Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Reach...Ask!

You just never know where in the Bible Catholicism will rear its ugly head. For example, let's look at the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. No, this isn't about the Bread Miracle; no, not the Overbundance of Blessing, and no, not the preliminary for the Bread of Life Discourse. As Noah Cross said, "Mr. Gittes, you may think you know what you're getting into, but believe me, you don't."

Here's the story. It shows up in all 4 Gospels. This is mostly John's account with a bit of the Synoptics thrown in:

I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat.
[The apostles say:] Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat.
And his disciples answered him, Whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?
He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? Go and see.
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him,
There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? He said, Bring them hither to me.
And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

Not too long; Jesus doesn't say anything cryptic; doesn't quote the Old Testament; pretty straightforward.

Here are the characters in this story: Jesus, the apostles and the people.

Here's an outline:

1. Jesus tells the apostles the people need to eat.

2. Apostles propose dismissing them to buy food in nearby towns.

3. Jesus tells apostles, y'all feed 'em.

4. Apostles say, how we gonna do that?

5. Jesus asks apostles, what food is there?

6. Apostles inform Jesus a kid has some loaves & fish.

7. Jesus tells apostles to bring Him the food; they do.

8. Jesus tells apostles to get everyone seated; they do.

9. Jesus blesses the food; distibutes it to the apostles; they distribute it to the people.

10. After all have eaten, Jesus tells apostles to gather up the leftovers. They do.

Here's a stripped-down schematic:

Jesus (people need to eat)>

Apostles (send 'em out to buy)>

Jesus (y'all feed 'em)>

Apostles (how?)>

Jesus (what food is available?)>

Apostles (check for food)>

People (boy with food)>

Apostles (kid has some food)>

Jesus (bring it here)

Apostles (deliver food)>

Jesus (blesses it, distributes to Apostles)>

Apostles (distribute food to people)>

People (eat)>

Apostles (cleanup)

Why, oh why, do I care about this? Because it shows Jesus exercising his Authority exclusively through his apostles even though he is there. Only Apostles speak with Jesus; people speak only with Apostles. Jesus never speaks or listens to the people. Apostles mediate the entire miracle. In this case, not even the little children are permitted to come to Jesus: the Apostles bring Jesus the loaves & fishes, not the boy who had them. Jesus gives the food to the Apostles; they distribute it to the people; they clean up the leftovers. Except for doing the indispensable God part, Jesus delegated the whole miracle to his lieutenants (lieu-tenant, place-holder).
What we are looking at is the management prototype for the Church in general: Christ's authorized agents hierarchically conducting his business with his people. This establishes a model for how the church will be run after the Ascension.
And it's a model for the Mass in particular: people hunger; people have some food, but it's lacking; they bring it to the priest, who presents it to Jesus; Jesus works a food miracle; the priest distributes the miraculous food; the people receive it; the priest cleans up the leftovers.
The lesson is, for some things you can go straight to Jesus; for other things though, you can't. You have to go through his visible Church, and through the sinners who have authority. How physical; how annoying; how humbling.
Yes, you may say, but Jesus used the Apostles because there were so many people, there's no point being made about authority or access. Maybe. But Jesus could have removed the crowd's hunger any way he wanted to; or even sent them home before they had a chance to get hungry; but maybe he chose this rather cumbersome method in order to publicly make clear His delegation of that after he ascended, His Church wouldn't fragment into little pieces over the question know....Authority.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dietrich and the Sea Turtles

Today I read this abortion quote by German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question of whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of its life. And that is nothing but murder." (1940-3)

Indeed. Pretty old quote, by the way.

Here's how we handle this concept in South Carolina Wednesday Sunday School:

Who went to the beach last year? Lots of hands go up. Which beaches did you go to? Myrtle Beach! Edisto Island! Garden City! Pawley's! Folly Beach!

OK, who has seen the sea turtle nests with the fences around them and the signs? Bunch of hands go up again. I ask someone to tell the class what we are talking about.

Who has seen the baby turtles hatch? I haven't, but the occasional child has, and will describe it vividly.

And who has seen an adult sea turtle? No-one, except at an aquarium.

Easy question: if I were to catch and eat fish or crabs at the beach, is that OK? That's OK, we go crabbing, it's ok to eat them. And we eat the fish that we catch.
How about if I caught a sea turtle, could I eat it? NO! That's against the law!
Yes, because sea turtles are protected. There aren't many of them, so to kill even one would be bad.

But here's tonight's trick question: I know it's illegal to kill a sea turtle, but why are the nests protected? (I am playing stupid here) Because we have to protect the turtles!

(More stupid) Yes, but there are no turtles in the nest. But there are eggs in the nest!

