If you’ve ever played sports or competed in any way on some kind of team, then you know what it’s like to form a bond with people over a shared purpose or goal. It’s a strange dynamic: a communal identity may form, a pride for the group and its members, a desire to see it succeed. Complete strangers can quickly form deep connections when they’re forced to cooperate to achieve a mutual end — especially when that end is outward oriented, such that a team’s identity depends on a context beyond itself, like a marketplace or a league…or a global stage. Continue reading
The fourth Sunday in Lent in the Western tradition is special. It’s known by several names: it’s been called The Sunday of the Five Loaves from the Gospel passage for the day (John 6:1-14); it’s also been called Rose Sunday because the clerical and alter vestments change color from violet to rose — but why the change in color in the first place? Another name for this Sunday gives us a clue: Laetare Sunday (Laetare meaning: Rejoice).
The Introit or entrance chant for this Sunday begins in Latin: Laetare Jerusalem, et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam. (Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her). This chant is taken from Isaiah 66:10. The call to rejoice here in the middle of this season of repentance is meant as an encouragement to us, a comforting reminder of the tenderness, the nurturing, even the motherliness of God. Continue reading
When we see, hear, smell, or feel something, what’s happening? How do we take in information about the world around us, and how does that information get to us?
When I smell the fragrance of new azalea blooms in my yard, actual microscopic particles emanating from the blooms themselves are wafting through the air, entering my nose, and interacting with my olfactory cells. Anytime you smell anything, there’s physical contact in the form of floating particles occurring between you and the source of the smell. Continue reading
Last month, two Douglas County, Georgia residents were sentenced to notably steep jail time for riding around in a Confederate-flag-laden truck and shouting at, threatening, and pointing guns at black motorists, shoppers, and attendees of an 8 year old’s birthday party. They were participating in a “Respect the Flag” group which, in no uncertain terms, was explicitly promoting white supremacy. But the young couple in question, Kayla Rae Norton, 25, and Jose Ismael Torres, 26, had actually threatened violence, even crashing an African American birthday party with guns drawn.
I can’t begin to imagine the terror the parents and children at that party felt, but I’m glad that terror was translated into a twenty year sentence with thirteen to serve for Torres and a fifteen year sentence with six to serve for Norton. But the judge, William McClain, indicated his verdict was not merely in response to the level of trauma experienced by the victims, but because what the two defendants had committed was a hate crime. Continue reading
The strange saga of Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP leader who was outed by her parents for pretending to be African American, is continuing with news that she has changed her identity –becoming Nkechi Amare Diallo– and has written a new memoir called In Full Color. In 2015 when Dolezal became a national talking point, when her utterly bizarre success at creating an identity as an ethnic woman of mixed race (both her parents are actually white) fighting the fight of a civil rights leader and champion of black progress was exposed, the popular verdict was that she was an imposter. Here was a white girl trying to be black. Darkening her skin, wearing her hair in dreads, and adopting language and clothing to intentionally identify herself with African American culture. Continue reading
The Christian landscape in the world today is multifaceted, varied, and sometimes jaggedly divided. In a world where global news coverage mentions “persecuted Christians in the Middle East” in one breath and “the Christian Right” of America in the next, we may begin to suspect that the simple shorthand “Christian” isn’t quite sufficient for describing the sundry groups it’s supposed to cover. In many places in the world (in the Middle East, for example), the name “Christian” may imply both a distinct culture and a distinct race or ethnicity. It’s beyond my scope to enumerate instances where that’s the case, so instead I want to limit the meaning of “Christian” here to a belief system, a philosophical-religious position. In terms of the content of the belief system (and in some cases the history or tradition of that system), we can divide the Christian landscape of today into some broad distinctions, just to help us navigate better how we use the term. This isn’t any official taxonomy, just some conceptual categories offered for your edification. Continue reading
Cuss words. Every language has them. And every speaker of their language knows them, even though not everyone says them (or at least not all of them, because as we all know, not all cuss words are created equal). But what are they, exactly? What makes a word a cuss word?
