Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I should blog more

Originally uploaded by byzkarl
but, failing that, I can show off where I go to church. I took a bunch of pictures of my parish, and you can go see it here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why have icons where the people can't see them?

I gave a tour of my church today, and as I was giving the visitors a peek behind the icon screen, a gentleman asked if other churches had more diaphanous icon screens, so that people could see the icons behind the altar. I said that some in fact offered less concealment, but I said that we must be cautious. Not everything in liturgy needs to be seen by the people. To have that mentality is to shift the focus of the liturgy from God to us--liturgy as entertainment. 
It is not a bad thing to have icons that are never seen or prayers that are never heard, since the liturgy is not for the sake of us and our entertainment, but on God and our thanksgiving for the blessings given. 

Monday, October 22, 2007

Have you ever wanted a Greek lexicon and morphology analyzer?

Come on, I know that you have. Hasn't everybody?

This morning I was looking through the Perseus Project, but was disappointed in the speed of the connection. Perhaps the computers at Tufts are overburdened by young classicists. I was trying to practice my Greek by reading the epistle for the day, but I couldn't access the online lexicon. What could I do? What if Perseus went down for good?

There is a solution: "Diogenes", a program for searching the TLG cdrom. I don't have this cdrom (400$, I think), but the program does some things even without it, namely look up the meaning of Lation and Greek words, as well as analyze the form of a word, telling case, number, etc. Just choose the action "Look up a word in the dictionary" or "Morphological analysis." It will even parse words for you. How wonderful!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Google has a Blogger Widget

I have been very lax on blogging for the last year or so. I'm sorry, and am pleasantly surprised to find that I still have readers. Perhaps having this neat little gadget on my Mac dashboard will help me to blog more often. I find many blogs that are updated more often consist of little stippets of the poster's day. So, here goes:

I'm sitting at my kitchen table reading Fr. Tarazi's volume The New Testament, Introduction: Paul and Mark. It's quite interesting, in particular his take on the disputes between Paul and the Church of James in Jerusalem. One point strikes me: Paul identifies Christ with the Suffering Servant from Isaiah, a servant whose fate was so stunning that all nations would be brought into relationship with God. Paul must preach the gospel to the nations, or Jesus is not Lord. Or, to put it another way, if Jesus isn't the light to the gentiles, then he isn't the one whom the prohets spoke of.

This puts the task of evangelism in a different light. We don't just evangelize to convince others of the truth of the faith, but to convince ourselves of its truth, for through our preaching the power of God is active. We know God through the power of his word, through seeing how all nations come to accept it.

As always, my posts are speculative. All theological points are subject to revision.

Let's see--what else is going on. . . I'm trying to have a few moments of peace while the kids are asleep. I am the "primary caregiver", and so have little time for reading or thinking. I teach two classes and barely find time to get ready for them. I don't know how people like Amy Welborn do it. Right now girl #1 is up sitting newt to me, eating cheese. Girl #3 is in her swing, almost falling asleep but not quite. Girl #2 refused to go to the bathroom, and I took away her blanket until she acquiesced. She didn't, and wet herself. I guess I win. 

Well, back to Tarazi, while the kids are mostly quiet.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

I've added a few links,

one from Hieromonk Maximos called "The Anastasis Dialogue", and another called "De unione ecclesiarum", by my friend Bekkos, aka Peter Gilbert. Both are very smart people as well as deep, careful thinkers. Give them a read.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A modest proposal to end the Great Schism

This is just a thought, and I won't be offended if you think it is stupid.

Ecumenical problems have, it seems to me, the character of problems in differential equations. One starts with constraints and boundary conditions, and must come up with a solution that violates none of them. With two Churches that claim meaningfully to be The Church, I think we have the following boundary conditions:

1. The Catholic Church is not heretical.
2. The Orthodox Church is not heretical.
3. Papal infallibility is a true doctrine (otherwise 1 is false).
4. The infallibility of the Church as a whole is a true doctrine (otherwise #2 is false).