C'mon, turtle eggs aren't turtles.....don't y'all know that? It's pretty obvious to me. Yes but there's a baby turtle in the egg, Stratopops! (How dense can I be?)

Well, maybe when they're about to hatch, but at first the eggs are just full of goop, like chicken eggs. Could I make myself some scrambled turtle eggs if I made sure they had just been laid, and I couldn't see even a tiny turtle in them? If the cops came, I'd just say, well, there weren't any turtles in the eggs yet. No, it's still going to be a turtle, you can't ever eat it.

Yeah, but look: not all the eggs hatch, and not all the hatchlings get into the sea, not all of those that do live very long, sometimes just a few minutes. Considering how few eggs actually become independent turtles in the sea, can't we say the eggs are just possible turtles, potential turtles, and I can eat them? No, it's still the same as killing a turtle, even if all the eggs wouldn't make turtles anyway.

OK (I finally see the light). Let's think about human babies for a bit. We all know it's wrong to kill a baby. I take out my plastic fetus. And it's wrong to kill a little fetus like this one even if it doesn't look like a regular baby yet, right? It's still a baby even if it's weird-looking.

Yes. I put a dot on the board. This dot is bigger than either a human embryo, or a turtle embryo when they are just a few days old; they are very small, almost invisible. You might not even be able to tell the turtle from the human under a microscope. If it's just a dot of cells, then is it ok to kill a turtle embryo? No, it's already a turtle even if it's a little dot.

Right...and how about the human embryo? It's just like with the turtle, it's a baby the whole time.
So if you kill a turtle embryo what do you kill? A turtle.
And how about a human embryo? You'd be killing a baby, a person.
And what's that called when you kill an unborn baby? Abortion.

Monday, April 27, 2009

plus encore Tempus Fugit

Psalm 128:
"Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table."
This Thursday we'll celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary; last Saturday the Elder Daughter attended her Senior Prom.
Did I mention that time flies? Don't even blink.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Future Is a Few Years Old Now

I remember this Eastern Savant (above) used to be on TV and predict things, figure out hidden meanings, that sort of stuff. I can't check if he was right or not, there are no written records of his predictions.

But there are plenty of old predictions of the consequences of widespread contraception. What follows is a sampling of what a bunch of repressed killjoys had to say, but first a bit from contraception's Pandora Moment:

1930 Lambeth Conference

Resolution 15: The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex
Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Oh, and by the way:

Resolution 16: The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex
The Conference further records its abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion.

No worries. We'll open it just a crack, and slam it shut again.

Celibates & Nerds respond:

1930 Pope Pius XI

For now, alas, not secretly nor under cover, but openly, with all sense of shame put aside, now by word again by writings, by theatrical productions of every kind, by romantic fiction, by amorous and frivolous novels, by cinematographs portraying in vivid scene, in addresses broadcast by radio telephony, in short by all the inventions of modern science, the sanctity of marriage is trampled upon and derided; divorce, adultery, all the basest vices either are extolled or at least are depicted in such colors as to appear to be free of all reproach and infamy. Books are not lacking which dare to pronounce themselves as scientific but which in truth are merely coated with a veneer of science in order that they may the more easily insinuate their ideas.

.....some men go so far as to concoct new species of unions, suited, as they say, to the present temper of men and the times, which various new forms of matrimony they presume to label "temporary," "experimental," and "companionate." These offer all the indulgence of matrimony and its rights without, however, the indissoluble bond, and without offspring, unless later the parties alter their cohabitation into a matrimony in the full sense of the law.
Indeed there are some who desire and insist that these practices be legitimatized by the law or, at least, excused by their general acceptance among the people. They do not seem even to suspect that these proposals partake of nothing of the modern "culture" in which they glory so much, but are simply hateful abominations which beyond all question reduce our truly cultured nations to the barbarous standards of savage peoples.

1931 Washington Post (!?)

It is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of the divine institution of marriage with any modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation or suppression of human birth. The [Anglican] church must either reject the plain teachings of the Bible or reject schemes for the "scientific" production of human souls. Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution, by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be "careful and restrained" is preposterous.

1933 Christopher Dawson:

....the use of contraceptives has made sexual intercourse independent of parenthood, and the marriage of the future will be confined to those who seek parenthood for its own sake rather than as the natural fulfilment of sexual love.
But under these circumstances who will trouble to marry?
Marriage will lose all attractions for the young and the pleasure-loving and the poor and the ambitious.
......It is impossible to imagine a system more contrary to the first principles of social well-being.
So far from helping modern society to surmount its present difficulties, it only precipitates the crisis. It must lead inevitably to a social decadence far more rapid and more universal than that which brought about the disintegration of ancient civilization. The advocates of birth-control can hardly fail to realize the consequences of a progressive decline of the population in a society in which it is already almost stationary, but for all that their propaganda is entirely directed towards a further diminution in the birth rate.
Many...are obsessed by the idea that over-population is the main cause of war and that a diminishing birth rate is the best guarantee of international peace. There is, however, nothing in history to justify this belief.
If, however, questions of population should give rise to war in the future, there can be no doubt that it is nations with wide possessions and a dwindling population who will be most likely to provoke an attack.
But it is much more likely that the process will be a peaceful one. The peoples who allow the natural bases of society to be destroyed by the artificial conditions of the new urban civilization will gradually disappear and their place will be taken by those populations which live under simpler conditions and preserve the traditional forms of the family.

