Monday, April 25, 2005

Gwynfor Evans is dead

I've been so busy, I not only haven't been blogging, but I haven't even been following any news I don't have to. And I missed this.

I've had a special place in my heart for Wales ever since I fell in love with the language as a teenager. I've also always been impressed with guys like Saunders Lewis, who was part of a group that set fire to a government installation as a protest, then went straight to a constable before anybody had seen the fire and turned themselves in. By the time they were booked, they were sitting calmly in the police station discussing the finer points of a particular Welsh poetic form. Nobody was hurt, and they didn't try to make a run for it. Irish revolutionaries have historically made rebellion a brutal thinng (with some cause, to be sure), but the Welsh have mostly been gents about it. Velvet rebels.

Gwynfor Evans was the first Welsh Nationalist in Parliament. He has also the distinction of being one of the very few politicians that ever made Margaret Thatcher back down. I think hunger strikes are a stupid weapon as a general rule, but when Gwynfor did it, it not only worked, but he came out smelling like a rose and Magi-To-Gwell had to salvage face. Ballsy, indeed!

Apparently Gwynfor had been sick for a long time. It's not that many men who make it to 92 anyway, and he's had reason to hold out. When Gwynfor entered politics in the 30s, Wales was Britain's Appalachia: poor, hopeless, and trying to survive on memories and tourists. Gwynfor lived to see his beloved country with a parliament of its own (well, a mini-parliament), and serious rumblings of independence.

Cysga mewn hedd, Gwynfor, bach. Rwyt ti wedi ennill dy orffwys gan chwys. Mae dy wlad yn falch ohonot.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Cry "habemus," and let slip the dogs of news!

It's Ratzinger. I was hoping it wouldn't be, because the media will shred him.

Look at it this way. The mainstream media, which tend to disapprove of orthodox leadership in the Catholic Church, knew that the next pope would be a conservative. But if it turned out to be an African or a Latin American, they would have to soft-pedal the personal attacks, because it's not PC to malign a non-European.

Ratzinger, however, is tailor-made for the role of media's most-hated. He's German, and already the Times in England has a smearfest about his having been a Hitler Youth. He's currently (well, he was as of a few hours ago) the head of the Inquisition, which makes it easy to stir up Jewish-Christian trouble. He doesn't have a fraction of the personal charisma that John Paul the Great had, and I very much doubt he's got the diplomatic ability to build bridges within Christendom. And he's well-known in America, so there's not going to be a getting-to-know-you honeymoon period with the media. They'll shred him.

I know the Holy Spirit knows what He's doing better than I do, so I'll try to stop second-guessing Him now. Long live Pope Benedict XVI!

Habemus papam!

No word yet on who it is. I'm watching the news like a hawk.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Wonder why they call him "Big Mike?"

Sometimes words fail, even for a newspaperman. Seems this couple got caught skinnydipping. That's not a huge deal; I've skinnydipped myself, although I was a teenager the last time I did it, and there wasn't a girl in sight (alas and alack, for lack of a lass!).

But this guy was thoroughly snockered (blew a .134!), in the company of an unidentified woman, and his wife was out of town for a funeral!
Police allegedly detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from Stevens. Carriker asked him how much he had to drink and Stevens allegedly replied, “Not enough.

Dang skippy! If it was my (lovely and brilliant) wife, there wouldn't be enough hemlock for me to drink before she came to see me at the jailhouse to tell me she was dumping my sorry butt.

Hat tip to Jim Romanesko.

The race is on!

I thought I had missed my window of opportunity, but there was black smoke from the conclave today, so there's still a chance to post this (click to enlarge):

Let the voting begin... er... continue!

Speaking of the Bayly blog

David also brings up a good point here, when he says
Recent Roman Catholic comments on this blog (and on other blogs about this blog) remind me of the Amish attitude toward the English. The Amish love using English cars, power tools, phones, income. But they're not English and they don't want the English thinking they're Amish.

So too Rome benefits from Evangelicalism in countless ways. It's gaining powerful converts from it. It's being aided in the moral battles of our day by it. Its children are being protected by Protestant ministers who were willing to face arrest for the sake of Terri when no Roman Catholic clergyman was willing to do so. But in the end, it seems there's precious little give and a lot of take from Rome on this blog.

I think David may be right about this, and not just on their blog. Catholics, especially converts, are often so ready for a scurrilous attack on our church that we go about prickling for an argument. We need to remember that not all Protestants are Jack Chick, and a lot of them have good reasons for rejecting particular Catholic teachings. Whenever I start to feel too knowledgeable, I go read somebody like the Bayly Brothers or Tim Challies. I can disagree with them, and often I can even defend my reasons, but I can't dismiss these guys as ignorant or bigoted.

The other thing we forget is how much we owe Protestantism in modern times. I can't imagine what the Catholic Church would look like had Luther and Calvin not forced it into accountability, much less what our American culture would be like if we were the only church in it. So I'd like to take this opportunity to express some gratitude to the descendants of the Reformation.

