August 29, 2003

Prayer Requests

Please Remember the Following in Your Prayers

Dylan: who is struggling to get well and who is threatened with being overcome.
Christine and Gordon: who desperately need a job at this time.
Franklin and Katherine: who need both employment and help discerning God's merciful presence in their lives.
For all those who hurt emotionally and physically.

Most especially for those both living and dead who are so unknown to humanity they have no one to pray for them. Pray that while living they might receive God's grace, God's love through their fellow human beings, and once dead they might be received into the merciful and loving arms of the Father.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:02 AM | Comments (0)

Awed and Amazed

Awed and Amazed

Here the houses are pink and light blue and light green and yellow and coral and every shade of the rainbow with almost no brick. And each of these many houses is made of reformed earth, blocks assembled of all manner of material and held together with a paste made of other rocks. And outside each of these houses the plants are plants from all of time. Sago palm, not a palm at all, but a cycad--a plant of Jurassic vintage, essentially unchanged from the times when dinosaurs fed on them and on their smaller ground-cover cousins. Magnolias--whose white flowers and primitive cone-like fruit has grown these grounds since the Cretaceous--among the first of the flowering plants, ushering in the great age of the Dinosaurs. St. Augustine grass--grass in name only that coils and snakes its way across the many yards, thick ropes and tangles of its stems holding the bare earth together. And depending on the season our many animals--first the birds: egrets--cattle, Great American, Snowy; herons--tri-color, night, great blue; Storks and cranes--Sandhill and woodstork; Ibis, both white and scarlet; the occasional roseate spoonbill and bald eagle. Then the other fauna--tree-frogs, and Cuban emigré frogs, and toads. At night the swamps and collection pools might boom with the call of the gators, if it is mating season.

All of this is simply the setting for people who every day come out of their homes to go to work, to labor over their houses and yards, to sit in the garage with the door open and watch the world go by, to chat, to argue, to drink, to party. Each little house a blank facade that tells you nothing about the life inside. So much an expression of our own facades, that hide so much of the life inside.

And that seems the most amazing thing of all--the life inside us all. Through the tender attention of a Divine and loving creator we are each sustained in our individuality. We are each made whole and unique, with talents, gifts, abilities, and inclinations all our own. We are each fashioned to be saints--to love God in a way that is uniquely our own. God breathes life into us in each moment--and all of these houses, yards, animals, trees, the rocks themselves, are sustained moment to moment by his mercy, forbearance, and the tender love of a Father for even his wayward children.

But yet more amazing, we are each of us the image and likeness of that same God. If we could stop our endless self-involvement for just a moment and look deeply into those nearest us, we would be able to catch a glimpse of God in even the most unGodlike. We could see His face in the face of each brother and sister. We would know His love in the person of His people. God is with us in the persons who surround us. If we do not meet Him, it is because we have withdrawn and choose not to see Him. His presence is everywhere--His hands the hands of each person we meet; His eyes look out at us from countless faces; His heart beats, loudly or more softly in each breast.

So here where I live, in all the pink and yellow and green and blue and coral houses, here where sagos and magnolias and St. Augustine grass paint the landscape, here were birds of every feather and alligators and frogs all gather, in each of the houses of reformed earth lives a God, our God, who lives within us, the Holy Spirit sustaining us.

And now most amazing of all--this is true wherever we go. And all too often we choose to overlook it. Take a moment today to see God in what is around you. Take a moment today to express heartfelt gratitude, whatever our situations, for the great mercies He shows in every moment, the great graces we receive when we are open to receive them.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

In Iraq, at the Shrine

In Iraq, at the Shrine of Ali

Pray for the victims of the bombing of the Shrine, for their families, and for all of the people hurt directly and indirectly by this. Imagine if you will what would have happened if the same thing were to take place at Lourdes--because this is a sort of Lourdes of the Muslim world. Imagine the shock and the horror, the anguish and the anger. And then remember not so long ago people were setting fires to churches with African American congregations, and a little before that bombing churches in Alabama. And remember that as different as we like to think we are, there are among us those same fanatics who in the name of some cause would cause misery to million. who to achieve their goals would have no problem causing misery to millions. And pray for God's mercy on us all because it is all that sustains us and all that keeps us safe from the same horror.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:32 AM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2003

Leaving the Question of Inerrancy

Leaving the Question of Inerrancy

I am not particularly interested in the question of inerrancy. The church teaches it, I believe it. I do make some attempt to understand it with the Church's mind--but I may well be quite unsuccessful. On the other hand, if I hold a stricter definition and it poses no problem for me, then I am certainly not flying in the face of Church teaching.

