Friday, January 25, 2013

Did We Miss Something?

Reflection on Sunday's Readings (01/27/2013) Link

Ezra told the people “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” The people before Ezra had been scattered and abandoned for a time, but they had been reunited. Their heritage had been lost and their home was in ruins. Now, all of a sudden, they were back together and their greatest treasure, the law of the Lord, was being taught to them again. The people, filled with emotion, began to weep—perhaps they wept at what they had lost. Perhaps they wept because forsaking the law cost them their home. Whatever the reason Ezra and the other leaders urged them to eat good food and drink sweet drinks. Here we see that returning the word of God brought joy, but also sadness, to those who were present.

The Psalm today states that the law of the Lord “refreshes the soul” but the leaders of the people in the Old Testament needed to urge everyone to refresh themselves. Nehemiah and Ezra asked them to 'party', so to speak, in order feel the joy that they should be feeling. It's odd advice to tell someone to “be happy” after they've cried—have they just missed something?

We may also notice that the crowd gathered at the synagogue in today's Gospel reacted in a peculiar way. Luke recounts that Jesus was praised for his power and teaching. He stood up among those present and read from the prophet Isaiah where he proclaimed that this was a “year acceptable to our Lord," greater than the holy 'day' proclaimed by Ezra. As he sat back down everyone else sat in stunned silence. They maybe thought to themselves at the moment—“did we just miss something?” Jesus satisfies their curiosity by saying “this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Both of the stories today continue beyond this point, but it's worth pointing out why we've decided to stop at these particular points in both. The Old Testament shows the fulfillment of the prophets: the people have returned to Jerusalem. The New Testament proclaims fulfillment from God to those who need Him most. 

These accounts both present the fulfillment of a message and a reason to be happy, yet both groups present are not happy. 

It is strange that neither of these groups are particularly happy. The Jews longed in their heart for the word of God. Scripture says that it was explained to them plainly. When they heard it, they wept. The children of Israel waited for a savior, one who would lift the burden from the oppressed. When they saw Him, they remained silent. It's not unlike us nearing the end of a good book and we don't want to finish because it would mean leaving that world. It seems that when their aspirations and innermost hopes were manifested before their eyes they acted as if they were looking for something else.

Some people have said that the 'journey is better than the destination,' but while the journey is necessary the destination is the reason for that journey. Scripture today relates to us that when our senses come into contact with God we hardly believe it—sometimes because it's too good to be true, as with the Old Testament, and so we doubt; other times it's too true to be real, as with Christ, and so we brush it off. Is the same true with the Eucharist? Has God really visited his people in simple bread and common wine?

Jesus coming into our life should be an occasion for happiness precisely because he comes to us in the smallest of things. It stands to reason that he comes to us in a great number of things beyond it. If we deny Christ who is present before our eyes, who are we looking for instead—what are we looking for? There are those who suffer here in each of our communities and those who struggle right in front of us. They are the people who are urged to be most happy because God is with them. They are looking for God in the smallest of things. Do you think they would doubt or fail to recognize Him when they saw Him, even if it was through you?

Those who consider themselves fulfilled know they really aren't, but they look for that one perfect thing to complete them. Those who are starved are thankful with the smallest amount. 

Scripture is perhaps telling us to be hungry. But then it tells us to eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. What fulfills us is here to be experienced: the consolation of the poor, the joy of those who mourn, and Christ fully present. We must believe that this is true and that this will make us happy, otherwise we'll always be looking for something else. Don't miss it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What the heck am I working on?

Morning all,

I've been writing for about half a year now, and I appreciate everyone who has followed me since. I encourage you and my old followers to participate in myposts by posing questions, challenges, or suggestions to me. I appreciate you all taking the time to read my work and I hope to make it better for you in the future.

School has been incredible busy. 17 hours, 9 of which are graduate-level courses, has put a big strain on my time. Basketball, part-time work, and papers have all limited me in a significant way. I'm still writing, and actually have quite a few things half-done.

I've decided to share some with you. These are half/partially finished and in limbo--whether it's content, time, or presentation.

1) "Ancient Culture Wasn't Better"

Many look at ancient cultures as open, accepting, and happy because of how they viewed sexuality, the body, and how we expressed ourselves. Many of these people, perhaps unknowingly, are addicted to the power that such an image of the past creates. Some fail to realize that the ideal we draw from the past covers a great number of anxieties, abuses, and simply human tendencies. People look to the ancient conception of eros and a sort of divine madness as an openness to the pleasures of sex—in turn they see the Christian response as a altogether Puritan response to the body. Christians starve the body, the ancients (and now moderns) nourish it.
When we look at ancient society we find the Elysian fields and other afterlife narratives where, in the end, the strong, the mighty, and the high-born who live up to their nobility are given eternal delights and remembered forever along with their great ancestors. Yet those who were among the common-born were by nature at the service of the strong and, in death, entered the company of the shades. The virtues that were raised as the human ideal (such as by Aristotle) were best attained by those who had the money, the health, and favorable disposition to do so. Those of lesser blood were simply incapable of attaining perfect virtue, not for a lack of desire but through a lack of the natural potential.

