Friday, September 27, 2013

King Kong

This post links to Convert Journal.

At a recent online discussion, someone asked "how the pastor could take the Scripture readings and leach all the dynamism out of them in his sermon."

I think it comes from the way we learn Scripture. The Bible gets domesticated by the assorted processes through which Scripture is taught to Catholics (and maybe others as well). But if one simply reads the Bible directly, without filtering, on its own terms, then it stands alone in the history of literature as a compelling work. Think of King Kong in the jungle; compare that to King Kong in chains on the stage in New York. See? 

So you don't like me likening the Bible to a giant movie ape. Try this instead:



Don't experience the Bible only through veils and screens; repackaged, edited, condensed, mediated and managed. Pick it up and read it yourself. You don't need a reason, or an agenda, or a guide, any structure, or any preconceptions. Just read it, and don't quit reading it. It's not conveniently organized? Hard to understand? Good: it's not supposed to be mannered or easily tamed.

Let the Bible loose in your life and it will roar.

Gorilla by David C Berliner
Roaring Lion by Paul Fisher
Caged Lion from onearth  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Letter to Parents 2013

Wednesday Night Sunday School has changed a lot in the last 2 years, figured it was time to update my letter to the parents:

September 4, 2013

Dear Parents of 6th Grade Religious Ed Students,

1. You are invited to come to class anytime. Parents who do come tend to enjoy it, and every additional adult in the room improves the learning environment.

2. There's no book for this class, and no homework. Isn't that great? This year we'll cover the whole Bible, from Genesis through Revelations; and follow that with the Mass, and how the Bible relates to Mass. So if you've never looked at the Bible in one big sweep, now's your chance.

3. On the other hand, every week builds on the prior weeks' information, so the more your child comes to class and participates in discussion, the easier it is to keep up and have fun learning.  Encourage your child to pay attention, participate, and not interfere with other students' learning.

4. Sometimes the children will bring home color handouts of fine art that we use to spark discussion in class. Have your child explain what he or she learned about those handouts. Now that I think about, make them tell you what they learned after every class, handout or not. Explaining to you what they learn is part of their evangelization practice.

5. We take attendance; please have your child come to class regularly and on time.

6. Encourage your child to contribute to discussions, and to ask questions. At the start of each class students can ask any question about God/ religion/ Christianity/ Catholicism/ current events/ encounters with non-Catholics/ you name it. We want the kids to get answers to their faith questions; if they don't ask 'em, we can't answer 'em!

7. Encourage your child to sit toward the front; it's the easiest place to learn, and harder to be bored there.

8. You can contact me at 123-4567 or with any questions or comments.

Thanks for your support,

Christian LeBlanc      

Monday, September 23, 2013

Catechists' Workshop

Demonstrated some of my favorite Bible-based catechizing techniques twice at a diocesan event this past weekend.  Had 75 minutes to work with each time, cut into five 15-minute units:

1. Drawing as a teaching tool

2. Using skits as a teaching tool.

3. Teaching through learning bits of New Testament Greek.

4. Using fine art as a teaching tool.

5. Using props as teaching tools.

I presented the first four methods the same way as I did last March at another event. A synopsis of that 60-minute session is here: Teachers' Conference.
For the 5th unit, I used a balloon, a rubber fetus, two beach towels, three volunteers, and an umbrella to make a few observations about Mary's perpetual virginity. The essential content is here.

It was the quickest 75 minutes of my life, and I'm ready for another gig.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


 This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
Originally posted at New Evangelizers

Y'all know how the New Evangelization means you have to actually speak to, well, people. Sometimes people you don't know. Standing in front of you. About religious stuff. Aack. It's not for everybody.

Or is it?

