Friday, April 28, 2006

Prince Charles, Crunchy Con?

The latest issue of National Geographic contains an article titled Prince Charles - Not Your Typical Radical, which outlines some of his efforts at promoting sustainable agriculture and pedestrian-friendly communities in the land holdings he manages as the Duke of Cornwall. He's got a lot of ideas a Crunchy Con would love:
Prince Charles gave no warning that he was about to abandon his usual restraint. He simply began slicing the air with his hands as his voice rose in frustration: "I had witnessed this appalling horror of the 1960s, when everything was thrown away, denigrated, abandoned. I watched as woods were cut down, hedges uprooted, wonderful old buildings knocked down. I minded dreadfully.

"My whole aim was to repair the damage, to heal the wounds, as it were, of the countryside." Calmer now, his voice falling to its usual hoarse whisper, he settled back in the silk armchair, smoothing his flawless blue suit. Meanwhile, the uniformed footman at Clarence House, the prince's London mansion, went about his business, sliding in and out of the drawing room.

One day Prince Charles, now 57, will be crowned king (his mother is already 80). Judging from the way he has handled his inheritance so far—more than 135,000 acres of mostly rural land known as the Duchy of Cornwall—the country may be in for some surprises. He has used this private little kingdom as a place to test solutions to the problems of modernity, for the prince believes, fervently, that life in both town and country has gone awry.
But then again:
The duchy provides the prince's entire annual income—13.2 million pounds (23.5 million dollars) in 2004—which covers most of the cost of his official duties, his charitable activities, and all his private expenses. It is money that comes as rent from roughly 250 tenanted farms and from, among many other sources, transatlantic undersea fiber-optic cables and a gay bar in London. [Emphasis mine]
"Crunchy" he may be, but "Con", probably not...

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Ecclesiology: Ecclesiology is the study of the nature and mission of the Church.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Eschatology: Eschatology is the study of the “last things” relevant to the Christian life: death, Christ’s second coming, the bodily resurrection, and the final judgment of each individual soul.

Philosophical Biker Dudes

I really need to re-examine any and all subconscious stereotypes I may have about bikers (as in, Harley Dudes). Seriously.

Friends may recall me telling the story of how surprised my wife and I were last summer, when on a hiking trip to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and while enjoying the panoramic view at an overlook (nice pictures of the spot available here), we happened to overhear the conversation of some leather-bound bikers who were also enjoying the view. They were having a nice discussion on, of all things, the intricacies of Eucharistic theology, as expressed in various Christian denominations. Every time they dropped a term like "the real presence" my jaw would drop. That's the kind of thing you only expect to hear from the mouths of priests, or perhaps nerdy religion geeks like myself. But here it was, coming straight from the lips of biker dudes clad in black leather.

So today, as I type this, I'm sitting at the J&S Bean Factory coffee shop, in St. Paul. I like the place for its funky ambiance and free wi-fi internet access. But aside from that, it's the kind of place that is, shall we say, friendly to left-leaning chaps of all stripes. They prominently feature a "Vote out the Bush Republicans" sign and play host to left-of-center political groups like this and let's just say I'm dragging down the statistics a little on the average number of body piercings per customer. It's also a popular place for bikers to hang out. So today, I'm sitting here diligently doing my homework, and I overhear this biker guy getting into a conversation with the cashier lady on how, even if the state doesn't endore a religion, we still need some sort of universal to appeal to, that is above the state. If not, then we just have a relativistic universe where the only thing that matters is one's will to power (or worse - the state's), which is the worldview that Nietsche held. So this biker dude was going on and on, dropping names like Aristotle and Dostoyevsky to make his case, and ripping apart Enlightenment philosophies. So I was left thinking to myself, has this guy been sitting through my Fundamental Theology class? This is exactly what we've been talking about all semester! (And remember this post, where I mentioned George Weigel's observation about William of Ockham and how the denial of Universals in his Nominalist philosophy is at odds with, say Thomas Aquinas' view?)