1. I'm grateful to Protestants for the Bible. Yes, I know they got it from us, but how much attention does the average Catholic pay to Bible study? How much would it be if there were no Protestants around to challenge us? Because Protestant theology is so dependent on the Bible, they've raised Bible study to a level beyond that of most Catholic laity. In fact, because we're so often unversed (pardon the pun) in the scriptures, we feed the myth that Catholics are forbidden to read it for themselves.

2. On a more personal note, I'm grateful to the Protestants that taught me the Bible, as well as most of the Christian theology I still believe. My Sunday School teachers had no degrees in catechesis or theology. They were just ordinary Baptists who wanted to teach kids to love and serve the Lord. And they were successful in that. No matter how far I wandered away from God, I knew the way back thanks to them. The ones I'm thinking of are getting on in years now, and they'll probably never see this blog, but Eunice Bickel, Larry Sybouts, Marie Ritter and Darlene Pritchett, on the chance you ever see this, thank you. It took a while, but the lessons stuck. (I'd include my grandmother in that, but she's in heaven now, so she already knows.)

3. I appreciate Protestant enthusiasm. It's too easy for Catholics (unless they're in a charismatic parish) to get into a routine of droning their way through a Mass, showing up when they're told, and generally going through the motions of worship. Protestants don't have as many motions to go through, for one thing, and for another, they don't believe in rote worship. While that can sometimes make for an overemphasis on emotion, more often it just means that they mean what they say, and sing, and pray. I wish we did as well at that.

4. This is one I don't hear much about, but I appreciate the Protestant approach to repentance. In case you're a Protestant reading this, Catholics recognize two kinds of contrition: perfect and imperfect. Imperfect contrition is when you're sorry for your sins because you fear God's punishment, either on earth or (in extreme cases) in Hell. (It's not as cynical as it sounds; sometimes it's all you can manage until God has a chance to work a change in your heart.) Perfect contrition is when you're genuinely sorry for your sins because you love God and don't want to disobey Him.

Protestants - at least the ones who believe in once-saved-always-saved - don't fear Hell. And I don't think they even believe very much in temporal punishment. So all their contrition is what we would call perfect. When they repent, it's because they love God. This, in turn, means that they often have a deeper relationship with the Author of all forgiveness.

5. Finally, here's a reason that doesn't get talked about much. I'm grateful to Protestantism for providing an alternative to Catholicism. There are a great many Catholics who, for an infinite variety of reasons, don't stay in the Church. Some of them have trouble believing without passion (see #3 above). Some have been hurt by somebody inn the Church. Some have been mistreated by clergy, or have ugly memories of Catholic school nuns with rulers. Some of them find Protestant doctrine more reasonable. And some just never find the connection to the Savior that the Catholic Church offers.

Protestant churches are filled with ex-Catholics. Some are angry, some are just closer to the Lord there. While I'd rather see all Christians in unity, I'm pretty sure it ain't a-gonna happen this side of Christ's return. Better people should be Protestant than alienated from Jesus. I'm grateful to Protestantism for being a haven for the people we have lost.

I hope my appreciation of our separated brethren can show through my arrogant, argumentative attitude toward theology. Catholics, particularly converts, tend to take kind of a condescending tone when we talk about Protestants. We treat all Protestants as though the only reason they're not Catholic is that they're ignorant, snake-handling, infinitive-splitting imbeciles, and try to catechize them when we should be conversing with them. We also, as I said, leap too quickly to the defensive; years of having to defend against Protestant calumnies have affected our reflexes. When Protestants acknowledge us as brethren, we need to remember it's not time to argue; it's time to love each other.

I'm back...

...well, sort of, anyway. The atmosphere here at the paper is still a bit chaotic, as old files have to be converted en masse to new ones in software that's not always compatible. And my workload tends to be a feast-or-famine thing, currently in a "feast" phase, so posting may be a bit more seldom than it's been.

However, David Bayly has thrown me a challenge, saying
...his is a relatively recent blog and he won't be able to sustain the writing he's been doing and remain married and employed at the same time. But it's been a fun ride up till now.

In the wake of the fraternal relations Papes and Prods had at Terri Schiavo's death, followed by the passing of Ioannus Paulus Magnus, the brethren Bayly are tackling a lot of Catholic-Protestant issues. I really appreciate the way they have handled it on their blog: There's no watering down of their Reformed beliefs, but they're looking at the question of how much we can agree on, and what we can agree to disagree on.

Really, the areas of dispute have been flagellated like an Opus-Dei novice on speed, but those areas don't prevent us from agreeing on other things. Those don't get discussed as much, because armchair apologists like me would rather argue than cnot, but in the long run, I think they're much more important. We're going to have to share a heaven someday; we might as well get along where we can.

I just wanted to assure David that it's not over yet. Buckle up!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

LIght posting

Just in case anybody's been reading this, I've been swamped the last couple of days, what with my whole office installing brand-new computers (complete with brand-new, mostly unfamiliar software) while still trying to keep up during a busy streak. The bottom line is that I can't blog much for a bit. I'm saving up stuff, though, so look for a burst of activity once the heat's off.

Incidentally, it looks like Blogger's been casting comments off into the ether somewhere. Karen, thanks for yours; I'll see if I can get it to show up.

