You’re doing it wrong

Bl. Stanley Rother saying Mass in a traditional chasuble with a Guatemalan scarf.

The Readings for the 1st Tuesday,
Tempus per Annum (A2)

Factum est autem, cum illa multiplicaret preces coram Domino, ut Heli observaret os ejus. Porro Anna loquebatur in corde suo, tantumque labia illius movebantur, et vox penitus non audiebatur. Aestimavit ergo eam Heli temulentam, dixitque ei : Usquequo ebria eris? digere paulisper vinum, quo mades.
As she remained long at prayer before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”

JMJ

Among the Orthodox, I’m sure it will not surprise you to learn, there are Liturgy Wars. I found this to my great horror after a while in Orthodoxy. There is a phase for converts (it took me about 2 years to outgrow) where “my parish does it right” and everyone certainly does it the same way. My time was compounded by visiting very similar places when I traveled. This led to “My parish is right and anything else is clearly wrong.” But that was followed by about 8 years of “there must be someone who does it right…” because I began to develop a list of things that are clearly wrong: pews, first and foremost. Skipping parts of the liturgy – everyone does this – was increasingly horrifying to me. A part of the morning service of Matins which at my on parish took 15-20 mins to do might take 3-5 mins at some places, or even less! Then I discovered that my own parish skipped a bunch and that part of the service should take about 45 mins on a short day – say a normal Sunday – and maybe 1h15 or even more on a Holy Day! We were all doing it wrong. Listening to us Orthodox criticize each other you might think we were all Eli yelling at Hannah for being drunk.

The third phase of this was the realization that doing what your Bishop told you to do was the right way to do it. Some Bishops allowed more latitude than others, but as long as one was within the limits established by Episcopal oversight, no pun intended, one was ok. Things got hella wonky when I drifted into the Orthodox Western Rite communities where seemingly anything goes and every pastor is his own liturgical Episcopos. The Latin phrase sui generis, meaning “alone of its class” and usually applied to special exceptions to general rules, was invented for the Orthodox Western Rite. No one really does what the Bishops say – although everyone starts with the same collection of books.

All this by way of lead-up to my becoming Catholic. The alleged post-conciliar chaos was one thing that had kept me from becoming Roman Catholic when I fled the Episcopal Church in 2002. But here it was in Orthodoxy too. There are even some Orthodox Churches with altar girls and – roughy speaking – open communion. There are “liturgical archeologists” who make stuff up because “the ancient church” did it. Orthodoxy had all the same mess as the Roman Church, so why fight it? I became Catholic. I also mellowed a lot.

I love a good Latin Mass: I go to one almost every week. I find praying my way through 2 hours of intense liturgy to be quite wonderful. There are those partisans of the Latin Mass who say that the other form of the Mass, the Novus Ordo, is not valid at all. There are even some who say the 1962 Missal is wrong and that we have to go backward in time to the next missal (or the one before that…) Sadly, there are some vice versa feelings too. And there are some in either camp who freak out when they see the Novus Ordo done with elements of traditional liturgy at all. As much as I love the Latin Mass, it’s this last – Novus Ordo with all the trad stops pulled out – that is my favorite. I was Episcopalian for long enough that this most Episcopalian of Catholic liturgies feels like “home” to me.

Go to a Christmastide Mass at St Patricks in SF and see all the blue LED lights and gobs of fake flowers. Try the Chinese New Year Mass with the Dragon. There’s the dancing Gospel at St Paul of the Shipwreck, and the two guitars and a flute at St Dominic’s at 5:30 PM. See the Divine Liturgy in (mostly) Russian style at Our Lady of Fatima and the Latin Mass at Star of the Sea. This is only the beginning: the glory of the Catholic Church. While there are some who would insist that they are right and all the others wrong but each liturgy is filled with Catholic hearts raised heavenward.

Yet we are all Eli convinced the others are Drunk Hannahs who are doing it wrong. The joke was on Eli because it was his own sons who were doing it wrong and it was Hannah’s son who was to replace them. Those in power were about to be thrown down, as is God’s way.

What shall we do with our liturgical diversity as blessed by our bishops?

Give thanks to the Lord our God for it is right and just.

SNAFU

Our greatest boons become our greatest banes. The more we prop up, the more falls down. Yet we continue, refusing to listen.