And the best part was that, even though this guy was clearly no religious proponent (he even admitted so), he had a very clear view of the necessity of a universal moral code, and was unafraid to speak about it (a "righteous pagan", so to speak, like Aristotle was). And he was being rather successful in convincing the cashier to agree. It was a sight to behold.

So it would appear that, since I don't really know any personally, I have allowed all the pictures of the Sturgis bike rally to create a false stereotype in my mind of bikers. My bad. If my experience is any guide, many of them are erudite warriors on this side of the culture wars. Consider this a lesson in not judging someone based upon their appearance...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Exegesis: Exegesis is the theological specialty of evaluating the correct sense of Sacred Scripture.

Martin Luther, Eucharistic devotee

My ignorance knows no bounds.

All these years I've simply assumed that protestant reformer Martin Luther didn't believe that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ, but saw it as merely a symbolic act.

Well, consider myself corrected.

While many of the other protestant reformers did see it as merely symbolic, Luther himself was a strong proponent of the real presence. Consider the following rebuttal he issued to Ulrich Zwingli, one of the founders of what today we would call the "reformed" protestant churches. Zwingli thought that Scripture itself was clear that Christ's words "This is my body" were to be taken figuratively, rather than literally. The following is from Luther's treatise entitled, That These Words of Christ, 'This Is My Body,' etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics:
Our adversary says that mere bread and wine are present, not the body and blood of the Lord. If they belive and teach wrongly here, then they blaspheme God and are giving the lie to the Holy Spirit, betray Christ, and seduce the world. . . .

Neither does it help them to assert that at all other points they have a high and noble regard for God's words and the entire gospel, except in this matter. My friend, God's Word is God's Word; this point does not require much haggling! When one blasphemously gives the lie to God in a single word, or says it is a minor matter if God is blasphemed or called a liar, one blasphemes the entire God and makes light of all blasphemy. . . .

The sum and substance of all this is that we have on our side the clear, distinct Scripture which reads, "Take, eat; this is my body," and we are not under obligation nor will we be pressed to cite Scripture beyond this text -- though we could do so abundantly. On the contrary, they should produce Scripture which reads, "This represents my body," or, "This is a sign of my body."
Clearly, Luther saw that a central tenet of the Christian faith was the real presence in the Eucharist.

However, that said, I have a pretty good excuse for my prior ignorance and confusion. Luther did differ with the Catholic Church's understanding of the Eucharist on one central point: the doctrine of the transubstantiation. Rather than transubstantiation, which is the notion that the substance of bread and wine changes into the substance of Christ's body, so that only the accidents of bread and wine remain, Luther promoted the concept of consubstantiation, which purports that in the Eucharist the body and blood of Christ coexist with the bread and wine after the Consecration.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Epistemology: Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with understanding how humans acquire knowledge.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Faith: Faith refers to both the objective content of the doctrine of the Church as well as the individual subjective act of willingly assenting to the doctrine.

Theology of the Body

Luke Timothy Johnson is the author of The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, which is the primary New Testamant commentary that we are using in our New Testament course. It was chosen because, generally, Johnson is a very reliable source in the field. He firmly believes in the historical reliability of the Gospels (having written, among other things, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels - a rebuttal to the work of the Jesus Seminar). He is also a firm proponent of the position that Paul wrote (or at minimum supervised the writing of) all of the Pauline epistles, a point which is much debated among scripture scholars today.

At any rate, as the book was being introduced to us at the beginning of the semester, it came with a big disclaimer from the professor, which basically said: "He's good with the scripture and all, but outside that realm he's got a few funny ideas. He even wrote an article attacking John Paul II's Theology of the Body once."

Purely by chance, I just happened to run across that very article. It definitely is bizarre for someone so thoroughly reliable on scripture to nonetheless be unsympathetic to, and even almost hostile to, the thoughts of John Paul II. Yet here it is: A Disembodied ’Theology of the Body’: John Paul II on love, sex & pleasure.

