Thursday, March 30, 2006

Makes me feel old--and I'm not yet 44!

First Lyn Nofziger, this morning:

Then Cap Weinberger, this evening:

It makes me realize how long ago the Reagan presidency was.

May they, and all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

San Fran: tolerant and diverse--unless you're Christian

The city by the bay -- at least, it's political "leadership" -- is receiving well-earned hoots of derision after two spasmodic official utterances, one directed at the Catholic Church, the other at a group of menacing Evangelical teenagers.

First came the attack over adoptions into same-sex couples:

"It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city's existing and established customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need."

Hmm. That the Board of Supervisors would lecture the Church about "established customs and traditions" (um, since when?), is pretty rich. By the way--what was the name of that city again?

Then there's the screed against "Battlecry," a Evangelical group, mostly teenagers, gathered of course to witness their faith and zeal--so what? Poor wittle San Francisco, gets the vapors when anyone shows up believing in "customs and traditions" older than, say, 1969. The teenagers draw a resolution of condemnation from the city fathers--I mean, progenitors (sorry, my patriarchy was showing!).

The San Francisco Chronicle said it well:

THE IRONY was obviously lost on the clueless San Francisco supervisors when they passed a resolution warning that a Christian youth gathering could "negatively influence the politics of America's most tolerant and progressive city."

Spare us the doomsday hyperbole, supervisors.

We can safely report that the politics of San Francisco suffered no discernible shift in ideological alignment from the convergence of 25,000 Christian teenagers listening to rock 'n' roll music and words of inspiration. There was no evidence of any surge in support for the Iraq war, affection for President Bush or oil drilling off the California coast. The medical-marijuana clubs were still doing business as usual, public dancing was still legal, the petition gatherers were still working Market Street for the latest save-the-planet cause.

The supervisors' reaction to the evangelical Christians was so boorishly over the top that only one word could describe it:


Perhaps the song that Judy Garland made famous needs revising?

San Francisco, pull up your golden gate
Don't let those Christers sneak inside your door
San Francisco, everyone's tolerant here!
Agree or we'll whack you one more!

(Biretta tip: Amy Welborn's Open Book.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Justice for Immigrants

When I read that Catholic priests are taking part in these demonstrations around the country, I wondered what I really think about these matters, and what I might share with you. So often, high-emotion slogans or reactive statements dominate.

Here are some thoughts:

* Overall, immigration is good for this country.

Many people presuppose some very faulty ideas about economics; to be fair, a lot of the things they hear about such subjects has flawed economic and social ideas imbedded in them.

For example, people aren't a "drain" on resources; they are the principal resource! Folks coming here are a net plus in terms of jobs and prosperity.

That's not to say there are no negatives to welcoming immigrants; but for all that immigrants "receive" or "take," they bring more -- both in what they contribute, and also in that they are consumers. Their advent isn't simply to be feared, but it does require some planning and response. (Unfortunately, we are simply paralyzed right now.)

It would be fair to limit what social assistance goes to immigrants to this country; both fair to taxpayers, and fair to the immigrants! I'm not recommending a cold shoulder; but it's reasonable to say, "you come here, you work, you pay your way." (And I think most do.)

It is valid to observe illegal immigrants pull down wages; however, the best remedy is an economy that creates lots of jobs, which we are well able to do. Sadly, our politicians here in Ohio have created an economic dystopia; but most of the country does better fostering jobs and growth. And we need to bring these workers out of the shadows, for their sake, and for everyone elses.

The folks coming up from nations to the south of us are Christian and therefore can be a source of new life and strength both to our culture and our Church, if we receive them well.

Remember, these folks pay the U.S. a huge compliment -- they want to be here; they go through tremendous ordeals to be here. We have a lot of worries about folks who are bred to hate us; not these folks.

Another benefit of this in-migration is that it may save our bacon when it comes to Social Security -- at least, for the time being.

* We can only do so much anyway.

We are dealing with fundamental disparities between the opportunities available in the United States, vs. their homes. Until that changes -- and it won't change easily or quickly -- this reality will continue.

There is a question of social justice that often gets short-shrift: shouldn't we do more to help that change things in those other countries, rather than simply drain off their more enterprising folks? As long as incompetent, statist, corrupt and indifferent folks who run things in those countries can have out-migration as a "safety valve," they can postpone dealing with their more fundamental problems; meanwhile they lose some of the very folks they need to bring that transformation. And they can leave the problem for their successor. (A similar phenomenon can be observed in many cities, and states, in the U.S.)

Realistically, what are we going to do? We're not going to eject all the illegals; we're not going to keep them all out. We're not going to build a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf.

Maybe we could invade Mexico, and engage in some "nation-building"?

Other than our current, do-almost-nothing policy, what we're most likely to do is manage it better; I hate to say it, but some sort of guest worker program may make sense, along with allowing more folks to become citizens the proper way. But there are reasonable quid-pro-quos; see next item.

* A nation has a right to manage its borders; and to expect those within to be part of the community.

Some who are taking the side of the illegal immigrants seem to dismiss the totally legitimate right of a nation to control its borders. And of all nations to accuse of being exclusionary, for heaven's sake! I welcome knowledgeable refutation here: has any nation been more welcoming, more tolerant, more accepting of immigrants -- both legal and otherwise -- than ours?

It did not help the cause of the illegal immigrants that the demonstrations featured foreign flags. I would have advised the folks to bring American flags; and I rather suspect many of the organizers were savvy enough to suggest that. And yet that advice was either not widely given, or not heeded.

Certainly, part of any "deal" responding to this problem can and must be steps to facilitate and expect "assimilation." Again, in this country, this hasn't been anything cruel or unfair. There is nothing wrong with insisting that anyone who wishes to be part of this country -- that is, you want to stay here -- to learn the language, and learn the ethos.

Now would be a good time for some good sense on the "multi-culturalism" and bilingual education nonsense that has taken root here and there. The deal should be: we'll welcome more immigrants from south of us; but in response, you will become part of our culture; we will have one language -- English.

(In general, I think social, economic and cultural forces tend to move things in that direction anyway; but there are folks, especially in politics, who make mischief on this subject, aggravating the problem and not doing Spanish-speaking newcomers any real favors anyway.)

* Our Bishops Conference needs to stop acting so woolly-headed on this subject.

The few times I've seen anyone on TV presenting the bishops' position, most of it was reactive mush; little was constructive. Unfortunately, this reflects the thinking and political allegiances of the folks who staff the episcopal bureaucracy in D.C.

The one point that comes across is that the proposed law seems to empower the government to punish anyone who provides any sort of help to an illegal immigrant. The politicians say that's not their intent; if so, I agree with Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things who said the legislation should be written clearly on this point. You might expect our solons would take pains to write laws clearly. You will be sorely disappointed in that expectation. I can tell you, I have never asked anyone about his citizenship or legal status, and I don't plan to start.

* More important than how many come is that our government needs to know who's coming in.

Our nation faces a much graver peril from Islamofascist terrorists who want to destroy us. The porosity of our borders is extremely disturbing. If we reach some sort of accommodation on immigration -- we welcome more, we regularize the illegals, we have some sort of "guest worker" program -- then we get millions of folks out of the shadows, and there are millions of folks who are no longer drawing resources away from the threat from the terrorists.

Whatever you want to say about the millions of Hispanics in our midst, very few are interested in blowing up cities; and I rather suspect we could make this implicit deal: "We'll welcome you here, either as citizens or legal, guest workers; in exchange, you police your ranks, and any trouble makers, turn over to the feds."

Anyway, these are my thoughts; you're welcome to offer your own.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Interesting thoughts on Immigration

TechCentralStation, run by James Glassmann, always has something interesting on both the well known issues of the day, and subjects that don't get much attention, but ought to.

Here's what Arnold Kling said there today. I highlighted the sections most interesting to me:

"I believe that illegal immigrants bring relatively little economic benefit and cause relatively little economic harm. I believe that there are substitutes readily available for the work done by illegal immigrants. Legal residents could do some of the work. Other labor could be replaced by capital or by alternative production techniques. By the same token, because there are many substitutes available for unskilled labor, the salvation of American workers does not lie in immigration restrictions.

"My prediction is that effective restrictions on illegal immigration would cause a shift in the location of unskilled labor, but not a meaningful long-term change in real wages. In the short run, wages for unskilled labor would rise in the United States. This would cause more manufacturing plants to relocate outside the United States, driving wages back down. Compared with the situation today, the net effect of immigration restrictions would be to shift some Mexican workers out of service work in America and into manufacturing work in Mexico. Within the United States, the reverse would happen: legal residents would lose manufacturing jobs more rapidly, and hang onto low-wage service jobs longer. I do not think that these economic effects are important.

Now of course, I am not saying Mr. Kling is right; but if he is, doesn't that suggest a social-justice reason we should have stricter immigration regulations -- to facilitate improvement in Mexico (and by extension, other countries where the immigrants come from)?

It has occurred to me that the unaddressed issue is that the countries where these folks come need development and opportunity; and the politicians there see this out-migration as a way to avoid the real problem.

More wine in the box

Back to the "box wine" discussion.

I find I like red wine-in-the-box; unfortunately, I can't get one just the way I like it. Either I can get a "chillable red" that's a little sweet, or a burgundy or cabernet that is a little dry. Solution? I buy one of each, and do my own blend. (You can mock, but I point out that wine sellers have been packaging "blends" for some time now; and since I know no more than the minimum about wine, I really don't know what sort of pedigree this practice has; but my cynical suspicion is that it's really just repackaging leftovers.)

