Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Keep Satan in Christmas!

A shocking title for a blogpost, I know - one that's likely to send some of my recent visitors (see below) from 0 to Apoplectic in 1.6 seconds. But I just had to share this nice little piece in Touchstone Magazine with you on the blessings that the "liturgy" of Christmas carols can bring to us. Enjoy.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Christus homo factus est

A couple of meditations for you on the beginning of the season of Advent, coming up soon, on the following topic: What does it mean that Christ became a man?

First is a reflection by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa in this month's Magnificat:

The expression "except in sin" (absque peccato) used of Jesus (cf. Heb. 4:15) does not convey some exception to the full and definitive human nature of Christ, as though he were in all respects truly human like ourselves, less one thing: sin - as though sin were an essential and natural characteristic of human nature. Far from derogating from the full humanity of Christ, "except in sin" constitutes the distinguishing feature of his true humanity, since sin is the only true "superstructure," the only spurious addition to the divine project of human nature. It is surprising how we have reached the point of regarding as most "human" the very thing that is least human. "To this point has human perversity arrived," says Saint Augustine, " that he whom lust overcomes is regarded as a man, whereas he who has overcome lust cannot be a man. Those who overcome evil cannot be men, whereas those whom evil overcomes are men indeed!" "Human" has come to mean rather what we have in common with the beasts than what distinguishes us from them, such as intelligence, will power, conscience, holiness.

So Jesus is "true man" not in spite of being without sin but precisely because he is without sin. In the famous dogmatic letter of Saint Leo the Great we read: "He, true God, was born in an integral and perfect nature as true man, complete with all prerogatives, as well divine as human. In saying 'human' however, we refer to those things which the Creator originally placed in us and which he then came to restore; whereas in the Savior there was no trace of those things that the Deceiver added and that man deceived accepted. It is not to be thought that he, because he willed to share our weakness, also participated in our guilt. He assumed the condition of a slave, but without the contamination of sin; he thus enriched mankind but did not diminish God."

Caryll Houselander, a Catholic writer in the 1940s, also had this to say in her lovely book of meditations on the Virgin Mary, whom she called the Reed of God:

This is what it meant to Mary to give human nature to God.

All other children born must inevitably die; death belongs to fallen nature; the mother’s gift to the child is life.
But Christ is life; death did not belong to Him.
In fact, unless Mary would give Him death, He could not die.
Unless she would give him the capacity for suffering, He could not suffer.
He could only feel cold and hunger and thirst if she gave Him her vulnerability to cold and hunger and thirst.
He could not know the indifference of friends or treachery or the bitterness of being betrayed unless she gave Him a human mind and a human heart.

He was invulnerable; He asked her for a body to be wounded.
He was joy itself; He asked her to give Him tears.
He was God; He asked her to make Him man.
He asked for hands and feet to be nailed.
He asked for flesh to be scourged.
He asked for blood to be shed.
He asked for a heart to be broken.

The stable at Bethlehem was the first Calvary.
The wooden manger was the first Cross.
The swaddling bands were the first burial bands.
The Passion had begun.
Christ was man.

(For an audio version of the Houselander piece, stop in to my website and listen to Advent Meditation.

Blessings on you as you follow Mary's example and "ponder these things in your heart" this Advent season.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Review of The Magic Eightball Test

Here for your reading pleasure is my review of my friend Lint Hatcher's latest offering. Lint is the founder and former editor of WONDER Magazine, as those of you who've read the posts below are aware, and a fine writer. Visit him at Hambangers Junction Gazette or Excuse Me, Ghidorah, or go on over to lulu.com to see the book (with Lint's own graphic design work on the cover).

Enjoy! And a Happy Halloween to one and all!


On the cover of the first edition of Lint Hatcher’s The Magic Eightball Test: A Christian Defense of Halloween and All Things Spooky, the reader is greeted by the author’s own sketch of a strange gathering of fictional characters, including a traditional-looking, long-nosed, pointy-hatted witch with a pumpkin cauldron – but on a second look, she’s holding the cauldron by a handle over the open top. It has chevron eyes and a zigzag mouth on the front, and my brain can’t resist the urge to morph the cauldron into one of those plastic jack o’lanterns that children use for trick-or-treating. Then there’s an Orc-looking/imp-like fellow next to her, and a fairy princess modeled on Disney’s Cinderella, and a small being (a child? E.T.?) underneath a sheet with eyeholes cut in it. The group is fronted by Batman’s young sidekick Robin sporting an inordinately serious expression, gravely holding a large black orb – our titular Magic Eightball. Towering over the other characters from behind is the more familiar figure of Frankenstein, with an incongruously cheery, grandfatherly grin spread across his wide face. [Note: This illustration is on the cover of the first edition; the current cover above is different, but also cool.] I get the feeling that though the subtitle introduces the book as “a Christian defense of Halloween”, this won’t be heavy theology – Hatcher doesn’t seem averse to applying a sense of humor to his subject.

The chapter titles include evocations of classic Halloween kitsch (“Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House”) and wry twists on pagan propaganda (“The Ancient Art of Pop-O-Matic”). Hope rises in my heart that I won’t be drenched with a firehose stream of Biblical prooftexts and platitudes that sound like they were uttered by a talking head with horn-rimmed glasses and a blonde bouffant hairdo. I plunge in.

Hatcher begins his ambitious project by describing the attraction that the season of fall has for him:

It’s a kind of music. For me, it’s built into reality and it’s saying something good to me. Just as “the heavens proclaim the glory of God” in a manner that is aesthetic, almost musical, rather than prosaic, the coming of autumn says something romantic and pure to me. It sings about Nighttime, and Winter, and the liveliness of Death, about truths too difficult and painful to accept any other way – except, perhaps, through the words of some great poet.

And because autumn is a kind of music, Halloween is a kind of dance.

He then discusses the various aspects of Halloween as we experience it in America: 1) the autumn festival, 2) a night of “make-believe”, and 3) a celebration of all things spooky. He gives a brief history of the holiday’s origins, being careful to distinguish between the Celts’ worship of nature and the celebration (or veneration, if you will) of the creation that we engage in at harvest time. He tells a funny but tragic story of dressing up like Cornelius from Planet of the Apes one day and going to school – a day that unfortunately was not Halloween, but rather a balmy day in March. He writes: “I remember suffering a lot throughout the day, horribly burdened by a growing realization. ‘What kind of world is this’, I thought, ‘if you can’t go to school dressed up like a gorilla?’ The question haunts me to this very day.” As well it should all of us.

For Hatcher has uncovered a very important aspect of our humanity that has been forced to lumber off and hibernate in the face of rationalism’s and cynicism’s encroachment into its territory: our sense of awe and delight in God’s creation, in who we are as God’s creatures, in all of life’s glorious possibilities that an active imagination makes available to us.

Hatcher is careful to draw a bright line between the type of occultism that is actually practiced by serious believers in dark powers and the “pop” occult trappings of our modern Halloween celebration. The means of distinguishing the two (again referring to the book’s title) is The Magic Eightball Test. He contrasts the familiar Magic Eightball toy with the Ouija board and asks:

When people place their trembling fingertips on the triangular planchette of a Ouija board and ask a question, to whom are they speaking? “The spirits.” Whether a person believes or not… they formally address their questions to the spirit world. Thus, some creature may answer – and in fact it may make very little difference to that creature whether he is believed in or not.

Okay. When a person asks a question of the Magic Eightball, who are they talking to? Who do they know darn well that they are addressing?

That round piece of plastic there. The one with the number eight painted on it. The one full of blue liquid and, hey, why don’t we break it open to see how it works, huh?

…[W]e ply it for answers… like a Pop-O-Matic dice roller. If we don’t get the answer we want, we shake it up again.

This is the heart of Hatcher’s argument and defense of Halloween and its spooky accoutrements – things like Dracula costumes, trick-or-treating, and decorating one’s house with black cats and gravestones are simply responses to the idea of the spirit world - cultural echoes of real encounters, perhaps, but no longer conveying the reality of the things they signify. They are “make-believe”, an experience of “playing pretend”, like a father playing with his children by growling like a lion and chasing them around the living room. They allow an acknowledgement of evil and the “spooky aesthetic” that hangs about certain creatures, but not a participation in an actual experience of it.

In Hatcher’s description of his friends’, family’s, and schoolmates’ reactions to his creative flights of fancy and his interest in things that others find distasteful, I can’t help but notice a quiet exasperation, a tiny bit of resentment, a touch of sadness in his tone. I find myself asking: Where does our childlike sense of wonder go when we cease to be children in the physical sense? How can we tap into, or perhaps recover, our ability to sense the thrill of an encounter with the supernatural – what Hatcher calls “the spooky gene”?

