Bless us o internet, for these gifts…

It’s not often you hear from anyone about the spiritual benefits of the Internet. I read and hear (and think, to be honest) a mostly the opposite.

So I appreciate the intellectual courage it takes to put out anything that ties prayer and social media together. But, hey, now that this guy’s got me thinking about it, I can appreciate what he’s saying. (“Bless Us O Instagram.” Theodore Gioia, American Scholar, July 15th)

My best mind’s approach to the internet is that it’s for encouragement, appreciation, and for facilitating relationships. That’s how I made my peace with keeping Facebook on my phone — I use it for encouragement and appreciation of people in my personal relato-sphere.

Meditating on it a bit, I can see that Instagram and prayer are both at their best in service of relationships, of community, of connection. And the best connections are based in gratitude. Gratitude is gratitude, but internet gratitude has the magnified potential of near global reach.

Of course, both internet and prayer can also serve to deepen one’s own self-absorption. Proper intention is necessary (but not sufficient, of course.)

Next time my youngest whips out her phone to snap and share what she’s about to eat, I have another way to view it other than to be generationally annoyed. She’s appreciating what she has received. She thinks it’s share-worthy.

One Direction

First of all, let me say that I love love the job title of “neurophilosopher” and am pretty jealous, being the boring old “product manager” that I am.

Some people might worry that, as interesting as this hypothesis is, it is some sort of  evidence against faith. The idea that morality evolved from the neurochemicals involved in our brains’ need for attachment does not have to be some sort of nature-based argument for relativism.

It needs context. So… brains evolved morality based on the neurochemical need for attachment. Well, where did brains come from? Or neurochemicals for that matter? And where did the source of that stuff come from? And the source’s source, et cetera, et cetera? Ultimately comes… from somewhere…

The Thomistic (e.g. Catholic) idea is that it’s not elephants all the way down. There is a ground somewhere, a primal source. It fits with our experience of the world.

And that source, outside of creation, outside of time, made our brains, our very selves to evolve in a particular way. Toward attachment, caring, morality, and love. Starting from a soup of molecules, to us now, to whatever we will become when we fully evolve to what we were created to be. Fully human the way God made us. Evolution in One Direction (Not a new idea, eh, Pierre?)

So, as a person of faith, I find such findings to be encouraging, not daunting. Sure, it could just be confirmation bias. But if I had to choose a bias to shape the way I encounter the world, this One Direction, towards Love, towards connection, towards caring, is a pretty satisfying one to choose.

 

Stuff I Like

I like the way my youngest moves while she’s listening to music she likes (and she thinks nobody’s looking)

I like a stack of books fresh from the library.

I like it when my daughters play music for me that they think I’ll like. (Mostly they’re right)

I like little shops that are run like labors of love by folks who live near me. Especially independent book shops.

I like poets who can fit surprising depths of imagery onto one page. (In other words, they keep it shorter than my short attention span.)

I like finding a new place to get non-corporate coffee that’s fresh roasted and freshly ground.

And I like the inconvenient ritual of making and drinking that coffee with my pour over contraption.

I like dragging my kids downtown to see weird stuff. Like modern art.

I like graffiti that looks like it took love and planning to create.

I like making lines on paper. I can’t draw much, but I like lines.

Cardboard, pencils, duct tape. Simple, quotidian.

Sitting, thinking. Appreciating stuff.

And, as I get older, quiet afternoons.

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…

 

 

Book of Clark, Chapter 14: The Pie of the Lord

Somebody at work suggested “Pie-o-rama” for the next theme at our team meeting. (We’ve had “Dip-o-rama,” “Stick-o-rama,” and “Choc-o-rama” already.) That made me think about the Pie Of The Lord. I tried googling it and it didn’t come up. It was in 2003. So I’m reblogging just to resurface it to the search engine crawlers because such stories should remain as part of Clark tribal lore…

wellthereyougo

In the land of the Suburbanites, in the tribe of Clark, there was a High Priestess named Heidi who served God and ruled justly, slow to wrath and abounding in kindness. And in her reign the people were happy, for the land flowed with home cooking and every domestic goodness.

