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Sentimentalism

We hear of the stark sentimentalist, who talks as if there were no problem at all: as if physical kindness would cure everything: as if one need only pat Nero and stroke Ivan the Terrible. This mere belief in bodily humanitarianism is not sentimental; it is simply snobbish. For if comfort gives men virtue, the comfortable classes ought to be virtuous—which is absurd. Then, again, we do hear of the yet weaker and more watery type of sentimentalists: I mean the sentimentalist who says, with a sort of splutter, “Flog the brutes!” or who tells you with innocent obscenity “what he would do” with a certain man—always supposing the man’s hands were tied. – G.K. Chesterton

‘Tis interesting this beautiful thought of Gilbert.  In one in the same statement, he says violent men and passive sentimentalists come from the same tree, namely ignorance of the human person.  Man is not merely the sentiment connected with human physical contact, not to deny its power, only to mitigate the popular belief in its power.  Nor does man need to be degraded as an ignonmous idiot worth nothing more than torture.

Man is worthy of being contemplated not for his own sake but to see that he is not the root of his existence or the power by which he lives.  He is immediately and brokenly contigent.  He requires both discipline and loving sentiment to become virtuous, insodoing he moves towards being fully human.

Cardinal Ber …. Oooo! a Squirrel!

Distraction is an interior fracture.  it will never lead the person to encounter himself, for it impedes him from looking into the mirror of his heart. Collecting oneself is the beginning.” – Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

Odds are you are reading this on an electronic device. (If you’re not, please let me know who printed my writing without my permission.) Technology has been so great in helping provide society with great advancement. It allows for the immediate distribution of information. It allows one to acquire new knowledge at a much lower base cost. It admits for global communication, which means both communicating from one side of the globe to the other and communicating to a great mass of people. We find ourselves on our phones, tablets, and computers. More than any other time in history do we have a critical mass of distraction. Our phones notify us when our Trivia Crack opponent (people still play Trivia Crack right?) responds to his questions. It informs us of breaking news, an @ mention on Twitter, a like on Facebook, a comment on an Instagram photo, a weather warning, and the group texts between a group of friends who beating an inside joke to death. In fact, Dr. Taylor Marshall has said that each person we follow on Twitter, each friend of Facebook vies for our attention. “Read my post!” “Listen to ME!” “Look at me!” It’s like putting every single person you know in your pocket.

According to their statistics, there are 300 hours of video uploaded to Youtube every minute. Each, or most, vie for our attention when we go to see a grumpy cat video. Then, there are all those little games on our phone to occupy us in line at the grocery store. We score those little points here and there. We surpass this friend here, beat that friend in a game of intellect there. Then, there are the actual video game systems that can distract us for longer amounts of time until the next time we have a responsibility. Amidst all of this noise that is constantly being pushed upon us, our consciousness resembles Tokyo or Las Vegas, where lights are so bright that even the night feels like day.

Cardinal Bergoglio, in a conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka*, peers into this seeming perpetual motion with an insight coming from a place of rest. He calls distraction an interior fracture. It slowly disables our interior from functioning properly. Each distraction is its own micro-fracture slowly weakening the structure both of our intellect and our spirit. It prevents us from looking into the mirror of our hearts, he says. We do not even enter the bedroom to peer at the mirror.

Looking back into my own life, I can attest to this. The more I succumbed to distraction from my phone the harder it was for me to reflect, the harder it was to meditate, and the harder it was to contemplate. Part of the effectiveness of retreats, I found, was that I freed myself from distraction in so doing allowing myself to hear both the movements of my own heart and the movement of the Spirit with my heart.

In days gone by, the pace of life and the lack of immediate distractions gave the greater space for reflection and prayer. From this came beautiful poetry, art, literature (imagine Jane Austen writing Pride and Prejudice with an iPhone sitting next to her, nope she’d been all up on Pintrest.), and powerful mysticism. At the risk of assuming to much about you, my reader, we live in the relative economic ease that Jane Austen experienced, but unlike her, we so fill our time with distractions that our great creations are … memes (excuse my cynicism).