The Readings for the 30th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Scimus enim quod omnis creatura ingemiscit, et parturit usque adhuc. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;

JMJ

Have you ever had a bad manager or a boss who couldn’t lead? Hopefully, this is not now! If you remember, a broken leader ruins everything. Man was intended by God to have the place of kingship in Creation; to rule in God’s name (and some think, possibly, in God’s power) over the world. But man fell. Paul says all of creation suffering s because of us: the fall of man broke everything. This doesn’t mean that plants and animals are stained by original sin but rather that the management is so dysfunctional that everything else sucks.

What’s that mean for us? We can’t know. Everything is broken – even the tools we have available to us (as of perception and expectation, experience and knowledge) are all disordered. What we see, what we find out, what we can know is limited not by our ability but by our broken perception. Life feeds on life now – not just animals, but humans as well, and when we die our bodies compost and rot and our souls depart. This is not as it should be: we don’t know what it should be, but we know it’s wrong. Our very heart cry out – even watching Wild Kingdom we know that the cute animals are going to get eaten. Yet, we know the predators have to eat as well. We can’t reconcile this. Could we have if we had been the rightful kings of creation?

Even when we try to fix things we make things worse. What have we done in the last half-century to fix things? What has not made things worse? Recycling seemed like a good idea, but it’s not working unless shipping all our plastic to China seems like a way to save oil. We’ve tried to save plants and animals by carving out tiny strips of their homeland, like reservations on which they can be trapped in dwindling populations. We find more and more ways to do things we don’t need: like travel, shop, consume luxuries, and be offended. Yet we do so at great expense to our world and yes, I know I’m saying this on a computer.

Our greatest boons become our greatest banes. The internet is a warehouse of porn and child abuse. Airtravel destroys our atmosphere. Cars ruin our lives. Electricity starts fires, kills birds, and ruins our sleep cycles. Our ability to produce huge quantities of food has resulted in nutritional deficiency, addiction to sugar, and perhaps even genetic damage. Our technology destroys older cultures, habitats, and our own jobs. Our democracy elects demagogues. Our freedoms become license. Our liberty becomes hate. The more we prop up, the more falls down. Yet we continue, refusing to listen.

Softly Jesus whispers about the kingdom, Simile est fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinae sata tria, donec fermentaretur totum. It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened. Take it from a San Francisco baker: Jesus wasn’t talking about a packet of yeast, but rather sourdough. Jesus knew from his Mother how to bake bread. You have a pinch of yeasted dough from the last batch that you keep. You put that into the new batch and the whole thing turns into yeasted dough. Take a pinch of dough and save it for next time. We are that pinch of dough, Christians. A little leavening in the societal dough results in the whole thing rising.

What are we doing about this?

In which I find myself agreeing with Jack Chick…

The NABRE text might as well say, “Jesus only rolled his eyes and said ‘Oy’ whilst making a ‘W’ with his fingers.”

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Virgin & Doctor
Tuesday in the 26th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Et conversus increpavit illos, dicens : Nescitis cujus spiritus estis. Filius hominis non venit animas perdere, sed salvare. Et abierunt in aliud castellum.
And turning, he rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. And they went into another town.

I have no idea why these verses are missing from the NABRE. Research indicates they are missing from the RSV with a note that “other ancient authorities” have them. So they are in the Vulgate and in the Textus Receptus, in the Douay and in the KJV. I think this may be a valid variant: otherwise we have an odd moment where Jesus rebukes someone but we are not told what was said.

Jesus wants to proclaim the good news to this village but because of their sectarian politics, they won’t even let him in the gate. John, the Beloved, wants to call down fire from heaven. The NABRE text might as well say, “Jesus only rolled his eyes and said ‘Oy’ whilst making a ‘W’ with his fingers.” Instead, Jesus responds, “I didn’t come to destroy but to save.”

There’s a lot of folks today who want to call down fire. They are angry at stuff in the church, they are angry at stuff in the world. However, like John, our anger is misplaced. It’s not the people we’re fighting with. We’re trying to save the people: unto their last breath, we should be working and praying for their salvation: praying, loving, preaching, teaching, and being Church as we model the kingdom and God’s love for them. Jesus did not come to destroy but to heal, the Greek uses the word σῴζω Sozo which means “heal” and “save”.

