Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thoughts on sin

We are now past the midpoint of this Lenten season and, like most people observing this time, I have become more contemplative in the last few weeks. I have been reading a book called The Concept of Sin by Joseph Pieper both for my own education and for a paper I am working on. Pieper does an excellent job in this work of explaining exactly how sin is defined in the Christian tradition and successfully scrapes off the barnacles of public opinion and cultural misunderstandings of sin. I could write at length about the various points that Pieper makes (in fact I am doing just that for one of my classes) but today I just wanted to bring up one point that hit me in the chest as I was reading.

Pieper’s explanation of sin is fairly in depth and covers a lot of ground, but what essentially makes an act a sin (or more to the point, a mortal sin) is that it is an act that intentionally moves away from God and towards the self. He establishes this point early on but throughout the rest of the book he keeps returning to the question “How is it possible for us to knowingly turn away from God?” This question can be restated by paraphrasing Paul’s thoughts: Why do I not do the things I know to be good and right but do the things I know to be wrong? The answer Pieper comes to towards the end of the book is found in our identity as created beings. God is all good and it is impossible for Him to be otherwise because this is the state he has always held. In fact, explaining his goodness by saying he has always been this way it misleading because it denotes temporal existence, it is more accurate to say that He is good. He was not created with good attributes, he is good. When God created man, He did so in His own image. For that reason man is capable of being good just as God is good. But it is this creation that sets us apart. We are created in God’s image, so we have the potential for good but it is what we were created from that gives us the potential for evil: nothing. God did not form us from some eternally existing matter. He called our being forth from nothing. Because of this we always have the potential to return to nothing, to turn from God and face the void.

As I read this section of the book, I felt a heaviness slide over me. It reminded me of that feeling when you are driving in the winter, listening to your radio, and enjoying the day not thinking about anything else until you suddenly realize that the traffic in front of you has suddenly stopped. You push the brake but the icy road prevents you from stopping fast enough. Your carefree, happy world was suddenly violated by the reality of danger. Reading Pieper’s explanation made me suddenly aware of the danger I was in. This is not the first time I had realized that sin was a movement towards nothingness. I had read enough Pieper and St. Aquinas before to be familiar with this thought. But this was the first time that I had truly considered my origins in that nothingness. It suddenly became clear that when I try to focus on myself and not God I am looking into the void and moving towards it. In fact, I was drawn to it like man who feels pulled back to a rundown, dirty town simply because it was once his home.

I had bought into the illusion that there was a separation between God and everything else; that all that existed was neutral matter that God simply had a deed for; creation was God’s in the same sense that my house is mine. But this is a lie. As soon as we try to remove God from our perspective and take Him out of creation we cannibalize ourselves until there is nothing left. We can see this happening in philosophy already. Beginning in the renaissance philosophers shifted our focus from a God centered viewpoint to a Man centered viewpoint. With each movement after that, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism, and now Postmodernism , we see the destruction and disintegration of the self. We turned from God and sought truth in the institutions of man but found them to be corrupt. We looked in community in nature and found chaos, we looked to our senses but found them unreliable, finally we looked to our own self but had no reason to claim legitimacy. We dammed up the River of Life and started devouring creation but nothing we consume could sustain itself. It all turned into dust in our mouths. So we kept devouring till there was nothing left.

This perspective has really affected me deeply. I think it is probably the case with many people in the world including Christians that we separate God from his creation. We can easily picture turning our back on God to focus on the other things we are more interested in. We wake up Sunday morning and decide to go to Denny's and play some golf instead of going to church. Even when we are convicted by our choice we only see this as rejecting church or, at most, setting God aside. But in reality we are rejecting God, the milk we drink at breakfast, the car we drive, the grass we tee off from and everything else. To reject God is to reject all of creation. We must see our lives on these terms. Every action we take, every thought, every feeling is moving us either closer to God and his infinite goodness or closer to the nothingness from which we came. I often recall one of my professors saying that the greatest compliment you can give someone is to say "it is good that you exist." In honoring God we say to all creation that it is good that it exists. In sin we are saying too all things I don't care that you exist. In my sin I tell my 4 month old son, I don't care that you exist. This is a sobering thought for this sobering season.
Sorry for the downer on my first post in a while but it is Lent you know. Easter will be here soon and I will post something a bit more positive.
Dan, 9:54 PM | link | 8 comments |

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Why Sarah Palin is not "brave" or remarkable.

Some may be reading this title and thinking I'm going to criticize Gov. Palin. Let me apologize to you ahead of time. What I am about to say, I am positive Sarah Palin would agree with.