Oh, and while I'm exposing myself to mockery high and low, I will invite more as I ask if anyone else does what I do: when the box is almost empty, I tear it open, pull out the bag, to see how much wine is left in it. I've discovered when the box seems empty, there can be rather more wine still inside, that doesn't pour out all that well -- sometimes one or two glasses' worth.

I've figured out you can usually get all but the last glass by doing a lot of tipping; for the last glass, simply snip off a corner of the bag and pour out the rest! As my frugal father would have said: "I paid for that wine that's still in there, too!"

Thanks, dad!

Without any endorsement, I must give credit to the photo, which came from this site.

How'd they heat leftovers before microwaves?

I was just looking in the fridge for some dinner, and found some leftover Chinese (food) inside. "Hmm, how will I heat this?" (I actually do have a microwave, but it's in the basement and it's an older, bulky one, so I haven't moved it up to the kitchen yet. I don't even know if it works.)

I thought, well, I could heat it up on the stovetop; but I really didn't want to stand there over it; then I got an idea: put it in the oven! Since the food was, unhelpfully, in microwave-safe plastic, I transferred it to metal pots, set the oven on 290, figuring it'll heat up slowly (meaning if I get distracted blogging, it won't turn to charcoal).

Then, just as I was congratulating myself on my idea, I sheepishly remembered: "oh yeah. This is how mom used to do it. All the time."

Thanks mom!

Another Bible option: for teens

I was at a famous-name bookstore today, browsing the Bible shelf, seeing if there are any other good options for Catholics.

I found this:

(Click on the headling above to go to where you can check it out.)

While there aren't many notes on the Scriptures themselves, it is a Catholic Bible, with imprimatur; what is appealing about it are the "inserts" -- at several points throughout, you get four pages, full color, with concise, well-written information about basic Catholic beliefs, presented in an accessible and appealing fashion. (Tell the truth, anyone could benefit from this, although someone older might chafe at being given a "teen" Bible.)

And who wrote these appealing, effective pages? Amy Welborn. You might want to check with her, to see if she'd prefer to sell you the book another way (she was doing some sort of book sale from her blog some time back -- click on her name above to go there).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Should he have been fired for this?

A radio DJ uttered a racial slur on-air, concerning Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. He immediately apologized, for what seems to have been a slip of the tongue.
Ms. Rice accepted his apology.

He was fired the same day.

What do you think? Is there more to this that I don't know about?
(Click on headline above to see a wire story on this.)

Who is blind? (2nd Scrutiny)

A lot of blind people
in the readings today.
In the first reading,
nobody sees anything special
in the youngest son,
Not even the Prophet Samuel!

In the Gospel,
lots of people think they can see.

But what do they see?
A man born blind;
A man who must be a sinner!
Someone of no importance.

Of course, the blindest one of all
isn’t the blind man.
He sees better than most.

No, the blindest ones are those
who say they see just fine.

Boy, isn’t that us a lot of the time?

Do you think you see?
Are you sure?

There’s so much goodness
we fail to see in each other.
Rather, we tend to see
what annoys or offends us.
We fail to see—or we forget to look for—
people of no importance,
standing by the road, begging.

Whole parts of the world are like that:
Africa, North Korea, Cuba.
We can’t fix all the problems,
but if we start by learning more about them,
we might find we can do more
than we first thought.

And there are people in our community!
Poor, unimportant, begging for help.
It’s easy to feel bad for them—
and then move on.
What’s hard is to care genuinely.
At least, this is an attitude
I am guilty of.

If we admit we are blind,
The Lord will help us see.

It’s a little distasteful the way he did.
that the Lord used saliva and dust.
Sometimes, the Lord offers to heal us,
but we don’t like how he’s going to do it.

He says, “go to confession,”
but we say,
“Nah, I don’t want to do that!”
He says, “go apologize”—
but we are too proud.

If we want to be healed badly enough,
We’ll want it any way we can get it!

We only need ask:
“Lord: I want to see!”

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Just what are we fighting for?

The case of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert from Islam, now facing the death penalty in Afghanistan, is getting lots of attention, as well it should.

Here's a great quote from columnist Mark Steyn, which I saw at National Review Online:

I can understand why the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would rather deal with this through back channels, private assurances from their Afghan counterparts, etc. But the public rhetoric is critical, too. At some point we have to face down a culture in which not only the mob in the street but the highest judges and academics talk like crazies. Abdul Rahman embodies the question at the heart of this struggle: If Islam is a religion one can only convert to, not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet.

What can we do? Should governments with troops in Afghanistan pass joint emergency legislation conferring their citizenship on this poor man and declaring him, as much as Karzai, under their protection?

In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of "suttee" - the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Gen. Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

...Oh, and a tip of the biretta to Mark Anthony, who raised the matter of this issue, in his own, irenic way, several days ago on his site.

Laetare Sunday

Yes, I wore a rose vestment. Brand-new, donated by a parishioner; so just before Mass, I blessed it and then went into the sacristy to put it on.

Also had some roses in front of the altar (allowed on Laetare Sunday), and to acknowledge the Annunciation, I lit the candles on Mary's altar.

There is a remedy (Sunday homily)

The first reading is very sobering:
God sent prophets to warn them,
but "they despised his warnings,"
things got worse,

"until there was no remedy."

Do you ever feel that way

about our culture? I do.

Our culture is so me-centered,
that the truth, when it is demanding of us,
gets pushed aside because

"that makes me feel bad!"

That’s what they told the prophets:
"Don’t say that! That makes me feel bad!"

There are serious wounds in our society.
I think of the huge tragedy of divorce.

Every individual situation is different;
no judgment here:

many try to avoid it, and they can’t.

But look at the larger picture:
we know something is wrong.

Clearly, when adults fail

to keep their grownup issues
between themselves,

something is wrong.

No child should have to hear
one of his parents

running down the other.
No excuse for grownups to put their needs
ahead of the children

they brought into the world.
So when a grownup says,

"I need someone new"…

Sometimes what we face

is bigger than the individual;
there’s a social dimension to sin,
and we can feel powerless before it.

But we are not powerless;
as Christians we must be bold,

in the Holy Spirit,
in challenging each another,

and our society, to conversion.

Before I move on,

let me make two quick points.

First: reconciliation and healing
for troubled marriages is possible.
Don’t give up!
I listed some resources in the bulletin;
call me if I can help.

Second: there’s a false idea I need to correct.

Obviously the Church

doesn’t approve of divorce,
no one does!; but simply getting a divorce
does NOT put anyone outside the Church!

If there’s a new marriage?

That complicates things.

A court of law has no power
to dissolve a sacrament brought about

by the Holy Spirit.
So if there’s new marriage,

we can talk one-on-one.

But a civil divorce, by itself,
does not mean
someone can no longer come to communion.
Anyone in that situation:

come to confession, be at peace.

The first reading said they came to a point
where "there was no remedy."

Thank God, you and I have a remedy:
Jesus Christ and His Cross!

When Jesus embraced his Cross,
He showed—and led the way to—
the transformation that can heal us.

It is called "dying to self."
It is a hard medicine to take;
it’s far easier to leave it on the shelf.

Nobody likes it; but nothing else works!

Our Lord just told us,
choosing Him, accepting his Cross,
following him in dying to self—
means we won’t "perish,"
but through Him we "have eternal life."
It’s a paradox, but we know its true:
We perish when we try to avoid the Cross!

Embracing the Cross

brings us Resurrection!

New life out of—

and more powerful than—
the fractured, wounded reality

we all know too well.

With or without Christ,

we’d still face the Cross!
With him, we need not face it alone;
With him, the Cross means, not death,
but through dying to self, brings Life!

Lent is our opportunity

to choose his Cross,
in a deeper way, everyday.

If your Lent hasn’t been so good?
There’s a remedy: Choose Him, today.

Friday, March 24, 2006

'What size is your "carbon footprint"?' Who cares?

BP (which used to be "British Petroleum," but the company seems ashamed of that name, now) has been promoting itself with two commercials lately: one promoting ethanol; the other making people feel stupid because they don't know the size of their "carbon footprint."

I didn't care until the final tag's finger-wagging moralism: "we can all do with less."

My score? Twelve tons of CO2 Sounds pretty impressive, huh? But no! That's "less than the US avg of 18.52." I'm so ashamed!

Well, turns out I can redeem myself: all I have to do is go get an SUV--hoohah!

(Now, just so you know; I'm not against moralism; I'm just against moralism in service to a neo-pagan superstition.)

Vigil of the Annunciation: Eat Meat on Friday!

As of about a half hour ago, it stopped being a day of abstinence here; that's when I prayed first Vespers for the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

It is a little known fact that a solemnity trumps a day of abstinence; so when a solemnity falls on a Friday in Lent . . . you are (in my considered judgment) free to eat meat if you wish. Such was the case last year, when Annunciation fell on Friday...

And also this year, with the Vigil. The Solemnity begins on the Vigil.

Which Bible to Buy?

Someone wrote me an email, asking what edition of the Bible I recommend.

A few weeks ago, I started a Bible study at my parish, and I put this in the bulletin as guidance on this subject.

If you buy a Bible, be sure your Bible is Catholic.

Sadly, when the Protestant movements began in the 16th century, their leaders decided to remove sections of the Old Testament; so the editions published for Protestants, with some exceptions, are incomplete. Also, there are, unfortunately, some serious differences of theology on some points between Catholic belief and a number of Protestant movements; thus, I can’t vouch for the commentary some of them may provide on particular texts, let alone how they translate. I’m sorry to say, some are very contentious and some are a little wacky.

There are many Catholic editions available. There are pros and cons for various ones.

