Thursday, July 24, 2014

Boast in the Lord?

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:31)

I am sure you have read this passage a million times. And, I am willing to bet you think you have it down pat. Yeah, don't be proud of yourself, be proud of God. In other words, praise God and be humble.

But, really, come on, tell me what it means to boast in the Lord!?

Here is the passage more fully:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (vv. 26-31)

As you may know, I love St. Paul. Paul was the earthiest, most honest apostle, well, since Peter! Actually, the Apostles - they were a very gritty, honest group, weren't they (except for one of them)?

St. Paul should be called the patron saint of all-too-human evangelists. This is my favorite painting of the Apostles. It is by Albrecht Durer. Although it is not the one who he meant to be Paul, Paul to me is the guy third from the left, just the head, really. Doesn't he look irascible? That's Paul! Durer meant the guy on the right to be Paul (see the sword? that's Paul's symbol).

My Paul is not a good looking guy, just like that bug-eyed guy in the painting. My Paul was always driven by insecurity over his lack of good looks and charm to attain high things in the world of scholarship and politics. He didn't loose every one of his character flaws after his conversion, but he was able to change his preoccupation with himself into a preoccupation with the Word of God in Christ. And that's what counts. He was never stoical. He was passion and fire, but in a good way, that is, once he got on the right track.

The two letters to the Corinthians catalogue something of his struggle with that church. A lot of his personality comes through in the process. I take heart from the fact that you can have insecurities and all that and yet still do great work for God. You don't have be perfect like this to be an effective evangelist:



because, with me, this is what you get:



and that ain't pretty.

But I still haven't said what boasting in the Lord means.

Let me first say what it is by saying what it is not.

Today I realized that I am feeling a lot of negative emotions about something that I should be feeling nothing but pride. Yes, I said pride. I was raised to take the responsibilities associated with work very seriously. But was I raised to see success as the beautiful, divine thing it really is, or the materialistic, empty version we are used to? Clearly, by the fact that I am trying to do the work of spreading the Word day-in day-out and yet am not feeling proud, I was raised with the wrong one in mind. I am actually feeling a lot of shame about my life and work, and this simply because I don't have much money. This is as true as it is horribly indicting. What worries me most is wondering what success will bring - pride in God or pride in myself? It is so easy to start with the one in mind and then quickly move on to the other.

The other day I heard a priest sum up his fifty years of priesthood. In a nutshell he said that a priest brings a lot of good into the world through the Holy Eucharist and takes out a lot of bad through confession. As a priest, he did that. That is boasting in the Lord.

So in, say, thirty years from now, in describing this present moment, I should say, 

"That was a wonderful time. It was so great with those young kids at home with Anne-Marie and I. Those were the days when I started the Catholic Review of Books, I was writing a whole bunch of stuff, and I think God used it to do a lot of good. I am just so happy that I could be used by God in that way. We didn't have much money. We never knew what was going to happen next, but we were open to God and He was really watching over us."

How can I not be happy and proud if this is true?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Between Granola and Antlers

One of the most amazing things about living in rural Ontario is the flora and fauna you get to enjoy. Just this morning I saw a red fox. I wrote a report on red foxes when I was really young, perhaps grade one. There’s nothing outstanding in such sighting here, though. I see deer all the time, birds I never saw growing up, species of fish, and so on, not to mention my personal favourite, turtles. I see them all the time here. As a kid the only time I ever saw turtles was in the pet store. I love nature. The non-black fly and horsefly parts of nature.

            I appreciate nature too, I think. The other day when I was sitting quietly reading by the lakeside a mother and her ducklings came within five feet of me. I felt like St. Francis. But let’s not get crazy here. I also love to fish. Although I have never hunted, I am not the least bit morally opposed to it. Everything for a purpose, I say. Hunting and eating deer is far more easily morally defensible than eating the chicken you bought at the grocery store. The life of a deer is free, as it should be. That of chickens? That’s debatable. I throw fish back that I’m not going to eat, and enjoy every morsel of those that I do eat. I have never observed greater respect for nature than that which I saw in my uncle growing up. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. Hearing a real hunter speak about deer is something. The real ones always speak with deep admiration for the amazing creatures they encounter in the woods. They are the ones who seem to have a real sense of the cycle of life and of the interdependence of all life forms. Hunting can be a real manly thing, much like farming; there is nothing more manly than provided for your family through your sweat and ingenuity.

