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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.

#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

Wandering About God

I have long maintained that it is not a high level of intelligence, but a high level of interest, that makes for good scholarship. One indeed needs to be a good thinker, but as Socrates demonstrated in the Theaetetus , anyone can exhibit even the most basic signs of intelligence. As a teacher, I can also testify that none of my students are unintelligent. But many of them are lazy and disinterested. If you want to know which ones, just looks at the names that correspond to the F’s in my gradebook.

Having a sustained and mature interest in a subject is far more valuable than being able to wax eloquent on it. At least, such is my hope, because I know that there are far better speakers & writers than I, yet I do trust that I have been called to a life of scholarship. This weekend, I had a strong moment of affirmation that accentuated this paradox: the fact that I love studying theology but am hardly qualified to articulate. My realization of this irony came as the result of an even more stunning revelation that I will attempt to relate here. Once more, I must ask that you trust to my interest in the matter more than you trust my ability to do justice in communicating it.

I spent this weekend looking into the historical hypotheses surrounding the Exodus story. While many scholars consider it a fruitless venture to attempt to corroborate archeological evidence with the Biblical account, most laymen hardly understand the difficulty entailed. From their use of the word ‘fruitless,’ we might suspect that the uselessness of the search is due to a lack of evidence. In fact, it would be more true to vouch for the opposite stance. There is simply too much evidence buried in the sands of Egypt to use any one article of it to trace the Exodus story. Below I list a few of the general facts that Archeology has yielded:

—It is well attested that a large group of Semitic people were dwelling in northern Egypt in the area of Goshen from the years 1800 BC to 1500 BC. The native Egyptians called them the ‘Hyksos,’ meaning ‘foreign rulers’ (sometimes mistranslated ‘Shepherd Rulers.’) and they left several graves and monuments in Egypt with Hebrew names and writing.

—These people worshiped a single deity that the natives identified as ‘Yahu’ or ‘Yahwe.’ Some scholars say that the 14th century BC Egyptian references to Yahu are the oldest written accounts of Yahweh. For some reason, he later became associated with the Egyptian storm god Seth.

—There was a massive exodus of the Hyksos under Pharaoh Ahmose I of the Upper Kingdom, whose monuments attributed their leaving to a relentless military campaign. According to his account, they were victoriously driven back to the land of Canaan where they became distant Egyptian vassals.

—Later Egyptian sources, however, complained that the Hyksos had caused an upheaval in the social order by usurping the weaker Lower Kingdom of it power. There are literary & poetic sources that associated unwanted upward mobility of resident aliens with the Hyksos Ascendency, attributing to them all sorts of natural and economic disasters.

—Greek historians also made references to the Hyksos, but they seemed to be dubious about whether the Hyksos were forced out by a military campaign or left peacefully. Though many of the Greek accounts are given a millennium later and might have been subject to redaction, the very fact that they mentioned the Hyksos is interesting.

—Finally, there are murals in the city of Pi-Ramesses depicting Hebrew slaves building bricks. Although these slaves are identified as POWs, and are pictured along side Nubian slaves, this art makes it clear that these cities were indeed built under Semitic slave labor, just as the Bible attests.

None of this evidence is conclusive, of course. Nor can we draw any further evidence from it than the fact that some sort of “exodus” or “exiting” of Hebrews took place during the 2nd millennium BC. It is futile to use this kind of scant evidence to ‘prove’ the Biblical account beyond stating that its historical roots can be traced deeply back into the history of Hebrew Yahweh worship. Still, all of this was not nearly as telling as what happened to me on Sunday evening.

Pondering over these facts as I walked to Mass, I found myself thinking over and over again of the wandering history of the Hebrews, who carried their strange Monotheism with them across the globe. Never seeming to have a home, yet promised one by their God, I thought of all the names they gave Him to emphasize His singularity to foreign peoples. Yahweh: I AM. Elohim: The Divine. El Shaddai: God on High (Mountains). Adonai: The LORD. And for some reason I started saying to myself that phrase from Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.” And here is where things become difficult to describe, so I will try to relate them just as they happened.

