Thursday, November 29, 2007

Here is were I pick-it-up today, Thursday, November 29, 2007

I just heard on NPR’s hourly broadcast that Senator Henry Hyde of Illinois died at 2:30 a.m. this morning. An ardent opponent of abortion Senator Hyde is remembered for the infamous “Hyde amendment” to a budget bill in 1976. President Bush, an opponent of legal abortion also is quoted in today’s NYT’s obituary, “This fine man believed in the power of freedom, and he was a tireless champion of the weak and forgotten. He used his talents to build a more hopeful America and promote a culture of life.”

As what follows will indicate, I don’t agree with Mr. Hyde. But there was a time I did. I remember sitting with a group of Elders from the Lawrence Bible Chapel sometime back in the 1970’s discussing how Christians should be politically active. The pro-life anti-abortion agenda was high on my list of crucial political issues at the time and I appreciated Senator Hyde as an ally in this effort. But I have changed my view.

I picked up this fragment of a hymn by Saint Ephrem the Syrian on the blog Charlotte was Both. It is translated from a recent talk of Pope Benedict’s. It is from a hymn on the nativity of Christ (De Nativitate11, 6-8), very advent in nature. I am thinking about what I will do this advent. This is the beginning of the chief scandal and mystery of orthodox Christianity, that God would become human. What does it mean? What if it is true? It is worth meditating on for a few weeks, hence the season of advent.

The Lord came to you
to become a servant.

The Word came to you
to be [quiet] in your womb.

Lightning came to you
without making any noise.

The Shepherd came to you -
and becomes the newborn Lamb
with his submissive plaint.

The womb of Mary
has changed the roles:

He who created all things
took possession in poverty.

The Highest came to you
but he entered with humility.

Splendor came to you,
but dressed in humble rags.

He who makes all things grow
knew hunger.

He who waters everything
knew thirst.

Bare and stripped, he came from you,
he who clothes everything in beauty.

And I wrote this on Tuesday, October 16, 2007.

Beautiful fall day. Sunny, the windows open, 60 degrees Fahrenheit, light breeze from the west rustling the leaves—still green— in the cottonwood just outside my window, kids on the playground. I am sitting at my computer listening as the light crescendos of wind roll in the leaves, feeling thankful, but vigilant. I saw the first true fiery red fall leaf on the Fire Bush yesterday, glowing.

Before I go on with my story I need to respond to some reading I encountered on several blogs today. Also, I want to formally put my thoughts down on abortion. I am Catholic. I am pro-choice. I believe abortion is a woman’s right. The morning after pill should be readily available over the counter, and during the early weeks of pregnancy abortion should be a woman’s right (insert the words “God given” prior to “right” if you want, as in a “right” that the “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them,” to burrow the words of the Declaration of Independence) to chose along with any other personal health issues she may have. I don’t see a contradiction between being Catholic and pro-choice.

But this position—if I have to call it that—stands in contradiction with the party line laid down by the Pope and publicly supported by all our Bishops (at least all the ones I know of, but I’m not a specialist on the subject), and many Catholics (but not all and possibly not most Catholics). By my way of thinking, the Bishops have got it wrong.

At the very least, I think it is time to accept that we live in a secular and pluralistic society (this is a good thing by the way, as well as a fact and a good political goal) in which many, many Americans (probably most Americans) of good will believe abortion is a woman’s right. Some time I will write at length about abortion and gay rights, two of the areas the Church has it wrong. For now let me mention an op-ed essay that is yet to appear Abortion isn't a religious issue written by Garry Wills in a recent Washington Post.

What got me thinking about this at the moment where some comments posted today (that is last October 16th) on

On with the story... (I copied this from a previous post (October 11, 2007), revised it, and then wrote on)

One thing about this project is its dynamic nature—it is a living thing—it is my life anyway! Foremost it is about my contemporary wrangling about/with God and God’s place in my life and the life of the world as well. My spirituality today is the principal concern here. Does God exist? And if so, what does that mean? What do I do about it?

But it is also a story of my past, a past that in a certain sense never changes even as it intrudes on the present through my memory and becomes a part of my living. This is to imply that it is not fixed in my imagination. The past changes through alchemy of the present. Telling the story is a tedious process and I often lose track of it in the living of it, which is much less tedious and much more important. So, where did I leave off last? Ah, yes.

It is about this time of year, October 1971, cool fall days. Summer is over and a great summer it was. I spent the summer in Colorado camping and backpacking. But I am back home, I am back in school, the leaves are changing colors, and I am a serious senior in High School getting ready to embark on life.

I have been attending BASIC for several weeks and I am beginning to believe these folks are on to something with all this Jesus talk. They are joyful, serious, young, pretty, and have long hair like me. I have been reading the bible, I am predisposed to believe it because of my Catholic upbringing, I like the singing, I like hanging out with my friends, and I am serious too.

A parenthetical moment: I believe that the world is a closed system. So why do I pray? What is prayer—magic, manipulation, psychological trickery? I don’t know, but I do pray. But primarily, I believe it is of vital importance to recognize that what happens in this world is of human origin. This as a fundamental fact. Just as digestion is a fundamental biological fact that has an evolutional history along with the rest of our body so is our consciousness, in every way, a fundamental biological fact. Within our consciousness resides experience, thoughts, beliefs, rationality, religion, language, abstraction, and the list could go on and on. But this whole complex experience is the fruit of a biological process with an evolutional history. This has profound consequences for the understanding of human behavior and it impinges directly on politics, social life, morality, culture, and religion.

Will this project slake my hunger to know? Allow me to doff my skepticism?

Can I believe Christianity is a true myth? How does history, a closed natural system, or materialism relate to ideas of intervention, suspension, violation, or any outside impingement upon the natural system relate to this fundamental belief in human agency and the evolution of that agency?

Francis Schaeffer insisted on the historicity of the fall of humankind. Given what we know of the evolution of the species Homo sapiens, the only extant species of the primate family Hominidae, how can we even think of the historicity of the fall? We can’t. We know nothing about it. It is a myth. The scheme of the fall of humankind is used to explain experience and for pedagogy. And its not a bad idea. The concept of sin is something I always said I believed in during my strong agnostic days.

Back to my story....