This is where Hatcher draws on the expertise of English journalist and poet G.K. Chesterton to provide “Deep Background” for his worldview. He reprints Chesterton’s essays On Holidays, The Spice of Life, and The Nightmare, all of which further explore ideas of culture and experience, and lend solid support to his position. Chesterton apparently was also possessed of the “spooky gene”, as he describes in the closing paragraph of The Nightmare:

Therefore I see no wrong in riding with the Nightmare tonight; she whinnies to me from the rocking tree-tops and the roaring wind; I will catch her and ride her through the awful air… I will ride on the Nightmare; but she shall not ride on me.

Also reprinted in this volume is Hatcher’s essay Wunderkind, a fictional diary of a young man traveling the pathway of popular culture and rediscovering his childlike sense of wonder through a renewed sacramental understanding of the world. An engaging personal autobiographical note closes the slim volume.

On a personal note of my own, I had the privilege of attending a Halloween party once with Lint Hatcher, his family, and about 50 other revelers in a tent at a Christian music and arts festival. You may think this an unlikely place for a Halloween party, but trust me, the time was just as unlikely as the venue – Fourth of July weekend. The theme of the lecture series taking place at the festival was “Days of the Dead”, including Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, with lectures and discussions of their cultural and religious contexts. Hatcher was a speaker at the event and delivered “The Magic Eightball Test” as a short speech before the party started. He was well received by the assorted zombies, ghosts, mummies, Goths, and vampires who had gathered for the festivities.

I had carefully planned my costume – in honor of St. Francis of Assisi and his Canticle of the Sun (mentioning Brother Sun, Sister Moon, etc.), I had come to the party as Sister Death – all gothed out in black from head to toe, in whiteface with big black eyes, and blood red lipstick with a trail of stage blood dripping from a corner of my mouth. Just as the dance was getting going, I was in a corner of the tent putting the finishing touches on my makeup when Hatcher and his son Nick came over. I heard him say, “Oh, man!” and looked up, and he met my wide grin with one even wider than mine – extended (by a creative makeup job of his own) at one side to reveal several bare teeth, a bony jaw, and a grotesque vermilion border – reminiscent of the expression of the title character in William Castle’s classic film Mr. Sardonicus. Together we rejoined the crowd and cheered for the band as they kicked into some high-energy surf-rock with horror-show parody lyrics.

Lint Hatcher “gets” Halloween – whatever it once was, whatever it may be to some, it’s definitely wonderful fun.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thoughts on Predestination

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day, and he mentioned he had stumbled over the concept of predestination recently. It made me stop to consider my own run-ins with this idea and the extent to which I've worked on it as regards my own spiritual life. Though I don't have it completely philosophically integrated, here's what I've got so far.

I grew up in a Christian home; I was raised in an American Baptist church, kind of on the liberal end of a conservative tradition. For example, my mom had a bottle of wine in the refrigerator, we went to all sorts of movies, no one ever said anything about playing cards – but there was definitely no swearing and no smoking.

Anyway, the first time I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and asked Jesus into my heart, I was 5 years old. I had an experience of praying to “recommit” my life to Jesus when I was 8; I think it was because I felt really guilty about something (which I can’t remember now) and I thought I was a “backslider”.

The time that I point to as my actual age-of-reason conversion was when I was 12. I had been involved in a “Bible Club” children’s ministry through the family of my best friend in elementary school, where I learned to pray and read the Bible for myself. One afternoon I was sitting on my bed reading I John, and I came across the part in Chapter 4 where it reads: “If anyone says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (v. 20-21). That hit me between the eyes, because I really did hate my brother – and it showed me for the first time that I wasn’t loving God. I’d tried to be a good girl and not get in trouble and everything, and I thought that was enough to be a Christian. At the same time, there were terrible amounts of resentment and hatred building in my heart against my older brother because of how violent he was with my sister and me. (FYI, my older brother Steve was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 16 and has been managed on medication since then.) Anyway, having been confronted with this spiritual truth by the Holy Spirit Himself through the Scriptures, I realized I needed not just to believe, but to change and be changed – and so, that was my first conscious, engaged beginning as a Christian. I was baptized (like a good Baptist) several months later.

Here’s my first encounter with the concept of predestination: When I was 16, I changed schools and started at Catlin Gabel as a sophomore. I’d only had a few close Christian friends in my life up to that time, but now they were all pretty much gone, and none of my new friends shared my faith at all – in fact, one girl attacked me about it fairly regularly. I looked around at other classmates of mine who were smoking (tobacco and other substances), drinking, and sleeping around – and they appeared to be having fun. The thought occurred to me: Why am I sitting around being “moral”, when I could be having fun? As I started to think more about it, I began to resent the fact that I’d been raised as a Christian – I really didn’t know any other sort of life. In my church and at Bible Club, I’d heard about how you had to make a choice to follow Jesus, but I began to see that I was never really given a choice – about big things like this, things that seemed to matter and shape your life. My mom and dad (who both had demanding careers) were a little disengaged at times in my upbringing, but they were very definite about going to church and the importance of being a certain kind of person. I suppose I bought into that in order to be close to them in the midst of the chaos that Steve’s illness brought into the family dynamics. But I began to think seriously about whether I still wanted to be a Christian – and what I would be if I weren’t a Christian.

I had internalized the Baptist adage “once saved, always saved”, but instead of comforting me, it began to make me angry and a little confused. Of course, as a good Christian, I wasn’t supposed to want things that were bad for me, right? If God was so pleased with me being with Him, why wasn’t I happy and joyful all the time? Did that mean that I really wasn’t one of the “chosen”, that I wouldn’t be happy in heaven? What if there was real happiness in a place other than heaven? And if I was predestined for heaven, “eternally secure” as my Sunday school teacher put it, that means I’ve got my “fire insurance policy” and it doesn’t matter what I do between now and when I die because it’s not about works, it’s about faith, right? Does God really know what I’m going to choose before I choose it? If He does, then what does it matter?

After much serious thought and prayer, the way it came down in my 16-year-old mind was this: God is outside of time. We’re not; we have to live through time. So, God knows what we’re going to do, decide, and choose – but we don’t. (Somehow that thought had more force in my head back then than when I look at it here on the page right now.) The fact that humans can’t know the future means that if God is all-knowing, He is in fact sovereign over us.

And, I realized that I only had this one personal identity, this identity as a Christian, built on knowing Jesus. I realized that if I decided not to be a Christian anymore, I’d have to completely rebuild my self-concept from scratch – I’d have to completely scrap my whole life experience up to that point. Because I had read God’s promises in the Bible – things like “If you keep your mind stayed on Me, you will have perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3) and “If you obey Me, I will bless you” (Job 36:11). I had seen that work in my life. I realized that if I stepped outside of that, there would be no guarantees. If I were to smoke pot or drink or go ‘round with boys, I might be happy – or I might not. With my Christian life, life with God, He was offering me a guarantee – a promise. It dawned on me that if I believed He loved me, then I had to trust Him – even if it meant giving up these other pathways to happiness, that for all I knew really would make me happy (though in hindsight, I can see that such happiness would have only been temporary).

I suppose you could draw a couple of conclusions from this: either that I was just stuck with being a Christian because I didn’t really have the courage to try anything else, or that I couldn’t leave Jesus because I knew deep down that, despite everything, He really loved me. I suppose that both are true in a sense.


I recognize that in principle, there’s still an existential tension between God’s omniscience and the threat it poses to the meaning of human choices. The following analogy resonates the best with me presently on this score:

God is the Author of the book in which we are all characters. From His perspective, it’s as if we were two-dimensional, living only on the page in the mind of God and any readers. As the pages turn, we live our lives and make our choices, and we reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of those choices. We can’t skip ahead in the book and see what’s to come, what certain choices will bring; we can’t turn back and undo things that didn’t turn out as we would have liked. God is the one who in that mysterious Other Dimension creates us in His mind and writes us and our lives on the page, fleshing us out and making us real, fully human, present to ourselves and to others. He can skip ahead or go back, or enter or observe our timeline at whatever point He chooses. He remains in ultimate control as the Creator and Author of human history, but because our character and nature as humans is reflective of His, He allows us the small reflection of His limitless power over the universe which we call free will. As far as we who live “in the book” (i.e. in the space/time continuum) are concerned, though this power over the course of our lives isn’t absolute like God’s, it is quite real, because God made it as part of our human nature.

It’s tempting to cop an attitude about God’s sovereignty and resent the fact that He didn’t give us ultimate power over our own lives, and then do a passive/aggressive thing of refusing to use the power of will that He did give us to order, control, and shape ourselves and our world – we shirk our responsibilities to act/contribute to the world and end up slacking (spiritually speaking), like a petulant, morose, full-of-himself adolescent. I think we make a mistake when we don’t regard free will with the dignity that God gives it. After all, God really allows us to do stuff – to build things, to invent things, to be mini-creators. Our free will, our freedom, is a good thing, given to us so that we can reach our potential as human beings for God’s glory; St. Augustine said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Freedom is not to be pissed away and squandered on things that don’t build up, nor to be pissed on and left to atrophy. It’s part of the image of God in us and should be respected as such. After all, God respects it; He lets us make our choices and succeed, or screw up, or both, without sending angels or thunderbolts or apparitions at every turn to coerce us in what we choose. When those freaky things happen, I don’t believe it’s ever to force our hand, but to encourage us toward the right thing regarding something really important – something that’s really going to matter for someone else.