So, here is my solution. Infallibility _must_ be understood as a characteristic of the whole Church, deriving directly from Christ's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. In the first thousand years, this infallibility inhered in doctrinal pronouncements of the ecumenical councils--not in the canons, since one can see that later canons chance or supercede earlier canons. On this, I think we could all agree.

Now, there is a problem with conciliarism: how does one know a council is ecumenical? Various schemes or characteristics are proposed, but they all (on the Orthodox side) end up with "We don't know how we know, but _these 7_ are." One could say that they are those the Church receives, but that presupposes one knows where the True Church is; what about Chalcedon, for example? What if the non-Chalcedonians are really the Church?

From the Catholic side, one can say that ecumenical councils are those councils recognized by the pope of Rome. This is, I think, the solution to the problem. The Church teaches infallibly when the bishops and Rome speak together. But since 1054 (and really since 787) the ecumene has been wounded, so that genuine ecumenical councils have not occurred.

Does the charism of infallibility leave the Church because of the mutual estrangement of east and west? I don't think so. God's promises do not end. As a result, the East has no ecumenical councils, and the west has councils which say many true things, but which lack the presence of the other four patriarchates, and are therefore irregular.

The Church has been sundered, and that although infallibility continued to inhere in the Church, it did so in an irregular or defective fashion, devolving to an exaggerated papacy and a diminished episcopate in the West, and in the East through a theological conservatism which clung to those things decided when the Church was whole.

The decree would recognize these facts, and then would affirm papal infallibility as a gift to the whole Church, _to be exercised only with the whole Church_. Past exercises of this charism (which are, fortunately, few) would not be termed false, but irregular, as a result of the separation of the Churches. Future exercises would only come in unity with the bishops.

Well, that's it. Have at it. Don't worry about offending me--I'm not even sure I agree with me.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Praying to Allah

That's what I did for the last week. I spent a week studying theology with the Antochian Orthodox. They have a program of distance study, and I have been taking part. Last week was the residency. Since Antiochians pray in Arabic, we prayed to Allah, meaning, of course, the Holy Trinity.

The week was wonderful, challenging, tempting, frustrating, and fulfilling. I hope to have some reflections in more depth soon.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dvorak is great!

I put in a little time to learn Dvorak, and through a kind benefactor was able to get my hands on a Typematrix keyboard, and the combination is wonderful. What I notice most of all about the new layout is the amount that my fingers remain on the home row. I am not continually reaching across the keyboard, especially with the dreaded pinky reach. With the Typematrix, there are additional benefits, namely the small size, gentle feel, and backspace and enter keys in the middle. It is a very clever design, and I don't want to use anything else.

If you want to learn more about the Dvorak keyboard, on which I typed the whole blog post with nary an error, go to

The locus of freedom is in the fast.

This phrase keeps coming to mind. As you know if you still read my occasional posts, I have been thinking about the problem of freedom lately. Not the problem of liberty, which is easily solved, and is quite a different problem anyway, but the problem of freedom. How is it that we are free? This question doesn't interest me, as I take the existence of regret as prima facie evidence that freedom does exist, at least as a possibility. It is possible for me to be free, whether or not I actually am free, and it is the possibility that I could have acted differently that gives rise to regret.

If I am free, where and when am I free? As I reflect on my life, I find that I generally follow my desires. In this I do exactly what an animal or plant does. I do what I want to do, within the constraints of my current situation, but my wants are the real driving engine. The dog follows his desires to the extent he has the liberty to do so, and so do I. There is no freedom here.

No, where freedom is evident is in the fast. When I desire something, and don't seek it, I am demonstrating that I am free. It is paradoxical, perhaps, that freedom is best shown when one does not do something. This is perhaps the greatest reason to fast, that we continually remind ourselves that sin is not inevitable. No matter how oppressive my desires are, no matter how constant the temptations, the fact that I can fast, even if only from something as inconsequential as soft drinks, is a light in the darkness.