I try to meet someone I don't know after Mass at least every couple of weeks. I have terrible social skills, but I do find people interesting. So it’s easier for me to ask questions at first instead jumping right into an impromptu conversation with strangers. This is typical:

"Hey, I don't know you from Adam, I'm Christian; that blonde over there is my wife Janet. Who are y'all? Hello...nice to meet you. Where ya from? Ya married, rite? How'd y’all meet? When did ya first consider him marriage material? Ha! And how did you propose? Wow. So what's your maiden name? Izzat Czech? Oh, Hungarian. What generation American are you?  Where were ya born? How’d ya'll wind up here? Are y'all Catholic or just visiting? Catholic? Cradle or convert? You're cradle...did you grow up in an ethnic parish? And you're a convert.  Janet's a convert, I'm cradle. So tell me a little bit of your conversion story...uh-huh...uh-huh. How's ya faith journey doin' since ya been Catholic? Yeah, there's a lot to learn. How’d ya pick this parish? How long ya been inna parish? Still suits ya? Did you do RCIA here? How'd you like it? Who taught it? How was he? Did you learn anything that was surprising? Yeah...uh-huh. Ya been ta da parish breakfas' yet? No? Ya wanna try dat, the food is way good an' not jus' coffee'n'flapjacks: eggs Benedict, omelets, way cool. Plus ya get some Cath'lic fellaship...yeah it's weird, idnit? But people like it. And kids eat cheap. These are yours, rite? So how old are y'all? Are y'all in catechism? Yeah? I teach 6th grade, you'll get me if I live another couple of years. This ya regular Mass? Yeah I like it too, I like all the singing. So it's been a couple of years, how's the New Translation suit ya? Yeah, I like it better too but I still hafta read the Creed..."

It's not a template like cold-callers use, but it's an approach that works for me. Maybe something similar would work for you. Be not afraid.

*Ледокол, Ledokol, Icepick, Icebreaker...geddit?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

To the Parents of the World

 This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Every 6th-grader on the planet should be in Wednesday Night Sunday School: Catholic, Christian, Cossack, Cathar, I don't care. I don't care if the parents won't make cookies, are bad Catholics, non-Catholics, Atheists, the Worst Scum of the Universe, or the Antichrist. I don't care if they ever go to Mass, or Confession, or if they Live in Sin. I don't want any parent anywhere who could bring their child to my class to have a single reason not to do so.

To the Parents of the 6th-Graders of the World: just bring ya kid t'class. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

"Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." And he laid his hands on them and went away."

Bible + Mass = 2 Hours

Had a great day yesterday at a high-school youth group retreat. Two 1-hour sessions evangelizing teens through the subject of Sacrifice/ Worship History. I know what I can cover in 30 about 2 hours?

Rough outline:

Genesis: quick account of Creation. No sacrifice in Eden. Worship apparently a matter of obeying a few commandments: be fruitful and multiply; don't eat meat; don't eat the fruit. Of course, the notion of "worship" is a poor description of hanging out with God 24/7 in a sin-free world.

After the Fall, Abel and Cain are offering sacrifice; in Abel's case, killing and offering sacrifice. Why are they offering sacrifices? What do Cain and Abel offer? Why does it matter?

Noah and a new covenant. What is an ark? Why is it ok to eat meat now?

Abraham and a new covenant. Abraham arrives in Canaan, builds an altar, offers a thanksgiving sacrifice. What's with the altar? Why bother with one? The Greek word for giving-thanks is Eucharisteo. Why does that matter?

Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and the sacrifice of only-begotten Isaac. Why isn't everyone more upset? Why on a mountain? God provides a ram- why?

Baby Moses and his ark; Moses, Pharaoh, Passover. Family elders sacrificed the lambs whose blood was sprinkled and whose flesh was eaten. Why was blood used to mark Hebrew houses? Why did the lambs have to be eaten?

Moses and a new covenant. In the wilderness Moses offers slain bulls to the LORD, sprinkles half of the blood on the altar, half on the people. Why? What kind of offering is this?

Starving in the wilderness, Israelites complain that in Egypt they had plenty of bread, and "fleshpots" to eat meat from. God provides miracle bread and flesh in the form of manna and quail.

The Golden Calf.  Elders are no longer fit to handle their families' sacrifices. From now on, only Levite priests will do this (elder-presbyteros-priest). Established rituals for confessing sin, making atonement, and obtaining forgiveness. But will this get a forgiven sinner into Heaven? Why not?

Other rituals involve sprinkling of blood and water mixed together to provide cleansing (e.g.,of leprosy) and atonement.

God instructs Moses to provide him with a tent so he may dwell among his people. God's earthly home is patterned on his heavenly home. It's very glamorous. He also instructs Moses to build an ark. Plan of Meeting Tent and Ark of the Covenant, and how they work.

