Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just another day of Resurrection denial.

Yeah, the Reporter again, this time by Carol Meyer:

Artist Ron DiCianni spent two years painting the largest mural ever of the resurrection, some 12 feet high and 30 feet wide, soon to be housed at the Museum of Biblical Arts in Dallas.

Sounds cool. Looks good, from a small version. Probably have to see it in person to get the full effect.

In a video about this work, he says, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single act in history that separates Christianity from every other religion, every other philosophy, and every belief system. God gave me this incredible idea of having Christ emerge from the tomb which I've never seen done before. I wanted to stop a moment in time, when Jesus grabbed the sides of the tomb and walked out.”

Yep--that's the bold, central claim of Christianity--the Easter faith in the Risen Lord.

Naturally, Ms. Meyer will have none of this crass, fleshy misinterpretation.

As much as I admire DiCianni’s artistic skills and honor his perspective, I don’t agree with it. Like many, he takes a very literal approach to the resurrection, focusing on the biblical accounts as historically accurate. Even top-notch biblical scholars cannot fully unravel the mystery of what happened after Jesus’ death based on the resurrection narratives — what might have been fact, myth, or projection by the early Christian community. After all, no one caught it on camera.

Ever notice how the cultured despisers and intellectual wreckers come pouring out of the woodwork around Holy Week?

Even those who insist on calling themselves Catholic have to get in on the fun.

Not to be crass, but WTH? Historical accuracy in the Resurrection accounts interferes with the Triduum these days? What are you celebrating this week, then?

Why, the "he's alive in our hearts!" pseudogospel, apparently.

It’s freeing that we don’t have to spend our precious energy trying to figure it out. Faith is a lot more than an intellectual belief in a doctrine, which does little to give us the inspiration we so sorely seek.

Who's this "us," kemosabe? Frankly, I'm not inspired to pattern my life on the example of a grotesquely misunderstood failure who spent hours suffocating to death after being scourged to within an inch of his life. Hell, if I have to pick Roman execution victims, I'm going with Spartacus--at least he got to whomp on his tormenters for a while. Die with your boots on, and all that.

What we want is to have “our hearts burning within us,” experiencing the same thrill as the Emmaus disciples who knew that Jesus still walked beside them, not in an occasional physical way, but a constant spiritual one.

Which has to be the right way to read the Emmaus Road account:

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized their sorrow had caused them to hallucinate the whole thing. And once they realized this, he "vanished" from their sight, having not really been there in the first place, but somehow still alive in their hearts, kind of like when you remember a loved one who's reached room temperature unexpectedly. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, or could it have been bad mutton? What about when Mr. Sublimated Agony of Loss projected himself onto certain passages we fixated on from the Scriptures? That's kinda like him being right here, when you think about it!" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "OK, he's still deader than Herod, but can't we agree that he's really alive in our hearts anyway, because we really miss him? Especially Simon, who may or may not be feeling guilty, depending upon how you regard the historicity of the denial/cockcrow scenes." Then they told what had happened on the road, and how they felt really bad about him still being dead, but fixated back on that last possibly Passover-like meal, which Jesus really went through all that hard work of preparing--well, maybe, depending on how you feel about the historical accuracy of the whole thing, which may or may not be some kind of projection in and of itself--even breaking of the bread and all that, before dying his pointless death."

Sign me up!

The question we might profitably ponder this Easter is: What profound reality is God trying to communicate through the resurrection and how can that have significance and power for us today?

Apart from taking it literally, you poor poor soul whose ahistorical, delusional perspective I nevertheless assure you I honor. Deeply.

God knows our world is a mess, so surely a reality this central to Christianity has something vital to say, some great grace to impart. It's not just something that happened once and for all in the past.

As I look around me, I see a lot of fear and hopelessness, which is quite understandable if we just look at the material side of things, which is what Jesus’ disciples did after his death.

Which was understandable, given that he was irrevocably dead and had died for nothing. Major buzzkill.

Things appeared totally dismal to them. But God awakened in them an intense realization that Jesus’ courageous death resulted in new life for him, them, and the world.

And that realization was....?