Sara Palin did no great deed in deciding to keep her son Trig who was born with Down's Syndrome. I have heard from supporters and critics alike that this act was something extra ordinary. But from a truly Christian point of view, she did no more than what God has called her to do; love and care for her blessing of a child.
Rahul Parikh from Salon magazine has written in an article that Sarah Palin is actually a hypocrite because she "decided" to not abort her child but she wants to take away other women's right to make that same decision. This is a perfect example of how the pro-choice left simply cannot understand the perspective of pro-life advocates. For people like Sarah Palin there was only one decision made; to open her marriage to children. There is no later decision to keep a child, only to accept God's call and command on those who stand before him and enter into the marriage covenant He established when He created us.
I was surprised and excited to see that even a liberal pundit like Chris Matthew's echoed this point yesterday on Cspan when he remarked that it is wrong for liberals to be shocked that Palin would keep her baby and view her as a "monk" for making such a pious life decision. She did what you are supposed to do, welcome your child to the world even when they aren't perfect. Not all of out kids can go to Princeton and live perfect lives.
What I'm about to say may seem insensitive so if you haven't agreed with me yet, prepare yourself. People who don't abort their children with disabilities are not superheroes; people who do abort their children because they have disabilities are selfish, lazy, and partakers in a genocide fueled by eugenics that is as horrendous as Action T4. Some may see this as judgmental and unchristian but let me be clear that there is grace for these people, but no one receives grace who does not think they need it. It is especially important to remember that the grace given to them is given by our Heavenly Father who, knowing our wretched state and our crippling disabilities before He created us, chose to bring us into this world and make us inheritors of His kingdom. Who knew and has witnessed our failures to accomplished what he has called us to do, but still includes us in his plans even though we can never quite do things right. We are all God's retarded children!! I'm sure He could looks at our simple and ignorant lives where we pass on deeper joys for cheap thrill and shallow pleasures and say "Such a poor existence is not worth living." But He does not. He works with us in our ignorant state and helps us to catch small glimpses of the greatness that He knows and wants for us. How sickeningly prideful are we that we can, in our state, tell anyone that their life is so inferior that they should not exist?
Yet that is what we do. This self righteousness is not even reserved for the most difficult of cases but is seen with disturbing prevalence in cases of children with Down's Syndrome. According to Rahul Parikh, 90% of children diagnosed with Down's Syndrome before they are born are aborted. These are not people who will spend their lives on ventilators and suffering horrible physical ailments. I have worked with a variety of people with Down's Syndrome for years, I have known many who have graduated High School (most with appropriate support), have community jobs, have normal relationships, and have meaningful lives. My brother has Down's Syndrome and is diagnosed with severe/profound mental retardation (he's basically at the bottom of the spectrum in regards to cognitive ability) and he can talk to me, laugh and joke with me, play games, and in general live a good life. We won't be discussing Kierkegaard or anything, but I would never in a million years say that it would be better if he didn't exist. I'm not going to pretend that children with Down's Syndrome are just as easy to raise as any other child. I know just how difficult it can be. But that is what we are called to. If you are not willing to put in the work and sacrifice that a special needs child requires, you should not have children (or have sex for that matter, but that is a bigger issue).
So thank you Sarah Palin, not for going above and beyond what is expected of you, but for reminding us what is expected of everyone.
Dan, 8:14 AM | link | 7 comments |