I liked these people. There was a joy and certainty that I experienced when singing with them. When did I come to believe myself? It is hard to say. I always told the story of when I was at Danny McDowell’s apartment during the fall/winter of 1971/1972. I really don’t remember much from the actual event; I remember the rudiments of the story I told back then.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The following quote-within-a-quote is from a book review titled, Twenty Centuries of Conversation, by Dennis O’Brien in America. The book reviewed is The Secular Age, by Charles Taylor (not that friend of televangelist Pat Robinson, the corrupt diamond peddler and former President of Liberia, but the Catholic philosopher from Montreal and McGill University): “To be heard, the church will have to abandon “a longstanding nail down [issues] with ultimate, unattainable and finally self-destructive precision.”” How true. I think the current Pope doesn’t see this (Has any Pope since John XXIII?). Our secular age is as much (more!) gift as bane.

From the article, Apocalypse Now?, by Stephen Holmes in The Nation comes this long quote-within-a-quote. It is something to think about. The article is a review of Chalmers Johnson’s new book Nemesis, the third volume of "an inadvertent trilogy" that includes Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire. Here it is: “Johnson speculates that we have already entered the "last days" of the Republic. America's post-World War II "imperialism," he predicts, will soon put an end to self-government in the United States: "I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent." The destruction of the American Republic may even illustrate a profound historical regularity, he implies: "Over any fairly lengthy period of time, successful imperialism requires that a domestic republic or a domestic democracy change into a domestic tyranny." He even thinks that the American military is now "ripe" for "a Julius Caesar"--that is, for "a revolutionary, military populist with little interest in republican niceties so long as some form of emperorship lies at the end of his rocky path."” This is, of course, an intentional juxtaposing of the Rome Empire with the U.S. Certainly a historical parallel but not a certainty. Though I think we need to reread Jacques Ellul. The end of the Republic is possible.

From the article, The Sting of Death: Why We Yearn for Eternity, by Charles Taylor and published in Commonweal. The article is an excerpt from his voluminous new book A Secular Age. “The secular age is schizophrenic, or better, deeply cross-pressured. People seem at a safe distance from religion, and yet they are very moved to know that there are dedicated believers, like Mother Teresa (I would add such figures as the Dali Lama in there too). The unbelieving world, well used to disliking Pius XII, was bowled over by John XXIII. A pope just had to sound like a Christian, and many immemorial resistances melted. Il fallait y penser. It’s as though many people who don’t want to follow want nevertheless to hear the message of Christ, want it to be proclaimed out there. The paradox was evident in the response to the late pope. Many people were inspired by John Paul’s public, peripatetic preaching about love, about world peace, about international economic justice. They are thrilled that these things are being said. But even many Catholics among his admirers didn’t feel that they must follow all his moral injunctions. And in an expressive, post-Durkheimian world, this is not a contradiction. It makes perfect sense. Such are the strange and complex conditions of belief in our age.” Indeed, it makes good sense.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

work day

Thursday, October 11, 2007

physiognomy precipice mendacious

Today’s news (October 9, 2007); well, yesterday’s news today October 11, 2007. Meaning not October 10th but “yesterday’s” as in passé, old news supervened by events or by the news cycle.

It just gets more complicated. Now Turkey Says Its Troops Can Cross Iraq Border By Sebnem Arsu on the NYT website.

How Baboons Think (Yes, Think) By Nicholas Wade also on today’s NYT website.

The article is about research being done by Drs. Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth on baboon society. Baboon society is matrilineal; it follows mother-daughter lines of descent, hence, it is hereditary from mother too daughter. Data also indicates that there can be eight or nine matrilines in a troop that are ranked as well and this hierarchy can remain stable across generations. There also is a male hierarchy too that can be in competition with the female hierarchy, form alliances with it, or with elements of it, to gain mutual benefits. But the male hierarchy is dynamic with males changing troops and fighting among themselves.

Here is a quote from a member of the British royal family, Princess Michael of Kent, in response to learning of this research, “I always knew that when people who aren’t like us claim that hereditary rank is not part of human nature, they must be wrong. Now you’ve given me evolutionary proof!”

A little folk biology here?

On with the story...

One thing about this project is its dynamic nature—the project is a living thing—it is my life anyway! But it is also a story of my past that in certain ways never changes. Telling the story is a tedious process I often lose track of in the living, which is much less tedious. Where did I leave off last? Ah, yes.

It is about this time of year, I am a senior in High School, I have been attending BASIC for several weeks and I am beginning to believe these folks are on to something with all this Jesus talk. They are joyful, serious, young, pretty, have long hair like me. I have been reading the bible, I am predisposed to believe it because of my Catholic upbringing, I like the singing, I like hanging out with my friends, and I am serious.

A parenthetical moment: I believe that the world is a closed system. So why do I pray? What is prayer; magic, manipulation, psychological trickery? I don’t know.

But I believe it is of vital importance to recognize this as a fundamental fact. Just as digestion is a fundamental biological fact that has an evolutional history along with the rest of our body so is our consciousness in every way. Within our consciousness resides our experience, thoughts, beliefs, rationality, religion, language, abstraction, and the list could go on and on. Breaking it down into smaller pieces. That’s what it does. But this whole complex is a biological process with an evolutional history. This has profound consequences for the understanding of human behavior, hence in impinges directly on politics, social life, morality, culture, and religion.

Will this project slake my hunger to know? Allow me to doff my skepticism?

Can I believe Christianity is a true myth? How does history, a natural system, materialism relate to ideas of any intervention, suspension, violation, or any outside impingement upon the natural system relate?

Francis Schaeffer insisted on the historicity of the fall of humankind. Given what we know of the evolution of the species Homo sapiens, the only extant species of the primate family Hominidae, how can we even think of the historicity of the fall? We can’t. We know nothing about it. It is a myth about the belief of a fall used to explain and for pedagogy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

short today

Monday, October 8, 2007

I have heard you, Lord,

And my stomach churns within me.

From Habakkuk 3

Maladroit, I am for this project, this work of faith, writing, and exploration of my inner self, not unlike my redoubtable inabilities in relationships. I can become too distrait to do it. The result is exiguous writing and a paroxysm of inactivity. I can be facetious about it, but this is a basic component of my personality just as much as the inevitable supervenes; I resume work. But there is a sense, a feeling, and the possibility, that this project will be, or could be, a bouleversement, a returning to a vibrant faith after a long period of agnosticism.

I used today’s word of the day, maladroit, as well as the last seven days words of the day in the preceding paragraph. Every day I get one from in my e-mail.

From today’s reading:

Farming With Junk: A Rumination on Fidelity By Kyle Kramer in the October 15, 2007 issue of America. Some quotes:

I recognize the limits of my equipment, which was old when I bought it. I try to be easy on it, not ask more of it than it can deliver—as I would with an elderly person walking gingerly on a trick knee or a weak hip. In fact, my fleet of aging machines reminds me of an elder-care facility.

