Friday, July 29, 2005

Luz fuera la oscuridad! Licht aus der Dunkelheit!

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Light out of darkness!

Hooray for the Holy Spirit and our Father's loving Providence!

My recent "crisis" has been deflated almost completely, my prayers answered, my soul relieved and my feet made strong for the path ahead. THANK YOU ALL! The past several days I have literally felt your prayers at work in and around me -- the fault lines of reality bending and recalibrating around me prayer by prayer like deep sea currents pulsing against me.

I fully intend to explain "what all went down", but suffice to say for now it climaxed in one of the most important encounters of my life and I am still shaking my head about the growth God brought me to by it. It was such a ride, when the existential waves peaked and crashed -- but now I feel the equally deep privilege of continuing to ride the mellower wave farther up and farther in.

(I know, I know, with hype like this you've got no chance but to be underwhelmed with the whole story, but remember, the gravity of the siutation is scaled to *my* life, not "life in general.")

Off to teach!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Dear, dear friends

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[Bear in mind that I would never post something like this on my blog, or any other, if it were not important enough to do so.]

Please pray for me.

Without the least bit of undue melodrama, I am experienceing one of the most intense periods in my life of grappling with God and myself to discern an immense change in my life.

After a long period of inchoate formation, certain priorities, desires, hopes, opportunities, etc. have come into sharp focus and I am faced with making a radical decision -- and with no time to dally. In one sense, this dilemma sprang upon me out of nowehere; but in another much deeper sense, it has been coming to the surface for a very long time. Do not be alarmed: it is, and would be, a change for great good, yielding much fruit and joy -- but at the expense of some very deep sacrifices.

I feel simply incapacitated -- "soul dumbstruck" -- in any attempts to "process" the "how" and the "why" this change. I feel that, in preparation for World Youth Day, God has brought me to a spiritual, psychologial and logistical crossroads, and that whatever decision I make is essential to my immediate and longterm formation as a Catholic. I am seeking appropriate counsel -- from friends and clergy -- but I also know, at the deepest level, that there is no quick fix someone else can just hand me. I have no escape from facing the cold, stark fact that I have no one to turn to, ask of, or answer to besides God Himself.

I am seeking God's will. I am seeking God's will. I am seeking God's will.

Please pray for me.

Matthew 6:19-21, 25-34

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ...

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The language that dare not be named

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To my great surprise (and, even more surprising, to my delight), I have begun, very gradually, to learn Taiwanese. This decision -- which violates the solid advice I received only weeks ago from a realible source -- rather made itself for me, and in fact, more interestingly, came about despite me. I never intended to learn Taiwanese; in fact, I always intended to avoid learning it. That is why, now, learning Taiwanese, to any extent, is an act of humble contrition on my part. Let me explain.

Taiwanese is a little beast of a language, with something like 8 tones, almost no good study materials, and only a roughly standardized phonetic system. In Taiwan, once my ears could differentiate the "meaningless Asian noise" into the much neater categories of "meaningless Mandarin noise" and "meaningless Taiwanese noise" -- since that watershed development I have loathed hearing Taiwanese. "Ah, so, that's Mandarin -- and that's Taiwanese! 天啊!" It literally hurt my ears the better I got at catching Taiwanese -- like an unseen posion dart -- from among the general chatter. The same goes for Vietnamese, which, if spoken by women in particular, I find annoying and somehow always gossipy or nagging. I find both Taiwanese and Vietnamese nasally, unmelodious and overly complex. It's the complete opposite, though, with Tagalog, which I LOVE hearing. It's a chipper, fluid language with lots of amusing assonance and alliteration.[1]

At any rate, I love almost every thing about Taiwan -- the food, the weather, the scenery, the people -- but I have always found Taiwanese about as pleasant as biting foil while hiking in a pair of wet, sand-laden bathing shorts (beach people know what Ah'm talkin' 'bout!). The language is sometimes enough, in fact, literally to make me curl my lips in distaste.[2] If men, especially drunk men, speak it, it invariably sounds like a fight is about to break out. If women, especially older women in a market, speak it, it sounds like a nagfest already has broken out. I always feel somehow at fault, wordlessly guilty, whenever I hear Taiwanese. I'm sure this is insulting to some of my countless (?!) Taiwanese readers, and I truly wish it weren't so, but it's the truth: Taiwanese is often enough in itself to make me regret living here (well, that and the traffic).