Because we no longer have the luxury of limited distraction, unless you are cloistered or a mountain man, we have to make intentional distraction-free time for the building up of our intellects, hearts, souls, and sanity. I recall a conversation I had with some fellow bloggers a few years ago about using the iPad for prayer. It’s so filled with distractional possibilities it can, by its nature, nearly sabotage prayer, especially if you are as unvirtuous as myself.

Although it might be that you started reading this post as a distraction, I invite you, challenge you even to close the browser, app, or tablet and sit for a few moment in silence away from dings and chirps and closer to your your heart and the heart of God.

*On Heaven and Earth

image by Alex Valentine

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 1

Sorry for the wait. I have no excuse. (sad puppy dog face) Anyway, the best book I read last year is by an author who has On Hopealready been top of my list before and has already appeared on the list this year. Josef Pieper’s On Hope is one of those life changing mind blowing books. I was introduced to Hope as a life changing awesome thing through Pope Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi, but unfortunately, I found that I had trouble internalizing it (looking at my life, not much changed after I had read it).

Pieper started from our natural perspective as human persons: we are pilgrims. We are not where we are in fulfillment. We live a mortal not-there-yet life. “The state of being on the way .. refers rather to the innermost structure of created nature. It is the inherent ‘not yet’ of the finite being.” Which, as an editorial note, is why ‘getting there,’ the dream job, the dream house, the dream net worth, is an ontological contradiction. It is in our nature to never get there. I that’s why we take solace in stories with ‘happily ever after.’

This state is inherently uncomfortable. “The only answer that corresponds to man’s actual existential situation is hope. The virtue of the status viatoris (state on the way); it is the proper virtue of the ‘not yet.’ In the virtue of hope more than in any other, man understands and affirms that he is creature, that he has been created by God.”

This is hope the book starts, and it only goes deeper and more theologically, philosophically, and spiritually mind lowing. It change the way I understand the virtue of hope and how I practice this virtue. His thoughts of ‘the fear of the Lord’ provide the most cogent explanation of that misunderstand gift of the Holy Spirit.

I have recommended this to spiritual directees, but will tell you, this book, to be understood well, requires some greater than average comprehension skills because of his references to foreign languages and philosophical concepts that don’t appear on a state college curriculum. That being said it’s short (92 pages) and well worth the time to mull through.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 6

G.K Chesterton has become a regular on this annual countdown (and on the blog in general), partly because of his vast amount of writings and partly due to their wonderful commonsensical quality, always because he has a mustache. But as has been the case this year, we have another first, a book of poetry.

Wine, Water, and Song is a whimsical look at food and drink. Chesterton has great personal experience with both. Many of theWine, Water, and Song songs are taken from his novel, The Flying Inn, (which sounds like a book for next year). One of my favorite poems of the group in “The Logical Vegetarian.”

You will find me drinking rum,
Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian.
You will find drinking gin
In the lowest kind of inn,
Because I am a rigid vegetarian.

One of the other great gems is “The Song of the Strange Ascetic”

If I had been a heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyard,
And I would drink the wine,
But Higgins is a heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day …
Now who can run can read it,
That riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight–?
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run)
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

Pick up a beer or high-ball of scotch and enjoy some good levity and even better insights.

 

On the Severe Lack of Time (And Why I Haven’t Written in Awhile)

“You, the eternal Creator of all times, art before all times, and that no times are co-eternal with You.”-St. Augustine

God has no time, and how would envy Him were it not for the fact that He loves me. Those creatures like myself, existing in time and space, feel our limitations most profoundly this time of year. The holidays are upon us and, in addition to our regularly stuffed schedules, we must find time to relax with family. In order to find this time, we must cook, clean, shop, spend, hunt and help in more ways than ever before, all amidst turbulent weather and even more turbulent emotions.

God, however, has no time and therefore never must worry about a lack of it. So maybe the greatest of all sacrifices that he experienced in those first months on earth was the shock of time. Think of that baby Jesus, containing within His heart all the secrets of human love, having to wait years until he’d even be able to speak a single word. In Christ, the Word became speechless, the Eternal Logos was at a loss for words. And the only remedy: to wait in time.

As we all try to fit more things into an already-cramped 24 hours, perhaps the greatest imitation of Christ we can offer is to stop. Just stop. Like right now.

Pray.

Listen.

