Thursday, February 08, 2018

A number of churches in the area sent buses to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. last Friday.1 I traveled with a fellow parishioner whom I have come to know through various, local volunteering situations. Neither of us attended the march previously.

Early start for a long day: dressed before 5 o'clock and made the two highschoolers' lunches. Dropped the son who catches the out of district bus at his stop and arrived back home nearly in time to meet my ride to St. John's church. Jeff had a busy day in my absence, taking our son for an interview at a prospective high school, going ice skating afterwards and then a sporting event in the evening.

Not much happened on the drive down to D.C. After a brief rest stop at Maryland House, the deacon and his wife led a rosary. I've not met a deacon yet who can flawlessly count on a rosary, so it may be an ordination requirement that their wife can. They traded off the decades with her adding back the Aves he left off, to our collective relief. Around 11, we rolled into the Basilica's parking lot but there was no time to visit.


It would take a solid hour to hoof it across campus to the Red Line and walk more from Metro Center. Not to mention stopping for the Angelus which I've never before prayed on a public street. It was a showy display to satisfy the fastidious in the group.


As soon as we hit the Mall, my companion and I lost our traveling group. The program was in progress and Sister Madonna was being introduced. C-SPAN clip. She was very sweet. As we were beginning to speculate that we had arrived too late to hear the president speak, our attention was directed towards the jumbo screen where the vice president appeared live from the Rose Garden (C-SPAN video). He introduced the president. They are both good speakers. I could listen to his New York accent all day long.


The crowd was overwhelmingly Catholic. And young. The clergy, exclusively male.2 We stayed in place until Speaker Paul Ryan finished, then the crowd began moving down Madison Drive. We missed most speakers that followed Ryan, hearing only bits and pieces of Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

But the crowd did not move much and I began to doubt we'd reach the Supreme Court. We had a rendezvous with our group, the 5 o'clock Latin mass at St Mary's, so we bailed on the march to arrive just in time. En route, we encountered an instance of anti-Catholicism:


Also, a fellow rolled down his window long enough to complain that our presence interfered with his commute home.

The tiny church, St Mary Mother of God, was jam-packed. The line for the confessional rivaled the line for the head. We stood along the back wall until someone asked whether we were in line for confession. We stepped forward a bit to make use of the kneelers behind the last pew. So tired, kneeling felt more comfortable than standing!

The pews were raised some off the floor so just about everyone stumbled coming out of them. The incense completely overpowered the small space. The schola sang beautifully, absolutely beautifully. Like most Catholics my age, I know only the basic responses. This was a high mass but people ignored the difference.

Leading up to communion, the woman next to me whispered,
May I ask, do you know how many times in one day someone can receive holy communion? Is it twice?
Reflexively, I told her yes and thought to myself two things: (1) anyone asking that question knows the answer and (2) she wants me to know she's received communion once already today.

At communion, our priest, Fr. Carter of Holy Innocents, kept a lightning pace, so we crossed the aisle to his short line. Too quick! He ended up flipping the host intended for me to the floor!3 Walking from the rail, I muttered, "That wasn't my fault!" It was his speed coupled with my desire to utter "Amen" instead of just waiting there with my tongue out.

Almost immediately upon taking our place at the service, I spotted a Facebook friend sitting several rows up whom I have never met in person. After the service, I went forward and greeting him just very briefly because we had to catch our bus. It was neat.

On the bus ride back, we watched "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," a favorite with the older generation on board. I can just imagine the casting call for it! Though it may be based on a classic, old story and star Julie Newmar, I just wasn't into it. It ended literally when our bus pulled into the church parking lot.

Jeff sent me a picture of the fencing meet that I missed.


The entire 45th annual March for Life program is available here. It's worth watching.
1 January 19th, 2018
2 There must be anti-abortion female clerics but they were not visibly present.
3 He promptly picked it up and consumed it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The autumn hiking series through the county parks left me in pretty good physical shape that I intend to maintain through the winter. The only winter program open to join happens on Sunday mornings from 8 to noon, every other Sunday, starting last Sunday. Several inches of powdery snow had fallen a few days before and the cold temperatures kept the snow intact. I checked the park's cancellation line repeatedly, before my morning swim, and after, but no update. Despite temperatures around 0° and below, the walk was on.