However, I do find Scripture wholly other. It is a direct encounter with the Word of God. Breathed by the Holy Spirit, it speaks constantly and lovingly to us of the Savior, even when it seemingly does not speak of the Savior at all. One priest I knew referred to the Bible as a series of love-letters from God. While inspired (authored) by the Holy Spirit, the writers are undoubtedly human. What sense would it make for God to write of Himself, "How lovely are your dwelling-places, O Lord." And yet the inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit and the writer writes it with the gifts God has given. The Holy Spirit preserves the intergrity while cultivating the gift. I am amazed and awed by the stunning cross-pollination. Both are works of God and gifts of God (inspiration and talent) and yet the obedience of the writer and the witness of the Holy Spirit so perfectly combine.

Let's face it--we've all read religiously oriented books of the modern day. Some better, some worse. However, few, if any, touch us the way Scripture touches us. And scripture can do so not because of very talented writers, but because of the Holy Spirit. Truthfully some of St. Paul's sentences are syntactical nightmares that go round and round and round and come out here. But the whole of the writing makes for a fabric of faith, a foundation upon which a church that has endured two-thousand years relies for continually informing and forming its members. Scripture and Tradition flow together and apart (but parallel, not antithetical) to help produce the richness of the faith.

The word of God is sharper than any two edge sword--so true, and like a sword, a work of fine craftsmanship, balance, and purpose. The words of holy scripture are life. "Teach me thy ways O, Lord, shew unto me thy paths" (Psalms 25:4). The Bible is one font of this teaching.

In the Bible we encounter Jesus face to face. By reading the Bible, we move beyond ourselves and begin to understand meaning and purpose as God would have us know them. Reading the Bible is considered so important, so crucial to the Catholic that the Church grants daily a plenary indulgence for one-half hour of scripture reading (under the usual conditions) and a partial indulgence for any period less.

All of this is simply a long winded way of asking, "Have you read your Bible today?" If not, put away that newspaper, novel, or law review and pick up the only really important or relevant library you need to read. The things of this world are passing and frail--proper preparation for meeting God requires that the potential wedding guests at least know their host's name and have some notion of which of the many people there He will be. Bible, first thing in the morning, Bible at noon, Bible last thing at night. There are a great many places on the web that you can find one-year reading plans if you've no idea of where or how to start. But pick it up daily, and frequently throughout the day. It will make a difference in your life.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2003

Biblical Inerrancy

Biblical Inerrancy

Comments on a meditation on Mark below have provoked a certain strain of comment that seems to demand more than comment box reflections.

The "problem" of Biblical Inerrancy is one with which scholars have contended and are still contending. Regretably, the only defense I can offer comes from the words of others. I have some difficulty explaining and fully understanding them myself, but they seem to teach what they teach infallibly.

From an article by William Most

Inspiration rules out any sort of error in the Bible whatsoever. Thus Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, wrote that since God is the author, "it follows that they who think any error is contained in the authentic passages of the Sacred Books surely either pervert the Catholic notion of divine inspiration, or make God Himself the source of error." Note that Pope Leo said that one of two things happens: either they pervert the notion of inspiration, or they make God the author of error.

Charges of error refer primarily to three fields today, matters of science, of religion, or of history. We will take up each of these in detail, putting off the matters of history until after our chapter on literary genre.

In regard to matters of science, Raymond E. Brown wrote: "Already in 1893 Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus ... excluded natural or scientific matters from biblical inerrancy, even if he did this through the expedient of insisting that statements made about nature according to ordinary appearances were not errors. (An example might involve the sun going around the earth.)"1

Here is what Leo XIII actually said: "We must first consider that the sacred writers or, more truly, 'the Spirit of God, who spoke through them,' did not will to teach these things (that is, the inner constitution of visible things) which were of no use for salvation, wherefore they at times described things . . as the common way of speaking at the time they did."

Brown, straining mightily, says that this is a "backdoor way" of admitting scientific error. We even today commonly speak of the sun as rising or setting, or as moving around the sky, when we know perfectly well that it is the earth that is moving. Who would say we are involved in habitual error on this account?

