Saturday, October 07, 2006

Time for another post...

And in honor of fall, I'll start it off in fall colours. Also in honor of fall, I'd like to think a bit about a practice that farmers in my area do, but with which most of us are unfamiliar: harvesting. The Catholic Church still recognizes harvest (as well as seeding and other farming days) as significant days for Christians. These are usually noted as rogation days on the church calendar. The practice is one of bringing offerings to God, much in the same way that Cain and Abel made their offerings, or members of the early church brought offerings from their store to house churches.

It's one of the reasons why I'm so disturbed by this: tithing machines are yet another way that virtuality separates us from the theological significance of who we are and what we do. As I posted in a Catholic message board:
Consider the Eucharistic offering of bread and wine that is "fruit of the vine and work of human hands..." For the early church, that offering was an actual physical offering of homemade bread and wine, and I think there's something important about recognizing that this gift you bring to the Eucharist is, in actuality, God's gift to you. These early offerings also combined other kinds of offerings that people would bring, in contribution to the whole church's wellbeing. The modern-day offering is related to that practice, even though now most churches do not make their own bread or bring their own wine. But the offering plates are distributed and brought up at the same time as the Eucharistic bread and the wine - and the theological significance of those acts together is really important. We give back to God what is, in fact, God's, because everything belongs to God. I mean, there's just something important about physically bringing an offering to church that gets mingled with other peoples' offerings in a visible way.

Tithing by machine seriously disrupts this connection, and gets rid of the significance of the offering for the Eucharist in the Mass.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tired of being 100 Miles from Everywhere...

Sorry in advance - this is a rant.

Maybe it's just the fact that it's a new school year and reality has hit: I'm no longer a new faculty person, so now the stuff I'm facing at the beginning of the year is stuff that becomes, in effect, the daily grind. And I HATE that I'm calling it that - because there are so many things, people, events, etc to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE about this place... But I just don't feel all that great at the moment - tired; annoyed with all my itchy bug bites from just walking from my door to the car; annoyed with the heat; annoyed with writing syllabi for students who will write on their evaluations that my class "bored" them and could they please have "more movies"; annoyed with feeling like I have to wear a fake smile all the time; annoyed with my body and its stupid hormones; and especially annoyed with myself that I'm not getting more writing done.

The problem is - it doesn't feel like reality but more like I'm just going through the motions. And I'm not sure what that means for me and TheoHubby. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot of something...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Too much sex in the West...

John Allen Jr. very often writes insightful columns on the news from the Vatican - and this week's is no exception. Much of what he has to say this week is about Catholics in the Southern part of the world - particularly in Africa. He conducts an interview with Lamin Sanneh, one of the up-and-coming African theologians and asks all the questions about the sterotypes that Westerners have of the South.

Sanneh raises one points I find particularly interesting and inspiring:

First, he says, "
In frontier Catholicism, the most important question is, 'What can we do to help our neighbor?' rather than 'What are my rights in the church and how can I protect them, to make sure they're not infringed upon?' That's not Catholicism for them."

Sanneh pinpoints, I think, one of the longstanding problems in the Western Church, and especially in America - we think sometimes that the church exists to protect our rights, whatever those may be. Back when I used to be a United Methodist and was a General Conference delegate, I remember feeling that way, somewhat: the battle lines for each vote were drawn according to peoples' rights. Rights: ordination (the gays and lesbians present); the right to have more votes at General Conference (the Southern American part of the UMC); the right to a pension plan; etc. And then, when I attended a Presbyterian seminary, I discovered that the list of rights wasn't much different than the UMC. The Western Catholic Church as well: women's ordination, the right to use birth control; the right to attend Latin mass; the rights of lay people involved on committees.

It may be that each of these rights are important and necessary - but I do want to say that when we are so focused on these rights conversations and on holding onto our own turf, we do not see the conversations held elsewhere in the Church - conversations that we often overlook (but not always, I know)

Interestingly, I find that these conversations are very often about sex: who can have it, how can one have it, when can one have it... It overtakes our energies to the point that I wonder if we focus on the right things.




Friday, August 04, 2006

Wahoo!

I'm excited because tonight, I'll be going to the nearest town's new movie theatre - it has eight screens, and that means there may well be a movie I want to see.

The urban part of me can't believe I'm excited about eight screens (because I grew up with 24 screen theatres) but the me living in a rural area is thrilled!
Liberal Christians to Blame for Life, the Universe, and Everything?