A small group, myself and one other participant, plus a hike guide and a volunteer, set out in snow shoes and poles for a couple of hours. I'm not experienced on snow shoes and fell three times, from stepping on my own shoe and finally from fatigue. However, being out there was a pleasant time and after a week I can't now remember how cold my feet were.

At bible study on Wednesday, a question about how creation will "be liberated" (from its futility, Romans 8:20-21), with a leading follow-up question of how the Christian discerns a God-honoring environmental outlook that does not overemphasize nature's importance or humans' ability to conserve. For sure, I saw the latter part of the question as indoctrination but to my shock, everyone was already ideologically on board! Or perhaps the unsure ones kept silent. And I concluded it's our own distance from nature, our lack of interaction with the outdoors, that makes any substantial regard for its conservation seem like idolatry. Of course, either position can be out of whack, but human nature assumes "the other side" is.

I mentioned to my spiritual director that I took in the linens from the emergency housing program at the local Catholic church to wash. She's very familiar with the program but never considered that aspect of its operation, the need for clean sheets and towels. I also mentioned the Sunday morning hikes that keep me from showing up for choir at least until Palm Sunday. On that score, she said that, depending on how I feel about it, I might consider attending a Catholic mass on Saturday evening to make up for Sunday morning:
You know, they have those, a service on Saturday evening, every week. When I was pastoring, I would attend those and, you know, the pastor was aware, I'm Protestant, and he was fine with it.
I thought this was an unusual recommendation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I volunteered to deliver Christmas gifts donated by church members. At choir rehearsal, I saw a number of bags in the pews.

The next day the coordinator called me with the name and number of my partner. I reached out to my partner and we decided to get together the following day to deliver. Meanwhile, she put it to me to retrieve our few bags from the church. And we would need to contact the recipients to arrange a delivery time.
Do you have a key?
I don't have a key. I called the church office. No answer. I sent email to the church secretary asking to be let in the church. No reply. I looked at a recent church bulletin, from a few weeks ago, and saw a boy scout meeting on the calendar.

I drove by the church in the early evening and saw cars in the parking lot and lights on. I entered purposefully and, with the direction of the coordinator via cell phone, I located the assigned bags on a back church bench. I called my partner to share some of the recipients' numbers with her so we could divvy up notifying them. Except she already had the list!

She offered to meet at eleven o'clock the next morning but then changed it to noon. She needed to food shop first because her sister is coming right before Christmas. I indicated that I would have to pick up my kids from school and would she mind riding back with them in the car. She didn't understand so I explained it again. She said that would be alright. In any event, she was a bit late to our noon rendezvous and spent a good deal of our travel time to Route 36 texting her adult daughter.

But we had time for small talk, too. She could not get her head around private school. I told her facts from my daily life, like having to drive my kids to their bus stops or even all the way to school because they don't qualify for a bus. "Hmmm, the bus always stopped right at our house, in the morning and again after school." When I mentioned that my oldest son now drives himself to school, she exclaimed, "The 8th grader drives?!" Oh, I have two in high school. "I thought you only had two kids!"

There were so many misunderstandings. The superficial nature of small talk does not command the participants' full attention. Each is only half-listening and the conversation necessarily runs to explanation.

To expedite our delivery activity, I had already entered the addresses in my Waze phone app as well as created and printed a map. I gave her the map to look at. She recommended we start at the farthest point and move back towards home base. That would have been fine but I wanted to end up near my kids' school. So we ran it the other way, hitting the closest house first. Route 36 is a divided highway, so there was some backtracking involved. I said I was glad we were delivering during the day so we could find our way. She said there was no way she'd consider delivering at night anyway.

