Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Psalm 143

Psalm 143

Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in your righteousness! And do no enter into judgment with your servant, for in your sight no man living is righteous.  For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me to dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead.  Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled within me.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands.  I stretch out my hands to you; my soul longs for you as a parched land. 


Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails; Do not hide Your face from me, or I will become like those who go down to the pit.  Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; for I trust in you; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to you I lift up my soul.  Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies; I take refuge in You.
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.   For the sake of you name, O Lord, revive me.  In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.  And in you lovingkindness cut off my enemies and destroy all those who afflict my soul, for I am you servant.


Friday, November 25, 2011

"Oh come, oh come Emanuel..."

Isaiah 64 begins with; “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—

Israel was looking for smoke, flames, earthquakes…drama.

Yet Jesus you came in all humility.

Annunciation window: St. John's Denver
In this day and age, we still seem to be looking for a “light show”, stage acts, and pyrotechnics.

But when You came, You came quietly; as a child born to an engaged, but not yet married, teenage girl.

Yet hungry hearts still find you…with no glamour at all.

“Oh come oh come Emanuel…”

May we in all humility find You, in our families, friends, cast-offs, and nursing homes.

“God-With-Us” is right here…why not go and be with Him. 

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40

Monday, November 21, 2011

Guest post: Are you looking for wisdom or "nice."

 Deacon Christopher Pietraszko posted as a note on Facebook November 18, 2011 and he graciously shared with me this homily.

So, are you looking for wisdom or “nice”?

Be sure to read carefully.


I would like to begin by telling you a useless story that captures the essence of modern thinking:

There was a man who had left his gated community and was looking for a new place to live.  He came across another gated community, and asked the security guard one simple question:”What is this community like?”

The security guard responded to his question with another question, “What was the last place you lived like?”
The man responded, “Well, it was terrible. Everyone was selfish and hard to live with.  I had a difficult time living there, that’s why I left.”
The security guard responded by saying, “You will find the same here.”
The man left in frustration, and kept looking.

Meanwhile another man came to the same security guard and asked the exact same question: “What is this community like?”
The security guard asked in response the same question: “What was the last place you lived like?”
The man answered, “It was great! People were loving and understanding, and helpful to one another.  It is terrible that we had to leave, but business has forced us to move away.”

The security guard responded, “You will find the same here.”

 ~End of Story~

This story is an attempt to speak a certain truth, which is that our perception sometimes taints our experience.  If we are negative people, we will have negative experiences.  And if we are positive people, we will have positive experiences.  And while all this may offer some insight on being either pessimistic and/or optimistic, none of it tells us a darn thing about what this “new” community is like.  Rather all it tells us is that an optimistic and pessimistic person projects their wishful or cynical views on reality.  But it does not tell us what reality is.

The modern era emphasizes the importance of “perception” and how being either positive or negative affects our goal towards self-fulfillment.  This modern emphasis is junk.

If a woman has been physically abused by her husband, she has been through a horrible experience;  and in her healing, her feelings need to be validated.  If we are to say to this woman, “Wow you are so negative about your experience, I guess every relationship will be a failure as a result” we are being uncharitable, unrealistic and judgmental.

Sometimes communities are good, sometimes communities are bad.  However, our culture avoids standards, and as a result wishes to avoid the whole question in general.  We would rather focus on what makes us feel good, and what instills positive thinking, because that illusion is preferable to the illusion of pessimism.

Pessimism and optimism are distractions from an authentic and genuine spiritual life.  Hope is the ultimate goal of our faith, and hope is grounded not in wishful thinking or cynical mindsets, it is grounded in objective truth:  God loves us and offers us something greater than all the sin and despair and evil in this world.

That hope, which was encountered in the most sufferable moments in human history, be it a concentration camp or a prison cell filled with darkness and torture (St. John of the Cross), does not involve wishful thinking or despair.  It involves a dry thirst for something more, and the realization that there is something more in the midst of that suffering and beyond it, because of God's immense Love.  God's love allows hell and invites us to heaven, and as a result, His love involves both negativity and hope, both condemnation and redemption.

To look at the entire world with rose-coloured glasses is ultimately to do numerous things:  namely to condone evil, to ignore evil, or to redefine evil as good.  In all cases, those who have become victims of evil should be outraged when, as a result of optimism (false-hope), their pain and suffering has been neglected and ignored.  When optimists have ignored the very real injustices done to others simply to foster "positive-thinking."

This modern story may have some degree of truth when it comes to the disordered tendency to think negatively and positively, but it in no way authentically begins to grasp the reality of genuine Christian Hope.  Our hope is not grounded in an attitude or a personal expectation and illusion we can easily draw up for ourselves.  Hope is grounded in a trusting relationship with Christ, that accepts the fact that purification and suffering in this life hurts, and feels terrible, while nonetheless infused with love and worth suffering because of what is discovered at the end of that road.

