Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We finished 1 John tonight. Throughout, he interpreted the text as a polemic against former members of the Johannine community which have split away. And that, in speaking well of his intended audience, he implies the exact opposite is true of the ones who left.

So, when a verse says, like 4:7 and many others -
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
We may suppose the ones who have left weren't loving and so weren't begotten of God and didn't know Him.

He observed that the text is a little confusing on its teaching about sin. On the one hand, the author says that no one who remains in him [Christ] sins (3:6) but that, if we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves (1:8).

Maybe drawing upon the chapter/verse parallel with the Gospel, he called out 1 John 3:16 -
The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
Of course, the idea of laying down one's life is in the Gospel, 15:13, which he quoted, but he also alluded to a passage by Paul in Romans about laying down one's life. I suppose it would have been more impressive if I'd recited the Romans passage from memory, but I wanted to get it right - let Scripture speak for itself - so I read aloud Romans 5:7-8 -
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
He wondered aloud about the nature of the Passover in Jesus' day. It wasn't exactly as described in Exodus because the Jerusalem Temple was in operation. He wanted to know how the lamb was understood because the apostolic teaching is that Jesus is the lamb of God and his blood is atoning in the same way. Paul even calls Jesus our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). I said something about the Apostles' track record being rather irresponsible in applying Old Testament prophecies toward Jesus and why should the Passover themes be any more appropriate?

Now, you can find just about anything on the Internet, but I found this page that seems to say that very thing:
The Torah never states or even implies that the Passover sheep or goat atones for sin. ... In the pagan Egyptian society ..., the lamb was considered a sacred god. In ancient Egypt, molesting a lamb in any way was considered a crime punishable by death. ... In Exodus 8:26, Moses explained to Pharaoh that if the Israelites were to kill these animals before the Egyptians, they would be stoned to death. The Almighty, therefore, used this to test the faithfulness of the Jewish people by commanding them to not only kill Egypt's sacred god, but also to publicly place the lamb's blood on their doorposts for all to see.
In reading 1 John 5:1, he said that he probably shouldn't say this but it isn't particularly important for him whether Jesus is the Christ or not. Of course, the tendency is to define "Christ" in purely political terms. But he very quickly covered his tracks with a mention of the promise to David. I was able to put to use the Great Adventure Bible Study material and find God's promise in 2 Samuel 7, that a descendent would be on David's throne forever.

The part I had the most difficulty with was the language about love. Like 1 John 4:20 -
If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
I just couldn't get over my own sin on this point. My sin was staring me in the face and I really hated it.

Next time, we'll do the other two Johannine letters and then probably 1 Peter. 2nd and 3rd John are short, you know, so I copied them out in Greek and tried to recognize the repeated words, love, truth, walk, command. While 1 John struck me as having some original teaching to commend it, I struggled to find anything apostolic in the other two letters attributed to him. It is as if the author is reluctant to say anything original out of fear his audience would reject it ... and him. This Bible blog here says the letters are written to actual people but I think "the chosen Lady" (NAB) refers to a church, especially when taken with the closing -
The children of your chosen sister send you greetings.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What a weekend. I might now catch my breath. Things began, really, on Friday evening when I spent about 90 minutes with a friend at her home. Her church coordinated meals for the week and I somehow slipped into their schedule. The conversation was largely good and upbeat but eventually came 'round to the matter of my religion. To some extent, she seems simply curious but, well, I know she's persuaded at least two other people out of Catholicism, two very smart people, smarter than I. So, I sit, sort of, on pins and needles waiting for her to spring her silver bullet.

I'm reminded of a story Tim Downs told at a Christmas conference, when he was witnessing to someone. As he talked, his mark nodded and smiled with a knowing smile that irritated him. So he baited him, "Look, I've given my entire life to serving God, so if you know something that renders it all false, you owe it to me to tell me." And he said it was a simple apologetic question. I would imagine her objection has something to do with the eucharist. Maybe she'll get around to it someday. But all her attitude at the improprieties of atheists towards Christians, she's got to understand, could be used against her, as well.

I went from there to stations. Boy scouts were saying them. Even now, we continue to get people who are out for "the first time." It's obvious because they don't know the gestures or the exposition/benediction component that's been added "around."

