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!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


News reactions for today, a hot August 16th, 2007

I just read an article, dated August 13th, 2007, on the website of America, the Catholic weekly. Sociologist Andrew Greeley in an article titled, The Church’s Changing Face, reviews the book American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church by William V. D'Antonio, James D. Davidson, Dear R. Hoge, and Mary L. Gautier. This book is one of 4 written by social scientists under the aegis of The Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America and based on Gallup surveys from 1987 to 2005.

He writes:

The Catholic respondents knew in each of these studies what is absolutely essential in their religion--Jesus risen, the poor, Mary and the sacraments. After a couple of thousand years of turbulent history, they still get it “spot on,” as our English colleagues would say. This is no mean achievement, especially in these years of “polarization” (which actually doesn’t exist) and sexual abuse crises.

There are other important elements in the Catholic heritage as well. The point is the faithful are convinced of what is, as the young people might say, “totally important.” These key stories and symbols are enormous and indeed invincible resources for the church’s work of evangelization, and they are there for the taking, if only we can realize that religion starts with image and story and not theological dicta and rules, however necessary these activities are.

But Mary? Why Mary? Have we not been told that she is an unfortunate remnant of a patriarchal age? Forget about it! Any story that suggests that God loves us like a mother loves her newborn child will never go away, and any religion that cherishes that image of God will never lose its appeal, not even to the consummation of the world.

He continues,

In another question, the researchers asked about “boundary” issues: what kind of behavior marked one as beyond the boundaries of the faith; what kinds of behavior might exclude one, not completely from Catholicism but perhaps mark one as not “a good Catholic?” Can you be a good Catholic without obeying the church hierarchy’s teachings on marriage and divorce, without one’s marriage being approved by the Catholic Church, without obeying the church hierarchy’s teaching on birth control, without going to church every Sunday?

These questions (and others in the scale) do not indicate that the respondent personally has done such things, but only whether the respondent considers such people to be on the periphery of the church. More than three-fifths of the respondents do not deny the title of “good Catholic” to these people. Thus, you can practice birth control, approve of abortion in some circumstances, remarry after divorce, cohabit in an unapproved marriage and miss Mass routinely and may still be a good Catholic.

I have not seen these polls (nor have I read the findings as the authors report them) but by what I gather from Greeley’s review is that my view from the pew is not unlike the majority view expressed in these polls. One can be a good Catholic and hold views on homosexuality, a male-only priesthood, priestly celibacy, abortion, birth control, and marriage that differ from the party line.

Greeley is quick to point out that these data do not, nor is it intended by the authors that they should, determine doctrine or moral teaching. What they do is paint a picture of how the church lives and of what is important to the church today. American Catholics think for themselves now. We are educated, we respect science, we are global, and we have heard the soul of the church’s teaching—to love God and our neighbor—and we love the church for what only it can give.

So much of the news is immeasurably sad. The deadliest single attack since this Iraq War began happened yesterday in Quhtanlya and Jazeera. I can only be silent for a moment ...

The project.

One idea is to reread, in a sort of a systematic way, the key books that influenced my thinking and life. I want to remember and rethink these important influences and recreate what I thought and felt at certain times in my life. Sadly, I am not a diary keeper. I wish I was, or had been, but, alas, I keep few written records. If I had this project would be so much easier, at least easier to organize chronologically. But because I did not keep very good records I will have to impose an after-the-fact narrative to this story. No doubt we always organize our narratives out of a jumbled mess. To borrow Gregg Brown’s lyrics, “life is a sweet ripe melon, so sweet and such a mess.” In my case I am aware of this and I wish I had to less to remember and imagine.

As I ended my last post, I mentioned I had just begun rereading Francis Schaeffer’s book The God Who is There. Schaeffer was very influential in my thinking because he did not seem to flinch when confronted with ideas and with intellectuals. One could engage art and ideas as a Christian and not be afraid of evil or worldliness. I will be reporting more on this later. Now I want to spend a little time remembering.

I will imagine my story thru memory and reflection. My story begins when? Before I was 5 or 6? I seem to remember riding my tricycle down the basement stairs. I was not seriously injured in this memory. Maybe that’s why I have done other stupid things since, I should have broken a leg. I am not certain this is a memory or a creation of a memory out of stories I heard. For instance, I definitely remember being told in stories that I laid out my tadpoles, whom I had netted-up at the lake and proudly kept in a jar, on the front patio and rode over them with my tricycle. I do not remember ever doing this. I have random early memories of Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas traditions, watching Sunday evening horror movies while standing in the kitchen window close to my dishwashing mom.

