My Phenomenological Turn

It’s been a while since I have written on my neglected blog site. Facebook and Pinterest have satisfied my needs for the kinds of “snack-sized” sharing and diverse idea hoarding that made up a lot of my old blog called Overflow. And life has been such that I have not been making time for the deeper kinds of thought required for more substantial writing.

Maybe that’s not fair to me. I do deep thinking all the time. But I rarely have my thoughts organized enough to write it down nowadays unless it’s for work, or a research project, or prep to teach a class. I don’t do much intellectual dallying nowadays. And, well, that’s a shame.

But now something has kindled both my intellectual and spiritual interest, with just enough of a fig leaf of practicality that I can  persuade my “responsible brain” to take time to organize and write my thoughts down.

I am becoming an indirect fan of French Catholic philosopher Jean-Luc Marion and the apparent revolution in theological and philosophical thought happening in France. It piqued my interest to hear that a student of Jacques Derrida has made theology “hip” in contemporary French philosophy, the “Theological Turn” in Phenomenology as it is called. What grabbed and held my attention is the provocative title of Marion’s seminal work, “God Without Being.”

God without being. That struck me and stuck with me. I have always said to myself and others unfortunate enough to ask me that I truly do not care whether God exists and find all such discussions basically useless to my faith and how I live it out. In fact, I have been wary all my life of concepts of God that seem so inherently limited that they can end up being roadblocks to faith, especially as we grow more mature.

And now , in what passes as “breaking news” in the seemingly glacial world of theology, it looked like there were some authoritative kindred spirits out there who could help me develop my own “phenomenological turn.”

So I longed to get my hands on that book. I had a peek once, I did, but two pages hurt my head. It was like staring at the sun and I couldn’t squint hard enough to make heads or tails of what I was looking at. I don’t have the intellect and the requisite background on Rene Descartes, French Phenomenology, Jacques Derrida and postmodern “deconstructionism” to approach his writing, yet alone gain insight from it.

Luckily, I found a way to approach Marion indirectly, letting others do the heavy lifting. I got a bunch of articles about Marion’s ideas from the EBSCO database at my library. I decided to approach the mountain by stomping around the foothills. I found other authors, like Bruce Ellis Benson, who could summarize for me Marion’s key concepts and help me interpret them.

So, article by article, I am reading Jean-Luc Marion indirectly. Even indirectly, Marion’s concepts of “idol,” “distance,” “saturated phenomenon,” and “givenness” defy my cranial capacity. So this blog is where I will set down my marginal crib notes, starting with Dr. Benson’s article, “Love is a Given.

The teaser idea so far. What excites me, draws me in, is that Catholic Jean-Luc Marion agrees with Nietzche’s proclamation that “God is dead.” And that, it turns out, is a good thing. A  God “without Being”  paradoxically enables us to be closer and more intimate with him where it really counts.

More later, I promise…

 

 

A Conversation with my Teen about Lunch, God, and Dinner

In adoration yesterday this conversation came to me. i know I need to have this very conversation with my kids as they start to transition into adulthood. I promised this conversation back in the letter I wrote a few years back about the deeper reality of Santa Claus. I get a lot of ideas in adoration. But I knew I just had to write this down. It’s only a start, but it’s a start.

In it I imagine Aaron coming home from school with a complaint.

Did you pack my lunch this morning Dad?

Yeah. What about it?

Really, Dad? Juice box? String cheese? Animal crackers? You even cut up my grapes.

You used to love that stuff.

Yeah, like when I was like four years old.

In fact you wouldn’t eat a whole lot else back then. What? This lunch not good enough for you anymore?

Dad, I’m older now and this just doesn’t cut it. I need meat. Bread. Something to fill me up. At least make me a sandwich. You don’t have to cut my food up for me.

Yeah I know that. I gave you that lunch to make a point.

I knew it. It’s never just lunch with you. Amiright?