We can’t do God’s Kingdom if we insist on doing things that Jesus wouldn’t be doing. How many radical activists (of any extreme variety) are born because we fail to be the Kingdom of God? Yes, I know that the sex scandal drives many away from the Church and our doctrines are, themselves, the cause of anger. The Truth will do that. Read about this protest in St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

Most folks rejecting the Gospel are not doing what happened in NYC or even recently in Mexico City. Rather I mean how many terrorists were born in Ireland because the Church was failing the people by siding with their wealthy oppressors? How many more when the Church supported the Fascists in Spain? How many more are lost when political power drives the Church in Russia, the US, in Germany, to side with hypocrisy for the sake of fancy watches, dinner invites, and “being seen”? When the future founder of the Muslim Brotherhood spent two years in the US, how did we fail to model the Kingdom and draw him in? What would have happened if we hadn’t allowed Christianity to be equated with middle class, white, mid-century values?

St Therese’s feast is perfect for this passage. She says, “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.” Rather than calling down fire, she asks us to pray for sinners in this way in her Holy Face Prayer for Sinners:

Eternal Father, since Thou hast given me for my inheritance the adorable Face of Thy Divine Son, I offer that face to Thee and I beg Thee, in exchange for this coin of infinite value, to forget the ingratitude of souls dedicated to Thee and to pardon all poor sinners.

It’s easy to blame the people in Samaria for rejecting Jesus because of their sectarian politics. John wanted to blame them. Jesus had other plans though. When the fire came from heaven at Pentecost it saved Samaria and the whole world.

Although the protesters in NYC were way out of line not everyone is acting like that. When someone in the middle of their journey rejects the Gospel is it sometimes possible that it is because we didn’t offer the Gospel in the first place?

By way of Postscript: My friend and sometime BYOB Theology Co-Host, Drew Ludwig, has shared this article about the missing verses via Twitter. There are several ancient texts (of great import) that do not contain the missing verses.

All the fullness

The NABRE gets the Greek text here better than a good many Protestant Bibles: Christ is filled with the πλήρωμα pleroma, the fullness of the θεότης theotes, the “God-stuff” and in him, we share in this πλήρωμα as well. This would be horrifying to most modern Protestants, although the Wesley brothers, at least, along with the Holiness churches, seemed to understand that “sanctification” is far more than just forgiveness. Our salvation is something that happens in this world or not at all, really. We can’t put it off until after death or we might miss our chance.

Sin, ultimately, is boring: a simple repetition of something humdrum and (often) tedious rather than participation in this πλήρωμα, this fullness of God-stuff. We have, moment by moment, a choice: to participate in the fullness of God stuff, or to simply prattle on thinking that this thing or that is more important.

The odd thing about the Fullness of God-stuff is – since Christ became Man – the πλήρωμα is hidden in our everyday life. If you’re a parent, it’s most often in the care of your children. If you a child, it’s most often in obedience to your parents. If you’re a worker, it’s in not looking at the internet at work. If you’re a boss it’s in paying a just wage to and keeping a healthy environment for your workers.

I mean, sure, it’s also going to Church and praying a Rosary, but that’s the obvious stuff. If you want to find the real treasure, you must actually look in the mundane places. It’s in feeding your cat, and in taking your child to school oh, it’s in doing your homework, and in not fighting with your spouse that we find Salvation. Here we find the fullness of all this God-stuff that we’ve been promised. Even if you’re a priest, or a religious, or even if you are the Pope the chances of you walking into a vision of divinity and being instantly transfigured are very slim. So you’re going to have to learn how to bake bread for Jesus, how to iron your shirts for Jesus, how to keep your floor clean for Jesus and, most importantly, how to send a hundred emails a day for Jesus (or sell stock, or teach kids, or whatever your work is).

This is where the fullness of God dwells for us: doing all these things in Union with Christ who did all these things. Since God became man and lived a human life, working for his Dad, obeying his Mom, taking out the garbage, cooking, washing his clothes, cleansing himself after the bathroom, etc: all these things are things God does for our salvation. And in them – done for the same intent – we participate in the fullness of God-stuff.