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin's speech

Most people have probably heard Gov. Palin's speech last night last night or at least seen highlights on the news. There has been a lot of buzz from various political figures and pundits but it seems that the majority of people saw it as a very effective speech (whether they agreed with the content or not). I personally thought it was an incredible first step into the presidential race. She did everything she needed to do; introduced the country to her and her family, explained her experience and her philosophy as a politician, and showed herself to be a capable vice presidential nominee that doesn't need to be coddled or protected.
As would be expected, the criticism from the left started pouring in as soon as the speech was over. What I saw was not in any way surprising and seemed to be just another symptom of democrats' memory problems. So let me address a few criticisms I thought were particularly amusing.
First, I have heard many complaints about Palin's attacks against Obama being potshots or below the belt. They try and paint Obama as the nice guy who has always taken the high road and shown respect for his opponents. Really?! So saying that McCain is trying to convince voters not the vote for him because he's black isn't a low blow and in fact an all out lie? Yet that is exactly what Obama did back in June. I guess the dems didn't remember that.
Second, many people (including Obama himself) have been saying that Palin and the republicans have been avoiding the issues because they don't have a plan. The fact that so many people buy into this kind of surprised me and is a bit depressing. Again we have the long term memory loss coming into play as people don't seem to recall McCain laying out his plans for a number of issues months ago. In fact this was well before Obama filled out his plans and he was criticized from both sides of the issues for not having positions. What is really depressing though is that people are too lazy to look up McCain's positions that he has laid out on his website. McCain's energy plan alone has been available for months and has been a lot more realistic and comprehensive than Obama's. But unfortunately, many people get the bulk of their news from the Daily Show and anyone who checks the Networks probably wouldn't have seen to much on McCain's plans since most of the news agencies have been too busy following Obama around and washing his feet with their hair.
Third, critics have stated that Palin's statements about Obama's job as a community organizer have insulted community organizers and the work they do. She in no way said that community organizers don't do great things. She simply pointed out that it is not the type of experience that makes you qualified to be the president of the united states. As someone who has worked in social services for years, I know the valuable and hard work that case managers, and community workers do but I am also realistic about our abilities and quite frankly I don't see these positions as qualifying me or anyone else for the presidency.
On that note let me touch on the experience issue briefly. The debate over who is more qualified, Palin or Obama has been a heated one. I personally am much more impressed with Sarah Palin than Obama, but it is not simply by stacking up accomplishments but by looking at how they have each used their potential. Obama is clearly an intelligent and exciting individual. He corrected the failing trajectory of his youth that included selling drugs to become a student at Harvard where he was head of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude. He went on to do..well, very little. He was in a position to do incredible things but instead coasted on his "potential." Even in this campaign you see most Obama supporters speaking of his potential, not about his accomplishments. On the other hand, Sarah Palin started out with a degree in journalism from University of Idaho and worked her way up from PTA, to mayor, to Governor chalking up an impressive list of accomplishments along the way. Obama has had almost 20 years to live up to his potential. I really don't see that he has. Plus the fact that he started writing his first memoir just out of law school seems pretty presumptious to me. If you want to see this point better illustrated than I have here, check out this article.
I know that the media will be focusing on these points for the next couple of days, but I would like to point out something incredible that Sarah Palin did last night. In her speech she declared that she would be an advocate and a voice for people with disabilities in Washington. This was huge!!! Disability rights groups have been doing everything they can in order to get their issues addressed by politicians, both republican and democratic. The fact that even the "enlightened" liberals have ignored such a large population in this country that in most states can and often are thrown in institutions without any say, locked up, abused, overmedicated, and robbed of the freedoms that every other marginalized group have had for years is astounding. Sara Palin has taken up the mantle of George Bush Sr. who established the ADA and has promised to continue to give rights to many who can't speak for themselves. I think that Americans from any political persuasion should really take a moment and acknowledge that this was a noteworthy statement. And democrats should be worried. People with disabilities and those who know and care for them have often chosen democrats as the lesser of two evils. This may shift some people to the McCain ticket more than they realize.
Dan, 12:30 PM | link | 2 comments |

Monday, September 01, 2008

A whiter shade of Palin

As many other election junkies on the right side of the isle, the past few days have been quite a roller coaster. The DNC wrapped up last week with some powerful speeches, Obama was boosted 8 points, McCain announced his running mate as Sarah Palin, Obama's "bump" decreased returning the candidates to a statistical tie, and finally three big revelations come from Palin 1) Palin is getting a lawyer due to the trooper-gate scandal (no she didn't have a state trooper pick up women for her to sleep with, that was the other trooper-gate involving a certain ex-prez of the Clinton persuasion) 2) Palin's husband had a DUI when he was 20 3) The big shocker, her 17 year old daughter is 5 months pregnant.
I have to say I feel a bit light headed with everything that has been going on. So I decided to do what most people under 30 do when there is something on thier mind; I blog.
First of all, let me say I have been a supporter of Palin as a possible VP for a while now (as a second choice after Bobby Jindal). I didn't know a ton about her, but from what I did see she seemed like a straight shooter with a lot of potential. I had pretty much ruled her out as a possibility weeks ago so when I heard that McCain had picked her I was shocked but excited. At the same time I was a little apprehensive about the fact that little was known about her. Most politicians (or people for that matter) have some skeletons in the closet but by the time they get to a VP nomination they have had to be be set out in the open and air out a bit. Palin is not so lucky. So now that her dirty laundry is spread all over the major news networks, what are we to think?

