Monday, June 30, 2008

June's Reads

This month was less eventful in the reading department than I had hoped because it has been so overwhelming in other departments. I suppose that's ultimately a good thing.

Here's what I managed to finish. Several other reading tasks are en route, but c'est la vie.

Autobiography-G.K. Chesterton

I love this book-great things like wine get better with age, and as Chesterton's last book prior to his departure to a better place this is no exception to that rule.
Apparently he had shunned the idea of writing an autobiography for a long time,and just weeks before dying this magnum opus by a vir magnus was completed. Just like everything else I've read by him, this work approaches the task of talking about one's self from a unique angle of looking at his world around him. Capturing his essence of being thrilled by normal existence, one gets a sense of how he thought about his own life. We leave the realm of theoretical argumentation and theoretical people in his treatises and novels, and enter the more primitive thought of one's own life.

Just as one example, he starts the book by pointing out that his very birth is a mystery-he has no memory of this undoubtable fact, and yet this lack of "proof" is supposedly the basis of doubt. With tangents that delight the mind, I have to place this book towards the top of the Chestertonian canon.

Catholic Christianity - Peter Kreeft
Former Dutch Reformed philosophy professor meets the huge volume of the Catechism-the ensuing work is a logical but warm read about how one can understand Catholicism rightly, and how one can understand it wrongly. I'm especially appreciative of how he often sets certain issues such as justification in the light of Protestantism and other philosophies of life. Appreciating the truth in beauty in all of the world without compromising his positions on Mary, the saints, etc., this makes for a great read to help one have a foundation for what it is that the Church teaches.

You can preview it here.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church - Pope Benedict XVI
So I mentioned above that Kreeft's work on the Catechism makes the Catechism easier to understand. Well, the compendium is what you get when Pope Benedict and friends make the 1994 Catechism easier to understand. Going back to the question and answer methodology that one sees in Catechisms such as the Westminster or Baltimore catechisms, this compendium is a succint but accurate portrayal of the tome that is the Catechism of 1994.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Roald Dahl
What do you get when you tell me that one of my favorite directors in movies is working on an adaptation of one of my favorite novels? Me running to Barnes and Noble to add on to my collection of books! (Can you believe I have cheesier ways of conveying my thoughts on this book that I spare for the medium of the internet?)

Roald Dahl's small but exciting book about more underdogs in the world who are wronged seeking justice through mischief and ballyhoo was a great way to spend a few hours or so with my kids before I left on a trip to California. I can't wait to see
what will happen when Wes Anderson makes this movie. I'm pretty sure it will be animation, but will it be computer? Or how about a Tennenbaums-style set of sketches that come to life? As long as people who worked on Shrek stay at least 1000 miles from him at all times, I think we'll be fine. But what do I know?
HT Chad:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

If you love me at all,

you will read this blog post by Bryan Cross, former Protestant. The way that he describes the nature of God's sovereignty and our role (or lack of a role) in salvation is essential to understanding any dialogue between Catholics and Protestants.

Friday, June 27, 2008

cancion del segundo

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spiritual Lessons From a Cell Phone

I write this post with an admittedly silly source of inspiration. Maybe it's better to just term this as a blog that is written for fellow users of the phone pictured above. I have had the T-Mobile Dash since October of 2006. I used to enjoy it much more, when I could access the internet for 5.99 a month through a quasi-loophole.

I also used to enjoy it much more when the battery held a charge well. After about 10 months of use, things were deteriorating. I would charge the phone for hours and it would run out of power within 1 hour. A few months later, I ordered a new battery from some ebay dealer for a few bucks. That sounded like the solution, except within 3 or 4 uses I was certain that this battery also suffered from the same problem. And so it was that for the next 5 months I would deal with a phone that would run out of batteries after about 45 minutes of talking time even if I left it in the charger all night. Of course, some nights I would be too tired, so as you can imagine, on some days I would have to charge it 3 or 4 times during the day because of a failure to do the overnight charge.

My pessimism over this phone reached its climax last week. I was on the phone near my computer and had it charging for about 4 hours that way. I left it in the charger, knowing its frailty.

It was to my great disgust that while on the phone the battery died, despite the charge going! I grabbed my wife's phone and called my friend back and continued the conversation, cursing the weakness of my phone. I was too tired to turn the phone back on so it wouldn't serve as an alarm and if anyone called me due to any possible emergencies, etc., I would be unable to answer.