The locus of freedom is in the fast.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I wish I could have been there

The Pro-Life Action League just completed its summer Face the Truth Tour. Generations for Life has the coverage. It turns out that someone tried to steal the signs and beat up one of the organizers.

If you've never been, any event run by the PLAL is the most peaceful protest you are likely to see. It is organized, efficient, and the protesters quietly hold their signs. Many peorple are supportive, but the opponents are almost uniformly rude. I am not surprised that someone was violent this year.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Now that I've learned the Dvorak keymap

I want one of these:

makes what looks to be a pretty neat ergonomic keyboard. What intrigues me is that they line up the keys, rather than having them at the stepped angle they currently are at. Plus, the thing is small and can go in a backpack.

Someday, if I can make a little cash. . . .

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I've joined a cult

I've switched over to the Dvorak Keyboard. I type a lot, and this should save me time and pain in my hands--I've been practicing on it quite a bit and haven't had any trouble, unlike the QWERTY layout.

Plus, it makes me the clear front-runner for the prize of biggest geek in my family.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A thought for the single folks

Pray while you can! The time will come when you want to, but can't.

This thought came to me as I helped my wife through liturgy for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, attempting to get our two eldest daughters to behave. A genuine state of prayer was difficult to come by.

Pray while you can, and pray for those of us who can't pray as we would like.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I hate God!

Don't get overly concerned--this is nothing new, but is a statement that I think is true of almost everyone. I was browsing the interent one evening and came across an Orthodox monk's advice to a young man, that he pray, "God, I hate you! I want to love you, but I don't. Please help me to love you." I was struck by the prayer, and have been thinking about it ever since. I have concluded that it is a true prayer.

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." --1 John 4:20

I fail in love of brother all the time. If I am truthful, I must say that I do not love God.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments." --John 14:15

I don't keep the commandments. Therefore, I don't love God. Modus tollens. It seems clear that I cannot say that I love God, and in fact, to judge from my activity, I am a great hater of God and all his works.

"Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." -- 1 John 4:8

Not only don't I love God, but I don't even know him. What a wretched creature I am! And yet, there is hope in this. God is love, and we are called to partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), which means that we are called to love. Love is the way to taste God.

I don't love God. In fact, I have a deep antipathy to God, evident every time I choose self over him. These times are legion. Nevertheless, I can do as the young man was advised by the monk: I can pray that God makes me love him. Everything is grace, even the ability to love God.

I hate you, God, but I want to love you. Help!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Whole nations now philosophise,

And do their own undoing now.--
Who's gained by all the sacrifice
Of Europe's revolutions? who?
The Protestant? The Liberal?
I do not think it -- not at all:
Rome and the Atheist have gained:
These two shall fight it out--these two;
Protestantism being retained
For base of operations sly
By Atheism."

--Melville, from _Clarel_

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The connection between celibacy and marriage, with help from Gabriel Marcel

It is often asserted in Catholic circles that a failure to understand celibacy or virginity for the kingdom of God will lead to a failure to understand marriage. It is true that cultures without monastics generally have lousy marriages. But why is this the case? What is the connection?

I've been reading a bit of Marcel recently, and I think his distinction between the realm of mystery and problem can help. A problem is something we can solve, but which makes no necessary demands on the solver. The Pythagorean Theorem makes no demands on me--I am the same before and after I think about it. Mysteries are not problems, but demands: “A mystery is a problem that encroaches upon its own data, that invades the data and thereby transcends itself as a simple problem.” (Concrete Approaches to the Ontological Mystery, p 178) Mysteries reveal that there is a transcendent dimension to the world, something that cannot be measured or verified, but nevertheless both answers our deepest need and utters a call to us.