And yet -- yet I know how dear to the Taiwanese their nasally, erratic little language is. I know how electrifying it is for them if a foreigner can speak even a few tattered words of it with them. I also know, for my own linguophilic purposes, how plain rad it would be to be able to speak a basically esoteric Asian language that a good share of the locals don't even know. In short, I know I need to get off my high horse, bear with the foil flakes, and bite into their language for the sake of my lvoe for the Taiwanese peoeple. And I do love these people.

So, primarily with the help of the tea vendor family across the street from me (which in fact used to be my neighbors from my previous apartment, and with whom I've spoken more in the past two months than in those two first years!) -- with their help, I have begun scribbling down, flash-carding and sporadically murmuring small phrases of the language that once dare not be named: Taiwanese. As I said, this is not just a grab for one more small cultural feather in my cap. It's an act of humility. Building bridges is worth it. Becoming all things to all people, particularly for now these people, the Taiwanese, mu neighbors, it is worth the hassle of learning that ear-piercing, tongue-twisting language: Taiwanese.

Of course, I'm not getting ahead of myself. The tones are a minor concern for now, since the basic phrases I'm working with now are so common as to be instantly and flawlessly recognizable. By all means, keeping up with German and ploughing deeper and deeper into Chinese are my greater priorities. Even so, much to my chagrin, I have to admit -- dare I admit it? -- I'm actually starting to get a taste for Taiwanese. It was always growing one me; only now, it's growing as an enjoyable appendage rather than before as a smelly fungus. I just kep laughing this afternoon as I wrote down a few notes from my tea-vending teahers. "Am I, of all people, after al this time, really and freely learning this nutty language?! Am I actually finding it, finding it winsome!? It just may be--! Who the--? How the--?"

Why the--?

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!

[1] To be fair, I know American English is not the most breathtaking language on earth, as Peter Sellars showed so hysterically in his impression of an American in "After the Fox". And, yes, I also know my second language, German, is considered by many to be harsh and vulgar. Quatsch! Reiner Unsinn!

[2] I confess part of my distaste for Taiwanese could be, at a subconscious level, my resentment for the barrier it places between me and a culture I have tried for two years, with some admirable success, to work my way into. More times than I can recall I have seen Taiwanese, once they realize I can speak Mandarin, slip into Taiwanese just to be sure I remain firmly on the outside, confused, mute and trilingual in the wrong constellation. I'd resent this tactic even if Taiwanese were as beautiful to me as Russian or Haitian Creole. Such is culture shock.

Care of one of my favorite readers...

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The following may be of interest to those who like to listen to liturgical music. Recently, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute (Ruthenian Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh) put these recordings online:

Sunday Matins Tone 4 and The Resurrection Matins for Pascha.

These are high quality mp3 recordings entirely in English of liturgical services from the Byzantine Church.

You can get an eyeful (and soulful) of this reader's good work at his Byzantine Catholic Daily Prayer & Lectionary and Eastern Liturgy Links.

Do it, do it now! Go, go now!

(I really may just end up a Byzantine Catholic.... :) )

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Why I Like Taichung

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[As I mentioned, this piece was submitted a few days ago for a local Taichung magazine essay contest. Results will be announced by July 31, whereupon oodles of prizes are sure to flow through the streets right up to my door -- or something. But as a loyal FCA reader, you get the inside scoop, fresh, piping-hot, early press! I was ecstatic about trimming this down to 392 words before sending it {400 word limit}, but then kicked myself because I forgot to make a two-word edit I realized I could have made just as I fell asleep the night before. A writer's woes. Anyway, despite submitting it at a billowy 392 words, it now reads at a tight 390 words. A writer's small victories. I'm also pleased by the fact that I don't even mention "Taichung" until 70 words in and that I never once use the canned contest phrase "I like Taichung because...".]

