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Archive for the ‘St. Patrick’ Category

— 1 —

This is going to be very random. Sorry in advance. We’ve had a busy week, and my brain is just quite fractured. Piano Season is gearing up, braces were taken off, people are coming home with news about trips they are planning and the fact that yes, they are going to prom after all, it’s Lent, friends are coming into town….

 

Links from all over, a clear indication of the cacophony that defines “My Brain.”

— 2 —

Given longstanding Christian opposition to universalism, how has it gained so many adherents in recent times?

The change was a long time coming. As I show in my book, from the time of Origen onward there were individual Christian thinkers who held to some version of Origenist universalism. In Orthodox Christianity, however, universalism was never affirmed as an official or public teaching of the church. One might call it instead a tolerated private opinion. I found that Orthodox attitudes toward Origen through the centuries were double-sided and ambivalent (as my own attitude is), acknowledging Origen’s undoubted contributions to Christian theology and spirituality but finding fault with his speculative excesses. Western esotericists, who were outside of traditional churches or hovering about its fringes, maintained a robust universalism from around 1700 up to the mid-1900s.

Yet until that point, few official church teachers in Protestant Germany, Britain, or North America publicly affirmed universal salvation—even though privately some may have been universalists. Something changed in the 1950s, and I believe it was Barth’s affirmation of universal election that allowed universalism to come out of the shadows. From the 1950s through the 1970s, universalism was most closely associated with modernist Protestantism. Prior to Vatican II, one finds some private musings on the possibility of salvation for all among certain Catholic intellectuals, even though no official Catholic spokespersons affirm universalism.

The next step in the process occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, as Catholics discussed “the unchurched” and evangelicals debated “the unevangelized.” A book from the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope?, initiated a turn toward “hopeful universalism” among Catholics, leading into more overt affirmations of universalism later on. Similarly, the tentative suggestions by the British evangelical John Stott regarding conditionalism or annihilationism triggered intra-evangelical debates over the final scope of salvation.

—3–

I Inherited a Failed Sunday School: Here’s How it Flourished

3. Don’t be afraid of teaching doctrine that you or your students don’t fully understand.

Just as we sometimes neglect to teach children how and why to worship, our pedagogical focus is often limited to teaching them morals and sentimentality without sufficient engagement with doctrine or dogma. Dorothy Sayers presciently critiqued the rejection of doctrine in her 1947 essay “Creed or Chaos,” and her argument is even more relevant 70 years later. “‘No creed but Christ’ has been a popular slogan for so long that we are apt to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning,” she wrote. “And however unpopular I may make myself, I shall and will affirm that the reason why the Churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.”

When I first began to teach Sunday school at our small church, I found that I succeeded most when I aimed over the children’s apparent intellectual level, not under. For example, one of the most successful lessons we ever had was provided by a Bible scholar from our congregation who came in to teach the kids about Bible translation. The children loved exploring something new and were excited to learn how to write Hebrew words. For the same reason, the classes I taught on theological doctrines tended to go much better than I imagined. The students had something new to think about, and learning more about Christian doctrine helped them to connect with lessons and stories they had been taught in other classes and contexts.

–4–

From First Things – a really good article on “Memorization and Repentance.”  A must read for, well, all of us – but in particular anyone involved in parish ministry and formation:

We may be tempted to think that digitization makes memorization redundant. The truth is, rather, that digitization yields distraction. I can select whatever I want from online storage at any time. The possibilities are endless, and so the order, steadiness, and peacefulness to which Hugh alludes consistently escape us.

The distraction of our information age fails at character formation. What’s in cyberspace cannot shape our characters, only what is in the mind. (To be sure, data and images often move from cyberspace to our mind, at which point they do shape our character for good or ill.) Having information at our fingertips is not the same as having stored it in our mind. This is why both classical and medieval authors were deeply concerned with memorization. Traditional practices such as lectio divina are grounded in the recognition that distraction must be countered by memorization and meditation. (The two were virtually synonymous in the Middle Ages.) Medieval monks devised all sorts of ways to facilitate Scripture memorization because they recognized that it offers the boundaries and confines within which the moral life can flourish.

Memorization is a Lenten practice, reshaping our memories to be like God’s. When our memories are reshaped and reordered according to the immutable faithfulness of God in Christ, we re-appropriate God’s character—his steadfast love, his mercy, his compassion.  Repentance, therefore, is a turning back to the virtues of God as we see them in Christ.  Being united to him, we are united to the very character of God, for it is in the God-man that God’s virtue and human virtue meet. The hypostatic union is the locus of our repentance: In Christ human memory is re-figured to the memory of God.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since I read it:

Having information at our fingertips is not the same as having stored it in our mind.