Meanwhile, take a look at Patrick O'Hannigan's The Paragraph Farmer. Good stuff there!

Monday, April 11, 2005

This is why I love Orson Scott Card

Most people (at least those who enjoy science fiction) know Card as an insightful novelist who has that rare understanding of how crucial God is to the human psyche. Well, he's also an insightful columnist who has that rare, etc. He's always been one of my favorite writers, and I find that although we're miles apart doctrinally, I always come away from his books knowing my own faith a little better. I was looking forward to what he would have to say about the passing of John Paul the Great, and I wasn't disappointed.

John Paul II showed the way toward a real ecumenism. He did not try to pretend that Christianity was not divided into different streams of authority and different doctrines. Instead, he spoke with the authority he had, as if he spoke for all Christians, and then let Christians sort themselves out into the groups that agreed with, believed in, and lived by the bold statements he made; and those that didn't.

What I saw was that many a Protestant came closer to being in John Paul II's flock than many a Catholic who clearly stood outside it. The Christian world re-sorted itself into those who adhered to a faith centered in a divine resurrected Christ and a literal New Testament, and those who thought that "modern thought" should trump the core doctrines of Christianity.

The real division in Christianity today -- and in other religions too, I might add -- is between the churches and congregations and individuals who are accommodating themselves to the new secularity, abandoning doctrines and commandments in the process, and those that believe that God still requires us to live by faith and by obedience to his commandments, now as much as ever.

What makes this more touching is that Card is a Mormon, whose church isn't even considered a Christian sect by most others who use the name. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, Card knows holiness better than many who claim for themselves a place in the fold. It's one of my few regrets about John Paul II that he never met with the LDS Prophet in the same way that he did with other religious leaders.

Read the whole thing here. It's well worth the time.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

More dirty-eared inbreds

These people throw around "Jewish" like it's a bad thing. If John Paul the Great had Jewish ancestry (and knew about it), I expect he'd have been proud. Although it might have hampered his ecclesiastical career in Poland; I gather Jews weren't very popular there before or after the war. Still, I doubt he would have let career concerns stand in the way of honesty and integrity, though. If he were all that concerned about the powers that be, he wouldn't have backed so many underdogs.

Hat tip to Mark Shea.

Friday, April 08, 2005

This is disgraceful

Not surprising, mind you, just disgraceful. When are our civil masters going to learn that a penis doesn't necessarily equal deep pockets and bad parenting skills?

I've been on the losing end of a custody battle, and I've seen worse happen to other men. Unless you can afford much better lawyers than the ex, you're going to lose based on the presence of a Y chromosome. And merely asking a court for justice will probably cripple you financially. A vindictive woman with a judge on her side has no more restraint than a shark in blood-soaked waters.

Besides the religious and moral reasons, this is an eminently practical reason to keep the ol' zipper closed until you're permanently married. You have to ask yourself: "Would I trust this woman with uncontrolled access to my bank account?" Because if she gets pregnant, you might as well have handed it to her.

Why music matters

God bless Liz Goss for saying this. One of the big disappointments that converts to Catholicism deal with is finding out that we missed the Middle Ages, and Gregorian Chant has been replaced by tuneless exhortations to social justice with no semantic or theological content whatsoever.

Here's your chance...

... to wear a tall hat, be surrounded by Swiss guards in Renaissance costumes, and be called the AntiChrist by inbred subliterates with dirty ears.

The Papacy: It's not just a job, it's an adventure.

Snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?

"I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. " Genesis iii, 15.

Of course, the Lord didn't say anything about incinerating them. But whatever works, I guess.

Making money the old-fashioned way

Seems some kids in Seattle have gotten suspended for passing counterfeit money in the school cafeteria. When I was a kid, there were all kinds of opportunities to make money: paper routes, selling greeting cards through ads in comic books, things like that. I even sold GRIT for a few years (anybody remember that newspaper?). We have to give the little criminals credit at least for ingenuity, especially since the cafeteria took the money and only noticed the counterfeit later. These kids'll be something when they grow up.

On the other end of the intellectual scale, a Best Buy store called in the Secret Service when a customer used $2 bills to pay for a car stereo. Legitimate bills. Of course they're legitimate! Who in his right mind thinks a counterfeiter would waste his time making fake twos? Law of diminishing returns, and all that.

Memo to the manager at the Best Buy: Hire sixth-graders. They know good cash from bad better than you do.

Baptizing Dead Jews

Apparently, the LDS Church hasn't been keeping its promise to stop baptizing Holocaust victims by proxy. A meeting is scheduled between leaders in the American Jewish community and unspecified LDS leaders.

I don't know who's in charge of proxy baptisms; whether the decision to baptize a particular person or not is made by the local ward or at the apostolic level. But a decade ago, the church promised Jewish leaders it would stop including practicing Jews in the ordinance.

It strikes me as purely symbolic, not only because I'm not a Mormon and don't believe in proxy baptism, but because according to the doctrine, it's still the choice of the baptizee in the next life whether or not to accept the baptism. No dead Jew is being baptized against his will. So the Jewish leaders in question are getting exercised about having an option they don't believe is possible offered to people they've never met and who can't give their own opinion, in an afterlife most Jews don't believe in anyway.

