Graduation Matters

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Image Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/10-inspirational-quotes-for-graduates_b_7508152.html

[Note: I like to post heavily researched articles with long quotations. But this year, my mental energy is spent more on tutoring and a other writing projects, so there are fewer articles, which is fine.

I thought it might still be fun to post shorter, more casual opinions on other topics. The best we can possibly do is to help others through the places that we have been–so I will try to post things that I know about….which is precious little.]

Here’s one: Graduation matters

I didn’t attend my undergraduate graduation exercises, and I regret it. I’ve heard other new graduates express that graduating wasn’t really an accomplishment–getting in was the hard part, and the rest was expected. I said something similar at my own high school graduation–that it didn’t matter because Virginia law required us to graduate. I crankily added that the ceremony was meaningless.

Well–those are wrong. Graduating does matter, and it’s not guaranteed. Yes, getting into college is hard. Yes, graduating high school is required. But it still takes work to get there–real work.

That diploma wasn’t guaranteed in the admissions letter; the law didn’t bestow a sealed diploma upon you because you turned 18. A lot of people drop out–of high school and college. Sticking with it requires discipline, effort, and showing up.

Showing up is highly underrated. Show up enough, and you get places and meet people. Stay home too much and you don’t. Often, it’s that simple.

It’s true that graduating isn’t the end of the road. There is no end. But even if it’s not an end, it’s a still a landmark worth slowing down and savoring. Seriously, if life is road trip, the destination is death–so enjoy the rest stops. Don’t say they don’t matter because they aren’t the end.

Further, by enjoy–I don’t mean total hedonism. I mean, look with gratitude at what you’ve done; what God has accomplished and ponder where he may be calling you next.

Enjoyment is where the ceremony comes in. It’s a ritual. Rituals are not empty, cult events. They are markers of culture and what a culture venerates as meaningful and worth remembering. How do we remember things as a group? Ritual. (That’s what the Catholic Mass is: a ritual that also, miraculously, serves to make present the reality we are remembering).

Rituals are not empty; they are us participating in a long line of tradition and culturally handed down values. No man is an island. Our culture and communities matter; they are not merely external to individuals, but an important component of who we are. The Aristotelian philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote about our interdependence in communities in his book “Dependent Rational Animals,” where he argued that human dependence on each other is an integral but often overlooked (in the Western tradition) aspect of the moral life, or what it means to live well.

The take-away: enjoy graduation. Savor the accomplishment–even while reflecting with gratitude on all the people and circumstances that helped you get there. While no one accomplishes much all on their own, each person’s unique contribution is an integral thread of the tapestry whose current pattern is an accomplishment.

Did you ever skip a graduation ceremony? Why or why not? Are you glad you went or didn’t go? Are rituals really empty?

How we use Words Mirrors the Trinity: Jesus as the Logos Brings Accessibility to God the Father

In the Bible and in theology, Jesus is the called the Logos, Greek for the divine Word, understood as ordering principle. I’ve always found the term “Word” applied to Jesus to be confusing, even incomprehensible. I accept it, but I didn’t really see the relation of “Word” to the person of Jesus, until recently

Lately, I’ve renewed my time spent on reading, writing and Latin and the uses and effects of language. Goodwriting, to me, puts names to concepts, feelings and experience we hadn’t been able to label accurately and so allows us to think about them more in depth and from the separation of wisdom. This can be fiction, philosophy, theology, psychology, history, any area even math. What the Word calls out accurately is truth. A truth experienced but not named. In a sense, the truth is uncreated by us humans–it was always there, and so we experienced it. But it wasn’t ordered for us to think about or understand until it was named. This naming, or Word, brings order to our minds that enables us to think about and understand the truth that was already there.

This is true in our day to day experience of reading and naming. It is also true of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. Jesus is the logos, the Word, the naming of God, the unnamable. In his incarnation, Jesus makes the eternal experience of truth in God, that was however removed from our direct experience and inaccessble, accessible in a direct bodily way. As words make vague experiences of truth comprehensible (or orderly) through naming, The Word brings understanding and access to the transcendent Truth of the Father, the First person of the Trinity.

Both are transcendent and eternal and the Word draws its meaning from the Truth, so they do not and cannot exist in isolation, but are intrinsically interconnected. Jesus as the “Word” of the Father makes sense in this way. In the analogy of Truth and Word, perhaps the Holy Spirit would best be represented as communication itself.

-Further thoughts on the Trinity and the limits of Language

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Book Review: L’Engle’s Walking on Water – Overly Lofty

9780804189293In one sense, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” was pleasant to read and stroked my ego as as a wanna-be writer. Parts of it were inspiring. Overall, however, I found it insipid and overly foofy; it talks of writing and art in the loftiest of idealistic prose, as the highest reaches of human meditation and striving.

