Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Page 94

There's your problem

I recently finished reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's a how-to book on Newly Evangelizing yourself; then your parish; and then the world. I mark up books like this and later go back to re-read the marked-up bits.

I was Confirmed in 1968 or so. I was also Baltimore Catechized, and understood that Bishop Unterkoefler was going to lay hands on me and I would receive Gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as...well, I forget. I was 11. Anyway, when you're Confirmed, you get 'em: charisms. So I got Confirmed but never did feel any different, like I had gotten some ka-riz-um. (Chaucer! Rabelais! Balzac!)

Living in South Carolina can be bracing for Catholics. Partly because one might not have at any given instant the best answer to a polemical question; but also because dialogue seems to give way so quickly to argument and uncharity. Is uncharity a word? It is.

One afternoon in 1998 I was at home around lunchtime to let the bug-killer spray the house. Nice young man, mid 20s or so, comes in with his gear, starts spraying. Notices the Jesus 'n' Mary statues; the Crucifix; the palms. He says, I see you have statues of Jesus and Mary...are y'all Catholic? "Yes, we are," and I'm gettin' stressed for the usual grind. Well, can I ask you some questions about that? "Sure, go ahead." And it's mostly the regular questions- but some were deeper, more informed, more inquiring, more than just boilerplate. I was really having to think and respond to particulars, and consequently feeling more tense than usual.

Then all of a sudden I was perfectly calm and relaxed. I seemed to have no involvement with the engaging responses that came out of my mouth. I was in an evangelical flow state, being lifted up and out, thinking and conversing in this weird, effortless, liberating, charitable, open way. And I thought, "Wow...could this be a Confirmation Gift of the Holy Spirit? A charism? Who'd'a thunk it after all these years?" I continued to accompany the bugman as he walked around the inside and outside of the house for the next 30-odd minutes, answering questions, asking a few, having a pointed yet pleasant conversation. Then we sat down while he wrote up his bill, which took the rest of the hour, as we were still talking. Only once did things get a bit tense, I think it was over good works in this bit by St. Paul:  "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life...glory and honor and peace for every one who worketh good." But neither of us felt compelled to beat the other up over it, to win. Before he left, I learned that Mr. Bug Killer was only part-time, and was studying at Bob Jones for his divinity degree. He said he enjoyed our Christian dialogue; and while I hadn't persuaded him of anything it was interesting nonetheless. I agreed, and he left, both of us grinning like Cheshire Cats.

Page 94 of Sherry's book is in a section titled "Discerning Charisms." Like me, everyone has them, but we don't all get identical doses. And also like me, people often don't know what their charisms are. Sherry writes:

"...charisms almost always manifest after the point in our life when our faith becomes personal..."

Which was true in my case. But more specifically, she adds:

"They may also manifest for the first time when we meet a person or situation for which that particular gift is needed."

Which perfectly describes my'd she know that?

I marked up the rest of page 94 with additional underlining, brackets, and comments such as: Yes; Yes; Absolutely. A whole page of remarkable observations about my own experience of charisms. I could say more, but it's better if you read page 94 (and the rest of the book) yourself.

Order direct here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I Already Know About the Bible

 ...and they followed the North Star to Baby Jesus' igloo.

I remember the time one of my kids came up to me after class looking serious.

"Hey, Stratopops? Hey, what? I...I want to be moved to 7th grade. Oh yeah? Why's that? I'm in 7th grade in school, but I went to a Christian school last year, so this year I got put in your 6th grade class. Besides, I already know what you're teaching. Oh...what am I teaching that you already know? The Bible, we learned it in Christian school. Hey, that's great, you have a head start. So you already know what Melchizedek has to do with Mass? Well, we didn't learn about Mass. Oh. How about Melchizedek, you already knew about him before we covered him a couple of weeks ago? No we didn't have that. Oh. How about Isaac and Abraham? I know about them. Do you know what they have to do with Mass? No, we didn't talk about Mass! Oh yeah, that's right. How about Manoah and the angel? What? You know, Manoah, Samson's daddy, and the angel? Y'all didn't cover them I guess. Umm, no. Or how that angel is part of Mass? Uh-uh.

How about Passover? Yes! And what does Passover have to do with Mass? I don't know. That's ok, we'll cover that later. And Moses and the bread and flesh in the desert? Yes! And how that fits in with Mass? We didn't have that. about sprinkling blood on the people, and mixing it with water and all that? We didn't have that. Huh...we were learning about the Meeting Tent last week, didja know about it? Yes! Good! Do you already know how a Catholic Church is like the Tent? Huh? Never mind, we'll get to that next week. Look, it's ok with me if you move to 7th grade, it's not my call anyway. But there's a whole lot about the Bible and Mass and being Catholic that we'll learn this year that you wouldn't get in Christian school, and because you already know a lot of Bible stuff it'll be interesting for you. So I think you oughta stay in my class."

So- did this child stay in my class? Umm...I don't remember.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Not in the Book

Last week one of the kids asked how old God is. This is one of a batch of God-questions, including: what created God/ when did God start/ what did God make the universe out of/ how can he know the future if it hasn't happened yet/ how big is God/ how do we know there's a God/ how can he know everything, etc. I get asked one or more of them every year, and this is a flexible model for how I answer them:

"Honorary son, that's a great question: how old is God? The short answer is that God has no age because He created Time just like he created a tree, a camel, or the Sun. How did he create those things? He just thought about them! Yes. Can the Sun burn God or give him a tan? No, that's silly. Right; stuff God thinks into existence can't control or limit him; so like the Sun, Time has no effect on God...see? But if he's been alive for millions of years isn't he old? [Sometimes this pitch works on 6th-graders, but not this time.] Well, no. But let's try something else.