On a secular level, when God is removed from the picture (or equated with matter/the natural world), this question degenerates into the familiar debates of nature vs. nurture, genetics vs. environment, materialism vs. existentialism. From this perspective, it’s my view that our development as humans is comprised of both our genetic inheritance and what we choose to do with it. We can’t mutate our own genes at will, but neither can we escape living on planet Earth – they both affect us and shape us in different ways. It’s a cooperative, interactive thing, sort of like the way that God calls us to cooperate with His gift of grace, both to accept His love and His choice of us (John 15:16) and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).


Re: spiritual “dimensionality”, try this on – it’s a poem I wrote several years ago.

[On looking at plates from the Book of Kells:]

His hair is drawn at the ends
into an undisentangleable knot,
the strands reaching into the grapevines above His head,
into the borders where we, the Body,
discover ourselves
likewise inextricably woven.

You reach into, down, under
my heart and pull through -
I thread over, between, out
to curl beside you,
happy for companionship on this plane
but yet still aware
of the Light, the Eye,
the unbound dimension
whence come mysteries of
color and shape and proportion.

We know what we mean -
whether we are beautiful,
we cannot tell.

© 1995 KJL


A corollary question to the predestination vs. free will dichotomy is this: Is it possible for a Christian believer to lose their salvation, i.e. to be a Christian one day and not be one the next? Since it’s assumed there’s a line between “saved” and “not saved”, and one crosses this line in order to enter the Kingdom of God, is it possible to step back across it into darkness, total lostness, again?

I was part of a good-sized independent charismatic church in my late twenties, and many of my friends came from Assembly of God or Pentecostal backgrounds (heavily influenced by Armenianism). Over the years that I was there, I began to see people who I thought were strong believers just get up and walk away from the faith. When my friends saw this happen, they acknowledged that the person had been saved by Christ but figured they had lost that saving grace in their lives through their disobedience and sin, and they would have to “get saved” all over again if they were going to get to heaven – i.e. go up to an altar call, pray to receive Jesus in their heart again, and start over from square one. They based this on Bible passages like Ezekiel 33:12-13, Matthew 13:19-21 and Hebrews 6:4-6 (the Hebrews passage is especially harsh if interpreted this way, since it would seem to mean that a person who falls away can’t ever get right with God again). They would talk about a “hardness of heart” to which God would just abandon people if they were stubborn enough. I, on the other hand, tended to think according to my “once saved, always saved” upbringing and if I watched a Christian walk away from God, just totally repudiate Him, it was hard for me to believe that he or she was ever really a Christian in the first place. I looked to Bible verses such as John 10:27-29, Romans 8:29-30, Romans 11:29, Ephesians 1:4, and I Timothy 2:4 to support my view. The idea that God could literally abandon someone in sin, just give up on a person, really bothered me, so I leaned heavily the other direction – though I realized that sin really does separate us from God. Jesus can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t believe in Him, hates Him, and/or never talks to Him, right?

When I began to study Catholic sacramental theology, I discovered a different model for understanding the phenomenon of how a person is saved, i.e. enters and stays in the Family of God. In this light, I found a different picture emerging from the Scriptures. In interpreting the Apostle’s teaching regarding the interplay between God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will, the early Church fathers and theologians don’t pit one idea against the other; they acknowledge that both concepts are valid and important. They base their interpretations on a couple of key concepts:

Great emphasis is placed on baptism as the beginning of one’s life in God. Catholics interpret the verse “Baptism now saves you…” (I Peter 3:21) in the most literal way possible. This is the way into the boat that takes you to the other side; this is the gate you pass through to come into the city. This is why Catholics, Presbyterians, and Lutherans baptize babies – it takes the place that circumcision had in the Jewish faith. It’s the initiation into the community, the tribe, the people of God. (And I’ll point out a cool fact which this interpretation suggests: Christ transformed this older Jewish initiation rite into something that women as well as men can receive.)

I learned a lot about my baptism when I became a Catholic – they regarded it with much more seriousness than I had up to that point. FYI, Catholics don’t ever re-baptize people; they figure that if a person has already received a Christian baptism (in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), they’re good to go as far as that’s concerned – God has already opened a channel of grace into their lives through that sacrament because the sacraments work of their own accord – they actually convey what they signify, in this case the removal of the stain of original sin and the rebirth of the soul in God (John 3:5-7).

Don’t think that I’m saying that baptism gives you a free ride into heaven, no questions asked; by no means. The Apostles also placed great emphasis on obeying Christ’s teachings and living a holy life. St. James insists that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:13-17); Paul talks about building one’s life in Christ out of various materials (I Corinthians 3:10-15) and “working out your salvation” (Phil. 2:12). Though original sin has been removed, a thing called concupiscence (that’s Augustine’s word) remains in our souls and bodies, in our being as humans. It’s the warp/distortion of our spiritual senses caused by hell’s fire, the smoke in our lungs, the holes/disconnects in our mind, the fogginess of our vision, the pull of gravity on our guts – what St. Paul complained about in Romans 7. This needs dealing with - all the time, because sin is serious, and hell is real, and we can still screw up real bad if we’re not paying attention.

However, that’s what getting saved is all about – it’s the process of repairing the damage, becoming holy, putting on the new man, being transformed more and more into the image of Christ. Catholic teaching points to the fact that in the Bible, various Greek verb tenses are used to describe salvation (“you have been saved” [Eph. 2:8], “us who are being saved” [I Cor. 1:18], “we shall be saved” [Acts 15:11]) – that’s past, present, and future. What Reformation theology regarded as a two-step process (first justification, then sanctification), Catholics regard as one single pathway called salvation. St. Paul also talks about the Christian life as being like an athlete in training (I Corinthians 9:24-27), a process of getting into shape so you can compete and win. This is what the other sacraments (confirmation, Eucharist, confession, etc.) and any other practices that help a person live holy and be like Jesus are for.

So, it’s a combination of both concepts, a synthesis: Our journey has a beginning in baptism, which God wills and brings about (with or without our cooperation), and then He expects us to follow through and grow in Him, to persevere toward the goal, and to establish His Kingdom and His Presence wherever we are – because the promise of redemption doesn’t belong to just us, to just our souls. Christ came to redeem all of Creation, the whole planet, including us - body and soul (Romans 8:19-23). So, our work as Christians is to join with Christ in “redeeming the temporal order” (Pope John Paul II’s phrase, I think).

So, if salvation is a process and not a line in the sand that you cross, then you can see why Catholics are reluctant to judge whether someone is “saved” or not. We look at people and consider where they are in relation to the Truth, what kind of grasp they already have on spiritual reality, and then try to encourage them toward a fuller understanding of the truth of Christ. This idea is foundational to all our interreligious dialogue – the idea that there is some salvageable good in nearly all religions and cultures, and people need to be encouraged to embrace that good more fully so they can progress toward more comprehensive transformation and redemption in Christ.

That's what I'm about on this blog, really. Just trying to whisper to other souls in the darkness: "Goooooo toward the liiiiiiiight. Gooooo toward the liiiiiiiight..."

[Hat tip to www.catholic-forum.com for the above image of St. Augustine.]

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wilma wrote back...

... and had a few more things to say. [Here's Wilma in bold, me in regular font:]

Just so you know Kathleen I am a cradle Catholic-- Catholic school, nuns, confirmation, the whole nine yards. I also spent many years in the Unitarian-Universalist Association. However I am now a born again Christian, and in learning God's Word have been blessed to know Jesus Christ as my Savior. I have interacted with Catholics for over four years now, oftentimes for several hours a day, online. I can define Transubstantiation unlike a high percentage of Catholics in the pews. {Why do you assume I am a Calvinist?}

These are interesting facts to know about you - thanks for sharing that. Believe it or not, I’m genuinely glad that you found Jesus and are trying to follow Him, and that you’re trying to live by your understanding of the Bible. Of course, I’m dismayed that you didn’t find Him in your experience of the Catholic Church growing up; I assure you, I recognize that you’re not alone. I will definitely concede the point that catechesis (at least since the 1970s or so) in American Catholic churches has been extremely poor as far as connecting Catholics with the faith of our fathers. Others have deconstructed this much more thoroughly than I, but in my view, the ham-fisted way in which the reforms of Vatican II were implemented in this country, the growing wedge of distrust between the American hierarchy and the official magisterium (i.e., the teaching office of the Church) begun by the American bishops’ refusal to enforce the directives of Humanae Vitae (prohibiting artificial birth control – published in 1968), and the “sexual revolution” and general social upheaval of the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s all combined to create a “perfect storm” of sorts – in which many priests, nuns, catechists, and laypeople have been caught up. I don’t deny that many American Catholics don’t know Jesus and don’t live their faith. I contend, however, that this is due to their rebellion against the true teachings of the Church as promulgated by the magisterium and not to their embrace of it.

