest thing? Yet, here's Stephen, literally being stoned to death (that had to be agonizing), begging God to forgive the people who are killing him. Wow.

    By the way, present at the stoning of Stephen, holding the coats for the men who killed him and rooting them on, was a weasely little guy named Saul. He'd go on to have his name changed to Paul, and become the most perplexing and frustrating of all the apostles.

    St. Paul: If I'm going to continue to be honest here, and I suppose I should be, then I have to admit that I don't much like Paul. I think he's a jerk. Well, I shouldn't say "jerk." I should say "self-righteous, whining, opinionated, stubborn jerk," since that's pretty much exactly what I think of him. Hey, at least I'm honest. And yet, this jerk was chosen by the Lord, who appeared to him on the road to Damascus, as an apostle and a forefather of the Christian church. This really takes some serious study and consideration.

    Keep in mind that Paul is the same Saul who participated, even if only peripherally, in the murder of Stephen. After that, he made his living by going around and rounding up Christians and having them beaten, jailed, killed... you name it. He wasn't exactly the Christian's best friend. On road to Damascus, he was blinded by a vision of the Lord and eventually returned to Jerusalem as a Christian. Now, imagine that you're one of the disciples of Christ. Imagine that you're in Jerusalem, trying to spread the gospel, dogged by people who want you literally MURDERED every day... and then, one day, this guy who you know to be a CHRISTIAN KILLER comes up and says "Hey, guys, remember me? Saul. Well, actually, it's PAUL now. That's right, drop the S, add a P. Oh, and along with having changed my name, I'm now a Christian. That's right, I'm done killing Christians because I am one now. Christ himself appeared before me and told me that from now on I was to do his work. I was blinded for a few days by that, but now I can see again, and here I am! I'm ready to join up with you guys and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ! Oh, and, by the way, I have a few ideas about how you should be preaching that gospel from now on."

    I imagine the disciples looking at him and saying "Are you out of your mind??!??"

    The book of Acts indicates that the disciples pretty much did respond that way, in fact. It wasn't until Barnabas took Paul under his wing and listened to him and eventually persuaded the others to take him in that he was welcomed into the fold.

    Oh, and get this... this is what a jerk Paul is.... A short time after that, Paul and Barnabas were on the road together, spreading the word, and they start arguing about this other guy who Paul doesn't like or trust. So they get into such a heated argument that they end up going their separate ways. Keep in mind, this is the same Barnabas who stuck his neck out for Paul in the first place. And how does he pay him back? By picking a fight and storming off on his own. Here's the Christian church, in it's infancy, and it's already splintering, thanks to Paul!

    Oh, and before I forget, get this... this is just beyond comprehension... the whole reason that Paul and Barnabas were on the road together was that they'd gone to Antioch, Syria and Celica to tell newly converted gentile Christians that, no, contrary to rumors that they'd be hearing, they didn't have to be circumcised in order to be Christians. The disciples had decided to send them to deliver that message. So they deliver the message and then Paul and Barnabas have that big bust-up and Paul goes his separate way to Lystra, where he meets the Christian Timothy, who was half Jewish. Timothy wants to come with Paul and participate in his ministry... so what does Paul do? He has Timothy circumcised! That's right, the very thing that Paul had gone all the way to Syria and Celica to tell the new Christians that they DON'T have to do. The nearest I can figure out as to why is because Timothy was half Jewish and Paul was trying to appease the Jews in the area. Still, I can't get over it. They'd just delivered the message that circumcision isn't necessary, and here's Paul having Timothy circumcised. Again, I can't help but imagine looking at Paul and asking saying "Are you out of your mind??!??"

    And don't get me started about what a crybaby Paul was. At one point he was beaten and falsely arrested in a city, and thrown into jail. Afterwards, the city magistrate decides that he had, in fact, been arrested improperly, so he has Paul freed and tells him to "go in peace." So what does Paul do? Because of his wounded pride, he demands a showy, official escort out of the city. He'd had his feelings hurt, and he was sure enough going to make them make it up to him.

    Later, he goes back to Jerusalem, where most of the Jews have heard nothing but bad about him (imagine that), and they want to have him killed. He ends up arrested again, mostly for his own good, and spends several years in jail and stands trial several times. Eventually, he demands that his case be appealed to Caesar. That just rubs me the wrong way, too. I mean, think about Christ... who has a better claim to false imprisonment and mistreatment than him? Yet, Christ stood fast and didn't waver, claiming only what he knew to be true, never asking for an appeal.

    I guess that's the root of my problem with Paul. He was a key figure of the New Testament... he wrote a lot of it, in fact... but his Christianity wasn't very Christ-like. At least, he wasn't very Christ-like when compared to Stephen and Peter.

    Right?

    Well, no. Not really.

    Peter, after all, is the same disciple who denied that he even knew Jesus three times when it mattered the most.

    Stephen, who died a martyr's death, did beg for compassion for those who were killing him... but still, before they killed him, he did deliver a pretty angry speech to them, and even resorted to name calling at the end of it. I guess he wasn't perfect, either.

    And now that I think about it, I feel kind of dumb about judging Paul. He was beaten, tortured, and jailed for his faith. Have I ever even been slightly inconvenienced because I'm a Christian? No. I've had it easy. Yeah, OK, so Paul was stubborn, often bitter, a bit pushy, and he couldn't get along with people most of the time. But, uh... well, if I'm honest... that kinda sounds like me, too. In fact, except for murder, I've been guilty of just about all of Paul's sins.

    I guess that's the point. If God could turn that guy into one of the most important and prolific forefathers of the early church, maybe he could do good things with me, too, if I made myself totally available to him. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I can be the next Apostle Paul... but I could probably be a better version of me if I were even half-way willing to pay more attention to the voice of God.

    Look, I'm not going to lie... I still don't like Paul much. But, when I really examine his shortcomings, the ones that really irk me, I realize that they're my shortcomings too. I guess it takes a self-righteous, whining, opinionated, stubborn jerk to know one. I'm sure of one thing, though... I've only just begun to learn what there is for me to learn about St. Paul.

    Acts concludes with a dramatic shipwreck, which Paul and his companions survive, and their eventual arrival in Rome, where Paul lives in relative comfort as a minister of the gospel of Christ for a while.

    Between the Pentecost and Paul's arrival in Rome, a lot of other stuff happens, too. Some of it I think I may understand, some of it I can't get my mind around. Now comes the fun part... since I've read Acts and really tried to digest it, I think that now it's OK for me to turn to Bible study and theology to get more out of it. The bible I've been reading from is Wendy's, and it's a small Bible with no study section and nothing expansive. Just the unadulterated Word of God staring you right in the face. I haven't even read the footnotes in the internet version I linked to above. I think it's OK for me to break out the study Bibles and the theology now and try to figure out more about Acts before I move on to another book of the Bible.

    Next stop: Philippians. No real reason, it's just what I want to read next.

    Friday, May 20, 2005

     

    THIS is NEWS??!!?



    Click this link and read this story that my local newspaper published. I PAID for this newspaper, I PAID to read this story. Please click it and go read the story, so you’ll know that nothing I’m quoting below is made up. Go ahead, click it and read it. I’ll wait here.

    Did you read it? CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT CRAP??

    In case you didn’t read it, let me sum it up…

    Leith Marrow, a pretty and terribly immature student at Hollins University is a big Guns N’ Roses fan. She listens to their music, buys G-N’-R paraphernalia, travels great distances to see members of the band perform, and makes out with their drummer.

    How is this remotely newsworthy? Even in the newspaper’s Extra section, where the stories are light and usually entertainment related, how does something like this get published? Here are a few clips from the article:

    Merrow has...thought a lot about Axl and how it's possible for a man to sing such a sentimental song and then turn around and sing a misogynist ditty like "It's so Easy." Merrow thinks Axl has probably earned his reputation as a jerk, but she forgives him. “He has a lot of mental problems," she says. "As an avid psychology student, I can accept his behavior."

    Yep, that’s how it works. Destroy a hotel room or two, beat up your girlfriend, take a lot of drugs, and then go see a psychologist, who’ll tell you “Well, I can accept your behavior.” This poor girl isn't a psychologist in the making, judging from that quote. She's a battered wife in the making.

    But it get’s worse:

    Merrow had her first Velvet Revolver (A G-N’-R spinoff band) experience in May 2004, when the band played at the 9:30 club in Washington, D.C. Wearing a lingerie top, she positioned herself directly in front of the stage, hoping the band would notice her.
    After the show, (Drummer, Matt) Sorum walked over and introduced himself.
    "He's very charismatic," Merrow says. "We've made out twice."
    The first time, they took a walk outside the club.
    "He doesn't ask to do it. It just happens," Merrow says. "He's definitely 44 years old, but that's OK."


    This is just sad. It get’s worse:

    She hopped a fence and a few minutes later was standing in front of Slash. Merrow had long planned what to say at this moment, but she says her mind went blank and she basically spent 15 minutes hyperventilating in front of the guitarist...
    After Slash left to greet the rest of the squealing fans, Sorum strolled out. He didn't recall Merrow's name but did remember her hair. "Then," she says, "he occupied all my attention."
    Making out with Sorum again was fun, but Merrow says meeting Slash was "the pinnacle of my existence thus far. The fact that I met him diminished the god-like quality.
    "Well, no, actually it didn't."


    The Roanoke Times even published some of Merrow’s poetry about Axl Rose:

    I pretend that I'm by your empty gravestone,
    that I'm tied up in a church…
    I do not know where you live…
    But it doesn't stop me
    from drawing you a birthday card
    or a Valentine,
    cutting my tongue on the envelope.


    This poor girl. She’s bound to grow up and feel silly about this as an adult. I’m sure she’ll look back at the Roanoke Times, and Beth Jones, who wrote the article, and marvel that they took advantage of her like this. I doubt Jerry Springer would stoop this low.