The sun rose on the next morning with hope in its wings. For to my great surprise, as I turned the phone on after ~4 hrs of charging, it carried its battery throughout the day! I even neglected to charge it that night, and on the next day by late night it eventually was losing bars, but this was day TWO!

That's when I realized that my phone's charger, or the phone's design, the battery, or some odd combination of these various engineering components whose workings mystify my mind, did not operate the way I assumed that they did. It seemed like all I needed was electricity to go into the phone's battery. Whether it was on or off just couldn't matter to my "logical" mind, but reality showed the Procrustean problem I had created.
I tried charging while the phone was off for a second and a third time, and like the first time, it was as if I had a brand new phone.

So, to all T-Mobile Dash users, turn your phone off while charging, and your battery will last much longer than if you were to keep the phone on!

And so, as many of you would expect, my often silly mind saw poetry even in this cell phone lesson. For as much as my a priori considerations led me to assume that electricity would simply flow naturally into the phone regardless of whether I left it on, was text messaging, talking, taking pictures with its 1.3 megapixel camera or what have you, I did not understand this seeming flaw in the phone's design until its batteries were completely dead and I ended up charging it while off by accident.

Whether caused by a flaw or by damage, I have to pity my poor phone. And I have to learn from that phone--for my human nature is so similar to it. We seek refreshment and peace at moments in various ways; through meditation, prayer, recreation, vacation, conversation, and the like, but how many times have I glibly tried to read something or enjoy time with my family with phone calls and thoughts about e-mail/work/stress/money/the future/you name it plaguing my mind in the backdrop of that time that was set aside to recharge? It's almost as though one becomes even more tired when trying to think about one's duties while "recharging" simultaneously.

Like my phone, there have been times where my stresses from work, etc., have led me to become so frustrated mid-"relaxation" that I end up doing something foolish like get angry while I'm supposed to be having a good time with my kids, or reading an inspirational book. It seems that I am a human form of that T-mobile Dash, for good or for ill. And I think I'm not alone in being such a person who is similar to my silly, "flawed" phone. Take time to turn your "phone" of duties off when you're relaxing. Multi-tasking is for computers.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saying Adieu to the Silent Treatment

I recently realized the need to have a Catholic Bible. This is a picture of the cover of the Bible, which is the hardback version of the Ignatius Bible. A long time ago I purchased a single volume of "The Apocrypha" that was from the original KJV. It's interesting to note that mere fact, that the KJV was not bold enough to leave these works of literature untranslated, but I digress. I was irked by the lack of a book that had these books bound together. There was something symbolic about my desire to see these books in one volume, and that was to not show a sign of disdain for the books. Sure, there are volumes that contain just the New Testament and Psalms, but my inner sense of completeness told me something was wrong. I had understood that there is something missing in my view of the Bible, and this is what that something is.

In contemplating the claims of Rome another fundamental thought has occurred to me. For the books called "apocryphal" or "deuterocanonical" are not simply more books to make up the Old Testament.
At another point it may be worth discussing the literary and linguistic basis for accepting this books, but for now, I have a more philosophical notion to consider.

Many Christians have challenged the notion that Jesus is not the Messiah by arguing that God would not have left His people without a continuing temple, a continuing presence of faithful witnesses. From Adam to Moses there was not a solid line of explication of how one should live, but after that time as the kings were established we have a faithful line of prophets who wrote the things we read in the Old Testament. That is true and agreed upon by all Christians.

However, what is not agreed upon is whether there is a period of time before Christ that takes this faithful line and views it as broken. Hanging in pieces and shards, the people of God allegedly lost the growing sense of His presence for roughly 400 years. For that is what one asserts if one states that Malachi was the last prophet until John the Baptist.

And thus, the acceptance of books such as First and Second Maccabees hinges upon a parallel acceptance that this silence did not happen to God's people. At the time when the Greeks, led by Antiochus Epiphanes, ravaged the temple and land in Palestine, challenging the Jews way of life, we can assert that God was with His people to give them a comforting voice, or we can relegate this history to some grey zone of silence. As for me, the former option is the not only the one that matches the notion of a faithful God best, it also makes sense out of some interesting aspects of the New Testament. For Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication, which comes from that same allegedly silent period (John 10:22-23). Furthermore, Hebrews 11 lists some faithful people who suffered martyrdom that strongly evokes images from 2 Maccabees (compare Hebrews 11:35 to 2 Maccabees 7 - and keep in mind, a Presbyterian pastor convinced me of this truth roughly four years ago). Therefore, the resounding cry that comes to me from my experience and the Bible is that there could not have been a period of silence where God's people were left to languish.