To help them and us to “get it,” the resurrection is portrayed in the Bible as an event bigger than life. There’s power, glory, dazzling angels, the earth quaking, stones miraculously moved —a n explosive, brilliant event, big enough to convince us that God’s saving love permeates the universe and is always with us even in the face of loss and change.

Ta-daaaaaah! The good news is that God's saving love permeates the universe! And how do we know it? Because the Gospel writers made up, whole cloth, some inspiring, earthshaking bullshit story about Jesus rising from the dead and added some Michael Bay-esque special effects to the tale! Think of it as Jesus' last parable, even if he was in no condition to tell it.

I mean, don't misunderstand--he's still deader than a doornail, probably even eaten by wild dogs in a trashheap somewhere, but still--can you feel it? God's saving love permeates the universe and is always with us!

This Easter, God is once again calling us to trust that death is a precondition for rebirth, disintegration undergirds reintegration, and dying seeds sprout new life, not only in our personal lives, but on a cosmic level.

I have no idea what this means. I am certain, however, it does not mean anything about life after death as understood by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants prior to the madness of the 20th Century.

One of the reasons I stay hopeful in the face of so much bad news is that I know something of evolutionary history, and how God and the universe have always fashioned something wonderful and unexpected out of the demise of the old. With this inspiration and the witness of Jesus who went willingly to his death, maybe we too can embrace the death of much of what we hold dear, confident that something better will replace it.

Poor Darwin--press-ganged into shilling for something outside of the scientific purview again. Usually, it's an atheist doing it or possibly some cad defending his caddishness by citing to evolutionary biology. This time, it's a panentheist playing Wayland Flowers to Darwin's Madam.

Our problem is that we’ve only put stock in the physical aspect of things, and failed to see the numinous, divine light that infuses it, and goes beyond it.

Thank you, Yoda. No, seriously--that's a paraphrase of dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back.

We’re stuck, scared and quivering, in a confining tomb, when God has rolled back the stone of unconsciousness and invited us to emerge into the light. We are more than matter. We are cosmological, spiritual beings yearning to experience God and the infinity of which we are a part.

Perhaps panentheism is not quite right--the disdain for the physical is starting to redline the gnostic meter.

Quantum Theology author Diarmuid O’Murchu expresses it this way, “The concept of resurrection helps us to contextualize our affinity to mystery, to make real and tangible the awe and apprehension that is deep within our being. It embodies our yearning for infinity, stretching back over billions of years and serving to connect us with the infinite eons that still lie ahead.”

Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.

Dole Office Clerk: What?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a
viable and meaningful comprehension.

Dole Office Clerk: Oh--a bullshit artist!

Comicus: *Grumble*...

Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit last week?

Comicus: No.

Dole Office Clerk: Did you *try* to bullshit last week?

Comicus: Yes!

This is something of how I felt when I read Embraced by the Light many years ago. As the author described her near-death experience with its glimpse of unbounded existence and awareness, my heart thrilled as it went on the journey with her in imagination. I knew in my soul that I was part and parcel of this divine matrix which filled the universe.

Back to panentheism. I'll only add that it is interesting to contrast the complete credulity here with the skepticism toward the Resurrection accounts.

It helped me to see that there is no duality, no opposition between earthly existence and the spiritual realm.

Except, of course, that earthly existence comes to an irrevocable end in this philosophy. Not to mention the spiritual is pitted against any kind of physical resurrection. At that point, the duality becomes the Berlin Wall.

The resurrection does not imply that we should merely endure life in this world because all that matters is life after death, an error that has resulted in many sad consequences throughout history.

And no trashing of the orthodox understanding of the Resurrection would be complete without the Ceremonial Ignition of the Straw-Man.


God is one and our world is one in all its dimensions. The resurrection proclaims that the Cosmic Christ is with us fully, permeating every atom of matter, working redemption in all things, even in the groaning of creation. There is a seamless continuity and unity between matter and spirit, death and life, this world and the next.

Except, of course, once you shed this cloak of crude matter--Tik Tok--you ain't coming back.

So let us not be disbelieving, but believing, living out of the powerful, loving, creative force of Jesus’ enduring presence, allowing Him to transform us into heroic disciples, so desperately needed in today’s world, then our minds and hearts are free to soar with new insights to transform our lives.

Woot--he's with us in spirit. Careful you don't get yourself killed.