1967 Pope Paul VI

.......a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

The Future these reactionaries anticipated has been around so long it's practically the Past. I guess we should look ahead toward an even better, brighter future. The old future is the new baseline, the jumping-off point.

A more...Enlightened future, if that's possible; just imagine.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bishops and Telescopes

As I said in an earlier post, I believe it helps the kids to learn when they figure out what words originally meant, and it helps them to think across categories instead of just within them, which is a good life skill. Because the Christian lexicon contains so many Greek words, we cover a lot of Greek. At the start of the year, it's all Greek to them, but once they get the hang of figuring the Greek out, only the Greek is Greek...see?

For example, at least one class period is needed to cover the Church hierarchy: the Pope, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. I use that class to show the kids something about how other denominations are organized as well, but this post will cover just one part of that class material.

They already know about Jesus>Peter>the Popes, so that's the starting point.

OK, tell me, where'd Peter get his authority? Jesus.

And when Peter died, was that it? Did the authority disappear? No, they picked another pope.

Yes. By the way, in Rome they don't say Pope, they say Papa. Why is that? Because he's the father, the papa.

Yes again, because fathers have's today's trick question, what language does 'Papa' come from? Italian! Ha! Good guess, but wrong. It's Greek, the Italians got it from the Greeks! But yes, the Pope is the Holy Father.

I write tele-scope on the board. Now, who knows what a telescope is? Everybody knows. Do I use one to see my toes? No, to see things far away, like the moon!

Yes, to see far things, and what do I use to see things that are real small, like germs? A microscope! I write micro-scope. So what does tele mean? Far away! And micro? Small! And scope? Umm, see? Yes! My, my, geniuses at work; how'd y'all learn all this Greek?

I write epi-demic. What's an epidemic? When everybody gets sick! Yes. It's a disease that covers all the people. In Greek epi-demic means over-people.

Now I write epi-skopos (επίσκοπος). I mention that Greek uses a k for hard c. I think using the k makes it more interesting.

OK, what's epi mean again? Over! And skopos? To see! And if someone is an epi-skopos what are they? An over-seer! And are overseers the monkeys that get told what to do? No, they're the boss, they tell the monkeys what to do! (Monkey is just a fun word to use....a little laughing keeps kids energized at 7pm on a schoolnight).

Yes. An episkopos, an overseer, is someone who is in charge. Who's in charge of St. Mary's? Fr. Newman! Yes. Who's in charge of the diocese, all the Catholics in South Carolina? Bishop Macaroni! That's very funny, his name is Guglielmone, goo-lyel-MO-neh. It's Italian. But we're not talking about Italian tonight, we're talking about...Greek! That's right.

So the guy in charge of the diocese is a bishop, which is how we say episkopos in English. By the way, quien aqui habla Espanol? How do you say bishop in Spanish? Obispo. Yep. Obispo. I write bishop and obispo under episkopos.

Y'all can see how the old word changed into the new words over 2,000 years. That's how old the job of Bishop is, about 2,000 years old. The New Testament talks about bishops a lot, and what language was the NT written in? Greek! Yep. And the Old Testament? Hebrew! Yes, mostly Hebrew.

Bishops are so important to the church that the word bishop shows up in the NT six times. Which shows you that there were bishops even before the Bible was finished. Now, you may meet people who go to churches that don't have bishops. They may tell you bishops aren't necessary. But you can tell them bishops are in the Bible, so the Bible agrees with the Church.

OK let's review a bit, who takes care of Jesus' flock while he's away? The Pope! How do we say that in Greek? Papa! And who helps the Papa take care of the flock? Bishops! And what's this mean (pointing at episkopos)? Overseer!

Honorary sons & daughters, y'all tore it up tonight! I'm impressed.

Teaching tactics covered in this post:

Ask questions requiring answers in small increments, with an occasional big jump. Big questions are always prefaced: "ok this next question may not be easy, even for mature 6th graders such as you..." be ready to compliment good, if unsuccessful attempts to answer, and if they flail, don't let them lose momentum, provide big answer info as needed for them to do the rest. Too many big jumps, they lose the momentum of success. Be brisk without losing them. I envision I'm a wave, the kids surf on me. I lift and push, faster is more energizing, but the wave can't outrun the surfers nor be so big & fast that they fall. Nor, God forbid, be so slow they can't surf at all.