—At Mass, the priest addressed us on the awkwardness of a God who reaches out to us where we are. He said it was odd to think of a Deity chasing after His own people where-ever they went, and then concluded with this words: “Just because Jesus wanders after us doesn’t mean he is lost.” My heart skipped a beat.

—On the way home, I thought of God following after me like some kind of benevolent stalker, seeking to steal my soul unto himself.

—Feeling myself not yet drowsy, I read a series of articles from a journal before going to sleep. None of them were on the subject of Sacred Scripture.

—I did not sleep for hours. My mind went in and out of a dream-like state, yet I was always aware of the noises in my room: the AC and the hum of the hot water heater. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I never once dropped off.

—The whole time, my mind was filled with these names: El Shaddai, Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, and behind them all I heard the voice of One like a Son of Man acknowledging Himself in all these names. He said he had allowed Himself to be praised under these titles until the time came when He would show Himself fully. Each name was a stepping stone closer to this ultimate Revelation.

—I feel asleep sometime in the late morning. My dream was about snuggling with a warm, soft pillow. It had nothing to do with God or theology.

None of this evidence is conclusive, of course. Nor can we draw any further evidence from it than the fact that some sort of concurrent thought process took hold of me last night. But perhaps it does means something, after all…

Divine Pedagogy (Or, Church Lingo…Made Fun!)

I love those phrases you find in Church documents that just can’t be found anywhere else. Phrases like ‘actual participation,’ ‘consubstancial,’ ‘distinct but not separate,’ ‘the Analogy of Being,’ or ‘Invincible Ignorance.’ Perhaps those outside the Church would see all this creative vocabulary as, at best, bureaucratic myth-making or, at worst, an example of ecclesiastical Double-Speak. In actuality the Church’s unique shop-talk is neither of these: its hard to be intimidated by such vocabulary when you realize that it has been expounded by a group of sincere old men groping for words to describe the ineffable.

My favorite recent discovery in magisterial documents is the phrase ‘divine pedagogy,’ roughly translated, ‘God’s teaching style.’ The phrase appears in Dei Verbum 15 as an attempt to articulate why it was God used “partial and various ways” (Heb 1:1) in the Old Covenant to prefigure Christ;

These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. (DV 15)

Now that I am a teacher myself, I know how difficult it can be to reveal a big idea to your students. And your own excitement is not the least of your worries. Today I got so pumped about the 4th cup at the Passover that I almost spilled grape juice all over one of my students. We were doing a living re-enactment of the last Supper, and as I intensely explained the most intimate moments of the meal, my students were daring each other to chug the bitter herbs. Clearly I needed to have better recourse to a Divine Pedagogy. That’s not to say that I despair of their having taken anything away from the experience. Rather, I now realize that more time could have been given to a proper balancing between the content and the style of the presentation.

That last sentence is a bit confusing. Let’s try it this way: Sometimes (most of the time) God’s revelation is so astounding that it results in too many words, too many images, and too many lessons. Outsiders may think that a theology teacher has to struggle to find content for his lessons. This is certainly not the case: a theology teacher is burdened with too much content and is further burdened by the prospect of having to shelve much of it for later instruction.

But what to reveal and what to conceal? How am I to be like the good scribe “who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new” when I can carry so little in my arms? It is in facing problems such as these that the thought of a Divine Pedagogy becomes miraculously attractive. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what to show to the students today, and then what to show tomorrow so that, years from now, when their all grown up and nothing makes sense, they will remember the Word and believe? According to the Council Fathers, that is exactly what the Old Testament is: a gradual reveal that establishes plot, setting and characters in so perfect a way that, when the hero arrives, we all know what’s up and who’s down.

