Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer is low-key but we've been plugging along with our study of Acts. Another session is this coming Tuesday. Last time, we ... I mean, me ... met at Rev. Searl's house. It was my chance to see her addition/remodel project and I must say, I loved it. It's a cute house to begin with but adding a great room on the back, with the corresponding basement space makes it just perfect for holidays and family get-togethers.

Mary opted to lead and, after shooing the kids downstairs to the cozy playroom, she and I began. Our focus was, in the first half, Acts 22:30 through 23:11. We saw no reason not to take the drama of Acts 23:2-5 at face value: that somehow Paul failed to recognize the high priest and insulted him. But what struck me about the scene - pardon the pun - is how the Pharisees "find nothing wrong [κακός, 'evil'] with this man" (v. 9 NIV) and that maybe a spirit or angel had spoken to him. Sure, the Pharisees are just trying to get the Sadducees' goat: the latter believe in neither the resurrection nor spirits/angels. Those two convictions would go rather hand-in-hand. The dispute shows what a tinderbox is the Sanhedrin: Paul is just one of many things they'll argue over. Somehow Keller thinks the Pharisees' judgment exonerates Paul but, in fact, it doesn't settle Paul's case.

Compare Paul the Pharisee vis-à-vis Christians with Paul the Christian vis-à-vis the Pharisees. What about Christian belief and practice drove Saul of Tarsus to the point of "breathing murderous threats against the Lord's disciples" (9:1) and where did that point of contention slip away to during his supervised meeting with the Sanhedrin? And when we interact with people today whom we might be tempted to classify as "Pharisees," do we manage to remain in their good graces or do we run afoul?

There were plenty of times - seemingly almost all the time - that Paul alienated someone by his words or actions. But this singular case shows us that he was capable of not. I think most of us have only one "mode" of arguing our case instead of allowing the circumstances to dictate. If nothing else, this scene in Scripture rounds out Paul's image for us and backs up his claim to "be all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22)."

I'm on the hook to facilitate the next two lessons. Each lesson has five questions, often with multiple and related parts. I've prepared the first lesson so far. In Lesson 25, the first three questions treat 24:22-27. It's a lot of headshrinker stuff, IMO.
What makes you think Felix is open to the gospel?

Why might he not be open?

What is Paul actually saying to Felix when Luke says, "righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment (v. 25)?"
The only practical discussion of the lot is an insistence that Christians respect civil authority as established by God, with Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus cited as clear, Scriptural examples. I haven't read the debate in August's CT over smuggling Bibles into China but I hope to read that before Tuesday and present anything of relevance. Of course, I could mention the recent spectacle of Baptists going to Haiti with the objective of adopting some children without appropriate papers. It's unclear from people who flout the law whether they think the law unjust or simply themselves above it.

But as for the content of Paul's preaching before Felix and his (previously married) young wife, I think Paul talked about how to lay hold of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, how self-control came from that as a gift of the Holy Spirit and how one escapes condemnation at the final judgment by making peace with God through Jesus. A most interesting footnote in my SRSB said Drusilla died at Pompeii in 79 when Vesuvius erupted. Maybe that's why Keller has her barely out of her teens when she hears Paul: she would have died quite old otherwise.
Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

My submissions this week:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Three Favorite Prayers Meme

I haven't been tagged but this is going around ... here's the rule:
Name your three most favorite prayers, and explain why they're your favorites.
  1. Veni Creator Spiritus because I knew it first in song, it's trinitarian and the ending takes a brief versicle and response form.

  2. Merton's prayer of abandonment, trust and discernment because it describes about 99% of our experience of following God.

  3. Aquinas' prayer after communion because it covers all the things that I think important: my sinfulness, the sacraments, living well and desiring heaven.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The deacon at The Deacon's Bench shared information about Fr. Boadt's passing on Saturday. The news made me sick to my stomach. I had been looking forward to his return to St. Elizabeth's, as was his habit every other summer. But his absence this summer was deeply felt by me.

Years back, he wrote in my copy of his most well-received book: "To Teresa - May God bless your love of the Scriptures with great wisdom. Lawrence Boadt, July 21, 2004" -- I'm still waiting for that to be fulfilled. I heard Fr. Boadt, CSP, lecture two more summers there since.

My favorite thing was when students signed up for his class out of pure habit, without an inkling about him. I enjoyed watching their gradual realization of his knowledge, compassion and teaching ability. At first, their appreciation was self-directed, Oh, lucky me to have this great teacher but soon the awe became more generalized, What an amazing person!

Just about everything I know of the prophets, I learned from him. But he was happiest talking about St. Paul and almost always managed to get in a few good words about him.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I took the luxury of sticking around only to discover that I was expected to. There was pizza dinner at 5 and thirty minutes later there were still seven whole pizzas left over. The pastor offered them from $5 a pie. At a Catholic church, they'd be given away for nothing.

Enzo, a presenter from "The Lizard Guys" showed up with enough time to grab a bite. I simply assumed Enzo was somebody's dad because he dropped off the containers near the stage and joined a family's table to eat. He referred to himself as Italian a couple of times and mentioned twelve years of Catholic school. I would have liked to know whether it did him any good. And I should have mentioned the Italian American festival underway near the Freehold racetrack if he was looking for something to do after work. I think the pastor told him to try to tie in his show with the Bible, God and Creation. He seemed very comfortable saying, "God made these creatures in special ways ..." before describing their unique features. But at other times he referred to God as "the man upstairs" and I caught Tim looking up the first time he said it. It probably sounded ominous to him.

It was a successful show. The guy held their attention. Kenny's hand was up about the entire time, always with some comment or question, mostly related to his recent experience of having a lizard pet in school (scroll down). Eventually the guy said, "OK, no more questions from this kid." Before it was all over, Kenny was practically sitting in the guy's lap.

But the guy ran five minutes over. Imagine! That threw Pastor Cindy's unforgiving schedule for the evening into a tizzy. Everyone was rushed into the sanctuary after sanitizing their hands. Most of them had handled the creatures. The music man in the sanctuary set out to teach us a new song. Despite the overhead screen, he refused to display the lyrics. It didn't look or sound like this because if it had, I would have liked it. Then the kids went to their activities and we parents were told by Cindy to "go to the back."

Well, I looked towards "the back" of the sanctuary and no one was there. No one was even headed there. Instead they were leaving the sanctuary by the doors on either side of the front wall. To me, that's "the front" but I know there's a hallway out there that runs the full length behind the pipe organ and choir sections, and meeting rooms on the other side. So we met in the room where Tim's Rutgers summer reading class had been two summers before.

While we had been in the sanctuary, Pastor David had related to the children the parable of the sower. He wanted the children to identify allegorically what each element in the parable represented or stood for. So he asked the children who was the sower and someone said, "Betsy Ross." Strange demonstration of free association. Then he asked what the seed was and someone said, "People" (Mk. 4:15) to which he gave a resounding "No" but I had a vague recollection of her interpretation appearing in one of the Synoptics. In an effort to sort that out, I kind of tuned out the rest of his Q&A and thumbed through the New Testament I'd brought1, finding the story in Matthew first, then using the cross-references to quickly find the parallel in the other two.

So, with our group of parents we were going to consider the parable of the sower a bit more. But first, the icebreakers. There were about sixteen of us, some couples. We had to give an adjective that begins with all the letters in our given name. I asked for paper and pencil. And that they begin on the other side of the room. But the lady next to me boasted to everyone, "I'll go first, I'm ready." Then she gave her name - "Elizabeth" - said "Energetic" and turned to me. Then everyone explained she needed an adjective for every letter and she quickly recovered, "Well I go by 'Liz.'" It was my turn before I knew it.

I gave my name, saying "Without the 'h'" because I didn't want to be on the hook for too much. "'Tall,' uh, let me skip 'E' for the moment. 'Reclusive,'2 uh, 'Self-effacing,' and 'Ambitious' in a Macbeth way." They brought me back to the 'E's." "Excitable!" I said and Cindy said, "You skipped the first 'E.'" I replied, "No, no, I skipped the second!" But then I got t' thinking, as I passed my turn, that "self-effacing" could count as "S" and "E," especially because the rules got softer as play passed around the table. By the end of it, entire phrases were acceptable! "Oh, you'd be good at our Koinonia meetings!"

Then we did another icebreaking activity about the time we followed someone's advice ... or didn't and wished we had. So I said something about not going to grad school for library science because my husband wanted me to get a good job so that later I could be home with the kids. So I did and I am.

Finally we turned to our Bibles. I opened right up to Matthew 13, just guessing that she'd take the "most fleshed out one" of the Gospel parallels. But it might have been instructive, as much as I am against it, to look at all three stories side-by-side. Well, obviously that wasn't her plan so I didn't even suggest it. And the parable of the sower is one of the few parables that Jesus himself interprets for us. Cindy was most intrigued by the seed that's gobbled up by "the evil one" (Mt. 13:19) before the person ever gets a chance. She was so firm in her conviction that everyone gets a fair chance that I could only suggest "the evil one" is, in fact, incorrect expectations of the Christian life. Nobody said, "Devil" or "Satan" and I didn't want to show myself to be the only oddball supernaturalist in the room. Never mind that I think those "incorrect expectations" are the devil's lies.

Cindy latched on to my idea pretty tight and used it for the rest of our study time together. It's the realization that following Christ doesn't provide all the answers here and now, that not everything is wonderful all the time and that some pretty dreadful stuff can even happen to believers. But eventually she backed away from embracing the notion of the cross and returned to her conviction that "she's never been happier" and "y'all gotta try this Christian living stuff 'cuz it's loads o' fun." Yeah.

Then we went into the sanctuary and kicked out Kenny's group who were gathered around the grand piano. We took a place at the handbell table and worked through several measures a few times of "Beautiful Savior" (Music: Schlesische Volkslieder) a.k.a., "Fairest Lord Jesus." I never once recognized it as we played it. Not once.

Ligouri Publications puts out a VBS with the same name as the one the boys are doing at the Presbyterian church in Freehold. I don't know how different it is but it would be nice if there weren't many differences. The Ligouri one carries an imprimatur. But it would explain the obvious incompatibility between the theme, "rainforest" and the scripture, "parables." Catholic catechesis always uses the parables of Jesus as the starting point. May as well tackle the difficult stuff first.

1 I found two ABS paperback NTs, one in the TEV and t'other in the NRSV. I supposed they were leftovers from my volunteer days as a catechist but when I opened one to put contact paper on, I saw the insert with my (married) name, a portion of Luke 24:32 - "Were not our hearts burning within us?", mention of the occasion and location - Emmaus Retreat, Xavier Center, and the date - sometime in 1995. I remember that retreat pretty well - it was the first one since graduating college. The NT has sentimental value.

2 They all said it had to be an accurate description!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kenny attended a classmate's birthday party in Hamilton at a place that was a little too young for ten year olds. I keep a book or two in the car at all times, so I brought one in with me not really knowing whether I'd be able to read it. What a pleasant sight met me: the kids were playing and all the parents were reading something! One lady had a New York Times as well as a book. No smalltalk needed for this party ... I think I've finally come home!

But, of course, we parents talked some. One of the mothers asked whether we attend St. Joseph's and I said yes, quickly adding that there aren't many other options. She said she used to take her child to their religious education program but did not care for what the CCD teachers were saying. She moved her child to St. Anthony's and she had such difficulty coming up with the church's name and town that I wondered how recent this move was. If I've recently been a certain place that's mentioned, I like to tell about it in an affirming way. So I explained that I'd taken Kenny to St. Anthony's 125th anniversary and the bishop was there and we shook his hand. "Because he's on his way out, you know." She didn't know. She admitted to not having heard about her parish's quasquicentennial or the bishop's visit. "Well, we don't really go there, not in a long time anyway." And so, I think I figured out her issue with St. Joseph's CCD program: children are expected at Sunday mass. I've heard St. Anthony's doesn't require it.

The party let out around 6 so I took Kenny over to St. Gregory's in Hamilton Square for the 6:30 service. It's the second Saturday evening service and, being summertime, was lightly attended. It was announced that Fr. Trammell would be installed as pastor the next day. By my reckoning, he's been assigned there at least 18 months so I was surprised to learn that he's still a temporary administrator. But that major event may also explain why so few were in attendance.

I let Kenny light some candles. The music is very well done even if I didn't know any of the songs. One stuck with me, "Eventide." YouTube has an Elton John studio version as well as a live performance, but I'm not a fan of his voice with its inexplicable Southern twang that seems so put on.

The Gospel reading is the end of Luke 10, Mary and Martha. Fr. Komonchak has a good post at Commonweal with good discussion, even a comment from me. After the service, Kenny asked to slip into the "old part" (i.e., original church) which serves now as chapel for daily mass. We did but not before someone else got in ahead of us and I told Kenny that he would have to be extremely quiet out of respect. I hadn't ever been in there myself and it's just beautiful. Between the pews and the wainscoting, there's just so much rich, warm, dark wood. He spied the balcony and wanted to go up. But the door to it was locked and I explained that so many of these old balconies are structurally weak and unstable. Fortunately we can use the balcony in our parish.

On the way to the car, he asked me whether we possess the original Bible. I told him that we have copies of copies of copies which made him very sad. He seemed to think that someone set down all at once the words of Scripture and I told him the words were written over a period of many centuries. I suppose I should have tried to help him see the wonder in that.
Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

Monday, July 12, 2010

I followed signs reading "Summer Institute" to the familiar Annunciation Hall, but since the letter from the college did not include a room number and I was 45 minutes early, I sat in the auditorium and read Acts 23-24 for tomorrow's Bible study. From time to time, I popped my head out to check on where people were gathering. When a man asked me where room 109 was, I set out to help him look, realizing it was the lecture room.

He had us introduce ourselves, as he took attendance, with our hometown and some relevant bio. I don't get the award for traveling the farthest, which goes to the man from Little Egg Harbor, 100 miles, 2 hours, one way. Several people had their MA or were working towards it. A few were third order and a couple were Benedictines from across town. Just about all were involved in parish work. The only thing I could do was acknowledge the usefulness of his website. Given our backgrounds, I hoped we could hit the ground running. Fr. Just certainly tried.

All the handouts came from/can be found on his website. We spent very little time on practical questions of authorship, date, audience or what we know of Luke. Assuming Mark and Q as sources for Luke's Gospel, Fr. Just quoted Eusebius' quote of Papias regarding Mark's source, Peter's preaching. He posited that Luke was a "big city guy," like his sometime companion Paul, in contrast to "small town folks," Mark and Matthew, who never mention the largest cities in Galilee (Sepphoris & Tiberias), while Luke/Acts is all about metropolises:: Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, Athens, etc.

We contrasted Luke's Christology with the others and, as quick as he was to point to differences, he said the four canonical Gospels are more similar to each other than any of them are to apocryphal Gospels. He emphasized that familiar "both/and" approach and cautioned us against telling only one side of the picture. Fr. Demeck, of happy memory, at Georgian Court, talked of "keeping all the plates spinning."

Related to Christology is discipleship: depending on what an evangelist makes of Jesus influences how one follows him. In Luke, discipleship is the hard road of "living for others." And that quote came to mind:
[English Jesuit George] Tyrell likened the liberal quest for the historical Jesus to a person looking down a deep, dark well. What would someone see at the bottom of the well? Tyrell suggested that these people would see a blurry image of themselves. Loewe
So, the Luke the Physician sees a healer?

Material unique to Luke is the key to determining his main points. The end of chapter 9 through the middle of chapter 18 is unique to Luke and is mostly parables related to the godly use of money and possessions. We did a couple of word studies: one on prayer and another on "Holy Spirit." We noted that Luke/Acts reference "prayer" and "Holy Spirit" significantly more often than the other canonical Gospels. We opened to the blessings and woes of Luke 6 and naturally, a few didn't even have a Bible. "Oh, you must be Catholic," he said. I had a couple extra and quietly handed them out as he was saying, "At a Protestant Bible study, everyone would have a different translation and some people would have more than one!"

He recommended bringing a synopsis next day and I made a note to find mine, though I have no interest in comparative Gospel exercises. I was curious in which Bibles those who had them had. The ladies next to me had pristine copies of the eyesore Catholic Youth Bible (NRSV). Probably most had the NRSV. I'll try to steal more glances tonight for sure. Not a few were "tabbed" and one was thumb-indexed. The pragmatic Fr. Just used the Bible from his hotel room.

That woman was there with her mother (previous post). During a break, they approached to ask why Protestants criticize their Marian devotion. "I have a great devotion to Mary, as I do to all the saints - Mary's a great healer - but I don't push that devotion on my Protestant friends." He reminded her that healing comes from God and supposed Catholic misuses are to blame for Evangelical criticism.1 I can't guess their motive in broaching the subject of Marian devotion with him. These had asked earlier how to learn more about John the Baptist than one finds in the New Testament. I began to wonder why a class such as this draws out some very strange people and whether that means I'm also strange.

And when I got home around 11, Jeff had spread out his laptop, new and old iPhones on the bed. He looked incredibly content and happy.

1 hmmm, no.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Jeff gave me a Kindle yesterday. I moved Keller's Acts notes, in PDF, over to it and I may try to reference those notes in Tuesday's Bible study. The print is very small and I can't adjust it. I had sent the PDF document to last night and it hasn't come back. I don't think it will.1 I bought a $2 Gk./Eng. Interlinear TR NT just for reference. I don't know which Bible to get. The ESVSB would be a logical choice because nobody would ever carry that monster around. The Kindle is significantly lighter. But the ESVSB is valuable for its charts, maps and other images and these don't port well over to the Kindle's display. It's a work in progress. I don't know what my fall Bible studies will be yet so I don't know which translation I'll be using. I sampled the ICSBNT and wasn't satisfied. The Josephus book that Jim wants to use this fall is available only in print. I don't expect that to change. The recommended book for next week's class at St. Elizabeth's is print-only as well. Since registering my Kindle with Amazon, the usual bombardment of suggestions have been tailored for my new device.