You know me well.

So what’s the point?

You outgrew your lunch. What is your ideal lunch now?

Pizza, burgers, cheese sticks, tacos. You, know. Real food.

Yeah I thought so. I was like that when I was your age. Look where that got me.

Oh no, is this a nutrition lecture? I think I have some studying to do…

No, no. Just pointing out that you will outgrow your current ideal lunch like you outgrew the one you loved when you were five.

I don’t think so.

I sure hope so. If you eat like that until you’re my age that diet will straight up kill you. It’s developmentally appropriate for you to like that food right now.

But you don’t let me have it that often. So…

So… I know that you’re there, but I also know you can’t stay there. You need to learn the grown up versions of things. You can’t always eat what’s easy, what’s most pleasurable. You can’t always eat for yourself. When you are older, you eat for others’ sake as well.

(blank stare)

You know how I told you that when you are an adult your job is to live for others in some way. You need to eat to be healthy and strong so you can be around for others. When you have children you will need to eat as an example for them. You’ll need to eat for your wife to show her that you’re serious about sticking around to love her and not abandon her. You eat for a lot of reasons besides, “Mmmm… that looks yummy.”

You’re not making adulthood seem very appealing.

Well, it’s not developmentally appropriate for you to think so yet. That’s okay. But as your father I have to nudge you along.

So this is a nudge? So you’re trying to get me to eat more salad or something?

Nope, I want you to get to know God better.

That was random. I thought we were talking about eating healthy and stuff.

We were. Do you know what the word “segue” means?

Nope.

It means to make a smooth transition from one context or subject to another. No segue for you. Stay with me. Do you believe in God?

Um… yeah, I guess. I’m supposed to, right?

It’s okay to say no.

I didn’t expect you to say that. I want to say no because I just don’t see how something like God can exist in the real world.

Then say no.

No. I guess I don’t believe in God.

You know what I hear when you say that?

What? That I’m grounded?

You’ve outgrown your five-year-old lunch.

You’ve lost me.

The God you thought you knew. The God described to you in bible stories when you were in preschool. The wise bearded superman in the sky. That’s not God. That’s more like Zeus. A primitive image. That’s an image of God that you’re supposed to outgrow. It was appropriate to describe God that way to you because that’s an image of benevolent, powerful authority that you could relate to. Something that looked like a parent, which at the time was pretty much your whole world. We weren’t lying to you then about God. We were just cutting God up into pieces before we served him to you.

I see what you did there. Like the lunch, right?

You always were a clever one. Here’s the first thing any adult has to understand about God. You can’t understand God. Anything you say about him is imperfect. Any God that fits tidily in your brain is a rather sad, limited kind of God. God is bigger than that.

Okay, so you’re going to get to the part where you tell me what God is?

Patience, grasshopper.

Grasshopper?

Sorry. I’m old. Remind me to see if we can find “Kung Fu” on Netflix. Anyway, any image of God is limited and imperfect. But some images of God have benefits that exceed their limitations. They help you develop your faith at a certain stages in your progress. You are supposed to outgrow them. Use them to seek him, but don’t cling to them. Do you know what “idolatry” means?

Worshipping statues and stuff?

It means confusing the symbol with what is symbolized. Worshipping the image that points to some aspect of God instead of God. Any mature Catholic should at least be partially agnostic because he knows his understanding of God is woefully inadequate. That there is way more he cannot say about God than what he can say.

Well, if God can’t be known, why bother?

I didn’t say God can’t be known. There are images of God we can know are true. And those images can be very helpful. But – remember this well – when you find yourself questioning your belief in God it means that the limitations of your concept of God have outweighed the benefits for you. Part of that image is still probably true, but you’ve outgrown it.

So I don’t believe in God like I did when I was five? And I need to change my image of God?

Yeah. Kinda.

So anyone can choose any image of God they want? Just what feels good? That doesn’t seem right.