We delivered to all the homes in forty minutes. As she saw that things were going quickly, she took more time visiting with each person. She made a point of mentioning the church name and town, neither of which was likely familiar to anyone. The last location had first holy communion pictures on the wall and rosaries mounted on display. Leaving, I said to her, "Well, there was a Christian home." She wished them happy holidays.

We stopped at the donut shop near the kids' school so my partner could eat something. She mentioned having heard of a Catholic school in Red Bank. Had I looked into that school for my kids? As we drove past the kids' school, she asked whether theirs is a strictly Catholic school and I said, rather vehemently, that it's not a Catholic school. She recognized the county road that the donut shop was on and asked, "Which way is Red Bank from here and which way is Eatontown?" I answered her1. She mentioned Sam's Club and was I a member? "Not everything is in bulk there, you know. Where on earth do you food shop?" I pointed out the store across the street from the donut shop and said, "I was there this morning, buying groceries. You must wonder how I live!"

We pulled into the parking lot and students were walking from their final classes. She remarked on their uniforms. She was still probably thinking it's a Catholic school. When the kids were ready, they came to the car and I introduced her. They had seen the bags of gifts in the car that morning and asked me about them. She announced to them, "Hi kids, your mother and I attend the same church!!" I thought that was a rather awkward thing to say. I mean, if it were true, then my kids would already know it.

On the way home, she asked me whether I would be joining any church committees. And I told her that I'm not actually a church member. She mentioned a thriving church in the next town and recommended that I check it out. I had actually been wondering where everyone was on Sunday mornings lately; I think they're there.


1 Relating this to Jeff later, he said, "Ah, yes, towns she's heard of."

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Exiting L'Enfant Plaza station, I spied a young family who looked the part: quiet and clean-cut, sporting message wear. They stood together in the alcove of a building on 4th, not exactly moping but in a kind of holding pattern, as if trying to decide their next move. Or simply waiting. They were, in fact, a hint: we would soon be in their same situation. But I didn't know that yet. It was almost noon, the day after Thanksgiving.

The line into the museum was not long but neither was it moving. An employee bore the ire of a man who had just been told in a polite British accent to come back around 1 or 4. Preferably 4. That is, unless he had a ticket. The employee then turned to us with the same message. We heeded him and set off to the Mall a few short blocks away. My kids secretly hoped not to return.

We passed the next three and a half hours walking from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. We took our sweet time. And then we returned to the museum. The entry line had queued up now on the building's far side that abuts the train tracks. I was as ready as the kids to bail. An energetic man repeated the earlier promise of gaining admittance at 4 o'clock. He appeared energetic, not because he had any affiliation with the museum but because he was underdressed for the late November chill. He distributed slips of Scripture.

My kids promptly settled on the sidewalk to wait. The young mother of the family ahead of us, with the same number / ratio of kids, said she felt she was seeing her future. The queue built behind us, pickup conversations started. I passed the time completing them under my breath:
Well, uh, yes, we're Catholics, but, uh, just ... [culturally, you know, going to Mass on Christmas and Easter].

I wish this place had been around ... [when the kids were younger].
I even imagined the other one returning to his men's Bible study the following week and reporting how he nearly converted a Catholic to Christianity while waiting on line at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.!

As we made our way in, we saw huge panels gracing each side of the entrance. The lettering looked backwards and I thought it was perhaps German. But it is Latin, the opening of Genesis.


Those of us with pocketbooks that needed screening went to one side and placed our articles in a chamber of a huge hexagon with green and red lights. We passed through a metal detector, then reached into the other side of the chamber for our things. The chamber on the very top of the hexagon was largely out of reach for most women. So I used it, then rejoined my group. An employee politely directed us to start on the sixth floor but, with limited time, we went to what interested us most. The History of the Bible on the fourth floor.

We noted immediately how high-tech everything was. My kids, who pretended to have no interest, were soon trying this activity and touching that interactive screen.


The irony of those world languages still longing for their own Bible translation with those volumes of extinct or dead languages.