G. K. Chesterton says it perfectly when he says:

“Whatever the reason, it seemed and still seems to me that our attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.” (Orthodoxy, Chapter 5)  
In other words, as we learn from scripture, our love for God is grounded in a love for the good and a hatred for what is evil.  It is not a matter of saying that the glass is half full or half empty, but it’s about the common-sense statement that it is both, and that there are no sides to choose on this issue.  If we choose a side we are choosing to be ignorant of either what is good or what is evil, and in both cases that is neither good, and is certainly evil.

The same thing applies to those who are “approachable.”  An honest man seeks the advice of a wise person, not a nice person.  An honest person seeks the advice of someone who is helpful, not someone who is cynical.  Finally, an honest person seeks a man who can condemn evil and praise good, all in one action.  Only those who love to reinforce an illusion of cynicism seek cynics, and a person who seeks the illusion of optimism and an inauthentic hope seek nice, happy people.  If we are sinning with a smile on our face, it’s still a sin, and if we are being negative about the good, we are someone to become criticized. What makes pessimism and optimism evil is when they are non-integrative; that is to say when they cannot be seen as a reality that necessarily belongs together.  If we love what is good, we will naturally hate what is evil.  And if we love what is evil, we will naturally hate what is good, since the two cannot ever be reconciled.

Is the community we seek good or evil?  How can we even begin to answer this question if we are so immersed into what we think good and evil should be?  If we live by perception alone, there is no meaning to anything.  But if we live in common-sense and self-honesty, our hope will become less wishful and more real.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Internet+ Google = Scholarship?

One of the most disastrous illusions of the Internet age is that an amateur plus google is equivalent to a scholar.  A search engine offers information , more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher.  but it does not sift that information ; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff.  It does not explain which facts are relevant and which are beside the point.  It does not weight the merits of competing arguments and tell the user where the balance of evidence lies.  A bright amateur armed with the Internet may be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error.  But it will not turn him into a scholar himself.

There is no such thing as effortless erudition.

Dr Timothy McGrew
Philosophy Department
Western Michigan University
From a 'note' on Facebook
November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A brief thought...

I realized today why I like philosophy so much.

As I read some wonderful thoughts by philosophers whose works I enjoy (at the moment, James Sire); it struck me that the authors of these works do not care if I am young or old, male or female; they just ask that I try to understand what they write…carefully and thoughtfully.

They are not asking for me to like their work, but to try and comprehend the “what’s” and “why’s” of their writing.  They are trying to teach me, if I allow them to.  This is a chance to be in a sort of dialog as I read.

I am honored to be included in the conversation.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Aging In Postmodern America"

I’d like to post the closing thoughts from a paper I wrote a couple of years ago, on “Aging in Postmodern America.”

As I have been blessed with a ministry to bring “church” to a local nursing home that was neglected by local churches, I would like you to read some of my thoughts on the care we need to give the older members of society.

If anyone would like to read the whole paper, I can send you the pdf of it.

Over the centuries there has been a gradual shift in the response to the elderly in society. Yes, even in the time of ancient Israel people had to be reminded to care for the non-productive (widows, etc…). However, most people wanted to honor God by showing compassion to the elderly, and into the early twentieth century the aged parents were still thought of as valuable addition to the home, being allowed to live out their days in relative comfort. Children were not segregated from the old, and so they grew up understanding the decline of old age. But with a shift in the 1960’s to a postmodern, relativistic form of thinking, the elderly were seen as a burden and put aside in nursing homes or retirement communities. Now, with our striving for youth, beauty, and status, people do not wish to be reminded of their mortality by having to deal with aging. The church in today’s society could do much to begin to reverse this trend by starting ministries to the elderly and begin to bring forward the “radical” notion of compassion to the “least of these…” American society needs to re-emphasize the intrinsic value of all human life as made in the imago Dei, the image of God. The church could be the leader in re-introducing the very young to the very old and show the children and the adults that the elderly have great stories to tell and great contributions to make to succeeding generations. But are we willing to be compassionate listeners?

Finally, I would like to end with excerpts of a poem shared by Dr Vernon Grounds, found in the personal effects of an un-named woman who died in a home for the aged in England

What do you see, nurse, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me-
A crabbed old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit with far away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try.”

…The worn body crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There now is a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my embittered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.

I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurse, open and see
Not a crabbed old woman,

Look closer- see me! (p 10)

An excerpt from the poem published in the book, Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality (2004).