Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Christian Carnival CCCXXI up over at who am i?

Peruse and enjoy. In preparation for my actual turn hosting, (later on in April), I'm going to try reading these things systematically and commenting on each and every one of them if I can (one provides no comment-space). Already did two but that was rather unsystematic. I am particularly intrigued by the dialogue of "Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water."

Eastern European Catholicism

Can someone tell me how these eastern European countries keep getting away with infringing on the civil rights of Muslims? Not only that, but doing so while trampling on one of Islam's signs of modesty.* How are these countries Catholic enough to hate Muslims even though (soon enough) they won't be Catholic enough to believe in God?

As a general norm I refrain from cussing on the internet and almost totally on this blog, but, Lord help me, it's ox-crap like this that makes me want to abandon my strange notions about civility and politeness. Especially troubling is the fact that the proposal goes into Parliament after Easter Break. So after celebrating the Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, some of these politicians are about to set out and make sure the world can see just how Christian they are, to legislate against the rights of Muslims--who could be powerful cultural and moral allies in our defense of Natural Law--in order, apparently, to appease public opinion.

Of course, it's the New York Times, so it's quite possible that they're exaggerating something. Still. I'm not happy about this, and I don't think Christians should be either, frankly. Even if you're tempted to celebrate the implicit repression of Muslims, remember the things we hold in common: we both, at the most fundamental level, acknowledge that there is something besides public opinion and a feeling of public 'security' to be served in the world. Something transcendent. If in a few years Belgium and France turn on the Catholics, and start making arguments against nuns' habits and public carrying of Rosaries...If in a few years they tell us Christians can't carry big Bibles, because they might be able to fit tiny bombs inside of them...Don't forget that you were warned.


* Yes, yes, I know. The burqa may also be a sign of oppression and women kept down on a pedestal. I'm saying it's a sign of modesty, not that it's a perfect sign of modesty or that it's never been abused. Christian signs of modesty can be abused, too, but I'm trying to point out that a desire for such is something we hold in common with the Muslims, not something we should join Europe in attacking them for. I also don't mean to deny that there might be some security threats here, but that's where vigilance comes in. Banning a particular outfit because it makes identification harder is a lazy and prejudiced way to increase security. If they were willing to ban old-school nuns' habits and ninja garb as well, it might show that security was the real concern. No doubt some Muslims have carried out attacks in Eastern Europe. That is not an excuse to effectively ban faithfully Muslim women from public service--at least, those who feel that the burqa is part of their faithfulness. Those women, the ones caught in this cultural crossfire--. Vigilance is an answer; banning the burqa is a slippery slope, and Europe should tread very very carefully if it insists on treading even an inch down it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Theological Worldview Quiz...Again!

I took the (Christian) theological worldview quiz again. Everyone reading it should definitely take it right at this link. My top three don't surprise me at all, given my recent Tiber-crossing and the fact that many of the people who brought me up have had tendencies in the directions of neo orthodoxy and the emergent church.

Roman Catholic
Neo orthodox
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Reformed Evangelical
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal

So yeah, take it and post a comment, or make a post and let me know, I'll be keeping track here. If you tied, say which one you chose but please post your percentages if you can. I still find this quiz quite helpful in helping to determine where one's theological slants are. I think even if you already know what category you'll wind up in, you might find yourself somewhat surprised or illuminated where your other sympathies are.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Observation on Something I Picked up from Kevin Johnston's Blog

Kevin Johnston is an awesome guy who I went to college with. He keeps a blog here called Sola Nobilitas Virtus. He usually has some kind of snappy quotation at the top and/or the side of the blog (the trend now is to have a more long-lasting one at the top and a quotation and picture on the right side that switch on a weekly basis.) Anyway, back when I think it was just the one on the right that changed, one of them was:
Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bells. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.
I submit that this is a false dichotomy, and I stipulate that in saying such I am completely disregarding any intent it may have and focusing solely on its wording. There should be a church within a yard of hell, for parishoners who can brave it. We are after all a pilgrim church; we are not safe. And it seems that we can think many places that are almost borders between hell and earth (for reasons of physical poverty mostly, though I suspect we could identify just as many places where spiritual poverty was great enough.) And there are churches in them.