Let the King of the Universe reign sovereign in your schedule. Then he will have time enough to reign in your heart. Teresa of Avila reminds her fellow Christians that Christ has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no body but the Body of Christ on earth. I would take it one step further: Christ has no time but ours. God, being timeless, needs us to surrender our time to Him.

A Contribution to the Spirituality of Dealing with Trolls

Nearly a month ago I traveled to Boston for the Catholic New Media Conference. I have my initial reflections here, but a few things in particular required some further thought. No matter the session or group I was in, over the course of the day, one thing continued to pop up, trolls.

In the roundtable discussion I gave my initial, analogical reflection. We need to be like Bilbo Baggins (I’m not in any way partial to hobbit wisdom). In dealing with the three, rather hungry and slow witted trolls on the way from The Shire. Bilbo, figuring out that they turned to stone at day’s break, continued to engage them in conversation until the sun rose. I made the comparison that when speaking to trolls engage them until the Son rises. It was more comical than terribly helpful especially when five very vocal trolls take over your combox and each has differing views attacking you or each other. Your combox turns into the halls of Moria during the invasion of the goblins, loud, intense and no way out. Engaging them as such per comment would consume your time, your patience, and your charity.

Well, when I arrived back into my hotel room that afternoon, I was catching up on the Liturgy of the Hours before going out for good company that evening. It just so happened that that Saturday was the memorial of the French Jesuits who were martyred in Southern Canada. The Office of Readings was a letter from St. Jean de Brebeuf. He’s writing to his fellow Jesuits on the European continent about the relative nearness of his own martyrdom. Towards the end of the letter he said this,

“My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.”

Now my mind immediately went to trolls who are above all influenced by some sinful inclination, of different varieties and with different circumstances but all with lack of charity. They are an opportunity for those of us in new media to participate in Christ’s cross, to receive with him the buffets and slanders and misunderstandings. The combox can be a walk up Calvary. A means for us to grow in holiness. Then, trolls are a gift, a means to sanctify us, and when one person is truly sanctified, others around him/her are invited to deeper sanctity (I call this the equation of sanctity. Think of Monica and Augustine, Andrew and Peter, Albert and Aquinas, Ignatius and Francis Xavier.)

Then, in the next ‘hour’ one of the psalms was Psalm 141 which held the title, “A Prayer When in Danger.” I found the first nine verses pertinent. It can be a prayer on our lips when dealing with trolls.

I call upon thee, O LORD; make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice, when I call to thee!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD,
keep watch over the door of my lips!
Incline not my heart to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity;
and let me not eat of their dainties!

Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness,
but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head;
for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.
When they are given over to those who shall condemn them,
then they shall learn that the word of the LORD is true.
As a rock which one cleaves and shatters on the land,
so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

But my eyes are toward thee, O LORD God;
in thee I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!
Keep me from the trap which they have laid for me,
and from the snares of evildoers! 

“Keep a guard over my mouth, O Lord” what a great prayer in speaking with a talking to trolls! And I couldn’t have made a better connection to the Biblo analogy if I tried! The psalm does two things: 1) it brings the Lord into the equation and 2) it allows for us to separate ourselves ever so briefly from the frustration of a troll.
I hope these paltry insights are helpful to you. And continue on in your proclamation of the gospel.

#popefrancislife

My students have gotten me in the habit of putting #life at the end of any description or tale that involves irony, paradox, awkwardness or humility (ie: those things that the world considers to be mere inconveniences, but in which are contained the meaning of existence). #life, unlike its distant cousin #yolo, is something a of real philosophical sentiment. It alludes to the fact that life is almost predictable. Just when you think you have life figured out and under control, your tire pops on the way to a job interview, you trip and fall in front of that attractive new co-worker, you sleep in late thinking its Sunday…only to remember it is actually Monday. Life is intelligible, but that intelligibility makes it none-the-less unpredictable. In fact, #life is nothing more than expressing that most shared of human experiences: that the only real rule in reality is to expect the unexpected.