     

    A Few Random Links



    Just checking blogs, etc...


    Right Wing and Right Minded posted a list of offensive jokes at the expense of Chinese people. Yeah, a couple of them made me laugh. I'm a bad person.


    The more I read the Gun-Toting-Liberal, the more I realize that he and I agree on a number of things. Which is odd, considering that I'm a Gun-Eschewing-Conservative. Then again, maybe it makes since that a liberal who can't be pigeon-holed and a conservative who can't be either would pretty much agree on things like the death penalty and evolution vs. creationism.



    Saddam in his tighties
    The Face of War

    Nothing comes between Saddam and his Calvin Kleins… well, maybe some body lice, but that's about it. Click the pic for Chrenk’s take on it.
    Chrenk also ponders this picture in light of Korangate, and publishes an e-mail from a serviceman who's had all he can take of the leftists in the media.




    Mary Kate or Ashley or Michael

    No link here, and nothing much to say... except that Wendy and I were flipping through some blogs and stuff this morning and I saw this picture and thought it was Michael Jackson. Wendy had to point out to me that it's actually Mary Kate or possibly Ashley Olsen.


    Thursday, May 19, 2005

     

    Bored?



    If you've got nothing better to do, I've posted a review of just about my favorite movie ever, Unforgiven, at film geeks.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2005

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 13



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Knots

    A couple of years ago, a Christian co-worker told me that he thought that I read too much theology and not enough scripture. I brushed it off at the time, explaining that pure, uninterrupted scripture confuses me and that I rely on renowned theologians to help me understand scripture. Partly, that's true. However, a big part of the reason I read so much theology is that my personality is suited to it. For some reason, I have to constantly feel that I'm just coming to understand things. I have a need to constantly feel that I've just untangled a huge knot, only to tangle it up again and start all over.

    Even that isn't the whole reason, though... and to be honest, I've only recently had the guts for the introspection necessary to get to the bottom of it. The real reason I read theology rather than scripture is my awful human pride and my deep, childish need to be taken seriously.

    My Christianity should be further along than this by now. I should be living on faith more and relying less on a constant search for understanding. I suppose I have a deep rooted personal mistrust of "blind faith," and it goes back to the negative church experiences of my childhood. I grew up with Christians who didn't ask questions. It would be unfair to say that I was taught to believe it, but at some point I came to believe that my questioning was wrong.

    Especially with regard to my big question. The big question for me was "Why?" It was a sprawling, all encompassing "Why" that really exposed a deep doubt about the logic of Christianity. "Why did it have to happen this way? Why didn't God just make us as he wanted us in the first place? Why did he have to make us so flawed that he'd have to come to Earth and die a human death in order to put things right? Wasn't there a better way? Why would an omnipotent God do things this way?"

    That was the big knot, the one I couldn't begin to untie, and the one that nobody could help me untie. After a while, when I couldn't get answers, I just stopped asking questions.

    If anything I've written were to cause a reader to think badly of the Christians who raise me, I'd regret that. My mother was the primary Christian example of my childhood, and she is a devout and honest woman. I love her dearly. It isn't her fault that she couldn't come up with satisfactory answers to my unending questions, anymore than it's my fault that I couldn't share her strong, unwavering faith. My mother's example set the foundation for how I came to believe that an adult should behave, and even if I were still agnostic, I'd rely on her example as my moral foundation.

    If Christianity had been unrewarding to me as a child, agnosticism was totally barren during my teens and twenties. I'd told myself that my questions would never be answered, so there was no point in asking them... but that didn't make the questions go away. Finally, almost four years ago, when I realized that I'd driven my life into the ground, I decided that it was time to start all over. That meant finally making up my mind about God. Did I believe or not? That meant going back to church and sorting things out. Long story short, I do believe.

    Christianity as an adult has been totally different for me than it was as a child, thanks to a Christian community that led me to Christian apologetics and theology. Finally, I'd found a place where questioning wasn't only allowed, but encouraged! And, what's more, theologians shared my questions and took them seriously! In the vicarious company of C.S. Lewis, Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, et al, I was no longer a kid with childish questions. I was now a "deep thinker," a "searcher," a substantial man with profound questions worth considering.

    Theology has served me well.

    In my recent, intensive theological "cram session," I've even found my own personal answer to that big question. I've finally untied that big knot. That's right; I think I finally know why it had to happen this way. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I've figured it out in a way that should satisfy everyone, or that I presume to have unlocked the theological riddle of the ages. Even I don't think that much of myself. What I'm saying is that my own question has been answered to my own satisfaction. I've finally reached the understanding I needed to reach.

    It had to happen this way because this is the way we chose for it to happen.

    Man was made in the image of God, intended by God to reflect his glory back to him. God gave us awareness much like his own, and in that awareness, mankind's position as an image of God simply wasn't enough for us. It wasn't enough to be "like" God, we had to instead be our own god. We chose to separate ourselves from that which we were made to reflect. We looked away from the source of our image and said to ourselves "We are complete as we are."

    In this separation from the only source of real life, we chose death. We chose to rely on our own incomplete abilities and limited understandings. We chose pain instead of peace, fear instead of love, and mistrust instead of unity.

    But God loved us so much, and wanted so badly to be reunited with us, that he was willing to do it our way. Since we'd refused to live as his image, he made himself in ours. In the image of man, God came to us and lived as we do... and yet, as he is. He lived as an imperfect and fragile man, yet also as a perfect and stainless God. By coming to us, God knew that he'd have to accept the consequences of our separation. Those consequences were pain, loss, rejection and even death. He knew that he'd have to live and die by our rules, and he was willing to do it. He was willing to accept the responsibility for our decisions, even though that responsibility was rightly ours. He was willing to pay the price for us so that we'd have a second chance.

    In Jesus, we see both God as he is and man as we are. In the image he assumed on Earth, we see our fragility. In his death, we see our downfall. In his resurrection, we see our second chance. In the way he lived, we see what we might have been, had we not turned away from God. We now have the option to remake ourselves, to return to that original image as a reflection of God, and to be reunited to him in a stronger way than ever, having experienced and understood the price of separation. God did it our way so that we could have another chance to do it his way.

    That's my answer. The big knot is untied, and I can't tangle it back up even if I want to.

    So now what? Do I keep reading theology? I still want to. It's fun and it's comforting, and I enjoy it. But is it time to move on?

    I think it is. And here's where being totally honest in my introspection is painful. If I'm totally honest, I realize that a big reason I read theology is because it provides me a chance to be taken seriously by those around me. When I carry C.S. Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer books to work, I tell myself that my co-workers must think that I'm one smart guy. When I blog about what I've read, I tell myself that I come off like such a deep, profound thinker. Aren't I cool? I don't read John Saul or Dr. Phil, I read CLASSIC THEOLOGY!

    And, since I read theology and that makes me look smart, I don't have to worry that my friends and co-workers think I'm turning into one of those "Jesus Freaks," right? I don't have to worry that they think of me the way I think of "born agains," as some creepy, pushy, shallow religious obsessive. After all, I'm not carrying a BIBLE around, I'm carrying THEOLOGY around. So I'm still cool, right??

    God help me, that's what's been in the back of my mind all along. I've been proud, telling myself that I'm too enlightened and too cool to actually be seen reading something as pedestrian and common-place as the Bible. No scripture for me, thanks... I'll stick to the serious stuff.

    What a hypocrite I've been. What an absolute ass. I want to claim this faith as my own, but I don't want to be associated with my Christian brothers and sisters, many of whom I actually look down my nose at. I don't want to lose any critical "coolness points" by taking the risk that someone might see me actually reading the book that I consider to be the inspired word of God. Oh, no... not me... I'm Mr. Serious Questions. No blind faith for me, thanks.

    I've been calling myself a Christian, but I've been trying to be a Christian on my terms, not on Christ's terms. I've not accepted a Savior; I've simply endorsed an academic hypothesis. I've turned the living Savior into my own false idol.

    It's bad enough that I've done this, it would be beyond the pale for me to continue to do it. I have to put theology aside for a while and actually start reading the Holy Bible. And I have to get over this childish notion that if I am seen reading the Bible, people won't think I'm cool. What do I care? And who ever said anyone actually thought I was cool to begin with? My, what a convoluted mess I've found inside my head. I've been seeking guidance and insight into the scripture INSTEAD of the scripture itself. I've had the cart before the horse, and the real reason comes down to stupid pride.

    I also have to closely examine my motives for becoming Catholic. When I look back over what I've written about it, much of it reflects that same level of academic BS. I talk about "studying Catholicism," but not practicing it. I've treated it like one more knot to untie. I have to be sure that I'm doing this for the right reasons. I'm still sure that the Catholic church is the best fit for the person that I am, and that the spiritual practice and discipline it offers is what I need... but it's not enough for me to examine it. I have to experience it. I have to try as close as I can to live like the Catholic I want to be from now until next Easter... then, if I have even the slightest doubt about my real motives for converting, I must not convert. I'd be a shabby Catholic and a terrible Christian if I converted for academic reasons.

    I'm going to keep blogging about this experience, because I'm sure it's OK for me to do it as long as I glorify Jesus and not myself. I'll rely mostly on Wendy to keep my feet on the ground. She can smell me BSing a mile away. However, if anyone reads something I've written here and detects even the slightest note of pride or hubris, please call me on it. Post a comment or send me an e-mail whenever I need my butt ripped off and handed to me.

    Of all my toys, my two favorites are my hopelessly affected writing style and my pointlessly ornate vocabulary. That's probably OK when I'm posting something goofy or something political (or, as is often the case, something goofy AND political), but it's not OK for me to use them as points of pride when I'm writing about Jesus Christ. I can't use Him to make myself feel smart and cool anymore.