Use the board. The blackboard, not the surfboard. Write or draw something every few minutes. It's ok to draw badly.

Repeat the right answers to orient toward the next question. Adjust or add info to a correct answer to better direct the kids to the next question. Also do this to remind them of something learned earlier, e.g. sometimes I'll use the key to refer to Peter's authority, other times, feeding the lambs, but rarely both.

Make them connect old information to new information; on-the-fly reviewing is good in itself, plus it's better to understand things as part of a whole than in isolation. As I said in an earlier post, IIRC, I want to give the children a cadre, a framework of knowledge on which future facts can be located and made sense of.

Connect Faith knowledge to other knowledge. Faith shouldn't sit in its own box getting stale.

As a general rule, anything understood in isolation is not really understood.


Dear blogreader, did you think this post was going to be about Galileo? Wrong! Trick title!

Big House

The 6th graders love Hebrew, they love Latin, and they really love Greek. Just ask them. Many of the kids are already learning word stems in school, so the prior sentence may not be an exaggeration. Learning what words originally meant can help the kids understand and retain concepts covered in the course material.

For example, in discussing "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" and "Honor Thy Father & Mother," among other examples I use the word Pharaoh:
Hey who saw Prince of Egypt? What was the bad guy's name? Ramses.

Yes...what was his job? He was the Pharaoh.

Mmmm, that was what people called him. What was his job? Being the king, ruling Egypt.
Yes. Now if we were speaking to the king could we say, hey Ramses, howya doin'? Sure is hot today in Egypt isn't it, Ramses? Laughter: no that wouldn't be right.

Why not? Well, he's the king. Yeah, so? So you have to show respect.

OK, so one way we show respect for someone's authority is to show respect for his name. By the way, Pharaoh doesn't actually mean King. Egyptians had another word for king (Nisut, if you must know). Pharaoh means Big House. (פרעה Par`oh)

Why would Ramses be called Big House? Because he lived in a big house, a palace.

Yes. And the point is that the Egyptians and the Hebrew slaves had so much respect for Ramses that they wouldn't call him Ramses, or even call him King, but only refer to him by where he lived.

And it's that same way with God, except we owe God way more respect than Pharaoh. That's also why we don't call our parents, or priests, or other people with authority by their first names.

And in Jesus' day nobody would even say God's name, which we know is YHWH (written on the board, not said), so we're not going to say it out loud, either. They'd say the "LORD," or the "Blessed One" to avoid saying His name, just in case they might accidentally show disrespect, such as by belching in the middle of saying it. Imagine Moses saying, "All praise & honor to thee, oh Yah...brraAAACK...weh, oops, sorry."

So when you think about the 2nd & 4th Commandments, try to show respect for everyone, but especially your parents and God. And what is a simple way to honor someone, especially your mom, dad or God?
By using their names respectfully.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dat ain't God

I was talking with a Daughter this afternoon about faith, and how, because we are weak, faith ebbs and flows. She takes faith as seriously as most of us take Death Cancer. She is one of the most profoundly reflective people I know...maybe the most reflective. And only 17. She doesn't like the ebbing parts. Anyway, sometimes God is close, sometimes far away. Faith comes and goes. It's easy; then it's hard. I was specifically comparing faith in Jesus when he was running around Jerusalem, smelling like he hasn't bathed since He left Nazareth, knocking over tables and raising Lazarus from the dead; and faith in Jesus in the smallest daily miracle of Bread & Wine.

Who among us Catholic Morons doesn't struggle with that? OK, maybe you don't. Maybe I envy you, but then again, maybe you aren't thinking about it hard enough to doubt. Am I succumbing to the Human Ailment, Pride? Am I digressing?

What was the topic? Oh yeah, the Body & Blood, that's a tough one, and there are so many Christians who dispense with that problem, it's just a symbol, I don't wanna be, you know...superstitious, unEnlightened. A Catholic Moron. I used to think, yeah, the B&B shtick, well who can say, but if I'd been around in 30 AD, seen Jesus do the miracles, I'd believe, just like Thomas, my kind of guy. Get those fingers in those holes, yep! OK I believe, no problem! Thanks, Jesus...I didn't want to look like a moron. You made it easy. Believing the Bread & Wine miracle, nuh-uh podna, that's going too far. But if I'd been there back then, sure I'd've believed. Faith was easier then. Seein' was believin'...or was it?