It'd be an interesting meeting to sit in on, since each side regards the other as "Gentiles."

Thursday, April 07, 2005

New toy

Just figured out how to add Haloscan. This whole blogging thing is cool! It's like being in a toy store during an after-Christmas sale.

Update: Looks like installing Haloscan erased all the comments that were there before. Sorry 'bout that.

Responding to a reader

Wahoo! Only three days, and somebody's commenting!

Bethany was kind enough to comment on yesterday's post about Mary. I started to answer her in the comment box, but I got so long-winded I figured I'd better just post it here. She brings up some good points about Catholic and Orthodox Christians' attitude toward Mary, and I'd like to respond to them. I won't quote everything she said; you can see it in the comments below.

It's true that the Bible doesn't mention Mary as a queen. Really, it doesn't talk about Mary much at all, since it's mostly concerned with Jesus. He is the heart of the Gospel.

However, I don't think it follows that because Mary is not the equal of her Son, then she is necessarily the equal of us. She was the closest person on earth to Jesus. She bore Him in her body, she nursed Him at her breast, she raised Him from infancy. We don't know how long Joseph lived, but he's not mentioned in the Gospels after Jesus' twelfth year, so I think it's safe to suppose that she was His sole parent for a good deal of His youth.

She also was the sole source of His genes. God was the origin of His divine nature, but Mary was the stuff God used to make Jesus' humanity. I know it boggles the mind (and I'm not theologian enough to unravel this), but Mary had the task, unique in history, of teaching God as a child to be human. Mary loved Him more than anyone else ever has, and surely she deserves extra respect for that. If (to oversimplify a bit) the strength of our Christianity is measured in how much we love Jesus, then Mary was the greatest Christian of us all.

There's kind of a subconscious assumption, especially in our Western, democratic culture, that anybody who is not God is "no better than the rest of us" and we must not treat anybody differently from anybody else. Hence, from the outside, it appears that Catholics (and all Christians other than Protestants, for that matter) are worshipping Mary as though she were God, if we give her any extra reverence. That's not the case. No matter how much reverence and love we give to Mary, we always give God more. She never died for our sins. It is not her body and blood that is given to us at the Eucharist. All blessings come from Him, even if she prays for them for us. If a Christian honors her above Him, then he is indeed in error. But there's no error in honoring her above the rest of us.

As for intercession, the passages you mentioned say that Jesus and the Spirit are interceding for us. They do not say that nobody else does or can. However, the Cloud of Witnesses mentioned in Hebrews, and the elders in Revelation who present the prayers of the faithful before the throne, are (it seems to us, anyway) clear references to the prayers of the saints in heaven on our behalf. If nobody but Jesus may pray for us, then we sin in praying for each other on earth. We know this is not true, of course; rather, we are commanded to pray for each other. How does it follow that our brothers and sisters in heaven are forbidden to pray for us, where we sinners are commanded to do so? Should not the perfected person pray even more than the sinful one? If we have prayer warriors on earth, who understand God's will only through a glass darkly, are the saved in heaven, who see Him clearly, less able to be prayer warriors? In short, will they be disenfranchised (to misuse the word) for being no longer sinful?

Finally, in practical terms, I can tell you that Mary and the other saints have certainly not hindered me from learning about God. On the contrary, my walk with Him is much closer since I began to see the Church, not stuck in a moment of time, but reaching back to the Apostles in an unbroken line. God's greatness is made more visible, not less, in the lives of those who have loved and served Him on earth.

You can tell...

...that John Paul II was exceptional, not by the words of his friends, but of his adversaries. Below I mentioned Ian Paisley's comments, which, although hardly laudatory, at least didn't sound like he was foaming at the mouth. Now comes Fidel Castro, who went to the length of attending Mass at the cathedral in Havana. Apparently, Castro hasn't been to the cathedral in 46 years, and only been to Mass at all three times since that time.

"Enemy" may not be the right word, as Castro referred to the Pontiff as an "unforgettable friend," but I doubt the Bearded One had a lot of affection for John Paul, given that Cuba is still officially atheist, and Castro himself has been under excommunication since the early 60s. The pope did come to Castro's defense over the US embargo, which may be the source of his gratitude.

In any case, it's gratifying to see people like Castro and Paisley being... well... nice about the pope's death. Neither one of them is what you'd call young, and this may be the last chance either of them gets to gloat over a dead pope. Yet they both passed up the opportunity. Classy, at least for them.

There's no word yet from Jack Chick, who's also getting on in years. If anyone hears about his reactions, please let me know.

No! A thousand times, no!

May the merciful God protect us from this. (Registration is required, so go to Bugmenot if you need a login.)

Hat tip to Fr. Sibley.

Happy birthday

James Garner is 77 today.

There are a few American actors whose style can make a movie. Humphrey Bogart, of course, and Clint Eastwood, and Edward G. Robinson. All unique, all able to carry any movie with their sheer presence.