Shirking responsibility, ducking out when things get rough, avoiding conflict, pretending to be nice when not being nice, these are all things that Jesus did not do. These are all things that will not lead to our Salvation. in these things does not well the fullness of God-stuff. But it is very easy to do them. Very easy and very boring. It’s in these boring things did we find sin. Mundane and boring are not the same thing.

Mundane means Earthly. It is in common, earthly things like human flesh, bread, and wine, that God has chosen to be manifest.

Only sin is boring. It is an addiction wherein we do the same thing over and over hoping for exactly the same soporific results: We want to forget God. Sin helps us forget God but it also helps us forget ourselves and our mundane duties. The world in which God participates is filled with Divine Life. Sin, boring sin is the only thing secular.

The Call Came From INSIDE THE HOUSE!

JMJ

Did you ever notice this one? 

“The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin”
Matthew 13:41

I read the Gospel for today and didn’t even notice it. Sitting at Mass tonight this verse lept up and punched me hard in the gut.

The Latin and the Greek both say “scandal” there, but the word σκάνδαλον, skadalon, means “bait in a trap” or “trigger of a trap”.  It’s sometimes rendered as a “Stumbling Block”, but the NABRE, with “cause others to sin” catches the meaning full on, I think.

It came to me that at the heart of sexual sin is the desire to lead others astray. They may not be… but it is desired. No one sins alone, and many sins are triggers for other folks, or else bait.  Politics, for example, or liturgics when doctoring up the readings to cover up uncomfortable parts.

The skandalon is inside the kingdom, not outside. They are children of the Evil One, but they are inside the kingdom.

The enemy is us.

We must remember to pray for our brother and sisters, our spiritual Fathers and Mothers, our leaders and fellow pew-sitters.

That we may be free of skandalon inside the Kingdom. And free from the interference of those who practice lawlessness outside the walls.

Face to Face

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 17th week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Loquebatur autem Dominus ad Moysen facie ad faciem, sicut solet loqui homo ad amicum suum.
The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to his friend.
The Hebrew word used for face in “face to face” is פָנִים panim a plural form. The word is first used in the Scriptures in Genesis 1:2 as the Spirit of God moves over the face of the waters. God and Moses speak in this hovering intimacy, face to face. It is an image that leaves one breathless. Does it not move you to desire the same? To exchange breath with the creator of all life, with the source of all breath! How can this be? How can one know God face to face?
There are hints later in the scriptures when God pours his Spirit out on the elders of Israel and Moses says he wishes it could be given to everyone in Israel. In the Prophets, Joel promises the Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh.
In the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is given in Baptism and sealed in the holy oil at Confirmation or Chrismation.
And in the Holy Eucharist this same Spirit, invoked upon the bread and wine, is communicated to us in the Body and Blood of God the Son, for one member of the Trinity is not present without the others. And we receive all of the Trinity when we partake of the bread and the wine. 
Bishop Barron says that “adore” comes from the Latin meaning “mouth to mouth” or “face to face”.  The actual etymology is not quite so intimate as it means only “from the mouth”, coming from the Latin meaning “to speak”.  If there was such a thing as Proto Indo European, then: from PIE root *or- “to pronounce a ritual formula” (source also of Sanskrit aryanti “they praise,” Homeric Greek are, Attic ara “prayer,” Hittite ariya- “to ask the oracle,” aruwai- “to revere, worship”) source. There’s not another mouth involved, in the word, but the one mouth, the one face, must speak to another.
And so when we approach the Eucharist in Adoration – and it needn’t be “exposed” for the Mystery is no less present in the monstrance on a Latin altar, than in the Tabernacle, behind a veil or an Iconostasis, or at Communion in the Liturgy. Under glass, in brass, or at Mass, it’s all God. And we can all address him face to face, as one does to his friend.
The Spirit of God hovers, waits for you to turn to him and open to receive. Come.  Taste and see.

Looking Trough a Cloud Darkly


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 16th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

In the night watch just before dawn the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic.

If you read Gone with the Wind you get a very different image of Scarlet O’Hara than you do if you watch the movie. The movie skipped bits of the book – which was the best selling book in America at the time – for the sake of brevity. And, because some narrative was edited out, bits of the on-screen story had to be changed. Did you know Scarlet had a son by her first husband before he died early in the war? Anyway: these things did not change the meaning of the movie for the audience at the time because they had all read the book. Moviemakers could make assumptions based on the knowledge of their audience.