Jesus’ enemies thought they could be rid of him by killing him, but they were wrong. They didn’t count on the fact that, bound no longer by physical limitations, his spirit would be unlimited in its influence. The resurrection proclaims to those who destroy, “You can kill the body, but you can’t kill the soul. There’s another whole spiritual realm to be reckoned with over which you have no power.”

Yeah, you crucified him as the false messiah and king, and, OK, fine--he's still dead. The stone's still over the tomb, you aren't accountable for your crime and you've triumphed utterly--but you can't stop us, 'cause we've got spirit--neener, neener, neener!"

On the surface, evil often seems to win out, but it never does ultimately. There is more than meets the eye. Good always has its reward and prevails. The lesson might be to be bold in doing what is right and standing up for justice and God’s values no matter the cost because you will be vindicated in the end. The story doesn’t end with death. Death is just a transition into another realm, not the end of you.

Here's the funny part--I agree with her here. But...only because the Resurrection really, physically happened. If Ms. Meyer's version were the truth, the Jesus movement would have been as dead as he was by 40 AD, with as many followers today as those still following the false messiahs chronicled by Josephus. Who no doubt also really, really didn't want their messiahs to be executed by the Romans, either, yet still didn't hallucinate a faith into being.

I see the tomb and stone in front of it as symbolic. Often we live in a cramped, limited space of our own making. It’s very time and earth-bound, and ego-based with minimal consciousness. But once we let God roll the stone away, we emerge glorious as Jesus did, our eyes opened to the infinite possibilities in front of us.

In death, we let go of our bodies, and are released into a potential relationship with the whole of universal life. Easter is symbolic of victory after suffering for what is right. Evil doesn’t prevail. You can kill the body, but not the soul.

Yes, that's Easter faith all right. Welcome to the universe, nice and glowy in your Jedi suits--unless God decides he wants Hayden Christensen redigitized over you, in which case, gnashing of the teeth. This is the faith delivered unto the saints? Sadly, it isn't. And the last four words are particularly wrongheaded as we prepare to greet the Risen Lord on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Something offensively stupid from the National Catholic Reporter.

Which is like saying: "Today's Seattle forecast: Rain."

Yeah, I know, I know--glutton for punishment.

But I make occasional forays over into the stygian waters of NCR just to remind them that they aren't the mainstream, clear-thinking Catholic voice they think they are.

It's the blog equivalent of the Doolittle Raid--not much damage, but, hey--remember us?

Plus, the comboxes are near occasions of hilarity, my recent favorite being an economic whiz-kid who suggested we just print up $4.6 trillion to pay off our bond liabilities. Boom--problem solved!

Great idea, Custer! Nope, can't see the downside to that one!

Yes, there are the usual pelvic fixations, mistaking the secular zeitgeist for the Holy Spirit, shrieking at the episcopate (a universal Catholic exercise, to be fair--and one often warranted) and so forth. However, once in a while you stumble across something obnoxious delivered more subtly.

One of the regulars there is named Jamie Manson, whose byline whacks you about the head and shoulders with an Ivy League M.Div., just so you know. A couple days back, she excoriated Archbishop Sheehan for clearing his throat about irregular living arrangements amongst his flock.

Not a surprise, and to be honest her heartfelt advocacy on behalf of her mother's situation was touching. Frankly, any diocese that charges for the annulment process should be slapped up aside the head (Detroit doesn't, FYI). It's hard not to feel for someone in her mother's position, and mercy should be extended to those in her situation. You don't have to be a progressive to find something deeply amiss with the annulment system.

Then, Ms. Manson, M.Div., Yale, ruins the mood by offering her take on orthodox discipleship and the approach to the sacraments:

The sacraments are meant to work in people’s lives to deepen our communion with God and others, to heal wounds, and to offer meaning and consolation. They are not a prize awarded only to those who follow doctrine and church law to the letter. Few cohabitating Catholics will endure processes like annulment or change their living arrangements in order to be welcomed back into church and its sacraments.

Yeah, the last sentence is the usual ranting "you can't change me!" shinola, but look before it. Examine that middle sentence. Ponder it.

Basically, people who follow the tenets of the Church are apple polishing suck-ups getting their stickers from the mean teacher. And both teacher and student know it.