Guess what, people looked right at Jesus all the time & didn't have faith. Jesus heals a blind man right under the noses of the Pharisees...right? Oh no, the blind guy was faking it. That jerk. Pretending his whole life to be blind just to confect this stunt with Jeezus. Sitting around the pool for years, "oh, woe is me." And his parents, too, they were in on it. The worst scum; conniving liars. Don't deserve to come to synagogue. Fess up, liars, or you're anathema. Or imagine Thomas without faith: yeah, I stuck my fingers in, all it proves is He didn't really die, just pretended to....I'm so disillusioned. Jesus let me down.

Think of the Pharisees, their whole life was study and faith, they knew, knew, God could not have a's blasphemous. Disgusting even. God's up there, we're down here, an infinite distance between perfection and sin. The God-man notion, we know better than that, and everyone else should know better, too. Look at Jesus...he ain't even clean! Dat ain't God. Going crazy when Jesus does the presumably easy thing, telling the paralytic, "your sins are forgiven," then asks, "which is easier?" and then does the presumably hard thing, telling the paralytic to get up and walk. Which he does. The apoplexy! The pride!
The hearts of stone....Ezekiel warned you! So don't kid yourself, you could've seen it all, every miracle, and still not believed. We like to say we can see when we are blind...and so our sin remains. Yeah, I know that line, but I really can see, no sin here. I ain't blind; I ain't no Pharisee....see?
I reflect on the paralytic story: which is easier? In the case of the paralytic, the hard thing was to be able to forgive sin....getting him to walk was no big deal, relatively speaking, but the truth about the two things was not obvious. Indeed the truth was the opposite of one's first impression. And this couplet: which is harder/which is easier that Jesus posited, is useful for comparing other aspects of faith.
So at every Mass I tend to ask myself, which is easier: for God to make Himself physically, truly present as a human being in 30AD, or for Him to make Himself physically, truly present today under the appearance of Bread & Wine? soon as I find a Pharisee, I'll ask him.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

North and West Germanic

I love languages. Doesn't everybody? Some words are just magic to me, I can look at them & say them to myself over & over and just marinate in their wonderfulness. Like having a Manhattan, but without the glass, ice, vermouth, whiskey, and bitters.

My absolute favorite word is daughter...daughter...daughter...where was I? Oh yeah. Now, I have two daughters, but I liked the word before I was married and had them. And while I like the word, I love my daughters. And I like to call them daughter, as in "Daughter Alexandra, please feed the dogs," or "Daughter Francesca, please take out the trash," or "Daughters! Dinner!" Plus it's a little tribute to my 5th & 7th grade teacher, Sr. Alphonsus. Her father addressed her as 'daughter' when she was a girl, and I am still taken with that. I am not digressing.

Anyway, one of the things I like about daughter is it looks old, sounds old, and means something old. To say it is to remind myself that parents have been making essentially that same sound for more than a thousand years in many languages. It makes me feel a kinship with with all those millions, to make a sound meaning girl offspring and know they'd recognize it, even if they didn't speak modern English, or English at all, for that matter.

Now, we don't say daughter as it's spelled....but we used to. Imagine saying it, oh, a mere 1,000 years ago: dochter, with a ch as in Loch Ness. that sounds like real English: thick & unhurried, like a pint of stout. That's actually how the Dutch say it today: dochter. Which is close to modern German: tochter. And how we do say it today, dottir, is how it's spelled in Iceland and Norway; datter in Danish; dotter in Swedish, you get the picture, they're all North or West Germanic, no surprises.

One of our dottirs is adopted from Russia. Russian's an East Slavic tongue. I'd expect Russians to say something all Russiany such as.... zhelinka. I just made that does sound good though, doesn't it? "Zhelinka Aleksandra, please feed the dogs." I like that.

But nooOOOoooo, the Russian word is дочь, doch! (dotch, with a longer o than botch or notch) Doesn't seem all that Russian to me. How'd that Germanic word get into Russian?

Ah...turns out doch is Russian, part of the Balto-Slavic family, it's not borrowing. It's older than West Germanic and Balto-Slavic. So, how far back does daughter go in some form? Farther back in time than we can tell from written records, considering that even ancient (as in ancient Greek) languages in India and Persia used similar words. Scholars, speculating on an original, prehistoric source language labeled 'Indo-European' (not a real language), propose a proto-word for daughter, dhugheter, that would date from at least 2500 BC to as far back as 10,000 BC.

Imagine me going back 12,000 years and showing some nomad in Asia a pic of my girls, saying 'daughter' to him, and him understanding me just fine. In a single word a dozen millennia vanish. One of the most ancient sounds ever made by humans, and in spite of all the time and space and development and knowledge and sophistication that lies between us and that dimmest of pasts, we still make that same primal sound all around the world today. Daughter....daughter.

