September 5, 2015

Saturday Ramblings: September 5, 2015

1954 Nash Rambler Custom Country Club two-door hardtop

1954 Nash Rambler Custom Country Club two-door hardtop

Welcome iMonks! Ready to ramble?

The truth is out. Daniel is no longer doing Saturday Ramblings (at least for the time being) because he was offered a pastoral opportunity at a new cutting edge church.

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• • •

This next bit of astronomical creativity is from The Christian Post. Of course it is.

A historical researcher has observed that the planets Saturn, Uranus, Jupiter, Earth and Venus aligned in an orrery model to form what can be seen as a man on a crucifix on the day associated by some with Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, namely April 3, 33 A.D.

“More than a few studies have pinpointed that date based on the Bible, calendars, astronomical conditions, even geology,” researcher and University of Wisconsin-Madison history major Miguel Antonio Fiol said in a statement.

An illustration released to the public shows the positioning of the planets on the date close to 2,000 years ago, noting that Saturn’s rings at the top of the figure could be seen as representing a “halo” or the crown of thrones placed on Jesus’ head. Uranus and Jupiter form the stretched hands, while Earth and Venus form the feet.

“Even at first glance I knew it looked like the crucifixion,” Fiol added. “But it took time to uncover all the incredible parallels.”

The researcher says that the planetary alignment began in mid-March and lasted through mid-April of 33 A.D. The same alignment occurs once every 333 years, and has been observed six times between the year 0 and 2000 A.D.

Fiol admitted that not everyone will see a crucifix in the planetary alignment, which is open to different interpretations.

“People will see what they want to see though I think coincidence is a hard argument,” the researcher said.

“It’s like spotting Jesus on a Reuben or any kind of sandwich, either you see it or you don’t.”

Researcher Claims Discovery of 'Jesus in the Stars' (PRNewsFoto/Miguel Antonio Fiol)

Researcher Claims Discovery of ‘Jesus in the Stars’ (PRNewsFoto/Miguel Antonio Fiol)

• • •

imrs.phpKim Davis has been all over the news this week for taking a stand against same-sex marriage. The problem? She is the county clerk in Rowan County, KY, responsible for issuing marriage licenses, and these are now legal for same-sex couples to obtain.

Hers is the highest profile case since the Supreme Court issued its ruling about same-sex marriage in June. Davis went to the federal courts, arguing that being forced to issue same-sex marriage licenses as part of her duties as clerk would violate her religious liberties. The courts disagreed, and the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay she requested that would have allowed her to avoid granting the licenses. So, she’s simply refused to grant any marriage licenses, and she released a statement saying why:

I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, perhaps an unlikely voice against Davis’s stand, went on a radio show and disputed the Kentucky clerk’s position:

“The rule of law is the rule of law,” Graham, a South Carolina conservative Republican, said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “We are a rule of law nation.”

“I appreciate her conviction, I support traditional marriage, but she’s accepted a job in which she has to apply the law to everyone,” Graham added about Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has defied the Supreme Court and continues to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “(She) should comply with the law or resign.”

A judge agreed with Graham this week, found Davis guilty of contempt, and put her in jail.

Some have suggested that the fact that Kim Davis has been married four times and became pregnant while unmarried makes her a hypocrite for taking such a stand about marriage. However, others have pointed out that Davis only became a Christian four years ago and that her sexual and marital problems occurred before that.

• • •

1441237460520Will he eat bugs? Drink his own urine? Hug Ted Cruz? What will he be forced to do to survive?

President Obama will Run Wild with Bear Grylis on his adventure show in the Alaska wilderness later this year, discussing the effects of climate change and becoming the first U.S. president to receive a crash course in survival techniques.

Actually, the President has done pretty well surviving the wilderness of Washington, D.C.

The person who could really use Bear’s survival training right now is a certain city gal named Hillary.

• • •

We lost Wes Craven this past week. A lot of horror fans left tributes like this one around the web:

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Did you know that Craven, creator of Freddy Krueger, went to evangelical Wheaton College, west of Chicago, from 1957-1963? Fascinating.

In a 1997 Chicago Tribune interview, Craven reflected on his years at Wheaton. He chose the college for one reason only: “My sister’s fiance went there. I was the first member of my family to attend college, and, frankly, the idea of applying to more than one school  never occurred to us. Our worry was that Wheaton College might be too liberal. I seem to recall some discussion of that subject in the family.”

At Wheaton, the future horror icon edited the literary magazine known as Kodon, and in 1962, he later recalled, “there were two stories, one about an unwed mother, the other about an interracial couple, that were not well received. After the second issue, (the administration) announced I had been derelict in my duty as editor and that Kodon would cease publication for the year. Our response was Brave Sons, a literary magazine produced off campus that went on for several issues, if I recall.”

The Tribune interview went on to quote Robert Warburton, a retired Wheaton College professor of English literature, who said: “I was sympathetic to Craven and his friends because they were asking nothing more than the presence and dynamics of Christians in the modern arts. They wanted to know, ‘Where are Christians in the arts? What is our role in film, theater, music and dance?'”