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 12



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Humility, War, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    I started writing this blog almost a year ago as an outlet for my frustrations and opinions during the presidential election. I was absolutely obsessed with politics this time last year. I'm a news junkie, but during a presidential election year, I get in a tizzy about it. So I started this blog so I'd have an outlet for my ranting opinions, because, frankly, my friends, family, and co-workers were getting sick of hearing them.

    Then, early November, the election was over. The big political balloon deflated for me, and I lost the drive to blog. I think I may have posted three or four entries that month and didn't post at all in December. I didn't have anything to write about. I started posting again in January when I decided that the blog could still be a fun, creative hobby. Of course, now that I wasn't obsessed with politics anymore, I'd have to start posting about other interests. Once I was doing that, the blog became autobiographical in nature. I've often wished I'd not called this blog "The Southern Conservative" because, while I am southern and while I am conservative, having that kind of title does imply that I'm more of a serious political deep thinker than I am. Most of the time, what I post is little more than the day's ramble, a link or two, or something that strikes me as funny.

    "Wayfaring Strangers" is the exception. This series is really the only thing I write anymore that represents any kind of serious endeavor for me. When Wendy and I decided to convert to Catholicism, I thought that keeping a journal along the way would be a good idea... and since I already had a journal going, keeping it here seemed natural. Of course, that is an indication that I wasn't taking this conversion seriously enough, or that I didn't realize just how personal and private the conversion process would be, or that I presumed that sharing these revelations with the world over the internet would be an easy thing to do.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost Of Discipleship was an absolutely amazing book, and I'm glad I read it. It is, however, the most demanding book I've ever read. I was initially barely four pages into it when I found myself thinking "I'm not sure if I read this... I'm not sure if I can be the kind of Christian that Bonhoeffer is insisting that every Christian should be." The book begins, after all, with the words "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." That's the launching point for one of the most intense Biblical studies I've ever read. Bonhoeffer's message is still ringing in my ears: If I am to be alive to the Lord, I must be dead to myself. I must deny myself, deny my desires and my cravings and my needs, and serve only Him. If the Lord is to be alive in me, first I must die internally to make room for him.

    So how do you die unto yourself? In a lot of ways, but the biggest way, the most important way (if I've understood Bonhoeffer correctly) is humility. Absolute, complete and unwavering humility is required of the Christian. To serve Christ is to be as humble as a human being can possibly be. That is the only way that it is possible for a person to take on the demands of absolute Christian service. If you value your own wants and desires at all, you will naturally value them before everything else. The guideline for a Christian, every day, every hour, every minute, must be "Not what I want, but what Christ wants. Not what I need, but what Christ needs."

    Demanding stuff. And yet, every word of it struck me as absolutely right.

    So here's my quandary. I'm doing a personal religious study, I'm coming to the point where I realize the importance of humility, and I'm documenting it at this blog, which I've used for a year now to inflate my own ego.

    I thought about abandoning the blog all together, but that doesn't make sense. The blog, in and of itself, is neither inherently good nor evil. It's just a journal of where I am and what I'm thinking and what I'm doing, etc. It's OK to keep a journal, and even to keep it public. It's the kind of person that the journal depicts that matters.

    I thought about keeping the blog as a hobby and discontinuing my use of it as a forum for my religious experiences, but that didn't seem like the answer either. I don't think Christ would want me to hide this process, this conversion, like I'm ashamed of it or like I think it's something fragile. Besides, if the blog is going to be an ongoing hobby, it's still going to reflect who I am... and the person I am has to be Christian (read: humble) in EVERYTHING I do. If I were behaving humbly in my real life and then getting on the internet and keeping a blog where I am a complete self-righteous blowhard, I'd just be a hypocrite.

    I think the solution is to keep doing what I'm doing, but to just try to do it right. Put simply, if I'm going to be the man that Christ wants me to be, and if my version of that man keeps a blog, then I darn well better keep the blog Christ would have me keep.

    It's OK for me to blog about politics, culture, entertainment, etc... but I'm sure that I have to stop being such a know-it-all about everything. It's OK for me to post my opinion, but I can choose my words a bit more carefully. It's probably OK for me to continue frisking editorials and commentaries that I disagree with, but I can do it without coming off like a rabid lunatic. I can disagree and say that I disagree and still do it humbly. At least I think I can. If it turns out that I can't, then maybe it really will be time to abandon the blog for good and all.

    Along the way, I'm going to make mistakes and misstep... and when I post something that falls short, I hope I'll gave the good sense to put things right. And that's really what I'm getting at today. On Thursday, May 12, I wrote a piece about what I thought it meant to be a conservative, and that piece included this:

    Being conservative means that you realize that deaths during wartime are different than murder, because the primary goal of a just war is not to kill as many people as possible, but rather to defend freedom from aggressors, to help people oppressed by brutality, and to remove murderous madmen from power.


    I think that even as I wrote it, I was telling myself what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to believe. Deep down, I do still believe that the world in general and Iraq in specific is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. I'm glad that he's in prison now, I think he belongs there. And I'm proud of our men and women in uniform who have risked so much, lost so much, and worked so hard for this cause. I have friends and co-workers who have immediate family members in Iraq, and I tell them whenever I have the occasion to that I'm grateful for their sacrifices and efforts on our behalf.

    Nonetheless, I look back at a lot of what I've written about the war since I started blogging, and I can't help but think that I've come off like a know-it-all jerk. If I'm being honest, if I'm really trying to be humble, when I read a lot of what I've written, I am ashamed. Who am I to sit here in the comfort of my home, in my fat and happy life, and boast and brag about the efforts of soldiers half way around the world? Who am I to sit here expounding the virtues of a war I've not fought in, in a country I've not lived in, over causes that I don't completely understand? It's awfully easy for me to sit here waving the flag and yelling "GO GET 'EM, BOYS!" It doesn't require any sacrifice on my part, it doesn't require that I even get up off my lazy butt and do anything. I'm just another loudmouth with an internet connection and an inflated pride.

    It's pretty humbling to realize that about myself. It's even harder to admit it, especially here at this blog, where I've been blowing my own horn for so long.

    The Cost Of Discipleship makes some pretty strong arguments against war, along with Bonhoeffer's strong arguments against pride. When I consider the two issues together, I can't help but come to the conclusion that I've entangled them into one big personal issue... one big personal failure. I've turned a war I'm not fighting into a source of pride I've neither earned, nor deserve. Pride that separates me from God.

    I'm not going to do anything showy or grandiose, like retracting the things I've said about the war or making some sort of public statement that I'm now opposed to the war, or anything like that. That's not the point, and it would be just as counterproductive for me to take an anti-war stance and use it to my own glory as it has been for me to support the war to my own glory. I have to stop glorifying myself and telling myself how smart my opinions are. When it comes to the war, like everything else, I have to put my own will aside and ask myself what Christ wills for me.

    From now on, when it comes to the war, I think that the only thing I should be doing is praying for peace, praying for the safe return of our men and women, and praying for an end to ALL the bloodshed in Iraq. Anything beyond that and I'd be off the path again. Anything beyond that and I'd be serving myself first again. I have to stop doing that.

    Monday, May 16, 2005

     

    Maybe I'd Rather Not Know...



    One of the best things about Stat Counter is that along with a free (and ad free) counter for your blog or site, you get a really gnarly personal account where you can go and look at info about the people who visit your site... how long the average visitor stays, what your most popular pages are, etc.

    One of the things that Stat Counter saves for you is a list of the search queries that people use at Google, Yahoo, etc... that cause them to end up at your blog.

    Sometimes the queries that guide folks to your site make sense. Other times, they might leave you scratching your head.

    Here's a quick snapshot of the search queries that have guided folks to my blog just this morning alone:



    I mentioned Tommy Desimone, the real mobster that the character Tommy DiVito in Goodfellas was based on, in passing a few months ago.

    One reader ended up here after googling the term random car. And, that's good. If there's one thing this blog was designed to communicate to my readers, it's the randomness of cars. There's just nothing more random than a car.

    I made fun of Melissa Etheridge's bald head after the Grammies, but BEFORE I knew that she was bald because she had cancer. I'm sooooo glad to see that I get a fair amount of hits from people who are looking for info on Melissa Etheridge's baldness... and that they come to my site, read my snide remarks, and go away thinking what a jerk I am.

    I'm glad to see that one reader was lead here by the search terms michael moore fat bastard. I'm sure I've made it clear over the past year that I am very pro-michael moore fat bastard. I'd really like to think that this blog is one of the leading sources for... and proponents of... michael moore fat bastard. Anything I can do to advance the cause of michael moore fat bastard is not too much to ask.

    I just want to say that I don't have any idea what "fea sex" is, I don't WANT to know what "fea sex" is, and if I've been getting up in my sleep in the middle of the night and blogging about "fea sex" .... well, I really don't want to know.

    Sunday, May 15, 2005

     

    Stupid Political Quiz Thingy



    Just for the record, Gun Toting Liberal started it:


    My Political Profile, According To Blogthings

    Overall: 70% Conservative, 30% Liberal

    Social Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

    Personal Responsibility: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

    Fiscal Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal

    Ethics: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal

    Defense and Crime: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal



    This quiz is, of course, indicitive of nothing. The questions often required one answer OR the other, and neither suited me. For instance...

    Carrying a gun is:
    A) Taking responsibility for one's own defense, and admirable
    OR
    B) Dangerous and sketchy


    How can you pick just one of those two? It's insulting to dumb down issues like that to one extreme OR the other. I went with Dangerous and sketchy because I conjured up an image in my head of Barney from the Simpsons walking around with a gun. That's just not right.

    Anyway, the quiz means nothing, but I felt compelled to take it. If you feel compelled as well, take the stupid thing yourself.

