Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Teaching for Shalom

So we can and should discuss among each other effective and sensitive ways of teaching for justice. We can and should discuss among each other effective ways of opening up our students to the wounds of the world. We can and should discuss among each other effective and sensitive ways of handling the controversies that will arise when we teach for justice. But the God whom believers acknowledge in their lives and celebrate in their worship asks that we teach for justice-in-shalom. For that God is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Shalom. The graduate who prays and struggles for the incursion of justice and shalom into our glorious but fallen world, celebrating its presence and mourning its absence -- that is the graduate the Christian college must seek to produce.

Nicholas Wolterstorff
"Teaching for Shalom" in Educating for Shalom

Peter Faber

When asked why he was so impressed with Peter Faber, the co-founder of the Jesuits with St Ignatius: 
'[His] dialogue with all,' the Pope says,' even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naiveté perhaps, his being available straight away, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.'  

From pg 27 of My Door is Always Open, interviews with Pope Francis, by Antonio Spadaro. 


We are, rather, claiming that the lives of those who face the extremities of suffering open-eyed, but with faith and love, show us that faith in God's love is possible in a world like this. They show us that faith in God's love does not have to be destroyed in the extremity of suffering, and that faith in God's love does not have to be a form of delusion or evasion in such extremity - but that it can be a way of living with and responding to such suffering: it can be a way of winning a kind of victory over such suffering even while being crucified by it. Those who suffer much can show to those who suffer little that they can hold to their own faith with integrity, without denying the existence of extreme suffering, or betraying those who do suffer such extremity. And all those who suffer become for us, like Christ in the passion, signs that teach what faith and love mean when they are stripped of all consolations and comforts - and so signs that teach what true faith and love are about everywhere. This lived reality of protest (rather than resignation), of lament (rather than hardening) and of Christlike love (as that which gives all for the other) is a reality that finds its bearing in the light of the great realities of God's love. Such a posture towards life is the only theodicy worth having. 

Jason Goroncy on page 40 of Theodicy, Suffering and Faith. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


'Discernment,' he replies. 'Discernment is one of the things that worked inside St Ignatius. For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely. I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest - this is the divine. I thought a lot about this phrase in connection with the issue of different roles in the government of the Church, about becoming the superior of somebody else: it is important not to be restricted by a larger space, and it is important to be able to stay in restricted spaces. This virtue of the large and small is magnanimity. Thats to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon form the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. This means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the Kingdom of God. 
'This motto,' the Pope continues, 'offers parameters to assume a correct position for discernment, in order to hear the things of God from God's "point of view." According to St Ignatius, great principles must be embodied in the circumstances of place, time and people. In his own way, John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the Church, when he repeated the motto, "See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little." John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension. You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things. Or you can use weak means that are more effective that strong ones, as Paul also said in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
'This discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later. And that is what has happened ot me in recent months. Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs,listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor. My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people, and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing. 
'But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.' 

From pages 21-23 of My Door is Always Open, interviews with Pope Francis by Antonio Spadaro

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Existing with contradiction

Educators may bring upon themselves unnecessary travail by taking a tactless and unjustifiable position about the relation between scientific and religious narratives. We see this, of course, in the conflict concerning creation science. Some educators representing, as they think, the conscience of science act much like those legislators who in 1925 prohibited by law the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. In that case, anti-evolutionists were fearful that a scientific idea would undermine religious belief. Today, pro-evolutionists are fearful that a religious idea will undermine scientific belief. The former had insufficient confidence in religion; the latter insufficient confidence in science. The point is that profound but contradictory ideas may exist side by side, if they are constructed from different materials and methods and have different purposes. Each tells us something important about where we stand in the universe, and it is foolish to insist that they must despise each other.

