November 12, 2004

A Political View

Catholics in the Public Square seems quite a worthwhile endeavor. Go and help them out the pseudoCatholic population.

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Biblical Reflections

At The Lesser of Two Weevils a wonderful reflection on the Shema Yisrael, in some ways the very center and core of Judaism and a perpetual reminder of the simplicity of God in which we all participate to the extent that we align our own wills with His.

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Prayer Requests

Please pray for me and for a friend. We are both taking small steps on new roads (though slightly different in nature) and we both need the support of all the prayers we can get. Pray that these little steps will carry each of us on our way to the life that God has in mind for us--a life of selfless devotion to His beauty and goodness--a life given in service to all around us.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2004

On Edible Tomatoes

The things one has to find out in the course of a work day.

I read the supposed "fact" that A.W. Livingston of Reynoldsburg, Ohio developed the world's first edible tomato. This really bugged me. It suggested that up until about 1872 all of Italian cuisine had been tomatoless.

Now, it makes sense that tomato, a member of the nightshade family, might once not have been edible. But I kept finding references further and further back as to people eating tomatoes.

So what is it that Livingston actually did? He hybridized and hand selected wild tomatoes to produce a plump, ripe fruit that we know today. He commercialized the cultivation of tomatoes. It is to Livingston and his efforts that we owe a majority of the variety of tomatoes available today.

I know you all really wanted to know. Well, perhaps not, but it's been a lingering mystery to me for two days and I thought I'd share what I'd finally tracked down. So those of you in Reynoldsburg at the Tomato Festival, take a moment to correct the misconceptions, but still to honor the father of the appetizing tomato.

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Eternal Rest Grant Unto HIm O Lord!

I would like to feel more deeply the loss of Yassar Arafat, but it is not in me; however, that does not prevent me from praying for his soul and for rest and peace for him. May Shakespeare be wrong in this case,

"The evil men do lives after them,
the good is oft interr'd with their bones. . . "

May we see a change of heart, a change of path, a continuation of the struggle for identity in a way that allows the Palestinian people finally to achieve identity but not at the cost of another.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:25 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 10, 2004

New For Me

Either an inveterate punster or a fan of Master and Commander: The Far Sice of the World, stop by and say hello to A liberal zen Catholic hebraist. Thanks for visiting--I love to find new, thoughtful sites.

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Post 3000!!!!--Participated Theonomy

Those of you who went to Catholic Universities and who studied theology and moral theology already know more about this than I could possibly share. But reading through one of my many books, I stumbled upon this term and concept and felt that it would make a marvelous addition and reminder as I look back over my posts, garnering from it them some of the insights I had a various times.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

Participated theonomy is a fancy way of saying that God's truth is build for us--his moral law (theonomy) is something we can really participate or partake in.

The notion of "participation is easier to understand if we consider another aspect of the Christian life: God's grace dwelling in us. It has "twin" aspects: First, sanctifying grace is not a thing we have in our souls, but is the very life of the Triune God dwelling--pulsating, if you will--within our very being. Grace is God's love poured into our hearts (see Rom 5:5).

Second, looked at from our angle, when God pours himself into us, we participate in him (see VS [Veritatis Splendor} 73, and CCC 1709, 1987-2016). And part of God's being is his law--not a set of rules only, as a heteronomy would have it, but the whole set of principles that puts our moral lives in order.

Twin moments again: When God pours himself into us, he pouts that "order " into us. (Later we'll see that this is precisely what "natural law" is.) From our angle we partake in that order. It is there for our happiness.

That's what participated theonomy is. When you see this term throughout the book, think "God's truth is friendly to me" or "God's truth is meant to make me truly happy.

Apart from an eccentric use of colons and italics, this passage was a superb introduction to the terminology of moral theology and to the central concept that we participate in God's law, and as God is uniate and simple (even while be triune--go ask the Thomists to explain this one) we participate in God's life itself.

A little later we have this magnificent little zinger.

Source as above

Here is another "pastoral aid" that this understanding yields: When you embrace the Church's moral stance of participated theonomy, expect to be misunderstood by people on both of the opposite extremes. Those who are positioned within autonomy will look at participated theonomy and see it is as heteronomous [control by an exterior rigid set of laws]. Because you claim, with the Church, to have access to truths that are absolute in nature, you'll be caricatured as an intolerant rigid fundamentalist who wants to impose one opinion on everyone.

On the other had, those who are positioned heteronomously will look at participated theonomy as far too autonomous for their tastes. Because you claim, with the Church, that the solution to our current moral crisis in not a return to the pre-Vatican II past, you'll be caricatured as a loose, wimpy Catholic without any moral fiber.