Well, you sure can do that. Too many people do. They select a God that fits in a convenient box and keep him there. But no, that’s not right as I, and the Church, see it. We hold in common that there are some things that the Church says are definitely true about God. Then there are some things the Church says are definitely not true about God. But there’s way more that no one can say about God.

That’s if I believe the Church’s version of God, right?

Right. I hope, eventually, you will.

Why?

Because I am your father and I want you to grow up and be a fulfilled, happy person.

I do not see how a concept of God will do that for me.

It won’t. God. The real, living God. The God of the Catholic Church and the Judeo-Christian tradition will help you do that. Everyone has a “God” whether they call it that or not. The one you choose to follow makes a big difference in your life.

Even atheists have a “God?”

More or less. But it would be very impolite for you to say that to their faces. Their connotations of the word “God” tend to be negative. Probably because they’ve obviously outgrown whatever image of God they had as children. Somebody either crammed it down their throat for too long or they did not get help in finding their next understanding of God. Imagine your parents insisting that you eat string cheese and animal crackers for lunch your whole life. “God” to them is a lot like the limited, sad God I mentioned earlier. I don’t blame them for not believing in God. But they still have something that functions for them as “God.” We all do.

So what kind of God does an atheist believe in?

Remember, that’s not polite to say. But everybody has some context that guides the “Why” and the meaning of life. Science can tell us lots of facts about the world. But meaning has to come from somewhere else. People have to answer questions like, “What is the purpose of life?” “Why am I here?” “What is my best life?” When they are presented with the findings of Science – I am a big believer in science and reason – something provides the “So what?” There are lots of ways to answer those questions. Some are somewhat helpful, some help you coast aimlessly through life, and some are downright disastrous. Everyone chooses something that defines their context and meaning.

What if they refuse to choose?

They can’t. Saying that life has no meaning, that we are pointless, that everything is random is still a choice just like deciding that Love is the guiding purpose and meaning of existence. At some point you choose. Even those who just go through life following their biological urges, instincts, and desires are choosing with their actions if not their conscious minds. My first hope for you is that you make a conscious, reasoned choice, whatever you decide.

And so you want me to believe in your God.

Will all my heart. Actually I think you already do. I think your mind just has to catch up with your heart. You have a lot of love in your heart. I can see it through your actions. I am confident you have a lot of experience with God.

Okay, so catch my head up. Explain to me how I’ve experienced this God I don’t know how to believe in with my head.

I will, but not all at one time. We’d be here forever. But I can give you a few short things to think about until we have time to talk again.

And I bet that will be soon.

Because we’re on a roll.

Is that what you call it? Fine.

Well, to start, the name “Yahweh” in the Old Testament translates roughly into “That which holds all things in existence.” You do exist, right?

As far as I know.

Me too. And I am grateful for that fact. There is a famous theologian who said, “God is not a being. God is Being.” About sums it up.

God is Being? That’s it?

Imperfect image, remember. One of the oldest, least incorrect ones. But still an image. But, to me, it’s the most basic experience of God. I am. That’s what God told Moses to say who God is, remember? “I am.”

Pretty basic.

But here’s the next thing. The book of Genesis also tells us that God created the world from nothing. That means at some point there was nothing, and there was something. Creation “Ex Nihilo.”

So who created God?

God is not a being, remember. God does not do time. God just is. God is Being.

So you say.

So the bible says. And we have to decide that we’ll believe that.

Why should I?

Because, well, think about the implications of creation “ex nihilo,” out of nothing. At the beginning, God was God. Perfectly cool with being God. He did not need to make some little followers to adore him that he could boss around. God does not need anything. God is just God. So that means that, if creation wasn’t for him, it was for us. Creation is a gift. And then after he created, he pronounced it to be “very good.” We are very good. A gift from God.

So I should just believe that because the bible says it? We know the world wasn’t created like that.