Taiwan is a frontier, a border world, straddling the wild, wild West and the wild, wild East. In the north, Taipei leads an ultra-hip march into the West – out of murky Hakkan hills – and surges into itself like a hydraulic. But the hydraulic becomes a world to itself. Taipei is almost boring in its cosmopolitan insularity. There are no locals because there are no outsiders. No one fits because everyone does. Why bother trying to fit in, since I automatically do? So much for the allure of foreignness.

On the other end of the spectrum, and of the island, are places, like Tainan and Gaoxiong, which easily become self-conscious photo-negatives of the north, clutching Taiwanese heritage like rafters on the rapids. But the raft becomes a world to itself. In the south, I’m stifled knowing I’m being watched, knowing I’m an interloper on Taiwanese soil. Why bother trying to fit in, since I know I never will? So much for the allure of home.

But then there is Taichung, Taiwan’s frontier, open, and closed, in both directions. The quintessential Taiwanese city. Not too far north, not too far south. Not too urban, not too rural. Not too rabidly Westernized, not too stubbornly Taiwanese. Not too hot, not too cold: the middle porridge, just right. Taichung – the middle city, the mix, the mixed-up – is my quintessential city, where I can be who I am: a mix, mixed-up, a foreigner in the middle of Taiwan.

Living abroad, I’m not simply a Westerner. Living abroad, neither am I simply a native Taiwanese. I am not just another anonymous “global citizen” who happens to find himself on a small Asian island – that is, I’m not a Taipeier. I am also not just another anonymous Taiwanese; a foreigner, I do not belong here. A foreigner, I need to learn the language, the customs, the people – without ever deluding myself I understand them. A mix, mixed-up in the middle, in Taichung, where I am free to be foreign without automatically being cliché or intrusive, free to fit without fitting in. Taichung knows my secret, and I hers: we both fit, and don’t fit. Taichung affirms my mixed-up uniqueness, and I hers. As secret allies, we stand together in the middle, both mixed, both medium. We’re both middle porridge; and somehow, mysteriously, that makes everything just right.

Getting the word out

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[Bin meanin' t' post this fer a stretch now, but life gits in the way... Have a look see, y'ear?]


I ... would like to ask for your help with a new project of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, a non-profit organization led by Catholic priests and sisters (

AFJN is launching Uganda Conflict Action Network ( to raise awareness of and help bring an end to the war in Uganda, which is fought almost entirely by and against children. Northern Ugandans have been subject to massacres and child abductions for over 10 years while the international community has largely been silent.

We have already received some great support from the likes of the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Carlos Rodrigues of Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative in Gulu Archdiocese, and many others. ...

Pax Christi,

Michael Johnston
Volunteer, Africa Faith and Justice Network

Who's Who ... and Who's the Best?

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[Over at Papal Ponty's there's a fun little thread about the "Best Theologians of All Time". I didn't want to clutter it up with all my own pontificating, so now you have the privilege of yet more direct "bogus" pontificating here at FCA!]

I think there are three categories, or criteria, for greatness that might help parse our listings. First, sheer brilliance. Second, historical impact. Third, "thematic" impact.

Sheer Brilliance

Did the theologian say deep things, and say them beautifully? Did he or she open new vistas in our vision of God? Sheer brilliance is why Tertullian (coined "trinitas"), Athanasius (dunked Arius), the Cappadocians (in any order, I guess), Augustine (changed eveything), Maximus (dunked the Monothelites), et al. are awesome theologians. They made theology come alive. They repossessed, and transformed, their language and culture for the glory of God, which is the proper goal of all theology.