And my word, that is important to me. People die, but language lives. Ebbs, flows, gets thinner, thicker, shorter, longer, more spunky, more smooth, moves to the front of the mouth, to the back, becomes what each generation thinks is beautiful. Like the people who create it as they use it, it won't be limited by outside forces, defies efforts to control it. It's handed down through time out of mind, a living connection to the past like the laying on of hands. Our ancestors burst out of us every time we speak.

As Shakespeare would say, what a piece of work is Man.

I do love languages.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Let's Get Physical

In today's Wall Street Journal, a letter-writer responded to this article: The Shroud of Turin: Faith, Proof and Relics - with this letter: Letters - You don't have to read either one.
In part, he wrote:

"The desire for physical connection to Christ's human existence, however well-intentioned, may reflect more of a human weakness rather than a rational search for truth. If one is a Christian, the value of any holy artifact, even the actual shroud of Christ, is inconsequential relative to the sacrificial act of dying for mankind's sins. An obsession with relics can be a distraction from that fundamental truth."

Well, yeah, an obsession with anything is bad...that's part of the definition. I don't pay too much attention to the Shroud myself: the Wind of Science blows this way.....then that way....then another way. Who can say if the Shroud wrapped Jesus? But besides that, I believe the writer suffers from The Western Disease, i.e., discounting the physical as a valid (may I say equal) way to access God, while unduly favoring the spiritual, which is often a stalking-horse for the 'Rational' 'Intellect.' (That last bit was a digression)

Anyway, the writer mentions the Golden Calf: "the people of Israel lose faith in God and build a golden calf to worship, an apparent human need to have a comforting physical representation of their deity." The problem I have with this is yes, worshiping the Golden Calf was a sin, but wanting a comforting physical relationship with the 'deity' is not. We're weak, we have needs....yes we do. God knows this, loves us, and responds accordingly.

Let's remember, a non-physical God made Adam from dirt, Eve from a rib. Yet the relationship of God & Man in the Garden was in some sense physical. God the Father has no body, yet Adam & Eve related to him through their physical natures as well as spiritual (e.g, Gen 3:8). This access was broken by the Fall, but the desire for humans to know God through both their natures remained.

For millennia, then, God remained physically remote in a direct sense (he was still indirectly physically accessible in a limited way through media, e.g., the tablets, Moses' stick, Elisha's bones, Elijah's cloak, the Jordan river, etc.). Remember poor Moses, 40 days on Sinai, all that time in the meeting tent...."could I just have a little peek at your face, LORD, I just wanna see" and God says, "'d kill ya." And who isn't like Moses, or Thomas, "yeah, but....I wanna see. Please?"

And this is the great change with Jesus. People could see God, hold onto him, hear his words go out of his mouth and right into their ears; they could even smell him. No more Moses wanting a glimpse, just a glimpse. And Jesus worked all his miracles through people's physical encounters with his physical nature. Lord, my son is possessed; Lord my daughter is dead; if I can just touch His tassel; let me wash off this mud from my eyes; let me pull some bread & fish out of this basket; let's lower our friend through the roof. Nobody said, "hey Jesus is in town, let's all pray for him to heal our paralyzed friend" or "I'll pray for Him to heal my leprosy." No. It was "hey Jesus is in town, it's time for action." Remember the paralytic's friends? Jesus saw their faith, because he saw what they did physically, through his own physical nature. And so could everyone else who was there.
But to believe a man was God presented its own many Pharisees looked right at Jesus working miracles, and insisted on not believing? Even Thomas had to have faith.

This is a great gift: God made us with bodies and souls. In spite of the wreck sin has made of the natural order of things, both body & soul are good, and we were created to know & love God through both natures. And Jesus having a body (He still has it, BTW) makes it possible for us to do so even today (the technical term for this is 'incarnation,' a word I'm not fond of. It just goes in one ear & out the other). But can we access Jesus' physical nature through something besides our own bodies? No. Even everything I know about other peoples' souls I infer from using my senses to observe what they say and do with their bodies, their physical natures.
So what does this have to do with things now? Let me recount some Wednesday Sunday School:

I use a bone (2Kings 13:21), my suit jacket (2Kings 2:6-14), and a rag (Acts 19:11-12) among other things to act out how God uses things as conduits, as media for His power. By the way, the bone is a chicken bone, we just pretend it comes from's not worth anything on the black market.

We act these things out, and read the story as needed: oh no, here come bandits! No time right now to bury him, just throw him down there on Elisha's bones, we'll come back when it's safe.

How am I gonna get back over the river....?
Dear wife, our daughter is gonna die, but Paul is in town. She's too sick to move, what'll we do? Give me your apron, I'll go to Paul..... I'm back, I got close enough to press the apron against Paul's skin.....let's cover her with it.