How does this relate to marriage? It is the modern tendency to reduce all to problems, not mysteries. We seek objectivity in all things, even in the realm of love. We treat love like such an object, something we can examine, without ourselves being in it to the gills. We say things like "Love just means what makes you happy" or "Love is just an expression of the procreative drive" or "Love is just chemistry." Beware whenever anyone uses the word "just!" This means that we attempt to explain love simply in terms of drives or interests of the people involved. I am attracted to someone, and I call the attraction love.

The monastic life, the life of celibacy for the Kingdom, resists this analysis, since it involves renouncing an interest, giving up the exercise of a drive. The only reason why one would want to do this is because of mystery, because of the impinging of what Marcel calls "being" on one's life. A man gives up sexual intercourse for life; why? Because he recognizes that there is something greater than the satisfaction of one's desires. It is in this greater that the key to understanding marriage lies.

Marriage for life is not able to be explained in terms of interests, drives, or desires (I use the words somewhat interchangeably). I may enter into a relationship for a period of time because it satisfies my desires, but desires are transitory. What happens if they change, or if they are no longer satisfied? Should the marriage end? We see it happen all the time, as people break marriages for the sake of some new person who presumably satisfies the desires better. The only possible ground of a lasting, till death do us part, in good times or bad, in sickness or in health marriage is a recognition that there is something beyond my desires, that makes a demand upon me. Marriage is only possible on the horizon of mystery.

This is the connection between the celibate life and marriage. Both require a recognition of the transcendent. Those who understand monks, understand marriage, since both require one to realize that there is more to life than just desires.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Insomnia and Jeeves

I can't sleep. I got caught in a theological debate on another website and can't sleep. So, I thought I would present you, my few readers, with a gift: Hugh Laurie's reflections on P.G. Wodehouse, who, if you don't know, is the greatest English writer of the 20th century, of whose works many are available for free from The Gutenberg Project. So, enjoy it, Eric. Pass it along to John or Renee--they might get a chuckle. (See, I have so few readers I know them by name!)

Here's the Laurie piece, gotten from

TO be able to write about P. G. Wodehouse is the sort of honour that comes rarely in any man's life, let alone mine. This is rarity of a rare order. Halley's comet seems like a blasted nuisance in comparison.

If you'd knocked on my head 20 years ago and told me that a time would come when I, Hugh Laurie - scraper-through of O-levels, mover of lips (own) while reading, loafer, scrounger, pettifogger and general berk of this parish - would be able to carve my initials in the broad bark of the Master's oak, I'm pretty certain that I would have said "garn", or something like it.

Jeeves and Wooster

I was, in truth, a horrible child. Not much given to things of a bookery nature, I spent a large part of my youth smoking Number Six and cheating in French vocabulary tests. I wore platform boots with a brass skull and crossbones over the ankle, my hair was disgraceful, and I somehow contrived to pull off the gruesome trick of being both fat and thin at the same time. If you had passed me in the street during those pimply years, I am confident that you would, at the very least, have quickened your pace.

You think I exaggerate? I do not. Glancing over my school reports from the year 1972, I observe that the words "ghastly" and "desperate" feature strongly, while "no", "not", "never" and "again" also crop up more often than one would expect in a random sample. My history teacher's report actually took the form of a postcard from Vancouver.

But this, you will be nauseated to learn, is a tale of redemption. In about my 13th year, it so happened that a copy of Galahad at Blandings by P. G. Wodehouse entered my squalid universe, and things quickly began to change. From the very first sentence of my very first Wodehouse story, life appeared to grow somehow larger. There had always been height, depth, width and time, and in these prosaic dimensions I had hitherto snarled, cursed, and not washed my hair. But now, suddenly, there was Wodehouse, and the discovery seemed to make me gentler every day. By the middle of the fifth chapter I was able to use a knife and fork, and I like to think that I have made reasonable strides since.

I spent the following couple of years meandering happily back and forth through Blandings Castle and its environs - learning how often the trains ran, at what times the post was collected, how one could tell if the Empress was off-colour, why the Emsworth Arms was preferable to the Blue Boar - until the time came for me to roll up the map of adolescence and set forth into my first Jeeves novel. It was The Code of the Woosters, and things, as they used to say, would never be the same again.