In the midst of these two misunderstanding, be patient and non-polemical. Take some comfort in knowing that when you are misunderstood by two polar opposites, that's a good sign that you’re getting something right!

I wanted this "anniversary post" to be something of substance--not too much substance I hope, but something that might hearken back to some of the better posts that have been made in the course of this long run.

And I implore your prayers that I might continue this endeavor for as long (and absolutely no longer than) God wills and directs. I love being here among bright, witty, talented, interesting people who are so ready to help one another live the Christian life.

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My Thanks to Mme Ramotswe

These things I owe to Mme Ramotswe:

(1) a different, more enlightened, view of southern Africa

(2) a renewed interest in African History

(3) introduction to Sir Seretse Khama, from all accounts a great leader and Statesman, who led Bechuanaland to become Botswana; a much less well-known counterbalance to the horrors of western activity in Africa, such as Patrice Lumumba and Stephen Biko.

(4) Last, and most importantly, introduction to and encouragement for Red Bush (Rooibos) tea. Actually a tisane with a unique flavor somewhere between tea and coffee, it has become my morning beverage of choice. And I've gotten to the point where all of my afternoon iced tea is bush tea.

For more about Mme Ramotswe, see here. But I find I must modify that early, more negative review with the fact that Mme lingers on in fond memory and is a source of some pleasure to reflect upon long after having read the book. The book may have been a trifle, but Mme Ramotswe is not.

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November 09, 2004

A Review of Thérèse

is available at Cantánima.

What is nice about the review is how it took something that I was not particularly thrilled with and suggested that perhaps I might nevertheless benefit.

Also we face the perennial question that I know has often surfaced here--how does one by-pass the saccharine surface and arrive at the depths of St. Thérèse? The answer is simply--grace. I said some time ago that I long thought I disliked St. Thérèse. The reality, however, was that I disliked some of the excesses of the Saints admirers. I heard so much about "the Little Flower," that I was absolutely certain that there was nothing there for me. What I discovered was that an excess of devotion expressed effusively effectively kept me from embracing one of the strongest, most willful, most loving Saints of recent times. The amazing simplicity and sheer depth of grace that pervaded her entire life resulted in a Canonization that was uncommonly rapid for the time and in a body of doctrine that while not as formidable as that of St. John of the Cross is considerably more approachable. And the most beautiful part of it all is that St. Thérèse is truly a daughter of St. John of the Cross. Most of what one seeks in the Mystical Doctor, one can find, simpler, clearer, perhaps shorn of some of the rigors of the time, in his daughter. But enough, I've said this before and I know and sympathize with all the reasons people find her unapproachable. Perhaps the film might help some more of those.

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Prayer Requests

Please continue to pray for Dylan--I keep hoping he will return.

Please pray for the needs of the people who make up St. Blogs.

Please pray especially for those who have troubled marriages, for those who have difficulty communicating their wants and needs, for those who feel lost and at sea and who live in constant turmoil.

Please pray for the success of 3 different business ventures, the welfare of several families may hinge on it.

And God bless all of you who remember the needs of others in the course of your own busy lives.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lessons Learned at St. Blogs--A Thank You

Why am I a blogger? For one thing it keeps me writing. But for another it keeps me involved with the intellectual community of St. Blogs. I don't like every "intellectual" blog, some are too astringent, some too uncivil, but there are a good many that do me great good.

In light of praise received last night, I had to try to figure out a way to disarm what I really wanted to say in this post. Because I tend to be very straightforward in my approach to things, I will do the same with disarming. What I am about to say is the truth as I see it; I am not fishing for compliments, I am not looking for an ego boost, I am not stirring the pot to see what is stuck to the bottom. As I approach that magical 3000 number, I want to give a perspective as to why I have 3000 posts and why I hope I'm around for another five or six rounds of 3000.

When I entered St. Blogs I did so with a fair sense of my own intellectual "prowess" and my own ability to communicate clearly precisely what I wanted to say. My time here has shown how sorely both commodities are lacking. I am not nearly so smart as I would like to think. That has been a hard lesson, a constant challenge to come to terms with, but it has been a very good lesson. Moreover, I am not the thinker I thought I was. I haven't been trained in it and I have no inclination to it. I can follow a reasoned argument fairly well, although I sometimes miss the subtleties, but I am not up to Disputation, merely to opinion formation and floating an idea to see how bad or good it might be. While Disputations has taught me a great many lessons in this realm, I have learned other, formidable lessons elsewhere in St. Blogs.