After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites settle down. The Tent resides in Shiloh. Due to Israel's sins, the Ark is captured in battle. Later Israel gets the Ark back, but God never dwells again in desolate Shiloh.

King Saul isn't working out. Samuel is sent by the LORD to anoint one of Jesse's sons as Saul's replacement. He journeys to little Bethlehem, and surprisingly pours the oil on the youngest and least significant of the lot: David.

King David captures Jerusalem, brings the ark into the city. He plans to build the LORD a permanent house, as the Israelites are no longer nomads. But David's serious sins involving Bathsheba make him unworthy to do so. David repents of his sins and receives forgiveness. Yet their firstborn is taken by God as atonement.

David writes the Psalms which become standards for prayer and worship, both sung and spoken. David's son Solomon builds the Temple, whose plan is based on the Meeting Tent, which was based on the pattern in heaven. Israel glorifies God by building a glorious house in which he'll dwell among his people.

Israel now has a stable system for sacrifice and worship. The Temple is mainly for sacrifice because God dwells there; and at synagogues the faithful sing hymns, pray, listen to the Scriptures be read aloud, sing Psalms, and listen to commentary on the Scripture readings.

After Solomon, the kingdom fractures into Samaria and Judea. Henceforth, a succession of bigger enemies conquer them or require tribute. Babylon destroys the Temple and takes the captive nation away to Mesopotamia. Years later they return, and rebuild the Temple.

Elijah scolds King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel for allowing the people to worship false gods. Elijah flees for his safety into the wilderness. A raven supplies Elijah with miracle bread and flesh.

The people yearn for a savior to restore the  Kingdom. They want another David, an Anointed One. They use an old Egyptian word for this person upon whom oil is ritually poured: Msha > Mashiah > Messiah. Or in Greek, the Chrismated One: the Christ.

Isaiah has a vision of the heavenly worship:  "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." Ya ever heard that before?

God chooses Isaiah to speak for him. Isaiah says to straighten up: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain."

Because to tell the truth, God is fed up with hard-hearted people going through the motions: "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me." Uh-oh.

The people want another David, but Isaiah prophesies otherwise: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse...he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked." What's this "Messiah" gonna do- kiss his enemies to death?

And the Messiah won't provide for just the Chosen Ones: "On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things full of marrow, of wine well-refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces..."

And everybody knows messiahs aren't meek- what Isaiah's problem? "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench...many were astonished at him-- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men-- so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him.' Remind me about sprinkling, please.

And messiahs are popular: "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Wrong again, Isaiah.

And messiahs aren't sacrifices, either: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed."

And Isaiah, messiahs don't die like little lambs: "...the LORD has laid on him the sin of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."

Poor Isaiah- so confused.

The Chosen People continually backslide, and are chastised by prophets for their worship of false gods and the sacrifice of their firstborn to them. Jeremiah reminds them that God may abandon the Temple as surely as he abandoned Shiloh: "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'--only to go on doing all these abominations? I will do to the house which is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh." Uh-oh. Tell me what eventually happened to the Temple? Who did it?

Jeremiah also prophesies a New Covenant: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

But it sounds like the ark's days are numbered regardless: "Return, O faithless children, says the LORD; for I am your master; I will bring you to Zion. 'And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the LORD, they shall no more say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; it shall not be made again."

Ezekiel riffs on Jeremiah: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh...And you shall be my people, and I will be your God." If law is put in your heart instead of on stone, what's it based on? And remind me again about sprinkling, please.

Malachi scolds the people for their half-hearted offerings: "When you offer blind, lame or sick animals, is that not evil? I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand."

Malachi predicts that someday the temple might not be needed either:  "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering."  That can't be right: there's no such thing as a truly "pure" offering; and sacrifices and incense can only be offered in the Temple, not "in every place from the rising of the sun to its setting."

Micah, having something nice to say, expects the Messiah to come from David's hometown: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days."

God's upset. The people are upset. When are they gonna get their Messiah?

Jesus is born in li'l old Bethlehem. When he and Jesus are grown up, the famous bug-eater John the Baptist quotes Isaiah to get people fired-up: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

John makes a fuss over Jesus in front of everybody: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Does God need a lamb? Does God need to offer sacrifice to himself? If Jesus is a lamb, whom is the lamb for? Can a single lamb atone for "the sin of the world?" Like Isaiah, John must be confused. Probably too much sun.

