Feb 25, 2009

new Lent > old Lent ?

UPDATE: I think some of my confusion stems from a difference iMonk already pointed out: "An important balance has to be pursued if post-evangelicalism is to be pursued in the Protestant context." I guess it was just easier for me to drop the Protestant context (pretext maybe?). :)

This post about Lent from internetmonk.com is too good not to share.

But read over this section:

So my own vision of evangelicalism is a mixture of Christian traditions and uncompromising, Gospel-centered, new covenant Gospel preaching, teaching and application.

Evangelicalism needs the connections and depth that come from the broader, deeper, more ancient Christian tradition; but even more, evangelicalism needs a strong new covenant Gospel emphasis in everything. Evangelicalism needs traditions that can give meaning and shape spirituality, but evangelicalism needs to avoid any form of legalism, asceticism or new versions of old covenant rituals.

Am I presupposing bias on his part in that I feel like he's positing "new covenant Gospel traditions" (of Evangelicalism) as a superior alternative to "more ancient Christian tradition" (of orthodox traditions), and saying that these new traditions "give meaning and shape spirituality" while the old traditions are a "form of legalism, ascetism, or new version of old covenant rituals?"

Seriously, I'm asking. Because it's possible that I'm just projecting my own bias into his words. Am I being too reactive and/or defensive of the orthodox traditions. Remember I want to stop doing that.

In any case, even if I'm maybe blowing his satement out of proportion and context, I remember feeling that way when I was Protestant. I thought that attention to rituals like fasting and Lent or sacraments like Baptism and Eucharist in the orthodox traditions were just a throwback to the legalism of the Old Testament/Covenant. Surely, in my opinion, real "New Testament spirituality" didn't need all these complicated institutions and formulas - all you need is your Bible and a few quiet minutes in prayer with God. Right?


In my practice (of more orthodox Christian traditions) in the Catholic faith, I'm finding exactly what iMonk says I should: "a full awareness of the new covenant and all the Gospel-centric implications of the new covenant." He talks about fasting. When I fasted yesterday on Ash Wednesday for the first time; I'll admit it was hard to focus on God and not on myself or my newly adopted, more ritualistic journey.

But C.S. Lewis makes a great metaphor (has he ever made a bad one?) I think I can use.

Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on. They have a certain tone or quality which is there even when he is not playing, just as a mathematician's mind has a certain habit and outlook which is there even when he is not doing mathematics. ... Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions [that are important.]
This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions we might encourage [some] wrong ideas. We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it ... We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.

This is one of the reasons we commit long-term to rituals and why they become time-honored traditions. We make them habits, like training, so that, after their newness wears off, we don't think about the traditions alone; the traditions form those certain qualities in us that make us live in God's grace when we are not in ritual.

When I first started my Catholic journey I had a couple of what I would now call "lucky shots" - where I felt a deep and intimate connection to God thru a ritual or ritualistic worship. Now I feel like I'm more in a "training" mode. There are some sporadic dramatic encounters, but I'm still "focusing on my own game" as it were - still memorizing some of the prayers, still following the congregation's lead during Eucharistic liturgy, etc.

I'm trying to make some of the "innumerable good shots" now. This Lenten Season is one of them, and many more to come. In these actions, I must remember to pursue the qualities God desires for me, and not just pursue the actions. But I now know from personal experience that, just as iMonk desires, the orthodox rituals and traditions "bring us deeper into the experience of the savior who is our salvation."

Feb 23, 2009

What's in a name?

When we receive Confirmation, we take a Confirmation name. I think it's common to take the name of a Saint with whom you identify, and whom you wish to declare as your Patron. Each week at my RCIA class they give us little fact sheets on different Saints of the Catholic Church. But I think I've chosen my Confirmation name from my own discovery.

First, the honorable mentions:
Saint Luke - in addition to my name, the books which I enjoy most as literary works are Luke's Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.