In a sense, I agree with most of it. But an idealization of the writing vocation is only a tenth of the story. The other nine-tenths are work, the basic discipline of hitting the nail with the hammer every single day. In this sense, it’s like any other skill or job, one where talent and know-how deepen as experience progresses.

Here’s an example of what I didn’t like:

“The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth, is inimical to the secular world, and in total opposition to it, for it is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.” (46)

I love fairy tales and fantasy far more than the average fellow, but science is not something to dismiss. I am not a scientist, but I suspect that a tech-minded reader might react defensively, “Hey that’s what my lab tests are all about–truth.” Of course scientific methodology excludes philosophy, meta-narrative claims, but the whole purpose is to learn true things about how the universe works in order to understand it better. This mentality oversteps when we view ourselves as masters of the universe, meant to tame it. But in general, I would say science and laboratory experiments are at the service to truth, a different approach to understanding our world. I think it throws the baby out with the bathwater to pit science in opposition to truth, as if creative types have some sort of lock on that.

Then there was this:

“In art, we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.” (47)

Bleck. I am an idealistic person, and I am sympathetic to what she is getting at, which I take to be that art or creativity is an attempt at knowing or expressing truth. Seeking the fullness of truth can be understood as a sort of prayer or connection with reality aka God. That striving to speak truth can bring the speaker to the heights of human calling.

But. I find L’Engle’s language so over-the-top as to discredit it. It’s as if she divinizes the artist himself rather than showing him as a mere human glimpsing at participation with the divine–which is really the intention. Much of life, and I suspect much of an artist’s life, is spent in murky misunderstanding, darkness and trials, and the prosaic daily activities of buying materials, preparing food and changing sheets. Even the highest peaks of sublimity in creation pass unnoticed because the artist is so absorbed in the act. Never is she really conscious of “moving unfettered among the stars.” Maybe L’Engle is, and that sounds amazing.

But the work of other writers and artists, such as Stephen King and Flannery O’Connor, who have explained their craft, spend more time focusing on the process, on the work, of being surprised by the product despite their best plans. So while the artist does do some amazing co-creation, it is rather unknowable. My concern is not that L’Engle is wrong, but that the tone is deceptive.

Artists are not really a breed set apart for transcendental experience, but rather fellow stumblers along the road. More accurate would be Oscar Wilde who said, “We are all lying the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Continue reading

Book Review: C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength – The Real of Religion

that-hideous-strengthThat Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis opens with a grumbling wife and goes onto weave in realities of marriage, science, the supernatural, morality, magic, politics, violence and animals, all under the auspices of exploring, through story, what a well-lived life looks like. The answer it settles on is surprisingly warm and domestic.

This was the first of the Space Trilogy (which began with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra), which grabbed me from the beginning and pulled me right through the pages; it is far more character-driven and less allegorical than the others, while equally thoughtful. It is one of those life books that encompasses so many experiences, states in life and realities that it is grand and revelatory such that every page seems to reveal more to me of own soul. Another book I have read like this was The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which was my book of the year for 2015. I loved it so much I couldn’t decide what to write about it, so I never wrote anything, a tragedy.

Anyway, the themes addressed in That Hideous Strength were manifold, though very pointed and specific, such that I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers did not connect with this book because it does feel located in a very concrete time and place, with very precise philosophical concerns–those of C.S. Lewis–a small university in a quiet, English town and the rising onslaught of scientific materialism. While I find the academic setting relatable and generalizable, not all readers might agree.

Here is a short list of themes worth noting; their breadth is the pleasure of the novel: Continue reading

Freelance: Mother Teresa, New Saint, Championed NFP

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From my Truth and Charity Forum piece

She testified to the effectiveness of NFP, though it involves a break from Western reliance on artificial intervention: “So clear – those people in the street, those beggars – and I think that if our people can do like that how much more you and all the others who can know the ways and means without destroying the life that God has created in us.” There is no excuse for westerners, she proposes.

Further, NFP is consistent with the Church’s teachings on chastity and the importance of self-mastery: “The other day one of them came to thank and said: You people who have vowed chastity you are the best people to teach us family planning. Because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other.”

Mother Teresa’s remarks place natural family planning abstinence in continuity with the celibacy vows of priests and religious sisters and brothers. The Church calls all people to chastity, to integrate their desires with appropriate love of self and others.

Seen in the light of a consistent call to self-giving, her excoriation of abortion is not a “dogmatic” scourge upon women that her ideological detractors claim it to be, but a call to see the value of the person in a places, at all times, even within the womb. It is perhaps surprising that the nun renowned for caring for the aged and dying used her fame to speak for the other side of life, those still being made inside their mothers.

She saw the West as suffering from its own type of poverty, a poverty that could not see the value of human life. Her work and her words in their own ways testified to great worth she saw in each person, and she instructed those who would listen to do the same: “I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there” (1979).

More at: http://truthandcharityforum.org/though-criticized-mother-teresa-chastised-politicians-championed-nfp/

What do you think of Mother Teresa’s critics?