”[T]he redemption and transformation of matter/the material world into the Kingdom of God began with the Incarnation." Uh dear, did you ever read the first line in the Bible?

Yes, as a matter of fact: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) It’s a good bet that the Apostle John was also familiar with this verse when he wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). In his manner of writing the Gospel, which was of course inspired by the Holy Spirit, John was drawing a direct analogy between the Creation and the Incarnation, casting the latter as the Re-Creation, if you will. Christ is the Beginning, the first fruits (Col. 1:15-20) of redemption from the Fall; all the rest of creation’s redemption follows as He remakes it (Rev. 21:5).

"This means also that matter, e.g. our mortal bodies, can be infused with grace – which they are in the sacraments." Oh really? and pray tell, just WHERE does the bible teach that we are INFUSED with anything other than sin?

In the place where it says that “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11). See also my previous reference to I Cor. 15:42-44. Also, back in Genesis, when humankind (i.e. Adam) was created, it says that God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7) I remind you that Catholic teaching holds that though Adam’s sin brought death into the world, the promise of redemption was given even before Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden (Gen. 3:15), and though the image of God in man was marred or wounded, it was not destroyed.

Here’s paragraph #398 from the Catechism: “In [Adam’s] sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. [emphasis mine] Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God’, but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God’”.

Further into the Catechism’s discussion of original sin, mention is made of the Protestant reformers’ error of identifying original sin with concupiscence (our continuing tendency towards sin). This conflation of the two concepts, and the resulting idea of mankind as totally depraved, is an integral part of both Luther’s and Calvin’s theology, and since your line of thought seems to derive from that, I thought you were a Calvinist. Sorry if I was mistaken.

"This causes Catholics to honor (I say honor, not worship) those material things which we see as windows into the Beyond, into the heart of God – including the Eucharist, icons of various kinds, and relics of deceased saints." So you mean when 3 million people line up in the pouring cold rain, to walk by a bunch of dried up bones, and shriveled up organs, this is just for "honor"? How about insanity? Why would your saints themselves want attention paid to their dead body parts, rather then to God if they are truly saints? --by the way there's a reason Catholic churches instead of Fellowship Baptist are chosen as the backdrop for your loved horror movies.

I’ll take your comments in reverse order: 3) Yes, I’ve also noticed the fascination with the Catholic Church in horror films as well as other genres of books, cinema, and television. The reason is that the Catholic Church looms quite large in the Western imagination – it’s the most “churchy” thing out there. 2) The saints want all of us to see and worship God, which is why they strove to live exemplary lives, which is why we remember and honor them. Don’t you have a picture of your grandmother anywhere? Don’t you have something that she owned or wore? Isn’t it special to you because she’s your family – you love her, and you see this material thing as a connection to her memory and an encouragement in the blessing she was in your life? That’s the core of it, really. 1) I’ve done the best I can to be patient and responsive to your concerns, Wilma. I apologize for repeating the name they used for you over on Amy’s blog. That said, one more crack about “insanity” and I will permanently ban you. This is my blog, and you are a guest here.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how the whole body parts thing got started; I think it had to do with the fact that during the first 300 years of Christianity, coming across a Christian’s dead body wasn’t all that rare an occurrence, and St. Augustine and other early Christians speak of miracles connected with being the presence of saints’ bodies or tombs." So you don't know but you honor it anyway? Shall I teach you a thing or two about Necromancy?

I don’t wish to know anything about necromancy, thanks. But check out what happened when some folks tossed someone’s dead body into the prophet Elisha’s fresh grave (II Kings 13:20-21). God can and does do miracles with whatever He chooses. The early Christians attest to the miracles mentioned above. Your quarrel is with them, not with me.

"Not to belabor the point, but contact, interaction, and dialogue with other religions does not constitute endorsement, acceptance, or “embracing” everything in those other religions. Catholic teaching holds that other religions may have some limited grasp on spiritual truth, and we dialogue with them in hopes of reinforcing whatever truth they have." 2Cr 6:15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

The apostles did not have "rap" sessions about Baal, Isis, and Molech. Neither did they hold world-wide prayer sessions for all the pagans to go offer their sacrifices {Right from the Vatican website one can view some Vooduns offering their liquor libations to the "spirits" at Assisi}. They preached the true gospel, not the antichrist universalist "cosmic christ gospel" where as your last Pope stated..."Jesus" is found via false religions.

Here is what he said: “It will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that members of other religions respond positively to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour". (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue-Congregation for The Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation, 19 May 1991 n29; L’Ossertavore Romano English Edition, 1 July 1991, p.III)

Your last Pope {as well as the present one} must have missed these verses. Act 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 2Cr 11:4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or [if] ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with [him].

So your religious "dialogue", is NOT Biblical. All of the above would make your favorite wannabe Buddhist man Merton anything but a would be Saint.

In your interpretation of II Cor. 6:15, you are assuming that “Belial” and “the infidel” is synonymous with every single person, culture, and artifact on the planet that does not worship God, pray, and read the Bible exactly as you do. Catholics do not interpret this passage this way. Again, because of our view that the Fall did not destroy, but rather wounded, the image of God in humankind, there are some things in human cultures that are simply human, that retain some salvageable goodness, and they’re not all automatically consigned to the realm of the satanic. Consider: Q: Is a baseball game good or evil? A: It depends on the way the players play the game. Sometimes heroic sacrifices are made; sometimes people cheat. It’s the players’ individual moral choices, based on their conscience, that determine the character of the game. Not all pagan cultural artifacts and practices, including those having to do with religion, are inherently demonic; rather a lot of pagan and non-Christian religious practices are simply human efforts to reach the Truth, the Divine, with varying (but inadequate) degrees of success. Works, if you will, apart from grace.

So, here’s the thing: I completely agree with the quotation above from the Pontifical Council – that’s what I believe. However, I do not believe that this contradicts the Bible verses you quoted below it. God’s mercy is wider than our vision of it; if He wants to reach out and save some suffering native in Uganda that’s never heard the Gospel of Christ, it’s within His prerogative to do so. (See Romans 9:14-16.) Also, the Bible says that one’s actions, based on the witness of one’s conscience, will either accuse or excuse a person on Judgment Day – whether or not that person has ever heard the Gospel (Romans 2:9-16). This is the key, though: If anyone is saved, it’s Jesus Christ that saves them. (Acts 4:12 - yes, absolutely.) If anyone receives mercy at the hand of God in the midst of their ignorance, it’s because Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible.

And, the Apostle Paul did in fact dialogue with the philosophers on Mars Hill in a culturally relevant way, even quoting their own poets, in order to help them grasp the fullness of the truth in Christ (Acts 17:21-34).

"Regarding the Assisi gatherings to pray for peace – come now, would you prefer that humans not ask whatever Higher Power they believe in for help in achieving peace on earth? Would you prefer that we give up hope for a peaceful coexistence between different religions and cultures, and return to blowing each other up to the last man standing? Unless you can grasp the meaning of the difference between religious dialogue and syncretism, based on what I've already said, it won’t do much good for me to continue to try to explain it."
I don't care about the line between religious dialogue and syncretism which in Catholicism seems to move every year, but the line set forth by God's command which is this.. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. So when Rome has prayer sessions for peace with Vooduns, Shintoists, Jainists, Buddhists, Islamics, and right on the Vatican website, pretty much state they are all praying to the same "God"---in that horrid Lucis Trustesque prayer, your church has flunked Christianity 101, and has broken the first commandment! I can find an example of this, EVERY WEEK, where someone like the Dalai Lama who definitely preaches "another gospel" and is "antichrist" by all scriptural tests-- who directly denies Jesus Christ is invited in and lauded by the Catholic clergy right in their cathedrals.

Again and again, we see the Roman Catholic church praising and lauding other religions from Cardinals praying to Allah, praising Buddha's teachings and lighting incense to Ganesha {I can prove all this happened} and Catholics in the pews being led more and more into universalism. What has happened at Georgetown is par for the course, they are not just wayward "disobedient" liberals. They are following the examples from the TOP. 2Co 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Eph 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them...

As I read through this, I’m more and more convinced it won’t do much good for me to continue trying to explain how Catholicism sees itself in relation to other world religions. I will say the following, however:

1) The yardstick for measuring Truth is held firmly in the Church’s own hand. She does not accept other’s views as to what is good at face value, but judges by her own standards. You are quite wrong to say that the Catholic Church "flunks Christianity 101" and "breaks the first commendment" - since the Catholic Church decides what constitutes the Christian faith and is not measured by any standard except the teaching of the Apostles, received from Christ Himself.