Neil Postman

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Discovering Calvin

Fifty years earlier, I heard for the first time the word "spiritual" used in association with the theologian John Calvin. It happened in New York City as I was listening to a lecture by the Quaker philosopher Douglas Steere in a series on "Spiritual Classics." The week previous, I had been in attendance at the first in the series, on Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. Intrigued, I was back for the second. If I had known of the subject beforehand—John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion—I probably wouldn't have come. But after five minutes, I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

Although I had been a pastor for a couple of years, I had little interest in theology. It was worse than that. My experience of theology was contaminated by adolescent polemics and hairsplitting apologetics. When I arrived at my university, my first impression was that the students most interested in religion were mostly interested in arguing. Theological discussions always seemed to set off a combative instinct among my peers. They left me with a sour taste. The grand and soaring realities of God and the Holy Spirit, Scripture and Jesus, salvation and creation and a holy life always seemed to get ground down into contentious, mean-spirited arguments: predestination and freewill, grace and works, Calvinism and Arminianism, liberal and conservative, supra- and infralapsarianism. The name Calvin was in particularly bad odour. I took refuge in philosophy and literature, where I was able to find companions for cultivating wonder and exploring meaning. When I entered seminary I managed to keep theology benched on the sidelines by plunging into the biblical languages.

But midway through Steere's lecture, theology, and Calvin along with it, bounded off the bench. A 
new translation of the Institutes by Ford Lewis Battles (edited by John T. McNeill) had recently been published. I knew of the work of Dr. Steere and trusted him. But Calvin? And theology? After the hour's lecture, most (maybe all) of my stereotyped preconceptions of both Calvin and theology had been dispersed. Steere was freshly energized by the new translation. He talked at length of the graceful literary style of the writing, the soaring architectural splendor of this spiritual classic, the clarity and beauty of the thinking, the penetrating insights and comprehensive imagination.

The lecture did its work in me—if Calvin was this good after four hundred years, I wanted to read his work for myself. The next day I went to a bookstore and bought the two volumes and began reading them. I read them through in a year, and when I finished I read them again. I've been reading them ever since.

Eugene Peterson in Living with the Triune God, in Books and Culture. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gossip for good?

Like the desert tales that monks have used for centuries as a basis for a theology and a way of life, the tales of small-town gossip are often morally instructive, illustrating the ways ordinary people survive the worst that happens to them; or, conversely, the ways in which self-pity, anger, and despair can overwhelm and destroy them.  Gossip is theology translated into experience.  In it we hear great stories of conversion, like the drunk who turns his or her life around, as well as stories of failure. We can see that pride really does go before a fall, and that hope is essential.  We watch closely those who retire, or who lose a spouse, lest they lose interest in living.  When we gossip we are also praying, not only for them, but for ourselves.

Kathleen Norris
“The Holy Use of Gossip” in Dakota

Some may take issue with Norris' use of the word 'gossip' here, when normally it has more negative connotations.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Loving Christ

But as St Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. Say, if you think so, that he was a lunatic loving an imaginary person; but an imaginary person, not an imaginary idea.

From page 17 of St Francis of Assisi, by G K Chesterton.

The joys of Christian living

Life in Christ includes the joy of eating together, enthusiasm for making progress, the pelasure of working and learning, the joy of serving whoever needs us, contact with nature, enthusiasm for communal projects, the pleasure of living sexuality in keeping with the Gospel, and all the things that the Father gives us as signs of his sincere love. We can find the Lord in the midst of the joys of our limited existence, and that gives rise to sincere gratitude. So the mercy of the ‘Samaritan Church’ tends to cure the wounds of those who feel rejected or excluded so that man can live this happy, whole, full life, a ‘life in abundance.’

From My Door is Always Open: interviews with Pope Francis, by Antonio Spadaro. Pages 69-70

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sticking with the principles

It was the idea that the scientist should go on exploring and experimenting freely, so long as he did not claim an infallibility and finality which it was against his own principles to claim. Meanwhile the Church should go on developing and defining, about supernatural things, so long as she did not claim a right to alter the deposit of faith, which it was against her own principles to claim.

G K Chesterton in his book, St Thomas Aquinas, page 72. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The humble scientist

I've had the book St Thomas Aquinas, by G K Chesterton, on my shelves for many years, but had never read it until this week. What a great book, very readable, very clear and able to give insight not only into Aquinas but also into his time and into the history of philosophy in general. Over the next few days I'll be adding various long and short extracts from the book to this blog. 