I think we can broadly divide all cuss words into two categories: the vulgar and the metaphysical. By “vulgar” I don’t mean anything bad, only lowly, non-elevated, or even common. These words deal with the physical and bodily aspects of life — the things that make us more like the animals than the angels. The metaphysical words, however, show that we aren’t so very different from the angels. Continue reading
For the season of Advent I decided to take a break from all social media. I had succumbed to the all-too-common habit of checking news feeds and notifications on an alarmingly regular basis. It became an unthinking action, performed by muscle memory — a steady dose of input, information, entertainment, drama, and amusement throughout my day and into my night as well. The first thing one experiences after cutting oneself off from social media is a kind of withdrawal: the stilling of the hand as it reaches for the phone or browser tab, the recalling of the mind as it returns over and over to thoughts of likes and shares, the calming of the will as it’s denied its desire to scroll. >Just…want…to…scroll<. Continue reading
We’re currently in the season of Christmastide, in which the Church across the world celebrates the reality of the Incarnation of God. This central reality –inaugurated at Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, first seen at Christmas, but then proceeding on through the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels– is what gives meaning and purpose to every faithful Christian. God has become a man. The ramifications of this central reality are manifold and profound (and are properly explored at length beginning at Epiphany/Theophany and throughout the rest of the year), but now at Christmas we tend more to celebrate the fact of God becoming a man. The King of all creation has decided to come and dwell with us; there’s so much to consider about what that means, but for now, “O come let us adore Him.” Continue reading
The season of Advent has arrived. But nothing kicks the legs out from under our observance of Advent like premature Christmas songs. Advent, as I’m sure you know, is the season leading up to Christmas, designed to focus us on the hope and expectation of Christ’s arrival, his advent in the world. It does this by reminding us that the world was in darkness before Christ. And it also uses that remembrance to bolster our desire to see him come again in glory at his second and final advent to dispel for good all lingering darkness. The spirit of Advent, then, is of watchfulness and waiting. Because of this, Christmas songs are inappropriate to the spirit of the Advent season. They don’t jive; they’re incongruous. Continue reading
Today, I feel like going for a hike. Getting out in nature, being surrounded by hills, trees, creeks. This is an improvement from yesterday when I felt like being surrounded by nothing at all. Literally wanting to be removed from everything, surrounded only by void. The hike gets me away from people and buildings and highways and chatter, but there’s still the hard, spiky reality of a world all around me to reckon with. For someone like me, who occasionally feels like I’m having an out of body experience in my own body, aware of the utter strangeness of my existence in a world whose own existence is equally strange, and how weird it is that I can contemplate my own conscious perspective within that world, the periodic desire to be separated out from that world, to retreat to some neutral space that isn’t me and isn’t the world, is to be expected. Continue reading
Saint Ambrose on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:23-27):
“This is a simple account of a reality. And if we meditate deeply upon it, it will confirm for us certain wondrous mysteries. For Jericho is a figure of this world, to which Adam, cast forth from Paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem, because of sin, descended; that is, he descended from the things of eternal life to the things of this lower world: he who through, not change of place but change of will, had brought exile upon his posterity. Continue reading
There can be no “Best Banana Pudding”. That’s the conclusion I reached last time in Part 1. The nature of banana pudding was determined to correspond to no ultimate rightness or wrongness. So if I like this pudding and you don’t, both of our perspectives are important and justified to those who matter the most — ourselves. Neither of us can be wrong.
Maybe it’s this easy, frictionless neutrality that has encouraged our age to extend the banana pudding principle to all manner of things. Maybe there’s no universal reality to ethics or virtue or beauty or humanity or religion. Continue reading
All over the world people have argued about whose grandmother makes the best such-and-such sweets. In Greece it’s whose Yia-yia makes the best baklava. In Russia it’s whose Babushka whips up the best pastila. In the American South, it might just be whose Meemaw makes the best banana pudding. The trouble with these friendly arguments, of course, is that there can never really be an objective winner. Every dutiful grandson or granddaughter will, if not for sheer loyalty then at least for mere conditioning, always prefer their own grandmother’s culinary concoction. This preference will be built by a number of factors—the memories and sentiments it conjures, the familiarity principle—but the preference will be anything but objective. Continue reading
How can we know things? It’s an important question which isn’t as easy or obvious to answer as you might first think. In fact, it’s such a tough question that there’s an entire branch of philosophy dedicated to answering it called epistemology. But it’s not just a question for the specialists with their thought experiments and fancy terms; it should be a question that we all think about regularly. Why? Because the way we operate in this world, the choices we make, and much of our identity is wrapped up in what we believe, what we know or think we know, and why we think we can or should believe it. Continue reading
Every event in the universe is causally linked to an event before it, right? And every one of those events are linked to prior events. These chains of events all converge and are set in motion by the initial event of the beginning of the cosmos. But what caused that event?
This is the infinite regress problem. The chain of causality in this cosmos of ours begs the question of its ultimate beginning. If our universe is cyclical, expanding in a big bang and then collapsing on itself only to then expand again, what started the cycle in the first place? Continue reading
In the carol “Good King Wenceslas“, we sing that the good king went out to serve a peasant gathering firewood “on the feast of Stephen”. The feast of Stephen is the day after Christmas in the Western calendar [two days after Christmas on the Eastern calendar] and celebrates St. Stephen, the first martyr for Christ. In Acts, chapters 6 and 7, we read that Stephen was chosen to be a special servant of the Church in Jerusalem because he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It was in the context of his role as a servant that he was enabled to do miracles among the people, and this drew attention to him both among those open to the Truth of Christ and among those opposed to it. The enemies of the Church soon had Stephen arraigned before a hostile court that threw him out of the city and put to death by stoning. Continue reading
I was listening to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” today, as recorded by Emmylou Harris. There’s something about the way she sings it that perfectly preserves that sweet simplicity that I feel like it ought to have. There’s a great little story about the writing of the carol. A certain Mr. Philip Brooks, an Episcopal priest from the 19th century who was rector of a church in Philadelphia, wrote the words as a poem after visiting Bethlehem on a trip to the Holy Land. He asked his church organist, a Mr. Lewis Redner, to compose a tune for it. Mr. Redner recounts the story like this: Continue reading
The annual cycle of seasons — of solstices and equinoxes, of agricultural death and rebirth, of the changing raiment of the trees, and of the migrations of animals — is an inescapable feature of existing on the planet Earth. Even at the equator where the Earth’s tilt makes astronomical changes like solar solstices or changing constellations not as noticeable, there are still yearly cycles of rainy and dry seasons brought about by shifting global weather patterns. From the dawn of humanity to the present, it’s safe to say that all human life is profoundly shaped by the repeating time-scale of the Year. Continue reading
The most famous sermon ever preached in Christian history has to be the one given by St. Peter to the multitude on Pentecost, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The second most famous sermon, however, must be one given three hundred years later by St. John Chrysostom on Pascha (Easter) morning at the great midnight vigil. But St. John’s sermon has the distinction of enjoying an ongoing career as a living homily still preached every Easter in hundreds, probably thousands, of churches across the world at their midnight vigils. The words of the homily are timeless and universal, and they magnificently describe the truth of Easter: Continue reading