    Friday, May 13, 2005

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 11



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Thrown For A Loop By Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    This intensive cram session of theology that I've decided I must do in order to convert to Catholicism feeling certain that I've done the right thing has included reading by plenty of protestants as well as Catholics. For every Scott Hahn and G.W. Chesterton book I read, I also read something by C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, etc.

    Tonight I was reading Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship, and found myself totally floored by the book. Bonhoeffer, if you don't know about him, was a brilliant German protestant Pastor and Theologian who wrote and published during the rise of Hitler's Nazi party. Because Bonhoeffer refused to stop resisting the Nazis, he was jailed, sent to a concentration camp, and eventually hanged. I'm almost certain that, were he Catholic, I'd be referring to him now as St. Dietrich.

    Anyway, not only has Bonhoeffer not said anything in The Cost of Discipleship yet to criticize or refute Catholicism (I'm about half-way through the book, so I can't say for sure that he won't, but it doesn't look like he will), he's actually written things that adamantly support John Paul II's stance that the war in Iraq is wrong, and that war in general is wrong and not to be supported by Christians.

    This really throws a kink into the system for me, as a Christian that supports the war. Most of The Cost of Discipleship is a really a study of the Sermon on the Mount, and Bonhoeffer reads it not just as an inspirational sermon but as a list of commands to Christians from Christ. The Beatitudes, for instance, aren't merely praise for the meek, the peacemakers, those who mourn, etc… but actual commands to Christians to embody those characteristics. It seems so basic to me now, but I'd never thought of it that way.

    The point is, Bonhoeffer has about 90% convinced me that it is my Christian duty to oppose war. PERIOD.

    Good grief, I wasn't ready for this particular bit of soul searching yet. I thought I knew were I stood on the war and had just reasons for my feelings. Now I have to really back off and think about it.

    I'll post more when I finish the book. Just had to get this out there.

     

    Tales From The Dorkside



    My wife and I share a blog, film geeks, where we write about… guess what? Movies. It was started as her primary blog and as a supplement to my own blog, this one, where I didn’t feel that posting about movies was entirely on-topic. (This was back in the earlier months of blogging, when I still believed in arcane concepts like “Staying On Topic.”)

    Anyway, Wendy decided recently that now that school is over for the summer, she’d like to do some more blogging, but didn’t want to limit herself to just movie talk. I had a radical, crazy idea: Why not start your own blog? Nah, it couldn’t work… then again, it might just be crazy enough TO WORK! So she did.

    I am proud to present “Tales From The Dorkside,” as owned and managed by the cutest dork I know, my wife, Mrs. Darrell. AKA, Wendy.

     

    Hear You Me



    It seems like the loss of loved ones has been a common topic among some of the blogs I read recently.

    Both The Chronicles of Rhodester and The Right Side Up posted very moving pieces recently about the deaths of their mothers, and I encourage you to read them both.

    Reading these things has made me want to write something about the experience of losing someone you love. It’s been on my mind lately. Nonetheless, when I try to put some words together, I realize that anything I write would just be a pale attempt to come up with something as moving as the two items I mentioned above. It would be insulting to them and it would make me look silly to just sort of jump on the bandwagon.

    Still, it’s been on my mind.

    I can’t help but want to post something.

    Rather than concocting something in my own words and fall short, I decided to post someone else’s words, something that moves me a lot. These are the lyrics to a song that I love. This song makes me think about the people I’ve known who’ve left us behind, and the love that they left with us. When I listen to this song, I ponder the lives of the people who’ve left me and my family behind, having finished with this world and moved on to the next.

    For my grandmother, my aunt Sadie, my childhood friend Bobby, my son’s maternal grandmother, my friend Leon, and my cousin Stephanie, I offer a prayer in someone else’s words:

    There's no one in town I know.
    You gave us some place to go.
    I never said thank you for that.
    I thought I might get one more chance.

    What would you think of me now?
    So lucky, so strong, so proud.
    I never said thank you for that,
    Now I'll never have a chance.

    May angels lead you in.
    Hear you me my friend.
    On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
    May angels lead you in.

    And if you were with me tonight,
    I'd sing to you just one more time.
    A song for a heart so big,
    God couldn’t let it live.

    May angels lead you in.
    Hear you me my friend.
    On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
    May angels lead you in.
    May angels lead you in.


    -Jimmy Eat World
    “Hear You Me”


    Thursday, May 12, 2005

     

    Being A Conservative Means...



    The Gun Toting Liberal posted an interesting item about what it means, in his opinion, to be liberal. His opinions were interesting to me because it’s clear that he doesn’t fit any template. Some of his ideas are exactly like mine, others are polar opposites. The thing I liked about the post was that it gave me a nutshell look at where the guy stands on a number of issues, and posting it in “laundry list” form made it fun to read. I couldn’t resist throwing a list together of my own.

    Ever since the presidential campaign season ended, I’ve posted fewer and fewer blatantly political items…. And I’ve worried that I shouldn’t have titled this blog “Southern Conservative,” for fear that casual readers might think that I’m a one-topic ranter… but since I did title the blog that, and since it is what I consider myself, it can’t hurt to put a little finer point on it.

    These are my opinions and mine alone, and I don’t see myself as an authority on anything other than what my opinions are… so, with no further ado, I present:



    What It Means To Be A Conservative,
    According To Darrell:


  • Being conservative means that you realize that a person’s political opinions are shaped by his or her morals, and that morals are usually shaped by religious beliefs. You believe that to be natural, and don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that “separation of church and state” is a phrase that is uttered nowhere in the Constitution, and that it is NOT the same thing as the First Amendment, which simply prohibits the creation of a national religion or the ban of any religion.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and people with guns kill people efficiently… But you also realize that making more laws is not the solution to gun related violence. Murder is already illegal. We won’t make it go away by making it illegaler. If Joe Blow wants to kill a guy with a rock and I take the rock away, he’ll just pick up a stick.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that nothing is better for an economy, a nation, or a world than unimpeded capitalism.


  • Being conservative means that you want to make sure that governmental aid programs are available to those who need them, and unavailable to those who want to abuse them.


  • Being conservative means that you want to keep illegal aliens out of this country under all circumstances… and that you welcome legal immigrants with open arms and an enthusiasm about their desire to live in the greatest country in the world.


  • Being conservative means that you are opposed to murder in all forms, including abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that deaths during wartime are different than murder, because the primary goal of a just war is not to kill as many people as possible, but rather to defend freedom from aggressors, to help people oppressed by brutality, and to remove murderous madmen from power.


  • Being conservative means that you see NOTHING WRONG with pre-emptive war against any nation or group that declares you it’s enemy and makes it clear that it wants to do violence against you.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that extinction is part of the natural process, and you don’t turn into a weeping snotball every time some species is announced to be on the verge of extinction. If every species that ever existed was still around, after all, we’d be up to our armpits in dinosaur poop.


  • Being conservative also means that you carefully study the environmental impact of any kind of project before you proceed… and if the positives of the project outweigh the negatives of the environmental impact, you DO PROCEED. The real needs of humanity are more important than the ecosystems of bugs.


  • Being conservative also means being a conservationist. You do not consciously waste resources or money just because you have the right to. You have better sense than that.


  • Being conservative means that you know legislating from the bench when you see it, and dammit, you’ve been seeing a lot of it lately.


  • Being conservative means that you don’t think that the solution to every problem in the world can be solved by a government program.


  • Being conservative means that you know that the government doesn’t have one red cent of it’s own money. It’s OUR money that the government spends, and you have as much say in how it’s spent as ANYONE.


  • Being conservative means that you know that the government’s job is to make, enforce, and interpret law, and THAT IS ALL. You realize that any law that IS NOT based on the prevention of murder, theft, or endangerment of other people is probably a SUPERFLUOUS LAW.


  • Being conservative means loving your country and being proud of it rather than looking for any possible way to blame America first.


  • Being conservative means recognizing the validity of lots of liberal ideas… but realizing that today’s America bashing, politically correct leftwingers are NOT liberals. They are, instead, fascists, exclusionists, and elitists.


  • Being conservative means that you knew that CBS news was biased before documentgate.


  • Being conservative means that you have enough common sense to realize that a crucifix in a bottle of urine or a postage stamp with a picture of a gun aimed at the president ARE NOT ART, and you’re not stupid enough to let some moron convince you that they are. That particular emperor has no clothes.


  • Being conservative means that you are opposed to all forms of racism… both the kind of the past that discriminated against people based on their race, and the kind of the present that tells minorities that they aren’t good enough to succeed on their own, and therefore, they can only do well in life if the government helps them.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that rapper "50 Cent" is an idiot and you aren’t willing to pander to him and his ilk just because they are black. An idiot yelling about murder, drugs and rape over a pre-recorded music track is just an idiot, plain and simple, regardless of what color he is.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that Bill Gates doesn’t owe you a damn thing.


  • Being conservative means you support and are proud of the armed forces.


  • Being conservative means that you investigate claims against the government, businesses, and people BEFORE you believe them. Just because some jackass tells you something bad about the president and you like the way it sounds doesn’t mean that there’s a grain of truth in it (you hear me, Michael Moore?).


  • Being conservative means that you don’t think that gays are a minority and shouldn’t be treated like one.


  • Being conservative means you don’t give a damn what Sheryl Crow thinks about the war, what Barbra Streisand thinks about the president, or what Eddie Vedder thinks about anything. Why should you? What are their credentials?


  • Being conservative means that you think PETA is almost as stupid as people who abuse or mistreat animals.


  • Being conservative means that you realize that boycotts are rarely a good idea and hardly ever work.


  • Being conservative means that you care less about the rights of criminals than you do about the rights of their victims.