Historical impact

What did the theologian's life, and not merely his writings, do for the Church and the world? This is an especially important criterion and one EO readers probably resonate with more than others. I've heard it more than a few times by EOs that, in the East, a true theologian is a "seer of God," one who sees and knows God, not merely one who knows of and writes about God. I tend to agree. Theologians can never examine God without simultaneously offering themselves in mystical freedom to be examined by God in prayer, evangelical love, communal openness and ascesis -- even unto death. Theology is the words about the "word" of God -- the theoi logos [Gk?] -- and the Logos is a person. Theology, therefore, must be as personal as its subject. Ideally, a theologian's actions (of faith) speak louder and longer than his many words.

This is, strangely enough, why I think Isaiah, Jesus, Paul and other biblical authors have hardly been mentioned in this thread. They are somehow more than theologians, and therefore not eligible for being the best theologians. We sense they are not simply theologians, but rather the very stuff of theology! Why, though? Why should listing Jesus, Paul and John as our three top theologians be so coy, so naively "Sunday schoolish"? Why is there a line between these giants of the faith and the giants that followed them? Because of their amazing words and great analogies? Their antiquity[1]? No. For, as St. Paul says, wise words without love are but arid clanging. Love, then, is the greatest mark of the greatest theologians. So, when I refer to a theologian's historical impact, I mean not just how "big" or "heavy" his ideas were/are, but rather how deep and vital and "cruciform" his life was in the mystical communion of the saints. Hence, for example, Our Lady is one of the greatest theologians for the simple reaons that she "pondered these things in her heart" and now sheds her Sophia-wisdom in intercession for us, her "other children."

This second criterion may seem like a cheesy cop-out to some hardcore theology fans -- "Give us dogmatics or give us death!" -- but my point is not to clear the board of these other genuinely great theologians. My goal is simply to set up one criterion among others for what makes a great theologian. Call it the "Best Martyr-Theologian" category. Great theology, in this sense, is not just a question of making theology come alive (as above), but in fact of being theology alive. Hence, in this second category, I think someone like St. Maximus the Confessor, who bore the fruit of his theology in his own mutilated, persecuted body, is a tremendous theologian. His impact -- as a thinker and as a marytr -- is staggering. The same weight of living-theology, I think, goes for St. Augustine, who lived his theology through lifelong repentance and in the vulnerability of monastic community.

"Thematic" Impact

Did this theologian teach things about particular truths of the faith unlike anyone else? Did he or she meet certain specific challenges better than others? Some theolgians are just all-around brilliant: inexhaustible, light-giving, life-giving guides we love like parents. But other saints shine most brilliantly in only a few particular areas. For example, St. Francis de Sales (my, ahem, patron saint) may not have been the greatest systematic theologian, but who can deny he was a master of pastoral and moral theology? Or consider the brilliance St. Louis de Montfort on lying, even apart from lacks in other aspects of his theology. Or consider the Desert Fathers; they are outstanding guides for the "inner eye," even without magisterial works of dogmatic theology to their credit. Conversely, St. Athanasius may not have dwelt too much on the moral dimensions of marriage and social justice, but no one denies his impact on the Trinitarian controversies.

To sum up, ranking theologians depends on parsing among 1) how brilliantly theological they were, 2) how dynamically their lives impact life as "living works of theology," and 3) what issues we're discussing for the ranking. In spite of all this, though, you'll notice I refrain from making a list (or lists) of my own. Like being asked on the spot to name your favorite novie of all time, I beg off cuz it's just too difficult to weed the great from the really great! Who are the greatest theologians of all time? Yes![2]

Finally, while, as some have cautioned, I do think this sort of exercise could devolve into a theological pissing contest (the ecumenical equivalent of Pop-Faithdom's tendency to "claim" celebrities as coreligionists), if we avoid any bickering, I think rankings like these are good to help reacquaint ourselves with the Tradition. Who really are the great Doctors of the Church? When we look back over the long work of God in our world, what figures are great guides for us today? Who are the martyrs we can follow in contemplation and in death? Who are the masters of certain tough issues? Who must we, in all humility, turn to as holy vessels of God's wisdom? These are vital questions, and amount to one other great reason to heed the living, loving wisdom of God which poured from Christ's side into the Tradition, into so many holy lives, and flourishes even into our own times.