The deuterocanonical books do not merely make for more reading material, they support the idea that we can rest assured that there has always been someone faithful with God's word in this world.

Extending past the silent period to today, it's interesting to note that many Protestants have a similar notion of their own day to day existence, and Church history in general. Surely there could not be a Church that has remained essentially faithful to God, because that's just not how humans operate, or so they say. Never mind the promises of Jesus to Peter about the Church being built upon a rock that the gates of hell will not prevail against (Matthew 16). As some faithful Lutheran teachers once explained to me, gates are not offensive weapons. The Church was not merely going to withstand the devil and his minions, she was to conquer and trample down the defensive gates of hell, bringing a growing sense of peace and justice to this world. We are still on that road to peace, but how do we get there? By our own opinions, or is God still speaking to us? Well, the answer depends on the person you're talking to.

The point in this context is that if it was fine for God to be silent for 400 years before Christ, there is a parallel thought that it's fine for God to be silent with the Church. We are left with an infallible Bible to be fallibly interpreted, which simple logic demands that one will have a fallible view of God.

To this, my mind cries out and says this cannot be. As I have tried to persuade you, part of this skepticism is rooted in one's view that God was silent in the past. If He was silent in the past, why be so surprised that He is silent now? But not only did He promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, Jesus went further and promised that for Him to ascend to the Father so that the Spirit would come would be even BETTER for His people (John 16:7). Far from wistfully looking to some future day with His physical reign on earth, we should take His promises and believe them. It really is better for us to have the Holy Spirit sent to us than if Jesus were physically reigning in Jerusalem (or Los Angeles). Of course, with all of the cacophonous voices screaming words "from the Lord" that contradict each other, it is hard to believe this truth, and I have much sympathy with those who do not hold on to this hope. But believe we must, or else we are all at a loss as to which voice(s) to hear, if any.

God speaks to His people. He is there, and He is not silent.

another funny science video....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Canciónes del Día

I'm not familiar with the second song on this clip, but it's not too shabby either....

Friday, June 20, 2008

muito obrigado amalia......

Obama and "public" money-first impressions

So, as many stories on the web seem to indicate, there is more than a small amount of furor over Obama's refusal to accept "public" money.

As far as I understand, this means that there is an 85 million dollar pot of "public" funds that he is not accepting, with the trade off that he can end up raising higher amounts of money from "private" sources.

This article is one of many to point out that this is the first time a candidate has refused to take "public" money since this program was instituted after the Watergate scandal.

All I will say at this point is this: and Obama's the bad guy? I'd rather be upset about the nearly 40 years of the government telling me that part of my money needs to go to the funding of TV ads I will never watch or enjoy.

Now, I know that Obama is no conservative, and he wants to tell me what to do with my money in other arenas, but at least it's not going to annoying campaign ads (and hopefully it won't go to wars?).

McCain tried to use this as an opportunity of showing Obama contradicting himself, but seriously, is it that much of a tragedy that he'll be using 85 million less of our tax dollars? I hope I'm not alone here, but this just sounds like lunacy.

Like I said, it's my first impression, but it's the impression that I get.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The False Dichotomies of Religion vs. Relationship and Faith vs. Merits

As anyone who reads site with any modicum of frequency will surely attest, I have been thinking a lot about my life and am constructing an "apologia pro vita sua", to steal the phrase of another. But one thing that I need to say before I delve deeper into my progression of faith is probably the most ultimate matter of all, and that is how I view my relationship to Him who is ultimate. Saying that I am desirous of full communion with the Church may sound shocking, especially in light of Her portrayal by others.

What I mean is this: as a new Christian in Calvary Chapel I was told that the real gospel is not about religion but relationship. I came to see that that statement was a gross oversimplification, as other Christians such as those in the Reformed world would never deny relationship for religion's sake. Instead, it is clear that true religion, as described by the epistle of St. James, is part of the gospel. And so I came to realize that discussing all of 2000 years of theological debate as being over whether one called their religion a relationship or not was more than a waste of time-it was a way of trying to stake the unique claim that only those who threw off the "shackles" of "religion" are freely in love with Our Lord.