            I have met a lot of people like this where I am. And yet I have encountered something of the opposite too, unfortunately. I don’t know where it comes from, the ability to inflict gratuitous harm on complex living beings. I have read that there is a link between experience in hunting and efficiency in war: that is to say, that someone who has hunted is far more likely to shoot to kill in war, which, believe it or not, is not something that comes naturally to soldiers. You know that I am not saying that hunting is bad. I am saying, however, that one type of killing is cognitively linked with the other. A child enjoying torturing an animal is a bad sign, indeed. An animal is not a person, but the more closely an animal resembles a person, the more serious a matter killing it is.

            It wasn’t long after moving here that I began to hear boys and young men boasting about aiming for cats or turtles while driving. I had both as pets growing up. I never had a dog as a pet but the idea of hurting one for no good reason was and is unimaginable to me. Of course, I wouldn’t hesitate to kick one who was too close to my children. I wouldn’t hesitate to kill one, were it rabid or seriously injured. Over the years I have had to kill injured birds. I never enjoyed doing this. When I was twelve I even tried to nurse one back to health. As I said, I love both fishing and eating fish, but I find killing them rather distasteful - you have to whack them on the head with a board. But distasteful does not imply immoral. I find changing my children’s diapers distasteful, as they will find changing mine someday, yet it would be immoral for me and for them to neglect this duty.

            There are few objective rights and wrongs here, in my opinion. But I insist that one ought not to enjoy killing anything. I recognize that I am an import into a life-setting that is not my own here in rural Ontario. I make all sorts of allowances for this fact. Nevertheless, I draw a line around the pleasure of killing. I still recall the unpleasant sensation of driving over a family of raccoons I could not avoid on the highway. That was over fifteen years ago. I insist that it is not possible to love God and to treat any part of the world with disdain. I dislike mice with a primeval disdain, and yet wish I were not so irrational about it. This is the cost of being raised by a biologist who taught me all about Hantavirus.

            This evening I had a really enjoyable time taking my kids to the beach. The kids had a very good time, playing all together, just them. I felt thankful that they will be able to look back fondly on times like this one when they are older. As a parent I worry that the life I am giving my kids is not as good as the one given to me by my parents. I was really happy about this one obvious occasion of great joy for them, for all of them there, playing together so nicely. And then some boys showed up, and that in itself was fine. I recognized one of them. They seemed to be playing just fine, somewhat with one of my kids. And then all of a sudden, in a blink of an eye something happened. I looked far across to the other side of the beach to see one of the boys smashing a log, I think it was, on a seagull. And then he did it again and then a third time until it was obviously dead. One of my children laughed robustly – upon reflection, I think it was nervously, likely knowing full well what my opinion of this would be. 

            Evidently the bird was meandering about with a broken wing and the boy took it upon himself to end its life - whether because he could or whether because he thought he should, I do not know. I didn’t immediately know how to justify my anger at this. An injured animal surely should be put out of its misery. But why now and in this manner? I felt I had to do something, but I didn’t know whether I had objective grounds for saying anything. What came to me was that these boys had no right to do this in front of my younger children. This was a public beach. At the very least it was a lack of judgment. So I went over and angrily scolded the boys that it wasn't thoughtful to do this in front of young children. I walked away and loaded the kids into the car. I know most parents would have felt at least as strongly as I did about this, and many likely much more strongly.


            Was this the first time these boys would have ever reflected on their actions as possibly objectionable in some sense? 

            Certainly some of the excesses of country people is as a measured rejection of 'city morality' about hunting, but to do something only because someone else doesn't approve of it is hardly a path to wisdom. I have a feeling that many of the people opposed to wind power are opposed to it because they think it is all a part of a left wing conspiracy about global warming. My reaction is, either it is a good idea or it is not and that it doesn't matter why other people like it. If I could afford to install a small windmill on my house to provide me with free electricity I would do it in a heartbeat. Besides, regardless of whether you buy into global warming or not, don't you think, for instance, that China would be a lot better off if its stopped putting so much coal smoke into its air, and that it could probably do that by building some windmills? Yes, I believe hunting is a fine thing, but that doesn't mean I believe in indiscriminate killing. I am from the East Coast, my father was a marine biologist, I am well aware of what indiscriminate fishing has done to the cod. That's not a left-wing fantasy. That's just commonsense. Aristotle's Golden Mean.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

One Thing at a Time can Work

One of the greatest hardships I endure is probably one of the hardest you endure: having so many different things to do. There are two types of a lot of work: one thing that's huge and a million small things. Brick-laying is hard work, but it involves a finite set of actions. I bet stressed-out brick-layers are few and far between. Become a brick-layer, if that's at all possible. When I worked for a brief spate as a principal, tee hee, I encountered the very essence of a poorly-designed position: too many different functions rolled into one. This is in essence what's wrong with our cheapskate Catholic apostolates. For this reason, the person I most pity in this respect is my former boss, Keith Cassidy, President of OLSWA. The sheer number of things he has to do and keep track of - no thanks! I don't know how he keeps from spontaneously combusting. But he has one thing going for him, which I do too, and which, if you don't too, you should - he and I live in a small town. It is far less stressful.