2) "How Life Collapses Suddenly: A Warning"

No person is made from a vacuum and no "finished product," the person that we see, is as stable as he may appear. Even the sturdiest of buildings have imperfections and decay.

It is perhaps better to see human beings as not a constantly-revised building but as an ongoing construction project.

Though a whole wall may appear sturdy, a single misaligned brick can bring the whole thing down. It may appear inconsequential.

The shaky structures that we sometimes build in fair weather are considered "sufficient" precisely because there is no trial, pressure, or difficulty. But then the rain comes, strong wind blows, hailstones fall, and all sorts of catastrophes occur. This is when we test the wisdom of our plans, and the effectiveness of our actions. The same is true of faith.

3) "Doctrine as Organic"

A note: doctrine and dogma are words so misused and abused that I feel the need to work on it. I got through quite a bit here before a nagging doubt in my mind brought me to ask my priest-professor about it. I'm glad I did, because I turned out to be completely wrong--not in my content, but in my angle. I realized I had been speaking about a discipline as if it were doctrine--a big mistake! But as I researched this topic I noticed that doctrine was not as clear as I thought the literature would convey. Then again, this is what we should expect. We receive revelation but we must still live in the world. We encounter Christ, but we must still follow Him. While I may have screwed up a lot in a small aspect--which ruins the whole--what I have can still be salvaged.

By the 15th and 16th centuries, however, common language had overtaken much more of public life. Latin remained the uniform academic language of the day, but as churches grew so did the demand for the vernacular of the people. As the Protestant Reformation came about, many reformers demanded that the vernacular be used.

This concern [of the reformers] was pastoral and 'political.' It was pastoral such that the reformers wanted to teach Scripture more intimately in the language of their people. It should be noted numerous personal translations in the vernacular existed at this time (and beforehand [e.g., Erasmus' translation]) and were distributed, but an official vernacular was not published. It was political such that by removing others from Latin it was also a move to remove people more holistically from the Church. You can see for yourselves today that Latin is often associated with the Church. Among Protestants and Catholics alike, Latin is reserved almost exclusively for academic pursuits, but the official language of Catholicism still remains Latin and all documents issued from Rome are in Latin to this day.

This (intellectually) violent rejection of Latin in turn gave pause to the fathers of the Church. At the Council of Trent (1545-63) they discussed this at great length. They decided on something very peculiar. In a climate where every reformer was making his own translation of the Bible the council decided that it would not put forth an official translation. Their reason, however, was wiser than it may appear. They said that in this increasingly polemical and enflamed climate it would be imprudent to simply rush a translation of the mass and Scripture into the vernacular. For those of you who translate anything into another language you realize the difficult decisions you must make in order to both remain faithful to the original and present it as readable in the new language. The fathers, recognizing this, made provisions for official translations to be made and disseminated but 'not yet.'

Sorry for the long post.

Do any of these look interesting? Does anything catch your eye?

Please let me know,


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Then Who Made God?

When I was around three years old I sat on my grandfather's lap. He would talk to me about many things, but one subject that persists in my memory is when he would talk about God. He would tell me how God created the universe and everything in it. He began by asking me “Do you see the trees outside? Do you know where they came from?” I would ask where they came from and he would say any number of things that a three-year-old could understand and then say “Do you know where all of that came from?” I would then ask where it came from. Finally he said that “God made everything.” I then asked, “But, grandpa, who made God?” He would respond that no one made God and that God was never made or created. I would persist, “But where did he come from?” He would respond “He was always there before everything else.”

Certainly I was confused—I had just gotten my head around contingency (for you adults here): that something comes from something else. Now I was told that there was something that always was. Despite my confusion and repeatedly asking the questions “But where? How?” my grandfather reinforced the answer. Whether I was tired of the answer or, more likely, I accepted the answer, I moved on.
Unless you become like a little child you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some may take this moment to be the favorable or regrettable turning point where God was firmly placed in my mind. He was no longer just a name or some chimera, but something so great he defied common logic and experience—sometimes children understand this better than we adults.

Even if I did not believe in God, or if I had forsaken the faith my ancestors strove to protect, the answer I accepted puts me above the great number of adults who pose the question “Then who made God?”(as if it were triumph of secular reason). From the commonly educated to Oxford Professors of Physics, adults pose this question, and others like it, with confidence and a sort of smug satisfaction that could only make my three-year-old self ask “Why don't you just listen?” If one is to engage in a debate or discussion with anyone who has a reasonable (or for others, “considerate”) belief in God, they owe it to them to accept their definition at least as their [the “theist's”] starting point.

Many find this answer “God is uncaused” as a cop-out or a microcosm of faith—or rather the idiocy, apathy, irrationality, or indoctrination of that faith. These wise spectators are quick to taut physics and various explanations of the universe as the superior way. They treat those who believe as dreamers; they consider themselves pioneers and careful investigators. One can discover this disposition in many of them in some form, for once you press the issue that someone truly believes in God you may get a response such as “They can believe in what they want, but I'll stick to science and reason.”
They eat this stuff up. Then again, Mr. Russell believed that all "ideologies" were like a religion which served to make one dependent and fearful. Neither reason nor science have ever been used that way, reports claim.