I'm not saying I should be one of those to go to that church. Though by going to church in America I may have already committed myself to such. In fact I suspect the commitment is really much easier to make even than that. In a sense, every square yard of this world that isn't the sanctuary of a Church is already within a yard of hell. I thank God that the sanctuaries and tabernacles have stayed almost totally inviolate, save for those intentional perversions which constitute crimes against God and humanity. But almost everything else--including, with sadness, the church meeting halls, the homes of Christians, even, have not. So it is not just a false dichotomy because the Church could be a rescue shop, in theory. It is an impossible distinction, because the Church cannot be a Church unless it is a rescue shop.

Ultimately, I suppose what this means is, ready or not, I'm called to go to that church! Will you come with me?

Monday, March 22, 2010

I's a Catholic

Yes I am. I am now Daniel James Ignatius (of Antioch) Lower. :p

The Idiot

The following is a revised version of a story I wrote awhile ago on this blog. The story has been revised to focus more narrowly on its intended themes. The label "theology in story" is the only one I've applied so that the reader might more easily discover the story's theme as they read. It was actually revised awhile ago--thanks to my friend Corban Monger who helped me with some typo/grammar-review and editing, and to my parents, and Austin, for giving some helpful critiques of the first story. I thought since I didn't have much else germinating in my mind, this would be a good thing to post this week.

There were once two Christians. Each knew his doctrine quite well—what it was at least, and between them they could prove it from the Bible. They both attended Jerusalem Community Church, in a small nonexistent town in the northwest somewhere. In this town most people were Calvinists, Catholics, or Calvinists who really were Catholics, except for belief in the perseverance of the saints.

These two men lived their respective lives and died their respective deaths. On the day of judgment, it seemed God's good pleasure that these two be brought in side-by-side to give an account of themselves. The Judge was dressed like Death, but he appeared the opposite of a skeleton, and underneath his hood was not darkness, but a cool light.

The first stepped forward. He was sad and wasted: A piece of modern art composed entirely of skin and bones. He looked at once hopeless and repentant, and barely made eye contact with the Judge as he spoke. “Sir. It is with great regret that I inform you that I am almost certainly damned. It is God's teaching that those who are not among the elect shall have no experiences of conversion, that they shall not be affected whatsoever by taking communion, or by their baptism.

“I know, then, that I am not among the elect. I have always felt a rush of emotion when old friends came to visit, and always felt ecstatic just to see a bee resting on a flower. But I did not feel anything at my baptism, and I never felt a thing on taking the bread and juice. Even when I first came to believe that Jesus Christ was Lord of my Life, I—I felt nothing. If Your hands are not truly bound by the Scripture You laid down, I ask you to have mercy on me, though I don't deserve it and have no right to expect it.”

The Judge nodded somberly and then turned to face the other man. He had aged well. He looked peaceful, at least mostly, and was well-dressed. The Judge motioned for him to speak. “Sir,” he said, “It is with joy that I stand before you in the hope of rising again. Like the other man, I know Your teachings. I can the rush of joy when I came to believe in Jesus Christ, and how ecstatic I was when I was baptized. I can recall how when I first took communion I felt not damned, but assured that I would persevere, because I had realized I was a sinner.

“So I ask You, O Lord, to please have mercy on me as well, though I also have no right to expect it and, certainly, do not deserve it.” The Judge again nodded somberly, the same curious nod as before. He looked back and forth between the two and then lifted up his hand, making a gesture with his fingers—what terrible fingers! And in walked an angel.