  • Being conservative means that you are willing to work for every dime you receive and don't think that the world owes you anything.


  • Being conservative means you want to raise your kids yourself, actively, and as well as you know how. You don’t want a nanny raising them. You don’t rely on any program that puts ratings stickers on CDs and video games because you plan to check out what your kids listen to and play YOURSELF. You don’t want your kids taught political ideology in school instead of basic reading, writing, and arithmetic… but you don’t want to ban books or classes because you realize you can’t control everything your child sees and hears for his and her whole life, and therefore you plan to make SURE you know what your kids taught in school and counter ideas that you dislike with HANDS ON PARENTING AND PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT. And, by the way, being conservative means you want your kid to both hear about evolution AND to learn the Pledge of Allegiance, because you plan to discuss BOTH of them with your child yourself.


  • That about sums it up. Remember, those are just my opinions and shouldn’t be any more threatening or insulting than anyone else’s. Your opinions are welcome, and I’d like to read them.

    For a humorous take on this, check out Kill Righty's "You Might Be A Liberal" list.

     

    I Have To Love Cox and Forkum



    Once again, they hit the nail on the head:




    Wednesday, May 11, 2005

     

    NARNIA TRAILER!!!



    I'm so slow about finally getting around to reading blogs, especially when I've been working a week of graveyard shift.

    Thanks, MCF, for the heads up on the trailer for The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe.

    A TRAILER FOR THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE!!!!!

    IT LOOKS AMAZING!

    WATCH IT HERE.

    If you don't have a high speed connection, here are a few clickable grabs you can at least check out:











    December 9th can't come soon enough.

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 10



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Struggling With My Nature

    O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
    and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of
    heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because
    they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and
    deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with
    the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do
    penance, and to amend my life.

    --The Catholic Act of Contrition


    Sometimes I wish I were still agnostic. Being agnostic is very comfortable. It was easier to justify my shortcomings when I didn't feel called to a higher standard. When I've fallen short of the mark... when I've missed it by a mile... it is easier to pretend that the mark doesn't exist at all.

    I got divorced in the summer of 2000, and it was painful. The next several months that followed, culminating in 9/11 and some painful personal realizations on Thanksgiving of 2001, were the most tumultuous of my life. I began praying that Thanksgiving that if God were real, that if he existed and he could hear me, that he'd grant me faith in him. Of course, having been agnostic for so long, I didn't really know what faith was. What I was praying for, I now realize, was certainty. If faith is belief in something you can't verify, then certainty must be believing that you can verify that something is true. I wanted to know that God was real and to be sure I could verify it. I didn't want to have faith that God was there, I wanted to be certain of it.

    Be careful what you ask for.

    I read C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity that winter. I can't narrow it down to an exact date or even a specific month, but sometime between reading that book and the sudden death of my son's maternal grandmother the following spring, I was granted the certainty that I'd prayed for. It wasn't what I'd call faith, since faith implies something hopeful, joyous, and comforting. This was a simple, blunt certainty that God was real. I felt that God had somehow announced his presence to me and that the knowledge of his existence cut to my very core. "I am real," God seemed to say, "I have been all along. Now, what are you going to do?"

    There are all kinds of humanistic ways to explain the certainty I'd come to feel. None of them are remotely relevant. It could be that my certainty was an emotional response to my problems. It could be that my certainty was a response to the things that began going right in my life, and there were many: the first three things that come to mind are Wendy and her kids. During that time we also found a house, and beginning then and over the course of the next couple of years, our relationship with my son's mother and her husband has become a valued friendship and a productive co-parenting partnership. The certainty I developed in the existence of God might have simply been a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I said, there are a number of possible psychological explanations, but none of them matter. What matters is that I am certain of the existence of God, and as much as I sometimes want to, I can't become uncertain again.

    What matters even more than that is the way this certainty has effected me. Comfortable agnosticism is gone, and so are the gray areas and moral relativism it provides. Now, when I mess up, I can't let myself off the hook easily. "I should do better" has been replaced by "I am required to do better." I no longer think that I ought not behave in certain ways, now I think that I must not behave in certain ways. More than my immediate comfort hinges on the decision I make and the actions I take on a daily basis. I know that now. I can't un-know it.

    Don't get the idea that any of this indicates that I'm the victim of religious guilt. That's the kind of moral relativism I was talking about before, and it's just silly to me now. Yes, I am a victim, but what I'm a victim of is my own sins. What's more, what's worse, the people I love the most suffer the most from my sins. There's no avoiding that, and no rationalizing it away. Besides, what I'm writing is not intended as a psychological examination of the way that Christianity has changed my self image and my sense of right and wrong. What I am writing is simpler than that. It's a confession.

    I look for guidance and solace in scripture, and I find both in the book of Hebrews:

    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

    - Heb 4:14,15,16


    It's simple, but so hard. I must go before God and confess my sins, ask for forgiveness, and ask for guidance so that I might stop sinning. I won't post a list of my sins here, partly out of shame and partly because to list them all would fill pages and pages. Poor Father Ken, though... he'll have to listen to them all, help me sort through them, and help me figure out how to attack them and reconcile myself to God. Suffice it in this context to say that I am a sinner, that I am weak, and that my sins hurt the people I love and separate me from God. This isn't something I suspect, something I merely feel. This is something I know.

    Thank you, whoever you are, for having read this confession of my nature. Please know that I am sincere when I ask you to remember me in your prayers, even if only peripherally. I need all the help I can get. I can't justify my misgivings and weaknesses anymore. I no longer have that option.

    "Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend--it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from his father and not knowing whither he went. He trusted himself to my knowledge, and cared not for his own, and thus he took the right road and came to his journey's end. Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man, no creature, but I myself, who instruct you by my word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean, contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire. That is the road you must take. To that I call you, and in that you must be my disciple."
    - Martin Luther


    Tuesday, May 10, 2005

     

    The Lenny Brucing of Larry the Cable Guy



    One of the most offensive articles Rolling Stone has ever published is in the current issue (I suppose it’s current) with Weezer on the cover. It’s an article about the comedian who calls himself Larry the Cable Guy. Well, ostensibly, it’s about Larry the Cable Guy. Really, though, it’s about how much Rolling Stone hates Republicans, NASCAR, Christians, conservatives… you know; me.

    I’ll say up front that I’m not a fan of Larry the Cable Guy. The guy just isn’t funny. His routine is tired, boring, and simple. He’s recycling the same old demeaning Ernest T. Bass, Hee Haw crap. He’s never once made me laugh. My list of favorite comedians would include plenty of southerners, like the late Texan Bill Hicks and South Carolina born Chris Rock... but I also loved Sam Kinison and Mitch Hedberg, and currently really enjoy Nick DiPaolo, Greg Giraldo, and Eddie Izzard. If your comedy isn’t going to give me anything to think about, you’re wasting my time. All Larry the Cable Guy gives me to think about is how much he annoys me.

    In an article about the guy’s rising popularity, Rolling Stone scribe Gavin Edwards doesn’t even try to contain his hatred of Red State America, and uses Larry the Cable Guy to paint us all with the same broad strokes. The thing is, by demonizing Larry, Edwards is probably helping the comedian’s career. Ever since America woke up to the evil of the way Lenny Bruce was railroaded, it’s become standard that the comedians who offend the establishments the most are the most successful. Because Larry offends the liberal PC sensibilities of the left (as represented by Edwards and Rolling Stone), they’ve attempted to turn him into Hitler. Instead, they may be crafting him into today’s Lenny Bruce. That’s a shame, considering that the guy really isn’t funny, really isn’t insightful, and could really end up cashing in on the way the left apparently hates and fears him.

    Rolling Stone sums him up this way:

    Meet Larry the Cable Guy -- the slightly dim, often racist, completely redneck, 100 percent Republican alter ego of Dan Whitney.

    So right off the bat, at least, you know what you’re getting into if you read the article. Republican, according to Edwards, translates as dim, racist, and redneck. Alright, then.

    If you don't live in a red state, you've probably never heard of him

    Wow. Wow. What a telling aside. What must Edwards imagine Red State American to be? Three or four corn-intensive, perpetually 1955 pockets of backwardness, where Bush is revered as God and we don’t want no smart-aleck Nuuu Yaurk Jeeews tellin’ us what to laugh at, I suppose. Isn’t it wonderful to be summed up so neatly, so succinctly, and with such disregard? Since this article is intended as a primer on the evil that is Larry, it’s clearly not intended for those demon Red-Staters who’ve already heard of him. Rolling Stone must see their readership as primarily a Blue State constituency. I wonder how their circulation numbers would change if those of us whom they assume don’t read the magazine suddenly just stopped reading it. That might be the only way that Rolling Stone might get even a glimpse of the reality of what Red State America is.

    Within a couple of lines, Edwards shows that he isn’t content to just imply what Red State America is. He has to let fly with as many direct insults as he can. This is how he sums up those Red Staters who enjoy Larry’s material:

    They may not think of being a Larry fan as an expression of cultural identity, but of course humor requires a shared set of assumptions. In this case, the worldview includes the beliefs that Hilary Clinton is Satan, The Dukes of Hazzard got canceled because Hollywood hates country boys, and NASCAR is the world's greatest sport.

    When is the last time you saw a demographic of America so succinctly pigeon-holed? Of course, white, southern, middle class America is the last group that it’s safe to deride with that kind of cultural bias. Can you imagine a journalist summing up Chris Rock’s fanbase like this:

    Humor requires a shared set of assumptions. In this case, the worldview includes the beliefs that the man is keeping us down, that “Method & Red” got canceled because Hollywood hates real niggas, and that basketball is the world’s greatest sport.


    Can you even imagine reading such a thing? Of course not. But cultural race-specific prejudice like what Edwards wrote and Rolling Stone published about Larry’s fans is absolutely fine.

