Friday, 1/22/16

  1. The God beyond your head
  2. What if matter matters?
  3. The State of Disunion
  4. Safe, legal, unlimited, subsidized
  5. Worship songs
  6. Noble lies and symbolic sacraments


Apologies to Matthew Crawford for the title The God beyond your head.

One of the most difficult things as a Christian to fight against is the idea that the Christian life is chiefly about studying the Bible (and, for Catholics, the Catechism) and learning through a process of rationality how to apply its teachings to govern our lives. In the Great Tradition, as [Hans] Boersma shows so well, Scripture, the Church, and the doctrines that come out of them all derive their meaning from the living God, who desires radical communion with us: theosis. This is not a contractual agreement by us that God is real and His teachings are true (though we must agree to these things), but rather an ongoing absorption in His life, and a reweaving of the sacramental tapestry through His work in our own lives.

It’s a hard concept to understand, I know, and I don’t have the time or the space to go into it in more detail here. Besides, it’s more the kind of thing you have to grasp today, on the far side of the Modern era, by prayer and experience, as opposed to cogitation. Nevertheless, Boersma makes a strong case that reclaiming this Great Tradition the only thing that stands to stop and reverse the fragmentation and dissolution of the Christian faith in the West.

(Rod Dreher, hyperlink added) It was nice to meet Rod in person in Wichita, but he had two plenary addresses and one breakout talk, and is working (almost) constantly on blog or books, so we didn’t exactly hang out and become bosom buddies.


Reflecting on Rod Dreher’s aphorism “matter matters”:

It is rare for Rod to write or speak about the Benedict Option without him feeling obliged to push back against the idea that the communities he has in mind must be isolated, rural, restrictive, sectarian, agrarian communes. That’s not it at all!, he says and writes over and over again. But why must he always repeat himself? In part, I came to think during the symposium, because the sort of people he’s sharing his ideas with mostly live–as nearly all people nowadays live, myself included–in cities, as members of a near-completely urbanized civilization. And on some level or another, they recognize at least some part of themselves in [Harvey] Cox’s description (and celebration!) [in The Secular City] of the mobile, changeable, transitory city. Perhaps they work in advertising, trying to create ways to sell social media apps over the iPhone. Or they’re a project manager for some corporation, responsible for charting performance reviews and job training so as to hit some government agency’s quota. Or they handle financial derivatives. Or they process purchasing orders for online marketers. Or they collate information for hedge fund managers. Or they do one of a million other jobs which the diversity and anonymity and wealth of modern urban existence makes possible, and they read about the Benedict Option, and they think to themselves, even if Rod doesn’t put it this way explicitly: there is no matter to what I do. There’s no there there, at least not a real, sacramental, thingy there. And that worries them–as it worries me, city-dweller that I am.

(Russell Arben Fox)


The Republican Party may be closer to outright blowup since the rank and file will never accept Donald Trump as their legitimate candidate, and Trump has nothing but contempt for the rank and file ….

(James Howard Kunstler) Either I’m missing something or this is a very odd misuse of “rank and file.” He then turns to the Democrats:

Parallel events could rock the Democratic side. I expect Hillary to exit the race one way or another before April. She comes off the shelf like a defective product that never should have made it through quality control. Nobody really likes her. Nobody trusts her. Nobody besides Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Huma Abedin believe that it’s her turn to run the country. Factions at the FBI who have had a good look at her old State Department emails want to see her indicted for using the office to gin up global grift for the Clinton Foundation. These FBI personnel may be setting up another constitutional crisis by forcing Attorney General Loretta Lynch either to begin proceedings against Clinton or resign. Rumors about her health (complications from a concussion suffered in a fall ) won’t go away. And finally, of course, Senator Bernie Sanders is embarrassing her badly at the polls.

The Democrats could feasibly end up having to nominate Bernie on a TKO, but in doing so would instantly render themselves a rump party peddling the “socialist” brand — about the worst product-placement imaginable, given our history and national mythos ….


This campaign [Hillary Clinton] has cast aside her husband’s formula on abortion—“safe, legal and rare”—that she herself ran on in the past. Gone is the moderating nuance of yesteryear: reducing the number of abortions, finding “common ground” with pro-lifers, even, in her first campaign for the Senate in 2000, how she would be OK with a limit on partial-birth or late-term abortions so long as it didn’t threaten the life of the mother.