Craven also remembered something very fondly about his time at Wheaton. As a college senior, he suffered from a debilitating neurological disease that left him partially paralyzed and unable to attend classes. “The illness set back my graduation by nearly a year,” Craven said, “but the support I received from students and faculty members through that period was so moving to me. People I didn’t know came to visit, to pray for my recovery. To me, their thoughts and prayers represented the best side of Christianity. I’ll never forget that side of Wheaton College. Never.”

• • •

Meanwhile, in the land down under, Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw.

This poor sheep needed a haircut so bad, its life was in danger. Some hikers in Australia spotted the seriously unshaven merino sheep wandering on its own on the outskirts of Canberra, Australia. They sent for the animal welfare officials, who dispatched an urgent call for a volunteer to shear the woolly beast and save its life.

Thank goodness, four time Australian Shearing Championship winner Ian Elkins, was listening and offered his services. Woolly Bully for him.

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• • •

dr-oliver-sacksThe world also said goodbye to renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks this week. Sacks was famous for writing about intriguing cases of people with strange neurological disorders. In an article in NY Magazine, Melissa Dahl details seven of his most curious cases. I’ll list them here — go to the article and read more about them.

  1. The brain-damaged Hare Krishna who believed he had reached enlightenment.
  2. The conductor who lost all his memories — but could still remember both music and his wife.
  3. The family man who snubbed his wife and child — but loved strangers — after brain surgery.
  4. The psychiatric patients who appeared to wake from the dead.
  5. The man who developed “hypersexuality” after brain surgery.
  6. The woman who was haunted by dragons.
  7. The man who mistook his wife for a hat.

• • •

Back in April, in front of the Holy Door in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis issued a Papal Bull proclaiming that this next Church Year will be a “Holy Year of Mercy.” He will go back to the site on December 8 to open the Door once more to commence the year. You can read the entire text of his September 1 letter about this emphasis HERE, but one paragraph in particular caught the notice of many:

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

• • •

maxresdefaultDon’t forget to save the date! 

The fourth “blood moon” is due to occur on September 28.

Husband and wife evangelist couple Anita and Ignacio Fuentes have been using this fact to proclaim the impending end of the world fervently. In addition to the sign of the blood moon, in a YouTube video they cite a long list of global events foreshadowing doom including, the rise of the ISIS and ebola deaths, global nuclear tensions and financial crashes, Chinese hack attacks on the US, multiple animal deaths, the Jade Helm military operation in the USA, the emergence of the occult game Charlie Charlie and the CERN hadron collider being turned back on.

But — as the TV adds say — that’s not all! There’s more!

The Fuentes’ also point to “several Walmart stores closing in the US over plumbing issues for six months,” [excuse me, huh?] two drones penetrating the grounds of the White House, a meteor shower, bankers and natural health practitioners dropping dead mysteriously, and two cows being born with the number seven on their faces.

And, of course, the list would not be complete without the decision of the US Supreme Court to recognise same sex marriages.

The video ends with this auspicious message: “We are living in the final seconds.”

Oh sorry, there’s one more thing: an appeal for donations.

Hey, the end of the world can get expensive. You’ve no idea.

Oh, I forgot, this too: they’re expecting a baby in late January.

• • •

After the sheep story, I just had to end with a song. What could be better than this performance from 50 years ago by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs?

Problems with Teaching about Good Works

The Sower, van Gogh

The Sower, van Gogh

I like to use the phrase “good works” to describe Christian living. Doing so reminds me of Ephesians 2:10, a favorite text of mine:

“We are his workmanship,” says the apostle, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

  • His workmanship. Created in Christ Jesus. This eliminates any possible understanding that “good works” on our part have anything to do with our salvation, our justification, our acceptance by God. That work is his and his alone.
  • Good works which God prepared beforehand. Even the good things we do as Christians were planned ahead of time by God and are not due to our initiative or origination.
  • That we should walk in them. Christians get to actively participate in good works that God mysteriously uses in the development of his Story. It is our privilege every day to discover what “God has prepared beforehand” and join with him in his mission to bless and restore the world. We walk in God’s works — even our activity is described in terms of God’s gracious involvement in our lives.

However, when people hear the words, “good works,” any number of misunderstandings rise to the surface. Let’s talk about a few of them today.

• • •

First, the word “works” puts the focus on what we do, so there is an assumption that we are talking about something that is distinct from or in opposition to faith and the grace of God.

However, if you read the three points above, they add up to grace, grace, grace. Through Jesus’ finished work, God made us new in Christ. God planned the good works he made us to walk in. We walk in God’s good works.

Second, the phrase “good works” may suggest a special category of activity: “spiritual” work, work done for the church, volunteer work, work done to advance special causes.

When I use the phrase, “good works,” I simply mean what we do as we live following Jesus each day.