    Edwards enlists other comedians to help him flog Larry. Just as comedians who worked clean in the 50’s wanted nothing to do with Lenny Bruce, comedians who work PC in this decade maintain an academic distaste for Larry and his fanbase. Note that I’m not remotely suggesting that Larry and Lenny are comedians of the same caliber… but you might get the idea that they are when David Cross gets so dead serious and starts waxing political like this:

    "He's good at what he does," concedes fellow comedian David Cross. "It's a lot of anti- gay, racist humor -- which people like in America -- all couched in 'I'm telling it like it is.' He's in the right place at the right time for that gee-shucks, proud-to-be-a-redneck, I'm-just-a -straight-shooter-multimillionaire-in-cutoff-flannel-selling-ring -tones act. That's where we are as a nation now. We're in a stage of vague American values and anti-intellectual pride."

    Granted, some of this might be simple jealousy and professional envy on the part of Cross. David Cross is best known today as a secondary character on Arrested Development, but he’s tried his hand with mixed results (and little success) at stand-up comedy as well. He might be best known for Mr. Show with Bob And David, an HBO sketch comedy program that produced about 15 hours of material (about 45 minutes of which was actually funny). It’s not all jealousy with Cross, though. The disdain and disgust he feels for Larry and the Red Staters who’ve made him successful just drips from his quote above. David Cross is bitter, angry, and paranoid. It’s an interesting to note, by the way, that bitter, angry paranoia is a characteristic he’d probably ascribe to Larry’s fanbase.

    Edwards had to be disappointed by the blurb he got from Lewis Black:

    "Once he discovered that the Larry character could talk about anything, it took on a life of its own," says Lewis Black of The Daily Show. "But how do the rednecks hear it as a compliment?"

    Well, exactly. Black seems to get it. This redneck, at least, doesn’t hear Larry’s act as a compliment. It’s like a white minstrel show… a white southern guy getting rich by perpetuating the stereotype that smart white southerners have struggled to cast off for ages. That’s what burns me the most about this. Larry isn’t our Lenny Bruce. He’s our Uncle Tom.

    Friday, May 06, 2005

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 9



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Saints Preserve Us!

    One part of the study of Catholicism that isn't difficult for me is the study of the Saints. Put simply, I like the Saints. I like the Catholic idea of the communion of the Saints, as expressed in the Apostle's Creed. I like the idea that the Saints watch over us, pray for us, want to help us, and provide us with examples of just lives. I like knowing that upon my confirmation I get to pick my own patron Saint.

    I thought that picking my own patron Saint would be easy... until my wife assured me that, contrary to what I want to believe, St. Anger is not a real Saint. Metallica lied to me! Doh!

    So now I have to find another one.

    Music is extremely important to me, so it seems like a no-brainer that I'd pick a Saint associated with music or musicians. I'm having a hard time finding one that compels me, though... one that seems personally inspirational and attractive.

    Saint Notkar Balbulus, for example, is a patron Saint of musicians. Considering the kind of music I listen to, it might be appropriate that he's also the patron Saint of stammering children. Besides, his very name sounds like a good name for a metal band: "Notkar Balbulus! Notkar Balbulus ROCKS, man! WHOOOOO!"

    Then again, a Saint who's name inspires irreverence in me might be counter-productive.

    Saint Dunstan is another patron Saint of musicians, but I can't find anything in his biography that indicates exactly why he is associated with music. For all I can tell, the guy might not have been able to carry a tune in a bucket. He might have had all the natural rhythm of a Political Science professor. For that matter, he might not have even liked music much, and just got assigned patronage over musicians to make sure he had enough to do. Besides, I can't see me adopting a patron Saint who's very name causes me to be reminded of a horrible Jason Alexander movie.

    Then there's good old Saint Paul the Apostle, one of the most important figures in the New Testament. He's a patron Saint of musicians... but he's also a patron saint of saddle makers, snake bite victims, newspaper editors, the state of Kentucky, and about a thousand other things. Paul has his hands full. I can't see him spending much time in Heaven actually hanging out with Hendrix. If you happen to be a newspaper editor who gets bitten by a snake while making a saddle in Kentucky, though, then Paul's your guy.

    Saint Cecilia is a patron saint of musicians, but here's the only association I could find between her and music: "While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse." It doesn't sound like Cecilia would have much patience for the kind of music I enjoy.

    Of course there's always the basic guys, like Saint Jude, Saint Christopher, Saint Joan of Arc, Susan Saint James, etc. I may just adopt one of them by default. Anyway, reading about the Saints and trying to find a good personal patron is one of the fun, lighter parts of my study. Ifigured I ought to post something to show that I'm not sitting here in misery as I try to find my way to the Catholic church.

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 8



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Purgatory: No Pain, No Gain

    Catholicism locks into place for me in strange and unpredictable ways. I find that I may be studying some seemingly puzzling piece of church doctrine, struggling to understand something Catholics have believed for ages, and out of nowhere, some other bit of dogma that I'd not even considered yet will make sense to me. It's like I'm trying to work a jigsaw puzzle, obsessing over one piece, turning it over and over again, trying to figure out where it fits. Then, when I take a break from it and step back to look at the big picture, I see that God has put some other piece in place for me... without my help and in spite of my interference. God is solving the puzzle for me, in his own way, by his own schedule, and in the order He sees fit. I find that humbling and comforting, and it's a reminder that what I want to understand isn't as important as what God wants me to understand.

    That's the only way I can explain how my in-depth study of Mary resulted in a personal, satisfying understanding of purgatory.

    I want to emphasize that I am not trying to persuade anyone to agree with me, and I'm not arguing that what I have come to believe is what everyone should believe. Most important of all, I do NOT presume to speak for the Catholic church. I'm just documenting my own experiences and my own study... I'm not an apologist, I'm just a wayfaring stranger, as the title says, describing the things I see on my journey home.

    By the way, I'm still struggling with the theology of Mary. To accept Catholic dogma about Mary, specifically about the Assumption and Coronation, will first require me to accept some sort of corporal idea of Heaven. That's uncomfortable for me. I'm not ready yet. I may never be. I can say now, though, with some certainty, that I've achieved a personal, subjective understanding of purgatory. I haven't "come to terms" with it or merely "accepted" it, I've actually come to understand purgatory in a way that makes it seem good, natural, and even desirable to me. I not only believe in purgatory, I want it.

    It happened like this:

    Like many protestants, I was raised to believe that the Catholic church sees purgatory as sort of a "mini-hell," a place where we are temporarily punished for our sins so that we can earn entrance into Heaven. I believed that Catholics taught that purgatory was punitive, like a fiery jail, where we serve time for sins serious enough to deserve castigation but not serious enough to send us to hell. This may even be close to what the church once really taught. I'm not sure. I'm sure, though, that the protestant rejection of the concept of purgatory is natural and to be expected, given the protestant dogma about Heaven and hell... and given that so many protestant churches emphasize our relationship to God as one of a servant to a master. The protestant churches of my youth preached of a God that had to be pacified, satisfied, and assuaged. What's more, protestants have a black and white idea of Heaven and hell: Either you make it to Heaven or you don't. And Heaven, as they seem to see it, is some sort of ethereal state of eternal joy and happiness, with no pain, from the very first moment we enter it. Hell, conversely, is like a sci-fi nightmare: all pain, all suffering, all the time, with no hope, no relief, no God. These views of Heaven and hell are stark opposites, and purgatory, to many protestants, seems like some weird middle ground that doesn't fit what they believe. Besides, the protestant doctrine of sola scriputra justifies non-belief in purgatory, since Christ never spoke about it and it's only mentioned in an apocraphical book that isn't even in the protestant Bible. Put simply, protestant faith doesn't require the idea of purgatory. And that's fine. I know plenty of good, godly people who believe those things, and find peace and inspiration in their beliefs.

    It didn't work for me, though. It seemed to lack something and didn't match up with the things I firmly believe about the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of sin. God, to my way of thinking, is pure and perfect in a way we can't begin to understand. God is everything we are not and can't be, because of our sinful natures. He is, however, what we gravitate toward, what we want to be like, what we are attracted to in the better parts of our natures. God is what we can't be and what we want. To me, the protestant belief that the forgiven are reconciled with God immediately at the moment of physical death always rang false. How could we achieve a purity worthy of unity with God that quickly, after a lifetime of sin? I just don't share that belief with my protestant bothers and sisters. I believe that before we can be totally reconciled with God, we must be cleansed. I believe that Christ won the chance to be cleansed and unified with God for us, that his very blood provides that purity, but I do not believe that the purification process is painless and instantaneous. That's because I do not believe that all suffering is bad. On the cross, Christ won our redemption. He promised the Kingdom to the faithful. But, he never promised us a rose garden.

    In a brief aside during one of his lectures, Scott Hahn mentioned his perception of purgatory as a sort of cleansing of our sinful nature by the holy fire of God's love. Hahn painted a picture of God taking us in and accepting us completely, with a pure and perfect love so bright and eternal as to be painful, scary, even overwhelming at first. That pain, that sense of being overwhelmed, is purgatory. It's the world-changing transition as our sinful nature is finally shaken off for good, burned away, and discarded. I believe that the awesome presence of God will initially seem terrible... too big to grasp, too strong to survive, too pure to endure. I believe that it will hurt as we finally cast aside the earthly crutches of sin... crutches such as pride, selfishness, and self-preservational fear. And I believe that the free-will God has given us on Earth will remain ours in Heaven; that it will be up to each of us how long it takes to lay down those crutches, accept God, and be reconciled. The more we rely on those crutches in this existence, the harder it will be to give them up in the next. That is the consequence of sin. It will hurt. Oh, how it will hurt! And how wonderful it will be to finally be rid of them forever and to realize that we've been found worthy to be brought into the bosom of God. Then, and only then, will we be reconciled without qualification, without condition, without excuses and without the need for them.