2) Though they hold a much different view of His character, Muslims do (or attempt to) worship the One God, that Person of the Trinity revealed to Jews as Yahweh and to Christians as God the Father. Since Islam is a monotheistic religion, they have grasped the truth that there is only one God, and Catholics, measuring by the light of Christian revelation, regard that as a step in the right direction. It doesn’t bother me that Muslims call the One God “Allah” (which is Arabic for God) anymore than my Mexican friends at church call God “Dios Padre”. (It does bother me that several groups of Muslims have exhibited a disturbing tendency to blow up people they disagree with.) “Allah” is simply God’s name in another language. No other deity is being named; I would venture to say that Muslims do not intend to name another deity, because they believe (as we do) that there is none. That said, I do not accept Islam’s view of God as an implacable judge who demands the immediate murder of all unbelievers. Nor do I accept the tenets of Buddhism, which insist that I detach my self-concept from my God-given personality in search of some “higher wisdom” apart from who God made me to be. There’s no way that I’m “yoked to unbelievers” as a member of the Roman Catholic Church – except in the sense of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30) – and that parable applies to the body of all baptized Christians. However, if the Lucis Trust stumbled upon some true idea in the midst of their theosophical weirdness, it would not be wrong to say, “This one idea is true, and the rest is false.” Remember the old proverb: Even a clock that is stopped tells the correct time – but only twice a day.

As for your pop culture inquiries, all you have shown me is that the things of this world are far more important to you and these other folks, then God's Word, and commands. You stick to these things because they appeal to the flesh. Jam 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Modern horror does NOT teach the things of God {as an ex-horror fan, I could write an essay even on what sort of things Stephen King stands for...by the way his daughter is a UU minister.} If you are looking for salvation and the answers to life via The Corpse Bride, Alien, Freddy Vs. Jason, Stephen King, Dracula, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes and other worldly, occultic, satanic, evil movies, you will only be led into more and more error and the things of the world. Even the idea that you see horror movies as "Christian" tells me that you are extremely lost, and excusing these things so that you may continue indulging in them. I repented of this in my past and now with the Holy Spirit indwelling in me, am truly revolted by them as is every other true child of God.

So, I’m “extremely lost”, eh? I should let you know that I’m having trouble seeing the pathway to truth in the midst of your long, antagonizing screeds – but I suppose that means I’m “blind” as well. *Sigh.

I’m getting tired, so my responses are getting shorter:

First, contrast James 4:4 with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…” God loved the world enough to send Jesus Christ to die for us. Whether you feel you have to love it or hate it, it all depends on how you define “world” - and my comments above will have to suffice on that.

I am in no way “looking for salvation” through horror films. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior; how many times and in how many ways do I have to say that before you believe me? I actually agree in the main with your statement that modern horror films often don’t reflect a Christian conception of the moral universe – it’s the classic horror genre (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolfman) that depicts more accurately the battle between good and evil. However, some modern horror films do in fact tell stories of heroic battles and victories over evil – The Exorcism of Emily Rose being one. I reject the idea that this whole genre of pop culture should be off limits to the “true child of God” because conversations about the questions it raises do in fact yield good spiritual fruit, and this is precisely why I enjoy and support Cornerstone Festival’s Imaginarium lecture series.

In closing, here are some more Scripture verses for you (not that I think we’ll get anywhere with prooftexting):

Matt. 7:1-2: "Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”

Psalm 37:8: “Give up your anger, abandon your wrath; do not be provoked; it brings only harm.”

James 1:20: “The wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.”

I John 4:20-21: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

And with that, I’m done with this. Wilma, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to continue this exchange; I think its profitability is about spent for both of us. I sincerely wish you God’s blessings on your way.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One day I was walking through the park, just minding my own business...

In visiting Amy Welborn’s blog today, I stumbled into a conversation about Georgetown University and a conflict going on there about evangelical groups (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship among them) being denied a campus presence at the behest of the Protestant chaplaincy. See here for the details. I don’t really know what’s going on; I’ll let the more knowledgeable and involved folks duke it out over there. The angle that interested me was that some conservative Catholic folks on the comment thread were saying that the evangelicals were asked to meet off-campus because their pro-life and anti-homosexual-marriage views ran counter to the beliefs of the mainline Protestant chaplaincy, though the reason given for their expulsion was their insistence on “proselytizing” in defiance of an agreement not to do so. I’ll reprint for you here the one comment I made on the subject:

“Re: the Georgetown dustup - being a convert from evangelicalism, I should underline for you all that evangelicals and Protestants are by no means a monolithic block - "there's all kinds of them just like there's all kinds of us", as Flannery O'Connor said. Whether or not it's actually the case here, from my experience of the Protestant chaplaincy on the campus of Wellesley College in the '80s (the head of which performed a lesbian "wedding" in the college chapel the year after I graduated), I can totally see the pro-life, anti-homosex folks being booted off campus for being difficult and embarrassing, and I wouldn't put it past Protestant mainliners for taking advantage of the largesse of Catholic ideas of ecumenism to accomplish their own goals. Just my $0.02.”

I also ran into Wilma, a Bible-only Christian (I hope she’s OK with that description) and fellow commenter on the thread. She challenged our commitment as Catholics to the truth of the Gospel; in the light of what I’ve heard about the current spiritual climate at Georgetown, I can see why she might be concerned. I invited her over to chat some more about Catholics and Christians, and to read my last few posts here, and she sent some comments along. Since I’m not sure whether she’ll see my responses in the comments boxes below, I thought I’d create a new post with my responses.

Regarding my post An Experience with St. Therese, Wilma had this to say:

“’The holiness and integrity that Christ had given her somehow imprinted and soaked into those bones, leaving a spiritual aroma that attracted us all, that we sensed as we gathered in faith to honor her.’ You have got to be kidding me. Dead people's body parts. How gross is that? What stops any of you from digging up grandma to feel the ‘love’? This is what Jesus taught: Mat 8:22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

Hi, Wilma – um, thanks for coming over. I’m not quite sure where to begin, but I guess I’ll start here: One of the most subtle but most important distinctions between Calvinist and Catholic theology is their very different views of the relationship between matter and spirit. Catholics hold that because of the Incarnation, matter and spirit can coexist, as they did in the Person of Jesus Christ; i.e., the redemption and transformation of matter/the material world into the Kingdom of God began with the Incarnation. This means also that matter, e.g. our mortal bodies, can be infused with grace – which they are in the sacraments.

This causes Catholics to honor (I say honor, not worship) those material things which we see as windows into the Beyond, into the heart of God – including the Eucharist, icons of various kinds, and relics of deceased saints. It is precisely because we want to honor our beloved Grandma’s body that we dress it in her favorite clothes, place it in a cushioned casket, lay it carefully in the ground, and bury it gently against the day of Jesus’ Return, when her body and spirit will be reunited in the Great Resurrection. This reflects our belief that Jesus didn’t die and rise again to save us from our mortal bodies; He means to save and redeem our bodies as well. (See I Cor. 15: 42-44).

Truthfully, I don’t know how the whole body parts thing got started; I think it had to do with the fact that during the first 300 years of Christianity, coming across a Christian’s dead body wasn’t all that rare an occurrence, and St. Augustine and other early Christians speak of miracles connected with being the presence of saints’ bodies or tombs. This would be a natural extension of the phenomenon described in Acts 19:11-12 (kerchiefs taken from Paul’s presence/body healed the sick). See here (especially the third paragraph) for more information.

Lastly, looking at the context of the verse you quoted, I hope you’ll agree that Jesus is talking not about literal death and burial practices, but about a relationship that his questioner couldn’t leave behind to follow Him. This obviously was a relationship standing in the way of his relationship with Jesus; the saints, whose spirits are in the heart of God, always point us toward Him, just as the rest of our Christian friends do.

Wilma also had this to say about my comments below on universalism (Wilma in bold, me in regular font):

Ah Unitarian-Universalists...Did you know the Pope's had the president of the UUA to come and visit?

The Pope (specifically, John Paul II) had the president of Cuba, one Fidel Castro, over to visit once. This does not mean he or any Catholic is therefore a Communist. Next.

Did you know that that JPII and now Benedict support the WCRP, a Unitarian Universalist founded "interfaith" organization? Did you know that one of the last prayer's for Assisi sounds JUST like the Alice Bailey/ Lucis Trust inspired one world religion "Great Invocation"? The Theosophical UUs LOVE IT. RIGHT FROM THE VATICAN website... Short exhortation by the Holy Father: Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God's name, may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love! How UNIVERSALIST can you get?

[Also, from one of her previous comments on the Georgetown U. thread:]
Catholicism supports the new one world universalist order which embraces all false religions and stands opposed to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ve puzzled for a bit over how to respond to this charge. Wilma, did you see my response below to Marc’s concern about Thomas Merton and his alleged Buddhist leanings? Not to belabor the point, but contact, interaction, and dialogue with other religions does not constitute endorsement, acceptance, or “embracing” everything in those other religions. Catholic teaching holds that other religions may have some limited grasp on spiritual truth, and we dialogue with them in hopes of reinforcing whatever truth they have.