Very honestly, I am ignorant in these matters and not fit to put up much of a defense. All I can do is site from previous teaching that suggests that the Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is inerrant in all that it says--in all respects. Perhaps the difficulty is with my phrasing, but I my intention is merely to restate the first sentence of Fr. Most's excerpt above. "Inspiration rules out any sort of error in the Bible whatsoever." This seems to me to say that the Bible is inerrant in all respects. This seems to have been taught by Leo XIII and affirmed by Vatican II. If I truly understand it correctly, I have no real problem with what it is saying.

Now, I will grant you that it sounds as though it were a case of special pleading to say that an error is not an error if it is spoken according to the common understanding of the times (which is in error). And yet, it makes a sort of sense to me. God was not teaching science, He was teaching salvation. To have complicated His inspiration with a right a proper discussion of the natural world, which would have been beyond His human subject at the time, might have precluded future understanding. Because the subject is salvation and not science, God allowed the person to speak with the understanding of his time, which in his time was without error. That it was later proven not to be correct does not make it an error in its time and place. I will not argue the point--I will merely accept what I understand of it. I cannot explain further.

However, I do think it important to stand by the absolute inerrancy of scripture in all respects. I do think I can, in good conscience contend that the Bible is without any error whatsoever, even in the matter of science and history understood according to the people of the time and kept preserved to better clarify the essential message.

I guess I think of it like this. If God inspired it, it cannot be false. If God wished to convey the message of salvation first, it is unlikely that He would spend time giving special knowledge of the natural world to the writers. If He had done so, the people of the time would not have listened to His message because they would have thought the prophets and writers even more unhinged than they already considered them. Because the knowledge of salvation is eternal, it is without error. Because the statements of the natural world are confined to their time and culture, they are without error in their milieu.

I know, it isn't completely satisfactory. On the other hand, it does seem to be the teaching from time immemorial--rearticulated by Leo XII, Pius XII, and Vatican II. I would say its pedigree is, if not impeccable, at least very, very fine.

I append hereto the relevant portions of Providentissimus Deus

Inspiration Incompatible with Error

20. The principles here laid down will apply cognate sciences, and especially to History. It is a lamentable fact that there are many who with great labour carry out and publish investigations on the monuments of antiquity, the manners and institutions of nations and other illustrative subjects, and whose chief purpose in all this is too often to find mistakes in the sacred writings and so to shake and weaken their authority. Some of these writers display not only extreme hostility, but the greatest unfairness; in their eyes a profane book or ancient document is accepted without hesitation, whilst the Scripture, if they only find in it a suspicion of error, is set down with the slightest possible discussion as quite untrustworthy. It is true, no doubt, that copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible; this question, when it arises, should be carefully considered on its merits, and the fact not too easily admitted, but only in those passages where the proof is clear. It may also happen that the sense of a passage remains ambiguous, and in this case good hermeneutical methods will greatly assist in clearing up the obscurity. But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. These are the words of the last: "The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author."(57) Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. "Therefore," says St. Augustine, "since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their Head dictated."(58) And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: "Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things-we loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution. "(59)

21. It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error. And so emphatically were all the Fathers and Doctors agreed that the divine writings, as left by the hagiographers, are free from all error, that they laboured earnestly, with no less skill than reverence, to reconcile with each other those numerous passages which seem at variance-the very passages which in great measure have been taken up by the "higher criticism;" for they were unanimous in laying it down, that those writings, in their entirety and in all their parts were equally from the afflatus of Almighty God, and that God, speaking by the sacred writers, could not set down anything but what was true. The words of St. Augustine to St. )erome may sum up what they taught: "On my part I confess to your charity that it is only to those Books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honour and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand."(60)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

New Resources

New Resources

In the course of preparing the previous post, I happened upon the following enormously valuable resources:

Greek New Testament, this one is up and working and provides the original Greek of the verse with an ability to parse the words as you click on them. Great for those learning Biblical Greek.

The New Testament Gateway, whose caretaker seems not to care for the Notion of Q (Quellen--a "source document" for the synoptic Gospels or at least Matthew and Mark). But it links to a Greek New Testament gateway that has links to a great many site.