I grew up in suburban Halifax, and would rather not live there again; a fortiori Ottawa.

When I need to go to the bank, post office, grocery store, gas station and pharmacy, all of which I visit nearly daily, I can either walk the 500 feet, or drive there and park once. In Ottawa or Halifax such would take hours to do and a quarter tank of gas.

There, by condemning Halifax and Ottawa I've just alienated half of my family and friends. But I do love your used bookstores, guys!

But seriously, contemporary city life is both unhealthy and unnatural: the former follows from the latter (nor am I certain I needed the word contemporary).

All of this is the preamble to this "what I did (differently) this week" post.

As you may or may not know, I write for several different 'things.' They are all great, and I love doing all of it. The problem is, dividing one's time and attention can get kind of stressful. It is now being pointed out that multi-tasking, this great skill we are all supposed to strive towards, leads to anxiety. Ever met a woman?

So take a job, throw on a family, add basic things like paying bills, cleaning your house, etc., and no wonder we are such a miserable wealthy society! Hence our over-consumption of coffee, alcohol, Paxil, pornography, and marijuana. Anything to cope.

So, with all my assignments, deadlines and demands, I did something different this week: only one of them. I gave all of my work time to one thing: getting the summer edition of the Catholic Review of Books ready for the copy-editor, Patrick Wilson. To do so I had make sure that over 30 individual reviews were print-ready. And, it took the whole week. That meant I had to set the other tasks aside. As I used to tell my students: every choice you make is a choice against something else, and you have to accept that. Many young people believe they can eat their cake and have it too, by expecting deadline A to change in light of deadline B, for instance. As an adult, I recognize that LifeSite is not going to pay me for not working for them, and that not working for my other contractor may lead to dis-ingratiation. That's life. You have to realize that you may spoil everything by spreading yourself too thin, and, even ultimately, spoil your self - your health - by stressing yourself out.

On the plus side, that task is out of the way, and I am much freer now to make good contributions on my other tasks. I don't know if simplifications like this are possible to you, but I think you should think about whether it is or not. Busyness is not virtue in itself, and perhaps even a sign of a lack of wisdom.

The Psalm for workaholics:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Psalm 127:1-2

When I have done what I think best, I have to trust that God will take it from there, and whatever happens will be what is okay for me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Graduation Day for the Boys

I know I haven't been great with pictures this year, other than a few of Maria. Nor am I sure that this post is a sign that I have turned over a new leaf. But pics, you say?



Stephen's truly got this kindergarten thing mastered.



He even brought a date to the event.


It took some cajoling, but Isaiah agreed to put his gown back on and pose. He is such a fine young man. It's easy to be proud of him. I just think it's so special that he is holding his baby sister - quite a photo to look back on in ten years, I think.


I am not the most sentimental guy, but I found Isaiah's grad to be a very moving event. This was in no small way due to the fact that it was led by Maria's godfather, Dave Afelskie, of whom I have no doubt that he is the single greatest grade 8 teacher in the world. I always knew that he made a real difference in his students' lives, knew that he would be a real blessing to Isaiah, but last night you could just see this so clearly and touchingly. I wish all Catholic teachers were to their classes what Dave is to his grade 8 class. It is so amazing to see God's work being done when a person is where he is supposed to be and doing what he is supposed to be doing. I am just sad that Isaiah has to leave him now.

No picture of Dave because he was surrounded by his adoring students.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Christophobia in Nanaimo

Upon Ezra Levant's request, I sent this to two of the councilmen in Nanaimo who decided to forbid Christians from using public property there, the two most virulent being Jim Kipp and Bill Bestwick.

You can see Levant's coverage here.

Dear Councilmen,

I am sure you never expected to find yourselves in this position. I am sure that the last thing you think of yourselves to be is anti-Christian bigots. But, whether you recognize this fact or not, you are, having bought into the unreflective ideology of homosexualist advocates.

How arrogant it is to imagine that you yourselves have fastened upon something that has eluded humanity for so long - that it is purely hateful to believe that anyone who thinks that marriage should be between a man and a woman only.

Your parents doubtlessly believed this, your grandparents… in fact, I bet every one of your ancestors did, and your relatives likely all did too, perhaps up until very recently. Were these, are these, all hateful people?

Do you know the people whom you have outlawed from your city - do you know what motivates them? Is it hate? Do you know this? Or have you painted with a very large and thoughtless brush a whole huge segment of Canadian society unfairly? That is called, by definition, prejudice: pre-judging someone for some very general presuppositions.