–5 —

This, in turn, led me to a very interesting blog with which I am going to be spending some time. That of independent scholar L.M. Sacasas, who writes about technology. This was the first post I happened upon, probably because I was looking for material related to this passage from Eliot’s Four Quartets:

Neither plenitude nor vacancy.  Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before time and after.

Sacasas concludes his brief commentary:

The assumption seems to be, “No worries, we’ve always been mediocre and always will be.”  This may be true, but it is a symptom of some kind of cultural anemia that we now embrace this line of thinking in defense of our gadgets and our toys.  The question is not whether we have in the past made any better use of our time, the question is whether our tools and our social climate in general are more or less conducive to the pursuit of some kind of excellence, however halting the pursuit.  Johnson noted a certain guilt that Eliot experienced when he perceived himself to have failed to use his time well.  It is perhaps the general absence of such guilt in the Wireless Age that is most telling of our present ills.

Today’s blog entry is very thought provoking and brings together many threads waving about in my own head:

Taylor notes again the “blowing off steam” hypothesis. If you don’t find a way to relieve the pressure within the relative safety of semi-sanctioned ritual, then you will get more serious, uncontrolled, and violent eruptions. But Taylor also notes an alternative or possibly complementary hypothesis present in Turner’s work: “that the code relentlessly applied would drain us of all energy; that the code needs to recapture some of the untamed force of the contrary principle.”

Coming back, then, to my intuited analogy, it goes something like this:  carnival is to the ordinary demands of piety in medieval society as, in contemporary society, the back stage is to the front stage relative to identity work.

It’s not a perfect analogy. Indeed, I confess that I may be stretching a bit to make it work. It really only focuses on one aspect of the backstage experience as Goffman theorized it:  the backstage as a space to let one’s guard down, to relieve the pressures of a constantly calibrated performance before an ill-defined virtual audience, to blow off some steam.

Nonetheless, I think there’s something useful in the approach. The main idea that emerged for me was this:  in our contemporary, digitally augmented society the mounting pressure we experience is not the pressure of conforming to the rigid demands of piety and moral probity, rather it is the pressure of unremitting impression management, identity work, and self-consciousness. Moreover, there is no carnival. Or, better, what presents itself as a carnival experience is, in reality, just another version of the disciplinary experience.

Consider the following.

First, the early internet, Web 1.0, was a rather different place. In fact, a case could be made for the early internet being itself the carnivalesque experience, the backstage where, under the cloak of anonymity, you got to play a variety of roles, try on different identities, and otherwise step out of the front stage persona (“on the internet nobody knows you are a dog,” Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, etc.). As our internet experience, especially post-Facebook, became more explicitly tied to our “IRL” identity, then the dynamic flipped. Now we could no longer experience “life on screen” as anti-structure, as backstage, as a place of release. Online identity and offline identity became too hopelessly entangled. Confusion about this entanglement during the period of transition accounts for all manner of embarrassing and damaging gaffs and missteps. The end result is that the mainstream experience of the internet became an expansive, always on front stage. A corollary of this development is the impulse to carve out some new online backstage experience, as with fake Instagram accounts or through the use of ephemeral-by-design communication of the sort that Snapchat pioneered.

Indeed, this may be a way of framing the history of the internet:  as a progression, or regression, from the promise of a liberating experience of anti-structure to the imposition of a unprecedentedly expansive and invasive instrument of structure. Many of our debates about the internet seem to be usefully illuminated by the resulting tension. Perhaps we might put it this way, the internet becomes an instrument of structure on a massive scale precisely by operating in the guise of an anti-structure. We are lured, as it were, by the promise of liberation and empowerment only to discover that we have been ensnared in a programmable web of discipline and control.

–6-

My son continues to post about movies:

Apocalypse Now

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

The Last Movie

This might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

–7–

St. Patrick’s Day is coming:

From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.

….

God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

I also  have a chapter on the beautiful Lorica prayer – or St. Patrick’s Breastplate in The Words We Pray. You can dip into it here and buy the book here. It’s one of my favorites of those I’ve written.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

This week has been Exhibit A in “Why I could never lease a car.”  Back and forth to Montgomery on Monday for a talk, then over and back from Atlanta today to pick up some stuff from my oldest’s condo – he moved to NYC in January, has the closing on his Atlanta place on Friday, and had a few things in it that he will probably want someday, but can’t have up in NYC right now, considering he’s renting one room in a house in Brooklyn at the moment.

Plus the usual at least 40-50 miles/day I put on in my rounds to various schools…I can’t imagine a life of only putting 10-15,000 miles/year on a car. I’d like to, but right now…it can’t happen.

— 2 —

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! More about him here, including from two of my books, the Loyola Kids Book of Saints and The Words We Pray. 