For me personally I don't care all that much about the first two. There is an active investigation into the who state trooper issue so I will let the professionals sort that out before I have an opinion and her husbands DUI was 4 years before they were married so it doesn't seem to really have a bearing on this election. As for the prenancy, that is a different issue. Obama has already come out and said that family is off limits and that he will not comment on this matter. Many other polical leaders are echoing his sentiments. But there are still many who say that Palin's position on abortion and sex education makes this an open issue. Personally I would disagree with both sides. I think there is most certainly room to discuss a politicians family if it directly pertains to their ability to lead or contradicts claims that they have made. On the other hand I disagree with Palin's critics because I don't feel that this situation meets the criteria I listed.
I have heard many people call Sarah Palin a hypocrit becuase she supports abstinence education and her daughter is pregnant at 17. This falls apart on several levels. First of all, Gov. Palin is not against contraception as many have claimed. She is pro-contraception but has opposed certain types of sex education. So I would hardly call this incident proof of hypocrisy. Now if she had helped her daughter get a secret abortion that would be a different issue, but she instead chose to support her daughter and encourage both her and the child's father to take responsibility for their actions rather than take a quick fix. That seems to be rather consistent.
Critics have also used this incident to try and prove Gov. Palin's views are wrong and have caused her daughter to end up in this situation. This isn't the first time I have heard people use this type of anecdotal evidence to criticize abstinence education. Even if it was true that Gov. Palin was an abstinence education only proponent (which she is not), the question I would ask is do you really think that Bristol Palin and her boyfriend did not know what a condom was? That somehow not having a class in school prevented them from all exposure to the concept of contraceptives? No, they made the same decision that numerous teens who have been through sex ed. made: to be an idiot and not use a condom even though they are fully aware of what they are and what they do. And since when does one case determine the success of a theory or program? Of course the same people throwing this around think that Obama's economic and energy plans make sense, so they obviously aren't good with numbers.
Finally, I don't want to let Gov. Palin off the hook. This situation does at least point towards some problems in her home but I cannot say anything more than that. I do not have enough information to say anything on that subject, nor is it my place to. The Palin family is dealing with this and I can only assume that there is much more going on privately than what they are stating publicly. But I can say that how Palin chooses to deal with this will be very telling. For now, I will continue to watch and wish the best for Gov. Palin and her family.
Dan, 8:58 PM | link | 1 comments |

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Finally a post

OK, so I've decided to get back to blogging. I had attempted to start up where I'd left off, but I think the tongues topic will have to be put on hold since I have tons of info and not enough free time to sort through it and write it in a way that does justice to the history of this topic. Keep an eye out though and there will be some additions in the future, just sporadically between other posts (hopefully).

Part of the reason that I have been slow to post is that I have had a lot going on these past few months. For starters, I'm at a new job which I like. I won't bore people with the details, but I am working with people with disabilities and I get to work from home. I've also gone back to school (I got accepted into the Masters of Counseling program at VU) which is really awesome, I got a new car (2005 Honda Civic EX Special Edition deep blue), and the biggest news of all my wife Sara is pregnant! So there is a whole lot of activity at my house and not as much free time as I would like. But I like blogging so I'll just focus on shorter posts and things should work out.

Since this is my not so grand return, I will take a moment to write a brief musing.
With the baby coming I've been pretty much a big ball of concerned dad to be. I think that most people who have had a child could probably relate to the millions of concerns that have been going through my head. Mixed in with the smiles and daydreams about what color his or her hair might be or how they will respond to their first guitar (I'm currently picking out by the way) I have had all sorts of questions ranging from "Would it have been better if we got pregnant after the second floor is finished?" or "Am I really informed enough to be a father now-a-days?" to "What if the economy/environment/middle east/nanobots/lab created black holes go to hell in a hand basket; how will I care for children in the midst of that?" While dealing with all these thoughts I was reading through some sermons by Gilbert Meilaender including on titled Fellow Fetuses. In the article, Meilaender explains how we are to view the unborn making the points that 1) we are all fellow fetuses "unable to speak for ourselves in the court that really counts-before God and 2) That we should, out of hope and trust in God, be "eager to receive children into the human family." It was his latter point that struck me, particularly when he quoted two poems by Madeleine L'Engle that I will quote here.

The risk of birth

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn--
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn--
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

After annunciation
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.

These words did more to calm me and correct my perspective than anything else. After reading this I thought about my fears and realized some things. We often convince ourselves that we do not want our children to suffer or be in circumstances that are not ideal because we care about them so much. I wouldn't say that this is entirely false, but I think there is an element of selfishness in this as well (perhaps much greater than we like to admit). I think that we want to spare out children from suffering because it is difficult for us to endure. We are called to love our children so deeply yet part of such love is the potential for great pain that we are also called to endure. One of my former professors once told me after an Ash Wednesday service how strange and almost disturbing it was to go up and watch the pastor place ashes on his 2 year old sons head and tell him "from dust you came and to dust you will return" yet that is the call of the body of Christ, to die. For most of us this death is a metaphorical one but there are those who are called to a true physical death as a servant of Christ. As a parent, we do not get an itinerary of our children's lives. We do not know what call God has for them or what difficulties they will face. But in a world that is so rotten with deceit and doubt and that only gives when it gets more in return, how beautiful of a testimony to have faith in God and let love take the risk of birth.
Dan, 10:28 PM | link | 10 comments |