For example at "Ad Limina" and "Against the Grain" I come up against deep knowledge and love of certain figures and ideas in the Church. There are people discussed about whom I know something, but often there surface insights and ideas that are so exciting and new (to me) that I want to shout them to the world. Hence, another lesson--the world already knows them--it's ME that doesn't.

I go to Two Sleepy Mommies and Summa Mamas for insights into family life, books, and a quiet chuckle or two. For out and out guffaws I head to Curt Jester, and often to Video Meliora. I love TSOs short fiction pieces and sometimes acerbic observations of goings-on here and in the real world.

But the most important lesson taught by Saint Blogs has been the importance of humility. Time and again I have thought myself slighted or mocked or insulted and I have thought about really firing off a zinger (assuming that it is still within my repertoire to do so). And then I will stop and think a couple of things:

(1) Did I read what the person wrote, or did I misread it with my own agenda? Moreover, did I read what was intended or what flat words end up sounding like when they achieve print?

(2) Why exactly are you so hurt and angry? Why did such a response provoke my anger? Why do you take yourself so seriously?

Thinking these things I discover that I do take myself far too seriously. I am not that important and the deconstruction of Steven Riddle is not a particularly likely goal for anyone who has any sort of life outside of cyberspace. Thinking these things always turns me toward Jesus to ask Him what is wrong with me. Why am I so prone to failure in this regard? Why is my pride so overblown?

So, while for many a tenure at St. Blogs is an exercise against the temptation of pride, for me it is a constant lesson in humility. I walked in thinking I was "all that," and discovered that I am just one of a great many fairly intelligent, but not necessarily top-notch thinkers. What I thought was a breadth of view and vast vistas of interests turns out, in the end, to have been a fairly parochial, fairly narrow range compared with some in St. Blogs.

Keep in mind, this is NOT looking for refutation, because refutation would undo the meaning and intent of what comes next:

Thank you all. Thank you for the lessons you teach me even when you are not trying to teach anything. Thank you for the lessons in thinking reasonably. Thank you in the lessons in being a better person. Thank you for the insights you have shared regarding your families and how you all strive to be better parents and better people. Thank you for sharing your struggles and inviting the prayers of the community. Thank you for upholding the Catholic Truth to the best of your ability. Thank you for being a very real and substantive community of thinkers who work, and write, and read, and share. Thank you for helping me to become a better Christian. My Catholic life has improved immeasurably in my time here. Part of this is because of what I post, but most of this is because of what I read, both in response to these posts, but also in each blog that I visit. I owe a tremendous debt of thanks to every person here and I pray for St. Blogs every day.

We have our detractors. Sometimes we are our own detractors, wondering why we do this, why we continue to write. Sometimes we express our own reservations about why we keep blogs. But I apply to this the universal rule--If you are asking yourself if you might be being a jerk either (1) you are not being a jerk; or (2) you are well on your way to becoming not a jerk. So too if you wonder about your motives for posting, you are undergoing the proper regular examen that is necessary for each of us as we continue to work here. Because there is great temptation to pride, but there is also lowly and humble support for the entire community.

Once again, my sincere thanks to all who stop by and read and to all who occasionally engage me in discussion. Your ideas improve my own ways of thinking about things enormously. It is not possible to be thankful enough for this.

So keep blogging, keep those entries coming. I am now at a point where I cannot get through my entire bloglist every day, and that is a wonderful place to be. The diversity of opinion, the diversity of voices, the sheer tumult and rough-and-tumble of some of the interactions are a constant source of inspiration, and, oddly enough, a kind of joy.

Thank you.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 08, 2004

Literary Taste: How to Form It

A magnificent e-text from the author of one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century. This excerpt:

from Literary Taste: How to Form It
Arnold Bennett

Chapter IX Verse

There is a word, a “name of fear,” which rouses terror in the heart of the vast educated majority of the English-speaking race. The most valiant will fly at the mere utterance of that word. The most broad-minded will put their backs up against it. The most rash will not dare to affront it. I myself have seen it empty buildings that had been full; and I know that it will scatter a crowd more quickly than a hose-pipe, hornets, or the rumour of plague. Even to murmur it is to incur solitude, probably disdain, and possibly starvation, as historical examples show. That word is “poetry.”. . .

The formation of literary taste cannot be completed until that prejudice has been conquered. My very difficult task is to suggest a method of conquering it. I address myself exclusively to the large class of people who, if they are honest, will declare that, while they enjoy novels, essays, and history, they cannot “stand” verse. The case is extremely delicate, like all nervous cases. It is useless to employ the arts of reasoning, for the matter has got beyond logic; it is instinctive. Perfectly futile to assure you that verse will yield a higher percentage of pleasure than prose! You will reply: “We believe you, but that doesn't help us.” Therefore I shall not argue. I shall venture to prescribe a curative treatment (doctors do not argue); and I beg you to follow it exactly, keeping your nerve and your calm. Loss of self-control might lead to panic, and panic would be fatal.