If you subscribe to the particular end-times scenario which includes a One World Religion, I suppose I should tell you what in some circles is an open secret: Catholics do hope for the coming of a “one world religion” – actually, a return to a “one world Christianity”, which is Catholicism. We do plan to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, as He commanded us to do in Acts 1:8, and we work to establish Christian cultural reflections of His truth, justice, and love in every venue possible. We know, however, that the Kingdom of God won’t come completely until Jesus returns, but until then, the Kingdom of God is already on earth, beginning its occupation of “enemy territory”, via Christ’s presence in His Bride, the Catholic Church. I imagine this upsets you further, but I’d be remiss in my duties as a Christian if I didn’t inform you.

Regarding the Assisi gatherings to pray for peace – come now, would you prefer that humans not ask whatever Higher Power they believe in for help in achieving peace on earth? Would you prefer that we give up hope for a peaceful coexistence between different religions and cultures, and return to blowing each other up to the last man standing? Unless you can grasp the meaning of the difference between religious dialogue and syncretism, based on what I've already said, it won’t do much good for me to continue to try to explain it.

Here’s Wilma’s comment on My Summer Vacation:

“And it was there that Gary and I discovered the delightful sense in which, through the power of literary reiteration, 'King Kong died for your sins’.”

And you're surprised a Bible Christian is upset?

I guess everything [including outrageous blasphemy] is A-ok in the erudite world of Emergent Pagan Catholicism. King Kong, Tolkien, Labyrinths, Horror Movies, and Mexican Paganism....Maybe next year they can plan a Solstice Summer Celebration, The Tao of Stephen King, prayer to the Four Winds, Sage burning and Diva Ultra-Goddess Theology class for wayward yuppies who want to play at being "religious" instead of actually seeking after God’s Will and learning His Word.

Wow. Um – OK, let’s start with King Kong. I guess you didn’t follow the link to Rod Bennett’s blog Tremendous Trifles (linked above), where he explains exactly how and why the sentiment “King Kong died for your sins” isn’t a casual blasphemy, taken in the context of pop culture mythology. If you did, I guess it didn’t make much of a dent in your way of thinking.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is so full of God and Christian spiritual truth that I can’t see how a fellow Christian wouldn’t see that – except that perhaps you might object to his characterization of a wizard as a good guy. If that’s the case, and you can’t see any further into his stories - well, I’m sorry you missed it.

Labyrinths: I don’t care if you don’t like them. I don’t care much for them either. If the platter of sweet potatoes isn’t to your liking, just pass it down and keep your grimace to yourself.

The genre of modern horror is one of the only venues left in pop culture where novelists and filmmakers are asking the Big Questions: Is there a God? Does Satan exist? What happens when I die? What is the purpose of life? What’s my responsibility to my fellow man? Can love be eternal? I contend that it’s not sinful for Christians to enjoy talking and thinking about the ways in which human fears and longings for salvation are expressed in these films; in fact, Christians must engage in these conversations in order to provide compelling, truthful answers to these Big Questions. At the very least, we must learn the language of the natives in order to understand the point at which Christ can enter and save their universe.

Wilma, they’ve called you a troll over on Open Book. Though I also noticed the similarity between your nom de plume and early Protestant reformer William Tyndale, I’m using it because that’s the only handle you’ve given me. If you’re really interested in dialogue, I’m happy to continue; if you’re only interested in venting your spleen, however, I suggest you leave it for now and refocus on whatever good works God is preparing for you to walk in today. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Proper Scaring

I was born in 1964, the summer that Flannery O’Connor died. On the day that Flannery lay in a hospital bed in southern Georgia, stared at the ceiling and then closed her eyes, her body about to succumb to the last attacks of lupus, her soul about to ascend to the heavenlies, and her writing career about to end abruptly and tragically at the age of thirty-nine, I awoke from a nap in my crib in a southern California suburban ranch-style house, stared at the ceiling through wide three-week-old eyes, and then cried for something to eat – ready to get started with the project of life on Earth. A strange connection, to be sure, but ever since I discovered and began reading Flannery O’Connor, I’ve felt a kinship with her, a sense of family – like she’s my crazy Southern aunt that got locked away and nobody talked about, until they couldn’t keep her a secret anymore.

Unlike Flannery, I wasn’t born into a Catholic family; I was raised Baptist and wandered through several Christian expressions before discovering the beauty and depth of Catholic theology and worship. I first encountered Flannery’s writing through a quote in Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning closed one of his chapters with a quote from Flannery’s short story Revelation (with one of her characters having a mystical vision of souls on their way to Heaven), and it struck me so powerfully that I searched for the largest, most extensive compilation of her works that I could find and read it cover to cover during the months that I went through the Church’s initiation and confirmation process. Flannery’s spooky short stories and novels, her vivid characters and dialogue, and her insightful and dryly humorous letters and essays were quite agreeable companions on my journey into the history and thought patterns of the Catholic way. (Her short story The Enduring Chill was especially educational as to the sorts of priests that I might meet.) I do wish she’d lived longer and written more; along the lines of the adaptation of her short story The Life You Save for television in the ‘50s, perhaps a script or two for Chris Carter’s TV series The X-Files would have been in order, featuring a charismatic faith healer who isn’t quite what he seems…

Yet, her body of work has retained enough influence in literary circles that, thank heaven, she hasn’t left us completely. A lot of Flannery O’Connor remains to be found in a few pockets of popular culture to this day, especially in those places where she and her work are woven into the fabric of American Southern subculture.

* * *

In December 2005, my husband and I went on a pilgrimage of sorts to Milledgeville, Georgia, where Flannery went to high school and college, and then spent her later years. We drove into town on a sunny afternoon and set about finding Flannery things to do and see.

Milledgeville is a college town of about 19,000; it was once the capital of the state of Georgia, and the Old State House now serves as a local museum. Much of the city was built in the early 1800s, and most of the downtown area has been beautifully restored – or well-kept - by its residents. My husband Gary remarked that the sights reminded him of his own college days in Northampton, Massachusetts (though Milledgeville is about half its size) – lots of bookstores, cafes, college-age folk strolling the streets, and flower baskets hanging from lampposts. We found the Chamber of Commerce and asked about sites and exhibits related to Flannery; we were disappointed to learn that tours of her home at Andalusia Farm required advance notice, and we didn’t have another day to spare. We loaded ourselves up with flyers and brochures, and we went in search of as much Flannery as we could fit into the rest of our fleeting winter afternoon.

Flannery is buried next to her parents in Memory Hill Cemetery, located at the southern edge of the downtown/college campus district. We consulted the map we’d been given and set to searching for her name amid the scrubby yellow grass and multiple concrete curbed-off sections. After some arguing over how to interpret the directions and numbers on the cemetery diagram, we encountered a section guarded by a low wrought-iron fence. Within this space were three large slabs of granite set horizontally in the ground, covering each grave. The one in the center bore the inscription:

MARCH 25, 1925
AUGUST 3, 1964

We stared a long moment – I for a longer moment than Gary. He seemed anxious to get on with the rest of our journey; we had plans to be in Macon by dusk and the sun, though still high, was inexorably sinking toward the treeline. I sensed his impatience and turned to go, but inside I felt drawn to stay – as if roots from the nearby rosebush were reaching up from below the ground to grab at my shoes, holding my feet where they were. Yet, I don’t quite know what I was expecting; I saw no thunder bolts from the heavens, heard no voices from beyond the grave. Finally I bent down, reached across the ironwork, and put my hand down on the cold stone beside the pennies and nickels that other tourists had pitched onto it and gushed, “Oh, Flannery – bless me, bless me, bless me.” My husband looked away, a little embarrassed, and said, “OK, let’s go.” As we walked away toward our car, I looked back and wondered what I’d just done; being a convert, I don’t know proper ways to venerate a saint’s relics, but I had a small hope that somehow she and God would be pleased.

Next on our list of attractions was Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which had been Flannery’s parish. After more argument (over the town map this time), we ended up parked on the street on the south side of the Old State Capitol (now the home of Georgia Military College) instead of the north side, which was near the church. It was only a couple of blocks away, so we decided to calm ourselves (and try to remember to enjoy our vacation despite our moods) by walking across the green, park-like campus to the church.

As we started across, two dogs appeared from behind the tall Douglas fir and cedar trees standing like stately pillars in the midst of the well-kept lawn. The dogs were tawny-colored, and lean but muscular; one had a woven nylon collar, the other had none. The two of them were about the same (large) size – almost three feet at the shoulder. The word “boxer” popped into my head as the name for the breed, though I don’t know dogs and I usually wouldn’t know any dog from Adam (or Lassie, in this case). They were friendly with each other, as if they were… hunting pals. They trotted along either side of the path as we walked, keeping pace with us; then they circled behind us, then one galloped ahead to snuffle at a bush, then fell back to our pace – holding our every step, our every move in their peripheral vision all the while. Their interest unnerved me. As we walked past the empty buildings, I tried to keep my eyes focused straight ahead – but whenever I turned to look at a tree or an intriguing architectural feature, at least one of the dogs was in my field of vision, looking intently at me.