A friend sent me this link recently - if you read my blog with any regularity, you know that I consider myself a somewhat crunchy orthodox Christian, and so I have my particular beefs with liberalism and liberal Christianity. I wouldn't go quite as far as this author does, though - and I think she's got many of her facts wrong.

She seems to be suggesting several things, all of which are very ambiguously related - I'm not sure there's a causal relationship between women's ordination and decline in church membership, for instance. The decline in the Methodist Church started WELL before women first began (officially) to be ordained - the figures I remember suggest a decline starting in the very last years of the nineteenth century; women weren't ordained till 1956. Declines in the Episcopalian Church could be put to well before women began to be ordained as well, I suspect. Don't know much about Presbyterian numbers...but I just don't think the evidence is there for a causal relationship.

As for the points she makes about a church's demands on its members, I think there's something of a valid point there. She says that Stark uses sociological method to suggest that the more demands a church makes on its members, the deeper the committment. She's got Stark partly right - he says there's a point up to which that is true because the rewards of Christianity surpass the demands (Stark's using an economic model here) - but there's also a point at which demands might begin causing people to rethink their allegiance. Historical evidence, for example: some of the periods in the Roman Empire when Christians were actively persecuted, many people retracted their statements of faith - hence the need for Augustine to write about the Donatists in Northern Africa. People do leave churches, Catholic and evangelical, over issues like birth control and homosexuality, or other less-publicized things, precisely because the demands are too great, they feel. I mean, there's a reason that there are whole ministries devoted to "reverts" to Catholicism... it's not because the Catholic Church has done a fabulous job of keeping people there based on its demands. There are a whole host of other reasons people might stay. Now, if we agree with Stark (and I don't always), it does appear that the Catholic Church and many evangelical groups have done a good job with the balance between demand and reward, and other churches have done less of a good job with that. So in that sense, I'd say - sure, she's making a good observation, but it's a lot less clear-cut than she makes it out to be in the article.

With respect to doctrinal orthodoxy and names of the Trinity, I'd just say - I do think there''s (rightly) contemporary reaction against the liberalism of the late 20th century (and in some cases against earlier forms of liberalism) - but that doesn't necessarily indicate a meltdown of the denominations in question, which is how it comes across, at points, in the article. The Episcopalian Church's situation is its own thing, as is the situation with the Presbys and the UMs. In short, while I do think the things she mentions bear some relationship with each other, I just don't think they're quite so closely connected - I think she makes a lot of blanket statements (related to the overall theme of triumphalism) but I'm just not sure that the "other side" is really winning the day either. In terms of numbers of people, maybe - but liberal theologians can and do chalk that up sometimes to using modern media, coffee house churches, and the like to communicate the orthodox messages - this can also be critiqued. Is the "other side" really following God any better than any one else? Given the history of Christianity, and the scriptural witness that what is small becomes great - a small backwater shepherd can become the father of many nations; a Palestinian carpenter is the son of God - numbers aren't necessarily the thing to look at. Isn't the question more, Are we following God faithfully? - despite what other people think?

So let me make a blanket statement :-): I think the problem is and continues to be a problem about how to view and practice Christianity (with its ancient traditions and scriptures and often alien world views) in a post-industrial global economy and culture. And that's something that everyone - liberal or evangelical, has to contend with...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Long time, no write ...

I know, I know - many of my friends will complain that I haven't written in a long time.

But here's the thing about living in a small town and doing theology - NOTHING happens here in the summer. I am so bored, I could cry. And instead, I'm procrastinating about writing the book I'm writing. It sucks.

I went on a brief vacation to Colorado, and I had a hard time coming back - even the lizards on our front porch are bored. They're not catching any flies, and I'm not catching any words for my book....

Sigh.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lent, So Simple-

Lent is just too much like New Year's Resolutions - or it's getting that way for me. I keep hoping that this year, somehow, Lent will become the platform on which to leap to higher forms of prayer (a la Teresa of Avila), but it's just not happening.

I find the penitential practices of Lent to be a good avenue toward contemplation, because fasting, prayer and almsgiving provide a nice little introduction to contemplative life, for six weeks out of the year, anyway. I suppose that the church hopes it will take further hold in peoples' lives.

Let us consider contemplation a bit, then: Teresa's seven mansions of progression in prayer. The first three mansions Teresa describes in Interior Castle are basically the act of purging worldly attachments (that is, those things that unhelpfully get in the way of deeper prayer and deeper relationship with God).

Sigh.

I am hopelessly mired in the 1st Mansion, because I love my chocolate too much. And my good food. And my DVDs. And I'm sure, if I sat here and pondered more, I could come up with all the insidious ways that worldly desires creep in on us when we least expect it.