My oldest son was engrossed in a video shot in Capernaum. Whatever the teen equivalent of Been there, done that is. The other kids worked together to complete the canons of various Christian sects. My daughter pretended to be a biblical scribe, and I made sure she understood that, as often as not, the sacred texts were read aloud to a group of scribes who wrote them out accordingly. What a luxury if each scribe had his own exemplar! I stressed this with her, all too aware that Protestants think a simple demonstration of the game of Telephone debunks oral transmission.



I complained about the dim lighting but perhaps the fragile collections require it. Or the high-tech needs it!

My son excitedly brought me to look at the "She" Bible which translates Ruth 3:15 as "she returned to the city" instead of speaking of Boaz. As I dug out my phone's Bible app to verify the passage, I muttered about a similar thing in Genesis 3:15 of the Vulgate and what a coincidence. But my ESV Bible app was no help - it uses "she."

Running short of time, we went down a floor and waited a bit in the New Testament theater to watch a twelve minute video of the whole New Testament. So, where the actual exhibits might reflect some scholarly impartiality, I found the videos to be more imbued with evangelical presuppositions. Take, for example, a post-resurrection, upper room scene: the young St. John is depicted as joting down notes of the proceedings!

On our way out, we ducked into a small exhibit hall off the lobby of loans from the Vatican. Everything was a facsimile. They are supposed to swap things out over time.


The Museum of the Bible was a worthwhile visit. Now that I have some idea about it, I can think about a return. Next month I've reserved a seat on a bus to Washington for the March for Life. But I'd rather spend the day at the Basilica or even at this museum again.

Museum - Google Earth

"‘I had to be there’: The Museum of the Bible opens in the nation’s capital" - Washington Post, November 18, 2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017

One thing I had forgotten was how busy North Easton Road could be in the middle of the day, on a Friday afternoon. I was already late - "icebreakers!" - no rush. Passed the hotel - check in later this evening - and where we'd bought our piano so many years ago, if you can believe it.

In preparation, I had gone back over my materials from previous Bible workshops, from 2008 and later, reminding myself of people and topics past. How different would it be? I drew ideas exclusively from my copy of Sarna's JPS commentary (Exodus) and brought it for security. The Moleskine-esque English Standard Version (ESV) was too taxing on my older eyes; its plain, black cover conveyed no affiliation. I opted last minute for Sproul's Reformation Study Bible (ESV) and this turned out to be the correct choice! Others had the same edition, in leather.

I hadn't anticipated references to this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Of course it's a big deal. Martin Luther kicked things off, “A plowboy with a Bible knows more than the pope,” or something like that. The tone was set, I thought. We sang some of his compositions and a few other things, no problem. It was even noted, at one point, that "not everyone here this weekend is Reformed." A quote from the Rule of St. Benedict as well as one of Thomas Aquinas' prayers1 rounded things out.

The general session speaker, Dr. Karen Jobes, was excellent. She tried to keep things simple but college teachers usually get on a roll and lapse into their lecture style after so many minutes. She talked about genre and then turned to theological matters, like knowing Christ and sin and love. She worked from John's letters and the Gospel. I had my copy of her book ready to be signed immediately afterwards and I waited as patiently as possible for someone to ask whether she could bring hers tomorrow because she had forgotten it. Then I won a book for being the first one to register for the workshop.


Our name tags include our hometown and church name. Church affiliation is a great curiosity with this group. They must know where I attend church on Sundays. If reading my name tag seemed to bring them up short, I would speak the church name to them without apology.2 They make up their own minds about it and that says more about them than me. For instance, a woman approached me, read my name tag and announced to me that her family used to attend a church that wasn't Bible-teaching but they now attend a Bible-teaching church.

Of greater interest to me than the general session lectures or the small group presentations on Scripture was the music. In this area, I've developed slightly since taking piano lessons and singing in choir. The workshop has a theme song that is familiar to me. We sang also the well-known "Come, Thou Fount" but many of the songs were new to me. I tried to jot down titles to look up later. "Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery," "Lord, I Need You," "All I Have is Christ," "How High and How Wide," "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder," "Here is Love."