I watched them watch us as we made our way across the campus, and though they never approached within five feet, I sensed that they were containing us to the path; this soon progressed to the observation that they were all-out stalking us. Large dogs frighten me a bit, having been bitten once as a child by a neighbor’s unruly collie, so I didn’t regard these beasts as pleasant company on our little walk, especially in the absence of anyone who looked like their owner. Gary complained as I picked up my pace: “Come on – what’s the hurry?” “I don’t like these dogs,” I replied, my teeth clenched. “Calm down – they’re fine”, he said. I tossed an exasperated look his direction and kept walking.

In the middle of the quad was the Old State House. As we neared it, it looked less like a medieval fortress (as it appeared in the postcards at the Chamber) and more like a rundown hotel, though it was a lovely example of Old World antebellum architecture. However, I was distracted from my observations by my growing uneasiness with the circling tawny-colored sets of sharp claws and teeth, and my most pressing thought was that we might be able to duck inside for a few minutes and see if the dogs would lose their inordinate interest in us. Gary went one way around the building and I went the other to see if the museum was open for business, but alas, it was deserted and every door was shut and locked tight. We hadn’t seen one single person beside ourselves on the entire campus yet – but the dogs followed us around the building, watching us, running ahead, play-snapping at each other as they passed each other, circling. I set my face like flint toward the gate to the village at the other side of the quad and kept walking, determined not to make eye contact with either dog.

My heart beat faster as the dogs seemed to approach closer and closer on their passes. The incident from elementary school played in my mind, and then again, and again. After a couple replays, I searched through the “tape” for clues as to when the dog nearest me might lunge, the exact moment I should leap to dodge his jaws, when to take off back toward the car in a dead run… as if I were fleeing down Brookridge Street again, away from that stupid, mean, black-and-white collie.

We reached the gate at the other side of the quad, and we stepped through it onto the sidewalk across the street from Sacred Heart Church. I thought, We made it. Those dogs won’t follow us across the street. I heaved a good-sized sigh of relief, and I chuckled a little with Gary as he pressed the crosswalk button.

The traffic light changed and we walked across the street. We checked the map; Sacred Heart was actually one more block north, so we walked on towards it. I looked back toward the intersection just to make sure the dogs were gone - and I saw with horror that they had patiently waited in the midst of other pedestrians for the light to change again, and at the moment it did, they calmly trotted in front of the stopped cars and across the street toward us. I thought, Surely they won’t get vicious in front of all these people; maybe they’ll choose a more sickly-looking member of this human herd to hunt down and maul to death. My heart continued its thumping and climbing into my throat as we made our way toward the church and up the front steps.

It was silent, empty, and shut tight as well. I was almost ready to grab the doorknob and twist it, rattle it, pull on it, start pounding on the door: “Help! Let us in! Somebody’s after us! We’re being hunted… um… followed… um… hello?”

The dogs were jumping and playing with each other, stopping occasionally to sniff the bushes by the church steps. If I could have heard them speaking to the passers-by, I’ll bet it would have been something like: “Hi there – nice day, huh? Yeah, we’re just out seeing the sights, sniffing the smells, exploring the environs of our lovely little village. Them? Oh, just some friends from out of town – showing them around. Well, have a nice day! See you around.” Nothing to see here, move along.

It was apparent to Gary and I that we weren’t going to be able to go inside, so we peered in the windows. We wondered aloud whether Flannery used to sit in the front or in the back, or somewhere in the middle; then a wave of fear rose inside me and wrenched my attention back to the present. A quick glance at the dogs, and then at the sky, reminded us that the afternoon was nearly spent; we had to get back on the road to Macon soon, so we turned and headed back in the direction of our car.

We backtracked our trail up the block and across the intersection; the dogs now walked alongside us as if they were our best friends, as if they belonged to us. The passers-by nodded toward our little company as we made our way back to the path through the gate to the college quad.

As we walked briskly back to our car with the dogs keeping closer pace with us than ever, it finally dawned on me: If they were going to attack you, they probably would have done so by now, don’t you think? I considered this and took another deep breath, and let my pace slow down just a little. I let my eyes wander from their fixation on the path ahead to the dogs as they continued to dance around us. I watched them run and jump and discover things in the lawn that apparently were never there before, and I allowed myself a little smile as I wondered, Do these dogs just live here? Who do they belong to? Are they neighbors’ dogs? Strays? Where did they come from?

Suddenly, the dog behind me stopped and stood dead still. By now I was getting used to his company, so I stopped and turned to see what the matter was. Before I could turn all the way around, he was off like a shot, way down the path in front of us – in pursuit of a squirrel that had just climbed down a tree to the ground.

The boxer’s companion saw him running, so he came tearing across the quad to join him. They cornered the squirrel in a recessed sewer grate near the gated entrance to the campus. They barked, lunged, and pawed at him; I saw the squirrel’s head poke out beside the grate above the ground and thought for a moment the little guy might escape, then –

I heard a small squeak and a final growl as the collared boxer lunged once more and took the squirrel’s head in his jaws. The other dog quickly grabbed the other share of the squirrel’s body and tail in his own mouth, and together they turned their rumps to us and trotted away across the grass, carrying the doomed squirrel like triumphant Olympic relay racers taking a victory lap with the American flag. As they approached the base of a large cedar tree, one decided he didn’t want to share his prize, and he slowed for a moment; the other didn’t let go and swung himself around to face his buddy. The negotiation tug-of-war lasted only for a second as the body of the squirrel was easily pulled in half, Solomon-like. For the first time the dogs then parted company, each loping away to separate corners of the campus and his own secret bone-burying territory with a satisfied pink-and-black doggie grin.

I couldn’t move for about a minute. My eyes were so wide, I thought I might be blinded by the low-hanging red winter sun. The only words I could formulate in response to my husband’s bemused look were, “Oh my God.” And then, “Did you see that?”

I was a little shaky getting back in the car, but when I shut the door, the release of my held breath seemed to scour out the last of my fear; with my next breath, it was replaced by a numb daze. I had taken the wheel; Gary took the map, and I obeyed all his directions to get on the highway with no argument – not a word. I noticed my glassy-looking eyes reflected in the rearview mirror.

As the adrenalin subsided, I was filled with a sense of wonderment. It wasn’t until we got to Macon and told the story to our friends that I realized: Flannery had indeed blessed me with a deeply personal (and quite proper) scaring.

[Hat tip for the image above: John Murphy.]

Friday, August 04, 2006

More on My Summer Vacation

My post below about the Cornerstone Imaginarium has sparked some conversation in the comments box. I'm very happy to have you all over! Thanks for coming to visit.

One visitor took issue with some aspects of my post; here below is my response to his concerns.


[Marc in bold, me in regular font]

Hi Kathleen, I agree with your assessment about the t-shirt and the tattoos but that's where it ended for me. You described Universalists as Christians which either means you are not informed on their theology or lack there of, or you are completely lacking in the discernment area. Calling Universalists Christians is like using the term flaming snowflakes. They just don't go together. Universalists do not believe Jesus is the only way to salvation which is what the bible clearly teaches. I guess I would have to ask if you believe Jesus is the only way.

Your careful reading of my post is evident in noting that I was a little sloppy in my use of the term Universalist. All I was trying to say was that there were Christians of all stripes, i.e. from A to Z, at Cornerstone. Truth to tell, I was simply looking for a denomination name from the end of the alphabet to put in the sentence in question: “With every conceivable Christian expression from Anabaptists and Anglicans to Ukrainian Catholics and Universalists represented…” (I couldn’t think of any that started with Z, Y, X, W, or V.)

However, I will say this: I believe you might be mistaking me for saying that Unitarians are legitimately counted as Christians, which I do not think they are. Unitarians, as the name implies, don’t believe in the Trinity, and thus they deny that Jesus is God – and I completely agree, this disqualifies them from being considered a “Christian expression”. In the early 1960s, the Unitarians in this country merged with another group calling itself Universalist, and they go by the name Unitarian Universalist – so it’s easy to conflate the two terms.

Universalists actually hold a slightly different belief than strict Unitarians; they do allow that Jesus is the Son of God and the means by which salvation came to the whole world, but they believe that His sacrifice on the Cross bought salvation for everybody automatically, regardless of whether they ever appropriate it by faith. In other words, Universalists are the ones who ask, “How could a loving God ever send anyone to Hell?” and often deny Hell’s existence outright. In case you wondered, I am not a Universalist; I believe in Hell because the Scriptures and the Creeds teach that it exists. I do everything I can to avoid Hell and to steer others clear of it. Catholic teaching is not universalist; though some Catholic theologians have speculated that God’s mercy might be so powerful that Hell stands empty, as far as we know, there are many good arguments against that idea. For the definitive word on H-E-double-toothpicks, see here. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that, however repentant I may be, some of my own sins won’t cause me to burn in Hell – it’s only Jesus’ precious Blood that I trust in to save me from such a fate, and Scriptures like John 10:27-28 encourage me. But I realize that the “Hell might be empty” idea comes out of a deep reverence for the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and the oceanic depths of His mercy, and I strive to believe in His power and mercy deeper in my soul each day. I also try to encourage others to do the same, because I don’t believe any of us will make it to the finish line unless we grasp through faith the grace we need to live our lives for Jesus. I don’t believe anyone’s going to just coast into Heaven.