We have all heard of the humility of the man of science; of many who were very genuinely humble; and of some who were very proud of their humility. It will be the somewhat too recurrent burden of this brief study that Thomas Aquinas really did have the humility of the man of science; as a special variant of the humility of the saint. It is true that he did not himself contribute anything concrete in the experiment or detail of physical science; in this, it may be said, he even lagged behind the last generation, and was far less of an experimental scientist than his tutor Albertus Magnus. But for all that, he was historically a great friend to the freedom of science. The principles he laid down, properly understood, are perhaps the best that can be produced for protecting science from mere obscurantist persecution. For instance, in the matter of the inspiration of Scripture, he fixed first on the obvious fact, which was forgotten by four furious centuries of sectarian battle, that the meaning of Scripture is very far from self-evident and that we must often interpret it in the light of other truths. If a literal interpretation is really and flatly contradicted by an obvious fact, why then we can only say that the literal interpretation must be a false interpretation. But the fact must really be an obvious fact. And unfortunately, nineteenth century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were seventeenth-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation. Thus, private theories about what the Bible ought to mean, and premature theories about what the world ought to mean, have met in loud and widely advertised controversy, especially in the Victorian time; and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion.
But St. Thomas had the scientific humility in this very vivid and special sense; that he was ready to take the lowest place; for the examination of the lowest things. He did not, like a modern specialist, study the worm as if it were the world; but he was willing to begin to study the reality of the world in the reality of the worm. His Aristotelianism simply meant that the study of the humblest fact will lead to the study of the highest truth. That for him the process was logical and not biological, was concerned with philosophy rather than science, does not alter the essential idea that he believed in beginning at the bottom of the ladder. But he also gave, by his view of Scripture and Science, and other questions, a sort of charter for pioneers more purely practical than himself. He practically said that if they could really prove their practical discoveries, the traditional interpretation of Scripture must give way before those discoveries. He could hardly, as the common phrase goes, say fairer than that. If the matter had been left to him, and men like him, there never would have been any quarrel between Science and Religion. He did his very best to map out two provinces for them, and to trace a just frontier between them.
It is often cheerfully remarked that Christianity has failed, by which is meant that it has never had that sweeping, imperial and imposed supremacy, which has belonged to each of the great revolutions, every one of which has subsequently failed. There was never a moment when men could say that every man was a Christian; as they might say for several months that every man was a Royalist or a Republican or a Communist. But if sane historians want to understand the sense in which the Christian character has succeeded, they could not find a better case than the massive moral pressure of a man like St. Thomas, in support of the buried rationalism of the heathens, which had as yet only been dug up for the amusement of the heretics. It was, quite strictly and exactly, because a new kind of man was conducting rational enquiry in a new kind of way, that men forgot the curse that had fallen on the temples of the dead demons and the palaces of the dead despots; forgot even the new fury out of Arabia against which they were fighting for their lives; because the man who was asking them to return to sense, or to return to their senses, was not a sophist but a saint. Aristotle had described the magnanimous man, who is great and knows that he is great. But Aristotle would never have recovered his own greatness, but for the miracle that created the more magnanimous man; who is great and knows that he is small.

From pages 69-71 of the Hodder edition of 1962, which surprisingly, has several proof-reading errors in it!

Sharp and to the point

Thus the ‘decline of religion’ becomes a very ambiguous phenomenon. One way of putting the truth would be that the religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the ‘World’, was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners or (at worst) a proof of respectability. Hence a social pressure, like the withdrawal of the compulsion, did not create a new situation. The new freedom first allowed accurate observations to be made. When no man goes to church except because he seeks Christ the number of actual believers can at last be discovered. It should be added that this new freedom was partly caused by the very conditions which it revealed. If the various anti-clerical and anti-theistic forces at work in the nineteenth century had had to attack a solid phalanx of radical Christians the story might have been different. But mere ‘religion’ — ‘morality tinged with emotion’, ‘what a man does with his solitude’, ‘the religion of all good men’ — has little power of resistance. It is not good at saying No.
The decline of ‘religion’, thus understood, seems to me in some ways a blessing. At the very worst it makes the issue clear. To the modern undergraduate Christianity is, at least, one of the intellectual options. It is, so to speak, on the agenda: it can be discussed, and a conversion may follow. I can remember times when this was much more difficult. ‘Religion’ (as distinct from Christianity) was too vague to be discussed (‘too sacred to be lightly mentioned’) and so mixed up with sentiment and good form as to be one of the embarrassing subjects. If it had to be spoken of, it was spoken of in a hushed, medical voice. Something of the shame of the Cross is, and ought to be, irremovable. But the merely social and sentimental embarrassment is gone. The fog of ‘religion’ has lifted."

— C. S. Lewis, “The Decline of Religion” (in God in the Dock)