Saturday was a pickle because the weather broke, so Tim's little league team scheduled practice. Consequently, Jeff couldn't take them all to tennis so I could attend my thing. So I took them to tennis and tried to work out scenarios in which I could sneak away and "sign in" to my thing, get the materials, double back and return at my leisure. But the driving distances were too great, and the time was too short. I ended up watching the last 30 minutes of Tim's practice (and he did well) and took them out for milkshakes. It was after 1 before I started over towards Lincroft.

I entered by the gym which had served as the lunch room and exhibitors' hall. The exhibitors were breaking down their display tables. Probably a good thing to miss the opportunity to browse. I saw about 30 box lunches undistributed and I knew one was mine. But how long had they been out? I could pass.

The first person I saw when I entered was the bishop but he doesn't know me personally - although I bet he could presume I am his - and he was already in conversation with a man across the table. I probably could have still greeted him but he looked like he was having a moment of rest. Besides, I was a little anxious about salvaging something of "the day."

But, ultimately, I couldn't. I walked up and down the halls - the layout of the high school very slowly came back to me - peering into classrooms or listening for a familiar voice. The only person I recognized was the CRE of my parish: she was talking when I walked by the room. I had brought a book, actually "the good book," so I sat on a bench, actually a pew bench, in the hallway and set down to a lesson on Acts (ch. 9) from Keller's church. Exhibitors and presenters walked by, exiting into the sunny, breezy spring day. I felt self-conscious sitting there but I wasn't about the waste the time. I was, in effect, waiting for the session to end and the CRE to pass. When it did, and she did, I greeted her and explained the conflict the boys' sporting activities had presented to my, uh, punctuality.

Many of her catechists called it a day, at that point, and left. I have to admit, well, it's a long day and I never used to stay for liturgy, either. But I was curious whom I might run into, in the assembly hall, and also eager to experience a final, uh, you know, with you know. The CRE was about the only one who was pleasant towards me. The others didn't introduce themselves or greet me, not even the woman I'd met at the retreat two weeks ago. I tried to be nonchalant but, inside, I was uncomfortable with the apparent snub. I saw John from evangelization in the back row with his wife. He actually spotted me first and waved. I do miss that evangelization stuff.

A couple of things I remember from the liturgy was the second reading being proclaimed in Spanish. But the program guide had the Scriptures printed in the language opposite: printed in Spanish, if proclaimed in English and, clearly, vice versa. I expected some of the homily to also be in Spanish - he's done that before. But not this time. There was some tongue-in-cheek at communion, about being a "pilgrim people" and so not be bothered by the long & winding path from our seats, to up front, and back to our seats. As usual, the metal folding chairs were just too close together! I was shvitzing the whole time.

Now I'd promised my friend on Friday evening that I'd see her Sunday morning and I'd already taken care of the Sunday obligation. But my children hadn't. So we caught an early service and I had barely just enough time to change my clothes into something dressier. I've been there many times but I still don't have "the feel" down for when to take my seat. An usher was at his post, handing out worship guides so I entered, and as I did, a handful of people who had been meeting in the sanctuary exited. It was me and the sound guys for several tense minutes. And, for a change, I sat in their corner in an attempt to anticipate where my friend's "seat" might be. A man at the piano played from a music book with "Old English" in the title but I can't be exactly sure of the title. And a woman had her violin. The pastor breezed in as he does, followed by the choir in robes already singing. The sanctuary was barely half full. Years ago, when I would attend, it was SRO. In the meantime, 200 townhomes have gone up across the street.

I recognized the woman seated alone at the end of my bench and I wanted to slide down to her. But the benches in the back are sufficiently long that such a gross movement would not be discreet. Besides, who knew whether she wanted company? She had sat down after I. Regardless, I knew there was a "break" in the formality, when the children are dismissed and the attendance books are collected, that we greet each other. It's just that, at this, the "traditional" service, much more stuff proceeds that moment: there are hymns and extemporaneous prayers and a creed and the Lord's Prayer, and a (minor) doxology. I will say this, "visitors" were welcomed repeatedly. Oh, and two couples made professions of faith for membership and one infant was baptized.

But my neighbor knew her stuff, because she signed in straight away and shoved the book my direction, sliding it along the pew's cushion. It didn't hit me but collided with my Bible. I ignored the booklet until I realized that I could recall her name only by peeking inside the registry. Which I did. I am glad I did.