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A brief apology

I am truly sorry that it has taken me this long to post again. I got distracted from blogging for a while and in all honesty simply forgot about it. But i am back and dedicated to completing this endeavor. I apologize for leaving anyone hanging and I promise I will see things through to the end this time.
Dan, 2:43 PM | link | 7 comments |

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Part Three: Speaking in Tongues in the Middle Ages

I would like to claim my long silence on this blog as a metaphor for the historical silence of speaking in tongues during the middle ages. But truth be told, I did not think that far ahead. I just got busy these past few weeks and did not have time to update. But now I’m back and beg your pardon if I left any of you hanging.

Section 1: Speaking in Tongues in the Early Middle Ages

As you may have guess from my statement above, there is not any mention of speaking in tongues during the early Middle Ages (at least that my research could find). There could be several explanations for this relative silencing of tongues:

1) The Middle Ages were not known as a flourishing time of written works (or much else), in fact the opposite was true. The decline in recorded accounts of speaking in tongues may be, at least partially, attributed to an overall decline in scholarship during this time (it wasn’t called the dark ages for nothing).

2) The expansion of the Holy Roman Empire into dozens of new cultures each with their own language required a common language to be stressed among the educated and those in authority in order to keep order. In monasteries during this time, the study and use of Latin in place of local languages assured the church that there would be less confusing both in its day to day operations as well as in the writings and translations of the clergy. So it is plausible that, either by the church or by the Holy Spirit (or both), tongues were suppressed. This would have been especially important given the amount of heresy that cropped up throughout the church during this time.

3) The expansion of Christianity throughout most of the western world made tongues less necessary. It is important to note that, although tongues is not referred to during this time, there is a plethora of accounts of other miraculous gifts such as healings and prophetic visions occurring during the Middle Ages.

These are just a few possible explanations for the lack of historical evidence for speaking in tongues during the early Middle Ages. Let me be clear in saying that these are theories at best. I cannot be sure that any of these accounts are definitely true. What I can be sure about is that there was no cessationist theology that developed during the Early Middle Ages and many miracles other than tongues did occur. So I would say that there should be no difficulty for Christians to believe that tongues continued beyond the first 4 centuries of the church regardless of this apparent “gap.”

Section 2: Speaking in Tongues in the Late Middle Ages

Many cases of speaking in tongues occurring in the Late Middle Ages took place among the various monastic orders of the time. Here is a list of accounts of speaking in tongues during this period:

St. Dominic (1170-1221)

While travelling from Toulouse to Paris in company with Brother Bertrand de Garrigue, who was the first Provincial of Provence, our holy father spent the night in watching and prayer in the church of our Lady at Roc-Amadour. Next day they came up with a band of pilgrims from Germany, who, hearing them reciting the Psalms and Litanies, joined company with them, and on coming to the next town hospitably entertained them during three days. One morning St Dominic addressed Brother Bertrand after this fashion: 'Good brother, I am much troubled in conscience seeing that we are reaping the material good things of these pilgrims without sowing spiritual ones in return, so, if it please you, let us kneel down and ask God to enable us to understand their tongue, that we may preach Jesus Christ to them.' This they did, and to the bewilderment of the pilgrims they began to speak fluently in German, and as they trudged along together during the next four days, they continued conversing about our Lord Jesus Christ until they came to Orleans.[i]

St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) was a Franciscan monk who was known to be one of the greatest orators of his time. Not only has St. Anthony been acclaimed as a great speaker, he has had numerous miracles associated with him including speaking in numerous tongues while preaching. The accounts of his miracles are truly astonishing and I recommend that anyone reading this take a break and read about the incredible things that St. Anthony has done.

Other ascetics that spoke in tongues include Angelus Clarenus and St. Clare of Montefalco.

I would like to point out that I have come across numerous other claims of saints and ascetics speaking in tongues but did not list them here because I did not find solid enough resources to back them up. Maybe some day when I have a library card at a good sized catholic institution (or if I break into the Vatican) I might be able to validate these other claims. For the time being however, I will stick with what I have here.

My next post will bring us up through the reformation and one step closer to the real meat and potatoes of this subject, modern day Pentecostalism.

[i] Tr. Placid Conway, O.P., Lives of the Brethren of the Order of Preachers 1206-1259, II, x (London: Blackfriars Publications., 1955).

Dan, 12:10 PM | link | 5 comments |