Note that in 2Kings 2:6-14 the cloak continued to mediate God's power even after Elijah was gone, which points out that God's power didn't abandon the cloak after Elijah's departure. We might observe that Elijah had already authorized Elisha to succeed him, so maybe it doesn't have anything to do with the cloak, per se, but the authority of the wielder. Maybe so. Maybe not.
But who were the nobodies who used aprons and facecloths to carry healing to the sick and possessed? Probably just faithful Christians. And might the power persist over time? Would the faithful treasure those cloths, those aprons until they wore out? Could they heal more than just one person, one time? Given that these miracles happened after Jesus had ascended, and Paul had not known Jesus during his earthly ministry, is it reasonable to think the healing remained in the items as long as they lasted and weren't tied to Paul's authority? Was it it reasonable, or superstitious, to do the apron thing in the first place?

So I use this line of thinking to explain the reasonableness of relics, and as an introduction to sacraments. God's grace & power continue to flow through physical things, including people and their dead bodies. EEeewww! chorus the 6th grade girls.

Here's a question: was God with Abraham? Yes. Was he with...Noah? Yes. Moses? Yes. David? Yeah. Ezekiel, Isaiah, all the rest? Yes, of course. Now jump ahead to Jesus, (Matt 28:20) "I am with you always, until the end of the age." Uh-huh, so what's new? But the apostles weren't going to be losing God spiritually as Noah might have; they were going to miss His physical presence. I believe Jesus, whose distinction among the Trinity is his physical existence, meant not just that he'd be with us always spiritually, but physically as well. Thus through sacraments, especially the Eucharist (another word I'm not fond of....don't care for 'communion' either), Jesus provides that physical link to his body. He ascended with it and still has it. I assume it exists as matter in dimensional space (sounds like another post gestating) somewhere, and he makes it objectively available to us in our limited reality through the Eucharist. So he's still with us, spiritually and physically.

So back to the letter: "The desire for physical connection to Christ's human existence, however well-intentioned, may reflect more of a human weakness rather than a rational search for truth." Our desire for a physical connection to Christ's human existence is correctly-intentioned, reflects human weakness only as a consequence of sin, not as a consequence of physical existence itself, and is an indispensable part of a rational search for truth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Presbyopia/ Tempus Fugit

My family (minus the sons) went to the beach last week (daughters' spring break). Our tradition is to do at least one 1,000 piece puzzle during that week. Last year I had no trouble doing a puzzle. This year my vision had changed enough that I wished I'd brought reading glasses- couldn't focus on the pieces at the distance I was used to.

The steady drip, drip, drip, of mortality leaks on.

It's just like my wife & I say: No Loitering.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dark Wine and a Thousand Roses

Around 1981 I was in school in Italy, took a train to Berlin. Enroute I shared a compartment for a while with an older, proper German Burgher who looked askance of the Innocent Abroad. But I had a bottle of Amaretto & some plastic cups, and his English was very American, so we got to talking, and maybe I wasn't so callow after all.

So, where are you going in Germany?


Why are you going to Berlin?

To visit a German girl I met last month....she's a student in Berlin.

And where is she from?

Near Bamberg.

O-ho! A Franconian girl!

Um, yeah (I guess).........your English is very good, how'd you learn to speak without an accent?

Ah. Yes. I was prisoner in America during the War, I learned a lot of English.


In Mississippi. There were a group of us who worked on farms in the country. We had a camp we lived in, but went out to work each day & returned on our own. We even got paid a bit so we could buy cigarettes and so forth at the stores like anyone else.

You weren't locked up?

No, there was nowhere we could escape to; besides, there was no reason to escape. We all knew the war was lost. When I arrived in America by ship, we were put on a train to Mississippi. Looking out the window, I saw a factory which was building vehicles. Hundreds of them filled a lot in front of the building. I pointed this out to a guard. He laughed & said those cars were owned by the workers. I couldn't imagine such a thing. That's when I knew it was over for Germany.

But we enjoyed life in Missisippi. Many of us didn't want to leave after the war. Some of us fell in love, some became like sons to the families they worked for.

We used to put on magic shows around where we worked. One night we were putting on a show for some very poor, uneducated people. When the magician started to saw the man in the box in half, a man in the audience jumped up & shouted, "Stop! No, don't kill him!" He thought it was real. I don't think they knew what magic was.

So where were you captured?

In Normandy. I had been wounded earlier and was in a rocket unit.....we had these steel frames the rockets went on. We were all kids, hardly knew how to use them and so.

Huh....were you captured around Falaise?

Yes. You know about Falaise?

Yeah, some.

The smell of all the dead men and horses was terrible....

I've read that....must have been awful. So where were you before Normandy?

Oh....I was in Russia.

Where in Russia, north, south....?

North....different places.


No, not so far north.