Here are better known ones:

>Catholic Study Bible/New American Bible.
Extensive notes, explanatory articles, and maps. Very helpful for study. Most similar to Mass readings. However, I do question some of the editorial decisions in translating and in the notes.

>Douay-Rheims. The English translation used for centuries; translated from Latin. Old style English. I haven’t seen a “study” edition—i.e., with extensive notes and articles.

>Ignatius Bible/RSV-Catholic Edition. A superior translation, but skimpy notes. (Ignatius has “study editions” for parts of the Bible, but not Genesis.)

>The Navarre Bible: The Pentateuch. Uses the superior RSV-Catholic translation. Scholarly notes. But only the first five books of Scripture. [I left out of my brief bulletin item that a complete Navarre Bible runs to, I think, 12 volumes!]

New Jerusalem Bible. A good translation, but less familiar. Be sure you get the edition with notes and articles, which are very good. Some of the same concerns as with the NAB, above.

I found these titles online; not enough info to recommend:

The Holy Bible: Catholic Reference Edition, from Tyndale. Easier-to-read New Living Translation, which is pretty loose. Notes and background materials look skimpy. Has no imprimatur from a bishop.

Good News Translation Holy Bible, Catholic Edition from Zondervan. Easier-to-read. More notes and reference materials. Has an imprimatur, which indicates cooperation with church authorities.

The International Student Bible for Catholics (NAB translation), from Nelson Publishers. Has notes and background materials—appears to be a teen-version of the Catholic Study Bible above. Has imprimatur.


If anyone has further comments or suggestions, please add them.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Is gratitude contrary to 'Christian Peacemaking'? Please explain why...

A hot story today, at least in the blogosphere hothouse, is the reaction of Christian Peacemaker Teams to the happy news that three of its associates were freed from captivity in Iraq.

As most of the world knows, this rescue was accomplished by coalition forces. But in its release, expressing happiness (which all share) about the three workers' release, CPT didn't find time to say two words to the rescuers: "Thank you."

Here's my letter to CPT today:

Christian Peacemaker Teams
Box 6508Chicago, IL 60680-6508

Dear Madam or Sir*:

When I read in news reports that in your press release, you failed to mention those who had risked their lives to rescue your coworkers, I figured that had to be wrong.
Then I went to your website, and read your statement, on your own website.

Not one word, in your public statement, of gratitude, or even acknowledgement, of those who acted to save your friends’ lives.

I notice you did find time and space to criticize the multi-national forces. Twice.

This leaves me amazed. You profess to be Christian. But the Christianity I practice and profess includes gratitude as a fundamental virtue.

I am trying to explain, to myself, why you would behave this way. If it is merely an omission, it is a very telling one. If it was deliberate, please explain to me how you can justify that.


Father Martin Fox

In a hand-written P.S., I told CPT I'd post this letter--and any reply--on this site. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, you can go to CPT's site and read its release for yourself. If you find any words of gratitude, expressed to the rescuers, let me know.

*I did try to find a contact name on the website; I was unsuccessful.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

They're suing the wrong people...

Sooner or later, I fear this is going to work:

Food Industry a Target in Obesity Fight

It's probably already "worked," in that the shark lawyers and their pathetic clients have probably extorted settlements and unreported goodies already.

"It's tempting to blame big food companies for America's big obesity problem. After all, they're the folks who Supersized our fries, family-portioned our potato chips and Big Gulped our sodas."

But later, the AP article sagely observes, "How much of that burden of blame belongs to the food industry can be difficult to answer."

Well, that's obvious, isn't it?

There are three "culprits" -- well, four, if you like. These are who the lawyers should go after (in reverse order of culpability):

The serpent: he set out to tempt Adam and Eve, and succeeding in it, introduced into the human race the critical problem of concupiscence -- the human propensity to eat, eat, and eat some more.

Eve: she entertained the conversation with the serpent;

Adam: he was the one whom God instructed regarding the forbidden tree, and yet stood by, wordlessly, as the serpent led his mate down the garden path;

God: it was his decision to make everything, well, to quote that unheralded theologian, Homer Simpson, "so tasty!"

Stupid Sunday Nite TV: stupid, but great!

I chanced upon "Hot Pursuit" on Court TV, and oh--too bad this is only on for an hour!

It's police videos of car chases! What's not to like about this? This is great TV!


Oh, what joy! Court TV followed this with another hour of "Hot Pursuit"!

Isn't life grand?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

'I delivered you from slavery: rest in Me' (Sunday homily)

In the first reading,
we heard the Ten Commandments.
Remember, God gave them after
he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.

So the first commandment is:
Know who delivered you!

And worship him alone!
We’ve heard the phrase,
Jesus is the "Alpha and the Omega,"
the beginning and the end.

It’s pretty simple: if we put Jesus first—
if knowing and serving him is the "alpha,"
of our lives, every day;
then we have nothing to worry about
when we come to the Omega

the end—of our lives!

Look at the third commandment:
"Keep holy the Sabbath Day."
The Sabbath is the "seventh day": Saturday.
"In six days the Lord made
the heavens and the earth…
on the seventh day the Lord rested."

Yet we observe Sunday—
the first day, not the seventh.
Did you ever wonder about that?

The reason is Jesus!
Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday:
That makes Sunday not only the first day…
but also, the Eighth day:
that is, the First Day of the new Creation!

Isn’t that neat?
So we don’t keep the Sabbath
as Moses taught,
but we don’t just set it aside, either.

Recall what God said:
on the seventh day, "no work may be done…
by you, or your son or daughter"—
no, not even a slave—not even by your animals!

Remember, they were slaves in Egypt:
That’s what God delivered His People from!
So: do you think it’s important to God
that you and I never go back to that?

It’s not that work is bad; but about priorities.
Many of us say, "I like to work! I enjoy it."
That’s fine—but we still need rest, and time,
to know God better; to know our faith better.
If not for ourselves,

then for all the folks around us
who still follow false gods!
You and I are sent, like Moses,
to bring them deliverance
through the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Here’s something St. Augustine said:
"For we shall ourselves be the seventh Day,
when we shall be filled and replenished
with God’s blessing and sanctification . . .
when we are (completely) restored by Him
and made perfect with greater grace,
we shall have eternal leisure

to see that He is God,
for we shall be full of Him

when He shall be all in all."

Every one of us needs this—

for ourselves and for others!

Now, many folks have to work

on the Lord’s Day.
I understand that;

this is not a condemnation at all.
Instead, it’s to say this:

To the extent people still bear
this burden of work,
keeping them from their rest in the Lord,
then the liberation God sent through Moses
isn’t finished, is it?

If you think this has social and political implications—
you’re absolutely right!

Does it seem to you that creating jobs
and opportunity are a priority for our state?

Maybe you and I need
to be telling our political leaders,
business leaders, union officials, others,
what God said to Pharaoh:
"Let my People go!"

Some of us slave away, even on the Lord’s Day,
not because we absolutely have to,
but because those are the priorities we set.
Think about how many sports, school,
and community activities crowd into Sunday?
More and more say how hard

it is just to make it to Mass.

Who will draw the line, if you and I don’t?

We need this time to rest

and discover the Lord,
to be full of him, his blessing and sanctification,
just as St. Augustine said.

In a word? The Eucharist.

This is why we Catholics impose on ourselves
the grave obligation

to attend Mass every Sunday.
And if we have circumstances
keeping us or our families

from Sunday Eucharist?

Then like God’s People in Egypt,
we’re still in bondage,
awaiting the deliverance God promises us.

To whatever holds us back, God still says:
"Let my People go!"

And that goes for this parish—for me, too!
We have a lot generous volunteers:
Thank you for all you do!
But if helping our parish is keeping you
from the Lord’s Day of rest, that’s not right!
As your pastor, I’m saying, talk to me;
and I will work with you,
and I will ask others to help share the burden.

When our Lord drove

the merchants from the Temple,
he wasn’t saying there was no place

for doing business.
Rather, he was saying,

you have to draw the line:
the business of ordinary life has to wait outside,
so that we always find refuge,

to know the Lord.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Give me a snappy headline, win a Billion dollars!*

Everyone seems to be talking about the billion dollar bill hoax. I'm afraid I'm a little too tired to come up with any snappy repartee for this.

From the AP story linked above:

"'You would think the $1 billion denomination would be a giveaway that these notes are fake, but some people are still taken in,' said James Todak, a secret services agent involved in the probe."

That quote makes Mr. Todak seem a little stupid. Tell me how, exactly, is someone "taken in" by a billion-dollar bill? I'm just not subtle enough to get that.

So, while I try to figure out how a counterfeiter uses a billion dollar bill, I'll wrestle in my own league: was the stupidity, in that paragraph above, that of a U.S. secret service agent, or the reporter who wrote the story. I'm thinking it's the latter.

*Payable in billion dollar bills only, when I have a billion dollars, and pigs fly...Ha ha, made you look!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Concluding Remarks on the Divinity of Christ in the Gospel of Mark

After considering the evidence, the main objection we might raise is to ask if we are asking too much of the author of Mark, when we suppose he is giving us a consistent portrait of Jesus as divine? Are we not supposing Mark to believe something too hard to believe at that time; too much a product of later theological development—the divinity of Jesus as well as some notion of a Trinity?

Do these conclusions require us to suppose Mark thought in Trinitarian terms? No.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the New Testament show us the early Christians’ terminology had to catch up with the identity they grasped.

In any case, we can collect all the "raw material" for the Trinitarian faith in Mark—we could, if we liked, proceed next to cite references to the Spirit to add to our results here—regardless of what we conclude about Mark’s own thinking.