And perhaps most wonderful of all The Unbound Bible which allows you to search for Biblical References in 10 English Versions, 5 Greek Versions, 2 Hebrew Versions (OT), 6 ancient versions--including Latin and the Septuagint, and 42 modern languages (including Icelandic). In addition, you can display these in parallel three versions at a time. It includes a Greek Lexical parser, and a Greek and Hebrew Lexicon, as well as a guide to reading the Bible in a year. The presence of Naves Topical Bible and Matthew Henry's commentary show this to be a protestant-influenced, possibly evangelical site, but the resources are tremendous and exciting (and it does include a Douay-Rheims-Challoner).

Wonderful, wonderful resources. Go and make good use of them.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

Continuing the Reading of the Gospel of Mark

Continuing the Reading of the Gospel of Mark

The other day I reported that I was up to the third verse of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. In the subsequent days, I have made it up to the fifth verse and I am puzzled. So I will share some of my thoughts with you.

"People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins." (NAB)

" And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." (KJV)

"The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. " (NIV)

"And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" (Douay-Rheims-Challoner)

"kai exeporeueto proV auton pasa h ioudaia cwra kai oi ierosolumitai kai ebaptizonto panteV en tw iordanh potamw up autou exomologoumenoi taV amartiaV autwn" (bad transliteration of the Greek New Testament)

"et egrediebatur ad illum omnis Iudaeae regio et Hierosolymitae universi et baptizabantur ab illo in Iordane flumine confitentes peccata sua"(Latin Vulgate)

These verses all suggest that the entire Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John at the Jordan and after confessing (or in the words of the leaden NAB, which may be more literal, but is certainly less Catholic-friendly "acknowledging") their sins they were baptized. [More on acknowledging--I do not pretend to be a Latin scholar, so I will not advance an opinion on the Latin or Greek. But the sense here must be more than acknowledge. Acknowledge means simply to say, "Yeah, I done it, and whattareyagonnadoaboutit?" Another instance of the utter linguistic insensitivity that constantly surfaces in the NAB. Even if the desire is to be absolutely literal, it would seem that this kind of translation would require a gloss to make a point of the word.]

Now the problem. I have a good blog-friend who will recognize himself as he reads this, who insists on reading "inerrancy" in a rather narrow way. For this passage to be inerrant by the way he insists on reading other passages, every single person in Jerusalem, and the entire population of the countryside of Judea would have had to go to the River Jordan. While this is not impossible, it does strike me as improbably. The Roman legions went to John to be Baptized? Herod the Great? The Chief Priests? As I said, not impossible, but highly unlikely.

And yet we know the Bible is without error in any aspect. This is taught clearly throughout the history of the Church, by Leo XIII and by all other popes, up to and including the present. It is part of the dogmatic definitions of the
Second Vatican Council. We are not to read the Bible as teaching only those aspects related to spirituality as being without error, but we are to read it as being without error in every respect.

What then do we make of such a passage which posits so improbable a thing? There are two possibilities. The improbable did indeed take place and thus must be considered the facts of the case. Or the language here is meant to convey something other than a literal counting and recounting and to suggest something to the largely gentile audience Mark was addressing.

It would seem that this is a lot of exercise over a very, very minor issue. On the other hand, can there be any minor issues when it is the authenticity of God's word that is at the core of the question?

Okay, so is the language metaphorical? It does not, on the surface appear to be, and there would be no need for it to be. If Mark and the Holy Spirit had wished for us to understand this to mean a great many people, there are many ways of saying this without the words that are used here.

So I came to wonder if God is not telling us about a truly miraculous messenger in the person of St. John the Baptist. Perhaps he was so filled with the spirit that all of the living AND the dead came out to him to hear the preaching and to confess their sins. The entire countryside of Judea and all of Jerusalem. Perhaps the statement is not so much about the then-current populations of these two places as about the spiritual centers of the places--the zeitgeist as it were, (I know zeitgeist isn't exactly correct, but you get the drift), the genius loci or Guardian Angel, however you wish to term it--the spirit of the land itself. That is, the spirit of the Nation of Israel finally came to see what it had done before and acknowledged that sin, becoming baptized--with but a few holding back in the present to renew that great sin of old and redouble it.

It seems to matter little how one reads it. One gets to the core question--what does it say to me and what am I called to as a result? I am a person of Jerusalem, I am a shepherd of the hills of Judea. I am called by the Spirit through the voice of a powerful preacher to witness the advent of the great Savior. I am called each day, invited each day. To quote the Book of Revelation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. " (KJV-Rev. 22:17) (And the tone-deaf NAB "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." Let the hearer say, "Come." Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.") We are called to be baptised and to drink of the water made holy by the Baptism of the One who saved All.