[1] One of the difficulties of ranking theolgoians is that of historical seniority. Like it or not, especially for Cathlics and Orthodox, very often the highest standard is, "the older the better." There's no gainsaying the importance of St. Ignatius or Irenaeus or Justin Martyr for the simple fact that they laid the foundation, set the very parameters, for what all subsequent greats would theologize. All later theologians have little choice but to defer to their ancestors, since the essense of living (verb and adjective) Tradition is to pass one what was passed on (paradosis) to you. So, in this second category, the older really could be the better, I guess; but in the first category, we'd want to compare each theolgian's work in terms of its "immediate" impact upon us today, regardless.

[2] Nevertheless, without ranking anyone, I'll cave a little and list here a few more contemporary theologians (showing my total Western and Jesuit bias!) I think deserve consideration:

Bernard Lonergan, S.J. -- brilliant syntheses in both secular and more strictly theological domains

Henri de Lubac, S.J. -- ecclesiological genius, with great discussions the Eucharist

Yves Congar, O.P. -- ditto on ecclesiology, with a big splash of pneumatology

Karol Wojtlya -- theology of the body is the theology for the future: moral, existential, relational, pastoral, phenomenological

St. Francis de Sales -- also a great moral guide, esp. about living devotion and knowing your are beloved by God

Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- a modern martyr as well as a brilliant moral theologian

John Henry Cardinal Newman -- wonderufl homilist, excellent ecclesiologist, solid ethicist, esp. about the epistemology of obedience and the incoherence of rationalistic autonomy

Monday, July 18, 2005

Intermission (of an intermission)

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Where have I been? Relaxing, eating, studying, exercising -- the usual, only less frantic. Summer classes start this Monday (25 July) so I am savoring the last few days OFF like a reptile savors salt licked from a rock.

A good change has been my announcement to my missionary teammates, via an attached letter in email, that I will be doing much less in terms of ministry (with Banner church) next year. Why is this good? Not because I dislike life at Banner; far from it. I have always felt welcome and, in fact, intrigued by life at Banner. Being Banner's servant and guest is and has been my privilege. I care for many people there, and know the feeling is mutual.

The change is good, first, because it was a radical step for me, normally a kowtowing Yes-Man, to be open, vulnerable, sincere and decisive about my commitments as a Catholic. The change is also good because it clears the ground for me now to be even more authentic about my gifts and vocation: writing, service at Providence University, language learning, good ol' fashioned daily devotional time with God, resting, etc.

I have yet to get much response from the people I told, but two people have asked to read a much longer letter explaining my "Catholic changes" in depth. (I'm considering editing and posting some of that letter cum liturgical manifesto here at FCA....)

Taiwan is mid-typhoon these days, which means bank and school holidays. Oh well, so I get to rest more. ;) (I recently submitted a short piece about "Why I Like Taichung" to a local magazine for a government essay contest. We'll see what happens! In any event, I'll post the piece here in due time.)

Dane and I have been trying to keep the apartment clean. For my part, I sweep, mop, scrub and de-trash. For his part, well -- he eats small pieces of garbage for me and licks up strange fluids that I miss -- all before I unwittingly let him kiss me like a carwash brush. Ah, man's best friend!

I got new glasses after 5 years. I went to the dentist after 2 years. I've set up a home phone number after a month without it. I have not yet regretted my decision to be without Internet at home. I'm reading much more, writing more letters, resting better and, paradoxically, using the Internet more effectively.

Let me also add, in this vein, that I think you should exploit -- or create -- the vacuum of a "less connected life." I've not been posting much at all here at FCA, partially because I've just been doing other stuff, partially because I'm getting longer, more polished essay-posts ready, but primarily because I want to signal to you, dear reader, that now is a time to decelerate. Relish the emptiness of summer (or, alas, if it cuts the other way, relish the rare empty moments in an otherwise overstuffed summer). Join me, so to speak, in solitude. Listen with me, as it were, to the silence.