So we need not presuppose Mark had a Nicean concept of Christ's divinity, or of the trinitarian nature of God; nor need we exclude it. What we have is his work, and the abundance of textual evidence portraying Christ as divine. To what extent this arose out of some sort of systematic thinking, or out of intuition--or dare we say, inspiration?--I think we can only speculate. But here's the thing: the more we lean away from Mark being systematic, and "ahead of his times," the more we must credit his witness. To use a stereotypical contrast: did he paint a portrait interpreting his subject; or, if he was unequipped to do that, then he photographed him, as it were, and the astonishing portrait comes "through" the camera, from the subject Himself.

With that said, we might as well point out the obvious here—that, other than the text of Mark’s Gospel, we have no idea what Mark himself believed about Jesus and his relations to the Father and the Spirit.

For that very reason, I began with the text itself—the more consistent and more pronounced is the depiction of Jesus’ divinity, then the stronger is the case that Mark himself held such a view.

Of course, we might avoid that conclusion a couple of ways. We might suppose that our human author produced a text without understanding what he wrote; or we might suppose that many sets of hands produced this text, with as many distinctive theologies and purposes, and thus the only unifying theology and purpose behind the text lies solely with the divine author. But these alternatives require more suppositions than what I propose—an author (or redactor of multiple sources) with a singular purpose, which the text he produced reveals.

But we can approach the question another way.

The human author of the Gospel of Mark had some Christology—and whatever Christology it was, it has to be fitted somehow with the monotheism of Judaism.

As the text of Mark itself shows, any Christology that has Jesus being anything more than merely human is going to be a rough fit: the scribes in Chapter 2, and the chief priest in Chapter 14, as well as lots of people in between, ask essentially the same question: "Who does this man think he is?"

Anything more than mere humanity is offensive, and thus any Christology that situates Jesus somewhere short of full divinity is no less a leap than the highest possible Christology.

This is the insight of Richard Bauckham, who argues that the "highest possible Christology" undergirds every New Testament document. Indeed, Bauckham argues that only the highest possible Christology can be reconciled with Jewish monotheism—alternative christologies in which Jesus occupies "ambiguous or semi-divine status, participating in divinity in some subordinate way," are the least reconcilable with Jewish monotheism.

"What Jewish monotheism could not accommodate were precisely semi-divine figures, subordinate deities, divinity by delegation or participation," Bauckham argues. Including Jesus in the divine identity was unprecedented —and the Gospel texts themselves bear witness to the scandal of doing so—but "it was not a step which could be, as it were, approached gradually by means of ascending christological beliefs"—because the gulf between the Creator and creatures was absolute and yawning in Jewish monotheism—either Jesus is on our side of it, or God’s side.

The image of a canyon is apt. Pointing out how wide the chasm is, and hence how improbable a leap is required to get to the other side, only demonstrates all the more that anyone who gets to the other side manifestly did not do so by steps, but in one, fantastic, leap.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Total Commitment (Sunday Homily)

That first reading is odd.
The Bible always condemned child-sacrifice.
So how do we explain that first reading?

As Paul Harvey says, let me tell you
the rest of the story…

This passage is the climax of a long journey
for Abraham—a journey to total commitment.

Recall that Abraham and his wife, Sarah,
tried to have children, but could not.
Yet in their old age,
God promises they would have descendants
like the stars of the sky.

Abraham struggles with this promise.
He thinks about
making one of his servants his heir;
God says, "No, you’re not getting it!"
Abraham goes
and has a child with another woman;
God says, "No, you’re still not getting it!"

Even after Abraham and Sarah
receive the promised child—Isaac—
Abraham still struggles with…
total commitment.

That’s what brings us to today’s reading.
Up to this point, Abraham has failed the test.

The point of this episode is simply this:
Abraham needs, at last, to pass the test!

Note that: not, "God needed"—
God needs nothing—
but rather, Abraham needed this test,
and God went along with it,
for Abraham’s sake,
finally stopping him before he harmed the boy.

The test was Abraham’s need to make…
total commitment.

There are two, key, lines
left out of this reading:
When Abraham goes up the mountain,
he tells his servants,
stay here; the boy and I will go worship,
and then come back to you.

As they go up the mountain,
Isaac asks his father,
"Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep" for the sacrifice?
Abraham responds,
"God himself will provide the sheep."

This shows just how ready
Abraham finally was.
Abraham goes up the mountain
prepared to sacrifice his son.

Total commitment.
And yet, somehow, he knows
his boy will come back alive;
Somehow, he knows, "God will provide."

Abraham only knew a little,
and he filled in the gaps with trust.
That’s what we call faith!

Faith is easy when the bills are paid,
and everyone is safe at home.

But when the bills aren’t paid—
when people you love are in trouble?
That’s when faith is hard!
That’s what Abraham was going through
as he walked up that mountain.
That’s total commitment!

Now, let’s take this to a deeper level.

Think about something we often do:
We demand a test—from God:
we demand God prove himself to us!

Isn’t that an outrageous thing for us,
his creation, to demand from our Creator?

Now, notice how God responds
to this outrageous demand.
He doesn’t come down and destroy us!
Instead, God comes down
and becomes one of us.

And in Jesus Christ,
who is God, become man,
God presents himself to the human race,
and says: "Here I am—I’m ready!"

God didn’t need a test—we did!
God didn’t need a sacrifice—we did!
"Prove yourself!" we said to God;
And God comes and says,
"Here I am—I’m ready!"

To prove himself to God,
Abraham offered his beloved son;
God refused.

To prove Himself to us,
God offered himself!
Humanity took God up the mountain,
and laid Him on the wood of the Cross;
and God said, I’m ready!

Many of us experience
our Christian Faith being attacked.
We might not know how
to answer the question,
"What’s so special about Jesus,
and Christianity?"

This is what’s so special.
This is the Good News of the Gospel.

Every religion tells us about a God—
out there;
But only in Jesus
does God come to us, here.

Every religion talks about
making sacrifices to God;
Pagan religions said,
sacrifice your children;
Judaism said, sacrifice goats and rams;
Islam says, sacrifice yourself.

Only Christ shows us God, saying to man,
"I don’t want you to die:
instead, sacrifice Me!"
Who is Jesus Christ?
And what is the Cross about?
This is God’s total commitment to us!
This is our Faith!

This is what we journey to discover,
during Lent.
Our little sacrifices of Lent
aren’t about us proving anything to God;
rather, they help us discover the depths
of God’s Great Sacrifice—
the Cross—that saved us!

And the power of the Cross
is the power of the Eucharist;
the "then" is real for us now.

The more we discover that,
the more we want to change,
to turn from sin,
to deepen our lives in the Spirit.

The awesome reality of the Eucharist—
Total Commitment—on the Cross—
Now in his Body and Blood given for us—
This should blow us away!

So we never take the Eucharist casually.
Clean hands, clean heart,
clean lips; clean lives;
All for Him.
The Eucharist is Jesus,
God’s total commitment to us;
This demands our total commitment to Him:

So, we fast for a full hour before—
is He worth that?
We go to confession; we examine our lives.
This is why we must be in full union
with the whole Body of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
in order to receive the Body of Christ,
the Eucharist.

Folks wonder:
why can’t anyone come to communion?
Because it’s about total commitment.

When we realize who Jesus is, what he did?
The Cross? The Mass? The Eucharist?
The words God spoke to Abraham,
become our words to God:
"Now I know how much you love me—
you did not withhold your own beloved Son."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Your incompetence and arrogance is to blame, Mr. President

Bush: Port Deal Collapse Sends Bad Message
By Liz Sidoti
Associated Press (March 10, 2006)
WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Friday he was troubled by the political storm that forced the reversal of a deal allowing a company in Dubai to take over take over operations of six American ports, saying it sent a bad message to U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Bush said the United States needs moderate allies in the Arab world, like the United Arab Emirates, to win the global war on terrorism.

Bungled deal overshadowed GOP agenda
By Stephen Dinan
The ports deal was bungled from the beginning, but it became doomed after congressional offices were flooded with calls and the news began to crowd out the rest of Republicans' agenda.

Both headlines above are correct. It's early, but the collapse of the Dubai ports deal appears to be bad for our country. All signs are that the UAE, of which Dubai is part, is the kind of pro-American, relatively open and sensible, Arab/Muslim country of which there are too few. In a word, an ally, an asset.

And they just got kicked in the teeth.

This will not help their cooperation, but it will give the quislings an argument: "See what sticking with the U.S. gets you; better to keep your distance."

This may well have economic consequences, too. The whole world accepts our dollars in payment for goods and services. What to do with them? The most natural, of course, is to invest them -- right here in the U.S.A., where their investments are safest and likely to grow. That means buying things, like companies that run cranes, at ports . . .

What happens when the U.S. government shortens the list of things you can buy with U.S. dollars? Simple: they are less valuable to you. You want them less. Maybe Euros or Yen would be better . . .

That makes the dollar go down in value, and that makes interest rates go up.

And when fewer people come around looking to buy U.S. investments, guess what happens to the price of them? Same thing if you're trying to sell your house, but no one comes around: you cut the price. You are suddenly poorer.

Now, the argument of course was that national security was at risk; and if true, then this shouldn't have gotten this far.

But looming over this whole thing is the collossal, stupendous incompetence of the President and his staff.

First, the White House should have seen this coming and been prepared. Either head this off at the pass, quietly -- and thus do minimal damage to our relations with the United Arab Emirates -- or, if you're going to go ahead, lay the groundwork, prepare for the whole thing, to have your best shot of prevailing.