The facts in this case, ladies and gentlemen, are simple. The first thing you should know, and probably the last, too, is that P. G. Wodehouse is still the funniest writer ever to have put words on paper. Fact number two: with the Jeeves stories, Wodehouse created the best of the best. I speak as one whose first love was Blandings, and who later took immense pleasure from Psmith, but Jeeves is the jewel, and anyone who tries to tell you different can be shown the door, the mini-cab, the train station, and Terminal 4 at Heathrow with a clear conscience. The world of Jeeves is complete and integral, every bit as structured, layered, ordered, complex and self-contained as King Lear, and considerably funnier.

Now let the pages of the calendar tumble as autumn leaves, until 10 years are understood to have passed. A man came to us - to me and to my comedy partner, Stephen Fry - with a proposition. He asked me if I would like to play Bertram W. Wooster in 23 hours of televised drama, opposite the internationally tall Fry in the role of Jeeves.

"Fiddle," one of us said. I forget which.

"Sticks," said the other. "Wodehouse on television? It's lunacy. A disaster in kit form. Get a grip, man."

The man, a television producer, pressed home his argument with skill and determination.

"All right," he said, shrugging on his coat. "I'll ask someone else."

"Whoa, hold up," said one of us, shooting a startled look at the other.

"Steady," said the other, returning the S. L. with top-spin.

There was a pause.

"You'll never get a cab in this weather," we said, in unison.

And so it was that, a few months later, I found myself slipping into a double-breasted suit in a Prince of Wales check while my colleague made himself at home inside an enormous bowler hat, and the two of us embarked on our separate disciplines. Him for the noiseless opening of decanters, me for the twirling of the whangee.

So the great P. G. was making his presence felt in my life once more. And I soon learnt that I still had much to learn. How to smoke plain cigarettes, how to drive a 1927 Aston Martin, how to mix a Martini with five parts water and one part water (for filming purposes only), how to attach a pair of spats in less than a day and a half, and so on.

But the thing that really worried us, that had us saying "crikey" for weeks on end, was this business of The Words. Let me give you an example. Bertie is leaving in a huff: " 'Tinkerty tonk,' I said, and I meant it to sting." I ask you: how is one to do justice of even the roughest sort to a line like that? How can any human actor, with his clumsily attached ears, and his irritating voice, and his completely misguided hair, hope to deliver a line as pure as that? It cannot be done. You begin with a diamond on the page, and you end up with a blob of Pritt, The Non-Sticky Sticky Stuff, on the screen.

Wodehouse on the page can be taken in the reader's own time; on the screen, the beautiful sentence often seems to whip by, like an attractive member of the opposite sex glimpsed from the back of a cab. You, as the viewer, try desperately to fix the image in your mind - but it is too late, because suddenly you're into a commercial break and someone is telling you how your home may be at risk if you eat the wrong breakast cereal.

Naturally, one hopes there were compensations in watching Wodehouse on the screen - pleasant scenery, amusing clothes, a particular actor's eyebrows - but it can never replicate the experience of reading him. If I may go slightly culinary for a moment: a dish of foie gras nestling on a bed of truffles, with a side-order of lobster and caviar may provide you with a wonderful sensation; but no matter how wonderful, you simply don't want to be spoon-fed the stuff by a perfect stranger. You need to hold the spoon, and decide for yourself when to wolf and when to nibble.

And so I am back to reading, rather than playing Jeeves. And my Wodehousian redemption is, I hope, complete. Indeed, there is nothing left for me to say, except to wish, as I fold away my penknife and gaze up at the huge oak towering overhead, that my history teacher could see me now.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A short reflection on the Suffering Servant

(It occurs to me that I should blog, especially since people who seem to know me are posting in my comment boxes.)