I suppose it's slightly better to be regarded as an Eddie Haskell rather than the usual tired "Pharisee," (the next generation of Anselms in the combox aren't so reticent) but it's still remarkable.

[By the way, you can turn the tables on the typical Rep opinionist/comboxer by calling him or her a Sadducee. Think about it: the Sadducees were glib, cosmopolitan compromisers obsessed with institutional issues, and happy to toss aside inconvenient revelation. Zing!]

What really rankles are the casual assumptions embedded in that offhand sentence.

You know, the NCReppers are big on pointing to the "lived experiences" of those who dissent, usually very, very loudly, from this or that teaching. Those who struggle yet still follow them? Don't look for a Reporter byline, chief.

You know what else? It's not all beer and skittles for those of us who don't expect our bishops to be a mitered version of Stuart Smalley's mirror.

It's not our prize for being good, Ms. MDiv. It's the grace that carries us through grim financial and emotional turmoil, the cold incomprehension of beloved family members, and the growing and open scorn of strangers (and co-religionists), all for doing our damnedest to take the demands of the Faith seriously.

Sorry if we come across as a tad standoffish toward those who demand that such be disregarded as some kind of arcane, pointless exercise in star-collecting.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Elizabeth is home.

She's on breathing treatments (nebulizer) and antibiotics, but she's her old self, behavior-wise.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fungibility and nonnegotiables.

Let's say I'm a billionaire pacifist. Upon my death, my will leaves a $10 billion trust fund which will donate to the Department of Defense in recognition of the American military's humanitarian relief efforts in places like Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia, et al.

I put in a codicil mandating that none of the trust fund money is to go to weapons or munitions.

Have I betrayed my pacifist principles?

Apropos of this.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kneel Before Zod.

Brant Pitre's new book about the Jewish roots of the Eucharist has received the sniffy treatment in the National Catholic Reporter, in the form of a largely dismissive review, quelle suprise. The Rev. Richard T. Lawrence has determined that while it nicely points out that Jewish stuff, Pitre is a sinner who must wear the scarlet "U" for "Unscholarly."

Well, allow me to retort, starting off with a couple of seemingly unrelated quotes.

"[T]ruth to tell, the contributions of critical biblical scholarship either to real history or to authentic theology have not up to now been particularly impressive and have certainly not had the character of transmitting faith to succeeding generations."

--Luke Timothy Johnson.

"I'd rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford."

--Popular bumpersticker on Chevy trucks.

Alas, I had some hope early on that this might be a fair-minded review, but that was dashed at word five, when Rev. Lawrence cued the "boo, hiss" sign for Reporter readers by identifying Pitre as one of those "conservatives."

Frankly, the criticisms Pitre's work begin with the exceptionally petty, starting with Rev. Lawrence's profound disquiet with the accurate quoting of Dei Verbum, followed by the pointless nit-picking about "Jesus of Nazareth" and plummeting downhill from there.

Frankly, if the Catholic biblical academy is as monochrome, dogmatic and lockstep as the Rev. Lawrence claims, then this review can be safely written off as a defensive clerical back-raising, equivalent to my cat hissing at the strange felines who dare walk across *his* lawn. Certainly, the sniffing about the alleged distinction between proper scholarly methods of systematic theologians and those of biblical scholars has more than a whiff of feline cattiness about it. Leaving aside the more important point that it is a meaningless bit of inside baseball as far as the wider Church is concerned.

But the real gripe is that Pitre dares to partially reject the results and methods of his elders. If the functional motto of the biblical guild is "freedom of scholarship for me but not thee," (and the defensiveness of the review suggests that it may be) then the sooner we get more lay scholars like Pitre to infuse the clerical guild with new blood, the better. For both parties. It's difficult to know what to make of a group of scholars that expects newbies to genuflect before findings which are always supposed to be open to revision. In other words, let's jettison the uncritical attitude toward historical criticism, please. For the Rev. Lawrence to insist that biblical scholarship which doesn't uncritically parrot every hypothesis beloved of a certain section of the academy is deficient is...odd. Especially if scholarship is supposed to be open to revision. Otherwise, he has the same mindset as the Chevy driver with the bumpersticker quoted above. Which is fine, but is a matter of de gustibus, not doctrine.