Kolbe - Maximilian Kolbe to be precise. The most amazing story of a Saint I've yet heard. During WWII, he hid 2,000 jews from the Nazi's. When they caught and arrested him, they sent him to Auschwitz. While there, a prisoner escaped, and the practice of the time was to starve 10 prisoners for each escapee - to deter further escape attempts. When one of the 10 selected prisoners lamented for his family, Kolbe volunteered to take his place. During 3 weeks of dehydration and starvation, he led the other 9 prisoners in songs and prayer. Finally, he was killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Wow.

Augustine was a great philosopher and theologian, and he influenced Thomas Aquinas (see below). He is also a patron saint of brewers!

Not a very serious consideration, but Arnold of Soissons is another patron saint of brewers. His connection to brewing is a little more explicit - he brewed beer for the monks of his monastery. In his depictions he is even shown with a mash rake (the thing that looks like a trident.)

But I can only choose one name, and there are a couple of Saints named Thomas I really like.

First and foremost, I think, is Saint Thomas the Apostle - yes, the doubting one. Actually, it's exactly the reason I identify with him. I don't hide the fact that the physical elements - from Cathedrals to Rosaries and candles - of the Catholic Church are one of the biggest attractions of its Tradition for me. I feel like Thomas - I want to see and touch; to fully experience with my senses. I guess I just feel more aware of God's real and incarnate presence when I sense it in "ordinary and earthy" means. I love this passage from Scott Hahn's "Swear to God" ...

Why would God manifest His power by such ordinary, earthy means?

He did not need to become a man in order to work miracles. God can and He does work wonders from heaven. It was not for His sake that He took flesh, but for ours. He made us, and so he knows that we human beings learn through sensible signs, sensory data. You know the old saying: Seeing is believing. It is possible, of course, to believe without seeing, but God is willing to accommodate our human condition to a remarkable degree. (Jn 20:24-29) [as He did for Thomas]

I really depend on God's provision of the "ordinary and earthy" means by which He presents Himself to me.

(In addition, Thomas the Apostle was a twin, like me - though we don't know anything about his twin. Sometimes I feel like that's true of my own twin too.)

I don't so much identify with Saint Thomas Aquinas as I respect, admire, and want to imitate him. Thomas was a profound philosopher, apologetic, and theologian - especially and particularly in the field of natural theology - "theology based on reason and ordinary experience, explaining the gods rationally, as part of the physical world" - again my allure to the physical and natural aspects of the faith. Though I have to admit almost everything I've read of his is second-hand thru quotes or citations from other sources, all his positions to which I've been exposed have rung very true with me. Inspired by him, I think I emphasize a couple Spiritual Works of Mercy - "instruct the ignorant" and "counsel the doubtful" - primarily my own ignorance and doubt. ;)

Saints Thomas Becket and Thomas More are similar and I think I relate with them in regard to their mix of spiritual and political ideas, opinions, and actions; I have a keen interest in political philosophy, though not as much as theological philosophy.

Becket was involved in political disputes with King Henry II (of England) over, like most of the Catholic/English disputes, the religious authority of the King. It really was something of a precursor to the recognition by our First Amendment that government has no authority over religious establishment or practice.

From what I've read about More, he seems like quite a character - the kind of guy who would be fun to debate politics over a pint or three. He reminds me a bit of my dad, and I know my dad loves A Man For All Seasons - a movie about More. Oddly enough though, I think I would probably disagree with More about many of his political positions and ideas - though not all. Politically, I'm a Libertarian; so More's authoritarian politics don't sit well with me. Again - reminds me of my dad.

It's really amazing just how much personal history is available in the Catholic Tradition, as compared to the relatively short view of Christian history I received growing up Evangelical. No wonder that the Communion of Saints is another of the appealing Catholic doctrines for me. I enjoy being able to ask all great men and women of faith to pray for me.

Fasting ...

Just in time for Lent, Chris at Emergent Catholic posted a link describing fasting. (I don't really know Chris, except that I found his blog while searching for "emerging catholic" and it sounds like he's on a similar journey.)

Feb 9, 2009

Convicted ...