As usual, GKC put it better than I;
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is;its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. (Orthodoxy)

Indeed, what could be more Orthodox than to wake up and realize that a God more rational and loving than you made the universe? What could be more #life? Reality should make perfect sense, but when we try to explain it, we always miss some critical step, trip, fall and end up upside-down. #life

The real misunderstanding, though, is not with the universe. #life, by its very nature, implies that there is something wrong with those that have life. And those that have life are not the objective rules of reality, but us. Pope Francis, with all his talk on sin, healing, Satan and holiness, seems keenly aware of this. In his interview last Thursday, his allusion to the Church as a ‘field hospital’ can only be interpreted in this way. Whether its due to his American upbringing, his Jesuit formation, his contact with contemporary issues or sheer grace of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis understands #life better than many of the young people who have popularized this slogan.

And he’s up to something. It was not without calculation that he released an interview about finding a new balance in the Church’s theology on abortion but two days before addressing a group of Catholic gynecologists in Rome. On Thursday he surprises the world by saying our Prolife stance can be over-emphasized…and then on Saturday he says that the unborn “bear the face of Jesus Christ,” a strongly emphatic Prolife statement! Is the Pope pastorally self-contradictory? Or is he driving at something deeper.

Could it be that he knows that the root of the Church’s stagnation is a certain spiritual pride, a certain evangelical laxity? Is it that, for too long, Catholics and Christians have spouted their favorite doctrines without applying them in charity? Could it be that the Pope is saying and doing these things, not so much to surprise the media, as to unsettle complacent Christians? After all, he certainly has got our attention. When was the last time we listened this much to the Pope? The world, for its part, can’t seem to figure him out. But it seems to me that he’s got the world figured out. And he’s got us figured out to. And I think he aims to do something about it. So, if you were happy being a back-pew Catholic and coasting along not having to explain or explore your faith, get ready: this Pope is pulling the pew right out from under you. #life #popefrancislife

OMG! St. Paul Endorsed Slavery! (Or, Why Hasty Political Exegesis Shouldn’t Alarm Us)

Recently, many highly public Christians have endorsed gay marriage by citing the concept of the ‘development’ of Christian theology since the time of Scripture’s authorship. Kevin Rudd, an Australian politician, gave the most recent example when asked by a pastor why he didn’t believe the words of Scripture on this topic; “Well mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…because St. Paul said in the New Testament, slaves should be obedient to (their) masters. And therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US Civil War.” (BBC News, Sept 3, 2013). I cannot in so small a place do justice to so wide a topic as the Christian theology on human sexuality. However, since there is some precedence for blogs being used for Bible Study, I can quickly address the strange ignorance of Scriptural theology that the above statement represents.

To do justice to Mr. Rudd’s position (a position he shares with our very own Barack Obama and Chris Christie), the logic seems to follow this path: St. Paul, as a man of his day, presented Christianity in a world where both slavery and homosexuality fell into certain social categories, the former acceptable and the latter unacceptable. In order to present the Gospel in such a way so as to be palatable to the people of his time (and perhaps to be presentable to his own conscience), St. Paul merely presumed upon the necessity of these social mores and neglected to fully challenge their legitimacy in the light of the gospel. Therefore, it has taken millennia for the Christian people to ‘progress’ beyond the original inhibitions of St. Paul and the Apostles in order to fully realize their gospel of love. With the aid of contemporary psychological science and liberal democracy, we are now able to overcome these prejudices of the first Christians.

First off, this bland version of ‘progressive theology’ hardly does justice to the story of Scripture itself. Did St. Paul, as a devout Jew, look approvingly on the social institution of slavery? Most certainly not! The whole story of the Jewish faith is of a God who saves the Children of Israel from the “cruel slavery” of Egypt.(Ex 1:13, 6:5, 20:2; Dt 6:12, 7:8) The Jewish law, whom Paul was an expert in, is composed in light of a mercy toward slaves “for you were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” (See Lv 25:39-42, Dt 5:15; 15:15, 23:16, 24:18-22) And while it is true that the Old Testament fails to challenge slavery as a social institution, it would be incorrect to assume that it thusly taught to embrace slavery as such. St Paul knew that the the Old Testament theology, speaking “in partial and varied ways,” (Hb 1:1) could not in-and-of-itself end all injustices. Remember: it is not until the New Testament that God’s people are ordered to spread the morality of Monotheism beyond the borders of Israel. Until the coming of Christ, the assumption was the Polytheists experience “conflicting thoughts in their hearts” yet failed to repent were to be judged accordingly. (See Rm 14-16) Therefore, if St. Paul did indeed endorse a “theology of slavery,” then, Scripturally speaking, it indicated that a retrogression and NOT a progression had occurred from Old to New Testament!