Yet despite anthropic principles, multiverse theories, etc. which claim to answer the questions of “why are we here” and “why is the universe/earth/etc. so supportive of complex life,” these responses simply produce something else that demands explanation. Now that we've conceived of a multiverse where various constants (for each universe) are different we presently have a multiverse that is unexplained—on what grounds do the constants rise that allow for a multiverse that produces a universe like ours? However fascinating the discoveries are and however deeply we probe the mechanisms of the universe our answer has only answered “how” and not “why” in the fullest sense.

With science silent on the answer that some adherents claim it satisfies, many of these intellectuals give their intellectualism over to a sort of religious tagline (derogatory in their sense): “We'll figure it out eventually.”
I almost figured out this game. Didn't mean I understood it.

In ancient times those in the cult of Dionysus might become drunk on wine to achieve/feel greater unity with the god. Today, many in the cult of Science become drunk on progress in hopes that they will understand everything, perhaps some wish to control it too. They give it praise and protect it zealously should anyone slander its good and holy name.
The face of one who has made the breakthrough discovery that religion is stupid.

Many of these sober men of science become drunk on the prospect of what we can and may understand. No doubt that there is pleasure in understanding and there is something noble about the human spirit trying to understand the world he lives in. But then these men forget themselves and more often forget what others had said about God in all sobriety. Men of science treat the answer “God” as a “god of the gaps” with chilling efficiency and simply shake their heads at the notion, “Those who do not wish to understand respond with 'God', those who know better answer something else.” They rarely pause—they're in such a frenzy—to consider that the one who answers 'God' believes that He is the foundation for all other inquiry and not merely the answer for what we can not understand. The scientists of the 12th-17th centuries sat perfectly content with a crucifix on the wall and an experiment on their tables. Such convictions continue even today.
Big Bang theory, anyone? (Georges Lemaitre)

Many of those who put forth a scientific or secular idea of the whole, however, are often convinced in the notion that they are supported by evidence and facts—in some ways they hold that they rely on facts and evidence alone. While it is true that the make use of facts and data, some of them must be aware that facts, proofs, and likelihoods as they stand offer no reason for us to reflect on them, i.e., how they affect us as users of those facts. Many forget that “facts,” however one wishes to define them, has two aspects: 1) what they convey and state and 2) how they are used. Those who rely on facts alone have no ground in those same facts on how to make use of them. At the least, those who believe in God have ground to consider what he does with the discoveries of nature in our world.

Certainly those who do not believe have grounds upon which they decide how to use what they find, it's just not upon the fact that they discovered. It is usually some other “fact” or ideology that organizes what they find. Eventually we find that it isn't grounded in facts, as such, but rather some disposition that they hold as a matter-of-fact. At this point we may dispute who has better grounds to argue this or that, but it won't be found purely in science or empirical observation.

God is not the answer to how or why for me in a mundane sense, he is the reason and authority upon whom we may ask and answer how and why. One has only to read the end of Job and see the wisdom of the Jews: “Where were you when I founded the earth? … Who determined its size; do you know? … Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place for taking hold of the ends of the earth” (Job 38:4, 5, 12). We are not in charge of the universe, we dwell in it—fragile, weak, dependent. Anyone who ridicules belief in God by bringing up scientific or naturalist explanations should reflect on the book of Job and what it says about a belief in God.

Those who believe that we stop with God have stopped themselves from thinking, or they have rather stopped themselves from listening. Creation comes from the creator. We cannot understand the creator fully, but Scripture relates to us what we may extract from creation about Him: creation was made out of love, creation was made as good, and creation was made to be both lived in and known.

God founded the earth so that we may live in it and appreciate it. We appreciate the earth through nourishment, beauty, and understanding. Though it is not the purpose of this piece to discuss evil, we may even learn about the creator in our reflection of evil, imperfection, and tragedy. We must confront ourselves about tragedy and loss, asking why it exists and asking ourselves if it is really unnecessary. Regardless of anyone's answer it is grounds for reflection “is suffering natural or unnatural?” The crucifix stands as an answer for you to interpret, but also stands as an answer that goes beyond a simple yes or no.
"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together ... In him all fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross, whether those on earth or those in heaven" (Colossians 1:17, 19-20)

When arguing about God it helps to listen rather than react. Here we can learn virtue from children who trust even when they do not understand. They are trusting but they are not forced to remain ignorant. Those who teach children not to believe also rely on them trusting you and what you believe is true. The trust of a child should never be taken for granted. But when we become adults we are confronted with adult understandings. As adults we should listen as well as a child (odd as it sounds) and learn to accept what the other is saying, rather than reduce one's belief in God to their own disbelief in God—that's being childish, ironically a common vice among adults.

Is belief in God a “god of the gaps” or a surrender of reason? For countless generations and myself it isn't. For me it is the beginning of wonder: someone who is outside the commonly observable, the foundation of all being, and ultimate simplicity. Must I account for where He came from? At that point we're no longer speaking about the same God.