James Garner ranks among them. He epitomizes class, not in the pansy European Charles Boyer manner, nor in the debonair English fashion of David Niven, but in a purely American, two-hundred-and-fifty-proof, stand-up-and-take-off-the-cowboy-hat-for-a-lady sort of way. Garner also delivered one of the best movie lines I've ever heard, in a way only he could have done. In the 1985 movie "Murphy's Romance," Garner lets loose his annoyance with Sally Field's deadbeat ex-husband (Warning: Language alert):
"I don't know why Emma took you in in the first place. I'd bed you down with the dogs. And I'll tell you something else might be a lot younger and stronger than I am, but you're about to get your ass kicked from here to the state line. And I'm wearing the boots that can do it!"

The older I get, the more often I want to say that.

Here's a picture that will give you nightmares

It's a good thing neither Walter Matthau nor Jack Lemmon is alive to see this.

The guys at Something Awful may be a lot of things, but dull isn't one of them. Check out the rest, if you dare. (Warning: Not all of the photoshop galleries are G-rated. In fact, darn few are. Proceed at your own risk!)

There's a time not to stand up and be counted

I'm not sure what to make of this. I suppose I can understand wanting to define for future pageants what does and does not constitute "disabled." On the other hand, I seem to recall that FDR was usually photographed standing up so as not to give his detractors ammunition. Nobody would deny that he was disabled.

Technically, my Tourette's Syndrome qualifies as a disability, but I'm not getting any special parking permits for it. (Nor barking permits, for that matter.) Maybe disability is in the eye of the beholder. (No disrespect to blind people intended.)

Then again, maybe it's just a silly attempt at sour grapes.

We are everywhere...

As an Evangelical, I knew of a lot of Catholics who – for one reason or another – left the Catholic Church and joined Protestant ones. I never heard about folks going the other way, and I always assumed that the size of the Church was just because Catholics breed like bunnies.

Nope. Mark Shea quotes Sherry Weddell of the St. Catherine of Siena institute:
From my research of the past week (while re-writing a portion of Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles;
I'd like to add this bit of reality about adult conversions to the US Church:

in 1960, the pre-Vatican II height: 145,000 adults entered

in 1975, the nadir: 75,000 adults entered

Under JPII, the trend has completely reversed itself. Since 1994:

23,000 more adults have entered the Church every year than did in 1960:

An average 163,000 adults every year between 1994 and 2003. That's 1.635 million adult converts in only ten years.

If adult converts to Catholicism from those 10 years alone were a denomination, we would be the 16th largest in America, right behind the Episcopalians and ahead of the Churches of Christ and the Greek Orthodox.

And I will make this prediction. This week of incredibly powerful coverage of the Pope's life, faith, impact and the endless interviews with believing Catholics is going to be the catalyst of the spiritual awakening of millions around the world. I'm betting on a significant jump in adult converts on Easter, 2006 and an increase in priestly and religious vocations in the next two years.

God bless you, John Paul the Great. We owe you so much!

As I understand it, only two popes in history have been called "the Great." This is just one of the many reasons to make it three.

All right, all right! Good morning, already!

I think I need to get one of these for my daughters. I swear, those girls must have velcro jammies that adhere permanently to the blankets. At least this is kinder than ice water.

Thanks to Jim Romanesko for the link.


I never was much good at Legos, which is probably why I'm one of the only men in my family who's not an engineer. This guy leaves me in awe.

He calls himself "The Reverend," which makes me wonder. Is it just that I'm getting older, or is he really far too young for any kind of ordination? He looks to me like a college sophomore. For that matter, I don't know any clergyman with enough time on his hands to create a Lego Bible.

Doesn't matter. The Brick Testament is still too cool for words!

Hat tip to Stephanie Logerot, who is pretty durn cool in her own right.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

In Her Majesty's Service

Two brothers in Christ, Tim and David Bayly of "Out of Our Minds, Too," were in Florida last month for the protests at Terri Schiavo's execution, and found themselves in the awkward position of being in a clump of Catholics praying the Rosary. (Tim's comments can be found here, David's here.) Catholics don't blink much at it, but I can tell you there's no more flammable controversy between us and Protestants than Mary. It's an emotionally charged thing for them, and it smacks (more than smacks – reeks) of idolatry to pray to her. I have more respect for the Brothers Bayly than I can say, and I feel like I should try to speak to their condition, as George Fox would have said.

A whole bunch of Catholics have apparently explained the business of praying with saints to them, but it's still uncomfortable, and I don't blame them. To be honest, I still feel funny praying to (or with) saints myself. What doesn't bother me at all is the other side of Mary: the devotion to her. I can praise and revere her without having to talk to her, and that's not a problem to me at all. Let me try to explain:

Picture, if you will, a medieval knight. If you're realistic enough to have an image in your head of an unbathed, illiterate oaf, then imagine one of the idealized ones from Le Morte d'Arthur. It doesn't matter for our purposes.

Now imagine that the knight is devoted to the service of the queen. In practice, he answers to the king, her husband (or son), but he may revere her as his patroness and refer to himself as "the Queen's man." Is he treasonous? Of course not. There's also an attitude (perhaps unspoken) that if the knight needs something, the queen will get it for him from the king.