Sure. Genesis is not a scientific document. It’s a theological document. The creation story communicates truth, not scientific fact.

So why should I believe that everything is a gift and my existence is “very good?” Why shouldn’t I believe everything is just random or that life has no meaning?

If everyone has to choose the way they see the world anyway, I want to see it in a way that makes the world more fulfilling and meaningful for me. I want to choose a worldview that is consistent with the stirrings and yearnings of my heart. I love and want to be loved. I have passion. I am grateful when I receive a gift. I am relieved when somebody forgives me and we’re cool again. I experience God in my heart. I want my head to keep up.

Okay…

And I want my actions to be guided by this way of looking at the world. Because I know that my experience of the world is better when I choose to love others and when others choose to love me. God is love. And that sets the agenda for everything. If you let it.

I thought God was Being?

Limited image, remember? The next least incorrect way to think of God is that God is a special kind of love. A love that gives itself for the sake of the beloved. “Self-gift,” if you will. Remember when I said that everything is a gift? That’s God pouring himself out. Emptying himself out for our sake. Everything in the world is oriented to that kind of love. It holds all things in being. We can work with that or we can work against it. Our choice. My job as your father is to convince you that working with it is the best choice.

Or I could choose to see the world some other way.

You could. Many people do. Some people don’t see why they should give themselves away in love. They think that’s a sucker’s bet. There are many people who go through life looking out for “numero uno” and that’s it. It’s just that, I don’t think that’s truly what’s in their hearts. They’re just confused, lost, or hurt. I don’t want to believe anybody is just plain selfish by nature, even when they are habitually selfish. Creation is fundamentally good, right?

That you say.

So which world do you want to live in? The one where people love each other and look out for each other, even if it means sacrificing for one another? Or the world where everyone has to earn their right to live? Where might makes right? Where everyone looks out for only themselves?

You make that second choice sound like a bad thing. Kidding.

Well it’s not my choice. You can live in that world if you wish. Many do. I choose love. Love isn’t magic. It doesn’t make the hurts and sufferings of this world go away. It does not magically shield you from bad things. It just is a way of approaching the world that makes the most out of suffering and hurts. It is a way of life that reaches out and helps others get through the hard times. You live this paradox where, to truly live, you give up your life. To lead, you have to serve. To gain, you have to give everything away.

Again, you’re not making it sound attractive.

Well, let me put it this way. Without God, you would not be here. In this famiy I mean. If mom and I were just looking out for ourselves, if we were not looking for ways to pour out our lives as a gift to others, as God does, do you think we would have adopted you? Every payday we’d have been like, “Woohoo! Let’s go party and buy stuff!” If we didn’t believe in God’s brand of Love, we’d never spend thousands of the dollars we earn on you. We’d keep it for ourselves. We’d be a lot richer right now. But we’d also be miserable and wretched. Because selfishness is not the path to any kind of happiness or fulfillment. To me, living as if the God of Love, who created the world as a gift and judged it to be very good, is the best way to align my life so that my life is fulfilling and has a meaning that transcends my little span of time on earth.

So, it’s time for dinner….

Provided by God, aka Love, in the form of your Mother who used her time after work to do more work so that you could be fed. She could have just plopped down and watched TV, you know. So that stroganoff you’re about..

Stroganoff! Yes!

That Stroganoff you’re about to eat is yummy. Not the healthiest choice, maybe, but a tangible experience of God’s Love. Brought to you by a woman who is devoted to that kind of Love. So that’s why we pray before dinner. And your responsibility is to receive that love, be grateful, and respond by giving yourself as a gift in kind.

You’re hinting that I should offer to clear the table.

That’s a start. Also I want you to think about God as Love. Creation as a gift that is very good. And what kind of world you want to live in. I also want you to know more about who God is. To be cool with the idea that the “superfriend in the sky” does not exist, you need a better idea of who, what, whatever, God is.