You also stated that Thomas Merton in your words, "needs no defense from me". I take that to mean you support his teaching which was by the end of his life more influenced by Buddhism than the Jesus found in the bible.

To be honest, I have read very little Merton outside of pithy quotes that friends have sent me. I know there are some that say that Merton was more Buddhist than Catholic by the end of his life; I would respond with the following: 1) It’s quite possible that those making this conclusion were themselves much more interested in Buddhism than the orthodox Catholic faith, and thus interpreted his writings in a certain way to get him “on their side”, and 2) it’s possible that if he was influenced by Buddhism, it may have been for the good. (I realize this second statement may scandalize you further; I hope my explanation doesn’t make it even worse, but here goes.)

Catholic teaching holds that there is one Church which was founded by Jesus Christ (“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” Eph. 4:4-5). This Church finds its fullest expression in the Roman Catholic Church. Her organizational structure was ordained by Christ (“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Mt. 16:18-19), and God promises to show up in the Sacraments celebrated by her priests (“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” Mt. 28:18-20). I do realize that Catholics interpret these Scriptures differently than Protestants; I’ve read many articles and essays deconstructing the Greek word petra/petros in Mt. 16, for example. Suffice to say that I believe the Catholic Church’s interpretation of these Scriptures on the authority of the magisterium, the Church’s teaching authority, which comes directly from the Apostles to whom Jesus spoke the above words.

Since her birth, the Catholic Church has understood herself to have been created by Jesus Christ – brought into being through His wounded side, like Eve from Adam – and thus regards herself as the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal, worldwide) Church. We constantly point to Christ as the Author of our salvation; we believe Acts 4:12 which says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." We also believe I Tim. 3:15, which describes “the household of God” as “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” This, by the way, is foundational to the idea that the Church and her traditions are sources of truth as well as Scripture; the Bible says that the truth is found in the Church.

However, Catholics recognize that other Christian groups, other religions, and many human cultural expressions have a hold on portions or fragments of that truth that is fully expressed and accessible through the Catholic Church. For example, Buddhism is a pagan religion that has grasped the concept of needing to examine and distance oneself from one’s fleshly desires. This knowledge is not salvific in itself, but it can point someone in the right direction towards Christ, i.e. help a person who’s having trouble managing desires that are contrary to God’s will. It’s possible that Merton encountered this idea in a Buddhist context, but Christ used it to bring him closer to Him. Again, I don’t know for sure, but this might be a plausible explanation. I’d encourage you to do your own research to see whether I’m right or wrong about Merton.

You also seem to believe in the appearances of Mary which in the end puts peoples eyes on Mary instead of where they belong, on Jesus. This is what I believe the bible is talking about when it talks about lying signs and wonders. With all this and more which I don't have time to comment on now, I am really surprised JPUSA has had you as a speaker.

Actually, I don’t have a huge devotion to Mary; I do pray the rosary now and then (which, by the way, is a method of prayer by which one focuses on events in the life of Jesus and seeks to “imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise”). As far as those incidents that have been approved by the Church, e.g. the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego at the bottom of Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City in 1531 that resulted in her picture (now known as the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe) on his cloak – I have learned a great deal about Jesus and His love from the Mexican folks at my parish who love Mary. The reason for this is that Mary always points to her Son – this, in fact, is one of the criteria taken into account when the Vatican evaluates reports of Marian apparitions. Remember the wedding at Cana – after her conversation with Jesus about the wine, she tells the servants (as she continually tells each one of us): “Do whatever He tells you.” I don’t find Mary and the saints distracting any more than I find my presently earth-dwelling Christian friends to be distracting – I trust that they’re trying to show me Christ, and I appreciate their encouragement on my walk.

I am sorry but I didn't want to leave it at that. I hope that you would prayerfully consider the things you are beleiving and teaching and test them in light of God's unchanging authoritative word. I guess there's one last thing I would want to comment on. In the beginning of your post you described Dwayna as a fundamentalist and put her in the company of Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, A.W. Tozer, Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Those are people that most evangelicals including myself would hold in very high esteem. I thought your description of a fundamentalist was fairly accurate in going back to it's origin in the early 20th century but there is an obvious stigma attached to the term these days which I'm sure you are aware of so I am a bit curious as to your motives in using that term. When most people use the term, they associate it with ignorant, backwoods hicks who like to test God with snakes and believe the King James version of the bible is the only legit. translation. I should note that Jonathan Edwards was attending Harvard at the age of 13 and Charles Spurgeon is widely known as the prince of preachers. I could go on about these men but I think the most important link is that they all had an esteem for Christ and an unfailing trust in His word. If that's the company you put Dwayna in, you can include me as well.

I suppose you’re right about the term fundamentalist. I am aware of the negative connotations of the word and used it despite that; I’m sorry for not taking the higher road and using another label. I thought that my description of the movement might help cradle Catholics and other folks unfamiliar with it to understand where the word comes from, so it wouldn’t be just an epithet thrown at Dwayna and her friends, but I guess that in my decision to use the word, I didn’t quite overcome my own personal negative feelings at my own friends (Lint Hatcher, John Morehead) being vilified on those comment threads over on Slice of Laodicea. Your point is well taken; I myself don’t much appreciate being called a “Romist”, “papist”, or “among the ranks of lost souls deceived by the Whore of Babylon”, so I’m happy to use whatever name you’d like me to use in order to ensure a civil and respectful tone to our conversation. Actually, I haven’t heard from Dwayna, so I don’t know if she was in fact offended by being described as a fundamentalist, if that makes any difference.

Re: Spurgeon et al.: I don’t doubt in the least that these men were smart - all smarter than me, in fact. However, it’s my understanding that they all held to very strict Calvinist theological structures and interpretations of Scripture which contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is why I disagree with them and with the vision of humanity and culture as seen through their lens. I don’t doubt that they all loved Jesus and believed in the Bible, but in my view, they came to erroneous conclusions about the nature of man and of God’s grace. For example, I believe that man is born with the stain of original sin, but not in total depravity. This difference has huge implications for how we as Christians engage the cultures of the world, including our own. I can go into this further at a later date, if you like.

Though I'm sure I don't agree with Dwayna on everything, I'm pretty sure we agree on the essentials of the faith and I am very concerned that you don't hold those essentials in as high esteem. I like what Walter Martin once said in describing the essentials (fundamentals of the faith). The essentials are the line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the cults. I guess each of us have to ask which kingdom we're walking in. Pretty big question if you ask me. Thanks and God bless, Marc

You seem to be wondering whether I’m in the Kingdom of God, or if I really care. Let me assure you, I do care quite a bit. The question we should look at first, though, is: How is a person saved? How do you get into the boat that sails to the other side, to the Kingdom of Light? Catholics answer this question with the following Scripture: "Baptism, which corresponds to [the Flood in Noah’s time], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (I Pet. 3:21). This does not mean that all people who receive a Christian baptism (in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) have a free ticket to heaven; by no means. Baptism is the beginning of the process of being saved. In the New Testament, various Greek verb tenses are used to describe salvation (“you have been saved” [Eph. 2:8], “us who are being saved” [I Cor. 1:18], “we shall be saved” [Acts 15:11]) – that’s past, present, and future. What Protestants regard as a two-step process (first justification, then sanctification), Catholics regard as one single path (e.g., “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” [Phil. 2:12]). Baptism is the start of the journey, but you’ve got to persevere in faith in order to get there – sort of a combination of the Baptist “once saved, always saved” idea and the necessity for the “perseverance of the saints”.

Thus, since Catholics don’t see a line in the sand between “saved” and “not saved”, but regard folks as being at various stages in the process, we’re reluctant to judge whether a person is going to end up in heaven or hell. We consider it our responsibility to point people in the right direction and encourage people toward whatever light of truth they have or can grasp, and we trust the Holy Spirit will bring other people and ideas along to keep them going forward. It’s the Holy Spirit that converts and changes people’s hearts, after all.

Below is a concise statement of what I believe to be the essentials of the faith, and I honestly believe it with my whole heart:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

This statement, by the way, is called the Apostle’s Creed, the oldest creed that church historians know of (it was written sometime before A.D. 100), and it serves as the foundation of all orthodox Catholic and Christian theology. I offer it here in hopes that it will challenge you, and anyone else reading, to ask: Do I have any “lines of demarcation” of my own with regard to the truth about Christ and His Church? How can I progress to deeper faith in Him?

God’s blessing be yours, Marc. Thanks for the chance to chat.