Thursday, 27 March 2014

Unanswered prayer

I've come across few heartbreaking instances of the phenomenon of "unanswered prayers". Some surfer kids became worried after they saw middle size fish jump out of the water, and thought there might be a shark in there. So they prayed to Jesus to keep them safe. One of them got attacked by the shark that was indeed there and died half an hour later on the beach in front of his 16 year old mates. One diocese in New South Wales wanted to launch a couple of schools to keep the rumour of God alive in 21st century Australian society. For a variety of reason, including their inability to recruit able managers for those schools, they ran into so much debt that it bankrupt the diocese, with the good people in the pews now facing the prospect of losing everything (churches, church halls, rectories) and their whole notion of church as they know it. Now ummm, all of this was undertaken prayerfully enough. But how much of the "answers" we hear back are just our wishful thinking? How can we know? I'm not a fan of having to deal with horrendous confusion when I'd really like some guidance from on high. But hey, I'd rather that than delude myself I'm "hearing" anything back like the godly folks whose stories I've just retold. As time passes, I'm starting to think that this subjective "relationship with Jesus" business is kind of abusive to me. What kind of relationship have I got with someone who never talks to me, or so infrequently that it makes the long silence all the more unbearable? I don't know anybody in real life who treats me this badly, who can be so indifferent to my cries for help. Now granted, I'm all subjective here, maybe I've understood it all wrong, maybe that's not how it works. But I'd sure like to know how it works then... And I'd like to know where to get some proper guidance, and a bit of feedback too. It's so hard to handle all the decisions completely on my own, with no GPS so to speak, and to have to take so many wrong turns and detours, out of total lostness, on this road.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Gentleness and plenty

I haven't blogged for a while, more than a year or so it seems. The truth of the matter is that I haven't blogged a lot since my kids were born. Thomas was joined this last February by our daughter Madeleine and life has been, well, busy. I thought back of this blog as a spot where I used to gather the things that were little elements of the life of faith as it happens to me. A fair few things have happened but none of them I felt compelled to keep a record of. But of late a reading of Colm Tóibín's "The Testament of Mary" has been a minor cataclysm. I guess he put into words a few things I didn't know I thought. In this work of fiction he depicts the early followers of Jesus as a bunch of hysterical malcontents, each with a warped agenda of their own. The author makes this historical period and place seriously unattractive, full of heightened emotions and out-of-touch fanaticism. In this book, the narrator, Mary, heartily dislikes the various bands of zealots that seek contact with her. She ends up dropping Judaism in favour of the gentleness and plenty of a Greek Goddess because he heart yearns for calm and abundance. So now, I wish I could pinpoint exactly what it is that I absolutely loved about this novella. But at the bottom I think it is a plea for gentleness and plenty above orthodoxy and heroism. These last qualities are so demanding they make failures out of pretty much everyone. In the process we can forget how much we too yearn for calm and abundance, not just for ourselves, but for all.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Looking for a consitently good online read?

While I'm busy trying to find a few minutes a month to write in here again, you might like to go check this fantabulous resource: Enlarging the Heart.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Imperfectly transmitted

For a couple of months, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time on a catholic parenting forum. Mostly this can be explained by the fact that I don't have an inordinate amount of time, just little bits of time here and there when the baby is asleep.

Still, I think I was fascinated by a certain innocent way of relating to the world and to God which I have lost entirely and will never recapture. I will never again pray to the Virgin Mary for this or that to happen. Not that I haven't tried, but the picture of squeletically thin children superimposes itself on my brain each and every time. I'm crushed and want to cry. In fact all I want to do when I attempt to pray is cry.

So, on this forum, I came across this manual of a choir boy. I browsed a few pages and could not believe my eyes. Although written in 1845, the style was timeless, for all I knew it could have been written five years ago. "This is an extraordinarily youthful, timeless voice" I thought, and really quite remarkable. I am a sucker for works written in this timeless voice, which to me is the hallmark of good style. But on that occasion it seemed to be exactly the same as the voice of the priest I grew up with.

I read a bit further and it was like trying to understand a foreign language you would have learned at school for a little bit years and years ago. Vaguely familiar, but distant and incomprehensible. How could this brand of catholicism have passed almost unchanged from the early 1800s to the mid 1990's and why did it stop with me? Why has this DNA change of some magnitude occured in my young soul which makes me unable to relate to that stuff on any further.

Actually, my metaphor of a foreign language is not the best one. What this feels like is more like waking up one day and realising you have forgotten how to speak your mother tongue. You can still live and function somehow but your mind is stunned and numb.

Since this is a state of affairs I can't really change, I tell myself "So what?" A Christian subculture thrives for a couple of hundred years in a particular time and a particular place, well that's a good thing. But if you can't relate to that one, there are plenty more to choose form, including some that haven't been thought up and codified yet. To hell with the scent of cold incense, this thing is alive, let us hear new timeless voices.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Beyond the dichotomy

In my last post, I promised to explore the concept of nice folk helping poor people, "embodying Jesus" and whatever else they think they're doing. I have touched on this before. But it might be good to delve into it some more.

In 2010, I wrote this post. Now if we spend a split minute asking ourselves which of the key protagonists is the most wretched in the eyes of God, it becomes obvious that it is not the homeless guy.