But… we don’t have time for that because we’re about to eat…

Stroganoff, yes. But here’s something to think about. God is a relationship. Not a person. A relationship.

Um, okay.

That’s what we mean by the Holy Trinity. But that’s another day. My brain is full and my stomach is empty.

I’d say that it looks like the reverse is true but that would not be very loving of me.

I’ll show you love. Come here and let me smack you.

To be continued. (No, I don’t smack my kid. Very hard. In front of people.)

 

Nicene Creed in XML

For a bit of geeky fun, practiced some xml coding basics by writing the Nicene Creed in xml. Well here you go:

<?xml version=”1.0″?>

<credo alt=”I Believe in”>

   <God max_num=1 min_num=1 persons=3 created=no>

        <person id=”Father”>

          <characteristic>almighty</characteristic>

          <substance>divine</substance>

          <created through=Son>

             <realm>”Heaven”</realm>

             <realm>”Earth”</realm>

             <realm>”Visible”</realm>

             <realm>”Invisible”</realm>

           </created>

       </person>

       <person id=”Son” num=1 created=no begotten=yes>

          <title>”Lord”</title>

          <title>”Jesus Christ”</title>

          <nature>True_God</nature>

          <nature>True_Man</nature>

          <substance same_as=Father>divine</substance>

          <Salvation History>

             <event by=Holy_Spirit through=Virgin_Mary>Incarnation</event>

             <event for=humanity under=Pontius Pilate>Crucifixion</event>

              <event length=3_days>Death</event>

              <event accordance_with=Scriptures>Resurrection</event>

                <event>Ascension</event>

                <event>Parousia</event>

                <event>Judgment</event>

                <event>Kingdom</event>

           </Salvation History>

      </person>

      <person id=”Holy Spirit” num=1 created=no>

         <title>”Lord”</title>

         <title>”Giver of Life”</title>

         <proceeds_from>Father</proceeds_from>

         <proceeds_from>Son</proceeds_from>

         <event>”spoken through the prophets”</event>

      </person>

   </God>

</credo>

<credo>

   <Church>

      <mark>one</mark>

      <mark>holy</mark>

      <mark>catholic</mark>

      <mark>apostolic</mark>

   </Church>

</credo>

<confess>

   <Baptism num=1 for=”Forgiveness of Sins”></Baptism>

</confess>

<anticipate>

   <event>”resurrection of the dead”</event>

   <event>”life of the world to come”</event>

</anticipate>

<amen></amen>

Haven’t had this much useless geeky learning fun since using “The Hokey Pokey” as my example for my Microsoft Project class.

All Hallow’s Eve

Things I’ll tell my kids about Halloween:
1. “Hallow” means to “sanctify and venerate.” Tonight is the vigil for venerating the saints and our beloved dead who are in heaven.
3. Legend has it that during this vigil of All Saint’s Day, the veil between Purgatory and earth is made thinner and the souls of the dead become more visible. Hence the association of All Hallow’s Eve with ghouls and ghosts….
4. Trick or treating started as “souling” where children and the poor would go door to door asking for food in exchange for singing and praying for the dead of the households. All Catholics should demand prayers from their Trick or Treaters. :)
5. “Harvest Festivals” set up as alternatives to Halloween are really more similar to the pagan feast of Samhain (a Celtic Harvest celebration) than the All Hallow’s Eve of Christian tradition. Ironic, huh?
6. Halloween, kind of like Christmas, is a fundamentally Christian holiday that has picked up pagan, secular, and commercial baggage over the years. Most of the bad stuff has been created by opportunistic marketers trying to make a buck.
7. Unlike centuries ago, we have the luxury of laughing at fear and superstition. Our faith makes lasting fear unnecessary. The fact that fright is fun on Halloween speaks to the power of God’s saving grace.

Traditionally, you can obtain a partial indulgence for the souls of your loved ones by reciting this prayer from Psalm 130. Pray early and often.