So, as I said, the choir took their seats, filling the vacant pew and a half reserved for them, the collection plate passed one way while the attendance register passed the other. I took those exchanges as opportunities to slide closer to Monica, but not too close. And she said, "I've never seen you here before. Do you attend the earlier service?" To which I just said, "Mmmm." Which is true: when I attend - the few times a year - it's the earlier, "contemporary" service, even though I prefer the later, traditional one.

The scripture was Jonah 4:1-5. Nothing complicated and no unusual remarks. Just a sermon like you would expect, nothing objectionable. But the emphasis that I appreciated was a confession that God won't tell you why he does stuff. "He's not like us. 'His ways are not your ways.'" Religion isn't really the crutch people think it is. Christianity seems to raise more questions than it answers. Fittingly, as well, he quoted Lewis from his spiritual autobiography: "I gave in, and admitted that God was God" and I was able, mentally, to complete the thought: "that night, the most [...] reluctant convert in all England." (reference). That book is in my car at present, so I looked up the quotation after the service and found it on page 229, at the end of the chapter "Checkmate."

I was a little relieved when the service finally ended. It wasn't boring. For once, I wasn't offended by anything, except maybe some technicalities of their baptismal rite. He smeared a moist thumb across the baby's forehead. Why have a font at all? But otherwise, either I've changed or the pastor ... and at his age, he isn't likely to change.

Now, I recognized the lady in front of me and I knew she had moved rather far away. So I said to her after the service, "Good to see you because I thought you have moved away." And she said they did, to Pittsburgh, but were back for a visit. Maybe they haven't found a church out there? But I doubt it. No, it was just a coincidence but, from my perspective, it was as if she hadn't left!

And so another lady came up to me after the service, rather shocked, "What are you doing here?" And Monica answered for me, that I usually attend the earlier service. But this other lady knows me better than that. "Oh, I thought you attended the Catholic church." So I guess I should have told Monica I was just visiting and now I have to be sure Elaine isn't confused about me. It's not as if I didn't expect to run into familiar faces there or not have some s'plainin' to do. I'd just rather not be a distraction (another reason to prefer the earlier service: nobody's really awake yet so I can go largely unnoticed). I'd like to have printed on a shirt: "Invisible" or "Fly on a Wall."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."
The weekend's nor'ester disrupted electrical power to St. Joseph's church; it was all dark except for some dim emergency lighting. The sun peeked in a bit, as well.

I wonder how churchgoers in other Christian affiliations would react to such a "service interruption" on Sunday morning. Here are my fanciful speculations, offered facetiously:

"Electricity was working fine yesterday." - Seventh Day Adventists

"Here, light these candles - we found them when we moved in." - Anglicans

"Curse the day we installed electric candles!" - Novus Ordo Catholic1

"How'll we brew the coffee?" - Methodists

"'Tis better to light a candle ... 'post tenebras, lux!'" - Presbyterians

"What preacher worth his weight uses a mixing console?" - Baptists

"Sound reason for a 'Tenebrae' service!" - Lutherans

"Our ἐκκλησία predates electrification." - Eastern Orthodox

"We don't hold with music playing." - Quakers

"We make our own light." - Pentecostals

Feel free to suggest your own.

The recessional hymn was "This Little Light of Mine," one of Kenny's favorites.

1 yup, that's me.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I ought to be honest and admit that there just isn't enough time but the other thing is that I don't want to leave while they are still eating. It isn't a "sharing a meal" attitude at all, but just a paranoia that someone might choke. Anyway, it gave them time to bond with the babysitter and inadvertently set up for a peaceful night.

I picked up a local radio station on the border of Howell and Lakewood, airing children's bedtime stories, on Purim at the time. And a Persian woman in the children's program/drama was warning that if the Jewish people in the Persian Empire weren't kept in their place, kept like grains of sand underfoot, they would exalt themselves and become their rulers, like the stars in the sky. It was an amazing misapplication, turning God's promise into a slur. Maybe this happens often enough, but consider how familiar one would have to be with the tradition, only for the sake of maligning it. Maybe it's purely self-inflicted. Otherwise, it's all kinds of wrong.

Therefore, I was 20 minutes late for the lecture and driving over there, realizing I would be late, I was hoping Jim would be first up rather than miss anything of Dr. Schubert. But, instead, he was seated at the back of the room, jestured to the handouts, that I should help myself.

I came only so that Dr. Schubert could autograph my copy of her book. I tried on two other occasions to meet up with her but wasn't able to. I don't think that she remembered me until she was almost finished writing. For that reason, the inscription isn't personalized.