Fast forward. I am also rereading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Rewind. What did it mean to me in my sophomore or junior years of high School? I will be thinking about that. In the meantime, a few random facts: When I was a junior in High School I spent that year’s Kansas State Fair working for Brookshire Leather making belts and purses, smoking pot, and dreaming about the future. The following summer I went with my buddies to Colorado for a big chuck of the summer backpacking, fishing, and smoking pot. During the early fall during my senior year of high school I made a radical commitment to Christ. It only became radical over time. There was no big experience, no testimony, just a slow recognition of Jesus and the radical life he calls us to or, as I believed at the time, he was calling me to. There was tension in this experience over time too.

Maybe my spiritual story begins when I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as a baby in 1954? Or with my Irish Catholic Grandparents? Catholic grade school? Christmas? My Godmother’s prayers? In the heart of God from all eternity? I don’t know when it begins, but I will begin during the summer and fall of 1971.

I was a hippie. I knew there had already been a funeral for the hippie and I even resisted being called a hippie. But for Wichita, Kansas circa 1971, I was hippie. But I was a Kansas hippie. Though I grew up in the suburbs of Wichita, the state’s largest city, I grew up fishing, hunting, and camping. But I listened to alternative music, opposed the read the Whole earth catalogue, and dreamed of a future

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A hot day in August

Universal news:

Karl Rove resigned yesterday. It will be interesting to see how Rove is read in(to) the future, and what historians write. Will Rove end up at a trial, and not as a witness, except in his own defense? Aren’t Rove and Cheney two peas in a pod?

Ingmar Berman died July 30th., the filmmaker of death. Not as in death through gratuitous violence, like so many of today’s movies depict—from Mission Impossible to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—but death as in “that fateful knocking at the door,” as Woody Allen put it in last Sunday’s New York Times. Bergman made me want to be a movie critic. I remember Bergman’s films as profound statements of the human predicament.

The Project:

This project is the construction of a spiritual biography as a method of spiritual exploration, as a spiritual discipline. It is my personal search for meaning, purpose, and love today.

Maybe the movement of the Spirit is like a haunting. I feel haunted by God. Is this the Spirit’s doing? Is it a memory of faith? Is it a chimera? A residue of evolution? An evolutionary strategy? The project is to get to the bottom of this haunting. What is this ghost inside me? Do I need an exorcist or a way to familiarity with the Ghost?

How does one make sense of the world, the welter of human activities? Events do not just happen. Human personalities, beliefs, and actions are the result of millions of years of evolution, the current cultural milieu, and, maybe, the purpose and hand of God.

Culture is an inclusive myth prevailing in a particular space and time. Calling it a myth does not mean it is not real and that it does not have substantive influence on what happens in the world.

Three people who where important to me in the early 1970s where Thomas Merton, Chuck Smith, and Francis Schaeffer. First, Thomas Merton was important for his book Contemplative Prayer. He was one of the earliest religious writers I read after my “conversion.” Merton was key because of his teaching on contemplation and prayer. Secondly, Chuck Smith because of his apocalyptic rhetoric. I found it fantastic, more akin to science fiction than the bible and religious history. He was an anti-intellectual to my way of thinking. What a vision. Thirdly, Francis Schaeffer, because of his intellectual defense of Christianity.

I have just begun rereading Francis Schaeffer’s book The God Who is There. My idea is to reread, in a systematic way, the key books and to remember and rethink the important influences on my thinking and beliefs. This is the beginning. Well, at least the intellectual beginning of the project.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More on the start

There is a strong autobiographical character to this project. At the heart of the venture is my personal work. Using those old shibboleths, it is my search for meaning, purpose, and understanding. That is the specific and existential motivation for the project.

To complete the project there are a number of areas I will need to cover and a number of tasks I will need to complete along the way. I have to to remember, recollect, and recount my past. Understanding the past is vital to understanding the present. But, still, ahead of the past, is the very real at hand: My everyday life. This project is embedded in the fabric of my daily life. I am living the project as I work on it.

So? What do I do? How do I live? What is the meaning of the world? How do I explain and relate to the social, political, and cultural world I live in? What is God’s will? Is that a relevant question? How do I love? Maybe this is the only question that counts. How do I love in my everyday life?