As its summer, we're a but understaffed at my parish, so yesterday I was volunteered to welcome people to the Mass from the lectern, read the lectionary prefaces and pray the general intentions. Wow, I'm a functional Catholic layman, cool!

Let me also say how truly joyful I am to be Catholic. I confessed my sins (yes, again this week) to Fr. John and emerged knowing, not that I am perfect, but that God loves me; that God loves me enough in fact to send His Son to forgive my sins; loves me enough to create and sustain His Church just to meet me in that confessional, reaching out from the Cross, becuse He still loves me. The confessional is made from the wood of the Cross and it is my proof as a Catholic that the love of God in Christ at the Cross has not stopped one bit. I am so grateful to be found in the wings of His Church.

And, tho it may seem cheesy to you, I want to be honest that I am so grateful for you, dear reader. I don't know many of you and barely know most of you, but, by some mystical sort of intution and hope, I do love you. As I've said before, this blog is many things -- my palate, my catharsis, my soapbox -- but above all, I pray and announce, it is my arena for serving you. I write for you; don't be shy to let me know how I can serve you. It may take longer than you like, or even longer than I promise, but it is my intention to serve you with this blog and my replies as far as I am able.

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Pontificatorial build-up

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[I'm at the library -- free Internet! -- and I wanted to get this on-blog before I go. I'd prefer to edit it, but time is not on my side right now. The original thread can be found here.

The brouhaha started when Fr. Al, Papal Ponty, said, "The pope hypostatizes the skandalon that is the Catholic Church...." and then Michael Liccione replied with, "You have summed it up marvelously: ... he is 'the rock on which so many stumble.' I am reminded of nothing so much as 1 Corinthians 1: 23-24."[1]

Then Michael Patrick replied with pious idignation, "The frightening words come out. In addition to Peter re-incarnate the Pope is “the rock on which so many stumble”. Having Peter’s place isn’t enough? ... THE SCANDAL IS THAT GOD DIED.... I am out of words. May the Lord have mercy."

Later, Charles Ashworth said, "I don’t have the book {JP II's *Crossing the Threshold of Hope* -- EBB} and don’t know if I ever will get a chance to read it. But this bit [about the divine scandal of the pope -- EBB] seems curiously anachronistic. Where is the evidence that anyone in the first five centuries or so was scandalized by the papacy?" Then I joined in with the following.]

Michael P:

I can "feel" your reflexive indignation at Michael L's words -- but I also think it was just that: reflexive revulsion rather than a reflective response (not to mention probably also a source of renewed gratitude for having "escaped" the Roman Man-God system of your early days). Alas, I agree with Michael L and believe you have falsely dichotmized and rejected what he (and the Catholic Church) is getting at. Michael L can, obviously, speak for himself (and has in fact done so), but I would simply like to add on to what Fr. Newman more or less said: it was CHRIST HIMSELF who so scandalously intertwined his minstry with that of his Apostles. "As I have been sent so I send you." "Whoever receives or rejects you, receives or rejects me." "Whatsoever you bind or loose..." Etc. Michael L was, as a Catholic, working from uncotestably biblical grounds: Christ Jesus chose to blur the lines between himself and his Apostles in His post-resurrection Kingdom and that blurring carries over to our holiness, our intercession, our mercy, AND our scandals.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is referring to the "aorist" historical events of Christ's passion which *now* divinely substantiate *and model* his own ministry. Far from dichomtoizing his stumbling-blockiness and the Lord's, Paul is demonstrating the divine basis and energy for his own scandlizing blockiness. Paul was called to bear the marks of Christ and to speak with the voice of God (cf. Gal 6 and 2 Cor 5) -- which obviously made him a stumbling (and persecuted) block to the world just like Jesus (see the book of Acts!). Indeed, all Xians are called to be united with Christ's suffering, which necessarily means we will be persecuted more and more as we become skandaloi to the world.