And so, each Lent, I come back to this idea of stripping myself of worldly desires and moving toward contemplation - and each Lent, something sets me back. This year, as in years past, I am doing a Byzantine fast, which means that I abstain from eating meat, dairy products, eggs, and olive oil. I like the fast generally - I feel very good on the days when I do it well - but I often use it as an excuse to make vegan chocolate brownies and the like - probably not fast-worthy. Next year, I should probably give up something simpler, like chocolate - the simplicity of it will also make it all that much more difficult to get "around" the spirit of the law.

My prayer and almsgiving are shot through too - if I weren't so grandiose, I think I'd be more successful at it. Therese of Liseux was probably right: it is the simply way that gathers more flowers. Sigh.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Crunchiness of NFP...

I've been inspired by a few other blogs this week to post about NFP - a controversial topic, I know. But rather than emphasising the theology or the infamous teachings of the Church, I want to focus on another aspect: NFP as a natural and feminist enterprise.

I think it would be fair to say that I am a "crunchy" Catholic. Interestingly, crunchy often seems to fit in with trying to be a faithful observer. After all, I first learned about Natural Family Planning (in my pre-Catholic days) from a Vegetarian Times article. I was aghast when I first read it, thinking that there is no way that the "rhythm method" was a good idea - no matter how "natural" I wanted to be.

But as it turns out - 9 years or so after reading that article and after using NFP for a while - NFP (which is NOT the rhythm method but which is based on observations a woman makes about her body, which she then uses to determine when she is fertile and when she is not. There are several methods out there, with varying degrees of success - the Billings method has a 98% effectiveness; thermometer and cervical fluid has 98-99% effectiveness; the Marquette Model, which uses a fertility monitor in conjunction with some rules for use, has about 99% effectiveness) is great for the economy, the environment, women, and relationships. And I don't have to make myself sick taking a pill.

I think it was the women's thing that first drew me to NFP in my pre-Catholic days - I was taking the pill while in college in order to regulate my cycle - and man, did it make me sick. I wasn't in a relationship at the time, and I don't believe that sex before marriage is a good thing anyway - but taking the pill did make me reflect a bit on the sate of birth control and all that sort of thing. Taking the pill also made me start thinking of how freakin' annoyed I was that men never seemed to have to worry about which kind of BC or what happens to my job/education when I get pregnant and the guy, really, can't do a whole lot.

The sex and family thing (just like feminists in the 1920s and the 1960s said) is the place that most deeply concerns women. And feminists and others concerned with women's lives have thought about that for years: Margaret Sanger and the diaphragm; Roe v. Wade; ads today espousing the benefits of only having four periods a year with Seasonale. But even with all these so-called advancements, it's still the woman who has to figure it out - men just don't need to do so, and it makes sense they wouldn't think about it.

Until, that is, a woman announces that, oops, the BC didn't work after all, and she's going to need some support - financially and emotionally. Then blame gets placed on her for being "stupid enough" to use ____________ as a birth control method(fill in the blank with your favorite BC here - all BC has a failure rate, and yes, I've known some women who've had even Depo babies).

Or - another scenario - the method the woman has chosen makes her ill - has too many side effects. This is common with hormonal BC - it can be pretty nasty stuff, and I've been there myself to see the truth of that. But mention the little question, "Could we use condoms instead, dear?" and most of the guys I know would rather try ANYTHING than use one of the famed male barrier methods.

So anyway, my reflection on all of this led me to realize that maybe Veggie Times was on to something. NFP is something that requires a couple to communicate more about their relationships and their families - neither the man nor the woman can make it a private thing and therefore avoid communication until the "oops" happens. The reason is because NFP (at least the Catholic form) requires abstinence during the fertile period; non-Catholic forms (such as the Fertility Awareness Method) requires the use of a condom during the fertile period.

In many NFP-using couples, the husband takes charge of recording the woman's symptoms and interpreting her symptoms - partly because he wants to know when the fertile time of the month will be over and they can go "au naturel" :-)But more than that, both men and women become thoroughly attuned to their bodies. And sex and family have to come to the forefront of a couple's conversation, at least a couple times a month.

Now, I recognize that people have numerous problems with NFP - I don't want to over-idealize it or make light of the real issues people have - and I haven't presented a theology about NFP here at all. But I do wonder whether the scenario of not having to put chemicals into my body, combined with better communication with my partner about family/children/sex (exactly those issues that affect women greatly), makes this a good thing.