So, for those of you who suffer metrophobia run, don't walk to this text and find out what Bennett's advice might be. The life you change could be your own!

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From a Moral Theologian--Malum et Culpa

Now Jack can have someone to disagree with other than me.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

We are understandably afraid of being called "judgmental"--especially when Christ's saying "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Mt 7:1) is invoked--and we end up with what might be called the "can't impose syndrome:" "I would never be able to justify having an abortion, but I can't impose my views on someone else." We might know how absurd such a claim is--substitute slave-holding for abortion, and it's pretty obvious--yet we don't want to be labeled as rigid and judgmental.

The solution is clear: We must steadfastly maintain the distinction between an act that is evil and an evil act for which someone is culpable. Christ demands that we make the former judgment, and prohibits us from making the latter judgment.

To judge that an act is right or wrong is precisely what conscience is supposed to do--in fact, the technical definition of conscience is that it is an "act of judgment" that appliles the universal truth to a particular case (see VS 32.2 and 59.2). Judging that a particular individual is cupable for having committed an evil act is strictly forbidden --that's God's business.

Honestly, I can't say why this issue weighs so heavily on my mind, but my frequent return to it shows that it does. I think I need to understand exactly where I am supposed to be with respect to God's desire for me. As I am inclined to be a very judging person anyway, I think I artificially impose this boundary as a prelude to allowing grace to make it a natural boundary. There is a limit to what I can do myself, but there is no limit to what grace can accomplish in me, but I must cooperate. And this is a form, I suppose of active cooperation.

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From the Comments Box at Disputations

Rob supplies this quotation too rich to be missed:

Don Imus this morning played a clip of a black preacher, preaching against abortion, preaching against gay marriage. The preacher said, "Either God has to judge this nation, or else he's got to dig up Sodom and Gomorrah, because he owes those people an apology."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Prayer Requests

Please pray for a special intention, concern that birddogs me today.

Please pray for troubled marriages and for the communication gaps that too easily contribute to them.

Please pray for those out of work, and those working in new fields with which they are not yet comfortable.

And please pray for a friend of mine who is entering a new field and who is uncertain of her ability to cope, of her desire to do it, and of her capacity to deal with all the surrounding issues.

Thank you all. May God bless your generosity.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Back to Phillippians

Returning now to the point we left off in chapter 1.

Phillippians 1: 12-18

I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.

From His own life an illustration of one of Paul's most hopeful, jubilant, and joyful sayings, "All things work to the good of those who love Him." Here Paul rejoices in his imprisonment because through it he has gained another audience. The whole Praetorian Guard knows that his imprisonment is for Christ. What they make of this, we do not know. But surely they know enough to realize that a man willing to endure such confinement because of his beliefs is a man worth listening to. And if they are listening, they are hearing about Jesus. Paul is always pointing to Jesus. To everyone around him Paul speaks of Jesus and rejoices in Christ.

Rejoicing in chains--it makes one think. Think for a moment of your own chains--most of them are probably self-made. The worst of our captivities is self-imposed. We enslave ourselves to sin, we give in to temptation. Heck, if the truth be told (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) I downright go out looking for tempations if they can't readily be found at home. We're smart and we're bored and we're looking for something that will fill the vast empty spaces. And Satan will see to it that we will find something that seems for a moment to do so. For a moment--but then the vast emptiness comes rushing back upon us. What could be worse captivity that this?

But Paul rejoices in chains, because his chains are not of his own making. They are merely material chains--the things we chafe against. I can't stand the fact that I can't buy what I want whenever I want. If truth be told, I'm certain that more than half of my dislike for the wealthy stems not from their perceived arrogance and paltryness, but rather from my own desire to have the opportunity to be the same. A little more money, a little more fame, a little more sex, a little more. . . these are the chains that really bind. And Paul is free of them and rejoicing in his imprisonment. He rejoices because in his own captivity he frees those around him. His chains are of the moment and his presence and witness frees many from the chains that are of eternity.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Personal Note

A while back I lamented the long and laborious road to the collection of comments. I pointed out that while Summa Mamas had been in existence about half as long they had garnered far more comments.

But this is about something even more important, something over which I have control and by which I am astounded.

Very shortly, within the week certainly, and depending upon production perhaps even today or tomorrow, I shall have reached post 3000. I don't know why I find that so remarkable except to think that were I to print all of this out it would make a substantial volume of prose. Relatively bad prose, I fear because such things as are posted are frequently hurriedly composed.