The Catholic church across the street had exposition all day, so after dinner I walked over. I heard the bells toll seven o'clock, such a gentle reminder of the passage of time. The next morning, I watched with a degree of uneasiness a man walk around and around the nave of OLHC. Every time he passed me, he said, "God bless you, my dear." I've attended daily mass my entire adult life but lately I've noticed that my fellow daily communicants seem a little bit off their nut. How long has this been going on and I'm just seeing it? And more importantly, how do I keep it happening to me?

We began Saturday in small groups with presentations on Exodus 12:1-30 and 14:5-31. Both of these passages made me glad to have the one that I had. After the presentations, our small group leader talked about resources and references. She showed a very thick commentary on Exodus by Ryken; it was thicker than a Bible. Ryken is personally familiar to many at this workshop. Since I had brought Sarna's commentary, I showed it and offered to pass it around but no one was interested in seeing it. We were asked in advance which English translation we would work from and I almost said the JPS translation just because it tries to preserve the idioms.

After lunch, I had just enough time to excuse myself over again to the Catholic church across the street for confession. I must have sounded to the young priest as a scrupulous person since it had only been six months. He told me, regarding my lying, that not everyone needs to know everything all the time. I had written out the prayer of contrition for my reference, but a printed copy was available inside the confessional and there was just enough light to make it out.

Back to our small group with presentations on Exodus 19:1-25 and 23:1-20, my conscience was feeling light and refreshed. I may have even been smiling. Seated around the table, for nothing, the participant to my right mentioned the Roman Catholic sacramental system and what a burden that must be! To which the woman at my left said, "Oh, and the guilt! I could never get rid of the feeling of guilt when I was a Catholic!" I took a long sip of my hot tea and let the steam fog my glasses.

I was the last one to present, on Exodus 33:12-34:11a, late on Saturday afternoon. I summarized the "God truth" of the verses as God's transcendence, that I'm left waiting for God and that any attempt to conjure God up would be a golden calf from the previous chapter. I was surprised at how well everyone took these ideas.

Here are the pages that I distributed as I presented.



I was able to attend the anticipated mass that evening before driving home. I haven't been in touch with anyone from my small group since.


1 “Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give us an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give us an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” - St. Thomas Aquinas

2 As if to make myself acceptable, I let it be known that I sing in a choir at a Presbyterian church.
I'm the type of person who sees things fitting together when they don't.

This morning, I dropped my son at a high school entrance exam and looked to pass the wait time, first at mass. I checked three nearby parish bulletins online before finding a church with a suitable start time. Even still, I was too early but baffled as time passed without any cars appearing in the parking lot.

There were lights on inside the building so I entered and glimpsed a folded linen on a back pew. The emptiness of the church drew me uncharacteristically towards the very front of the well-appointed sanctuary. I wanted to take it all in.

I admitted to myself, during prayer, that I'm not very attuned to hearing God in my everyday life. I found myself at a loss, still while at prayer, for how to rectify that. Hearing God seems to come so easy for other people. For me, judging by the outcome, I'm habitually "way off target."

Slowly the room filled but it was now past the anticipated liturgy start time. A cantor arrived, well-dressed, whom I mistook for the lector. She busied herself at the altar as the organist also arrived, her car keys jingling softly as she hastily set them on a music stand. She changed the numbers on the hymn board, first on one side and then on the other. The first song was "On Eagle's Wings." The deacon brought a censer, the acrid smoke drying my nose. I could taste it. I'm taking in these hints that something out of the ordinary is taking place, but it's just barely registering in a conscious way. Instead, I'm rolling along with the clues, still expecting an ordinary mass, even if it's a feast day in an upscale town.

A bell began tolling at quarter past the hour. Then the priest entered, along with the bereaved and the casket. Reacting, the couple right behind me moved immediately several pews back but I didn't feel as if I could gracefully relocate. I do not tend to sit right on the aisle anyway, but I did my best to move even further in, realizing that the family would be directly in front of me. Already I was sizing them up to see whether there were enough seats in those front rows to accommodate them.