Yet, St. Paul (and St. Peter, for that matter) happily and repeatedly called himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.” (Rm 1:1, Gal 1:10, Phil 1:7; Titus 1:1) This would be a radical thing for a Jew to say, and not the least because 1st century Pharisees were fond of pointing out that they had “never been enslaved to anyone.”(See John 8:33). Even a cursory glance at St. Paul’s writing reveals his strange affinity for the state of slavery. Beyond begging slaves to be “subject to their masters” (Eph 6:5; the phrase ‘subject to’ is difficult to translate from the Greek. It seems to indicate “a loving acceptance of” or a “filial obedience to”), St. Paul also asks for children and wives to act the same way towards the head of the family (Eph 5:22, 6:1; Col 3:20), for Christians to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”(Eph 5:21) while always remaining respectful of the presbyters, bishops and leaders. (See Rm 13:7; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:19 Heb 13:17[not written by St. Paul, but in his tradition]) In fact, it seems that, according to this reading, St. Paul wanted everybody to be slaves to everybody else!

One could argue, however, that the above examples simply represent St. Paul’s pastoral zeal. Accordingly, he didn’t envision the Church entering into an official state of mutual slavery so much as a Christian love that takes the form of interdependent servitude. Such a pastoral exhortation only reveals that Paul, like Christ, was willing to use profane metaphors to make spiritual points. (See Matt 12:29, Luke 14:31) That line of thought may be true. However, the most glaring exception to that rule would be the short but terribly important letter to Philemon, in which Paul explicitly sends Onesimus, an escaped slave, back to his master. Both Onesimus and Philemon are Christians, and therefore equal in the eyes of the Church. Nonetheless, St. Paul orders Onesimus to return to his master rather than asking for his release. This must be taken as, in the very least, a passive acceptance of the social institution of slavery itself. However, when we look beyond the action itself and read the words of St. Paul, something strange appears. St. Paul begs for mercy from Philemon, seeming to place the blame on himself as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Phm 1:8-10) Next, he states that his ‘usefulness’ is now characterized by the relationship of love in Christ (v 11) and that Onesimus is Paul’s very heart (v. 12). Finally in verse 17, St. Paul entirely self-identifies with Onesimus, asking Philemon to accept him not as a slave but as a ‘partner’ in Christ. One could call this the first example of a theology of ‘solidarity,’ a very progressive stance indeed!

So is St. Paul’s theology ‘progressive’ or ‘traditional?’ Was it open to further development? And as it regards ‘social ethics,’ does it represent the final word of Christian theology?

Such questions, though popular, hardly seem as important in the light of the questions we could now raise: What is mutual subjection? What is ‘slavery in Christ?’ How am I to live so as to be ‘the heart’ of my fellow Christians? Such speculation represents a very brief look at St. Paul’s theological perspective on slavery. It is by no mean exhaustive, but it should at least be unsettling. I leave you with no direct answers, but only with a warning: it is a terrible mistake to assume that the ancient Christian Saints knew less about love than we do. To try to read Scripture in light of contemporary morals and cultural change is to become guilty of the very thing you accuse the Scriptural author of being: namely, a close-minded child of the current age. In contrast, wouldn’t it be better for a Christian to assent to the truth our teaching on human rights has remained solidly on the side of charity since the time of St. Paul? From that perspective, we take his words and actions as an example. We are called to ‘self-identify’ with all people without ever using political or social powers as a means to override the Gospel.

One final word on St. Paul’s theology. Far from being a personal reflection of a learned Christian, it is an essential part of the Deposit of Faith and, along with the words of Peter, John, James and Jude, represents an inexhaustible treasure of Christian truth. To dismiss or defend it with mere soundbites is to do an injustice to Divine Revelation, and to Jesus Christ himself. If this blog represents the briefest of reflections that can occur in good conscience, we should neither be inspired or upset about the off hand comments of an upset politician. Their ‘theology’ is as nothing compared to the vast Revelation that is offered us in the Gospel of Christ. It would be wise to look to Him before looking anywhere else.