In your tenure as Aldermen for the City of Nanaimo have you noticed hate from professed Christians in your beautiful city? A single instance of this even? You must have, if you are prepared to draw such far-reaching conclusions.

Are you aware that basically 50% of Canadians still believe that marriage should be reserved for a single man and a single woman? Is it possible to describe these people as hateful?

You know nothing, I will bet, about the COO of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy, other than what you vaguely heard about his support for traditional marriage. You do not know whether he is a hateful person or not. You only know that he does not believe homosexual marriage is a good thing. Was Barack Obama a hateful person up until a few years ago, and now suddenly he is not? You know that you do not have enough information to make judgments like this. But you have made these judgments anyway.

You are aldermen. You are not psychiatrists, philosophers, sociologists or anything else of the sort. I don’t know you, but watching the recording of your council session has convinced me that you have very little knowledge upon which to base your actions. You simply have no special insight into the complex issues associated with homosexuality and marriage, let alone into Christianity such that would permit you to adopt such a close-minded attitude in this very complex issue.

I am a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology. I know Christianity. I have studied it for years. The way you and many of your fellow-councilmen have depicted Christians as hate-filled has disgusted me. And it is simply a false depiction of the people you wish to label.

People who conclude that people who see life differently from them must be evil are the worst kind that we see emerging throughout human history. People like you, so ready to dismiss so many good, reasonable people, but people who see things from a different perspective than you. You are as quick to believe the lies spread about Christians as so many German people were to believe the lies spread about the Jews in the 1930s.

I am sure you are feeling pretty stupid about now. You are getting a few pats on the back from the ideologues who originally encouraged you to do what you did, that is to say, from gay-activists. But these voices are fewer than you thought, and they do not help to quiet your sneaking suspicion that you acted hastily. You operated with little to no information and I bet you are feeling pretty embarrassed now. The best thing you can do is apologize, at the very least. You have illustrated how close we all are into spreading the very hate and division we’d like to believe we are all so firmly set against.

You villainized a huge segment of good Canadian people by your arrogant quick-judgment. You overstepped yourself. You thought you knew something, you did not. You are an embarrassment to Canadians coast to coast. How quickly people can be manipulated by activists.

BC is still recovering from its shame from interring the Japanese during WWII. Do you see how dangerous it is to think the worst of people so easily? You thought you were different and better.

_____________________

Jim Kipp is at (250) 753-5212 and his e-mail is jim.kipp@nanaimo.ca

Bill Bestwick is at (250) 753-7065 and his e-mail is bill.bestwick@nanaimo.ca


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fr. Kenneth Walker, R.I. P.

It may seem a strange thing that I should write a blog post about a priest I have never met, but because he was known to so many of my friends, I feel a vicarious pain. I don't really know where to start, other than perhaps to refer you to the wonderful article John-Henry Westen wrote on his death here.

Long story short, here was in many ways your ideal young man, who followed the straight and narrow path to the priesthood with the FSSP, in which he had the grace to have experienced two years of priestly ministry until he was shot dead last night in his church in what appears to have been a robbery. As I said, I had never the privilege of meeting him. Had I had the honour I might have painted him with the dismissive FSSP brush I use to dismiss people who are different from me. But, perhaps that smile I have been seeing in so many pictures splashed by his friends over Facebook today, would have opened up something more to me than a guy who simply had views about the liturgy I do not share. I can imagine having some things in common with a smile like that.

I feel sorry for his family, his friends, his order. I feel sorry about what he must have gone through over those doubtlessly anxious last few minutes he experienced on earth last night, something hard for anybody, but perhaps more so for a guy who appears not to have known the violent passions that drive so many of us awful human beings to do what was done to him last night. He was just a kid, I can certainly say for a young man ten years my junior. It's not right and it's not fair that a good life, as it must have been, which lived to give glory to God and consolation to his fellow Christian, be struck down so prematurely. Over the years I have gotten to know many of his former OLSWA classmates. Not a one had a bad word to say about him, and I have heard many, many tales over the years about alumni!

No, I never met him. But I met so many people who knew him and cared for him. And, as is the case with every priest, he is one of ours, one of mine, in this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Anyway, peace to you Father, now and forever, and peace to those whose hearts your passing has left sad.

Maria's Baptism

Busier parents aren't less loving parents. Late but in earnest, our lovely Maria's baptism photos,



And the world's greatest godparents, Dave and Elena,



Believe it or not, that was Easter Sunday. Our dear friend, Fr. Joseph Hattie, who just celebrated his 50th priestly anniversary, baptized Maria, and joined at the godparents' for dinner afterwards.