Nevertheless, 3000 is on its way!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 07, 2004

Letters to a Young Conservative Dinesh D'Souza

While I found this book for the most part to be an innocuous and interesting exposition of current Conservative thought, there are some deeply disturbing elements about it that make me question the entire notion of "conservative" as defined here.

For example, early in the book comes this passage:

from Letters to a Young Conservative
Dinesh D'Souza

Let's make a list of the liberal virtues: equality, compassion, pluralism, diversity, social justice, peace, autonomy, tolerance. . . . By contrast, conservatives emphasize other virtues: merit, patriotism, prosperity, national unity, social order, morality, responsibility. (p. 7-8)

Leaving aside the question as to whether or not "merit" is a virtue, looking at the two lists, I am disturbed by the conservative’s lack of compassion and social justice and the emphasis on patriotism, prosperity, and national unity. I don't recall a whole lot of Jesus’ teaching centered around becoming prosperous. (Unlike some, I would deny that Jesus saw any intrinsic evil in prosperity per se but rather with its accouterments that seem to affect some more that others.) Where did Jesus promote national unity as a virtue? Patriotism? I would say from this narrow perspective a truly conservative focus on values approaches anti-Christian. And while the liberal values of pluralism, diversity, autonomy, and tolerance are nowhere to be found in Jesus' teachings, I think we can say that compassion and social justice do make up a good deal of what He has to say to us. True, the conservatives seem to have in their corner morality, another keystone (perhaps the chief keystone) of our Savior's teaching. Nevertheless. looking at the two lists side by side I have to say that my preference is the list of "liberal" virtues (many of which I would label "humane").

In a later chapter, which gives a very interesting perspective on anti-globalism (the perspective of one who has lived in and experienced the effect of big companies offering jobs in third world countries) there is this sinister elision:

[source as above]

Thus countries that have embraced globalization, such as China and India, have seen growth rates of 5 percent or more per year, compared with 2 percent in Western countries, and 1 percent or less in countries outside the free-trade loop.

Another reference is made to the wonders of the Thai market, among others. Now, perhaps it is this very perspective (third-world country) that colors the perceptions--however, to exalt the Chinese lao-gai system in the same breath as successes in India makes one question the successes of India. To exalt a market (Thai) that exploits child labor makes one wonder. I suppose in the brevity of the book one cannot discuss everything, but this treatment seems somewhat short of candor or deliberately disingenuous.

And this is the problem I often encounter with self-styled conservatives. Many of the ideas are very good in theory, it is in the implementation that the occasionally fall short, and yet there is not acknowledgment of this failure. Globalization is just fine, everyone benefits, the world is a better place. The facts of the matter belie parts of this conclusion and we would all do better to recognize this and seek to "fix" globalism and really bring the benefits we would like to claim for it to the entire world.

The difficulty I have with this book stems from small bits and pieces like this--cracks in the facade that give me a glimpse of something vaguely unpleasant teeming below the surface.

Once again the book is largely a superficial explanation of the depths of modern conservative thought. However, the final disturbing point is the suggestion of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand as a "must" on the conservative read list. This is described as " a fast-paced novel that is also a capitalist manifesto; it celebrates the entrepreneurs who build and make new things." So Rand's philosophy is embraced in a single sentence without any indication that the deeper currents of objectivism hide many extremely ugly, extremely brutal things. Rand's "capitalism" is of the objectivist school--some people matter, most do not. Those that are important make something of themselves while the rest are to be used on the way up. Largely, the corporate ethos of today as many of us experience it in the workplace.

I've picked little holes in the fabric of what really is a very nice exposition of Conservative thought. In the course of reading it one brushes up against some of the real virtues of conservatism. One can see the virtues of conservative thought even if there is some demurral. But the most alarming thing, I suppose, is this deliberate blindness to the weaknesses of the system.

That said, the same is true IN SPADES of liberal thought. The exaltation of tolerance and autonomy as the greatest of the virtues blows holes a yard wide in the whole structure. In liberalism the equality strived for is not equality of means, but equality of ends--another depredation and incidental demeaning of the intrinsic worth of a person.

By all means, please read Letters to a Young Conservative, but do keep in mind that if this were all there were to the Conservative venture, we would be living in a very, very ugly society and world. The greatness of God is that He gives us the constant harping of the liberal voices to correct the excesses and potential harm of the straight conservative view. The truth, as usual, lies in a blending of the two sets of virtues, and in the recognition of the limits of any ideology. A true conservative does seek to conserve the very best of what is present in society now, and I also believe that he or she works very hard to correct the excesses and the burdens imposed by this system of thought and governance

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:10 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack