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Showing posts from 2015

What Are We Fighting About?, Part III--Evangelicals, the Bible, and Clarity

Phyllis Tickle (who passed away in September--God rest her soul) wrote a book called The Great Emergenceabout the future of Protestantism.  I have problems with significant parts of her thesis in that book, but she does a good job of framing the basic Protestant project.  In its most elementary form, the Protestant Reformation was a challenge to the authority of the Papacy, and by extension the ordained priesthood, to define and articulate the Christian faith and the structure of the Christian church.  We don't need these institutional mediators, said the Protestant Reformers, because we can figure out what the Christian faith is about and how to organize the church by consulting directly with the Bible.  Said another way, the Protestant Reformation replaced a person (or people) who serves as a clearly defined leader and spokesperson (and is thus exclusive and controlled) with a book which is in principle accessible to everyone.

Implicit within this move is the assumption that the…

What Are We Fighting About?, Part II--Anglicans, Establishment, and Non-Negotiables

People who grow up in the United States, such as myself, have a very difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea of an established church.  Every November, we get together to eat turkey ostensibly in remembrance of folks who fled England to get away from the grasp of the established church.  People who agree on nothing about the meaning of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution agree that it means that the government cannot establish a church as the official church of the country.  The basic story we get is that an established church is bad because it puts the power of the state behind efforts of that particular church to enforce orthodoxy, leading to religious wars and conflict.  In addition, an established church is bad for that church, because the church will be "captured" and subject to the agenda of the state, compromising its freedom and witness.  And, certainly, there is support for both of those theses in the history of the established Church of England…

Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, Honorable Mention--"Living Proof"/"Human Touch"

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The last Friday Fun series went pretty well--I enjoyed it at least.  So, for this series, I am going to try the impossible and come up with a list of my top ten Springsteen songs.  The impossibility of the task is demonstrated by the fact that I couldn't keep to ten and had to add these two honorable mentions.  I am also not going to include two songs I have already talked about, "Reason to Believe" and "Land of Hope and Dreams."  I don't want to rehash what I said previously, which is why I am not including them in this list, but they are both certainly among my ten favorite Springsteen songs, and "Land of Hope and Dreams" is either #1 or at a minimum #2.

As far as the song clips go, I am going to go exclusively with live concert footage, because that it is the only way to fully appreciate the Springsteen experience.  I've seen him twice (once in DC in 2012 and once in Columbus in 2014, which is the source of a number of the clips I am going…

What Are We Fighting About?, Part I--Catholics, Grace, and Reality

I had a conversation the other day that really made me think.  A friend of mine and I were talking about politics in general, and we some how got onto the topic of LGBT rights.  In a very casual way, she asked me "so, why exactly do religious conservatives have a problem with gay rights?"  After probing around a little bit, it dawned on me that many folks who engage with religious issues on the internet assume that everyone understands (at least on some level) the theological stakes, but that assumption is often very wrong.  Many people have no idea what the arguments for and against LGBT rights are, other than that lots of religious people are again' em, as they say.

In that light, I figured it was worth while to try to set out some of the big questions that I see on this issue.  In doing so, I make no claims to breaking any new ground or advancing innovative ideas or solutions.  Instead, I am going to try to present the questions as honestly as possible, through the le…

Quick Hitter on Christian Realism

I've talked before about the idea of "Christian Realism." The premise here is that Christianity, properly understood, describes the world as it actually is.  As a result, if there is some empirical claim made on behalf of Christianity, and that claim proves to be wrong, then our understanding of Christianity is flawed.  The solution is not to reject Christianity, nor to put our fingers in our ears and pretend that we don't hear the fact that is inconsistent with our empirical claim; the solution is to go back to the drawing board and rethink our empirical presuppositions.  After all, as Aquinas said,“[a]ll that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Spirit.”

Christian Realism is a real problem with regard to Catholicism and sexual issues.  A good example of the problem can be seen in this piece by Lisa Duffy.  Here's the key quote:

When sex is experienced outside of marriage, there is no freedom or innocence; it’s all about receiving pleas…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #1

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#1: "One" by U2 (off of Achtung, Baby (1991)





The first album I ever owned was The Joshua Tree, on cassette tape.  I pulled out my CD collection the other day and realized I own ten U2 albums, which includes a couple of greatest hits collections.  That's partially a function of U2's enormous longevity, and partially a function of how much I like U2.  Even after the bad albums and weird marketing moves and Bono overexposure, I always come back to U2.  It's pretty much my musical first love.

Upon (extensive) reflection, I think Achtung, Baby is their best work.  The Joshua Tree (1987) begins with three songs ("Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking For," and "With or Without You") that even non-U2 fans know and instantly recognize, and has a deeply underrated deep-cut ("In God's Country").  It is a tremendous album, and it made U2 immortals.

That was followed by the album and documen…

On Band-Aids

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd go away...

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door...

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn't there,
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away...

--  "Antigonish" by Hughes Mearns (1899).

1.   There is a bit of conventional wisdom that says that the legacy of a leader lasts twice as long as the time the leader was in power.  In other words, George W. Bush was President of the United States for eight years, but the effects of his presidency will last for sixteen years after he left office in 2008, through to 2024.  And that seems about right--we are certainly in the middle of working through all of the consequences of his time…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #2 [tie]

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#2: "Drive" by R.E.M. (off of Automatic for the People (1992))



#2: "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" by R.E.M. (off of Monster (1994))



I've talked about R.E.M. before, and there is much more than could be said.  What is perhaps the most notable thing about 90s R.E.M. is that they were probably the most popular band of the decade, without producing particularly accessible music.  They released five albums in the 90s--Out of Time (1991), Automatic for the People (1992), Monster (1994), New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), and Up (1998).  All five of these albums were enormous hits--the "disappointing" New Adventures in Hi-Fi "only" peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard charts.  New Adventures in Hi-Fi has to be one of the grimmest and most inscrutable albums to ever reach number #2 on the charts--nothing on it is remotely radio friendly, and all of it is depressing.  Nevertheless, it sold almost a million copies in the United States alone.  That'…

Some Thoughts on the "Hard Sayings" of Jesus

If you have followed the discussion about the Synod on the Family, or any discussion about sexual morality in Christianity, surely you have heard some reference to the "hard sayings" of Jesus.  These discussions go something like this--someone will make a point about how difficult or impractical this or that traditional bit of sexual morality is to actually and fairly implement and live, and someone will respond "well, sure, these are hard sayings of Jesus, but Jesus is calling us to do the hard thing."  The implication, of course, is that the person who is expressing concerns about the stance at issue is looking to take the easy way out, to avoid the challenge of Gospel living.  It is a way to take the moral high ground.

No doubt, there are many hard sayings of Jesus, and many hard sayings throughout the Scriptures.  Here is another one--"You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21, as well as…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #3

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#3: Lucky Man by the Verve (off of Urban Hymns (1997))



The Verve is a criminally underrated band.  Everything Coldplay has done, the Verve did first and better.  They were experimenting with weird sounds and trippy music when Radiohead was writing straight forward rock songs like "Creep."  They are more interesting than Oasis, and I like Oasis.

They are not well known because their career was rather short, done in by stereotypical band problems--interpersonal conflicts, drugs, financial disputes.  Urban Hymns, their best album, was also their last significant album.  In a sense, though, it is not tremendously surprising, as their music certainly conveys that they were dealing with some stuff.

The song of theirs that you have heard is "Bittersweet Symphony."  It got them into trouble because it sampled an orchestral version of "The Last Time" by the Rolling Stones, resulting in all the royalties going to the Stones.  It is also famous for the video, which…

The Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 4--"Make Yourself Responsible for All Men's Sins"

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In retrospect, I was primed to go Full Girardian long before I actually encountered Girard's work.  Back during my time with the Dominicans, I read the book that I believe is the greatest novel ever written--The Brothers Karamazov by Feodor Dostoevsky.  Dostoevsky is one of the handful of authors (alongside Shakespeare, Cervantes, Proust, and Steindahl) that Girard used as the basis for developing his initial theories on memetic desire, back when it was basically a literary construct.  Loving Dostoevsky put me halfway home to appreciating Girard.

Reading Dostoevsky is always, for me, an interesting experience--it's not enjoyable in the normal sense (though, it's not un-enjoyable, either) so much as it is revealing.  The sense I get when reading Dostoevsky is that he is telling you the truth about the way things are, even when you can't exactly isolate the precise content of the truth he is communicating.  The first time I read the novel, my basic reaction was "I kn…

Short Post Script to The Last Post

Over the weekend, it occurred to me that there is an additional level to the discussion of the need for a theology of relationships in connection with divorce, and that is a recognition that relationships can and do actually end, notwithstanding philosophical commitments to the contrary.

Here's what I mean.  Look again closely at Matthew 19:3-9:

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to div…

The Best Example of Why We Need a Theology of Relationships

I have been continuing to think about Ross Douthat's column from Sunday.  One of the things that strikes me about Douthat on this subject is that he seems to really, really find the current status quo position regarding divorce and remarried couples sensible and correct, in a way that seems genuine and heartfelt.  That is of course his right to do so, but it highlighted for me the degree to which I am not similarly persuaded.  It has taken me a while to work through why I am not satisfied with the current position, but I think I have found the heart of the problem.

First, let's set out the text that we are all arguing about--Matthew 19:3-9:

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #4

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#4: "This Time of Year" by Better than Ezra (off of Deluxe (1995))


Better than Ezra is the band that holds the record for the band I have seen the most times live.  Granted, I am not a huge live music person, so the record stands at three times.  Nevertheless, I saw them once in college, once in New Orleans in '06, and once in Philly some time in law school.  Every time I have seen them it has been in a small venue, and they have killed it.  No big rock show, nothing flashy or innovative, but three people playing music and talking with the audience.  It is a good time show in every sense of the word. 

What is interesting about the "good time" portion of that is that it is a little incongruous with what the band is best at, which is writing and playing ballads. It is hard to write ballads, and many bands fall into the trap of making them overly sappy, or cliched, or predictable musically ("here is where we break out the piano").  Better than Ezra avoid…

Why All Catholics Should "Own Their Heresy"

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time").  I have not counted words, but I believe Nostra Aetate is the shortest of the Vatican II documents, clocking in at only five paragraphs.  Nevertheless, there is an argument to be made that Nostra Aetate is the most consequential of all of the Vatican II documents, and is undoubtedly the most revolutionary.

Special attention should be paid to Paragraph 4 of Nostra Aetate.  The document as a whole is about the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions, and Paragraph 4 deals with Judaism. In it, it makes three major claims.  First, while acknowledging that Catholics believe Jesus to represent the true fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, it rejects the notion this transition from the old to the new covenant leaves continued practitioners of the old divorced from God's love and faithfulness.
As Holy Scripture test…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #5

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#5: "Lightning Crashes" by Live (off of Throwing Copper (1994))





I get why you don't like Live.  Believe me, I do.  You think they are pretentious.  You think they try way, way to hard to be "spiritual," in the most cliched manner imaginable ("hey, I just found this Sansrkit word 'Samadhi'--let's put in in the title of own of our albums!")  Their videos were often painfully earnest and high-concept, such as the video for "Lakini's Juice" off of Secret Samadhi  I discussed in some depth a few years ago.  Their formula was basically copied by Creed in the late 90s, making them indirectly responsible for the reign of Scott Stapp (I will say that Creed never bothered me particularly, but I understand that this is a minority position).  I hear you.

The thing is, I recognize and accept all of that, and I like their music anyway.  Live is sort of like, to use a baseball analogy, the pure home run hitter that hits forty home runs a ye…

The Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 2.2--the Problem of Confession

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[Note:  Since it has been a while, the first post on forgiveness is here]

I will state up front that I have always struggled with the Sacrament of Confession (or Reconciliation, to give it the more modern label).  I have always found the experience both unpleasant and spiritually unsatisfying.  More specifically, I have never gotten a handle on what I am supposed to do with the Sacrament.  Either it turns into me reciting a laundry list of faults and failings, the recitation of which feeds into a tendency to view myself entirely through the lens of my failures and deficiencies.  Candidly, this state of mind sets me on the path to the dark home of my depression, a home from which the grant of absolution provides no escape.  Or, it turns into an unfocused counseling session, which the poor priest is not really expecting or prepared to engage in, leading to a frustrating and unproductive experience.  For this reason, it has been several years since I have been to Confession.

Nevertheless…

William Shakespeare's Final Thoughts on the Synod on the Family

Well, it's over.  Everyone has gone home, and the pundits--amateur and professional--now get to dissect what has happened and What It All Means.  I continue to maintain that we should not be distracted by the shiny object that is the final document produced by the Synod, and instead focus on whatever Pope Francis ultimately says or does with regard to divorced and remarried Catholics.  Still, I think that the Synod made a number of advances from a process standpoint, even if the product that was generated is not as important as it might seem.  And, inspired by Cardinal Marx's impressive use of Shakespeare to make his points, I too will draw from the The Bard.

"This above all- to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3.  
With the possible exception of the handful of heads of religious orders, everyone who attended the Synod of Bishops was put into a high office in the Church (if …

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #6

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#6: "Walk on the Ocean" by Toad the Wet Sprocket (off of fear (1991))


It is cliche, but it is true.  There are songs that get locked into your consciousness and become associated with a particular time and place.  This is an example of such a song.  It reminds me of high school, and in particular early high school over-night trips for various competitions.  I hear this song and I am immediately 15 or 16 years old for a few minutes while it is playing.

The biggest problem with being a teenager, ultimately, is the information gap involved.  Lots of new and bewildering things are going on, and all of these things feel entirely sui generis, as if you are the first person to go through them.  This is of course entirely untrue--I don't believe there is a single person who has ever lived who has not struggled through adolescence on one level or another.  Perhaps there are teenagers who understand this fact, are not scared by it, and can just roll with the punches.  Perhaps, but…

The True Meaning of the Synod

I am going to make a bet with you.  Nothing that comes out of the Synod on the Family--no speech, no document, no pronouncement from the Pope--will prove to be as significant as the Pope's speech on Saturday.  The prompting for the speech was the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops in the aftermath of Vatican II, and in the speech Pope Francis lays out in the clearest form his vision of the Church and the role of the Synods in that Church.  It is, I think, the most radical thing that Pope Francis has ever said.  If Pope Francis is able to implement this vision, the nature and operation of the Catholic Church will be different.  Not unrecognizably different, but different nonetheless.

There are at least three important take-aways from the speech. The first has to do with the final outcome of the current Synod on the Family happening in Rome.  Amid talk that the Synod was doomed to fail as a result of diminishing prospects for any sort of consensus among the …

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #7

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#7:  "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" by the Smashing Pumpkins (off of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995))


I initially had at #7 the song "Come as You Are," off of Nirvana's breakthrough album Nevermind.  I realized, in the course of attempting to explain why I had a Nirvana song at # 7, that I had done so out of some weird sense of obligation.  The general consensus is that Nirvana is the most important band of the 90s, the one that ended the reign of hair metal and ushered in a period where being rich and famous as a rock star was seen as a terrible burden to be avoided, as opposed to a cool lifestyle to aspire to.  All of that may be true.  But it doesn't necessarily follow that this makes Nirvana's music tremendously enjoyable or rewarding to listen to.  It's not that it is bad by any means--I like Nirvana better than the other titan of the Grunge scene, Pearl Jam--but I think it is at best really, really OK, if that makes any sense.  An…

Talking About Problems Versus Orbiting Problems

While I still maintain that we should Trust the Process and embrace the point of view of Nick Saban, I must say this Synod on the Family has proven more chaotic than even I had anticipated.  The various reports from the working groups after the first week are all over the map, making it difficult to see how consensus can be found.  Conservative provocateur Sandro Magister reported that a group of Cardinals have been complaining about The Process, a claim that a number of the alleged signatories have backed away from.  One can discern all sorts of fault lines of various kinds among the participants (along those lines, I should note that Michael Sean Winters, who I am often critical of, had a good piece on this topic today).

In looking at all of this, it seemed like there was something weird about the way the Synod was talking about and thinking about the family and family issues, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Rereading Thomas Bushnell's essay on marriage (which I previou…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #8

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#8: "Protect Ya Neck" by the Wu-Tang Clan (off of Enter the Wu-Tang [36 Chambers] (1993))



When I was in college, I lived in a fraternity house for two years.  Among the interesting and diverse cast of characters in the house was a guy named Aaron Markworth.  Aaron grew up not far from where I live now, in the Amish country of Eastern Ohio, and he was a funny and curmudgeonly guy.  At some point in our history as a fraternity, he was in charge of our social activities, a job for which I don't think he particularly enjoyed or was necessarily perfectly suited for, but on which he expended yeoman's efforts.

Our most notable social event under his tenure, at least in my memory, was the Ska Party we threw with the Delta Zeta sorority.  Our fraternity was founded during my freshman year, and by the fall of our sophomore year we had a renovated fraternity house to move into.  To celebrate it, we decided to throw a big party after a rare nighttime home football game.  I cannot…

Don't Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

The funny thing about having an open conversation is that sometimes people take the conversation in directions you don't really want it to go.  Witness the currently ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome.  Pope Francis wants to talk about economic and social issues affecting families, and lots of folks want to talk about divorce and/or LGBT issues.  But then here comes Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, and he wants to talk about women.  Specifically, he wants to talk about two things.  First, he wants the Catholic Church to explicitly reject the idea that Paul's discussion of gender roles means that women must be subordinate to men--itself a big statement, and one that would undermine problematic complementarian ideas that still circulate in Catholic thought.  But the real bombshell is that Archbishop Durocher wants a full, public discussion of ordaining women as deacons.

Now, Pope Francis has gone out of his way to say that he supports (or, at least, feels him…

Quick Hitter: The Full Meltdown

Yesterday I wrote a post suggesting that Catholics should channel Nick Saban and embrace The Process.  Clearly, Michael Brendan Dougherty is not college football fan.

I guess I have two major take-aways from this piece.  One, I simply cannot fathom why people like Dougherty (and, to a less extent, Ross Douthat) think that so much is at stake with the so-called Kasper proposal specifically and the Synod discussions generally.  Prior to the coming of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church's position was that marriages are indissoluble in theory, but in practice in most dioceses in the world one could get out from under a failed marriage to remarry through the annulment process.  After Pope Francis's canon law reforms a few weeks ago, the position of the Church is that marriages are indissoluble in theory, but in practice in most dioceses in the world one could get out from underneath a failed marriage to remarry through the (now faster and more "user friendly") annulment pr…