Is your diocese dispensing from the Lenten Friday abstinence? Ours is, with a caveat: 

To eat meat on this Friday, Catholics in Diocese of Birmingham must do one of these penances:

1. Pray the rosary for increase of vocations in the Diocese of Birmingham;
2. Participate in public celebration of the Stations of the Cross;
3. Do an act of charity;
4. Read scripture on the Passion of the Lord;
5. Spend time and pray before the Most Blessed Sacrament

May St. Patrick intercede for us to celebrate his memory well and to practice our Lenten penance with contrite heart with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Rocco has a Master List at his place. 

Charles Collins, formerly of Vatican Radio, now writes for Crux – a superb call on Crux’s part – and has thoughts on this patchwork of regulations and dispensations:

Instead we get a hodgepodge of contradictory rules, and people get upset because their bishop didn’t give the dispensation, or they fret that no one really cares about Lent anymore, or they just find the conditions attached to the dispensation confusing.

There is no other day on the Church calendar which causes such a fuss. No scorecards are needed for St. Stanislaus or Saint John of God, which also often fall during Lent, despite the strong devotion of segments of the population to these saints.

Saint Patrick is different. The Church in Ireland has had an outsize influence on the Church in the United States, even when taking into account the large number of Irish immigrants who came to the country. In many ways, American Catholicism grew from an Irish root, and in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a solemnity and meat is allowed.

 

— 3 —

What a glorious anniversary! It’s been a whole week since the BBC Dad explosion, and did you ever? Yes, it’s true that one of the things I hate about writing on the Internet – are questions about what people write about on the Internet.  As in: Why are you writing about that? And not this Important Thing?  Hate it. 

BUT.

Think for a minute about the people who spent a whole lot of time last weekend extrapolating Big Themes from 30 seconds in another family’s life and fighting with each other about said Big Themes.

God almighty, it was not a big deal. It was cute. It was funny. It just happened. It really was not a deeply meaningful leading indicator of Gender Relations. And…there were more interesting things to do last weekend than fight on Facebook about this, I’m pretty sure.

He told the Wall Street Journal: ‘As soon as she opened the door I saw her image on my screen. She was in a hippity-hoppity mood that day because of the school party.’

Prof Kelly, 44, said he gamely tried to continue with the interview but then nine-month-old James tottered into the room. ‘Then I knew it was over,’ he said.

To complete the farce, his wife Jung-a Kim then came skidding through the door.

She grabbed the two youngsters and attempted to drag them out of the door, but one of them could be heard wailing and the baby’s walker got stuck in the door.

More. 

(The WSJ article mentioned is behind a paywall now, but it mentioned that Jung-a Kim was recording the interview airing on the television in the other room – recording it with her phone – and didn’t notice the kids were up to anything until they appeared on the screen.)

— 4 —

Gene Luen Yang is a favorite around here – a great storyteller and graphic novelist. He’s also a Catholic. Christianity Today has a nice article about the McArthur “Genius” grant winner, his art and his faith:

Yang admits these tensions were not always easy for him to navigate, but his perspective on not fitting in has changed over time. “Now, when I look back, I feel really grateful and appreciative of being an outsider,” Yang told me. “When you are in a place of comfort, there are things you end up taking for granted.” While his upbringing and education were privileged in many ways, Yang is familiar with the feeling of cultural discomfort.

Spurred on by the complex tensions between his Chinese-Christian and Western-American heritage, Yang’s work represents an ongoing quest to better understand himself, his faith, and the world around him. He often takes his characters on similar journeys of exploring identity, place, and purpose—something that readers of any cultural and faith background can connect with.


Update:  I didn’t know the CT article was behind a paywall – I don’t subscribe, and somehow I could read it – perhaps because it was in an email link from CT? Anyway…sorry!

— 5 —.

From last December, a local (Atlanta) news feature on the Hawthorne Dominicans’ ministry in the city:

— 6 –

The Monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS:

Under Stewart’s direction, HMML has expanded its activities to India, where it recently photographed 10,000 palm-leaf manuscripts, and to Ethiopia, where it digitized the Garima Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving Ethiopian manuscripts. The organization has also worked in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, photographing thousands of manuscripts of all confessions and languages, from Coptic to Maronite and from Greek to Latin.

In 2013, the organization decided to start digitizing Islamic material as well. In Mali, HMML is currently digitizing more than 300,000 Islamic manuscripts, which risked being destroyed when Islamists associated with al-Qaeda took over the city of Timbuktu in 2012.

With the rise of ISIS, 2,000 out of the 6,000 manuscripts that HMML managed to digitize in Iraq between 2009 and 2014 have been lost or destroyed. Other manuscripts digitized in Syria may have suffered the same fate.

— 7 —

Starting to think about Easter gifts? First Communion? Confirmation Mother’s Day?

Check out my bookstore. It will be closed from 3/25-4/2, so you might want to get on those Easter orders….

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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