De Profundis

Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?
But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.
My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord,
For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption;
And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

Tired of this sit

I have a late night adoration hour. I use this time to just sit, blessed and idle, at the feet of our Lord. I do not read, nor do I bring with me any way to tell time. I just sit until the next person comes, which tells me my hour is over.

But sometimes my replacement doesn’t come. And I sit for two hours.

I usually become aware of this about 20 minutes into the second hour, when my “butt alarm” goes off. I don’t know exactly, but at the 1 hour, 20 minute mark I reach the point where I just cannot sit comfortably in any position for more than 2 minutes.

I would like to get up and do a walking meditation, but I share my adoration hour with someone else so I do not want to be a distraction. I realize that, while most of me is all “blessed and idle,” my butt is working hard. I totally understand why it complains.

Righteous Indignation, just in time for Christmas.

Oh Please, what’s the big deal? I am already tired of the Christian protest spam I am getting against the faux threat of the children’s movie “The Golden Compass.” Much ado about not much.

There’s more subversive, damaging material in one violent summer blockbuster or teen sex comedy than in the entire Body of Phillip Pullman’s work. He may wish to “Kill God,” but it’s the wrong God he’s trying to kill. He may want to subvert the Church, but the Church he thinks he’s subverting is the wrong Church. Church done wrong, something all should be against. A teddy bear named “Jesus” would be more threatening than this movie.

I’ve never been in league with the Catholic League. I’m more inclined to agree with the reviewer for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Will seeing this film inspire teens to read the books, which many have found problematic? Rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens.

Yeah, let me be the one to “protect” my children from evil atheist subversion, please.

I was blind and now I see. Or Both.

I wrote this as a talk I was supposed to give to a group of men in my parish, a meditation of John Chapter 9, “I was blind and now I see.” I figure since I took the trouble to write it up, I’d post it here, especially since it is a message I need to hear fairly frequently:

As is usual when I am supposed do something like this, I prayed over this theme in Adoration.

God chose to start off by showing me the various ways I am Blind:
· Distraction: Focused on something else (ADD child)
· Overload: “Snow Blindness” Too much going on to focus (overwhelmed – unable to pick which voice to listen to)
· Agenda: Confirmation Bias. We see things as we are, not as they are.
· Persona: Masks, Reputation. Wanting to project a persona distorts the way we interact with the world.(wanting to be intellectual or sophisticated blinds me to the wisdom of simple faith)
· Truth itself – Being “Right” can be an insidious source of Blindness. Have a new hammer and everything looks like a nail…

“Seeing” can be a source of blindness.

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.”

Beware of being right. Usually I find that if I am assured of how right I am about something, it is almost certain I am blind to something important that I am missing. Even if it is compassion and mercy for those who are “wrong.”

I was impressed by the lyrics from Steve’s theme song he wrote for us, something like “If I don’t see you then take my sight away.” Wow. That is some wisdom – if it is not Christ we see then it’s better to be blind than be “right.” Sight can only be restored, as with the young man in our reading, via an encounter with the living Christ. That’s why it’s so important to pray. Without prayer I am, we are, all blind.

I was inspired by the discussion from last week, how “blindness” and “sight” is not an either/or proposition. How we can be both blind and see at one time. How “sight” comes in varying degrees, in different ways. We all have our clear and blind spots. That’s the wisdom form this group.

That to me is some deep wisdom. Two apparent opposites held at the same time in harmony and tension.

Jesus was big on giving us such paradoxes to live with. He was always challenging us to hold two seeming opposites in harmony and tension:

Death/Life (paschal mystery)
Master/Servant
Greatness/Humility
Weakness/Strength

And, in John chapter 9, Sight and blindness. At the same time. In harmony and tension.