Hmmm...Staraya Russa? Velikiye Luki? Demyansk?

Yes.... you know these places?

I've read about them.

He paused, stared at nothing. Then said, "Russia was too big. Nobody could conquer it. It was just too big."
Why I asked this next question I'll never know, but I am glad even today that I did so: what sort of books were you reading then? He perked right up at that.

Oh, we were all reading the Cornet, by Rilke. We didn't understand Rilke, but we read him. We were too young, really.

He subsided again.

Then we mostly sat there sipping Amaretto until he got off in Munich. I'd never heard of Rilke or the Cornet, but back in America I ordered a copy, having no idea what it was. Turned out to be a small book: Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke/ The Song of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke. About 70 pages, 1 paragraph per page, left page German, facing page English. Something between poetry and prose. Something that showed German to be beautiful, artful, mysterious, uniquely expressive. Nominally about a 17th century soldier riding East against the Turk, but that's not what it's about, exactly. Or especially.

I had been used to tourist German, movie German. This Rilke German was nothing like any German I knew of...I mean, can you imagine lush German? Caressing German? Ya kiddin' rite? And so much of the impact of the words didn't translate into English...why not?

Well, I'm not going to quote gobs of Cornet, it's easy enough to find online or at libraries. I'll confine myself to this one line I've returned to again and again for more than 25 years:

Aus dunklem Wein und tausend Rosen rinnt die Stunde rauschend in den Traum der Nacht.

In English: Out of dark wine and a thousand roses runs the hour rushing into the dream of night.

I think it's pretty good in English, but still......not as good. This sentence persuaded me that everything may not be equally expressed in every tongue, and that to access the fullness of what an author intends, the text should be read in the original language. The sentence in English does not generate the mystery, the peace, the calm, the serenity, the (uh-oh, here it comes) je ne sais quoi, the ineffable something that moves me right now.

And to imagine percolating on this for so many years, and yet I'm really no closer to understanding or even putting into words what hold it has on me. This frustration at being unable to express what is very real points me again to life beyond death; I'm a sinful person stuck in a sin-cracked world which stunts my full potential, and I sense it. I ought to, should be able to understand fully at least this single German sentence. Yet even such a tiny thing eludes me. As St. Paul says, "For now we see through a glass, darkly...but then shall I know."

I'm ready for the "then shall I know" part.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

plus de Tempus Fugit

Last week the Fabulous Wife, my father & I went to Atlanta to visit my 39-year-old 'baby' sister, who gave birth to her first daughter about a month ago. We'd been there an hour or so, I was holding the baby. I said, "Oh yeah...this baby is my niece....not my granddaughter."

The FW laughed & pointed out the girl's grandfather was actually sitting there with us. Yeah....yeah....that's right. My niece.

After I became a brother, all babies seemed like my siblings.
After I became a father, all babies seemed like my children.
Now that I'm a grandfather, they all seem like my grandkids.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Current Events

The kids are always stimulated by using material that's not in the textbook to teach a lesson. And they like it when they're expected to rise above being just a "6th grader." For example, today I read this article in the Wall Street Journal about the Catholic use of YouTube to disseminate the anti-abortion message:

The critical quote is, "We're able to reach people directly," said Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. He stars in a series of matter-of-fact videos that explain how abortions are performed, with a plastic model of a fetus as a prop."

I have a plastic fetus I received from the Family Honor program a few years ago, it's a great prop, the kids've seen it a half-dozen times already. Here's the quick 2-minute pitch I made with the article & the fetus:

I started by asking the class if they've ever heard of YouTube, which gets them laughing & perked up, since who doesn't know what YouTube is? Ya kiddin' rite? YouTube... what fun!

Then I showed the front page of the WSJ, said I consider it America's best newspaper. Turned to the article, described it briefly, including the YouTube reference, then read the aforementioned quote. Right before I get to the part about the fetus, I bring my fetus up from behind the newspaper. They focus on the fetus for a second before they hear "plastic fetus." Putting down the paper, we do some review about abortion and have a laugh at how the Wall Street Journal and YouTube are just now catching up to our class, which has been hip to plastic fetuses for months.

I close by noting the Catholic Church is hated by some people (and remember, Jesus was hated too) for opposing things like abortion, that YouTube can be more than entertainment. Then I kiss the fetus & speak to it like you'd kiss and talk to a baby, silly goo-goo talk "you're such a sweet little thing, you're so cute," so the kids'll cringe "eeeewww" and I remind them, hey don't "eeeww" me, you used to look just like this! Were you a person then? Yes! That's right, you were!
This is standard every time the fetus makes an appearance, so they kind of expect to groan, and then be reprimanded. By doing this I hope to get them past how weird fetuses look, and to accept them as regular babies.