As I surveyed the family, I recognized an old acquaintance and one-time neighbor who had recently moved out of state. I glanced about her to verify that her immediate family was accounted for. I almost felt better about accidently attending a funeral for knowing the family.

Everything was very beautiful, the Ave Maria, the homily, the prayers of the funeral rite. I felt that those of us in attendance simply for a weekday service may have aided or supported those intentionally attending a family funeral with our prayers. If nothing else, we didn't need to be reminded when to sit, stand or kneel but the monsignor gave those directives gently. As awkward as it was, and if the family felt we parishioners were intruding, this is how it's supposed to be. After all, arrangements are generally announced publicly in advance.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

During the twelve or so weeks of summer, I make plans, right, on how to spend the time, not only with the kids but also on my own. And, lately, the past three or so summers, I mark a mid-week church service in the Calendar app. I feel the need to keep up "meeting together" (Hebrews 10:25) when the school-year programs go on break.

But for whatever reason, I hardly attend a mid-week service except for maybe once. Tonight, I was early, as usual. The parking lot was jammed but I'll be damned if I knew where everyone was. They weren't in the gathering space and they weren't in the sanctuary. Their wall clock in the gathering space is ten minutes slow but everyone goes by it. So, the few singers were still rehearsing and we let them finish up.

I sat towards the back thinking I would need to leave early. I thought they were ending James but they already had. The pastor wanted to do ten psalms, chapters 11-20; they had done 1-10 last summer. But first he wanted to hear whether anyone had experienced a miracle of God in the past week. A couple of people shared that God had provided opportunities to speak with their neighbors about him. "Divine appointments," they called them. I thought that was just a euphemism for when you're running late.

Not to be outdone, a woman named M--- shared about a friend who was going through a tough time with personal loss. As soon as she mentioned his association with Villanova University, I braced myself. The friend was a Catholic and M---, being a former Catholic herself, had all the answers: "How can a loving God ...?" "But they chose it ..." "I've never heard that before ..."

Somehow we have it all backwards, we believe folks who tell us things we've never heard before.

Then M--- related that the friend said her words sounded better than the Catholic Church and she said, "That's because this is better than the Catholic Church," and so on. And I listened, thinking, do people still say such things? They do. I looked at my watch, only five minutes into the service and someone was bragging on witnessing to a Catholic. 'Bout right.

Psalm 11 is short, only seven verses. The pastor read from the King James but the pew Bible was NIV. I followed along, flipping around as he took us to the end of Isaiah, 1 Thess. 4:11-12 (lead quiet lives, etc) and 1 Timothy 5:13 ("busybodies"). The idea about psalm 11 is that the Psalmist, taken to be David himself, was getting bad advice, in a way similar to Job. But rather than focus on present circumstances, that one person posited may be exaggerated in order to manipulate, the Psalmist reaffirms personal faith in God's sovereign position (in his holy temple, on his heavenly throne).

I thought the pastor glossed over words and phrases that are problematic, notably "the righteous" (in sharp contrast with "the wicked"), and when someone asked about it, he seemed uncomfortable that he didn't have a pat answer. He also stumbled over the strong language in verse 5, that the LORD "hates with a passion" (NIV). He wanted to insist that God hates the violence committed but not the person. Naturally, someone mentioned Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:13) and began to explain that since we are in the image of God and we have emotions, then God also has emotions. The anthropomorphism was getting a bit uncomfortable. And the emphasis on God's justice. I felt an impulse to give the pastor Cardinal Kasper's book but maybe that wouldn't do any good.

My own idea about this psalm and the psalms in general is that, as wisdom literature, they overstate matters, draw sharp contrasts between wicked and righteous, attempt to model godly living but at the same time the psalms aren't the most consistent place to begin at synthesizing a systematic theology. The psalms are filled with human emotion which is why they speak to us and soothe us.

Ultimately, there was an admonition to try to give good advice to others. Things wrapped up in about an hour and I didn't even need to leave early.