For all our practicality, I suspect that one of the less-admitted reasons we keep old equipment around is that we have grown attached to it, even as it rusts away. On the deepest level I think we realize—or fancy—that our equipment has been faithful to us and deserves the same from us. To be a good farmer demands fidelity, a degree of patience and commitment that seems out of vogue in a culture always fascinated with the future and the next new thing. We farmers deal with very old things: the ageless cycle of seasons and uncertain weather, the necessary bonds of family and community and the land itself —the source and sustenance of all living things, which might build an inch of topsoil over a thousand years but lose it to carelessness and erosion in just a few.

And what or who, after all, does not get old? We all run down; we all live within ever-encroaching limits of time or energy or health. So how do we respond to this undeniable fact? Do we—as farmers and as a society—pretend we can run and hide from mortality, finitude and age? Do we hide wrinkles or rust, constantly trade in our spouses or our equipment for younger models, look the other way from anyone or anything whose age and infirmity remind us of our own inevitable decline and demise?

Or do we pledge fidelity to the old things—and old people—that have given us much over a long life? Do we recognize that they might still have some life left in them and contributions to make, even as they get crotchety and need more attention and care, even as they struggle with incontinence of mechanical or bodily fluids? Do we honor these long lives and accompany them to the scrap heap or the grave with thanksgiving and gentleness? Do we show a little mercy and tender affection in the hope that as we age, break down and become less able, others might show us the same?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

In The Smear This Time by Anita Hill, her Op-Ed piece in the October 2, 2007, New York Times, Ms Hill responds to additional negative comments by Clarence Thomas in his new book. Regardless of the past—I can’t judge—it is a disgrace to the Supreme Court, and to Thomas as well, that he writes this book. He is in a particular position, one of the most prestigious and powerful positions in our Nation, and he fulminates viciously about a former employee. I think he and Bush will be marked by history as equals in one thing.

Jimmy Carter Faces Down Darfur Officials reads an Associated Press headline October 3, 2007. I think Carter is the best President we have had, definitely, the finest former President. Maybe Clinton will imitate him; he is young, popular, still handsome (so is Carter), and morally engaged. We’ll see.

Stanley, I Presume by Paul Theroux in the September 30, 2007 edition of the NYT is a review of the book Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer.

By Tim Jeal. Sounds very interesting.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

just what it is

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Today’s news from my web reading:

Supreme Court Turns Down Cases on Religious Separation is a headline in today’s New York Times about two cases concerning how religious institutions relate to those they serve when that institution works and serves in the “secular” world. Significantly, the U. S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings that restricted the religious institution’s freedom by requiring the institution to act contrary to it’s own conscience, if one can imply that an institution has a conscience; Disparities by Steve Coll in the October 8, 2007 issue of the New Yorker about the Jena 6.. Good comments; And Desert Storm: Understanding the capricious God of the Psalms by James Wood in the October 1, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. This is a review by Wood of Robert Alter’s new translation of the Psalms of the Hebrew bible, The Book of Psalms. The translation sounds exciting (The Lawrence, Kansas Public Library is purchasing this translation), but this review is excellent as a read by itself. Wood is one of the best in the business.

Memory, recollection, history; what are they? This is an area I need to think about and discuss.

“Memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and subsequently retrieve information.” This sentence is a quote from the introduction to the entry titled Memory on Wikipedia. Not a bad scientific definition. But a few things are left out. What about a species ability to remember together? How about the concept of “collective memory”? How does this relate to “history”?

“Maurice Halbwachs argued that memory, despite its seemingly internal nature, could not exist outside a social context. For our individual memories to exist, he argued, they must be constructed and edited against the backdrop collective narratives. Moreover, he argued, we often incorporate accounts other people’s past experiences into the narratives we construct as memory.” The preceding quote is directly from Wikipedia too.

Halbwachs is credited with the invention of the concept “collective memory.” The collective memory of the times I grew-up in and their narratives, imbibed as easily as breathing, influence my memories. I tell my story structured, as it were, through tropes of my times. But the interesting thing is, at least interesting to me, is that I have my own narrative that structures my memories.

Monday, October 01, 2007

It has been a while

Monday, October 1st, 2007

I have been reading a couple books important in my past history. True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer and Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H. R. Rookmaaker. Both of these books, and the type of thinking they represent—antithesis, Reformed, an intellectual defense of Christianity—were significant to me during the 1970s and early 1980s.

True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer writes in True Spirituality that he ran up against a reality problem—the reality of what the bible talked about as the result of being a Christian, the reality of love and a spiritual life, were missing from much of what he called historical, orthodox Christianity, and that this reality was, increasingly, missing from his life. He writes: “I realized that in honesty I had to go back and rethink my whole position.” I thought of this statement when I started this project. It is an ingredient in the recipe for my current project. He concluded that “there were totally sufficient reasons to know that the infinite-personal God does exist and that Christianity is true.” He then focused on the finished work of Christ for us and the result was the book True Spirituality. Following are some embedded excerpts:

“Our generation is overwhelmingly naturalistic. There is an almost complete commitment to the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. This is its distinguishing mark” That is science by its nature.

He writes, “We must understand—intellectually, with the windows open—that the universe is not what our generation says it is, seeing only the naturalistic universe.” He writes that spirituality only has meaning if we live in a universe that is personal, in which a personal God exists. The Transfiguration confronts us with this supernatural universe.

“The bible says that man fell, at a specific point in history, and as man fell, both man and the world over which he had dominion became abnormal. It would seem, looking at subsequent history, that God’s creation of rational and moral creatures was a failure.”

“But then Christ came, died, and rose—also in history—and the necessary victory was won.”

Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H. R. Rookmaaker

An important analysis of culture and art from a specific reformed evangelical Christian perspective. This book was important in that it was an illustration of Christian engagement with the world through an intellectual analysis.

Some reading related to the present stage of this project. I can’t forget that the real heart of the project is: How do I relate to God today?

American Catholics: Gender, Generation, and Commitment by William V. D’Antonio, James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hodge, and Katherine Meyer

“Overall, Catholics are not as likely as they once were to grant Church leaders final say; nor are they as likely to agree with Church teachings. They are more inclined to believe they have a personal responsibility to make up their own minds and, while doing so, increasingly distinguish between what they consider core beliefs and practices and what they consider peripheral and optional. Catholics are most likely to comply with teachings they consider essential to being Catholic, and they are most likely to express autonomy on teachings they consider to be peripheral. Secondly, they are more likely to comply in areas they believe church leaders have more expertise than other people, and more likely to think autonomously when they believe that they, and others whom they know, have as much expertise as Church leaders.”