I am currently reading Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi's commentaries on the Old Testament, and I came across the following passage about the "Suffering Servant" from Isaiah: "In contrast to Israel's habitual disobedience 'forcing' the Lord's hand, through the servant's perfect obedience God is now given the opportunity to do things completely his way, without interference, from beginning to end."

There is a curious juxtaposition here of the concept of obedience and that of freedom. The obedience of the servant leads to the freedom of God. If this is true, then it follows that the disobedience of the sinner puts constraints on God. Justice must be served, after all, if God is just. Consider the example from Amos 4, where God says how he had to send various plagues and droughts upon Israel, because they wouldn't return to him. It's like a father complaining about having to spank his child; if only the kid would behave as he ought, the father would be free in his actions.

To break the tiresome cycle of transgression/punishment requires that God be freed from the cycle. Note that God is not bound by some force external to him, but by his own justice, which is of course consequent on his goodness. To be good, God must be just. To be just means God must punish, or rather, that God must somehow make right what has been made wrong. Throughout the history of Israel this keeps happening. One gets the feeling, reading scripture, that it would never stop. The Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah obeys God perfectly, and therefore enables him freedom, the ability to do something completely new, to triumph over the requirements of justice and save us, "while we were yet sinners." (Rom 5:8) Instead of punishment, we have redemption. Instead of justice, we have justification. Instead of sacrifices, we have sanctification. All of these are free gifts of God, gifts made possible by the perfect obedience of Christ to the Father. God acts to free himself, through the mystery of the Incarnation.

Note, this is all theological speculation. I don't think anything here is wrong, but if it is, I'm not a heretic, for the simple reason that I don't want to be a heretic.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Seasonal Note

Alas, black soul! How long wilt thou continue in evil? How long wilt thou lie in idleness? Why dost thou not think of the fearful hour of death? Why dost thou not tremble at the dread judgment-seat of the Saviour? What defence then wilt thou make, or what wilt thou answer? Thy works will be there to accuse thee; thine actions will reproach thee and condemn thee. O my soul, the time is near at hand; make haste before it is too late, and cry aloud in faith: I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against Thee; but I know Thy love for man and Thy compassion. O good Shepherd, deprive me not of a place at Thy right hand in Thy great mercy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Body Worlds and Respect for the Dead

I remember once reading a Dorothy Sayers mystery where there was a sculptor noted for his lifelike sculptures. It turned out that he wasn't a sculptor at all, but was killing people and preserving their bodies inside of his sculptures. So, you can see, I was already predisposed not to like Gunther von Hagens' "Body Worlds 2" exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Nevertheless, I went--it was a free ticket gotten through my wife's work.

Before I went in, as I was commiserating with another husband who didn't want to see it, a woman who was a personal trainer insisted that we go, and also insisted that we should like it, because it shows the glory of the human body. I tried to argue, first, that I was more interested in the works of the human soul than of the human body, and, second, that those were corpses in the exhibit, which made it problematic for me. She said,"But they gave consent! They donated their bodies." Well, never mind whether one can actually donate one's body as if it is merely an object. Perhaps she was right, and I was merely squeamish.

Upon entry to the exhibit, there were several large banners with quotes from philosophers. I saw one from Nietzsche, one from Epicurus, and one from Seneca. All three had in common the argument that the body is merely a body, and that death is the ceasing of existence. You can apparently buy the posters here. "Death is the release from all pain, and complete cessation," Seneca tells us. Why should an anatomical exhibit have philosophical quotes, and especially these quotes? Perhaps it is to disarm people like me, for whom the "artistic" display of human corpses is distasteful.

In addition to the philosophical quotes, there is a large placard declaring that all the bodies were donated. So, what's my complaint? There are two reasons why I think this exhibit is gruesome, and morally repugnant:

1) The way in which the corpses are displayed. As you go through the exhibit, you can't help thinking that von Hagens and his people are playing with the bodies. They are posed in athletic stances, which could perhaps be construed as educational, but there were several curious poses. A female body was in a yoga pose, leaning back with her skinless breasts pointed upward, topped with obviously fake nipples. It seemed as if they were attempting to be erotic. A male body had been eviscerated in a pattern mimicking a chest of drawers. It's one thing to make use of dissection to teach anatomy; it is another thing to play with the remains of living men and women.