    This is where the modern Catholic emphasis of God the Father first, before God the Master, is important to me. Our time in purgatory will begin to end when we realize that, unworthy as we are, and having not earned it ourselves, we are loved by the Father who made us.

    Not all suffering is bad. The surgeon who excises a tumor may leave me with several painful weeks of recuperation ahead of me... but he's saved my life. The pain in my arms and legs when I start an exercise regimen is real, and it really hurts... but it leads to a better me. These are Earthly pictures, Earthly types, of the pain that we are to endure briefly before we come into eternal joy.

     

    Released On Her Own Recognisance



    After spending a week in the basement, the cat has been released under the conditions that she refrain from urinating in the floor, that she not associate with those who do urinate in the floor, and that she attend daily meetings of recovering floor-urinators. We’re trying some tricks to solve the problem, including a new auxiliary litter box, a strategically placed table that allows her access to a new window (and a return of the sunlight she’s missed since the old glass doors were walled up), and and constantly reminding her that PEE-PEE CARPET BAD! So far, so good… but we’ll see. Here she is attending one of those recovering floor urinator meetings with another past offender.



    Thursday, May 05, 2005

     

    Good Chrenkoff Article



    Good grief, I'm posting so much stuff today... and most of it is just a quick link or two. Anyway, the first thing that got my attention at Chrenkoff today is this picture of Ron Jeremy:



    No, wait, that's not Ron Jeremy... it's one of the terrorists we've rounded up over the past couple of years. Ever notice how the pictures we see of them while they're wanted always contrast starkly from the pics we see of these scumbags when we drag 'em in? Chrenkoff has a great photo study.

     

    Cox and Forkum: Consistent and Funny



    The problem with having five bazillion blogs listed on your blogroll is that you can only visit each of them every few weeks... and you end up finding out about great stuff when it's old news... like this winner from Cox and Forkum, posted on April 28th:






    I gotta add these guys to my "daily readers" mental list.

     

    Local Blogger, Local News



    Thanks, Salk Lick, for the tip on this item. I'd missed it on the local news and didn't even notice the info when Lars posted it himself. Anyway, local blogger and Roanoke Times critic Lars Hagen spoke about his blog, and about blogging in general, on the local TV news. You can watch the story here.


     

    Cuts Like A Knife



    Mozart Better Than Metallica In Surgery

    Let's hope your anaesthetist listens to Mozart not Metallica while you're under the knife. Preliminary Australian research suggests playing classical music may be better than rock music in the operating theatre.

    Professor Penelope Sanderson from the University of Queensland and team found that patients' heart rates and respiration are better monitored when classical music is playing in the background.

    Sanderson admits the choice of tracks may have influenced the results.

    "We chose bad 1980s rock/pop", including Bryan Adams, she says. For the classical music the researchers played Bach.


    So now I have a new fear... not only am I afraid of possibly dying on the operating table one day, I'm now terrified that the last song my ears will ever take in will be "Summer of '69." Blech. I'd rather check out in some sort of bizarre weed-eater incident than die with Brian Friggin' Adams ringing in my ears. Oh, the horror. The horror.

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    Damn Good Blogs. Damn! Good Blogs!



    I hate it when I come across a blogger who's so funny, so smart, such a good writer, that it makes me want to turn off the damn Dell and never post again. Still, I feel obligated to link to the guy. Read Rhodes:

    The Chronicles of Rhodester

    And read his film review blog:

    My Wife Works In A Video Store

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

     

    Tomatoes, Toxin, and Nails



    Oh, what a way to finish my days off from work. Yesterday, in a fit of productivity, I went outside and planted 13 tomato plants, a row of squash, a row of cucumbers, and several hills of basil (with the reluctant help of the Mrs.). This finished our gardening for the year, since we’d already planted peas, jalapeños and beans over the past couple of weeks. As we went to bed last night, I felt good. I felt efficient. I felt like Joe Farmer.

    If you’re not familiar with the beefsteak tomato, you have my sympathy. Look at this picture and try not to drool on your keyboard:


    The beefsteak tomato is proof that God loves us. Eat all of ‘em you can get, thank the Lord for ‘em, and grieve for the angels because they ain’t got ‘em.

    This morning, Wendy shakes me awake at 6:30 yelling “FROST! FROST!” This is not what you want to hear after you’ve just put all that produce in the ground. It turned out that we’d had an unpredicted, late spring frost last night. It was unpredicted, I can say for certain, because the wizards at weather.com hadn’t predicted it. Last year, I lost all my tomato plants to an industrious rabbit about two days after I planted them. I was bound and determined that this year, I’d save my vegetables. I sprang into action.

    By 6:45, I was outside with a mist sprayer, misting all the tomato plants. I’d heard somewhere, or maybe read on the internet, that you can save tomatoes from a frost if you mist them before the sun hits them and bakes them. As is typical of me, though, I sprang into action before my brain was turned on. I finished misting all of my tomatoes and THEN I checked the temperature and saw that it was still 27 degrees.

    Long story short, I’d gotten outside in time to spray a nice sheet of ice over top of the frost that was already on my tomatoes. By noon, the sun had come up and reduced all but three of them to a small, black pile of former vegetation. They’re not fit to compost with now. If I’d left them alone, they might have survived the frost. I couldn’t leave well enough alone, though. I had to get out there with my mist bottle and “save those poor, vulnerable little plants.” I may as well have taken a hammer to them.

    So with the resignation of the soundly defeated, came back in the house, opened a bag of pretzels, and spilled most of them on the floor. Thankfully, the Bio-Hoover was near by, and was willing to help out. After that, I decided that the worst thing I could do would be to try to do anything, so Wendy and I just went to Roanoke so I could pick up the new Nine Inch Nails dual disc ($11.50 at Best Buy, what a bargain.) If nothing else, I'd at least get to hear the new album in surround sound.

    It sounds really good in surround sound. A lot of work and thought went into the mix, and I commend Reznor and crew for turning out a fine album. I discovered an easter egg on the DVD side, by the way. Go to the "additional content" menu, go down to the "stereo" option, and push the left button. Then push play. You'll see the preview for the new album that NIN had up on the website months ago. It's a fairly snazzy little preview, with a digital image of the NIN logo and a few seconds of the song "Beside You In Time," the graphic fading to the album's release date.

    While we were in Roanoke, I also picked up this:

    I think I may have literally jumped up and down with glee in the comic shop when I saw it. We only swing by the comic stores maybe six times a year… that way, I can’t blow my whole paycheck. I’m a huge fan of the symbiotic characters from the Spider-Man title, and this new one is the best character that’s been introduced to the series in a long while. Unlike his symbiotic parents Venom and Carnage, though, Toxin is a heroic character. At least he was struggling to be heroic when he was last seen in the pages of the Marvel Universe. I don’t know yet what he’ll be up to his new mini-series, but he’s a really well-written, well realized character, and I look forward to reading this series. I’m one happy geek.

    While we were in Roanoke, Wendy and I also picked up rosaries. We’d hoped to swing past the church and have Father Ken bless them on the way home, but he wasn’t there. I’ve decided that one of the best ways I can come to an understanding of the Holy Mother is to pray the rosary. If I get something spiritual out of it, good. If I don’t, maybe it will be a sign that Catholicism isn’t for me. I’ll not pray it just once and lay it down, though. I’ll pray it several times and allow it to sink in. As Jamie said once, faith is like a spring mist: a man walking through a mist for just a few seconds might not even get wet… but a man who walks in a mist for several hours will come to realize that, without even knowing it, he’s gotten soaked to the bone. Before I pray the rosary, though, I’ll pray to God that I’m doing the right thing. I’m still such an outsider to Catholicism, much of it still seems foreign, and Mary is, of course, my biggest stumbling block. I don’t want to turn this post into a “Wayfaring Strangers” item, so I’ll leave it at that.

    So I get to put out some more tomato plants at some point in the future, and this year I don't have to go Elmer on the stupid rabbit. This year, I have nobody to blame but me.

    I’ve just realized that I’ve not posted anything in depth of a political nature in a while. Huh.


     

    Where Ya From, You Sexy Thang?



    Lyndie England to be Tried as a Man



    "PFC England has agreed to a plea bargain deal," said one court spokesperson. "And while an official trial will not happen, the court is poised to enact all legal mechanisms necessary to ensure this visually androgynous solider gets all the treatment that anyone else of masculine verisimilitude would receive."

    I don't have a lot sympathy for Lyndie and her Muslim tauntin' buddies. No, I don't really care about the terrorists who they forced to wear womens underwear, stand around naked, yadda yadda yadda.... the grudge I have against Lyndie and the other goofs is that they gave those US-hating liberals among us plenty of reason to get up on their soap boxes and trash our brave fighting men and women for the past year. And that really gets my in a knot.




    Monday, May 02, 2005

     

    Of Sweat, Laughter, and Chesterton



    Part of the last post was a need to get some stuff off my chest, I guess. It also helped that I got outside and planted tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and squash. C.S. Lewis once said that there’s no greater salve for the soul than the sweat of honest work, and I think I know what he meant.

    Another great treatment for the needy soul is laughter, and I benefited from some of that, too, while outside. There was a huge, fat robin in the yard, and I pointed it out and commented on how fat it was. Someone I’m married to, but who I won’t name to protect her anonymity, said “Well, maybe it’s pregnant.”

    Thanks, person I’m married to… I needed that laugh.