Jesus begins to lay a foundation for a new way to offer sacrifice and to glorify God.

At the wedding at Cana, he transforms water into a whole lot of wine. That's not the usual food miracle; say, like Elisha multiplying twenty loaves of bread into enough bread to feed a hundred men.

Jesus later feeds thousands by multiplying a very few loaves and fish. Everyone says, "Wow, Jesus is cooler than Elisha." [I draw the story on the board and we discuss: it works like Mass.]  When the people chase Jesus down the next day, instead of another tummyfull of free bread, they get an earful of nonsense: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh...he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." But hey: Bread and Flesh- where have you heard of that before? Could Jesus actually, you know, mean something?

Y'all know about the Last Supper. Tell me: what do they eat and drink? Where have you seen that combo before? What do you typically eat at a Passover meal? Where is the lamb at this meal? What did Jesus say? What was offered? What was sacrificed? When? By whom? Bread, wine, flesh, blood, Lamb: how do they fit together? Tell me when you first heard of those elements today. Jesus also said "...this is my blood of the covenant"...what covenant? Who prophesied about it?

Jesus is crucified. When the soldier jabs Jesus with his spear, what comes out? Yes. Where is this from in the Old Testament? What does the water do? What does the blood do? In the movie The Passion, the soldier is sprinkled by the blood and water. Remind me yet again about sprinkling, please. Tell me how Jesus fulfilled some of the prophecies you've heard.

Jesus resurrects, visits a few people, then ascends into the clouds. The Holy Spirit fires-up the men Jesus put in charge of the Kingdom of Heaven, and they go about setting up the Church. There are many new Christians; and they still go to synagogue and Temple, while remembering the Last Supper on Resurrection Day, Sunday. Eventually they're driven away from Temple and Synagogue.  The Christians create churches, which combine both the synagogue and Temple functions: what we call the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

[I draw a church plan under the Meeting Tent plan: they are very similar. The church plan is simply the Meeting Tent updated to New Covenant standards.]

Y'all look at this and compare the two. Altar? Incense? Offering? Washbowl? Levite priests? People? Bread? Ark? New Covenant ark? Candles? Cherubim? Any sprinkling? Tell me about it. Which building does God physically abide in? How about the high priest? Uh-oh, there isn't one in a church. Or is there?

Back when the Church was very young, some Jewish Christians were worried about whether they should still eat Kosher food, go to the Temple to offer sacrifices, that sort of thing. In the Letter to the Hebrews we learn that they didn't have to visit the Temple anymore, because the offering in church connects directly to Heaven through Jesus: "...we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God... a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek." Tell me about Melchizedek...what did he offer? And Jesus?

So Jesus is the high priest; not in an earthly copy of what's in heaven, but "a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord."

Look at the plans again. Where's the high priest in a church? Right- Jesus is in heaven, not the church. And we can't see Jesus, just like you couldn't see the high priest in the Holy of Holies in the Meeting Tent. The veil that blocks our view is sin.

So what's going in Heaven that Mass connects to? Revelations tells us a bit [I draw]: "a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments...And round the throne are four living creatures, each of them with six wings, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" ...the twenty-four elders fall down and worship him, singing...I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense." Look at the picture: who's on the throne? Who's the Lamb? Why is he bloody? How is this like Mass so far?

[Now I draw below all that an altar and priest on Earth] What's this? What did we bring up at the Offertory? Who's this? What's he do? Then what happens? At Mass we hear: "command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high." Tell me how Mass connects to Heaven at this point. What do we eat and drink? Where did it come from? How did it get here?

Y'all remember Malachi said "in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering."  What's the pure offering? And how is it offered "in every place"? And how is it offered "from the rising of the sun to its setting"?

And Jeremiah said, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD...shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; it shall not be made again." Tell me about that. What do we have instead of the ark? Which is better? Why?

Many of the means to glorify God, to worship him, and to offer him sacrifice have been gathered together in Mass, going all the way back to Abel, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Moses. But because Jesus participates with us as a perfect offering and a perfect high priest, the Mass is much more powerful. 

The Mass will continue until the Second Coming, when the old Heaven and Earth are swept away. The saved will be bodily resurrected, and live in the New Jerusalem with God forever, sort of how Adam and Eve lived with God in the first place.