There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

Archive for October, 2005

God and the World Series

on a lighter note (or a heavier note if you’re from Houston, which I am). . .

Richard Neuhaus (editor of First Things [www.firstthings.com] and parish priest in New York City) writes of the altercation he had to break up yesterday over a baseball issue:

Richard John Neuhaus writes:

Recriminations abound. At Immaculate Conception down on First Avenue and 14th Street, where I say Mass regularly, I was this morning required to adjudicate a near-violent dispute between a young black man and an elderly Irish regular at daily Mass. Did or did not George Steinbrenner betray the Yankees by trading Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Jose Contreras, all of whom now loom large in the series between the Astros and White Sox? I was tempted to quote Our Lord, “Who made me a judge between you?” But they would not be satisfied with that. Taking the side of Steinbrenner on anything is a losing proposition in New York. So I opined that 20/20 hindsight is too easy. At the time it may have seemed a smart decision to let them go, but, after what they’ve done this season, it looks stupid. “The Church is always standing up for the bad guys,” responded the young man. I assured him the Church had no official position on George Steinbrenner, but he did not even try to disguise his skepticism. It’s not easy being a parish priest. Nor did either of these gentlemen take any consolation from the prospect of the White Sox winning on Tuesday evening, although the elderly regular said he had been to Chicago once and it was “a nice enough town.”

my head hangs low for the scrappy but hapless ‘stros, but the story of a 15-30 team in May making it to the Show–well I take great comfort in that.

do you really have to be taught to hate?

Whenever you read a story or hear about an individual who is unabashedly prejudiced or racist, it’s only a matter of minutes before you hear the “voice of reason” explaining that this kind of hatred is yet more evidence that, as the song in South Pacific sings, “you have to be taught to hate.”

"You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
you've got to be taught from year to year,
it's got to be drummed in your dear little ear---
you've got to be carefully taught!. . . ."

This afternoon I read of a two Olsen-like set of twins who’ve made it onto the national scene with their, I suppose, “hip” style of exalting such infamously racist figures as Hitler and his cadre. And of course, as you have come to expect, their unambiguously racist banter has immediately been labeled as one more instance of the inculcation of hate–hate that would never have emerged were it not “taught” them.

I would not deny that these twin tweeners have been bestowed a whole agenda that will, for a season, garner them a spike of blushing attention. Had they never been introduced to Hitler, to an ideology espousing the alleged advantages of a “pure” race, to the base lies that a diverse people is a doomed people, I’m reluctant to say they (the most ignorant pre-teens or the most learned baby-boomers) would’ve conjured such ideas themselves–much less turn those ideas into an agenda. But do you think hate–that mysterious feeling that is ironically “delicious” (nod to Frederica Mathewes-Greene) to those who indulge in it– is really some force that would not penetrate the human soul unless it were put in us by something external to us? The drive to hate, the urge to think oneself superior, the proclivity to shift blame to the “other” to such a degree that the blame manifests in contempt–sure, personalities, experiences or other external things may, as it were, add fuel to the fire, but is that fire not somehow kindled by something within?

I’m a pastor. That disqualifies my perspective in many eyes because I come to the table with the presupposition that there is something fundamentally flawed within us–that sin, often manifested in hatred, comes all too naturally for us. But based on the evidence of history, or on your own experiences, is it too simple to conclude that “you have to be taught to hate?” The objects of hatred, I concede, require something pointing us to them, but the propensity to see them as worthy of hatred–who can argue with Solzhenitsyn when he says, every human heart is shot through with wickedness?

never pleasant; often productive

We may have opened Pandora’s box slightly yesterday by exploring the place of Church of discipline, but in this case, it may be worth the trouble. As I promised, here’s a link to a sermon by Jonathan Edwards that speaks to how we exercise judicious and compassionate discipline in various scenarios. That of which he speaks of will seem awfully foreign to our ears, but inasmuch as he outlines what to do in extreme circumstances–in the cases of “gross sin”–there is value in this discussion for how we should treat the less heinous improprieties we find among us.

As is customary, I couldn’t possibly do the topic justice, so here’s a little section below I left out that summarizes (incompletely) how valuing the place of discipline would look in me, in us as a community, and in you as an individual member of that community.

so, as usual, share your thoughts. Expose my blind-spots. Suggest how this might look in us.

  • What would a healthy regard for Church discipline look like in me, in us, and in you personally?
    • Me:
      • It would mean I would take more than a passing interest in your maturing, that I would not merely be content with putting together a coherent lesson, but that it would seek to be for yours and mine maturing in the faith
      • I would refuse simply to preach to you at arms-length but take a more personal interest in you…and, by the same token, invite your observation of me to give me appropriate reproof when necessary (some of you already have!)
    • Us:
      • We would seek to act as a united front to preserve the Church’s witness as a people set apart to be and do something—something more than being labeled a “churchgoing people” or merely meeting together on Sundays
      • We would seek to master the balancing act of upholding the purity and sanctity of the church while not emptying it of the grace that brought her into existence and sustains and enriches that existence
    • You:
      • You would take an interest in one another’s interests and in the holiness of those interests
      • You would refuse to let someone’s besetting sins be someone else’s problem.
      • You would neither relish the reproof (by seeking to punish or take vengeance) nor refrain from offering it (to avoid conflict or to maintain a thin veneer of friendship)

single, but….and yet, ….

We’re a community of predominantly single people but that notwithstanding we make concerted effort not to label us as a singles ministry because it would seem to be highlighting something that, while true, is not how we would like single people to think of themselves primarily. Singleness, despite the ambivalence with which the culture (and sometimes the Church) regards it, is not to be thought of as some second-class, “in between” time–that is, as if it were just some sort of holding pattern we must all endure before we get to the “real” life that is marriage and family. The privileges of singleness are not insubstantial but the longer one conceives of their singleness as some sort of purgatorial sentence, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Still, it is not as if we are trying to perpetuate singleness, but we labor in such a way as to see that everyone lives faithfully and passionately in whatever status they presently inhabit.

All that as a prelude to this article on what appears to be our innate need for connectedness. I wonder what you think. Chime in.

and, while you’re at it, how do we help foster the kind of “authoritative community” the article speaks of–the kind of community that is paradoxically both needed and avoided by most in our culture? His article and this concept of community is grounded on research in a new book on the effects of the absence of such communities. The Holy Spirit’s role notwithstanding, how do we improve the ways we engender an ethos that is “committed to one another over time and who exhibit and are able to pass on what it means to be a good person?”