January 2004 Archives

Not North to Alaska

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I will be off again to Puerto Rico, returning, I hope, on 2 February. In the meantime, I ask for your prayers for myself and all those travelling far from home. I will try to check in if I can.

I also ask for your prayers for my SFO fraternity which is undergoing some difficult times right now.

Paz y bien

Yancy, Yet Again

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While I was gone I garnered 2 comments to the posts I did on Phillip Yancy back in November. I believe my reply, especially to one of them may be a bit extended, thus another post rather than simply commenting in response.

To both commenters, I would like to restate two points that I had hoped to make clear in my earlier posts on Yancy. First, there is in his writing what I termed a sort of bitterness against things that apparently occurred to him while growing up in the South during the 1950's and '60's. I admit that "bitterness" may be too strong a term, perhaps unforgiveness is a better term, but whatever it is, I believe it detracts from the work of a Christian writer. Which brings me to my second point, my criticism of Yancy is not that he is Protestant, but that this element in his writing would detract from the work of any Christian writer, not just that of a Protestant. I would also like to emphasize that my comments on Yancy's book express more a sense of disappointment rather than outright criticism. I was prepared to like him but was put off by this negative tone in his work.

Now to a couple of points that Joy makes. First, I hope that I do not express a sense of personal superiority over any other believer, Catholic or Protestant. I agree that too often Catholics tend to become too wrapped up in dogma, to the extent that, as I have pointed out before, the religion takes the place of God. On the other hand, as a former Presbyterian and, I hope, faithful Catholic, I must point out that the reason I came home to Rome is the fact that it was only there that I could find any semblance of doctrinal purity still being professed.

The fallacy I found in Protestantism is precisely the point that Joy criticizes the Church and Catholics for in her comment, the impossibility of the Protestant claim that the Bible is the sole authority on matters of faith and morals. When both Presbyterians and Jehovah's Witnesses claim that their teachings are true and based solely on the teaching of the Bible, then it must be self-evident that something is wrong. The Bible, being the revealed Word of God, cannot possibly teach things that are so completely contradictory. There is a need for an authority, a divine arbiter if you will, to make clear what it is that the Bible teaches. Even Protestants themselves do not really live by the doctrine of sola scriptura, for example, by own former denomination, the Presbyterians, were forced early on to come up with the Westminster Catechism to clarify what they believed to be true. Jehovah's Witnesses do not, each one on their own, sit down in a locked room with nothing but a Bible, and independently come up with the things the Witnesses teach, they are taught these things. As a side note, I might point out that one has only to look at the chaos occurring in both the ECUSA and the Presbyterian Church USA to see the failure of sola scriptura.

I do think that it is a shame that there are many Catholics who may or may not attend Mass on a regular basis who know little or nothing about Scripture or the teachings of the Church. I believe this fact to be one source of the problems that both the Church and society are facing today. I think it is one of the greatest failures of the Church in the last 30 years. However, I must say, that the same thing can also be said of many Protestants. Catholics should be reminded that not all Protestants have their Bibles memorized, and are walking the earth as experts on questions of the faith. Yet, to the extent that it is true that any Christian is ignorant of the faith, we are all the weaker for it.

I have stated before, and I continue to believe, that as Christians Protestants and Catholics share much more than separates them. I also believe that it is crucial to society that there be a greater understanding between Protestants and Catholics and that we all work to find what unity we can. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin's saying at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: if we don't all hang together we shall surely all hang separately. I believe that there is a fatal flaw in Protestantism, that is that there each man is his own pope, that there is no authority to make clear what is of the Christian faith and what is not. I will not, as Joy seems to suggest, ever say that Catholics cannot learn a few things from our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, as they can also learn a few things from us.