In the same way, the British army has a number of regiments called "The Queen's Own." Sure, Britain has a reigning queen now, but those regiments were formed long before the time of Elizabeth II. When Charles becomes king, they'll still be "The Queen's Own." Now, Charles is unlikely to get his nose bent out of shape over it, because when they devote themselves to his wife's service, they're serving him. They still take their orders through the usual channels (in earlier times, that would have been the king himself), but the queen is still their special patroness and symbol of their patriotism.

We Christians, similarly, may devote ourselves to Mary the Queen, the mother of our King. We can do it because her service is His service. Everything we do for her is for Him. Unlike human monarchs, we know that Jesus and His mother aren't working at cross-purposes. If a thing is His will, it's her will too. We can also call her "mother," because Jesus charged St. John with her care at the cross, saying "Son, behold your mother." I know it's a bit of a stretch, but we take that to apply to the whole Church. She's our mother, our queen, our patroness: the symbol of our loyalty to the King.

For this reason, I have no problem being devoted to the Queen of Heaven (I love that title!) because I know that it causes me to be more devoted to Christ the King than I would be otherwise. As I say, I'm still a little leery of asking her for favors, but when it comes down to it, I can be the Queen's man because I'm the King's man.

Weighing in on the pope

As of a few days ago, Pope John Paul II's passing had generated in excess of 35,000 news stories. I don't see that there's much I can add to the cacophany. I do want to mention a couple of things, and then I'll let it drop, I think.

1. I'm amazed at the number of Protestant leaders who have been respectful of John Paul II's legacy. Even the Rev. Ian Paisley was downright gentlemanly, which is not an adjective I would usually associate with him:
"We need to learn that everyone on Earth no matter what position he holds or the claims he makes or the support he has must come to death and eternity," the Reverend Ian Paisley said on Sunday.

"We can understand how the Roman Catholic people feel at the death of the Pope and they are entitled to express their sorrow and grief," he added in a statement.

The Reuters story is here.

2. Despite the media's attempts to predict a successor, I expect it will be a complete surprise. Conclaves have a history of being unpredictable. Regardless of who it is, it has been and continues to be my deep hope that the new pope will take the name "George Ringo I."

A patron saint for bloggers

Jeff Miller, The Curt Jester, has a discussion going as to who should be the patron saint of the blogosphere. Augustine of Hippo has been nominated, but Jeff's pulling for St. Jerome. Augustine's my patron (I chose him because he reminded me a lot of C. S. Lewis), but I'm tempted to go along with Jeff on this one.

Then again, Jerome was a little too mainstream to represent such a motley crew as bloggers. His translation of the Bible is still the standard today. I think maybe we need somebody a little more disreputable. Any suggestions?

Happy birthday, Merle!

The Hag is 68 today.

I've always liked Merle Haggard. In the 60s, when everybody else was sucking up to hippiedom, Merle was skewering it with songs like "The Fightin' Side of Me." My daughter and I used to sing "Mama Tried" over and over on long car trips, and his "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" is downright cathartic for anybody who's ever been mistreated by a woman.

To me, one of the neatest things about Merle is that he performed for Bob Wills in 1973, at the last recording session of the Texas Playboys. Bob had suffered a stroke, and his old bandmates staged a reunion at his ranch. Merle drove all night from Chicago to Dallas to be there. Shortly after the show, Bob slipped into a coma, and died days later without ever regaining consciousness.

"Bob Wills - For the Last Time" is a great recording, and Merle made a good stand-in for the late Tommy Duncan. It's nice to know that Merle Haggard was one of the last voices the Western Swing legend heard in his life.

Merle, I hope you live to a hundred years, and your songs are remembered for a hundred more.

And then there are the real Nazis...

Guys like Matthew Hale probably would have made Hitler nervous. I disapprove in general of outfits like the Southern Poverty Law Center, who target white supremacists just for their loathesome political beliefs (as happened a few years back with the Aryan Nations), but trying to have a judge assassinated kind of goes beyond just goose-stepping and sieg-heiling.

So now Hale gets to live behind bars with a large contingent of guys who aren't as melanin-deficient as he is, and who would have no problem carving out his tripes with a sharpened toothbrush. I'll tell you what, I wouldn't be selling Matt any long-term life insurance.

First, they came for the deejays...

Oy vey!

You know, before they got their jackbooted booties kicked in the 40s, I don't think there were nearly so many baddies being compared to fascists as there are today. Guy flips you off on the highway? Must be a Nazi. Got a parking ticket? It's Kristallnacht all over again.
He compared the rise of satellite radio to Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II, drawing only mild protest from their first incursions. First satellite radio was just music with no commercials, but then came talk radio programs and discussion of advertising. "Now they are seizing our major league baseball and college football and basketball rights," Christian wrote in his e-mail.

Now, I've never seen satellite radio except in the electronics section at WalMart, but somehow I find it hard to picture ordinary broadcasters being herded into cattle cars to be gassed. Of course, maybe that's just what they want us to think.


How do you apologize for something like this?

Answer: You can't really, but you should at least correct the problem fast. It would be merely an embarrassing incident if he had admitted his mistake. I guess wearing a robe means never having to say you're sorry, at least until your ego has already made a complete jerk of you.