A recent publication that I didn't pre-order or buy yet is Spencer's Mere Churchianity. I sampled it last night and it is well-written and well-edited. But I'm not sure I can relate. Or want to try. The introductory chapter, if you haven't read it, describes a church youth group's rowdy trip to Dairy Queen. The DQ counter girl wrote a letter to Spencer, the youth pastor, complaining about the group's poor Christian witness and he confesses that, at the time, he dismissed her criticism as unworthy of consideration because she knew nothing of the Truth. So he was guilty of some arrogance that unbelievers can't even be a little bit right about anything. No broken clock allowance for them. Is this a widespread mentality? I'd be surprised.

But eventually he saw himself - which I admit is the hardest thing to do - and decided to work towards being the sort of Christian that Christ would recognize.

Why are Christians so bad in public?

At the annual conferences for religious educators fifteen years ago in D.C., I typically kept to myself, but one evening my DRE caught up to me and invited me to dinner with her cadre. It was already late and the popular Italian restaurant was packed. By the time we got a table, the staff had already seen their busiest night of the year. Our large group was served the main course well after 10 o'clock and some women refused their plates and declined to pay their tab! "It's too late to eat now!" I reached my hotel room after midnight and told Jeff all about it over the phone. The next night I went back to the quiet, simple Vietnamese place for a delicate, healthy, and quick dinner alone with a book. I always ate there.

A group of us went out for dessert at a nearby diner one Monday evening at 8. I ate a late lunch / early dinner at home around 4 and picked something from the diner's online dessert menu. Two of the ladies in our party hadn't had dinner yet, so they ordered salad and an entree. Just before 9, we put in our dessert order. The diner cleared of customers but no one in our party knew - or even seemed to care - when closing time was. Kick out paying patrons?!

Inconveniently, the online menu was inaccurate: the item I wanted, a slice of blueberry pie, was not available. "Just give me a slice of apple pie, then." No, there's no pie, none at all. I got cheesecake like everyone else and brought it home to Jeff. I also ordered a mocholata, made with Godiva chocolate, Kahlua and hot cocoa, a fine substitute for someone like me who doesn't drink coffee. Instead, I was served an expresso cup which the staff called, "Macchiato." I refused the coffee and repeated my request for hot chocolate. I tried to be casual about the mix-up, avoiding exasperation or frustration but my companions pitied me out loud: "Poor Teresa! First, no pie and now the drink is wrong."

We talked about the weather: the snow in late Feb. that had cancelled somebody's flight, keeping her from the women's retreat. Not everyone remembered how bad the snow was, but I remember very well late Feb. They talked about the flooding rain, having their homes inspected by FEMA and receiving their compensation checks. I mentioned this unfortunate story and someone suggested callously that the homeowner did it themselves.

A new person joined us at 10 o'clock and was encouraged to order something, giving the entire party a second wind. The ladies had been teasing the waiter throughout the evening and so he prudently avoided our table. They got his attention but not before priming the new person to ask for a slice of pie. My certainty that they were unaware of the innuendo didn't preserve me from getting uncomfortable. Would they treat a waitress this way? Just as the waiter walked over to take the "pie" order, I dropped $20 on the table and slipped out. I would have rather made sure the waiter was well-tipped but I imagine most of my twenty covered someone's dinner. The next morning, I led Bible study at their church and I knew that none of them planned to be there.

Now, I can make all kinds of excuses, the top one being that these housewives don't get out much. But, over the past ten years with this particular group, I've become aware of the attempt - and Spencer mentions this in the introductory chapter of his book - to make the Christian life appear attractive, deliberately exploiting people's natural inclinations towards envy (Rom. 11:14). The ends don't justify the means. Why isn't this denounced as manipulation? Even Keller's notes from last week's Bible study had said it's never loving to allow another person to sin.

1 After adding my gmail account to my Kindle settings at Amazon and putting "Convert" in the email subject, I got back an .azw file of my .pdf rather quickly and moved it over the USB. Now I can adjust the font size but the document needs to index still. cf. Amazon Help: Option to Convert PDF Files to Kindle Format