In and of itself, the Old Testament is very unsettling. The violence, the philandering and the obscurities are problematic. Worse, however, is the lingering promises of God, who keeps saying that things will get better, only to turn around and allow things to get worse. As a great theologian recently said to me; “The most tragic real thing that can be thought of is an Old Testament without any hope of a New Testament.” Yet, it is in the Old Testament that we first witness the Divine Pedagogy. God allows his students to fail the first semester! He anticipates the fact that they will mess up, misunderstand and manipulate his plan. He’s ready for it. He knows that the story is too big to be told all at once, though, so he saves the best for last. His faith in us is that, when that last age has come, we will be ready to receive Him for real. His patience works for our salvation. That is the Divine Pedagogy. And if I am to have any hope for patience of my own for tomorrow, I should get to sleep soon…

St. Chesterton, Pray for Us!?

The idea of St. Chesterton, recently reported on by the Daily Mail and encouraged by words of both Pope Francis and the bishop of Northampton, has left me in a fit of giggles. Not that I doubt the validity of the claim. It appears that Pope Francis is a long time Chesterton fan, blessing book groups of the British journalist in his native Argentina. Bishop Peter Doyle’s simultaneous investigation of Chesterton’s life is the first of many steps toward canonization. (In Chesterton’s case, the longest step might be the thorough examination of his writings for intentional heresy, a process that could take decades given the sheer amount of ink he spilt. Still, I think you will find no shortage of scholars willing to volunteer for the task).

Nonetheless, the idea of Chesterton holy cards, Chesterton icons, St. Gilbert Keith Parishes, GKC novenas and (not so) mini-statuettes is enough to make one giddy with delight. Perhaps the only person besides who would find these things more comical than GKC fans do would be GKC himself. Can you imagine the jokes he would crack on the occasion of the dedication of a St. Chesterton Shrine (They’ll have to have a very large sanctuary to fit a statue of me in it! Accuracy would require there be a pub next door! The holy medals ought to be chocolate, like those fake chocolate coins that children use! What will they do, sell penny dreadfuls instead of devotional in the vestibule after Mass!?). It is simply outrageous that GKC should be made a saint. And yet, it seems he has friends in high places who would like to see it happen. It is a good thing, too, that Chesterton became Roman Catholic: he joined the only church crass and crazy enough to canonize the likes of him!

In all seriousness, though (a phrase Chesterton seems to have hated), the cause for Chesterton’s canonization may be outrageous, but it is not offensive. However, from reading the comments on the Daily Mail article, one gets the sense that the good people of London are scandalized that a newspaper man from their own city should be up for sainthood. Perhaps it is with good reason. GKC was the first to admit that he belonged to a profession that attracted the slothful and the spineless alike. He would join their voices of dissent at the idea of a London journalist joining the canon of Saints, save for the strange fact that he is most assuredly no longer alive in London. I cannot suppose his current location, seeing as Pope Francis thinks it possible that he is far better off than any of us thought possible.

Possible is the key word in all this. All this news means is that the leaders of our Church think it possible that GKC is in heaven. The smiles and the scandal surrounding such a statement tell us more about ourselves than they do about Chesterton. Is it so terribly silly that so great a theologian be admitted to heaven, even if he was nothing more than a journalist? Why are we put off by the idea of his sanctity, when it would be a comforting thought that a man as full of life as GKC might have made it through the pearly gates? Perhaps it is because we like gritty, challenging saints, not jolly orthodox ones. Maybe it is because we like controversialists with new ideas, not contrite coots with old ones. Chesterton self-identified as a liberal who fought for the poor. At the same time, he defeated heresy and converted CS Lewis (and countless others). He argued against communism, capitalism and fascism all while they were still popular. He perfectly met all the demands of the era and did it all with his unique brand of optimism and common sense. Optimism, common sense and sanctity: how many of us can claim such a trinity? So, why not a St. Chesterton?

GKC, ora pro nobis.

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.

How to Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood?

“Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood.” Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei p. 54

Liberty, equality, brotherhood. That was the formula of the French Revolution. And though these words never appear explicitly in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, they are an implicit part of American Heritage. On July 4th, the United States celebrated the belief that equality and freedom undergird the fraternity of our
great Republic. On July 5th, Pope Francis published the above text. It is something of a buzz kill to say the least.