If the facts are as President Bush claims (and, boy, isn't he being awfully passive and whiny in all this? Doesn't he know he's . . . um . . . the President?), then he has a good argument.

It's not brain-surgery. If you're the White House, get stories out there, for several weeks or months, about what wonderful allies we have in UAE. Give the American people reasons to root for these guys. The American people want to know we have friends overseas. TELL THEM! SHOW THEM!

And all this whining about "the media." That was weak 20 years ago; it's ridiculous today. In addition to many editorial writers, talking heads, talk-radio hosts who would be helpful (even 20 years ago), you have the world wide web -- untold blogs -- not to mention Fox News! And, um . . . you're the freakin' White House! Quit whining! If the White House can't get useful press, Bush needs to do some firing and hiring. (Getting good press is not that hard to do, when youre the WHITE HOUSE...)

Bush--if he'd really cared--could have given himself a fighting chance, just by preparing for the battle, and framing the issue. Something like this: "There are good, friendly, pro-American Muslim/Arab countries in the world, and there are bad, unfriendly, anti-American Muslim/Arab countries in the world. Our policy will be to help our friends, not our enemies, and to be sure we know the difference."

The American people can understand that argument. Why not try it?

Instead, the White House, to all appearances, was wholly unprepared. Then was playing catchup. If 1% of Americans (or anyone else) could locate Dubai or UAE on a map, that would be a lot. They were told--falsely--that this mystery country would control the ports! Had they been told, instead, a friendly country -- "oh, yeah, that's those friendly, pro-American, good-guy Muslim Arabs--we like them, Fred" -- would operate cranes . . . oh, and by the way, it's an old, venerable British company, which these friendly, pro-American, good-guy Muslim/Arab folks have bought control of . . . well, it starts to sound a little less ominous, doesn't it?

Then there is the political impact -- all negative.

Bush did himself no favors; he didn't do anything to make the GOP in Congress love him. If it's true that this was sound policy, the GOP is now on the wrong side of that. If this was the right thing to do, Bush and the GOP have little to show for it; the Democrats look better. Bush gave Hilary Clinton and the Democrats an opening to be on his "right" on his ace-in-the-whole, the war against terror; and his own credibility in this matter is now called into question.

Of course, for all I know, they really are al Qaeda suck-ups -- so we're told. In which case, my headline above is still true.

But somehow, I disbelieve that Bush would give his proxy, as it were, to such a crowd. However stupid he may be, I doubt he's that stupid. Think about it: "hey, here's a bunch of folks who are happy if there's another 9/11 . . . hmm, why not let them run cranes in our ports? Gee, can't think of any reason I'd regret that..."

No, all things considered, it probably was a reasonable deal, with relatively reasonable folks. The fact that a government was ultimately accountable for the company is a plus in this respect: they know, and they know we know, we can hold them accountable if they help our enemy, or drop the ball.

But one thing seems clear -- this thing has been FUBAR from the get-go.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More on the Divinity of Christ in Mark

This section is about the ‘problem’ texts in Mark.

Francois Dreyfus identifies those texts in Mark that might be cited as evidence against Jesus’ divinity:
Ignorance of who touched his garment (5:30);
Ignorance of Scripture (2:26; 12:36);
Denial of knowledge of the time of the end (13:32);
Refusal of title "good" (10:18);
Resistance to divine will (14:36);
Abandonment by God (15:34).
As indicated, the first three concern apparent lack of knowledge of what we might suppose God to know—or, rather, what we might expect Mark would show Jesus knowing as God. The third through fifth concern something more significant—Jesus seeming to position himself apart from God; the sixth one is not so easily categorized. I will treat each of these categories in turn, some briefly, others at more length.

The woman with the hemorrhage (5:21-34). When Jesus asks, "Who has touched my clothes," is he really ignorant of this?

The passage does not actually say Jesus did not know—it only tells us he asked. Mark himself tells us Jesus was "aware at once that power had gone out from him" (30). The disciples consider ignorance in this situation to be expected: "see how the crowd is pressing upon you?" (31). And yet we see Jesus "looked around to see who had done it." Why would Jesus ask this question if he knew the answer? Some ancient commentators can help us. Pseudo-Chrysostom observed, "although he knew her who touched him, that he might bring to light the woman, by her coming forward, and proclaim her faith, lest the virtue of his miraculous work should be consigned to oblivion." St. Bede, noting that the climax was the woman presenting herself before the Lord, adds, "the object of his question was that the woman should confess the truth of her long want of faith, her sudden belief and healing, and so herself be confirmed in her faith, and afford an example to others." Thus the climax of this encounter comes with the Lord’s parting words: "Go in peace and be free of your complaint."

Ignorance of Scripture. In Mark 2:26, the Lord refers to Abiathar giving bread to David (1 Sam. 8:17), when in fact Ahimelech did so; in 12:36, Jesus attributes Psalm 110 to David, which modern exegesis challenges. Does this show ignorance on Jesus’ part?

The "erroneous" reference to David’s authorship means little. For all we know, modern exegetes who challenge David’s authorship of Psalm 110 may be wrong. And, if Jesus did know David was not the author of the psalm, but his listeners operated on the assumption that David had written it, would it not be odd to see Jesus take this occasion to raise this question? In any case, the question we consider is not the knowledge of Christ per se, but the extent to which Mark deliberately shows Jesus as God. Attributing the psalm to David would only be a problem if we were confident Mark knew he was depicting Jesus with manifestly erroneous knowledge—and yet, it would seem that he is simply attributing to Jesus what was commonly believed to be true.

The reference to Abiathar may be of a similar nature. "Mark’s immediate source seems to have been a haggadic development of the passage. Here, Abiathar, the priest and associate of David, has replaced the lesser known Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father." Gundry gives credence to this hypothesis of Stock, by pointing out that

Jesus adds a number of features not found in the OT passage: (1) David’s having companions with him; (2) his having need; (3) his and his companions’ being hungry; (4) the house of God and David’s entering it rather than merely asking for bread; (5) Abiathar being a "high priest," not just a "priest"; (6) David’s eating the loaves…either while he is still inside the house of God or after he has come out, and (7) his giving some of the loaves to his companions.

Denial of knowledge of the time of the end (13:32). This presents a more serious challenge, because here we have Jesus’s words seeming to distinguish himself qualitatively from the Father: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Many explanations of this text get at the theological issue it raises concerning Jesus’ divinity and his knowledge. But what we’re concerned about is the consistency of the portrait Mark intended to paint of Jesus—and so far we have seen a great deal of evidence for a portrait of Jesus’ divinity. So the question is, why would Mark provide this seemingly contradictory image? Before we simply accept it as an authentic saying of Christ that we can’t fully digest and move on, let us attempt a further explanation.

First, we might notice the features of the larger pericope (13:1-37), which reinforce what Mark has already given us to show Christ’s divinity. Consistent with Jesus’ self-deriving authority, Jesus answers the disciples’ questions, not with Scriptures, but with his own words. These questions are prompted by Jesus’ certain assertion that the temple will be destroyed. Hence Jesus has invited this entire discussion—he is in control. He wishes to reveal what he now recounts, concerning what will happen and what it will be like. Further, Jesus makes an astonishing claim about his words: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (31). This is language we expect to hear about God’s word—and indeed, we do: "Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the Word of our God stands forever" (Isa. 40:8). "Your word, LORD, stands forever; it is firm as the heavens" (Ps. 119:89).

Second, we should recall what prompted this discourse: the disciples asked two questions: "when will this happen," and "what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end." The Lord’s response is not to tell them directly what they ask. He describes a number of events, and says toward the end of his discourse that "when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates." Fair enough—but how near? This the Lord does not answer. Instead, Jesus seems intent on tamping down their interest in this question. The emphasis in Chapter 13 is on watchfulness (9, 23, 35, 37), as opposed to readiness, in the sense of knowing just how things will turn out. Several times, the Lord cautions the disciples, "do not be alarmed" by "wars and reports of wars" (7); "do not worry beforehand about what you are to say"—instead, wait: it will be given you "at that hour" (12).

Third, we might notice that not until almost the end of this pericope does Jesus give anything like an answer to the disciples’ question—and it entails two lines that seem to contradict each other:

Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Verse 30 by itself is most curious, in light of all Jesus does to evade being pinned down on the time of "these things"—particularly in light of verse 32. On one level, we can reconcile them this much: Mark shows Jesus saying only generally that "these things"—described in 13:1-27—will happen sometime in "this generation." Any more specific knowledge—such as the exact "day" or "hour"—"only the Father" possesses. But is Jesus really answering the original question? That is to say, is he answering on the original terms? If so, all Mark gives us in verses 4-30 seem oddly placed. If, however, we conclude that the Lord’s answer is also proposing a change in terms, as I suggest—that is, from a posture of knowing readiness versus trusting watchfulness—then the order of the material makes sense, with the bulk of the Lord’s answer stressing this very theme, then a very general time-frame, with Christ’s closing comments returning to the theme of trusting dependence on God—with even the Son of God himself as an example of this.

Why do any of us want to know "what will happen"? We want control. Armed with the knowledge they seek, the disciples could plan accordingly, and try to manage the days ahead. The Lord slams the door shut on any such ambition. They must trust God to manage things. They are not the "lord of the house," but the "servants" (13:34-35), hence the key message Jesus offers his disciples is not "when" but "Watch!"

This puts 13:32 in a different light. Instead of it being primarily about the knowledge Jesus would have as God, it is rather the supreme example of the radical dependence Jesus is recommending throughout this discourse. Even the Son—whom Mark has shown us to be YHWH in so many ways already—is yet in a relation of submission to the Father.