Hence, areas such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the resurrection, the Eucharist, and the Virgin Mary one finds high levels of consensus and agreement between the laity and the hierarchy, while views and practice in areas such as birth control, abortion, the death penalty, and homosexuality are becoming increasingly at variance with the Church leadership. Catholics now believe (and I think we have always had our own ideas) that lay people have as much or more expertise in areas such as these. We now assume the right and the responsibility to disagree, and we insist on our righteousness, our right to be a good Catholic and disagree in these areas.

I was listening to Bruce Cockburn’s live version of Call It Democracy, an old favorite, (if one considers 21 years ago long enough to count as “old”) recorded on the You pay your Money... Live album. It was written in November of 1985 and first released on his Worlds of Wonder CD of 1986. It occurred to me how relevant this is today, especially in light of recent revelations concerning Blackwater (I wonder where this name comes from? It sounds ominous) and other military and civilian contractors in Iraq. But also it is relevant to news of the French Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn appointed to head the IMF.

Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament --
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

Another song Cockburn recorded on the Live album, Fascist architecture, is an old favorite as well. Written in May of 1980 and released on the Humans album of 1980, it was a significant song for me during the mid-80’s when I was going through, what would turn out to be, the slow dissolution of my marriage and my spirituality. It was a song of hope and personal triumph.

Fascist architecture of my own design
Too long been keeping my love confined
You tore me out of myself alive

Those fingers drawing out blood like sweat
While the magnificent facades crumble and burn
The billion facets of brilliant love
The billion facets of freedom turning in the light

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok

Gonna tell my old lady
Gonna tell my little girl
There isn't anything in the world
That can lock up my love again

Fascist architecture of my own design.

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok.

Can it be that again? Could this memory be made present, recreated or new? Is my spirituality returning to my days of old where hope reigned? Is this exercise in recollection my path back to God? Is the experience of the Psalmist relevant as she remembers when she went up to the house of God and encounter/experienced the crowds, the sounds of thanksgiving and joy? Will I praise God still?

My tears are my food, by day and by night,
and everyone asks, “Where is your God?”.
I remember how I went up to your glorious dwelling-place
and into the house of God:
the memory melts my soul.
The sound of joy and thanksgiving,
the crowds at the festival

Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my saviour and my God.

Here is the entire Psalm:

Psalm 41 (42) Longing for the Lord and his temple Like a deer that longs for springs of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God:
when shall I come and stand before the face of God?

My tears are my food, by day and by night,
and everyone asks, “Where is your God?”.
I remember how I went up to your glorious dwelling-place
and into the house of God:
the memory melts my soul.
The sound of joy and thanksgiving,
the crowds at the festival.

Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my saviour and my God.

My soul is sad within me,
and so I will remember you
in the lands of Jordan and Hermon,
on the mountain of Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
in your rushing waters:
and all your torrents, all your waves
have flowed over me.

By day the Lord sends his kindness upon me;
by night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God:
“You are my support, why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go in mourning, while the enemy persecutes me?”.
As my bones break,
my persecutors deride me,
all the time saying, “where is your God?”.

Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my saviour and my God.

What is memory?

Today’s Gospel reading, Luke 9: 46-50:

An argument started between the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child and set him by his side and then said to them, “Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.”
John spoke up. “Master,” he said “we saw a man casting out devils in your so name, and because he is not with us we tried to stop him.” But Jesus said to him, “you must not stop him: anyone who is not against you is for you.”

Two exciting book-related (is there a good word for this?) dealings this past weekend:

The Library’s Fall Book Sale began this past weekend and a trio of interlibrary loan books arrived.

Loosely related to today’s gospel reading is the trio of interlibrary loan books, one by Father Peter C. Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously (under investigation, see The National Catholic Reporter Wednesday, September 12th, 2007, and on their website too), and two by Father Tissa Balasuriya OMI, Mary and Human Liberation and The Eucharist and Human Liberation. I will be looking these over.

Then there was the fall book sale. I got three books important to my personal intellectual history and a couple important by reputation, though I have not read them. Significant in my personal history are, A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (What is a worldview, a thing or a dynamic collection of ideas?), and John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. The books known to me by reputation are Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice by Thomas Merton and The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

Putin Says He Will Run for Parliament is a headline from today’s, October 1st, 2007, New York Times. (I believe October is always an auspicious month. I enjoy the fall temperatures, leaves, and football. And October culminates in All Saints Day and Halloween!). But, is the news of Putin’s assuming leadership of the United Russia party darkly auspicious, a portent of an ominous nature? Lets hope for a strong Presidential candidate from another party if Putin becomes Prime Minister! ). Also reported in today’s NYT is a potentially hope-inspiring event occurring within the Russian sphere of influence, the same sphere embodied in the former U.S.S.R. (The Cold War was always in the background of my childhood), is the election of Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian opposition leader. A very attractive woman too.

In other key headlines in today’s NYT: Darfur Rebels Kill 10 in Peace Force—What is happening in Darfur? What can we do; as individuals and a Nation?; Myanmar’s Resources Provide Leverage in Region and Karma Power and What Makes a Monk Mad—What about Myanmar? How can we help with the difficulties in the nation?; Provinces Use Rebuilding Money in Iraq—What about Iraq?; Man and God (and God’s Sick Punch Lines)—The sadness of all kinds of Orthodoxy.; And a glaring absence among the headlines of The New York Times and The Washington Post, nothing on the Jena 6. I hope the media is not losing interest in this story.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Writing on Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Following is a basic time-line of my spiritual development. There is not much detail, but it is a place to start.

· 1954: Born on January 29th. Baptized during the winter of 1954 at All Saints Catholic Church (I presume).

· 1972: Went to BASIC late summer, by fall I had committed to Christ and Christianity.

· 1973: Got married on June 23rd. I listened to a “religious” radio program on an alternative station in Wichita, Kansas. Don’t know what it was. I would like to discover it. Seems like a priest hosted it.

· 1974: Moved to Lawrence, Kansas in August of 1974. Joined with New Life Christian Fellowship at that time. Meet at the Ohio House. Rachael is born Thanksgiving Day, November 28th.

· 1976: Moved to the Bible Chapel (associated with the Plymouth Brethren Movement). Elisabeth is born September 26th.

· 1978: Becky is born April 24th.

· 1979: Hannah is born September 26th.

· 1980: Moved to the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

· 1985: Moved to Saint John’s Catholic Church. Had the kids baptized and the marriage blessed.