The Prince is dead; long live the Prince!

I see that Prince Rainier has died. I didn't know he was the longest-reigning monarch in Europe. Heck, I didn't know much of anything about him except that he was Grace Kelly's husband.

The longer I've looked at modern history, the more I think it's been a mistake to throw out monarchies. A monarch gives a nation a sense of continuity, and a feeling that no matter what the government does, the country is still the king's. As an American, I have to work to summon up loyalty to a flag, and loyalty to a president is hard to maintain when every few years one is elected that I have trouble respecting. But a king doesn't have to be politically popular to be a focus for the people's patriotism. Shakespeare's battle cry "God for England, Harry and Saint George!" is a lot more stirring than "Go Reublicans!"

Of course, a monarchy could never work in a country like the United States, which was built mostly by people who couldn't get along with anybody else. Still, the restoration of the monarchy seems to have been a huge success for Spain in the post-Franco decades. I was disappointed that in rebuilding Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban, the King didn't get more of a chance to unify the people. The country might have been stablized sooner, and the need for American intervention might not have been as great.

What do y'all think?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Blame it on the Copts and the Mormons...

Like all Catholic converts, I have a conversion story that I'm egotistical enough to think other people want to read. This is one I posted in a discussion forum at, edited a bit for my own blog. (This is also an experiment to see how long-winded I can get away with being on Blogger.) :)

I was raised Baptist (American Baptist, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum for Baptists, I think, maybe leaning slightly to the liberal side). My mother was a preacher’s daughter, and I grew up in the same church where my grandfather had been the pastor. When I was a teenager, we moved to another city, and I got involved with the occult. I don’t want to get too much into detail on this one, but when I finally got out of it at 17, I threw myself into Christian youth culture with a vengeance. This was mostly due to a friend of my parents’ who gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’s "Mere Christianity." Still, I never did much actual doctrinal study; my Christianity, while sincere, was more shallow than I realized at the time.

Two more or less simultaneous things happened in my adulthood that first steered me toward the Church. The first Catholic thing that appealed to me was, frankly, an emotional one: the confessional. I was in a state of recurring sin by this time, following a divorce, a cohabitation, and a history of faithlessness. At 29ish, I was a believing Christian, but I didn’t act it out in my life. I had attended a number of different churches (Friends, Presbyterian, and finally back to Baptist), but I always knew I was just a little hypocritical.

The trouble with the Evangelical approach to sin is that although we know we can confess our sin to God and be forgiven, it’s harder to believe that we really are forgiven. There’s no point of demarcation. If I repent, and then revert to the same sin, was I really repentant enough the first time? And how would I know? I envied the Catholics their confessional; the knowledge that they could be objectively forgiven,and their forgiveness didn’t depend on their feelings about it. This, unfortunately, is an unspoken assumption in Evangelicalism. You’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?” The issue wasn’t salvation (I believed in once-saved always-saved) but a desire to be the sort of son God wanted, and a knowledge that I wasn’t doing it.

The other thing that happened was that I became friends with a Mormon couple. I live in a heavily Mormon area, and I had a lot of respect for them as neighbors, but with this couple, my respect grew considerably. They lived out their faith in a way I didn’t. They didn’t try to “evangelize” me, but I started looking into Mormonism anyway. Although I found that they had reasonable explanations for some of their beliefs that I had pooh-poohed, I still couldn’t make myself believe as they did. Mormonism (like Protestantism) is founded on the presumption that at some point, the gates of Hell really did prevail.

This was the big sticking point for me, although it took a little while before I applied it completely. I distrusted Joseph Smith because he came along 1800+ years and said, in so many words, “Christianity as it has been practiced all along is wrong; this is the right way to do it.” Ditto for Charles Taze Russell and the other modern “prophets.”

About this time I got curious about the Coptic Church, simply because it’s not something we hear much about in the West. I found that not only did they practice auricular confession, they also believed in the Communion of Saints, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and Apostolic Succession, as well as that big bugaboo for Protestants, reverence for Mary. So did the Eastern Orthodox. So did the Mar Thoma Christians of India. In short, all the things I had always assumed were unique products of the medieval Catholic Church were facts of life for ALL the oldest Christian churches, since long before the Middle Ages. Only the newfangled Protestants rejected these things. Protestantism had done a Joseph Smith.

The final straw was Sola Scriptura. I had questioned whether the Bible was truly the Word of God, as well as whether other “scriptures” – like the Book of Mormon – were, but it had never occurred to me to wonder whether God meant a book to be the primary (let alone only) repository of Christian doctrine. In reading an overview of Orthodox Christianity by Clark Carlton (an ex-Prod convert), I realized for the first time that the Church was not just a collection of “Jesus fan clubs” but a living, established, authoritative body. Here was the place to look for interpretations of scripture. If I disagreed, well, that was my prerogative, but I was still wrong. This was when I remembered Steve Camp’s song from the 80s, “Upon this Rock,” where he quoted Christ’s promise to Peter. Individuals in the Church (even leaders) could do wrong, but the Church would go on as the “pillar and ground of truth.” The gates of Hell hadn’t prevailed after all. (Incidentally, Steve Camp is a committed Calvinist, who would probably be appalled at at having nudged me Romeward.)