I had this reading at the Easter Vigil and I was confused by this verse. Here it is again… so time to look into these word choices.
…Cast upon the Egyptian Force a glance… it sounds like a “dirty look”, or a sort of curse. And what’s with the very off-putting turn of phrase, cast on them a glance that threw? There are no passive verbs in the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin versions of this verse, nor in any English translation.
The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin versions of this text, along with all the English ones based on them, have the Lord looking out and doing something.

The NABRE has the Lord looking out and then – through a really painful grammatical construction – has the Egyptians doing something in reaction to the look.

Are the translators trying to Save God’s Reputation? Well, probably not. Evidently, one bias in the modern Roman Catholic world is to eliminate “troubling” passages. In the ancient languages, this verse says God kills the Egyptians. That could, you know, raise questions. We’d end up discussing the book of Job.

Better to dodge that bullet by saying the Egyptians panic of their own free will which accidentally implies that they could see God looking at them.

Skipping passages that may raise questions is not limited to the Catholic Church. In the Orthodox Churches, where the daily offices of Matins and Vespers are often pared down to 30-45 mins of time (instead of the full celebration of same which could take – literally – hours) it’s up to the Choirmaster to pick which parts to skip. This results in some interesting choices depending on the biases involved. At a Monastery it’s the Father Superior who has that final say, and there, too, interesting choices are made.

The thing about liturgical editing of texts into a lectionary or an evening service is that it should assume literacy and familiarity on the part of the singers, readers, and congregation. All of us should know what was skipped for the sake of brevity or complexity. We should not be confused by the difference between the movie and the book

The real issue is that we do not know what we’re missing.

So when a Greek Parish compresses the entire 45 minute recitation (hour-plus if singing it properly) of the Matins Canon into 5-8 minutes, the Congregation begins to think that’s normal: it’s only the other, strange parishes that make up stuff to extend this. When the Liturgy of the Hours says here is the text for the Psalm, who notices any more when it skips a few verses? Do even the clergy who have to recite it know? When a church that uses the Common Lectionary has someone say, “That’s not in the Bible!” Is it because they never bothered to learn, or because someone hid it from them?

Love different


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nequaquam, inquit, Jacob appellabitur nomen tuum, sed Israel : quoniam si contra Deum fortis fuisti, quanto magis contra homines praevalebis?
Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?

In Sunday’s readings, St Paul called the Church the “Israel of God” so it’s good to get reminded, today, what that means. Israel means one who wrestles with God.

Israel says to Joshua, “As we obeyed Moses in all things, so will we obey thee also” (Joshua 1:17) and we know how well they listened to Moses! That’s the Church. If you don’t believe me look at Matthew 28:17 (another verse 17).  The risen Christ shows up, “And seeing him they adored: but some doubted.” Doubting him to his face they are. Here’s Jesus now! Oh, well, I don’t know…

But they don’t let go until Jesus blesses them anyway. That’s an honest picture of the Church. God is with us and sometimes we don’t like it. But may God have mercy on us anyways.

The Church is this wrestling partner and the bride of Christ, forever locked in a grapple, declaiming I will not let you go until you bless me. While we often think of the bride of Christ in romantic, sepia-toned, soft-focused images, the truth is the image we have for the church – for Israel – is often less Ward and June Cleaver and more Ralph and Alice Kramden. Even on her best days, the Church is more like Lucy Ricardo… Ricky, let me in the show! Loooceee!

So what does this mean for us, we who lovingly wrestle with God?

In the RCIA class last year one of the Disciples asked if they needed to accept all of the Catholic Church’s teaching before becoming Catholic at Eastet. It’s a valid question. The Church teaches a lot of things… some of which may draw you, some of which may repulse you. What do we do with that stuff?

If you’re joining the Catholic Church, you’re about to say “I believe everything the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God”.  Notice that you don’t “believe everything the church believes.” If you’ve decided to become Catholic or to return to the practice of your faith, I think it’s fair to assume that your goal, your desire, is to be a faithful Catholic – without reservations. But you might have some reservations at the present time. The journey is the thing. Is it your goal to be 100% Catholic 100% of the time, even if you can’t do it exactly, just yet? God doesn’t want perfect disciples and even the Doubters in 28:17 get sent out as Apostles.