We’ve seen this before: at the opening of the Gospel, Jesus is the "beloved Son" receiving the Spirit and the pleasure of the Father (1:10-11); he is in the desert, assailed by Satan, dependent on God’s angels for his needs (1:12-13); in the feeding of the five thousand, and the healing of the deaf man Jesus looks up to heaven (6:41; 7:34); when Jesus speaks of his own glory, it is the glory he receives from the Father (8:38)—which is immediately confirmed in the Transfiguration (9:2-8). We might also think of the Lord’s response to James and John’s request for exaltation at his right and left (10:40). Of course, the preeminent illustration of this will come as the Lord approaches the cross. We see him praying for deliverance to "Abba, Father," in the garden—but above all, he says, "not what I will, but what you will" (14:36).

Refusal of the title good. "A man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered him, ‘why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone’" (10:17-18). As Harrington in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes, "A gulf between Jesus and God is contrary to much of the gospel tradition. It is explicable as either a testy reaction on Jesus’ part or a pedagogical device on Mark’s part regarding the identity of the Son of God." As the Navarre Bible explains, "It is not that Christ rejects the praise he is offered: he wants to show the depth of the young man’s words: he is good, not because he is a good man but because he is God, who is goodness itself. So, the young man has not gone far enough."

Gundry points out that the rest of the passage makes clear why we can’t leave it just as though Jesus is pointing to God, away from himself. "Jesus does something else, something astonishingly self-promoting: he tells the rich man that keeping God’s commandments will not bring him eternal life, but that carrying out Jesus’ commands will—and it is the one thing that will." We might here recall what St. Jerome observed: "The question is something like a priest who, while inwardly despising his bishop, yet continues to address him openly as ‘bishop.’ Whereupon the bishop answers, ‘To you I am not the bishop; you may leave my presence.’" Not that the man "despised" the Lord—but that he did not yet have the requisite understanding of his identity to provide a proper basis for addressing him as he did.

Resistance to divine will (14:36). See above concerning Mark 13:32.

Abandonment by God. "And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15:34). This argument misses the real significance of the Lord’s words—he is citing Psalm 22, a psalm that moves from a man’s cry of desolation to his assurance of deliverance.

Francois Dreyfus’s comments bear citation here:
[I]f Jesus had wanted merely to express a personal prayer without reference to the psalm he would have said: "My Father" for Jesus never prayed "My God" apart from this single text. And the very fact that he twice repeats: "My God," a repetition, moreover, without any parallel in the prayer of Jesus, is even more of an argument Jesus quotes Scripture.
This does not mean that Jesus is not making this prayer his own. But it invites us to understand this cry in the context of the entire psalm. Let us indicate that Jesus said it in Aramaic, which implies a certain personal familiarity with this psalm since, in the liturgy, it was recited in Hebrew: now, as a matter of fact, and this is the second point, the liturgy infrequently used this psalm. The earliest testimonies regarding this relate to the Feast of Purim in which the deliverance of the Jews of Persia, who were destined for extermination by Haman, is celebrated. Psalm 22 appears to be there at its right place since it is describing a desperate situation, transformed by God into a deliverance.

With this in mind, we have no reason to see this passage at odds with Mark presenting a consistent picture of Jesus as God. Why should Jesus-as-God not be depicted citing Scripture, from the cross, that bears witness to God’s deliverance—i.e., the Resurrection? It is consistent with what we’ve seen above—Mark wishes to show the divine Son in an intimate relationship of obedience to and reliance on the Father.

Why SNAP has zero credibility

Yesterday, the Archdiocese announced that a priest, accused of many acts of abuse of young men, had been laicized by the pope.

Here's what appeared in the Dayton Daily News today:

"Strittmatter still poses a threat to children," SNAP said. "His defrocking does not mean that he has been 'fixed.'

"It simply means that Archbishop Pilarczyk can now officially 'wash his hands' of him from now on."

Now; use your imagination to see what SNAP would have said had the Archbishop not sought the man's laicization. In fact, try to imagine all the various permutations, and then guess what SNAP would have said.

See how they work? No matter what you do, they're gonna bash you.

(Now let's see how they try to hit me because I dare to criticize their behavior.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Modern Marvels

Do you ever watch "Modern Marvels" on the History Channel? I'm watching it right now. It occurs to me that we build monuments to the wrong people. We generally build monuments, and name buildings and highways after, political figures. But this episode describes the revolution wrought by such folks as McCormack, Eli Whitney, and John Deere -- the developers of mechanical harvesting machines.

Boring? Well, these folks didn't kill anybody (as far as I know) and didn't use the power of government to confiscate anyone's money. They simply invented machines that helped end starvation for millions. That's all.

The divinity of Christ in the Gospel of Mark

Over the weekend, I posted (see below) on an alleged "scholar" of Scripture who thinks there are "no traces" of divinity in Christ in the first three gospels. Someone wrote back, asking me to say more on the subject, which I am happy to do.

However, it's a huge subject, and I can only scratch the surface. Most responsible commentaries address this pretty well, at least noting the more obvious indicators.

I'll share with you some sections from work I did in the seminary. I did an extended exegesis of the Gospel of Mark (widely held to be the first Gospel written, and usually held to have a "lower," that is, more humanity-focused Christology), looking at this very question: how does the author show Christ's divinity, if at all? What intentions, on the part of the human author, may we infer, from a close reading of the text?

My conclusion was: "I believe Mark’s Gospel gives a consistent and explicit portrait of Jesus as fully divine, and I will marshal the evidence from the text to support this."

Of course, there are a few passages in Mark that can be cited against this argument. But here's the noteworthy thing: "the troublesome texts for my argument arise only in words directly attributed to Our Lord--which invites another hypothesis which allows for the unevenness and does not require us to think our human author or redactor was having some off days as he produced his work: Mark is reporting troublesome things Jesus really said--and he didn’t feel at liberty to 'fix' them."

In short, sayings by our Lord, appearing in Mark, need not undermine the conclusion that the author of the Gospel intends to portray Christ as divine, but rather point to the author faithfully presenting the enigmatic quality of Jesus. After all, if Christ is divine, yet human as well, how could he not be enigmatic to us? Some troublesome sayings should not be so surprising. Rather, we might find the whole package a little too neat and tidy without such troublesome sayings.

Anyway, we'll come to those troublesome passages eventually.

Let's look at some highlights of Mark. I'm going to insert some of my earlier work, without footnotes and all that falderall; if anyone wants further information, let me know.

In Chapter 1, Mark cites Isaiah, in reference to John the Baptist.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’" (1:2-3).

Mark here identifies John the Baptist as God’s messenger, with God speaking in the first person, in relation to Jesus’ advent. Thus Mark, in conflating Old Testament passages, has God addressing Jesus. Mark combines at least two and perhaps three, Old Testament passages: Exod. 23:20, Isa. 40:3, and Mal. 3:1. In Exodus we read, “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.” This seems to strike a discordant note, as the emphasis is on the messenger, rather than one to whom he points. But as Daniel Harrington observes, “In Exod. 23:20 (LXX), God promises to send his messenger before Israel and guide it to the Promised Land. Using phrases from Exod. 23:20, Mal. (MT) 3:1 placed God’s promise in an eschatological context and prepared for the identification of the precursor as Elijah”—whom Mark identifies with John the Baptist.

Note what Malachi actually says: “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.” Thus in Malachi, the messenger (whom Mark identifies with John) precedes YHWH. The Isaiah passage confirms this: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

Let's look closer at that Malachi (3:1-3) passage being recalled here:

Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come
to the temple the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant
whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming,
says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying (silver),
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.

Of course, later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus will come “suddenly” to the temple (11:15); in Chapter 13, Mark will describe Jesus coming in power and judgment. Perhaps Mark wishes us further to connect Malachi’s image of “refining and purifying” the “sons of Levi” with Jesus’ ministry of preaching repentance (1:15), his role of judgment (13:24-27) and the new covenant of his blood, poured out for the many (14:24).

If we look at the context of our Isaiah reference, 40:1-11, we find references to expiation (2), the revelation of God’s glory (5), and of God himself coming to Jerusalem (9-10)—and while Mark doesn’t do so expressly, we can certainly make connections here, with Jesus’ passion and death, his transfiguration and his entry into Jerusalem. We can wonder if that is where Mark was intending us to go.

Then we move on to Mark 1:9-11: "The heavens being torn open…a voice came from the heavens."

The main scene for Mark’s Gospel is earth; but at several points our view expands to include the heavens. The voice that speaks here, will speak again in 9:7. What is the significance of the voice coming from heaven? Other than 13:31 (“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”), heaven always denotes divinity or divine authority. Jesus looks heavenward before performing signs (6:41; 7:34), and it is precisely a “sign from heaven” that Christ’s opponents seek (8:11). When Jesus tells the high priest he will see “the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven,” alluding to Dan. 7:13 and Ps. 110:1, the link to divinity will be obvious enough at the Lord’s trial for the high priest to cry “blasphemy” (14:64). We see Jesus take his seat at the end (16:19).

But we discover more subtle signs of Jesus’ heavenly connection as well. When demons speak, they have startling clarity about Jesus’ identity: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” cries the first demoniac to meet Jesus (1:24; see also 3:11; 5:7). We get atmospheric signs—but only twice: at the Transfiguration of Jesus, when a cloud overshadows Jesus (9:7), and again at the crucifixion, when darkness covers the “whole land” for three hours (15:33).