A Few Miscellaneous Thoughts On Puerto Rico

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I have returned from Puerto Rico, my first experience of the Carribean. Anymore, travel is very tiring for me, especially if there are longer lay-overs and large time changes, as there were on this trip. I returned to Colorado Thursday and just now feel back to normal. The problem is, I must return to Puerto Rico on Saturday for 10 days or so. I hope that I will get to do a few tourist things on this next trip, since my schedule, at it now stands, has me there for a Sunday on the first weekend and another weekend. I hope to return early, but don't know if I will be able to or not.

As beautiful as Puerto Rico is, I remain a mountain person. Here in Colorado, one can look in almost any direction and see for miles. It is easy to know which direction one is travelling in, unless you are in a mountain valley, and to know what lies in each direction. In Puerto Rico, as you drive along the roads, all you see is trees and whatever lies a short distance ahead; we all remarked how uncomfortable that made us feel. I have also learned that I am a cold weather person, as well as a mountain person. The warm, wet weather made it seem like summer, not January, and was also a bit disorienting. It seemed incongruous to see Christmas decorations out(Christmas is celebrated at least until the 6th of January there), in what was to me, summer weather.

This trip was to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, on the east coast of Puerto Rico. This base is relatively isolated from the rest of the surrounding area and I was reminded of an interesting phenomenon that I have encountered in my travels to remote locations around the world. I think of it as something Americans must have inherited from the traditions of British colonial rule -- there are Americans who have made themselves very comfortable living in remote corners of the world cut off for many years at a time from American "civilization." One man I met there, a retired Navy captain who had worked, since retirement from the Navy, in such places as Singapore and the Phillipines and, most recently, Puerto Rico, told me he hadn't been in the United States since the early 1980's. He was, I think, a bit uncomfortable, at the prospect of his return scheduled for early February. I have met many guys like this who have spent years in extremely isolated locations, such as islands out on the Aleutian chain, who would happily do so for the rest of their lives, given the opportunity. These folks are invariably characters, generally good at what they do, and nearly impossible for me to understand, but you will find them tucked away in isolated spots all over the world.

I will have to say that the waters around Puerto Rico are beautiful, breathtaking. The colors: blues, greens, teals, are beyond my powers of description. I was able, at one point, to see a pair of manitees (sp?) playing just off shore, an incredible sight. The trip has left me with a desire to explore more of the Carribean, which I hope to do later on this year. However, I must say that, except for some areas of San Juan, much of the rest of the island, are not much to look at.

In all of this, I can't help but be reminded of the incredible variety of God's creation. I wonder how anyone could think that this variety is the result of processes that occured simply by chance? Even the lives we choose for ourselves, and the tremendous variety of options God has made available to us, seem to prove what Christians have proclaimed for millenia, that each of us was created by God for a purpose.

On Travel Again

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I haven't been posting on a regular basis, for a number of reasons, but now another is added. I will be travelling to Puerto Rico next week, leaving Sunday, and may not have much internet access. I am working on a number of posts and hope to get one or two published before I leave.

Paz y bien

Gratitude

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I read Psalm 3 last night and a couple of points caught my attention. The Psalm is as follows:

3 A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM ABSALOM HIS SON.

1 O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah
(The Holy Bible, English Standard Version)

The first thing is buried in the middle of the Psalm, in verse 5: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” He slept and awoke again because the Lord sustained him. It seems so simple, so ordinary, and yet shows something about David that I wish were truer of me – he was grateful for everything that God did for him. Even awaking to a new morning inspired David’s gratitude. This is the heart of St. Francis’ joy and his teaching; he saw everything as a gift of God and tried to always respond with a heart of gratitude and joy.

This is all the more remarkable because of the second thing I noticed: David wrote this Psalm at the time when Absalom, his son, was inciting a rebellion and trying to displace David as king. David must have had a lot on his mind when he sat down to write what we came to know as the Psalm 3. Running for his life, his government in danger of being toppled, he could find it in himself to stop and write down his gratitude to God both for a good night’s sleep and the sustenance that brought him to the dawn of a new day. I wonder how many of us would be capable, and grateful, enough to do the same?

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