· 1986: Joined Coalition for Christian Outreach. Attended training in State College, Pennsylvania, June thru August. Lived as a guest with a family in the White Oak borough (suburb of McKeesport, Pennsylvania) September thru November. My family moved to White Oak in November. Fellowshipped at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McKeesport where I was the youth director and Saint Angela Merici Catholic Church in White Oak where I ran the pizza kitchen on bingo nights.

· 1987: Failure. Resigned from the Coalition in August and moved to Hope Mills, North Carolina. My faith is seriously challenged. Attended Good Shepard Catholic Church. I really liked this church.

· 1988: I moved to Wilmington, North Carolina mid-summer and separated from my wife. I seemed to have been moving away from Christianity, but was thinking about the meaning of life. The family moved back to Lawrence in August; I followed in November.

· 1990: Separated for good and continued to think about the meaning of life.

· 1993: Divorced in September. Christianity is left completely behind by now, rejected.

· 2000: I am an agnostic graduate student in Anthropology.

· 2006: Started thinking seriously about faith again (I have been for a while. I have been attending Unity Church of Lawrence with my girlfriend for some time now.) and in August I started to attend mass at Saint John’s as an experiment. I started praying the hours, i.e. the psalms, during the summer and have sustained this practice to the present, as well as continuing to attend mass at Saint John’s.

· 2007: In August I started to document my project on my blog.


Reflections, thoughts, writing on Thursday, September 6th, 2007

I didn’t convert to Christianity at some moment in 1971. Rather, I grew into it. Even though I was entering a movement that virtually required an adult conversion experience, I didn’t have one, at least not in the traditional sense. I grew-up Catholic. Christ already kind of fit.

That is not to say I was a conscious and reflective Catholic. I was not. I had not consciously reflected on Catholicism and rejected it so much as forgot about it. In retrospect, I implicitly accepted the possibility that Christianity might be true before I went to BASIC. That was the inheritance of my Catholic childhood.

But this lack of a profound personal conversion experience (a PPCE) always singled me out from so many in the movement, at least for me it did. I felt different. Lacking an experiential conversion, I began reading about this faith I was now believing and voicing to see where I fit in and what I thought. My conversion experience was signified by growth as opposed that of resolution.

Now, to backtrack a bit, at that time of my conversion was reading Walden, National Geographic, and fishing and hunting magazines. Fishing, conservation, living in the woods, living off the land filled my imagination. Euell Gibbons and Henry David Thoreau were my guides here. Ecology was the thing.

Also, I appreciated Martin Luther King, Senator Mark Hatfield, and liberal Democrats. I believed in truth and justice. Make love not war. Changing the world was the thing.

So my Christianity and my thinking was a confluence of all these streams. Additional tributaries would contribute over time. I am constructing a detailed time-line, a picture of the complex flow of my history to better understand how I got to where I am and to figure-out how to articulate it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Reflections, thoughts, writing on Monday and Tuesday, September 3rd and 4th, Labor Day and the day after, 2007
Reflections and responses on August 28, 2007 (I wrote the following last Tuesday)

So, to pick-up the story today, it is late summer/early fall and my friends and I start talking with some girls at Century II Park in downtown Wichita. The girls attended new and powerful Saturday evening worship service called BASIC, an acronym for Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Some might say that God uses everything to draw us in. I thought the girls were cute and I was driven by my adolescent sexual enthrallment to listen politely and follow them off to a church service.

My buddies and I visited BASIC one Saturday night. That night began a slow process that resulted in a radical change in my thinking and life. Over the next several weeks I became a committed Christian, a believer.

Believer: n. One who believes. Believe: 1. To accept as true or real. 2. To credit with veracity. –intr. 1. To have firm faith, especially religious faith. 2. To have faith, confidence, or trust. 3. To have confidence in the truth or value of something. 4. To have an opinion; Think.

BASIC was one of those special, one-off-a-kind episodes. There is a summary of the story of BASIC on the website of the Church of the Savior in Wichita, Kansas, the church that grew directly out of this unique meeting of young people. I attended BASIC regularly for the next couple years.

Labor Day, 2007

I am not going to talk about Labor Day except to mention that it is the symbolic legacy of an important period in American social life, a period that resulted in the creation of new labor laws and the reformation of existing of labor laws in this Nation to produce a more just labor situation for American workers.


Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American academic imprisoned for months in Iran who I wrote about on August 21st following her release on bail was permitted to leave the country and rejoin her family Sunday. This shows that pressure from people and nations around the world helps political prisoners secure their freedom. It also indicates, contrary to the views of some, that Iran is a nation whose leadership can be negotiated with and good results will come of it. But the work is not over.

Iran has charged three other Iranian-Americans with spying: Parnaz Azima, a journalist for Radio Farda which is funded by the U.S.; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant working for the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute; and Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. Shakeri and Tajbakhsh are in prison and Azima is out on bail but barred from leaving the country.


It is a week away. 7 days away and President Bush and his top national security advisers made a surprise visit to Iraq. I guess a pure military assessment was out of the question from the beginning. Bush’s visit with Gen. David Petraeus today, a week before the American commander is scheduled to deliver his assessment of the situation in Iraq, begs the question of the independence of this upcoming report. I still have hope that there will be good, objective data in the report. It also sounds like the British are beginning their withdrawal.


On August 31st, 2007 Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas signed an executive order that instructs state agencies to develop diversity management programs. With this politically courageous order the State of Kansas moves in the right direction. Kudos to Sebelius.

Just a bit from the web

Apparently this is part of an address given at a meeting the American Psychological Association in San Francisco on August 24, 2007. There are some important perspectives discussed in these opening lines. Important to me is what Baumeister alludes to about the purpose of culture and the system and, also, . This lecture is located at the following web address: . The emphasis is in the original. I want to add that I have not read all of this address. In fact, I haven’t read much past what I copy here. It runs for about 25 pages and I have other things to attend to just now. I will also note that my source for this address is that notoriously conservative Reader’s Digest website of the intellectual world, Arts and Letters Daily.

Is There Anything Good About Men?

Roy F. Baumeister

You’re probably thinking that a talk called “Is there anything good about men” will be a short talk! Recent writings have not had much good to say about men. Titles like Men Are Not Cost Effective speak for themselves. Maureen Dowd’s book was called Are Men Necessary? and although she never gave an explicit answer, anyone reading the book knows her answer was no. Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, introduces itself by saying, “Men, get ready to experience brain envy.” Imagine a book advertising itself by saying that women will soon be envying the superior male brain!