In the same vein, need I remind you it was Ignatius of Antioch who said the bishop was to be honored and obeyed AS God, AS the LORD Jesus Christ (cf. Letter to Magnesians 2, 6, 13; Letter to Trallians 2, 3, 7)? Obviously, neither he nor I nor Michael L nor the Church would say the bishop or the Pope really ARE "numerically identical" to the Father or Jesus, but -- well, there really is something scandalous in how incarnated God made the Church. Does not the East agree the priest is an alter Christus, or is that just a Western misconception? We can hardly presume to separate Christ from his crucified scandalizing power (hence Peter's rebuke in Matthew 16). Why then should we insist a priest, bishop or pope's alter-Christus-ness is bereft of the same Chrstilike scandalizing power?

Now, to augment Michael L's original comment a bit, what it comes down to for me, among numerous other issues, is this: since we agree Jesus is "actualized" (or "hypostasized" or "punctualized") in the bishop of a local church - in some way or other! -- how can this same "maximal actualization" fail to obtain for the Church as a whole, historical-present reality? I believe Peter's local coryphaeic headship can and must carry over to the whole Church. Since Peter is realized in each church at each Eucharist, I am a Catholic largely because I believe he is also present in the Church for the whole Churhc worshipping in Eucharistic unity. And when it comes down to it, that's pretty much all the Church is getting at with the truth of the papacy: God ordained a head for the whole Church just as wisely and concretely as he does so for each local church. If eucharistic ecclesiology (a la Affanasieff, Zizioulas, et al.) does not vitiate Christ's unique transcendent authority in each local church, I simply fail to see how Catholic ecclesiology vitiates it for the whole Church.

Charles Ashworth:

Was anyone scandalized by the dogma of homoousios before 325? (Or pick some other early dogma, if you like.) No; but did that irruption of scandal signal the dogma was a novel perversion of the faith? Such was the claim of the Arians. I apply the same kind of thinking to the papacy and therefore think your well-meaning concern about the increase of papal controversy is mostly wihtout traction. I take it for granted the "development of scandal" (a la Palamite, #21 ;)) is historically and theologically coterminous with the development of doctrine -- and yet find the former to be as unhelpful as I find the latter to be helpful for discerning the Tradition.

More specifically, I think the Catholic Church's *total and enduring* attitude towards the papacy more authentic and more Traditional than the EOC's. Any Church that can, did and still does venerate Hormisdas, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great AS WELL AS the medieval popes AND the modern popes is, by my lights, simply less schizophrenic, simply more one, simply more catholic. By contrast, any Church that (at least techincally...) still enshrines those early popes in its liturgy and canons YET execrates their predecessors -- who carried on the papalist foundation Horm, Leo, Greg et al. had laid -- seems less consistent, less one, less catholic. Leo the Great is an Orhtodox saint yes -- but quite frankly where is his remarkable papalism in the EOC today? It's just not there -- but it is in the Catholic Church. Hence, I'm a Catholic, not an Orthodox. (I refer you to two pieces on my blog about these ideas: and the lengthier ).


I see a great irony, a sort of strategic crisis, among the Orthodox I've dialogued with. Fr. Al wrote in an earlier post that one of the salient differences for him (and presumably for the world) between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is that the former clearly, repeatedly, and offensively speaks as if it really were the voice of God here and now. His claim was met with a good bit of ridicule and skepticism by EOs (and maybe some Prots, I forget) in that thread. Why? Because according to them the EOC is just as offensive and demanding and uncompromising as the RCC as the Apostles as God.