The entire story of the Bible is filled with people who do what God didn’t want and yet God brings good out of it. If you’re trying to do what is right… even if you can’t make it yet… you’re much further along than some of the important folks in the Bible! We leave behind, today, the story of Jacob and leap into the story of Joseph tomorrow. God’s beloved is sold into slavery… becomes the leader of the known world. Ah, how can we dance with a God like this and worry?

In my journey through very conservative forms of Christianity, I’ve met a lot of folks who openly reject this or that teaching of the Church. Then they act as if they are the insulted ones in the relationship. I’ve always wondered why they bother to be Catholic or Orthodox. I don’t really know. They’ve stopped struggling. They’ve decided they are more right than the Church. But they are clearly not 100% sure: because if you’ve stopped being Catholic or Orthodox go be Protestant. Be faithful to your inner voice and follow your conscience!

But then there are many faithful others who struggle. They want to be this thing, but they have failures. They want to be Catholic, but really? This thing about sex? Really? This thing about birth control? Really? This thing about the Pope? Really? This thing about… I’m serious, they have trouble. But they admit they are having trouble, they struggle, they wrestle. They know that there is something here. They even know they are wrong. When they stumble, they go to confession, they talk to their priest, they abstain from communion… then they come back.

They don’t want the Church to change to please them. They want to – but they can’t yet – change. It’s just not happening. The issue is not how many times you fall: you have only to get up one more time than you fall. It’s only one more time.

I will NOT let you go until you bless me. One of these days, Alice. One of these days… to heaven.

Come back next week, try again. Even limping away, you win.

Act of Resignation


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 12th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them if they stayed together; their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. There were quarrels between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and those of Lot’s.

We plan… contrary to God’s command… and crap happens. See: if Abram had no heir, then his Nephew would inherit. So Lot is on the journey to watch after Uncle’s stuff. God has told Abram he will be a great nation but Abram’s just covering his bases, making sure the lot falls to him in a favorable way, you’ll pardon the pun. Then Lot gets quite wealthy and begins to squabble with his uncle. They part ways, when we next see him in the story he’s been captured. And, after that, comes the Sodom Story. Lot is not going to do well for tripping up God’s plans.

Those who fail to plan plan to fail. Or so we’re told, but God has other plans for us than the ones that we can make. Our human Free Will serves only one purpose: we can choose to follow God or not. Every question, every choice, every decision, every random act falls under this rubric. We can choose to follow God or not. We are entirely free. God will do what God wants to do anyway. Not to you, not against you. If you choose not to go along, if you choose not to do the mission he has for you, if you decide not to say the word he has you set up to say, he’ll get somebody else. He is God, after all. But what will you miss if you fail to dance to the tune that God has set out for you?

We will never know. That has become a good that God had planned for the world that will not come into the world because you refused to give it birth. You aborted it. God can freely do what God will do but you can freely refuse to cooperate. There is only one choice: we can choose to follow God or not. I used the word aborted on purpose. God can bring new life into the world and we can refuse to cooperate with him. Who knows what great musicians, what wonderful doctors, what magnificent scientists, what world statespersons we’re sacrificing on the altar of our choice? We will never know. But we can do so.

Likewise, when God has a plan laid out, steps to call, a fiddle to play and we decide not to dance; what do we miss? We come along for the ride but when we get wealthy, we go our own way.

I have been thinking lately of two prayers. This one is from St Ignatius:

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. 

And this one is called the Act of Resignation:

O Lord my God, I now, from this moment do I accept from Thy hands, with burning love and sincere contrition, with a calm and willing disposition, whatsoever death Thou shalt choose to send me, with its pains and griefs. Amen.

These prayers have been in my thoughts because I sensed I might have cancer. I had a lump or two that I could not explain, and there was also a spot. I say these prayers every day, but they were words. Suddenly they had meaning. I kept looking at these prayers wondering if I could pray them any more and mean them. Only vaguely, was I able to pray them. Only vaguely. I haven’t quite decided yet if I need to make confession about that.

It dawned on me as I struggled with them, that these prayers speak of nearly every aspect of our lives: not just death. So many times we think we know what we need and we demand it of God. When we don’t get what we think we need we tell God we will go our own way and we’ll get it ourself. That can be a new job, a new apartment, a new spouse, a new set of shoes, a new diet, a new political party, a different Parish, a better Pastor, a better boss, we go looking for anything that we want instead of struggling with what we have. This is, in a way, libertarianism done up in a personal lifestyle. I’ve come to realize that anyone who uses libertarian memes or thought processes, for any economics, politics, or personal choice is a functional atheist.