2) I doubt the claims of consent. In fact, I am positively sure that many of the people whose bodies are in the exhibit did not consent. For, as we walked through the exhibit, there was a group of skeletons posed in a family group. Did the child consent? Furthermore, there was an exhibit of embryos in various stages of development: Did they consent? There was a room (which we didn't enter, as we were sick to our stomachs at this point) with fetuses and babies. Did they consent? Clearly not.

Whatever the benefits of anatomical displays, I think Dr. von Hagens' work is seriously morally problematic.

Monday, January 08, 2007

On Free Will and Determinism

The fundamental fact of Christian moral teaching is this: sin is the opposite of free will. We are only free when we are able to do the good. We are free when we can do the true good despite any passions or habits we have leading us to lesser, apparent goods. Get this fact down, and the rest of moral theology makes sense.

I was thinking today how this affects the question of free will versus determinism. If freedom is the opposite of sin, then to be determined is to be enslaved to sin. The question "Is man free?" is wrongly formulated; the question should be "Are you free?" To which I answer, "Kind of. Sort of. Well, not really. I am not free--I do the wrong even when I know what is right. I must admit that I am not free, but I hope to be free someday."

Freedom is not ours by nature, at least not anymore, but it can be, through the grace of God. We aren't free, but we are free to be free; we can ask for help.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Six Weird Things About Me

I've been tagged by Eric, so here goes:

1. I've sung with a big band, for money.
2. I hate ballpoint pens. Hate hate hate. Fountain pens are the way God intended us to write. In fact, if you were taught penmanship by nuns, you have probably been disappointed all these years to have been give instructions that just don't work with ball points. But try a fountain pen; all they said works!
3. I like Bach better than Mozart, and think Beethoven's music tries too hard. Music should court the listener, not overpower him.
4. I never really liked the rosary that much. Shhh! Don't tell my sister-in-law! The Jesus Prayer, on the other hand, rocks.
5. I used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.
6. I often wear a stocking cap to bed. It has to do with my lack of hair.

There you go, 6 weird things.

Friday, January 05, 2007

God is unchanging--isn't that boring?

I came across a wonderful passage in Gabriel Marcel's Creative Fidelity concerning the traditional metaphysical predicates applied to God, that he is one, unchanging, eternal, that God does not suffer or need anything, etc. Sometimes when people hear these descriptions, they think that it seems rather limiting. How could God be unchanging? If I were unchanging, and eternal, I think I would be bored out of my mind. Surely it is better to think of a god who can change, who can experience passionate love as we do, or who can suffer with us, isn't it?

In fact there is a flaw in this sort of thinking. We think that what the theologians are doing by applying these predicates is to limit God, to say that God cannot do things. But what is actually going on is that the predicates are negative--they are denying that something limiting applies to God. To say that God is unchanging is not to say that God can't change, but that he need not change, since he is already perfect. To say that God is eternal is not to say that he endures throughout an endless duration of time, but that he is beyond time. Time doesn't even apply. To say that God does not suffer does not make God heartless, it makes him perfectly joyful.

Marcel's passage is worth quoting:
I cannot overstress the fact that theological affirmations as such are a snare; for the "properties" I have just mentioned, if construed as predicates, seem to be the most impoverished that exist; if they are construed as principles of understanding it must be conceded that they are in a sense more inadequate than those which are conferred on the humblest and most ephemeral creature in our world. To achieve that conversion of our outlook which is indispensable, and to reveal what seems an infinite deficiency as the infinite plenitude that it really is, consciousness must, by an act of decisive conversion, sacrifice itself to the One whom it must alone invoke as its Principle, End, and only Resort.

God is plenitude, so much so that to our meager conceptual apparatus, it looks like poverty.