Sensuum Defectui (Or, the Diet Coke Adventure)

“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”-GKC

Twice today I had experiences of the surreal nature of reality that can only be called miraculous. Every once in a while, the true colors of our Divinely created universe shift into focus and blind us with their intensity. Science, when taken as merely a form of study, often numbs us to these colors, yet reason itself confirms that numbness is a sign of a distortion from reality. A numbed mind, like a numb finger or blurry eye-sight, may indeed come in contact with reality, but because it fails to connect with reality in its full spectrum, rendering our experience false before it can even try to be true. And perhaps no one knows this truth better than the person who’s numbness is taken away from them to be replaced by a sudden and vivid sensitivity. Such was my experience today.

It is dreadfully hot in New Orleans. Cruising from one side of the river to the other, my mind began to fall into that perilous lethargy that Southerners associate with the month of August. I was leaving the school where I hold classes to pay a bill at another school where I take classes. I walked through the cool halls on my way to the financial office, walked through the door, and was shocked into a state of consciousness beyond hot or cold. When I had come to this office three years ago, I could distinctly remember a diet coke sitting on the desk next to the computer. Certainly there was a new financial aid person behind the desk. It was clear from the boxes and bags littering the office that she had recently moved in. There was a new computer, new decorations, new paint, but the same diet coke sat in the same place I remembered it being before. After all, one does not forget the petty details of so oppressive a place as an financial aid office. Rarely does a student find themselves in such a place without fear. On my visit three years prior, I had sat nervously trying to finalize my information before the semester deadline. In the midst of my turmoil, I remember contemplating the cool perspiration on the diet coke. And here it was again, gloating like the face of fate. I could see the fresh carbonation rising from its sneering mouth, laughing at me.

And my mind, awoken with a strange suddenness to the vexing twists of reality, grappled to make sense of it all. Had, for three years, the world spun dizzily around this one can of coke? Did paint dry, people pack, papers fly, all the while this coke remaining unmoved? Was this round metal the true axis of the universe, on which we all spun. I imagined a time-lapse in which the desk was emptied, the room cleaned, furniture replaced, and all the time this on can of diet coke remained fixed in the center of it all. If the desk rotted into ruin, I wondered, would the coke remain hovering in midair?

I am not a superstitious man. Some might argue the point, however, when they read what I did next: I ran to the chapel. Once inside the stillness of that room, I approached the Tabernacle, but once more awoke with a new horror. This was the same Tabernacle I had seen early today when on the other side of the river! Inside was the same host, the same True Presence, that I had felt early today but in a totally different location. Now two uncanny thoughts swirled in my mind: that of an ever-fixed can of coke that waited for me in the other room and of an ever-loving God who relentlessly chased me across rivers and bridges.

I said I am not a superstitious man, but for a moment I felt on the verge of becoming one. Lightheaded, I prayed to God, then saw these mysteries in their true light. Superstition, a wise man once told me, is not when man thinks too much of God’s place in universe (a logical impossibility) but when he thinks too little of his own place here. The superstitious man forgets in whose image he is made and thus lets the trivialities of nature make sport of him. Made in the image of God, it is totally possible, nay even likely, that two totally different people might take different can’s of coke and place them in the same place. Human beings like regularity and order. We make all cans of coke the same for the same reason that God makes all trees different: creative efficiency. Taking into account the fact that we willfully choose to drink coke at our desks, it would only make sense that I might see two such objects in the same place. Coffee stalls at airports, benches on street corners, Walmarts at Interstate Exits: these things indicate not a mythic quality in the universe but the material mysticism of man. Man, whether praying or building, always likes to be regular.

God made us so. The image of His order and goodness haunts even our sin. Therefore, when He became man (and then became bread) that we might be saved, he left us evidence of His own will by placing himself in all the places we might want to be with Him. Yet He knew that we could not handle the strange solidity of idol worship. Had he become a statue, His Presence would have haunted us like the Immovable Can of Diet Coke, perched ominously in a single Temple like the pagans of old had envisioned. Yet, had he merely given us a symbolic representation of Himself, then how could our hearts recover from the bitingly real enigmas and separations of the material world? That is to say, lovers are never satisfied with representation. We like regularity.We need to be close. We like our coke in the afternoon on the middle of our desk. We like our spouses in our arms at night. A simple “symbol” of His love would never “do the trick.” Only a True Presence would satisfy us. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if the Eucharist is only a True Symbol, then to Hell with it.