Returning to “the heavens being torn open.” Timothy Schehr, commenting on the parallel story in Matthew, deems this momentous:

Only once in the Old Testament do we read that the skies opened for a vision of God and that was in a vision granted to Ezekiel at the time of his call…

What does it mean when God opens the sky? A reference to Isaiah might be of help here. In…[Chapters] 63 and 64 the people imagine themselves to be sealed off from God, as if the heavens were a barrier between themselves and God. They even ask God to "rend the heavens" and come down to save them. At the baptism of Jesus, there is no barrier between God and the world. The sky is opened and the Father and Jesus act as one. It seems to emphasize how close God wants to be to us.

Note what Mark does not say or do to link Jesus to heaven.

Occasionally the Lord looks heavenward before a sign (6:41; 7:34); and twice we see Jesus praying in Mark (6:46; 14:32). But we never see Jesus asking heaven for help—which is just what we do see in the Old Testament miracles that parallel Jesus’. When Elijah and Elisha raise the dead, they ask God’s intervention (1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:33). In multiplying the widow’s provisions, Elijah refers to God’s action (1 Kings 17:14). When Elisha multiplies loaves almost exactly as Jesus does, he also cites God’s action (2 Kings 4:43-44). In contrast, Mark shows a consistent pattern—Jesus either speaking or acting, and the miracle occurs. This recalls Genesis 1:3: “Then God said: ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Augustine Stock points out that Mark’s Gospel opens with έν άρχή, recalling the opening words of the Greek translation of Genesis, έν άρχή.

Twice in Mark Jesus calms the sea (4:39-41; 6:50-51), recalling psalms describing YHWH doing this (Pss. 104:7; 106:9; 107:29).

In Mark 6, Jesus walks on the water. There, Mark wrote, “He meant to pass by them (6:49). For John J. Kilgallen, this “recalls that this is the description God uses of himself in showing himself to Moses [Ex. 33:18-23]. God wanted Moses to see him, but the best that the human being could be given is a glimpse of the divine being as ‘he passed them by.’”

Also on this occasion, Jesus says “έγώ εìμι,” echoing YHWH’s self-identification in Exodus 3:14. Daniel J. Harrington in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary insists on this, adding that only God walks on water (Job 9:8; 38:16). “έγώ εìμι” appears twice more in Mark—Jesus predicts false messiahs will say this (13:6); and he answers the Sanhedrin in this fashion, provoking a cry of blasphemy (14:62).

There are at least two other occasions Mark puts YHWH’s words on Jesus’ lips.

Both come in response to his disciples’ inability to grasp what Jesus is telling or doing. When the Twelve ask privately for an explanation of Christ’s first parable, he responds, “to those outside everything comes in parables, so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven’” (4:12).

This is from Isaiah 6, where the prophet has been given his great epiphany of YHWH, and the Lord God commissions him to prophesy to his people. In Mark 8, the Lord is exasperated at the disciples’ lack of understanding about the feeding of the crowds. “Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (8:18), Christ asks, his words recalling Jer. 5:12 and Ezek. 12:2.

Mark 1:13: "He remained in the desert for forty days."

Mark has already introduced the figure of Elijah. Now we begin to have allusions to Moses, and perhaps again to Elijah. What will Mark make of this?

In the ensuing narrative, Mark contrasts Jesus with both figures. To fully appreciate this, we need to make an excursus here to note one more detail: just twice Mark has Jesus going “up the mountain”: Jesus first ascends “the mountain” in 3:13, when he summoned “the twelve,” and again in Mark 9:2, the Transfiguration. We see this elsewhere in Scripture especially in relation to Moses and Elijah: when YHWH forms his covenant—at his mountain—with the twelve tribes, in Exodus 19 and 24, and with Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). (We could recall Abraham’s ascent up the mountain, but I don’t see any indication Mark is alluding to that.)

Mark is preparing to answer—especially in relation to Moses and Elijah—the questions he shows Jesus asking: “who do people say…who do you say that I am?” (8:27-29). We have seen how he introduces Elijah. How about Moses? In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes Pharisees and scribes for modifying Moses’ teaching (7:8-13). But when the Pharisees challenge him on divorce, Jesus does not flinch from modifying Moses, appealing to the original divine intent (10:1-12). I.e., they are subordinate to Moses, but Moses is subordinate to Jesus—which is consistent to his approach to the Sabbath (2:28).
All this comes to a head at the transfiguration of Jesus. W. M. Swartley and J. A. Ziesler discover parallels between the transfiguration account and Moses’ experiences on Sinai: Moses takes three individuals with him (Exod. 24:1-9); Moses too is radiant (Exod. 34:29-35). Stock points out, concerning Mark’s description of Jesus’ “dazzling white” appearance: “in the OT the glory of God is always conceived as shining brilliance or bright light. Here that language is borrowed to describe the glory of the Son of God.” Perhaps Mark was recalling the words of Isaiah:

Rise up in splendor! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
But upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance (Isa. 60:1-3).

In the Transfiguration, Mark answers any question about the relationship of Jesus to Moses and Elijah. Here we have all three side-by-side—the second and last time Mark takes us “up a mountain” (9:2). By a process of elimination, we can identify Jesus only with YHWH. The literary genre—“that of an epiphany, a sudden manifestation of the divine” —and the selection of Elijah and Moses confirm this. They are the only two figures in the Bible who seek to “see” God—which they both do, on the mountain. But their encounter is veiled. Moses must hide, and see only God’s “back” (Exod. 33:22-23); Elijah experiences only signs (1 Kings 19:11-12). But Mark shows us Moses and Elijah no longer hiding, but “conversing” with Jesus. Moses sees YHWH’s face at last!

And he cured many who were sick (1:34). The healing ministry of Jesus figures prominently in Mark; beginning immediately in the first chapter, with the man with an “unclean spirit,” then Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (30-31), then those brought from the “whole town” (32-34)—and so on through much of the Gospel. Mark uses these stories to teach many things, but several—which include confrontations between the Lord and demonic powers—are very suggestive of Jesus’ divinity.
We see this in the first healing.

Jesus is accosted by a man with an unclean spirit, who shouts, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’

This is a remarkable choice of words. The complete phrase, “Holy One of God,” appears only in the Gospels, in this story or parallels to it. But the term “Holy One” appears frequently throughout the Old and New Testaments —occasionally of mere human beings (Num. 16:7, Ps. 106:16; Dan. 3:35; 4:13; 23; 8:13), but far more usually of God. It appears 62 times in the Old Testament, most frequently in Isaiah, who uses it 29 times.

There are pleasing connections we could draw—Isaiah speaks of the Holy One “in your midst” (12:6), in whom the poor and lowly rejoice, who gives sight to the blind and makes the deaf hear (29:18-19). We can only speculate whether Mark meant for us to discover these. What is clear is that, having the opportunity to cite them himself, he did not do so when it would have been convenient: when he shows Jesus healing the deaf and blind (7:32-37; 8:22-26; 9:17-29; 10:46-52), and on his entry into Jerusalem, where the poor and lowly do indeed rejoice at the Holy One in their midst (11:1-11). All the evidence suggests Mark’s use of “Holy One” draws on the term’s divine association rather than on its association with mere mortals.
The Lord’s ability to effect healing and command evil powers is rightly astonishing and inexplicable (1:27).

In the next chapter, Mark forces the question of its significance: first when he shows Jesus not only healing, but forgiving sins (2:5-12), and again when he later shows Jesus as “master even of the Sabbath” (2:28).

In the healing episode, Mark uses a device we saw already with the unclean spirit, and which we’ll see again—Mark has the enemies of Jesus immediately sensing the deeper reality. Thus the unclean spirits recognize him (1:24; 3:12; 5:7); and here the scribes ask just the right question (without, sadly, arriving at the right answer): “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who but God can forgive sins?” (2:7).

Perhaps the scribes were recalling Isaiah 43:25: “It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offense; your sins I remember no more.” Robert Gundry points out that “According to Jewish belief, not even the Messiah was going to forgive sins.” With high drama, Mark shows Jesus decisively resolving the question as the scribes proposed it, and proclaims healing. As we saw above, we recall the Creator’s words effecting what they describe in Genesis. The crisis of explaining this—that is, other than by admitting Jesus’ divinity—forces the Lord’s opponents to suppose Satan is at work in Jesus—a notion the Lord ridicules (3:22-27), and which has the ring of desperation about it.

Throughout Mark, we see many examples of Jesus’ word effecting healing—but there is a striking example of the opposite: the cursing of the fig tree. We might ask of this episode a question similar to the scribes’ question in Mark 2: Who can, by a word, cause life to wither but God alone? Indeed, as Harrington points out, this is a frequent image, appearing in the prophets, almost always referring to divine action:

You shall become like a tree with falling leaves,
like a garden that has no water (Isa. 1:30).

The LORD is angry with all the nations
and is wrathful against all their host;
He has doomed them and given them over to slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
their corpses shall send up a stench;
The mountains shall run with their blood,
and all the hills shall rot;
The heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll,
and all their host shall wither away,
As the leaf wilts on the vine,
or as the fig withers on the tree (Isa. 34:2-4).

I will gather them all in, says the LORD:
no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig trees,
foliage withered! (Jer. 8:13).

I will lay waste her vines and fig trees,
of which she said,
“These are the hire my lovers have given me” (Hos. 2:14).

Like the first fruits of the fig tree in its prime,
I considered your fathers…
I will love them no longer;
all their princes are rebels.
Ephraim is stricken,
their root is dried up;
They shall bear no fruit (Hos. 9:10, 15-16).

Taylor points out, “The story, as Mark records it, is a miracle-story intended to illustrated the divine power of Jesus.” We might note that, right after the fig tree account Mark gives us comes the parable of the vineyard tenants (12:1-12), that so strongly echoes Isaiah 5.