We think of libertarianism as being something along the lines of smaller government means fewer laws and so I can do what I want, and most people, left to do what they want, will do what is right. We’re Christians, people. We know that’s a lie. Most people, left to do what they want, will not do what is right. They will do what is good for them. Reagan’s trickle-down economics voodoo economics as it was called or any supply-side dream is exactly that: a dream. We think of Taxation is theft because I should not have to give up my wealth. But it’s not yours its Gods. Libertarianism is functional atheism. We’re saying God step aside we know what to do here.

But this is not just an economic choice. This is any cultural choice. Libertarianism is what gives us our free divorce laws. Libertarianism is what gives us our business structures. Libertarianism is what gives us our bizarre approach to politics, regardless of which political party we say we belong to. We say we live in a country where anyone can grow up to have a political office. We’ve proven that several times in the last 60 years. I don’t want to live in a country where anyone can hold political office. I want to live in a country where only qualified people get elected. People with good schooling, people with good education all the way through their life. People who understand other cultures and want to work for peace. Not anyone.

On the other hand, we rob our people of good education and of culture by the same libertarian shenanigans. The market will not tolerate it, we say. Let the market decide who can afford things. I’d rather a nation where car wash attendants know Shakespear and Sun Tzu, than a nation where people without knowledge of Shakespear and Sun Tzu are allowed to run the country because they are rich. This same choice applies all the way down the line. Any time we say “the market” and we speak of “religious choice” or “educational systems”, any time we appeal to finances to verify ethics, anytime we make a cryptic appeal to a “hidden hand” we are closing the door to structured, ethical choices and opening the door to their opposite. We are pretending God doesn’t get involved (which is the same as “doesn’t exist”) and we’re saying that God doesn’t use human hands and institutions (ie Gov’t) to regulate human evil.

So what about my cancer? Well, I didn’t want to go to the doctor for quite some time. I was terrified of what I might hear. I was terrified of what would happen the day I went in and the doctor said yes this is cancer. Who would I tell take care of my cat? To whom would I give my stuff? I don’t have answers for these and every time I tried to talk about it I would get shut down. I finally realized I had to trust God. Among the tools God has given me are medical professionals. So I finally realized I had to say those two prayers and then go talk to my doctor. So I said them vaguely. I took a deep breath. And I went to the doctor.

In the end, Lot loses everything. And Abram takes him under his wing. God has things for Abram to do, but God wants us to follow our cultural dictates and take care of our family too. Abram disobeyed God, but God still used him.

We have only one choice: to follow God or not. Submitting to God’s will is the right choice. But it’s never the only choice. We can find ourselves moving right along after Decades of having made our own choices. We can come back. The choice is either rules or no rules. Because if God Is Right the other things to one degree or another, to a greater degree or less, are off the mark. They might begin pretty close together, but drawn into eternity, eventually, those lines will diverge greatly.

When the Doctor told me I hadn’t cancer but rather some genetic issue called a “lipoma”, I was greatly relieved. When the Doctor told me that the spot was nothing to worry about and, by the way, for someone with such pale skin, you seem to be impervious to sun issues, I pretty much danced out of the office. These prayers are no longer just words. When God finally, really calls me from my family and friends to a new land flowing with milk and honey, will I be ready to go?

Are you a hacker?

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:

What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Have you heard about “hypermiling”? These are folks who learn every possible trick to play with their car to get the most gas mileage possible. They go into neutral (or even turn off the car) when they go down a hill. They ride close behind large trucks on the highway so that they can take advantage of the lowered wind resistance. This was a huge thing in the early part of this century, but it requires a standard transmission and, even better, standard brakes and steering.  Every part of your car that is automated, they say, takes away control from you and prevents you from hacking it for better mileage.  For these folks, it is the mileage that is important rather than the travel. Longer trips are better for mileage, and the drive is important, sorta… but it’s the mileage that is the thing. What’s the data from the tank?