At the same time, in embracing this understanding that religion is not a bad word, I walked in ignorance of Catholicism. I assumed that while they too were not afraid to call themselves a religion, that was merely because they did have serious differences with God's Holy Word.

After all, serious thinkers like Martin Luther had shown that Roman Catholicism was all about denying the idea that God has come to save us, and instead they advocate religion as us ascending to God on our own works. They taught that we can gain some sort of merit that is independent of Christ. Maybe Christ is a good example to us, but in their religion it seemed as though that was all.

As I hope to tell in detail, hearing of strong evangelical Christians becoming Catholic such as Francis Beckwith and other less famous people who were no less luminary in their devotion to God, unsettled me. Others who will remain nameless simply stated that these men and women were turning to Rome out of a desperate attempt to find solid unity, and ultimately this action was a mere demonstration of their ignorance of the true Gospel. The true Gospel would never lead the child of God to boast of merit, as though Christ's death on the Cross were not sufficient. The true Gospel would always say that it was all about God saving us, not us saving ourselves.
These words were enough to make me stay away from Catholic theology and fear it.

And yet, I have come to see how all of this posturing has been just that--posturing. I had stood and stared and gawked at the Catholic church, but had not listened to her own saints as they told of what God has done in their lives. In studying their formal statements on issues such as merits, I repeatedly found myself at an impasse. Instead of hearing the caricatures of Rome that I had repeated to myself, I found a completely different confession of faith. In the section specifically on merits, part of a prayer of St. Therese of Lisieux closes the section. As I read these words and reflected on them, I realized that I could not raise a cry of objection to anyone who said such things about their faith. Just as my former frustration with all those espousing Calvinism ebbed by talking to Calvinists about their true human feeling that we all must choose this day whom we must serve (despite the seeming contradiction between this and their philosophical background), I saw the walls of resistance to Catholicism fall down by simple statements by great men and women of God who "happened" to be Catholic as well.

Below is that quotation of St. Therese of Lisieux.
A link to the full prayer is here. By the way, she is one of only three women who have received the title of Doctor of the Church.
I think this quote is enough to silence any opposition to Rome's view of merit. More importantly, it is enough to inspire the hardest heart to love Our Lord.

"After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone.... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself".

Sunday, June 15, 2008

For Father's Day

Last week my good friend CDH sent me an mp3 of one song off of Pinback's album that came out last year. I had heard that this band would really be enjoyable to me several years ago but due to financial constraints and the hectic nature of life I hadn't checked them out. The song, shown in the video below, compelled me to get this album with the Father's Day iTunes gift card I received. So now I give to ye, fathers and non-fathers alike, this present.

When I saw how "unbecoming" of being rock stars this band would appear (to the untrained eye), my estimation of them rose 1098028390 points!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

He died on this day 72 years ago

A Ballad of Suicide
by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall--
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.
To-morrow is the time I get my pay--
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall--
I see a little cloud all pink and grey--
Perhaps the rector's mother will not call--
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way--
I never read the works of Juvenal--
I think I will not hang myself to-day.
The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational--
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small--
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Finally reporting on the Wii Fit....

Yes, it's true that I was running from store to store on the release day of the Wii Fit. This contraption was much touted as a great way to exercise and lose weight, while maintaining one's nerdiness by playing a video game.

So, two thoughts on the Wii Fit: first, there is the matter of how it performs as a way to encourage exercise. Being an inherently competitive person, I have been excited knowing that the game will instantly graph my time spent exercising, top scores, not to mention my weight. The balance and yoga games are quite sensitive to how one moves, and have encouraged me to develop my stretching ability. The strength and aerobics games can be cheated on in multiple ways, but at the end of the day that will show in one's conscience (and in the fact that one will not lose weight by such tomfoolery).

My second thought on the Wii Fit is more pragmatic. As the photo below shows, I have indeed made a down turn in my weight. However, this is more likely due to the fact that I have been sick and have seriously lowered my drinking of fermented beverages. Nonetheless, I am happy to report that it no longer calls me "obese". I am now in the proud category of being merely "overweight". I'm not sure if I'll ever get out of that realm, but the point is that I aim to lower my BMI substantially through more exercising, and less gluttony. Note that I say "less" gluttony, not "none"......well, I don't know if enjoying a good steak in Amarillo and a beer (or five) is gluttony, but the thought has passed my mind.....I jest, I jest.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Abusing poetry, and why?