I don’t know if the timing was intentional, coincidental or just providential. Perhaps it was a strange amalgam of all three. Nonetheless, it has worked a revolution in my own thought. Is it true to say that equality and liberty, while good, are not good enough? Is it good politics, much less good theology, to suggest that a free and democratic society can still fall short of brotherhood? Forget all those criticisms about atheists looking for God and girls having their feet washed: this is the kind of statement that should launch Pope Francis into the heart of controversy! It is fortunate thing that he hid it away in an encyclical, since, to my knowledge, no member of the media has every actually read one in it’s entirety. Had Francis tweeted the statement “Freedom ≠ brotherhood. #faith,” I’m certain that the press would have had a field day with it.

Yet, I will leave off speculating about the press here. The American press has not enough gall to start a revolution these days, and starting a revolution is precisely what I am interested in doing. Allow me to explain: our country is supposed to derive its greatness from freedom and equality. The Pope says that these principles are not enough. He invokes faith as the fundamental principle. I do not think that he is suggesting that freedom is useless and that we need to return to an theocracy. I do not even think that what he is saying runs counter to the Constitution (though it does possibly overstate what that document merely hinted at). After all, the brotherhood-by-equality ideal is no where mentioned in the explicit legislation of our founding fathers. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion are mentioned, and they are mentioned on the first lines of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech ensures faith in others. Freedom of religion ensures faith in God. What Pope Francis is saying, far from raining on our parades and fireworks, is that brotherhood must be founded on something greater than freedom. He was looking to set our sights on things higher than even equality. I believe that the revolution he was attempting to inspire looks more like 32AD than 1776.

The faith of the founding fathers went unspoken in much (though not all) of their explicit legislation. Perhaps it is time to amend that. Perhaps it is time to move beyond the vague social scruples of enlightenment era politicians and codify what they merely hinted at.

Or perhaps not.

I am no lawyer or politician. I admit that I do not know the best way to translate this theology into social change. All I can say is that it must be translated into social change soon or any semeblence of “brotherhood” that exists in this nation will begin to be torn at the seams. For too long, our country has justified acts of violence, racism and injustice by reserving too much power to the “local and individual liberty.” Freedom is good, but an absolute freedom that aborts children and lynches minorities in the name of “personal freedoms” has been the stigma of our nation’s history.

I, for one, believe that it is time to move away from an interpretation of the Constitution focused purely on freedom and equality. There must be explicit acknowledgement of the Creator on which are founded these unalienable rights. Until there is, we will remain under the thumb of a very civilized and bureaucratic mob rule.

Sudden Monday – The Morning Light

I won’t be able to do this every Monday but today is one of those days I can. Ryan Charles Trussel of Ora et Labora et Zombies fame has started something in the vein of Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes. He calls it Sudden Monday. He invites the courageous writer in all of us to write a small piece of flash fiction and connect it back to him so without further ado.

The Morning Light

To say that it is bright is really unnecessary, although it has encroached on my well deserved and much desired darkness. It remains constant and yet, in the haze, seems to dispel something. What that something is has yet to be determined because, well, determining things are not an available ability at this current juncture.

Amber is the color, which reminds of an ale I had not too long ago. To give a date or time of how long ago requires for me to make something definitive, and I’m definitely not ready for definitive. Nonetheless, that color is intoxicating in and of itself. It begins to elicit in me motion. It draws me; attracts me. I can smell it. No, no, I can’t smell it. Although if I could, I’m sure its odor would be pleasant for such a color cannot create stench.

This amber becomes a lens with which to see shadows and shapes, not like trees. I know trees. They smell. No, the shapes have angles, right and isosceles. Despite they’re shape and angle,  definition remains beyond grasp. What is in grasp is that darkness is slowly slipping away receding like the shoreline in low tide making a promise to come back but not saying when.

Do I let it slip away? I do love this darkness. It is devoid of responsibility. It is not within the limits of the necessary cogitation of human interaction. It is safe.

But this sweet smelling color is calling me. I can hear it clear as a bell ringing the knell of some joyous occasion. It’s lens now provides definition. Angles and shapes become things instead of ideas.

Awake from sleep. Arise, for a new day dawns.