So on the one hand, we have a shelterless guy who has no access to food, water, sanitation or friendship. On the other hand we have a well catechised professed Christian. Again it might be interesting to ask which of the two is the most pitiable, or the poorest, in God's eyes.

This Faithless song lays it out quite well:

You look fresh, yeah
But all I got is dirt in my hair
My nightmares manifest,
But I can escape
Yours is in your chest
With no form or shape

The Middle Ages grasped something about this that we forget. Back then, it was the custom for whoever gave a coin to someone who was begging to request a prayer for the salvation of the giver's soul. The practice was probably very self-serving on the part of the givers, but at least the practice acknowledged that God listens to the poor, and that the salvation of the rich is in grave danger. Both the giver and the givee knew this.

Better still, in The Fear of Beggars, Kelly S. Johnson reminds us that in the Christian polity, we have supposedly surrendered our property at the feet of the apostles and from that point onward we should all become beggars, which is a stance more in keeping with our ontological dependence on God.

Nowadays we don't even recognise this, the poor are just left to be poor, both materially and spiritually. They've got nothing on us. But fortunately for all involved, progressive Christians have a bit to spare, both materially and spirirtually, and we're willing to dole out a few crumbs of it away.

Now, if the homeless guy and me were both to die and appear before God tomorrow what would God see? Probably that we were both desperately poor and miserable, desperately sad and full of unshed tears. The one coming at the end of a life deprived of earthly comforts and friendship, the other coming at the end of a life lived without a grasp and command of the most basic elements of the Christian Imagination.

But it is my hope that God would also affirm the "life, goodness, health, purity, and well-being of the dying, the sinners, the sick, the impure, and the poor" to use the words of Poserorprophet.

In my understanding of Dan's stance, life, goodness, health, purity and well-being are not simply things to be given out to people who lack them. They are primarily things to be affirmed in people who have already them. Despite all of the brokenness, God sees the life, the goodness, the health, the purity and the well-being of the homeless guy now. He sees them in me now. Maybe instead of pitying our miserableness -or the miserableness of others for that matter- we could begin by affirming these too.

But at the end of the day what I'm saying is: stop essentialising, we're all people. We're all sinners. We're all beggars for love. But despite our weaknesses (which I am not excusing or condoning) we are also beautiful and good and healthy and pure and well. Once we grasp this, there is much less scope left for any kind of condescention.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cavanaugh's Being Consumed, a critical review

Occasionally, when reading a book on a topic that is of interest to me, I get to close the book again and think: "rats, if I want to read something good on this, it looks like I'm going to have to write it myself".

I was disappointed by this book, which reads like a rush job written for professional gain, rather than a genuine attempt at enlightening the reader. There is no depth to it and nothing I haven't read before (admittedly, this might be because I'm usually afforded a bountiful diet of good reading stuff).

Seriously, compare this meagre 100 pages rehash of things the blogosphere has been saying for yonks, with the early work of the likes of Mark McIntosh, and it leads me to think that there are early career monographs that are true labours of love, and early career monographs that are not. It reads like a long rant, supported by maybe fifteen sources, most of them are big hitters to be found on any first year undergraduate's reading list. I really hope that Cavanaugh got tenure and that he'll start writing good stuff again.

The thing that annoys me with authors who go on and on about something needing to be done about the poor is that they take money for granted. My thinking (and I suspect that was Peter Maurin's thinking too) is that you'd be better off trying to operate as much as you can outside money. It is not fully possible of course, not even for the likes of Jesus and his band of followers, but I think that this should be intented when possible.

This is my reading of giving back to Caesar what is Caesar's. It might be a way-out-there interpretation but it is mine and I own it. To me Christ's answer ammounts to saying: "Don't you see that by asking this question and using those coins you already are a part of Empire, and that Empire has got its grip on you through this".

Increasingly, I don't think money can ever be kosher, because no matter what kind of ethical job you do, it's all funded by profit made elsewhere and quite unethically. The same goes for being on the dole, since dole money was raised through taxes, and guess who got taxed. So my solution is do as much as you can outside of it. As I say, it is not always possible. But it is no surprise that alternative currencies are flourishing in Greece or is it?

Thus, it would be a good idea to go beyond Cavanaugh's recommendations of letting Communion wean you of your own desires for more stuff and towards giving more away. And when you do buy things, buy fairtrade and support companies with a triple bottom line. No shit Sherlock!? And if someone desperately poor gives you a present keep it and bring it back to your home in the first world as a reminder of what real sharing looks like.

So now, the concept of Christian desire is quite interesting, but I can't think of anyone that has treated it well (apart from me that is :-)). Even this dissertation on Augustine was a bit of a let down.

Additionally, I don't think that talking or writing about the poor as "the others" is all that constructive. To hell with Noblesse Oblige in all its forms. We would be well inspired to ditch the dichotomies of "the poor" and "the nice people who are in charge of benevolently helping them out by empowering them". But more on this in a next post.

Still the heart of the matter is that I'm tired of reading guilt-infused exhortatory stuff by liberal academics. I just want to read the "how tos" of people who have done it, and done it well.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Check out this website please

One of my quaker friends pointed me towards a website intended to document the testimonies of members of the Israeli army. A whole lot of reasons why I won't be caught dead in the Holy Land fueling that regime.