    There’s repose in books, too… yesterday, we finally bought the catechism, and Wendy also picked up The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton was C.S. Lewis’s hero, and since Lewis is my hero, I look forward to finally reading some of his work. I’m done blogging for the day… I’ll sign off with a quote from Chesterton that I love:

    “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 7



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Any Catholics Out There?
    I'm beginning to wonder if blogging about our study of Catholicism was a good idea. It may not have been. I anticipated two kinds of responses to the items I'd post: One kind of response I anticipated would be arguments against Catholicism that devout protestants often make… but I'd also hoped for and expected to get notes of encouragement from Catholics and other Catholic converts. So far, I've gotten plenty of e-mail and comments from people who dislike, mistrust, and-or hate the Catholic church, and I've yet to hear from a single person with anything good to say about it. The dialogues have been expansive and informative and helpful, but entirely one-sided.

    One of our friends from the blogosphere wrote to us about the annulment of our previous marriages, concerned that by having those marriages annulled would send a negative message to our children from those marriages. That concern troubled Wendy and I greatly, and we looked into it. After talking to Father Ken, we were able to put that concern to rest, as he assured us that the church wouldn't view the children as "illegitimate." Legitimacy and illegitimacy, he told us, are legal terms that wouldn't apply to our family with regard to the church. That put the issue to rest for Wendy and I, although we were certainly glad to have had the issue raised and to have had the opportunity to look into it. We talked about it and we agree that having our marriages annulled through the church wouldn't do any more psychological or spiritual damage to our kids than the fact that we are legally divorced from our ex-spouses. It's all in how we handle it as a family, and we believe that we can handle it positively. We trust ourselves.

    Catholicism is still an option that we are exploring, with hopes that it will be the right one for us. We aren't 100% certain at this point, but we are hopeful. Nonetheless, Wendy and I both feel, strongly that evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity is not for us. It's a dead faith to both of us. We get nothing out of it. We both need tangibility, sacrament, history and ritual. We both want and desire the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, the guidance of the Saints, and the observation of Catholic Holy days and the council of a parish priest. We hope that there are no theological road-blocks that will absolutely prevent our involvement in the Catholic church, because right now it is very desirable for both of us. Speaking entirely for myself, the more friends and family attack the church, the more desirable it becomes for me. I have to ask myself, what is it about Catholicism that is so threatening to protestants? Why is it that I've been the target of so much protestant proselyting but never once encountered a pushy Catholic? Why is it that so many of the protestants I know have approached me as someone they hope to save from the brink of destruction, yet they never seem willing to waste their efforts on life-long Catholics? Why is it so important to some of the protestants I know that they keep me in a faith that I find spiritually suffocating? I can only refer to Christ, who in Matthew 23:15, said "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves." Gehenna means hell.

    At the last protestant church Wendy and I attended, we were introduced to the concept of typology, a kind of theology that involves looking at the Old Testament as historical allegory for the New Testament. That concept made the Old Testament live and breathe for me, in a way it never has before. In the past, the God of the Old Testament has seemed angry, foreign, and totally unrelatable to the human condition. Through typology, I was able to see the stories of the Old Testament as an example of what our relationship with God would have been like, had we stayed under the law of the Old Covenant. With the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, we have a totally different relationship with God; one that makes God and godly living desirable and inspirational and rewarding to me. I told the preacher at the church we were attending how much I enjoyed typology, and how it had made the Old Testament so real to me, and he cautioned me to be very careful. He warned me not to take typology too far, that it was possible to see too much in it. That warning struck me as odd. Now that I'm studying Catholicism, I'm learning the importance of typology in Catholic faith. It is an important way of explaining the theology of Mary, along with other sacred Catholic beliefs. I believe that the preacher who introduced me to typology was worried that if I dug too deep, without him to tell me how to interpret what I was learning, that I'd eventually work my way to Catholicism. I believe that he discouraged me from pursuing typology because he didn't want to lose a member of his "team" to Catholicism. In short, I believe that he consciously discouraged me from exploring my own relationship with God because he was more concerned about my relationship with his church. When Wendy and I made the decision to study Catholicism, we wrote him a long, heart-felt, emotional letter explaining how much his guidence and friendship had meant to us, and that we hoped he'd support our decision to study another faith. He never wrote back.

    I suppose I'll keep blogging about our study of Catholicism, but I really hope that I hear from a Catholic or two with a word of encouragement. It's difficult to remain positive and focused on my studies when all I hear is insistence that I'm doing the wrong thing by trying to learn about the world's oldest Christian church. As my friend Jamie has said to me before, "Catholics make the worst Catholic apologists." It may be that I'll never convert, but will learn enough and internalize enough that God will be able to use me as a tool to correct the distortions of Catholicism that I've encountered all of my life.

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 6



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Notes Toward Answers On Mary
    I said I'd post again when I had answers... or at least responses... to the questions I posed about Mary. I hoped to talk to Father Ken last Thursday night, but Willow got sick and we missed church. Thanks in part to conversations I've since had with Jamie and Father Ken and to an audio-taped lecture by Scott Hahn, I feel like I have those responses. Here's where I am now on these issues:

    Does this passage from Mark imply that Mary was no more important in the eyes of Christ than anyone who does the will of God?

    From the third chapter of Mark:
    31 His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him.
    32 A crowd seated around him told him, "Your mother and your brothers (and your sisters) are outside asking for you."
    33 But he said to them in reply, "Who are my mother and (my) brothers?"
    34 And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers.
    35 (For) whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."


    This passage is actually intended to show that anyone who follows Gods will has as much importance to him as anyone else, and is really an indication that the "family of God" is larger and more important than any earthly family. I'm fine with that. I guess, as a protestant who's struggling with the theology of Mary, I sited this passage as something of a challenge. I'll probably continue doing that, and that's natural.

    Protestants see Christ's command to John from the cross ("This is your mother") as an example of Christ's selflessness even during the passion. Does the Catholic church see this verse as a command for Christians to exalt Mary?

    Well, yes, Catholics do see it as a command to honor and praise Mary. As Scott Hahn puts it, part of being a Christian is to try to imitate Christ… and as Christ glorified his mother, so do Catholics. I can accept that, but I still feel some degree of discomfort about it.

    Mary never sinned? Not even a venial sin?

    No, according to Catholics, Mary never sinned. This is a mindblower to me, and I have a real hard time struggling with it. Part of my protestant faith is the belief that Christ was the sole sinless person who ever walked the earth. Right now, I'm not even close to embracing this Catholic belief about Mary. I may find an avenue to accepting this at some point, but in the meantime I'm going to continue reading and turning to the Bible, and see what God will reveal to me about this tenet of Catholicism. I'm going to put it on the backburner, let it cook, and check on it later… so to speak.

    Mary's assumption seems to imply a corporal view of Heaven. Is this correct? I can not imagine Heaven as a corporal existence as we'd imagine it. Is this an area where I'd be in conflict with church teaching?

    Still can't get around this… although Jamie rightly pointed out that if I can accept the ascension of Christ and if I can accept that Elijah physically went to heaven in a whirlwind, that should provide an avenue of belief about the assumption of Mary. That makes sense, but at the same time, it forces me to admit that I've never really been able to grasp (or completely believe) that Elijah physically went to heaven in a whirlwind… and that I also ascribe a mystical, non-physical quality to my understanding of the ascension of Christ. I suppose that if I really examine what I believe about it, I usually picture Christ's ascension as sort of a transfer of matter into energy. I find some common ground in B.F. Westcott's assertion that "the change which Christ revealed by the ascension was not a change of place, but a change of state, not local but spiritual." Again, the Evangelical idea of a corporal heaven is not at all comforting or inspirational to me, and doesn't ring true for me. The assumption of Mary is something of an affront to what I believe about the matter of Heaven. If Mary is my "sticking-point" with Catholicism, then the Assumption of Mary is the main reason why.

    With regard to my confirmation, will it be sufficient for me to still believe that the Lord will reveal to me the understanding of the assumption of Mary that he wills for me in time?

    It seems that this will likely be the case. Catholics who've been raised in the church struggle with ideas like transubstantiation, Mary, etc, for years and years.

    If Mary was born without original sin, it seems to me that she couldn't help but be obedient to God. This seems to de-emphasize her role as "co-redeemer." It implies that she didn't really have free will.

    This is explained by my misunderstanding of what original sin is, as I wrote about yesterday.

    There is still much to learn, much to study, much to meditate and pray about, and much to do. I feel now that I will need to use every second of the next year in order to be able to convert with confidence or to move on to the next faith I pursue with confidence that I'd studied Catholicism exhaustively.

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

     

    Wayfaring Strangers, Part 5



    (Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

    Off To Church
    This won't be a long entry, we're getting ready to go to church, but I wanted to post an update to my last post in this series. Yesterday, we had a little cook-out, and I had the chance to talk to Jamie about some of my misgivings about the theology of Mary. I am far from putting all my concerns to rest (especially with regard to the assumption of Mary, which still seems such a foreign idea to me), but I do have a better understanding of several things. One of my central questions was with regard to Mary's Immaculate Conception. I believed that the Catholic tenet that Mary was born without original sin sort of countered Mary's free will decision to bare the Son of God. This came down to what must have been a misunderstanding on my part of what Original Sin is. Original Sin is not discussed much in protestant faith. I'd believed it to simply be a way of expressing man's predisposition toward sin. According to Jamie, and he emphasized that this is his interpretation and that he's no theologian, Original Sin is simply the mark of sin put on man by Adam and Eve's decision in the garden. It is not a term that represents man's predisposition toward sin. Mary still had that predisposition, but chose not to act on it at every opportunity. This makes the dogma of Mary make more sense to me. Jamie also brought me Scott Hahn's Hail Holy Queen, a Catholic apologist's attempts to explain much of the theology of Mary. I still have a lot of questions, and I hope to move toward answers soon. Maybe Father Ken will even have some time to talk to me today. We'll see.

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