Who knows who JK Rowling is? I do, she wrote Harry Potter. Yes. Any of y'all read any Harry Potter books? A couple of you...anyone seen the movies? Everybody, good. Are those characters real? No. Right- but in the books are they real? Yes! No! Try this: do any of the characters realize they are in a book? No! OK. Now those 7 books each cover a year in Harry's life. Did the author need a year to write each one? What? If the time in a book covers a year in a character's life, does that mean the author wrote it in a year? No, that's silly. Why is it silly? Because the person who wrote the book isn't in the book, they wrote it! Yes. But suppose I wrote a book about a real year of my own life, so I was in the book: would that take me a year to write? No, the time it takes to write it doesn't have anything to do with how much time is in it!  Right. But how about if you read a book: does the time you spend reading it match the time-span in the book? No they don't have anything to do with each other either. Yes. How about if the story is in the desert...would you be hot? No! And if it were in a blizzard? I wouldn't be cold. Right. And if you were an author, could you write about England while you lived in America? You can write a book about anywhere! You don't have to be there! Uh-huh. So can the world in a book affect the author or the reader in any way? Just how they feel. Yes. And if we sin and ignore God...he feels sad. Yes. So tell me about God and the Universe he created: does it make him hot? No? Cold? No! Hungry? No! Does gravity pull him around? No! Does time make him get old? No! Is he tall or short? No! Fast or slow? No! Sleepy at night? No! Right. God's the author of the Universe: the stuff he created doesn't control him or limit him, not even gravity or distance or time."

If time permits I might expand the discussion to preemptively answer other similar questions. It's usually better to cover related bits comprehensively rather than piecemeal. For example, this is how I would typically extend the subject into God's omniscience:

"Now remind me how God creates. He just thinks of stuff and that makes it real. Right, like when God thought, "let there be light"...there was light. Yes. How long did God need to imagine light? Well, he just did it, I don't think it took any time. Yes, it was instantaneous. And how did JK get the idea for Harry Potter? She just thought of it? Sure. That's usually the first step for humans to create something, too: to think of it. We often do things in a God-way because in Genesis, God made Adam from...dirt! Yes, and...he breathed into Adam's mouth! Yes so we've got God's creative spirit in us in a way that animals don't. But if JK imagines Harry, is he real? No. Right. So her creativity isn't equal to God's. They're related but not comparable by any means. But still, she may have created her first idea about Harry instantaneously, like the way God creates.

So tell me what Harry knew about himself when he was little. He knew he was a wizard and his parents were dead. Yes. Did he know his future? No. But did the author know about Harry's future? Yes. In fact, who knew everything about Harry...Harry? No, the author! And about the whole world of the books: who knew all about it? The author! Yes. Because if she hadn't thought of every single person and thing and detail in the books, including Harry's past and his future...then none of it would be there. Right, the only reason any of it exists is that she imagined it, created it. So, who knows my future? God? Yes, why? 'Cause he made you. Yes, God's my author, so to speak; and what else did God make? Well, he made everything. Yes, and to create everything is to...know everything? Yes."

Or our knowledge of God:

"What does Harry know about JK Rowling? Nothing. Right. But suppose he got the idea that his world was created by something or someone...then could he determine who or what it was? I don't think he could figure that out. Right. But suppose JK wanted Harry the character to know about her, the author. How could she do that? Well, she'd have to get into the book and tell him I guess. Yes. She'd have to reveal things about herself in the book. Maybe Harry would find an old, mysterious note about the "Author"; or she might even appear in the book as herself, JK Rowling. That sounds weird. Maybe; but how has God appeared in our world? The Burning Bush? Yes, but I'm thinking about a person. Jesus! Yes. So what's the only way Harry could really know anything about JK Rowling? She'd have to tell him. Yes, tell him where? In the book! Yes, in Harry's world which she created; kinda like how God reveals himself to us in our world, which he created."

BTW, I don't have any compelling opinion about Harry Potter one way or another; it's just a series all the kids are familiar with. Probably a computer role-playing game would work better as an analogy, but I don't think enough of the kids know what they are.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Greenville-Ephrathah 9: Organic Gravity

Little Ephrathah 

My Fabulous Wife & I had Sunday lunch with a Priest Acquaintance of ours; his Wife; a visiting Catholic Author; and a Deacon Acquaintance, who commented on the burgeoning Catholic Gravity of another Bible-Belt American City Which Shall Remain Nameless. How does its gravity compare to Li'l 'phrathah's?

That's a good question. Li'l 'phrathah is about one tenth the size of Gargantua; obviously 10 kilos has 10 times the gravity of 1 kilo. And any Southerner or Stalinist can tell ya [although from opposing viewpoints] that quantity has a quality all its own. But still, here's a case where quality has a quantity all its own. What quality? Why, the quality of...organicness. Or organicity; or both. See, while Gargantua does have Catholic Gravity, it's mostly Institutional. Top-down. Cathedral. Higher Education. Seminary. Big Numbers. And there's nothing wrong with that, y'know? But 'phrathah's gravity is bottom-up, lay-driven, informally-structured, self-organizing, self-motivating, self-energizing, diffuse, nimble. A Catholic Swarm Intelligence transcending local parish boundaries and other geographies.

Of course, a bottom-up approach isn't unique to the Upstate. Check out these Cascadia guys, they get it too. Put in more familiar terms, what we are seeing are evolving, living models of the New Evangelization.