We are all aware that we are going to die. Each of us in varying degrees has this awareness. The degree is not one or presence vrs absence; rather some of us are able to say with more or less certainty, “I’m not going to die soon.” Yet all of us know death is out there somewhere. We may be more or less fatalistic about it: I will die when it comes, so until then I shall do everything I can. I have no control over when I shall day. Or there are those who try to take control and live forever. Jack at Twitter seems to be one of these, “lifehacking” everything from how often he sleeps to how little he eats in an obsessive drive, seemingly, to keep living life more. What could be wrong with that? 

All of Silicon Valley Culture seems to be currently obsessed with this, to be honest. As a people, we’re hung up on data (rather than persons or individuals) and we need to see the highest possible return on the data… we seem rather to not care that there are people involved. We want to approach everything with a “scientific” outlook, by which we mean we don’t care about any subjective content, only quantifiable data that can be plotted (up and to the right, please). Jack’s attempt to plot life using data and hacking the code is only the same drive on a different level. 

This is to be expected of a culture built largely by people who live in code. Trust me on this, we try even to hack religion. I’m quite used to us, even as I need to, daily, deprogram myself, to remind myself that my relationships with persons are not data-based. My conversation with you (even via the written word) is with someone created in the image and likeness of our Father, God.

What has either of these to do with St Paul?

St Paul’s awareness of his mortality is living, active, and present. He knows from day to day that he lives only at God’s pleasure. His desire is not to get every possible thing out of this life, but rather only to finish his course and to finish the ministry God has given to him. Those are the same thing: he’s going to die before God is through with him. God’s not going to “kill him” before he’s done with his work. The work and the life are coterminous. The surest sign that God is not through with him is that he is still breathing. If he were to focus on his life, qua life, instead of on the ministry, it would be like Adam and Eve grabbing for knowledge on their own terms instead of waiting for God to bestow it.

This is our primary choice in the world. I was going to add “in the world today” but the reality is that it has been our choice since the garden. Do we do what  God asks or do we grab things on own terms? Do we hack? Do we try to “get the most” out of things instead of holding them and thanking God for them and letting them go? The signs are probably different for each of us, but recent indications that I have been hacking things have included how I edit these posts for fear that someone might read them for “hate speech” and mess up “my life”. First off, it’s not mine. Secondly, if I’m speaking Truth then it’s not hate but I do have fear like that. I have fear, also, of bad medical news, so I don’t go to the doctor when I don’t want to know. Avoiding pain, avoiding fear: these are signs I’m trying to hack life.

Paul knows God wants him in Jerusalem – and Paul knows that his life is going to change drastically when he gets to Jerusalem. He replies only that he’s going to Jerusalem – although he sets things in order, telling the elders what to do when he leaves. He wants only to finish the race before him. Jerusalem is not the end of the race – in fact Paul will take preaching the Gospel to new levels: reaching even to Nero and his household. Nero’s not sane enough to hear truth, but his people are so over the insanity, that they are willing to hear about this new Kyrios who won’t ruin their souls.

Paul brings to close the quest for “more life” by realizing that as long as he does what God wants he will live as long as God needs him to – not one minute more. We cannot hypermile all the way through this life, holding on to control to get the most out it. Jack’s going to die just like the rest of us. So the question is not “How do I live more?” but rather “What would God have me do now?” If God has something new for me to do then it’s up to him to keep me alive. If God wants me to do or act or say – then it’s up to God to bring out of that “thought, word, or deed” whatever it is he needs. It’s only up to me to do the thing, to say the word. To lifehack and to be fearful are both strange forms of practical atheism.  

With St Ignatius we say:

LORD Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish Thou hast given me. I surrender it all to be guided by Thy will. Thy grace and Thy love are wealth enough for me. Give me these Lord Jesus and I ask for nothing more. Amen.

Even when death comes, that is time only to meet God. We are so fearful of that prospect, that this other prayer seems pure insanity:

O Lord my God, I now, from this moment do I accept from Thy hands, with burning love and sincere contrition, with a calm and willing disposition, whatsoever death Thou shalt choose to send me, with its pains and griefs. Amen.

This is why St Paul says to take all things and make Eucharist (Thanksgiving) with them: as long as we’re not grabbing for more, then each thing that comes our way is what God would have for us at that time. We turn it to heaven and ask that we may make of it the best use God would have us make for his plan.