The angel was many-winged, many-eyed and otherwise incomprehensible. He looked at the two men, his many eyes making contact with each of them at once before announcing, “I am Gabriel.” He had been the messenger to a poor woman who had been the container for the Lord. But now he had a sadder job. He turned first to the well-aged man. “I have some bad news. The first is that you will not be entering Heaven—well, not right now, anyway. You see, you in your assured salvation didn't do much of anything at all for the church, except serve as an usher and sing on the worship team from time to time. That might seem like a lot, but how much time did you really spend seeking Truth, and seeking to live it out outside the building? Who in hell do you think you were to avoid this? Your pastor didn't use this lofty language, but he kept telling you to read the Scriptures for the truth or falsity of his words. He preached from James about the haughty rich, always exhorting the congregation to practice what was being preached in all Scripture. You almost always failed to actually serve God in what you did. Or need I remind you of all the female co-workers whose backsides you carefully examined, or the homeless people outside of your office building who you ignored, not just financially, but also when they said 'good morning'? As you did unto the least of these!

“Yes, your sins are many, and like this other man's they would under an unmerciful God disqualify you from the Promised Land. But if anything disqualifies you it is your overarching sin. You did not seek to love and serve the Lord.”

The Assured man gulped. “There is good news, however. The pastor of Jerusalem Community was quite wrong about Purgatory. It does exist. You were assured of salvation; this much is true. But it was too much fun for you, on earth, for it to be all that much fun afterward, and so you must be saved by passing through the flames. When your time is complete, you may join the other Elect in heaven.”

Upon this note a trap-door opened underneath the Elect man, and he disappeared down the hole before he could say “thank you.” Then Gabriel turned to face the damned man. “As for you. You are saved, though you are quite an idiot.”

The face of skin and bones brightened.

“You served the Lord your God with all the heart, soul and mind and strength you could possibly muster, though you believed He had almost certainly condemned you to an eternity in hell. But your life witnessed anyway—to the poor, to the rich, to the businessmen who were trying to push past you to get lunch at the burrito stand. You were there visiting Him in prison, handing Him breakfast on the sidewalk, by the grace of God. You served them all as if they were The Lord, and served them well—you took the Pastor's mandate of Love literally. You've done well, good and faithful servant. In your life, there were around three-hundred souls that you led directly to God, and around thirty-thousand souls in which you prepared the way of the Lord.

“You were, however, an idiot. You thought conversion experience meant conversion feeling. I fully admit that we up here have been trying to get the message to Christians for years that they ought to stop talking about conversion experiences and start talking about conversion history. But you still could've done your part, and realized that perhaps even though you felt nothing on taking communion, nothing on baptism, and nothing on realization that Jesus Christ was Lord, you were saved. Loving and serving the Lord day in and day out as you did, though you had no hope of Resurrection yourself, must have meant you actually did have hope. Therefore, you did still propagate the untruthof the 'conversion experience,' wherever you went even as you propagated the Truth of Christ. You propagated the lie that you yourself were unsaved, though you were. But it seems it is God's good pleasure to strike this particular blemish out of you without the pain of being put into that special class of Elect to which your Elect friend now belongs. Congratulations, and well done, good and faithful servant!”

At this point a trap-spring below the idiot sprung, propelling the mess of skin and bones upward to his reward, before he either could say “Thanks.” The angel shifted his eyes to the Judge. “I swear—well, I don't swear, but I do wonder, Father. Will they ever get it, really?”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Solid Quotation on Implications of Belief

A website called amtheomusings has a post with a solid quotation from theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar about, well, practice of belief. I think language like this could go a way in a real dialogue on faith and works.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Christian Carnival CCCXIX, and the Dan Going Catholic Project

Christian Carnival CCCXIX is up over at Thinking Christian.