5 Books that Led to My Conversion

Uc2JTTW9vaMCNine years ago, while I was an undergraduate, I converted to Catholicism. Most people know that about me, and a lot of people think it’s strange, and that’s okay. 

I read a lot then and I read a lot now; here are five books that helped me on my way (in addition to the numerous actual people I observed and whose example and conversation affected me):

  1. The Confessions of St. Augustine
    1. Granted, this great saint and theologian was trained in rhetoric in the classical Roman educational style, but his language draws the reader right in. He is so forthright in telling his own wrong-doings, the thought-process of his conversion and in describing the nature of God and how he discovered it.
    2. It’s near-impossible not to be captivated by Augustine’s style and emotion as unfolds the story. There is a lot I identified with and a lot that I learned that Augustine puts into words rather well.
    3. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
  2. After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
    1. A tour-de-force modern classic of philosophy that goes through the history of the Enlightenment moral philosophers to explain why moral/ethical discourse today has gone astray and why we often have difficulty just talking to one another about it.
    2. He criticizes the Enlightenment, destroys relativism as a fall-back and proposes a modern Aristotelianism.
    3. When I was pondering the casual relativism so rampant on college campuses, no other book dealt with the philosophical difficulties therein so well or so broadly. In many ways, this book was for me intellectual permission to set a stance, to reject the proposition that there is no truth, but while maintaining respect for others.
    4. Interestingly, MacIntyre was not Catholic when he wrote this, but he did later convert.
  3. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

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Freelance Friday: My essay for Sojourners on Russian Martyrs Elizabeth & Barbara

My latest freelance piece was for Sojourners’  Keeping the Feast Series on Saints.

Leading up to and during the communist revolution,

“St. Elizabeth went from being a princess to Russian nobility, to nun, to prisoner and martyr. Some roles were her choice — some were not. The state can be fickle. Yet all the while, Elizabeth never stopped using her gifts to contribute to society — even when all she could do was sing God’s glory from the bottom of a mineshaft.”

“Thus the precarious relationship between church and state unfolds. The church has a temporal reality, and we members live in secular society, too. But we must always remain somewhat apart from it — grateful wherever possible, but detached from outcomes and final loyalty.”

https://sojo.net/articles/keeping-feast/what-russian-martyrs-elizabeth-and-barbara-teach-us-about-christian

Thoughts? Any take-aways here?

The 1 Biggest Reason Nature Matters in our Spiritual Lives–from a Modern Point of View

 

iStock_000057827554_MediumBeing outside is one of the great pleasures in life, particularly in good weather. I love pulling weeds, planting seeds, pushing the kids around for a walk or run and even the occasional hike; (see my picture of Skellig Michael in Ireland above).

But I don’t consider the “why,” very often, as I do with a lot of other things.

This short article really hit-home for me about some of the reasons being outside feels so good and is so good for us.

“God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits.” – Michael Hyatt

In a sense, this is so obvious, and yet we don’t hear it enough. Our love for natural boils down to a simply, basic spiritual reality.

Great saints have said similar things, “The Heavens are singing the glory of God” -St. Francis.

Hyatt ‘s blog connects it with business and personal development, which is nice in this case because sometimes it helps to hear things in a contemporary context. And he has research and studies about how being in or even just seeing nature aids your mind, concentration, sleep habits, physical fitness and also spiritual life.  Continue reading

Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”
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Local Report: Lay Women Take Up the Cause of Mom Ministry

It’s Friday morning and there is coffee brewing in an unused classroom at St. Philip’s Parish in Falls Church, VA. Christina Landauer sets out donuts and stirring sticks while her two year old son plays with a Lightening McQueen riding car. Her infant is asleep in his stroller, and the two older children are in school. She is setting up for the moms group, which she founded.

I attend this group, and I’ll admit, it can be terrifyingly isolating to embark on the path of stay-at-home mother, particularly for those among us who did not grow up with sizeable experiences with young children. The endless, sleepless nights and the stresses of finicky napers and picky eaters can be enough to set anyone on edge. In these times, a welcoming home of women who are traveling the same road or who have traveled it is a comfort unlike any other, akin to the ugly duckling reuniting with her family of swans.

As Mass ends, other mothers slowly trickle in, some holding the hands of preschool aged little ones, some wearing infants or carrying them in a car seat. Some moms have both with them. There is an option for babysitting in the next room so that the women gathered can relax. A few kids go over to play, a few stay with their mothers.

As the group settles in, everyone introduces themselves: newcomers and old friends alike. They begin in prayer and Landauer shares a reflection on growing in holiness as a mother. There is an option for Confession and the chance to share, bond and grow as mothers.

I for one have been tremendously impressed by the kindness and warmth of the women in the St. Philip’s moms group. This is not a high school clique, but a community of folks who care, who are earnestly striving to follow Christ and are who are grateful both to help and to be helped along the way. Continue reading