I want to say two 50 cent words to you and then I want you to immediately forget them. It is the idea behind them that is important:

Kataphatic and Apophatic

Our Catholic faith has a Kataphatic and an Apophatic tradition. The Kataphatic tradition concerns itself with statements of positive belief. It’s where our Church’s Creeds and Catechism come from. It is the source of Doctrine and Dogma and all Church teaching. Insofar as our faith is “right” about God, that comes from the kataphatic tradition.

The apophatic tradition comes from recognizing the overwhelming incomprehensibility of God. It focuses on what we do not know and cannot know about what God does and who He is. It’s closely aligned with the mystical tradition in the Church. When Jesus told us to be like the little children, when he praised the meek and the poor in spirit, he was coming from the apophatic side of things. Insofar as our Church is humble about the “rightness” of its teaching, that comes from the apophatic tradition.

Okay, you can forget the words now. What’s important is that we hold these two ideas as important, at the same time, in harmony and tension. Be blind and see at the same time.

To have one without the other is dangerous. But we like to flirt with danger by having preferences for one or the other.

Some people prefer the kataphatic tradition, Shorthand for them might be “conservative” Catholics. Stereotypically, they embrace all things dogmatic and are quick to proclaim and defend the teachings of the Church. They attend “Fullness of Truth” conferences, go to hear Scott Hanh speak when he’s in town. They trust the Magisterium of the Church and are a little skeptical of the “watered down” Catholicism of the mystics.

Some prefer the apophatic tradition. Shorthand for them might be “liberal” Catholics. They tend to prefer direct experiences of God over “Churchy” experiences. Some describe themselves as “Spiritual but not Religious”. They read Thomas Merton and go to hear Richard Rohr speak when he’s in town. They like a little eastern spirituality mixed in with their Catholicism. They tend to be wary of the structure and rules of the Church and and seek “contemplation”.

Both are right. Both are wrong.

Insofar as we prefer one tradition and think the other tradition is a little “wonky,” we are blind. If we see these traditions as “sides” in a conflict in the Church, we are blind.

The correct answer is “both” in harmony and tension. If we are naturally drawn to the one “side,” then our faith demands that we come to know the “other side” as well and work to hold them both in our own lives. In harmony and tension.

I would say I have been and am one of those liberal catholics. I came back to the Church as an adult through the mystical tradition. I started seeking spiritually in my twenties through Buddhism and was directed back to my very own faith via the writings of guys like Thomas Merton. My challenge was to learn enough about my faith to overcome my prejudice against “churchy” things and people and embrace my whole faith. I am still working on it. I used to describe myself as spiritual but noit religious. I now realize there can be no such thing if you follow Christ.

My beloved Thomas Merton, the “patron saint” of liberal Catholics everywhere, says this:

“The Dogmas defined and taught by the Church have a very precise, positive meaning which those who have the grace to do so must explore if they would live an integral spiritual life…”
“The understanding of Dogma is the proximate and ordinary way to contemplation.”
“Everyone ought to breathe the clean atmosphere of orthodox tradition and explain his belief in correct terminology.”

“YET true contemplation is not arrived at by an effort of the mind… God gives true theologians a hunger born of humility, which cannot be satisfied with formulas and arguments, and which looks for something closer to God than analogy can bring you.”
“This serene hunger of the spirit penetrates the surface of words and goes beyond the human formulation of mysteries and seeks intellectual solitude and interior poverty, the gift of supernatural apprehension which words cannot signify.”

That is the key idea – the GIFT of apprehension. Everything God reveals to us through scripture and Church tradition is a GIFT from Him. It would be rude of us to downplay it or refuse it. It is incumbent upon us to study it, to teach it when called, to live it.

Yet God also makes available to us GIFTS of contemplation – direct experiences of Himthat go beyond words and ideas. And we would be negligent to not seek God beyond where our positive statements of belief can take us.

Faith involves holding these two things in harmony and tension. Our Church is built upon mystery, important places in our faith where reason will not help us, where we need to have different ways of seeing and knowing. Insofar as we only have one way of seeing, we are blind.