This work of art has to be one of my favorite poems:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Tolkien really captures the whole story of The Lord of the Rings in this poem, and the imagery is beautiful. From the consideration of precious gold that seems mundane and lacking glitter to timeless trees and reforged swords bringing back a royal reign, he hearkens the reader to hope that one day things will be better. But really, I'm not blogging today about the greatness of this poem.

For you see, something about this poem has irked me for quite a long time. I have noticed that bumper stickers have been made that try to quote a part of this poem, except that those stickers read differently than the original poem.

It states, "Not all who wander are lost" with a hippie-esque setting to the background.

Now, not only is this slightly different in omitting one word, but the quote does a grand injustice to Tolkien's poetic genius. Just imagine that line as it reads within the original poem.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

With "those" removed, the rhythm of the poem is utterly destroyed. The normal reading of the poem undulates with grace and beauty, and this one is like a train derailed. And don't think it's just some past or present pot smokers ruining the poem. The community as a whole as neglected the goodness of Tolkien's original phrase. For, if you google "Not all who wander are lost" roughly 272,000 responses appear. In contrast, the actual phrase, "Not all those who wander are lost" garners a trifle of approximately 241,000 hits are found. Therefore, the incorrect version outnumbers the correct one. For shame, humanity!

In thinking about this preference for a "those-less" rendition, it struck me that the real abuse of Tolkien (and poetry in general) is its neglect. If more people cherished the words as Tolkien saw fit to print them they would catch the utter dissonance of a "those-less" poem, and there would be no way that google searches would favor that form.

And so for that matter, I quote the poem and want to think about how great it is.

Speaking of poetry, here's another great one by Keats.....

Give me women, wine, and snuff
Until I cry out "hold, enough!"
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection:
For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
My beloved Trinity.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Smiles from Death

I was using the microscope today, forlorn and sullen.
Looking at mouse kidneys is actually quite exciting, and the differences between the two main groups of mice in this study are quite dramatic. I'm looking for the effects of lupus-like diseases, where these things that look like circles call glomeruli get swollen due to a hyperactive immune system.

Now, I'm not going to say much more about science (unless you ask me to), but what I wanted to share was this little message I received from one of the sections. I was looking for good images of these glomeruli when I saw a smiling face. It made me happy, and I suppose that is yet another reason why I thought (foolishly) that a career in science was for me.

See for yourself! Am I wrong here or do these cells want me to be happy?

Other remembrances of forgotten moments of clarity....

I recall that about this time of the year eight years ago when I was becoming Presbyterian that I didn't seem to know people who were ardent believers in Calvinism going towards being Arminian, whereas it seemed like everyone at the church I was visiting had been in my shoes-they belonged to nondenominational churches like Calvary Chapel and had been frustrated for various reasons, and upon studying they saw more depth of doctrine and history in the Presbyterian world.

I remember thinking of my particular hangups weakening under the light of this very human difference between the two schools of thought. I knew that if people who were older and wiser had left the Calvary Chapel scene but that vice versa didn't seem to happen, there was a good chance that in time I would see the light.

With the passage of time, another thought has slapped me in the face from the opposite slant. I have noticed that in my experience the people who are currently Protestants and were formerly Catholics were not deep in their studies and devotion as Catholics.

Conversely, my interactions with Catholic converts from Protestantism have been just the opposite. It seems like the people who convert are among the most devout of Protestants (Note that I didn't say they ARE the most devout, they are in the right boat, is all that I'm saying). Like Peter Kreeft and others, I would not say that Catholicism is appealing because of my hatred of Protestantism. Instead, much of my interest in the Church has come through trying to deepen of my love for God and his people as a Presbyterian.

It is no syllogistic notion that I'm peddling here in this brief thought. It's just a small consideration to put into my pipe and smoke. But I don't smoke pipes, especially not on a day like this when it's over 100 outside with humidity factored in.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The first images of water on Mars

I'm not sure where this photo came from but it's pretty funny....

Since it's Monday.....

This was not actually written by St. Francis but his attitude pervades it. The words are on my mind, especially as the work week begins......

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

It's Monday

Tuesday, June 3, 2008