“The incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.” In a universe where the food and drinks we desire appear with such regularity, shouldn’t our miraculous God be willing to appear with an even more regularity. The Almighty could not have His show stolen by cans of coke! So, in ways never foreseen and never guessed at, He made His Presence among us known in flesh and blood and bread and wine. According to Aquinas, the power by which He did this was greater than any of the mysteries of creation. Still, the greater mystery is why His love would go through such trouble, why He would bother to leap over a river and mount a cross, just to be with you and me.

Why I Am a “Duck Dynasty” Fan


“Why are people standing in line to see me!? I thought Clint Eastwood was cool in all the western movies, but I’m not gonna stand in line to see him…The only person I’d stand in line for is God Almighty. ‘You made the Universe? All right, I’ll get in line.'” -Jase Robertson

I love my home state more than words can say. For all her problems, Louisiana is one of the greatest places in the world to grow up. And the reason I am a “Duck Dynasty” fan is because it has communicated to the rest of this nation precisely why Louisiana is so great.

The main reason I like the Duckmen is not the praying before meals every episode. Nor is it the “family values” that the show portrays. Both of these additions are important to the overall message of the show, but from both a spiritual and cultural angle, they are not the main points I would like to praise. No, the main contribution the Robertsons seem to bring to the world of television is a basic sense of humility.

The fact of the matter is that I do not own a TV. It has been years since I bothered to follow a TV show. “Downton Abbey” is the only program that I have shown the slightest interest in since graduating from college (I watch episodes on my laptop). The reason why I avoid the American palantir is because of the amount of pride I am subjected to when I enter its glow. Much like the televisions or palantirs of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, ours are controlled by those who have the strongest ego, the most vivacious will, and, therefore, those who are most arrogant and prideful…but who are also the best at disguising it. After all, no one on television appears egotistical. Everyone presents themselves as polite, reasonable, even tempered, and even ethical.

At this risk of sounding moralistic, it is this hypocrisy that makes TV so disgusting to me. Whether its a news program full of “talking-heads,” a talk show laiden with “gurus,” a sitcom full of “relevance,” or a crime drama full of “investigators,” I can’t help but feel that behind the smiling faces of all these TV personalities lies hidden the career-driven face of ego. I accuse no particular individual of this, but it seems beyond a shadow of a doubt that the raw success of television is due more to ambition than any other factor. When I watch the antics of the Robertsons, however, I see no such evidence of hypocrisy. The Duck Commander can be commanding, even arrogant, at times, but it is never disguised by politeness or pithy truisms. Whether its sucking honey out of a beehive with a shop vac, trying to catch a lizard by covering the warehouse in saw-dust or suffering from donut-indigestion after an eating contest, these boys are the kind of wise-fools that can be found in any part of our great state.

I once defended Louisiana to a British woman by saying, “Whatever we are, we are sincere. You may bring many charges against Louisiana, charges of crassness or ignorance, but duplicity could never be one of them.” Down here, everyone plays the character called “myself.” Our politicians are corrupt, but we re-elect them anyway, because we prefer honest corruption to the sorts of nonsense the people of California and New York are having to deal with right now. We like Jazz Bands that play old instruments because at least its real music they’re playing: not electronic noises recorded by lab techs and regurgitated by a “DJ” at his computer. We like cooking food we’ve grown or killed ourselves. We like slacking off at work and not making excuses for it. We like dressing weird and growing beards and looking like we haven’t showered in a week…cause maybe we haven’t. We like the Robertsons because we are like the Robertsons: we lead lives free of subterfuge.

So what if Louisiana comes out 49th out of the 50 states in most every survey, poll, study and census. Our citizens might not have the “best quality of life” according to the standards yuppie bureaucrats set, but we lead happy, happy, happy lives. It has a lot to do with our family. It has more to do with our faith. We are proud to be a place where our TV stars sit around the table at the end of the day and praise the providence of God. There is little else for us to be proud of and we know it. God is God. We are but foolish men. And all is right with the world. Welcome to Louisiana.