Nor are these isolated examples. Alice Eagly’s research has compiled mountains of data on the stereotypes people have about men and women, which the researchers summarized as “The WAW effect.” WAW stands for “Women Are Wonderful.” Both men and women hold much more favorable views of women than of men. Almost everybody likes women better than men. I certainly do.

My purpose in this talk is not to try to balance this out by praising men, though along the way I will have various positive things to say about both genders. The question of whether there’s anything good about men is only my point of departure. The tentative title of the book I’m writing is “How culture exploits men,” but even that for me is the lead-in to grand questions about how culture shapes action. In that context, what’s good about men means what men are good for, from the perspective of the system.

Hence this is not about the “battle of the sexes,” and in fact I think one unfortunate legacy of feminism has been the idea that men and women are basically enemies. I shall suggest, instead, that most often men and women have been partners, supporting each other rather than exploiting or manipulating each other.

Nor is this about trying to argue that men should be regarded as victims. I detest the whole idea of competing to be victims. And I’m certainly not denying that culture has exploited women. But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.

Also I think it’s best to avoid value judgments as much as possible. They have made discussion of gender politics very difficult and sensitive, thereby warping the play of ideas. I have no conclusions to present about what’s good or bad or how the world should change. In fact my own theory is built around tradeoffs, so that whenever there is something good it is tied to something else that is bad, and they balance out.

I don’t want to be on anybody’s side. Gender warriors please go home.

Men on Top

When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

The Story

I remember BASIC as one of those special, one-off-a-kind episodes. There is a nice and very brief history of BASIC on the website of the Church of the Savior located in Wichita, Kansas. The Church of the Savior grew directly out of this unique meeting of young people.

BASIC was a young, energetic, joyful paean to Jesus Christ and was the place where I believed—I meet Jesus and made a commitment to him, to follow him wherever that, or he, led me. BASIC also pointed me to the bible and to Christianity. Christianity would be the idea that guided my life and thinking for the next 15 years or so before taking a back seat (maybe as a back seat driver?) for about 15 years, reemerging in the drivers seat during the last year.

Now, I didn’t convert to Christianity at some moment in 1971. I already believed in Jesus. I grew-up Catholic. That is not to say I had a conscious and reflective Christianity. I did not. In retrospect it seems to me that I had implicitly accepted the possibility that Christianity might be true before I went to BASIC. That was the inheritance of my Catholic childhood. I had not reflected on Christianity and rejected it so much as forgot it.

What I was doing at that time was reading Walden, National Geographic, and fishing and hunting magazines. And I believed in truth and justice. Ecology was the thing. Living in the woods. Living off the land. Euell Gibbons and Henry David Thoreau were my guides.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

disowned selves

Reflections and responses on August 28, 2007

From today’s New York Times: Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, was arrested last June by an undercover police officer in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct three weeks ago. Note: the plainclothes police officer was investigating complaints of sexual activity in the bathroom. Something had already been happened. I wonder what? But, of course, the Senator is now back-pedaling and denying any “sexual intent.” What did we expect of a hypocrite?

This hiding behind a veil of “family values” and “morality” by so many Republicans makes me wonder? There seem to be a lot of Republicans in trouble these days, criminal charges, caught in flagrante, uncloseted, and often after having taken strong and very public moral stances opposed to the very behavior now being disclosed. Are we seeing a mass exposure of repressed behaviors, of "disowned selves" among Republicans?

In City Journal: In a ridiculously argued piece in City Journal Bruce Bawer imagines a fantasy “peace racket” as if it were a numbers racket from the old neighborhood run by Vinny, who is run by the mob, and which is obviously “opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values.” This imagined peace racket is opposed to all that is good and human. Get real! Bawer’s construct is an ideological polemic against any attempt to understand the causes of war and the causes of peace empirically. All that is obvious in this article is Bawer’s antipathy to science and his mysticism.

On with the story...

As I wrote earlier, I spent a lot of time fishing, camping, hunting, and reading about fishing, camping, and hunting, and the natural world. Of course I hadn’t read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson when it was published in 1962; I was only 8 years old. But, when President Johnson announced the America the Beautiful initiative in January 1965, I was on the cusp of turning 11 and in 5th grade at a public school. Passage of the Beautification Act of 1965, was not be easy. The Senate passed a version of the legislation on September 16, and debate began in the House on October 7. It passed at 1 a.m. on the morning October 8, 1965.

Here are some excerpts from an account of the House debate in The Washington Post quoted in a brief history of the debate on the Federal Highway Administration website:

The House passed the highway beauty bill with only minor changes just before 1 a.m. today after another of its wild and wooly midnight sessions. The vote was 245 to 138. Members had been expected at the White House six hours earlier for a Salute-to-Congress celebration, but they stayed at work in hopes of taking the bill with them as a gift to Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, its chief sponsor. Republican opponents suggested that the Democrats had been told not to come without it . . . .

Republicans, opposed both to the bill and being kept at work all evening, fought a delaying action by offering amendment after amendment and forcing drawn-out votes on each . . . .

Fifty or more congressional wives decked out in their party clothes watched from the gallery and must have wondered what kind of business their husbands had got into. The House does not take kindly to late sessions, and members hooted and yelled and shouted across the aisles . . . .

At 10 p.m., after the House had been in session 11 hours, Democratic whip Hale Boggs (La.) got up and scolded Republicans for using "dilatory tactics." "We need a responsible minority, but we don't have one," he thundered. "We have a frustrated minority." He said the Republican performance helps explain why they have controlled Congress for only four of the last 35 years . . . .

Rep. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) offered an amendment to strike out the term "Secretary of Commerce" wherever it appeared and insert the words "Lady Bird"--apparently an implication that the First Lady is in charge of the operation. He lost by a voice vote.

Rep. H. R. Gross (R-Iowa) referred to a recent news picture of a Texas billboard advertising the Johnson family's television station and wondered if the President might sign the bill there.

Note the efforts of Rep. Robert Dole (R-Kan). I, for one, believed in Lady Bird; she was my heroine. I was a bleeding heart liberal of course.

By the time I was in Junior High School the ecology and conservation movements were in full bloom. The movements would culminate in the Earth Day teach-in held on April 22, 1970. I was 16 years old, a sophomore in High School. It was a big deal. And it brings me up to the eve of my next big transition.

The next big personal transition was when the Jesus Revolution swept through Wichita, Kansas in the person of a longhaired hippie playing the guitar and singing and preaching about Jesus. The summary is simple. My buddies and I meet some girls at Century Two Park sometime during the summer or fall of 1971. We thought they were cute and so we invited them to go skinny-dipping, but little did we realize, they were witnessing to us.