Wow, I'm feeling convicted. I stumbled into internetmonk.com from Alan's blog. One of the more recent posts really convicted me that, as I strive to understand the Catholic teachings and make them my own, I must continually strive to experiencing God both inside the Catholic Church and outside of it - to have an open mind and not to pretend to have all the answers. I feel like I may have slipped into that attitude more and more recently. :(

Feb 1, 2009

Continuously Discrete

Another techy/geeky post, but this time it's Jeff's fault for posting about a "both/and" philosophy between digital and analog cultures. I don't feel too bad about stretching it out, because I don't think it's just a metaphor ...

One of the things he pointed out was the way we make digital copies of analog recordings, and the unavoidable(?) loss of presence involved. I remembered enough from my Data Communications Systems class to know some of the reason why. But some personal experience got me wondering about it some more. This time I can draw from a digital domain more familiar to everyone - Facebook.

In the last couple weeks, there's been an internet meme going around on Facebook for people to list 25 facts about themselves, and tag 25 other people to do the same. It's one of those chain-letter type things that I usually ignore, but I'm glad I did this one. Here's just a couple things some friends shared with me ...

  • I do want kids, but I'm waiting for that until I've accomplished what I want with my own life (since after kids, your life is no longer your own).

  • As much as I love all trinkets and nerd related toys (home theater stuff, games, computer gadgetry, guitars, cars) - I'd give any of it up for the most important things in my life... friends and family. Yes, I know, that's sappy. But hey, priorities.

  • I don’t trust well. I have been hurt enough to have nice, thick, unhealthy walls around my heart.

  • I'm happy to be working for a cause I believe in.

  • I am prouder of my daughters than they will ever know.

  • I use to have a pretty hefty addiction to internet pornography. It really started after I got married, which I thought was kinda odd. This went on for several yrs & did quite a # on my myself, my marriage, my spirituality, yeah pretty much every aspect of my life was affected.

  • I have had amazing luck my entire life with close friendships. Most all I would consider no less than family.

  • When it comes to more personal relationships I like to test my boundaries and exert my dominance by stomping them into the ground. :D BUT I do it all subconsciously.

  • I love to read anything, but I enjoy fiction/fantasy the most. I like ideas portrayed through a story much better than directly.

  • I'm atheist and NO I don't worship the devil. I don't believe in the devil and NO don't you ever try to "save" me.

  • My mom is extremely sick and has been for years and I keep it bottled up inside.

  • I'm constantly searching for friends.

  • I'm always living for the future and I hate that about myself. I want to learn to live for the moment.

  • I very rarely tell anyone what's wrong and chances are you'll never find out. I don't like asking for help and I prefer to bottle things up. I know it's not healthy.

  • I'll probably never tell you how much I love you/care about you/appreciate you, but I promise I do.

  • I have a plan for the next few years of my life, but I am starting to wonder and think that it's not really what I want.

  • I like the person I am slowly becoming.

  • I generally try to take the blame for many things.

  • It is unexplainable how grateful I am for my inspirational family, friends and boyfriend.

  • I once crashed my parent’s motorcycle and it is the most painful memory I ever had.

  • I am a bit impulsive and emotional at times, and really attached to my friends, which can be good and bad.

  • I'm also overly sensitive which is both a blessing and a curse. As a result I'm very kind to most but I'm also easily hurt. It can be quite annoying for everyone :-p

I'm including so many because 13 people tagged me - that means 325 such facts about my friends - and because it emphasizes the point. After reading thru so many, I developed a better appreciation of the presence we can find in the digital realm - a full presence; and just today I remembered a bit of the textbook knowledge behind it.
An analog signal is a "continuous" signal, while a digital signal is a "discrete" signal. To turn an analog signal into digital signal, a converter records periodic discrete samples from the continuous source signal. Now here's the textbook explanation:
The Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem states that perfect reconstruction of a signal is possible when the sampling frequency is greater than twice the maximum frequency of the signal being sampled.

So the furthest branch of the analogy is, I think, a good way to find a real presence in the digital world - listen twice as much as others talk. I shared 25 facts about myself, listened to 325 facts about my friends, and feel like it will help me to better understand them. Come to think of it, it's probably a good way to get real presence in the analog world too. :)