But for now here are some areas I will need to cover in this project.

  • Tell my story
  • Jesus: who is he (history, faith, creed), incarnation or flesh-taking, creator and creation
  • The creed
  • God
  • Church, community
  • Justice, politics, public policy
  • Culture: inclusive myth prevailing in a particular space and time
  • History
  • Science
  • Linguistics
  • Empiricism, rationality, commonsense
  • Democracy, religion, pluralism, freedom, truth, and God
  • Anthropology: My Anthropological View
  • Postmodernism

Here are some authors and books that will need to be reread and rethought. This list is mostly composed of books I read in the past. I will get to the more current ones later. I am focusing on the past just now and these are ones that come to mind at the moment. This list is just a start.

  • James Sire: The Universe Next Door
  • Francis Schaeffer: The God Who Is There; Escape From Reason; He Is There and He Is Not Silent; True Spirituality; Death in the City; Pollution and the Death of Man
  • Edith Schaeffer: Hidden Art
  • Udo Middleman: Proexistence
  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Thomas Merton: No Man is an Island; Contemplative Prayer; The Silent Life; The Seven Story Mountain
  • Elisabeth Elliot: Through Gates of Splendor
  • Frederick Fyvie (F.F.) Bruce: New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
  • C. S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain; Mere Christianity; Miracles; The Abolition of Man;
  • J.I. Packer: Knowing God
  • H. R. Rookmaaker: Modern Art & the Death of a Culture
    Nicholas Wolterstorff; Art in Action; Educating for Responsible Action; Reason Within the Bounds of Religion; Until Justice and Peace
  • Robert Short: The Gospel according to Peanuts
  • Rosemary Haughton
  • Malcolm Muggeridge
  • Annie Dillard: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • Dorothy Sayers: The Mind of the Maker
  • Pascal
  • Calvin Seerveld: Rainbows for a Fallen World
  • David James Duncan: The River Why
  • Wendell Berry
  • Eric Wolf: Envisioning Power
  • Robert McC. Netting: Smallholders, Householders; Balancing on an Alp

Francis Schaeffer is very important, as is Wendell Berry. Annie Dillard is important, as is J. I. Packer. These are disparate types, but in my imagination they relate to each other through the agency of my life and thought. Also, in a way, this comprises my “favorite books list.”

Monday, August 06, 2007

Faith Journey

I am going to start posting and, maybe, blogging (in the active verb sense) on faith (and whatever else comes to mind, if I have a mind to[o]). Specifically I will post some of the stuff I create during my current work, what I call my Project. Posting will require me to write something about my project (writing a record of the project is a major component of the project) so I have something to post.

Basically, I am remembering, examining, or reexamining, recreating, reimagining my faith, or really, my whole life. Maybe I am looking for grace or to see the face of God. Or maybe I am just looking for an understanding of the world and my experience that satisfies me. Modestly, I just want to see where I stand and have a record of that.

The idea is to examine God, Jesus, the Christian faith, the Christian right, the world situation, politics, the local and global, the way the world seems to work, and my experience—how I came to be a Christian, left Christianity, came back to Christ and the church—and the practical, intellectual, and theological influences throughout this convoluted, long-winding process.

I will probably keep some of my deepest feelings just between me and God and Pam. But, regardless of this, the project requires me to be honest and open emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually to the trinity of myself, the rest of creation, and God, and my writing should reflect this process truthfully and freely.

This writing will likely be tedious, digressive, disordered (Isn’t recording an effort to order and understand the surfeit and chaos of experience?), and repetitive. It might be boring to others, but it is my project of figuring out my place in the world and, hopefully, becoming something other than I am and more myself at the same time. Paradoxical.

My story, when does it begin? When I was 5? My earliest memories are from somewhere around 4 or 5 years old and they are pretty sketchy. And I am not always sure if I remember the time or only a story of the time that I heard in family conversations.

How about when I was baptized? The church teaches that there was an ontological event that occurred in my baptism. It was a sacrament. I was cleansed from original sin and brought into the body of Christ.

How about when I was born? Does my story begin with my birth? Or when I was conceived? Biologically or imaginatively? And conceived in the imagination of my parents or in the imagination of God (Psalm 139)?

Obviously (and thankfully) my story hasn’t end yet, but how did I get here? Where am I? What about all the injustice and hubris surrounding Christ? Afflicting the world? How about love?