Witness: n. 1a. One who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced... 3. Law a. One who is called on to testify before a court. ... 5a. One who publicly affirms religious faith.

The girls attended a Saturday evening worship service called BASIC, an acronym for Brothers and Sisters in Christ. My buddies and I visited BASIC one Saturday night. That began a slow process that resulted in a radical change in my thinking and life. I became a believer.

Believer: n. One who believes. Believe: v.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Thoughts and responses for today, August 27, 2007

From the news

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales resigns today. Finally. I feel relief.

Whew, I exhale a deep, cleansing breath of relief. I am sure he was an honorable man who sincerely believed in what he was doing. And he did live the American dream. But he was an instrument in the effort to legalize the use of torture by the United States of America.

I believe, and I hope that this act of resignation is a tangible sign that America (i.e. the American people) is rejecting torture as rationally ineffective and humanly cruel. Debasing and damaging to both the tortured and the torturer alike, and, because of legal and ideological justifications, to the people of the tortured and the torturer too. I feel relief as a loyal American that my nation is trying to live-up to it’s higher self, to borrow a term.

I cannot imagine Jesus ever laying hands on another individual except to heal them.

This sense of relief is absent in the early report on the web page of The New York Times, not that a news report should exhibit relief, of course. What it does is frame the resignation as a result of the imbroglio surrounding the firing of the U.S. Attorneys and various claims that Gonzales has not satisfied the Congressional majority investigating the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. Hence, it is a political hatchet job. True. Politics gets results.

Gonzales’ legal efforts to justify torture will be included in later analyses, to be sure. I hope that the resignation is ultimately understood as a blow for justice and love. The real life result of the American people saying no to the use of torture.

In other news

In John Allen, Jr.’s post All Things Catholic located at the National Catholic Reporter’s website, titled “The deathbed friendship between a bishop and an atheist” seems hagiographic in regards to the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci. She seemed racist and incendiary to me, her opposition to Islam reactionary and ethnocentric.

On with the story...

I last wrote about my story that a spiritual rupture and a slow transformation occurred in my spiritual life. The rupture was that I quit going to Mass.

I must have been 11 or 12 when my Mass attendance started to decline. My mom began to attend Mass infrequently, eventually quitting altogether. I had quit going to All Saints School in the fall of 1964 when I entered 5th grade at Griffith Elementary School so I did not have that connection. I would go to Mass occasionally with my sisters and we often went to parishes other than All Saints. It seems that that after my sisters finished college I quit going to Mass. So by 1968 or 1969 I had effectively quit Mass attendance by default when my ride to Mass quit departing.

The transformation was, well, life. I was growing up. This happened in the midst of the tumult of the social and political revolutions of the sixties and seventies. Vatican II, the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy, the Civil Rights movement, Chicago 1968, hippies, ecology, and, by High School, LSD and marijuana.

I was reading and going to school. My Side of the Mountain by Jean George and The Pond by Robert Murphy, Boy’s Life, National Geographic, The Whole Earth Catalogue, Thoreau and Walden, Wendell Berry. My world was getting bigger. My worldview was developing.

I also spent lots of time fishing, camping, hunting, and reading about them and the natural world. I hadn’t read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962. I was only 8 years old. But the ecology movement was important by the time I was in Junior High School.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mother Theresa’s dark night

Mother Theresa’s dark night

Time Magazine reports on Mother Theresa’s inner life as revealed in the pages of her correspondence. I quote from the Time article today’s date, August 23, 2007:

“Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."”



Thoughts and responses for today, August 23, 2007

The following is the response I pray nearly every day for lauds, vespers, and compline following the reading/praying of the day’s psalms and canticles. At times I use it in my regular prayer.

Glory (or praise or thanks) (be) to the Lord (or God, Almighty God, most merciful God, etc.)—The Mother/Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—both now and forever. The God who is, who was, and is to come, at the end of the ages.

Picking-up with my story (is this project narcissistic?)

I ended my last entry by bringing up my memories of the mysterious, dark basement that was the sanctuary of All Saint’s Catholic Church, my home parish while growing-up. Attending Mass in the basement “cave” at All Saint’s is a “homey” memory. I liked the muted light of the basement church. The atmosphere was deep and mysterious.

The Church building had not been built yet, other things were more important, like kids’ schooling. So the priests, nuns, and parishioners of All Saints celebrated Mass in a small, physically close, Latin ritual in the dim basement of the two-story brick building that also housed, upstairs, the school where the black-habited nuns comprised most of the teachers. I remember it as really peculiar, out of the ordinary. God was a great Mystery but Jesus and Mary made it easier to understand him. They made him assessable. Also, Jesus and God came to me in a deep and certain way via communion and my baptism.

I must have attended All Saints School for the school years of 1960/1961 thru 1963/1964, 1st thru 4th grade. I moved to my neighborhood public school, Griffith Elementary, in the fall of 1964 for 5th grade when I was 11-years old. I was happy with that move. My grades improved, as I remember it. But my experience growing-up Catholic would be a lasting influence on me. The Catholic Church (and Christ?) had colonized my imagination.

But there would be a spiritual rupture and a slow transformation in my spiritual life beginning during the years of 1966-1968. I quit going to Mass. I guess I was only 12 or 13 when my Mass attendance started to decline. This was not my doing. I don’t remember putting-up a fight in order to avoid going. I remember Mass fondly. But, as I recollect the situation, though I am not sure why it happened, my mom began to attend Mass infrequently, eventually quitting altogether. So I began to go to Mass with my sisters on occasion. We often went to parishes other than All Saints. But it seems that after my sisters finished college they quit going to Mass. So I quit Mass attendance by default when my ride to Mass quit departing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Thoughts and responses for today, August 21, 2007

A victory for freedom of thought

Haleh Esfandiari is being let out of jail! But Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima, and Ali Shakeri are still in jail. Hopefully, these individuals will be freed soon. Then Iran will need to allow Tajbakhsh, Azima, Shakeri, and Esfandiari along with Parnaz Azima, a journalist, Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner, and Ali Shakeri, with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine, who are barred from leaving Iran.

What is this all about?

“In academic feuds, as in war, there is no telling how far people will go once the shooting starts.” So reads the lead in a story about J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University, by Benedict Cary in today’s NYT. We know with certainty this is true in war. As if there ever was such a thing as a “just war” where noncombatants were not targeted (Tell me if you know of one? Maybe in defense?). War and the tactics used have mostly been the result of technology, not morals. But this academic war sounds like a know-holds-barred battle.