Besides, all right-thinking folk know Fords are way better.

Finally, I've often wondered how a hack novelist like Dan Brown, one whose research skills wouldn't pass muster at Wikipedia, could come up with gob-smacking howlers like "Jesus was a human being who was declared God at the Council of Nicaea."

Then I read paragraphs like this:

"To cite but one example, after taking as literal quotations Jesus’ words as reported in John 6, 8 and 10 and related texts, Pitre concludes that one cannot understand Jesus’ claims about the Eucharist “without first grasping his claims about his divine identity.” He even quotes C.S. Lewis’ statement that such words are those of a madman, a demon or the Lord himself. Surely all orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is, as the councils confessed, the Incarnate Word of God.

But to state without qualification that Jesus, during his lifetime on Earth, thought and spoke of himself in that way is far from the consensus of modern scripture scholars and theologians. I would think that a book intended for a popular audience would take some note of that fact."

So, according to the "assured results of biblical scholarship," Brown's got a point? Well, no, he doesn't. N.T. Wright, the Anglican biblicist par excellence, has written convincingly of how Jesus could have expressed himself in divine terms in a thoroughly Jewish milieu.

Oh, and wait a minute--who's mixing up scripture scholarship with theology again? Tsk, tsk.

But still, it's grimly funny that the nuttiness of Dan Brown finds fertile soil in the wasteland of endemic doubt that constitutes too much of modern biblical study. That this no-man's land was created by in part by Catholics who, with unimpeachable sincerity, declare themselves orthodox Christians just adds to the wan hilarity.

I for one have done my part to encourage Pitre to write more by purchasing the book for my wife.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The last days of Nick Charles.

If you aren't into sports, or weren't in the 1990s, you probably don't remember Nick Charles. Along with Fred Hickman, Charles was the anchor of CNN's Sports Tonight broadcast at 11pm. It was must-watch. Knowledgable, witty and with a great chemistry between the anchors, it beat the snot out of ESPN's 11pm broadcast in both quality and ratings. Alas, CNN jettisoned sports coverage in 2001 and Charles moved on to boxing, which I've never followed.

It was a shock to learn Charles is dying of bladder cancer. But he's going out with strength, dignity and Christian hope. And an honest account of his failings.

Read it all. He has a list of people he'd like to meet after death. For my part, I hope to meet Charles on the other side.

Vast improvement.

Lizzie is doing much better today. She is still going to be hospitalized until Friday, but that looks more and more like the discharge date, too. Her oxygen mix has been decreased from 40% to 25% over the course of today, and she's getting more active and vocal. And ticked, from what I can hear over the phone.

Thanks for your prayers and good wishes--they mean more than you know.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Prayers would be welcome.

Elizabeth, our 17 month old, was admitted to the hospital yesterday with respiratory distress. With the assistance of Tamiflu, Louis, Maddie and I weathered a case of the influenza, and we thought that Lizzie had the same. Three days of medicine didn't make a dent, which now makes sense since last night's x-rays determined that it was pneumonia.

Today, the doctor leading her treatment team told Heather that Lizzie is not getting out before Friday at the earliest. She is "the sickest child in the peds ward" of a large hospital. In attempt to reassure that did the opposite, he said that it is a short trip to the ICU for her should it be necessary.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Start the impeachment proceedings.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has suggested we need to jail Americans who manage the childishly simple task of offending violent Muslim theocrats.

Fortunately, we have Mark Steyn to take out the garbage:

A mob of deranged ululating blood-lusting head-hackers slaughter Norwegian female aid-workers and Nepalese guards — and we’re the ones with the problem?

I agree with the Instaprof: Lindsey Graham is unfit for office. The good news is there’s no need for the excitable lads of Mazar e-Sharif to chop his head off because he’s already walking around with nothing up there. And, as for his halfwitted analogy with World War II, he’s too ignorant to realize it but he’s singing the dhimmi remake of an ancient Noel Coward satire.

The reason we’re losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted.

If Graham wants further input, I am happy to refer him to my unofficial spokesman, Haywood Jablomi.

A rough stretch.

  Forgive the vagueness and ambiguity, but I am going through a tough patch at the moment. July was full-stop awful, and August, while bette...