Well, if you've read this far, and want more, let me know.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Will President Bush drag down the GOP this year?

There's a lot of discussion about President Bush's awful poll numbers, and all his many problems, and how this will affect the GOP in the fall elections.

Let me be clear: I make no predictions. Political predictions are perilous, and a little suspect, for reasons I may get around to explaining by the end of this post.

But let me say this, first, about this year's elections.

I am skeptical of the notion that what people think about Bush will be a huge factor in how people vote in Congressional elections.

Rather, I think the issue will be the way the actions of Congress itself.

It may be (nb: not a prediction) that the GOP will lose seats in either house of Congress; but if so, it will be because the Republicans failed to give the components of their winning coalition sufficient reason to care about their re-election. The signs of that are abudant:

* Spending that is outrageously out of control.

* Creating a new entitlement, the Medicare prescription goodie.

* Enacting the so-called Campaign Finance 'Reform' (aka the Free Speech Restriction Act).

* Failing to advance legislation of concern, such as the National Right to Work Act; while I don't pay close attention to other issues, I rather suspect gun-rights advocates might have a similar complaint. Let me know.

If this is correct, then it may be that the House is more vulnerable; the Senate, at least, can point to the confirmation of two justices.

Plus, while the House, in the wrong hands, can be a source of mischief, if the Senate stays GOP, anything bad can be stopped there. In short, GOP House members might have a harder time getting activists to care about their re-election, than Senators. That said, the GOP may still hold onto the House.

But back to the "Will Bush pull them down?" question.

Recall that in 1998, the GOP tried this approach with Clinton -- instead of forcing votes in Congress that put the Democrats actually on the ballot that fall, on the defensive, it pursued impeachment. The GOP attempted to make the President the issue. President Clinton's poll numbers were very low at that time.

The strategy backfired; the GOP lost ground in 1998. Perhaps because a "don't you hate Clinton?" campaign had one, key flaw: Clinton wasn't on the ballot! Most people might be a little puzzled by the argument, "If you hate him, you should vote against her, because they belong to the same party!" It doesn't follow. So why should it work any better this year, for the "Hate Bush" crowd?

Finally, I said above the political predictions are a little suspect. I say this tentatively, because it may just be I'm not smart enough to do it right; but really smart people I know also don't do them. And their reason is that there are enough variables that remain unknowns ahead of time as to make an accurate prediction more a matter of luck than anything else. (That is, barring some events that make predictions irrelevant. If, for example, the Congressional GOP all held a news conference to announce they'd joined al Qaeda, a subsequent prediction that they'd lose this fall isn't terribly insightful.)

Put it another way: the thing with elections is, someone has to win! No matter how stupidly a candidate behaves, he can still win, provided his opponent behaves similarly, or worse. So someone looking at the current situation and saying, "the GOP has so many vulnerabilities, they are bound to lose" omits consideration of a key fact -- it remains to be seen whether the Dems will supply their own stupidities, and give the GOP a relative advantage.

Also, most of these assertions are making judgments about the "big picture," the national mood. But Congressional elections are a series of individual elections. National mood and national issues certainly play a part, but individual characteristics of the makeup of the district, of the candidates, etc., cannot be accounted for in such broad-brush approaches.

Third, you should know that most of the people who offer these comments on TV, in print and on the Internet are not asked to give their opinion because they're so astute; but because they are merely plausible as sources of this information, and they are available for comment, and for various reasons, all to happy to spout an opinion. Very few of them are terribly concerned about making wrong preditions, because they'll have plenty of opportunities to give a different prediction; and even if they are flat-wrong, odds are they'll still be asked again--because they'll remain plausible and available.

The sort of people who really have something intelligent to say about these things are usually not as glib -- e.g., they won't answer stupid-question-number-one: who will win this fall? -- and therefore they don't make good copy; so even if asked, they don't make it into print; and they don't get asked often.

So, what you get is fewer of the really smart folks, and more of the really airheaded-but-love-to-be-quoted folks; as it is, the proportion of the latter is bound to be greater than the former.

Having said all that, I will say this: people who I think are more insightful in these matters include Michael Barone, whom I link at your right; Robert Novak, whose column I check regularly; Tom Bethel, who is fairly astute in politics, and writes for the American Spectator and occasionally the National Review, but alas, doesn't write about politics all that often. Fred Barnes, who edits the Weekly Standard and appears on the Fox Network, is usually sensible, and not easily taken in by a particular trend, although a little too much of a cheerleader for the Bush White House for my taste.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Do you have to be gay to enter a gay marriage?

Today I went down to Dayton for a special liturgy with the Bishop, called the "Rite of Election," at which the bishop recognizes those approaching baptism. After which, one of our RCIA team members and I went out for dinner.

He told me a story over a plate of ribs about two men who plan to contract marriage, in Canada, despite both being heterosexual! Why would they do this? Because they get tax benefits, and can still have fun with girls without having to marry them!

I have no idea if this is actually true, or how many heterosexual men would do this. But it raises a question for those who advocate "gay marriage," is this okay with you? Do you have to be gay to enter a gay marriage? And if so, why? And how exactly shall the state regulate this? Disgusting posts (as are all of them) are subject to deletion.

Why are Bible debunkers not smarter?

The Washington Post has an article today, "The Book of Bart," about the author of Misquoting Jesus, which no doubt will have its run among dilettantish folks who think they've really found something that "gets the goods" on all the Bible nonsense.

Well, I've read the Post article (click the headline above to read for yourself), and -- while allowing for the possibility the reporter gets the story wrong, and pending my own opportunity to peruse the man's book myself -- the guy embarrasses himself with some of his assertions.

Here's the set-up: Bart Ehrman used to be a "seminarian," he was graduated from the Moody Bible Institute, and is a "New Testament expert." Only after studying Scripture, he lost his faith.

Ehrman's latest book, "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why," has become one of the unlikeliest bestsellers of the year. A slender book of textual criticism, currently at No. 16 on the New York Times bestseller list, it casts doubt on any number of New Testament episodes that most Christians take as, well, gospel.

From the Post:

Example: A crowd readies itself to stone an adulterous woman to death. Jesus leans down, doodles in the dust. Says, let the one without sin cast the first stone. The crowd melts away. It's one of the most famous stories in the Bible.

And it's most likely fiction, says Ehrman, seconding other scholars who say scribes added the episode to the biblical canon centuries after the life of Christ.

OK, well, ahem. In fairness, I have to see what his argument actually is, in his own words. But let's think about this: no matter what anyone says, no one is in a position to say, "yup, that's fiction--didn't happen." Just how does someone prove such a claim?

The most one can assert is that the text shows evidence of some editing -- that this story was "stitched in" at this point. One could argue it was stitched in further along. But that doesn't say, one way or the other, whether the episode happened or not.

Take note: this field is crowded with smart people who say dumb things. They make assertions (such as this) far stronger than any evidence they can marshall in support of their statements. In a word, hubris.

But it gets better.

Again, from the Post:

Ehrman ruthlessly pounces on the anomalies -- in this Gospel [of John], Jesus isn't born in Bethlehem, he doesn't tell any parables, he never casts out a demon, there's no last supper. "None of that is found in John!" The crucifixion stories are different -- in Mark, Jesus is terrified on the cross; in John, he's perfectly composed. Key dates are different. The resurrection stories are different. Ehrman reels them off, rapid-fire, shell bursts against the bulwark of tradition.

So Professor Ehrman has discovered how different the first three Gospels, and the fourth, are from each other? Wow--folks who never attended college figure that out on their own! So where it is written that John was supposed to tell his story the same way? In fact, John simply omits (as does Mark) any discussion of Jesus' birth altogether. It begins the story later. So what? So what it omits the parables.

There are many possible reasons for this, one of which seems rather obvious: if the author of John had access to the other Gospels, then why plow the same ground? Even if he didn't, why is he bound to use the same outline of his story?

The only really important question here is whether the varying portraits are contradictory, or merely complementary.

And a truly dispassionate scholar would, in addition to the variations (that are problematic, no denying) in the crucifixion and resurrection accounts, note that for these few, there is substantial agreement: and the curiosity of this is that, if they all made up these stories, divergence is not notable, but rather, convergence is. All four Gospels tell an amazing story, and these quibbles, even if they impinged on inspiration, do not discredit their fundamental witness that something happened.


"In Matthew, Mark and Luke, you find no trace of Jesus being divine,"* he says, his voice urgent. "In John, you do." He points out that in the other three books, it takes the disciples nearly half of Christ's ministry to learn who he is. John says no, no, everyone knew it from the beginning. "You shouldn't think something just because you believe it. You need reasons. That applies to religion. That applies to politics . . . just because your parents believe something isn't good enough."

Well, that first claim is utter crap, I'm sorry. And any scholar of Scripture knows better. "No trace"? There are abundant "traces" -- indeed, all I need do is offer a single "trace" and his claim is exploded. In another post -- if any readers express interest in this subject -- I'll be happy to offer some, just to show the ludicrousness of this assertion.

All four Gospels contain extensive material pointing to the divinity of Jesus, in such a way that there's no doubt, I think, the writers were consciously dealing with this question. Can you also point to other material that clouds the question? Certainly. Can you explain the evidence of Jesus' divinity in such a way as to reach a negative answer? Yes, although with difficulty. But to say there's "no trace"? That's nonsense, I'm sorry.

If you want to discuss this more, leave a comment; I'm happy to say more, but this will do for now . . .

* Update: for a detailed exegesis of Mark that demolishes this ridiculous assertion, see this post.