Her lecture was a preview for their summer institute. I have no interest in that. It would be impossible for me to get there if I was because we ought to be at Hershey that week. But I have to be honest that St. Elizabeth's summer institute (pdf) doesn't look very good. Fr. Boadt is supposed to be back but he isn't. The only one who looks remotely interesting is Fr. Felix Just, SJ, whom I know only from his website.

From 2/18/10.
Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

Saturday, March 06, 2010

My parish held its first-ever women's retreat today in the "parish hall," a.k.a., the cold church cellar. Turnout was decent, about 40 women. Lights were dimmed, candle centerpieces flickered on the tables, music played softly. I'm no fan of cultivating "ambience" but I appreciated the effort and tried to loosen up for others' sake.

I don't think we made good use of the time. The first 45 minutes was spent eating breakfast and socializing. I was pretty sure I should have tarried at home and got more housework done. The retreat leader, an SSJ, introduced herself and led us on a guided mediation.

I thought it would start like this:
"Imagine you are walking alone on a beach and you see Jesus walking towards you ..."
But it wasn't that. It was like this, and God was impersonal:
"Think back to when you were 19-24 years old. What's your life like?"
and so on until, get this:
"Think back to your experience of God before your conception!"
I had already drawn a blank at remembering kindergarten.

After the guided mediation, a lady spoke up and said, "How come you are asking us to think things that are against Catholic doctrine? Are you pedaling reincarnation as well?" I was cheering from the back row. The pastoral associate intervened rather quickly to tell Li'l Miss Catechism to settle down and the retreat leader said we are space dust.1 She asked us to jot down any free-association answers that come to us from pondering the question, "Why are you here?" Among my responses, I put "to mourn my sister-in-law."

Right before lunch, ladies had the option of trying yoga and/or Tai-chi. Those things aren't for me, so even though the church was in the midst of being cleaned by confirmation kids, I went upstairs to pray. I came back for lunch which was all from Wegman's and very good. I sat at the end of a table, the same spot as for breakfast, but some people shifted so it was just me and the deacon's wife. I asked her how the men's retreat that her husband ran had gone, how RCIA is going this year, and told her about our recent family loss. She ended up having to run home because her husband isn't used to being home all day without her. So after sitting at the end of a table by myself for five minutes, waiting to see whether anyone else would sit down to talk, I left for the sanctuary again. This time the cleaners were done and it was peaceful.

We ate lunch so late ... and for so long ... that things would have to wrap up pretty quickly after that. The retreat director gave us Ps. 139 to pore over and ponder some pointed questions. I was pretty much already mentally spent and began thinking about getting home and making dinner. So, after ten minutes of reading and meditating, I excused myself and drove home. There's just no sense in forcing some things beyond what has already been delivered.

1 Carl Sagan said this, as well, I think.
"As a dog returneth to his vomit,
so a fool returneth to his folly."

Ps. 26:11

My pastor said in a personal email that exposition/benediction in the context of stations of the cross is "inappropriate," as combining devotions and liturgy takes away from the essence of each other. Obviously I asked the wrong question because I had recognized intuitively its inappropriateness. Rather, I should have asked him, given that, is it ok for me to attend?!

Well, I'd already bought and received the booklet. Thus I was kinda bound. I printed out the exposition/benediction texts I would need and taped them into the covers of my copy.

I arrived with only enough time to light a candle and find a seat in the back. On the way in, I noticed the back table held no more booklets. A lady entered and sat behind me. She was booklet-less and seemed on the verge of leaving as she had quickly realized how unsatisfying is praying an unfamiliar version of stations without the texts that enable full participation. I invited her to move up a pew next to me to look on. To my surprise, she accepted.

The pastor, dressed in a black cassock, was seated with the congregation and a deacon again performed the eucharistic rite as before, with incense, etc. But he moved more rigidly than last week and I wondered whether it was the same man who was just nervous about his "boss" watching ... or whether this was a different deacon. The benefit of having the pastor in view was knowing when to kneel and when to stand.

Afterwards, the woman thanked me for sharing my booklet with her. I should have ordered a case of booklets and handed them out to folks. She said she hadn't been to stations in a long, long time so the version we were using was foreign but it worked for her. I told her it was from JPII and therefore bona fide. She accepted that. She introduced herself; coincidentally, her given name is the same as mine.

Friday, March 05, 2010

It's just wrong this movie isn't available on DVD:

Makes me want to move to North Africa.