The new Mrs. Clinton has moved to the absolutist position of the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. Today Mrs. Clinton’s formula is safe, legal, unlimited—and federally subsidized. We saw this new Hillary Clinton at a Planned Parenthood rally in New Hampshire this month, where she said she favored “safe and legal abortion” and denounced the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion.

“I will always defend Planned Parenthood and I will say consistently and proudly, Planned Parenthood should be funded, supported and protected, not undermined, misrepresented and demonized,” Mrs. Clinton said. In return, Planned Parenthood rewarded her with the first presidential primary endorsement in its 100-year history.

(William McGurn) Of the innumerable reasons why I cannot call myself a Democrat, this ranks near the top. Hillary’s “new” position isn’t new at all. It is, and has been, Democrat orthodoxy at the national level for at least 23 years. Remember Bob Casey?

Maybe a guilty conscience about this is why two Catholic Democrat politicians tipped their hands very recently that they still consider me a partisan Republican, though I have never darkened to door of a Republican party meeting, maintained public neutrality fairly strictly during my most public prolife activism in hopes of wooing such folk into the prolife fold where they belong, and moved loudly and bitterly to politically homeless several years ago (perhaps as many as 11, as Dubya’s Second Inaugural Address was so certifiably crazed).


This article in Crisis reminds me of my longtime convictions about worship, which consistently fell on deaf Protestant ears and may have had a major (if tacit) role in my conversion to Orthodoxy Christianity.

I cannot remember a time as an adult or adolescent when I did not think that worship should be directed to God and about God.

It shouldn’t be about “I’m so happy and here’s the reason why.” It shouldn’t be about “I was the biggest sinner on the block, but no more.” It shouldn’t even be about “some wretch in my hearing is the biggest sinner on his block and needs to come to Jesus.”

Call me a curmudgeon, but none of that is “worship.” Nobody would have thought that such things were “worship” for the first, oh, maybe 1800 years of the Church.

As I grew up, “Hymn Number 1” in our denomination’s hymnal was “Holy, Holy, Holy.” That’s a hymn — an outstanding one — and it’s directed to God and about God. Thumbs up.

How Great Thou Art” isn’t too bad, though it starts to get into “boy am I ever gonna be happy.”

Just as I am,” beloved though it may be in the curiously altarless “Altar Calls” of Evangelicalism, begins to deviate into something less than worship (as is manifest by its function in Altar Calls), though it pretends it’s directed to Jesus.

Let me see if I can summarize my test:

  1. Who is it directed to? If to each other, it’s not worship. If to God, proceed to question 2.
  2. What’s it saying? If it’s saying “You made me so very happy,” it’s not worship. If it’s saying “you are [magnificent/incomprensible/awesome/etc.], it sounds pretty much like worship.

Hard case: What if it’s addressed to God but says I really want to worship you (Thee)? Why would you tell God you want to worship Him instead of just worshipping Him? Don’t you know how to worship? If not, shouldn’t you learn? (Sorry, starting off with a Psalm snippet and then riffing around it can’t salvage the song.)

Random selection (“hymns” I didn’t know) from this collection revealed mostly themes other than worship.

I’m not without guilt. Despite my convictions, I look back and shudder just a little at my singing this as a solo several times in corporate “worship.” I liked it because:

  1. It was kind of theological and emphasized the incarnation of God-in-Christ.
  2. It was pretty Biblical for verses 1, 2  and 3b (and by “Biblical” I mean quotes, paraphrases or allusions).
  3. It worked well with my vocal range and passaggi.

But it wasn’t really worship. It was more like a sung sermon.

Just a reminder, to bring this item full circle: Orthodox worship is sooooo not about me. That answers to something I wanted for decades.


Folks keep saying that some virtue or deep wisdom or another only makes sense from a base of theological assumptions (like here, for instance), so we shouldn’t impose them on folks who may lack those assumptions. Others say you “don’t need God to be good.”

The messages are sort of contradictory, are they not?

I’m sticking with my old standby: if religion isn’t truly true, then let’s not pretend it is just to get some desired result. Toward useful religion I feel as Flannery O’Connor did toward symbolic eucharist.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.