But here's the funny thing. On the one hand, numerous EOs insist the EOC speaks with the same scandalizing air of authority as the RCC. On the other hand, numerous EOs, here and in print, denounce the RCC's totalitarian, monistic, juridical, "mechanistic" authority as inimical to the true collegial, pluralistic, organic, pneumatic authority of the orthodox Church. (I have not fabricated any of these words; they come straight from various dialgoues, essays and books I've read.) Fr. Jordan Bajis, for example, argues that the EOC does not need and therefore does not have any singular "structure" of authority, since such a contrivance is a humanistic, rationalistic Western corruption of the Eastern, truly Xian authority of the SPIRIT in and through the Church (a la Khomiakov). But then come along the monks of Athos, or various patriarchates, and denounce anything in sight as if with the very authority of God.

Perhaps you can sense my confusion. Does the EOC speak with same living, dogmatizing, anathematizing, hierarchical authority as the RCC -- or does it not? Which is it? If it's the former, then I think we should lay off on the "totalitarian thundering" canards about Rome. If it's the latter, though, I think we need to grant Fr. Al's basic point: apart from WHAT each Churhc says on X Y or Z, a crucial heuristic element is facing HOW each Church says it. Like the Apostles or like the WCC?

Now, I should point out that in saying this, I haven't relied on the "typical Catholic cheap shot" of saying the EOC speaks with "no unanimity" or that its autocephalism is actually just "chaotic" polycephalism. That issue is its own barrels of poo, and I think it can't just be dismissed. But, at present, the question I'm posing (honestly, humbly, for EO readers) is: what distinguishes the East's presumed air of authority from the West's (as Fr. Al highlighted it)?

I realize saying any or all of may just harden lines and may sound like I'm saying to EOs that "your Church sucks" and "you guys lie about the Tradition" but that's not my aim. I believe there is a difference between material and formal heresy and so I am not saying every Orthodox believer really truly is a deceitful, nefarious, schizophrenic schismatic.

[1] To be fair, Michael L's literally scandalous words need to be read in the larger context of what elese he said in the same comment, to wit:

How does the Church relevantly recapitulate the scandal and stumbling block of the Cross? Some would say “by martyrdom,” and in a sense they would be right. But of course there are several forms of martyrdom that all Christians approve (at least in principle) and even the world occasionally admires: persecution and death for upholding the Faith, loving self-sacrifice and self-conquest in daily life. Such are not terribly controversial, and hence are not scandals and stumbling blocks in the relevant sense. What remains a scandal and stumbling block for Christian and non-Christian alike is an inescapable fact about the Church herself, clear right from her birth: that God has committed the sacred mysteries, and thus the authority to teach in his name about them, to sinful men. ...

To borrow a term coined by one of my teachers, the late mythologist Theodor Gaster, such [the divisiveness of the papacy -- EBB] is where the scandal of the Church is “punctualized,” i.e. concentrated at a single point. On the Catholic account, the Petrine charism of the bishops, each of whom is “a” vicar of Christ, is anchored and sustained by being maximally embodied in a single person who exercises Petrine jurisdiction even over bishops. That is one pole of the spiritual polarity that defines the “hierarchy,” the “sacred order” of the Catholic Church; the other is the the Marian charism of the faithful, anchored and sustained by a single person, the Theotokos herself, who maximally embodies it and thus acts efficaciously as Mother of the Church as well as of God the Son, of which the Church is the Mystical Body. That is why the Catholic doctrines of Mary and the Papacy are the most widely reviled of all the Church’s doctrines. Many people just cannot abide the idea that something essential to the structure of the Church is maximally embodied in visible, specific individuals who thus possess an authority no other Christian does.

Hear hear!

Sunday, July 3, 2005

This is why I love Taiwan. No crap.

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Thu Jun 30, 9:15 AM ET - TAIPEI (Reuters)

It may take a strong stomach to eat curry or chocolate ice cream out of a toilet bowl, but a commode-themed restaurant in Taiwan does booming business serving up just that.

The Martun, or toilet in Chinese, restaurant in the southern port city of Kaohsiung boasts lengthy queues on weekends as diners wait for a toilet seat in its brightly colored tile interior.

Road trip! And no toilet breaks till we eat!

(Hat tip to the reader that sent the link ... and assured me the food ain't crappy. Rimshot!)