Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Desert

"Our desert is any place where we confront God. It is not a change of scene, nor a place to run from out failures, nor a heroic adventure that does something for our ego. Our desert experiences may be tedium. weariness, disappointment, loneliness, personal emptiness, emotional confusion, the feeling that we have nothing to give, the conviction that we constantly fail God in prayer. You just have to keep on keeping on in prayer, and you are not aware of "progress," because there seems to be nothing by which it could be measured. There are no paths in the desert except the ones you make by walking on them.

"It is the place of truth, but also of tenderness; the place of loneliness but also of God's closeness and care. The journey is precarious, but he is faithful, even though our own fidelity is shaky. In the place of hunger and poverty of spirit we are fed by the word of God, as Jesus himself was in the desert. Part of our poverty may be that we are not even aware of longing for God, only aware of the suffocating burden of our own sinfulness, of the slum within. But the desert is the place of confrontation not just with our sins, but with the power of God's redemption. You come to see it as a place where there can be springing water, manna to keep you going, the strength you never knew you had, the surprise of the quail that plops down at your feet, a tenderness that cares for you and a knowing of the Lord. These things are not the promised land, but they are tokens of love and may be sacraments of glory. Your life, your prayer, can be the wilderness to which you must look steadfastly if you would see the glory of God."

- from the book, The Coming of God, by Sr. Maria Boulding (1929-2009), a Benedictine nun of Stanbrook Abbey, England.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Philosophy vs Physics

There was a debate recently between some philosophers and some physicists about whether or not philosophy was necessary anymore, give modern science. As you might expect, the physicists on the panel were anti-philosophy and their arguments were narrow, crude, and arrogant. And the philosophers, for their part, did an inadequate job of defending themselves. My answer to the question is this. People, including philosophers themselves, know what academic philosophers do, but they have forgotten what philosophers really do. They ask meaningful, intelligent questions. Physics is entirely dependent on philosophy--it is derived from philosophy and cannot exist without it. Without philosophy, science does not know what questions to ask. Every scientist who asks a fundamental question about any unknown aspect of nature is engaging in philosophy. As everyone knows, the word philosophy means the love of wisdom. That includes the love and pursuit of knowledge. Anyone who contemplates a phenomena of nature--the beauty of a flower, the stars in the sky, the course of a disease, or the behavior of an animal or person, and asks how or why it can be explained, becomes a philosopher.

Fyodor Mikhailovish Dostoevsky

Christopher Hitchens, the journalist and notorious enemy of all religious belief was also a crack literary critic. Despite Dostoevsky's Christian themes, Hitchens found Dostoevsky's novels to be mindblowing, absolutely extraordinary. Pope Francis, in the interview where, among many other statements, he said, "Who am I to judge," was also asked if he had any other advice to give. He said, "Read all the Dostoevsky you can." Perhaps we should start reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jesus as Lord

I have always pondered what it meant to say, "Jesus is Lord." We modern people do not relate to or even like terms like Lord or King. I think of such terms as old-fashioned and authoritarian, and clearly, for a Christian, our relationship to Jesus is not one of master-slave. I can accept and understand terms like Lord and King, in the sense of loyalty and devotion. But today, people tend to stress Jesus as friend, which seems to imply an entirely different kind of relationship.

Think of the spiritual oppositeness of Christianity as compared to the world (blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God). Crucifixion was intended as the utmost shame that the Roman government could impose on a person. And yet we have people in the 1st century claiming that this humble person from a remote corner of one of the backwaters of the world, who happened to have been crucified, is King, Lord, and Messiah. It is this inside-outness of worldly wisdom and prudence, this ironical, paradoxical sense of the meaning of terms like Lord and King that I ponder.

David Williams:

"The fact that Jesus, the Messiah, took the form of a servant, proclaimed forgiveness and welcome to sinners and outcasts, and, ultimately, was crucified all serve to transform our understanding of what his Lordship means. God will set the world to rights not through violence and political power-plays but through the meek, the humble, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit. The death and resurrection of Jesus places a large question mark over most of our geo-political projects."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Change the World

From two members of the Augustinian Recollects:

Fray Daniel Ayala said, "The communities, the province, and the order are revitalized in proportion to the renewal of persons."

Fray Eddie gave a simple and profound homily in which he recalled the need for, "Prayer, discernment, and trust in Divine Providence."

If you want to change the world, you must first change yourself.

Turn the Other Cheek

Turning the other cheek is not passive acquiescence. It is standing one's ground. It is provocative but non-violent, signaling to the aggressor that I refuse to share the assumptions that are motivating you. I refuse to live in the same moral and spiritual world that you are living in. At the same time, you mirror back to the violent person, that they may see and be brought to change.

- author unknown

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saint Augustine on Self-Knowledge and Dealing with the Circumstances of Life

"Every trial we undergo is designed to prove us, and all such probation is fruitful. We are for the most part an unknown quantity to ourselves; we do not know what we can bear and what we cannot. Sometimes we think we can carry something, though it is really beyond our strength, and at other times we feel hopeless about carrying something that is within our powers. So the trial comes, and it puts us to the question, and we discover ourselves."

--St. Augustine (Expositions of the Psalms)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

World Peace

Take a look at what our military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to.

With more than 1,000,000 deaths in the region, in the long run, they have only led to more terrorism, with no sign of any peace anywhere or any time in the near future. With every innocent civilian we kill, each of their many relatives hates the U.S., with some portion becoming active terrorists. Do the math to imagine how many Muslems now want to kill Westerners, with Islamic Jihad to supply the supporting ideology.

As a result of the unintended consequences of our interventions, IS is orders of magnitude bigger, more organized, and more murderous than Al Qaeda ever was. IS recalls the original Islamic horde that conquered the known world from Southern to Norther India.

And what do many critics and journalists say? They criticize Obama because he hasn't bombed Syria, Iran, IS, or the Eastern Ukraine, etc. They want more of the same solution that has expanded the problem in the first place.

Recent American history shows that limited war and police actions never work in the long run. And look at Israel's situation. There are more than one billion Muslems in the world. No matter how much military force is used, I fear that there will always be an expanding, critical mass of terrorists who want to either kill us or force us to convert to Islam.

If this middle east thing expands any more, we may not have any choice but to engage in a World War III which will surely result in the deaths of a large portion of the people living in the middle east. But a military annihilation of all terrorists is an statistical impossibility.

We need to find a way to wage peace. We need vigorous, creative leadership and conflict resolution. We need a Savior.


Perhaps informed criticism of one side or the other has its place. However, I am sure both sides have done wrong, have made mistakes, have targeted civilians, have committed numerous human rights abuses.  But to take sides or demonize one side or the other is counter-productive. People have been doing that for the entire recorded history of the middle east and it has gotten humankind nowhere. I prefer to put the emphasis on reconciliation, peace, and justice, even if it seems impossible to do.  We need leadership and vigorous, creative efforts at conflict resolution.