It was on the feast day of Saint Patrick that the Lord came to his priestess Heidi and said unto her: “Heidi, my good and faithful servant, you are chosen this day to do my work.” Heidi, though she was shaken with astonishment, replied, “Whatever you will, my Lord, I shall do.”

And the Lord spake unto her: “You shall bring forth a pie such as none in this land has seen, that my name be praised. There shall be a homemade crust, not store-bought as the law does permit, but made by your hand from scratch so that all…

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Poem: we are not hens’ eggs

We are not hens’ eggs, or bananas, or clothespins,

to be counted off by the dozen.

Down to the last detail we are all different.

Everyone has his own fingerprints.

Recognize and rejoice in that endless variety.

The white light of the divine purpose streams down from heaven

to be broken up by these human prisms

into all the colors of the rainbow.

Take your own color in the pattern

and be just that.

— Charles R. Brown

Religious, not Spiritual

I remembered a factoid from one of my pastor’s homilies that the root of the word “religion” comes from the Latin “religio,” which means to be “bound again.”

To the uninitiated, this makes the idea of religion not sound very attractive. I can see why so many people like to say they are “spiritual but not religious.” But after praying about it I’ve decided I am more like “Religious, but not Spiritual.”

I checked on this etymological factoid later and found that, as with all historical tidbits streamlined for popular consumption, the roots of the word “religion” are not quite that simple.

Sure,  “religion” does come from the Latin root “religio,” but the origins of that root are disputed. Cicero asserted that “religio” comes from the verb “relegere,” meaning “to re-read or go over a text,” religion being a text-based tradition requiring study and transmission. The Christian writer Lactantius, among others, assert the most popular hypothesis that “religion” comes from “religare” which means to be “bound again.” Augustine preferred that version to Cicero’s, but offered that it also could come from “reeligare” meaning to “choose again.”

From what I have read so far, I am not sure I have a preference. As a Catholic Christian, I bind myself to study the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transmit it with the way I live my life. I am bound by the obligation to serve others in Love — a bond made most immediate to me in my role as husband and father.

When I rise each morning, I put on my wedding band, pocket my wallet and keys, grab my “wireless leash,” aka my phone. All of these are symbols of my vocation and life’s mission. I take them on each morning as a prayerful practice, taking up the yoke Christ offers me before going out into the world where I am bound to serve in myriad ways.

As with distractions in prayer, I get distracted in life. I drift away on a regular basis (sin,  you can call it) and must “choose again” each day, each hour, each minute, to come back.

On the face of it, to the modern sensibility, this sounds like a big drag. Nobody nowadays wants to be tied-down, to be bound, by anything.

But in my heart of hearts I long for Love and Mercy. What better way is there for me to encounter Love and Mercy than to submit my whole self to them? This means I submit my hands, heart, head, feet, body, soul, and spirit all at once — a complete package. I cannot describe myself as “Spiritual” because I seek to be all in when it comes to Love. I can’t just give my “spirit.”

So I seek to be “Religious, not (just) Spiritual.” And I’ll take “Religious” in any sense of the word since all of them work for me.
Read more: http://forward.com/articles/10776/roots-of-religion/#ixzz3wJ1IdDe6

Poem: Save Your Knees For Dancin’

I wrote this for my Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary party last week. Thought I’d post it here with the rest of them.

For 50 years of marriage mom and dad tilled the soil.

They never struck paydirt, never found gold nor oil,

but instead they raised a family, with its troubles and joys,

full of friends, love, and laughter, and two very grateful boys.

 

The boys grew to be men and took wives of their own

and so appreciated the wisdom their parents had sown:

Keep learning, love a lot, take care to listen.

Take time out to play, but never play “Christian.”

Nope, if you’re gonna play, use your noggin. Try to win.

Keep each other sharp. You’ll have more fun in the end.

Stay together, hang tough. It’s not for sissies, this life.

And if you want to be happy, you better listen to your wife.

Every problem can be solved if you think and work together

Create opportunities to make memories you’ll treasure.

Work hard but set aside time for romancin’

Save your money, save your health, and save your knees for dancin’

 

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.)