In other news, my second confession is today. I'm not too nervous, but I should memorize or at least write down an act of contrition this time. I get received Sunday. To any who read this, prayers for discernment and wisdom are always appreciated!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not a Theology Textboook: The End of the Affair

So this is the first in what will hopefully be a decent series on books that I love or found useful theologically (most of them if not all of them will be books by Christians) but which are nowhere near being theology proper, or as a literal creed of their authors, and should probably not be read as such, even if the total amount of theological error attained by such a reading is small. Now you might ask, what do I mean by a theology textbook? I mean something that is either designed primarily to teach/explain theology and/or advance the work of theology proper in a non-narrative format. Thus, for instance, The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a theology textbook. St. Augustine's De Catechizandis Rudibus is a theology textbook. St. Augustine's Confesiones is not. That does not mean it's not beautiful theological writing, but its aims are more mixed between reflection/exposition/speculation than DCR, which is essentially a catechism, not a narrative.

The End of the Affair hit a bunch of key themes for me. Oddly enough, the meaning of Christian love between persons wasn't a theme that I felt was so big in the book. I think there's a fair amount of it that gets practiced by the characters (some of them, anyway) but that's not really so much the point. I think a bigger point is how we can come to Love God, even in circumstances which aren't always quite so awesome, or even if we're people (always!) who aren't quite so awesome. Now a relative of mine who read this particular book didn't seem to get much out of it except that the characters were all idiots. (I haven't spoiled anything there; this fact will be readily apparent to most readers within the first fifty pages.) And that's part of Greene's charm. These idiots are loved by God, and God uses their messed up lives to draw them closer to Him.

In that vein, one of the big ideas here is that faith in God need not start with Love for God, or even with belief. This is true intuitively true if we think about it. We have all heard of the more irrational sorts of atheist who declares to hate God, and might as such be just a step away from faith. But more-so I think many of us have either had, or heard of, the experience of having faith that God is there before we actually have faith that God can truly be loved and trusted. Another big theme of the book is how one can fight God every step of the way on something--even on being Loved, and still yield. We really don't want to give up control. In their idiocy these characters demonstrate that time and time again, but they also demonstrate how they are not actually beyond redemption. God's Love, for Greene, is bigger than the fact of our sin or our Original Idiocy. And it uses what's there; the old creation doesn't just get replaced by the new; it gets transformed, which means sometimes that bitterness and cynicism have to be transformed, slowly and painfully.

I happen to believe the error is smaller for Graham Greene's The End of the Affair than it would be for many other books--including much of the theology proper I've been assigned in my day--but that doesn't mean it's nonexistant. Some persons, at least according to his Wikipedia article, charge Greene with giving sin a "mystique," a charge which I sort of understand, even if I don't agree. I'm more than willing to bite the bullet and suggest that maybe Greene has done so somewhat, but I doubt he did it intentionally, and I'd invite critics along those lines to consider that that's part of how sin gets us at the outset: It projects a mystique. One of the things Graham does well, is show us what happens when that projection is broken.

Besides this, I suppose it is possible that Graham Greene has given us too much optimism about what God can do with a broken situation...wait, what am I saying? Too much optimism about the power of God? Nevermind!

I'm not going to pretend that I have more of a problem with this book than I do. Obviously in trying to find things to criticize, just to offset my praise of Greene's work, I'm going to run into error myself, unless I really know why I disagree with what I'm critiquing. I guess if there is any real criticism to be made, it's that at least here Graham Greene is focusing on the depths of sin and rebellion against God in a way that not everyone will really find helpful, and which might even be scandalous to people at the wrong points in their theological career. But that's okay, because it's intended to be a narrative about how Grace steps in to save us, not as an exposition of the same. It is, quite perfectly, not a theology textbook.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

John Meunier is the Man

John Meunier has really awesome stuff on his blog. It's one of the most readable things ever, the posts are short and concise and to the point, basically the opposite of most of mine, and almost everything he says has some relevance to almost every Christian, even those who don't share his particular concerns about his church, the UMC. The post linked is about Holiness and the Scripture, and in it he proves again, that he's the man. I would recommend his blogging time and time again to people of pretty much any theological persuasion, because (a) he thinks about what he's saying and (b) he almost always says it well.