Each person is issued this invitation, this call from the countryside every single day. And we must respond every single day. I prefer to respond by confessing my sins rather than acknowledging them; however, we are all called to this water to this life-giving stream, to this constant immersion in the cleansing tide of Baptism. So, whatever the intricacies of the literal meaning--about which I am little concerned--it is as it is--the meaning of this passage must transcend the merely literal (although the literal must be understood) and seems to say something about the possibility of the person in the world to be called and to respond to grace. The passage speaks of the enormous and overwhelming mercy of God.

But, you can see that I have only crudely defined the contours of the verse, and so perhaps it is a subject for more reading, thought, meditation, and prayer. Thanks for sitting with me through this much. Your thoughts would be welcome.

And many deep thanks to the friend I mentioned above--by his steadfast insistence (with which I still disagree) he has forced my attention in such a way as to be truly concerned about what is being said in every particular. This is a tremendously valuable gift. Thank you.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

Time to Confront Yet Another Personal Flaw

Time to Confront Yet Another Personal Flaw

Coming from a very fundamentalist background, and being quite insecure in some aspects of my Catholic Formation, I tend to shy away from writers whose work suggests some heterodox accretions. I feely acknowledge this weakness, and I am working on trying to reduce its prominence as a guiding principle. What I read as heterodox is not necessarily so; nor is my judgment always on target on these issues.

As a result, for some time I have been wary of Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI. I haven't known quite what to make of him. He originally came recommended by a source I have come to admire and trust--Mr. Nixon of Sursum Corda. I had read previously, and even subsequent to the recommendation, some columns that I found slightly off-putting. For example, it seems that there were several columns in which he referred to God as She. Now, this would seem a trivial enough problem; however, this kind of reference seems to fly in the face of FATHER, Son, and Holy Spirit. Is this language simply a trope--a linguistic trick to shock one out of complacency, or does it reveal a deep and underlying flaw in theology. Much more importantly than that--have others observed similar characteristics in Fr. Rolheiser's writings? Or did I just get a mistaken impression from a couple of columns--perhaps too quickly read?

I ask because another very trusted, very trustworthy sort has brought him to my attention once again. I don't wish to cast doubt upon Fr. Rolheiser's work, but I also don't really wish to spend a lot of time in the sea of new age syncretism with someone who doesn't think language matters. (Despite the wretched appearance of some of these hastily cast-off entries, language really does matter to me.)

I would appreciate any and all contributions to better understanding how to approach (or not to approach) this writer. Thanks.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:37 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2003

After too long a silence.

After too long a silence. . .

John da Fiesole at Disputations is back. . . in spades. Some wonderful reading there today--but then you already know that, don't you?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

Starting in the Comment Box

Starting in the Comment Box

This started as a response to Neil below, who notes some other difficulties with Yancey's book. But it quickly grew to proportions that demand their own space:

Dear Neil,

But each of these people has something about them that is worthy of imitation--at least as much as St. Jerome, say. I wouldn't want to imitate all of Jerome's life, or the life of St. Catherine Laboure, but there are undeniably strains of their lives that are worthy of imitation. So too, I think with each of the "heroes" Yancey sites. Moreover, sometimes you don't need someone to imitate so much as someone to tow you to shore, to ground you once again in the reality that you are in the presence of God throughout your life.

Your point about "signs of contradiction" without internal structure, is of course, the strongest argument for the Catholic Church. But that also is peripheral to the core of the book. The book is not about religious practice. I guess I keep coming back to the purpose of writing and I am trying to judge the success of the book more on what it was intended to do, not on what it could do ideally.

Not every spiritual book is necessarily a guide to how to live. Some simply provide inspiration. And it is this aspect of the book that I find entirely successful. Yancey told me about thirteen people I could turn to for "light reading" who would tend to enhance my spiritual life rather than detract from it. Necessarily the list is idiosyncratic--they will not be the same people for everyone. For example, through the mystery of Grace, a fallen-away Catholic pointed me most strongly to the Catholic Church. Reading James Joyce's "The Dead" and the utterly magnificent sermon on Hell from Portrait of the Artist showed me the magnificence of the church and the depth to which it affected even those individuals who attempted to escape its embrace. I would not suggest that anyone attempt to follow Joyce's model. And yet, I find there tremendous inspiration--what Thomas Dubay might call the "Evidentiary Power of Beauty."

We all need to know where the life preservers are. When we enter stormy waters and the ship threatens to capsize, we need to know where we can turn. Yancey suggests some places to turn, some people to look at. Paul Elie, in The Life You Save May Be Your Own suggests others. And that book shows models that are not perfect. Dorothy Day seems to have been shrouded in a certain naivete with regard to socialist and communist regimes--and yet there are those who think her worthy of Sainthood. Certainly I would not want to imitate her politics. And so I would say that the lives of saints carry two elements--imitation and instruction. Of the two I would say that instruction may be the more important. As I frequently point out to my Carmelite group--it is fine to imitate St. Therese, but one need neither envy nor desire to be St. Therese--after all God has one of those. God wants us to be Saints, and in some measure we become Saints by imitation, but we also become Saints by refutation. That is, we do not imitate those aspects of a Saint's life that might be less than saintly in some lights. Heroic virtue does not mean perfection. All of those examples Yancey shows us, he shows us not necessarily for imitation (although there are many good things to imitate) but for instruction and for hope. These are fellow-travelers who have been through some stormy waters and yet have kept afloat. Perhaps from them we will learn things that will help us.

Thus I return to the theme--what did Yancey attempt to do in the book? I would repectfully submit that he suceeded in his intention of showing us people who could help to remind us the power of the Holy Spirit and of faithfulness. I must also say that I did not find it particularly Evangelical either in tone nor in accomplishment. As you noted in a previous entry, it is very ecumenical in its embrace, and that is not necessarily an attribute one associates with Evangelical Churches. Most particularly the presence of Gandhi is not something one would expect to find in such as study. I think Yancey transcends the limits of his church and offers us an interesting perspective on how faith operates and how we can shore our own faith up. I might suggest a different roster of authors (In fact, I know I would), but nevertheless, I could come up with a list of those who have inspired me and transformed my life. Perhaps that might be a worthwhile endeavor for some future entry.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)

Show Music in Church The

Show Music in Church

The point of this is not to complain about music, but to speculate about what it might ultimately do. Yesterday I returned to the parish I had long attended because I needed to get to an earlier mass than I can normally attend at the local Shrine. My local parish hands out the bulletins at the beginning of Mass, assuring that for most people Mass preparation time is spent reading up on the events of the coming week. This has always been the case--mildly disturbing, but as it tended to keep people quiet, not anything worth making a fuss about in itself.

Later when I glanced through the bulletin, I discovered seminars in centering prayer (about which I am uncertain--I try to weigh all of the authorities on either side. I think that it is something that too easily slips into gimmickry and method--though M. Basil Pennington, a major proponent of Centering Prayer, insists that it is not). Much more bothersome, and becoming nearly epidemic, I read that the Women's Group of the parish was going to spend a morning "walking the labyrinth" at some nearby locality. This I find more profoundly disturbing. Again, it is perhaps without cause. But these kinds of things remind me profoundly of days when I was more associated with Pagan and Wiccan types who performed similar rituals. I know as well that walking and praying can be a very effective combination, so I suppose much of this is a matter of the emphasis of the individual.

But more disturbing and disheartening than all of this was the service itself. While still ostensibly solidly orthodox and faithful, the music consisted of a series of show-tune like melodies that seemed more for the exaltation of the cantor than for the spiritual setting of Mass. Much of the music was simply unsingable--consisting of strings of staggered triplets that spanned far too many octaves for a normal congregation to embrace. More, I noted a common strain in that they seemed to exalt the individual rather than God.

In moments like these, the heartsickness of some who lament the paucity of Latin settings for the Mass is driven home hard. In my mnd, fairly or unfairly, I have associated the music program from this once-magnificent parish with elements such as labyrinth walking and centering prayer. The whole brew seems a little off to me. Discordant elements tend to breed discordant elements.

I know that it need not be this way because the Parish wasn't this way before, nor is the Shrine I attend at all like this. But it seems to me that once this element has crept into a celebration, it tends to poison the entire system. I don't know that labyrinth-walking can be said to be poison, but it at least gives off fumes that strike one as dangerous.

All of this is a way of supporting those who fight hard to maintain their parishes' integrity in the Mass. It is to lend some support to those who would give us masses with Chant rather than the modern song books. It is to say that while complaint is still not the better way, constructive action undertaken to reform is absolutely necessary--and that action might take the form of a letter to the Pastor of the Church.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2003

Great Post on God's Presence

Great Post on God's Presence

From T.S. O'Rama.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

One More Quick Note on

One More Quick Note on Yancey

In a critique below, Neil Dhingra (ever a cogent observer) critiques Soul Survivor and finds that there is a certain weakness about it that stems, perhaps from Yancey's own experience of the church and attempts to heal from those experiences.

Mr. Dhingra phrases it this way:

I did not think that the book was entirely successful, though. Yancey has been left scarred by his early experience in church - "Although I heard that 'God is love,' the image of God I got from sermons more resembled an angry, vengeful tyrant." These experiences keep resurfacing in the book - the angry responses he gets in response Christianity Today articles about Martin Luther King or Gandhi, the "climate of hysteria" that surrounds the religious discussion of the AIDS crisis and C Everett Koop.

Yancey values his subjects because they challenge - from a religious angle - the authenticity of this negative church experience. "The churches I attended had stressed the dangers of pleasure so loudly that I missed any positive message. Guided by Chesterton, I came to see sex, money, power, and sensory pleasures as God's good gifts." They do so as misfits, outsiders - "Several of them, a psychiatrist would probably diagnose as unstable." We constantly get sentences like, "Despite his Harvard roots, Coles hardly fits the mold of an ivory-tower academic." This, of course, confirms Yancey own identification as "an ordinary pilgrim, one person among many on a spiritual search. Unavoidably, and by instinct, I question and reevaluate my faith all the time."

And this is where I think that book is weak. His subjects are almost solely valued for their iconoclasm, their attacks on complacency and legalism. None of them are really allowed to structure Yancey's religious experience: Dostoevsky doesn't make Orthodoxy an attractive option; we don't know if Yancey takes up Henri Nouwen's habit of a half-hour of contemplative prayer a day. This limits their possible influence on Yancey and his ability to deeply interact with them. The book is often quite moving, but one gets the sense that Yancey's focus on "surviving" the church may leave him with too little in the way of concrete practice and an inability to live any sort of ecclesial existence.

I can't fault the cogent observation, but I would reply: surviving is the essential theme of this book. It isn't about growth, transformation, ecclesial conformtity, or any number of other things it could be about. It is about survival. What Yancey points out through his examples is indeed contra societal norms, but I would argue that that is where Yancey meets Christ. "A sign of contradiction," in other words iconclasm as we phrase it today. It is in the sign of contradiction, in the lack of conformity with the expected norms of society that Yancey has his most authentic experiences of Jesus Christ.

Now, that may not be where many of us encounter Christ--but through Yancey's struggles and through his eyes, I came to appreciate many of these people for the signs of Christ they bring to the world. How they transformed Yancey's life is of less interest to me than the possiblity that they may transform my own. Not that I don't care about Yancey, I do. But perhaps he chooses to moot this point to emphasize what these people can do for other individuals who are looking for examples of Christlikeness.

So, while I acknowledge that this might be levied as a criticism, my reading of the book made this a strength and invited me to consider more carefully these varied influences. I believe that makes for a sucessful book. I doubt seriously that Yancey really wanted a reader to spend time reflecting on Yancey's life and challenges--his life enters only as example of what kinds of transformation might result from contact with those who live a Christ-like life in whatever mode.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

Quick Note For Those Who Favor Complaint

Quick Note For Those Who Favor Complaint

While I did note that it is important to point out things that are harmful to society and to individuals--it did seem to get overlooked. I do not think of that in the form of complaint but of critique. Complaint generally centers around matters that, while important may be merely symptomatic of what should be analyzed and critiqued. Warhols artistic decadence, for example, is hardly comparable with abortion or other cultural concerns. Disney may be symptomatic, but it doesn't rise to the level of exploitation of the poor.

In matters where there is not the life, health, or spiritual welfare of the individual at hand, I think out best advice on viewing the world comes from St. Paul:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Phil 4:8)

Doesn't it seem better to lead by better example than by complaining about what is presently here. Isn't it better simply to ignore the cultural burn-out places and point to things that are truly beautiful and wonderful and instruct by their beauty and wonder? Once again, I gather up all the power of ancient cliche and say, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Complaint makes you a curmudgeon, and example in life make you a saint.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)