It really shouldn’t matter why someone seeks a sex-change operation. It is certain that mistakes happen in nature. It is also clear that human nature is complicated and mixed-up with self-reflection that human choice is always a blended choice, even (and often!) from the perspective of the human person making that choice. Biology, environment, psychology, and individual experience and thought, among many other abstracted elements, enter into a choice to seek a sex change.

I believe we live in a postmodern, post-Christian world. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As I already wrote, I am an empiricist. But I am one with a small “e.” We humans are, most certainly, part of a Universe, or creation—either one will do for now—that has been evolving for billions of years. What is, is what is, and to deny this is futile. Science must be listened to and when it contradicts cherished folk-wisdom that folk-wisdom must be modified and understood as a culturally constructed belief.

It is high time we Christians recognize this and let go of some of our folk-wisdom. Human nature is not so cut and dried. We are made in God’s image, but that image, i.e. being human in this world, is a lot bigger than we believed. And, also, remember we play a huge part in creating this image culturally with our culture-bound language. It is time we recognized that homosexuality and transgenderness are normal outcomes of this fine creation. They are no more flawed than the serial, heterosexual monogamists that many of us Christians seem to be. It is time we treat homosexuals and transgendered people as equals before the law and God. In the end, what are we talking about? Isn’t it love?

Ingmar Bergman

In 1955 “The Seventh Seal,” began a series of seven films explored faith in a post-Holocaust, post-Christian world. This project continued with “Wild Strawberries” (1957), “The Magician” (1958), “The Virgin Spring” (1960), “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961), “Winter Light” (1962), and, finally, “The Silence” (1963).

As I wrote above, I believe we live in a postmodern, post-Christian world. This is a statement about the cultural milieu of the Western (the North, the first, the developed?) world. Maybe I even think like a postmodern? Anyway, Francis Schaeffer made me think about Bergman back in the 1970s. And more so in the early 1980s. I wanted to be an art and film critic from a Christian perspective. Bergman was the filmmaker par-excellence. I will have to watch these movies—I haven’t seen most of them—sometime. But I did see a couple while reading Schaeffer in the late 1970s.

I can’t write much about Schaeffer yet. I am still rereading him.

After this brief excursion into thoughts for today, back to memories of childhood.

My discipline at home was mostly dispassionate, including when I was spanked. If I remember accurately, the only emotion I recollect is one like exasperation (“Jimmy, you are smarter than this.” Or, “Jimmy, you know better.”). And this feeling expressed mostly verbally, as in the aforementioned sentences. I was a growing boy with lots of freedom to explore and, no doubt, a tendency to go too far again and again. But I grew-up healthy.

My memories are of exploring the “cave” of our basement Catholic Church. The Church building had not been build yet because other things were more important. Like the kids schooling. All Saints Catholic Church and School head Mass in the basement of a two-story brick building.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Early thoughts and responses for today—a little cooler 76degrees [Fahrenheit] with a predicted high of 93 degrees instead of 103 degrees—August 20th, 2007

I have been reading Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense. They write under the heading “Neglect of the Empirical”:

For a long time, it has been fashionable to denounce “empiricism”; and if that word denotes an allegedly fixed method for extracting theories from facts, we can only agree. Scientific activity has always involved a complex interplay between observation and theory, and scientists have known that for a long time. ... Nevertheless, our theories about the physical and social world need to be justified in on way or another. ... [and] there is not much left besides the systematic test of theory by observation and experiment.

I agree. This is a common grace of humanity.

In the August 27th, 2007 issue of America magazine, in the article The Church of Christ and the Churches: Is the Vatican retreating from ecumenism?, Richard R. Gaillardetz writes,

“In the four centuries following the Reformation, Catholic theology tended to identify the church of Christ completely with the Catholic Church. This helps explain initial Catholic suspicion of the ecumenical movement as it emerged in the early 20th century.”

This article reminds me that my Catholic childhood was significant in the development of my early piety. And what else could I call it? My religious sentiment? Sensibility? Belief? Piety sounds personal and old-fashion. I like it. (But I also mean all those other expressions as well.)

Piety is a good way to describe the religious acts and beliefs as I remember my religious practice and experience during my childhood. My childhood, including the Catholic part, is a good memory: secure, nearly unchanging, pleasant and comforting as opposed to the wild vicissitudes of life.

I was born in 1954, on the cusp of a revolution in the Church and came to age during that revolution, both in the church and in a “revolution” occurring in the American culture of the 1960s and 1970s. My piety, religious practice, and beliefs embodied the tensions of this period.

A story from Boy Scouts illustrates my youthful Catholic rigor. At my first Boy Scout summer camp, I must have been in 6th grade, maybe the summer after 6th grade, so during 1965 or 1966 and I must have been about 11 or 12 years old. When it came time to have Sunday worship and prayer service at camp I asked to be excused from the Protestant-style service because I was indoctrinated in Catholic grade school that the one and true Church was the Catholic Church and I should not do this.

By 1969 (The first time I smoked pot was the summer of 1969, the summer after 9th grade before my sophomore year in High School. I was 15) I was by then I was, as I mentioned above, a Kansas hippie. Walden, The Whole Earth Catalogue, Ecology, Conservation, Wendell Berry, and sex, is where my head was.

The next big personal religious transition was when the Jesus Revolution swept through Wichita, Kansas in the person of a longhaired hippie playing the guitar and singing and preaching about Jesus. The summary is simple. As I mentioned, sex was on my mind a lot. My buddies and I meet some girls at Century Two Park sometime in the late summer or early fall of 1971. We thought they were cute and they were witnessing to us. They attended a Saturday evening worship service called BASIC. We visited and I kept going. More later.

Anyway, Vatican II was an upheaval to everyone, a revolution. For some it was an earthquake, for others, a breath of fresh air. As for me, it would end up a breath of fresh air. I hope we can open the doors now.

Intermezzo: I think I am typical of many of the Church’s 21st century lay members. I am educated and I have confidence in my education. I believe that my education in science, history, anthropology, literature, etc., as well as the availability of a much vaster body of human knowledge, is a common grace all humans participate in, unless deprived of it by injustice. I believe/hope that this common grace can be coupled with faith in Jesus without doing violence to either sphere or to the person of Jesus. The result is that I think for myself. In fact, God calls me, and all human beings, to do this as a part of our nature. This is the work of creation-keepers that God gave us in the story in Genesis. It is God’s command!