So I wanted to become Orthodox. Well and good, but in this corner of Washington State, the nearest Orthodox parish was an hour and a half away, and my car was unreliable at best. (Yes, it sounds like a weak reason, but the Lord was moving behind the scenes.) The Catholic Church held to all the same things as the Orthodox, with two exceptions. One was the “Filioque” in the creed, and the other was the primacy of Rome. I wasn’t about to debate the nature of the Trinity; smarter men than I had broken their teeth on it for centuries. As for Rome, I suddenly realized that the Pope, the bishop of Rome, is still the patriarch of the West. Even the Eastern Orthodox recognize that. As a Western Christian, I come under his authority. If God prefers obedience to sacrifice, He also prefers obedience to perfection of doctrine, especially in a case like the Filioque where I would have to take somebody else’s word for it anyway. Having determined that the Catholic Church’s teachings were authoritative, I would be both a fool and a hypocrite to stay out of it.

I started attending Mass, sitting in the back and leaving discreetly afterwards. (This is a small town, and I didn’t want to have to explain to people I knew who were Catholic what kind of struggles I was going through. I still wasn’t sure I was going to join.)

The first thing that struck me was how much of the Mass came directly from the Bible. I had already been awestruck by the Orthodox liturgy (St. John Chrysostom) and the Pauline Mass was a bit of a letdown after that. But almost every line came from Scripture, much of it verbatim. It seemed to me that this was the context in which the Bible belonged. It took most of a year before I decided to enter the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program and make moves toward actually joining the Church. In the meantime, I read St. Augustine’s "Confessions", and "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas A Kempis, and wondered how I had managed to be a Christian for so many years without ever reading these great men. (Easy; they don’t sell well in Christian bookstores.) I found I understood what my hero, C.S. Lewis, had been talking about in his apologetics.

I also went back to my Bible, and this time I found I didn’t have to skip over the uncomfortable parts, or re-interpret them to make them fit my Protestant assumptions. I discovered then, and I still maintain, that if you read any or all of the Bible at face value, it comes out Catholic. I bounced a lot of things off my best friend, a good strong Evangelical (attending an Assembly of God church), and he had to agree that he couldn’t come up with better or plainer interpretations than the Catholic ones.

When I finally started the RCIA program, I got a couple of surprises. First, I was already considered a Christian by my baptism in a Baptist church. Technically, a Protestant isn’t “converted” to the Catholic Church; he’s “reconciled” to it. That’s why Protestants are so often referred to as “Separated Brethren.” The other was that I was the only person in the class joining the Church for doctrinal reasons. Everybody else was either marrying a Catholic or had been poorly taught in their youth and wanted to know more about their faith.

Shortly after I was received into the Church in 1999, I was in the local Catholic bookstore and noticed a book called “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic.” I took it to the counter and told the owner, “I just did this!” Apparently, there had been a small army of Protestants who were examining the Catholic Church and finding the same thing I had, that they couldn’t remain Protestant without claiming to believe things that they could not accept as true. I’m actually grateful that I didn’t know about this before. I truly believe that the Lord was moving in my life, and the fact that He had to drag me to the Church bit by bit was much better than going along with a “movement.”

I still had some struggles with Catholic teaching. I was unsure about Mary – although the theory made sense, the practicality is still uncomfortable for an ex-Protestant. (To be honest, the Catholic Church doesn't seem to emphasize Marian stuff nearly as heavily as Protestants think we do.) The Real Presence took a while to sort out, but I found that the traditional take on it made a LOT more sense than the Baptist “Lord’s Supper” I had gotten used to as a child, where they never seemed to know why they were carrying out a ritual, but they were determined to do it anyway. And I’ve found that auricular confession, besides being Biblical (I wonder why those verses never came up in Sunday School? ) was exactly what I had been looking for. Just before my entry into the Church, I started my first confession with “Bless me, father, for this is going to take a while.” Oddly enough, the papacy had never been a big issue for me. It helped that John Paul II was such a good, Godly man.

So six years later, I’m a Catholic: a Romanist, a Papist, a mackerel-snapper, a left-footer. And I have no doubt that I’m exactly where the Lord wants me to be.

Finally in the loop

I've finally entered the blogosphere. My lovely and brilliant wife got hers at Confessions of a Hot Carmel Sundae about a year and a half ago, and I've been basking in her reflected glory ever since. Now it's my turn.

Just in case anybody cares, the name "On the Other Foot" comes from a monthly Catholic-oriented column I did for a while in a local Christian magazine. The fellow who was editing it at the time was a little reluctant to let a Catholic contribute, not out of his own prejudice, but concern for other contributors' (including various Protestant pastors in the community). Since I was doing the layout on it, for the newspaper I work for, I had a little leverage and got it in anyway. I don't think all that many people read it, but I sure had a good time writing it. And not one pastor (or reader, for that matter) had a problem with my being in such august company.

The term "Left-footer" is British slang for a Roman Catholic. I was raised Baptist, and became Catholic in 1999. It's still the same world, and the same Christianity, but now I see it from a different angle, from the other foot.