Insofar as we do not develop our knowledge of church teaching, we are blind. Insofar as we do not develop our capacity to encounter God with different ways of seeing, we are blind.

Good thing we have each other to help each other. All of us have our blind spots.

All this stuff about theology and mysticism, belief and experience of God, is, as Thomas Aquinas said “all straw” if it does not lead us to the person of Christ and transform the world in tangible ways.

The words of our theme were spoken by the blind young man when he was badgered repeatedly by the Pharisees about what he thought the origin of his healing. He said to them: “I don’t know, but I do know one thing — I was blind and now I see.”

Hard to argue with results. The blind man had an encounter with Jesus that transformed him. It was hard to argue that Jesus had power – the results were right there for all to see.

And all these beliefs and all this prayer, all this “being right” and having “direct experiences” of God – if it gives us genuine sight – comes down to results.

I dunno, all I know is that I was blind and now I see…

So I leave you with this: We as Christians are supposed to provide the world a real encounter with Jesus Christ. So how is the world different because of our beliefs and our prayer? Are the hungry fed? Are the lonely comforted? Are sinners and enemies loved and forgiven? Can anyone say by encountering us that they were blind but now they see? At least a little bit more?”

Atheist/Christian Brou-hah-hah

I really try to ignore the fact that, reddit, one of my favorite aggregators on the web has devloved into a community of distinct progressive bias. I tend to be progressive myself, but I like my information sources to be balanced. I don’t mind hearing from the Atheist viewpoint, really I don’t.

But come on. If Christians preached on reddit the way Atheists do, they’d rightfully be run off. I sure wish they’d keep the evangelization of any kind off of my favorite aggregator.

The problem with most Chrsitian/Atheist dialogue is that most atheists have as incomplete an idea of who God is as most Christians do. They argue over the existence of an idea that we expect most Christians to grow out of by adulthood. The “God” they so predictably fight over is a devlopmentally-appropriate version of God for children. We’re supposed to grow deeper in our understanding, but rarely do so.

Personification of God is a convenient shorthand – a way to apply words to something that is way beyond words. A “handle” we use to relate to a transcendant reality. We start with God as a person because we are persons and we relate better that way.

At some point, though, we’re supposed to get beyond the convenient personification of God as “Father in the sky” and experience him in more mature form. God as Love. God as Good(ness). God is not *a* being — God *is* being.

By my faith, God made atheists too and the impulse to love is written on their hearts. Why would we be surprised that a sample of atheists would be more charitable than a sample of Christians? I bet the sampling was not normalized for spiritual maturity.

I know Atheists that are Good. I know Atheists who Love. I know Atheists who are masters of being who they were created to be. So, they don’t say “Lord, Lord” all the time, but by their fruits I can know them. Some of the best Christians I know don’t go to church.

I know “devout” Christians who are stuck in self-centered modes of being. Sometimes I am one of those Christians. The dividing line that matters is not so much belief/non-belief as it should be selflessness/selfishness. If you live a selfless life, then I call you my brother regardless of what you believe.

And if you are selfish, then I can identify with you too. I just wish I didn’t. So much.

Hair of the Dog

Apparently “Angry Atheist” Authors are Hot Property right now. They’ve simply had it with religious fundamentalists of all stripes and want to “fight back.” They think it’s time for thinking, reasonable atheists to “take back” society from “superstition” and they’re willing to go to cultural battle to do so. Atheism has been around forever but what’s new is the strident and, dare I say it, evangelical tone they are taking.

Does anyone else see the irony here? Their increasingly confrontational rhetoric they are embracing is the essence of the very thing they are fighting against.

Christopher Hitchens famously says that “Religion Kills.” I say ego-driven, self-righteous outrage kills.

Apparently it sells well too. Religious fundamentalists of all stripes have known this forever. And now the Atheists get a cut of the action as well…. Good for them?