I’ve had the same problem with the phrase, “the Christian life,” as though Christians live in a life that is different than other people. No, the “Christian” life means life — common, ordinary life — lived Christianly, lived as though one is following Jesus. It is the same with “good works.” It describes our vocation as Christians, our “daily work” of living: as individuals, in our families, among our friends, at our jobs, in every setting in which we find ourselves. Again, Ephesians 2:10 — we “walk” (that is we conduct the course of our lives) in God’s good works.

In this regard, Richard Halverson was very helpful to me when he distinguished “church work” from “the work of the church.” Church work consists of the “family chores” that are necessary for keeping a church organization running, and it requires relatively few people. However, every Christian is called to “the work of the church.” Halverson put it like this:

Think of it this way. The program of our church is everything all the members are doing between Sundays. The church keeps house, goes to school, teaches, practices law, medicine and dentistry, runs business and industry, farms, works on construction jobs, researches in many fields, sits on school boards, city councils, county councils, state legislatures and congress. Between Sundays the church is involved in everything productive and constructive that is happening in our community. And it does so as a witness to Christ, to the glory of God, in His love and in the power of the Holy Spirit, sensitive to its accountability to Christ.

Third, “good works” may be perceived even more narrowly: as the kinds of religious works done by ministers, monks, nuns, and others who follow special vocations.

One of the greatest contributions of Luther and the other Reformers was to counter this notion. Marriage is equal to or may even be superior to celibacy. Common labor is equal to or may even be superior to the cloistered life of prayer. And so on.

There is always an impulse in Christianity (and other religions) to think those who “give up” more and “devote” themselves to the Lord for some kind of ordained service are better Christians, higher in spirituality and more impactful on the world for God. This is a mirage, and one day we will see the magnificent harvest that will spring from seeds planted by “ordinary” Christians doing ordinary things in everyday life.

• • •

Back in 2013 I wrote these words, and I stand by them.

Most of my life, I’ve been waiting to live.

The pattern has been like this: seasons of thinking about what it means to live and waiting to live and hoping to live, interrupted by moments of living.

I’ve spent most of my days thinking about life, pondering what will enable me to live. Hoping for that break that will allow me to live. Counting on that change that will lead me to circumstances in which I can live. Afraid that if I commit myself to living now, I will miss out on the real living that might have been.

Then, every once in awhile, life breaks through.

I hear my grandson giggle uncontrollably, and I know my place in the world: I am like Abraham, the father who laughs, and the promise is in the seed. I live in my family.

I sit in a living room with an octogenarian, while her demented husband lies drooling on the pillow in his hospital bed next to her. Though we have known each other less than an hour, she entrusts some of her deepest feelings and fears to me. I live in her tears and whispered confidences.

A line in a sermon I am preaching catches me off guard and deeply moves me. I pause. I catch my breath. I hear myself speak more softly and personally, and the people in front of me are my friends. We connect. In the word on my lips, the Word that did not originate from me but which came like an unexpected breeze, I live.

Driving down the road, I sing along with a favorite tune. It surprises me when my voice breaks and my eyes tear up. There’s some kind of life in that music, life that swells in my chest, life that carries me away. I live in the song.

The greenest groomed grass, immaculate raked soil marked with white chalk, the shape of a precious diamond, the smell of oiled leather, and smack of honed wood on cowhide. A leisurely day in the sunshine. Narrative and tradition emanating from a radio speaker. I live in the baseball game.

And this is my vocation — to simply live. Having found life and having actually experienced living, I find I am much less anxious to search for it, to think I must change my circumstances, do something different, pursue some new interest, gain some new insight, achieve some new status. As Merton says,

Suppose one has found completeness in his true vocation. Now everything is in unity, in order, at peace. Now work no longer interferes with prayer or prayer with work. Now contemplation now longer needs to be a special “state” that removes one from the ordinary things going on around him, for God penetrates all.

I would not claim that this describes me, or that I am anywhere near “completeness in [my] true vocation.” Heavens no!  But I would testify to a bit more contentment, a bit less anxiety; a bit more acceptance, a bit less restlessness.

A bit less thinking about how to live, and a bit more living.

What are you waiting for?

Fr. Michel Quoist: “If each note said…”

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If each note of music were to say:
one note does not make a symphony,
there would be no symphony.
If each word were to say: one word does not make a book,
there would be no book.
If each brick were to say: one brick does not make a wall,
there would be no house.
If each drop of water were to say: one drop does not make an ocean,
there would be no ocean.
If each seed were to say: one grain does not make a field of corn,
there would be no harvest.
If each one of us were to say: one act of love cannot save mankind,
there would never be justice and peace on earth.

The symphony needs each note.
The book needs each word.
The house needs each brick.
The ocean needs each drop of water.
The harvest needs each grain of wheat.
The whole of humanity needs you
as and where you are.
You are unique.
No one can take your place.

• Michel Quoist
Keeping Hope

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