Some of his points are well taken (i.e. how can it be called a "Theology of the Body" when it mostly is a theology of sexuality and doesn't speak to many other elements of embodiment? such as: eating, feeling, etc.). Yet at other moments I found myself wondering, "Is he talking about the same John Paul II that we all know, or some other fictional one?" For example, Johnson is of the impression that John Paul II:
"thinks of himself as doing 'phenomenology,' but seems never to look at actual human experience. Instead, he dwells on the nuances of words in biblical narratives and declarations, while fantasizing an ethereal and all-encompassing mode of mutual self-donation between man and woman that lacks any of the messy, clumsy, awkward, charming, casual, and, yes, silly aspects of love in the flesh. Carnality, it is good to remember, is at least as much a matter of humor as of solemnity. In the pope’s formulations, human sexuality is observed by telescope from a distant planet. Solemn pronouncements are made on the basis of textual exegesis rather than living experience."
I suppose it could reasonably be asserted that, at least with regard to the content in the specific addresses that came to be known as the "Theology of the Body", John Paul II was a little bit academic and didn't address the topic as much from the perspective of actual lived experience. But certainly John Paul II's understanding of human experience from his many years of being a pastor must have been part of the driving force behind his teaching. I'm reminded of the following quotes from George Weigel's Witness to Tope:
Wujek [JPII's nickname when he was young] taught his young couples that the sexual expression of their love within the bond of marriage was a beautiful thing, a holy thing, even an image of God. At the same time, he had a very high view of marriage, formed in conversation with "serious people, who gave themselves time to think."
In working with his young couples, Father Wojtyla didn't shy away from certain topics as unbefitting a priest's attention. In a retreat for students a few years after beginning the marriage preparation program, he would tell them, "The sexual drive is a gift from God... He may offer it to another human being with the knowledge that he is offering it to a person... In twenty-eight months at St. Florian's, Fathoer Karol Wojtyla blessed 160 marriages, an average of more than one each week. His intense conversations with engaged couples left a lasting imprint.
And remember, this is the same Karol Wojtyla who, on page 272 of his book Love and Responsibility committed some verbage to a discussion of how the union between husband and wife must strive to be, to the fullest extent possible, equally pleasurable for both partners, and not just for one. You can read the text of this section here. If he doesn't have a good grasp of sexuality as lived in actual couples' lives, I don't know who does.

Of course, continuing to read further in Johnson's article finally gets one to the heart of the matter. It's not just John Paul II's Theology of the Body that he objects to, it's the Church's teaching in general. Johnson is a dissenter from Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which affirmed the immorality of contraception. And thus provides the motive which underlies his critique of John Paul II.

So, the disclaimer given to us at the beginning of the semester now makes sense. As Paul Harvey would say: Now I know... the rest of the story...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's not every day Green Valley gets in the news...

My home "town" of Green Valley, population about 100, is the kind of quiet place where nothing of interest ever happens.

Except for today.

Large Fire Blazes Through Grain Elevator

Fortunately, and praise God, no one was hurt. But there was a lot of property and commodity damage for the farmer who owned it (it had ceased to be a functioning grain elevator some time ago, and had been bought by a private individual).

It's sad to see it go. I have a lot of happy childhood memories at the place. It's where my father always went to get his grain truck weighed in.


Grace: Grace is the unearned gift of God given to men for the purpose of enabling their salvation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Gnosticism: Gnosticism refers to a belief system, especially present in the first centuries of the Church, which stressed the importance of “secret knowledge” in attaining salvation and tended to see the material world as evil, ascribing goodness only to the spiritual realm.

Theophilus seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. -Luke 1:3-4

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. -Acts 1:1-2

Thus begins the Gospel of Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles (which was also written by Luke). Both are addressed to this person named Theophilus. But who was this Theophilus guy anyway? His only appearance seems to be in this reference to him as the intended recipient of Luke's two-part treatise on the life of Christ and the early Christian community. Was he some sort of teacher, or a new convert? Or the leader of a group of new Christians? Various traditions maintain different views of him.

We simply don't have any hard evidence to go off from, only mostly internal evidence found in the scriptures themselves. Therefore, many theories and much speculation abounds, and frankly, they all remain just that - theories. The question may or may not ever be settled. But there is one theory that I found rather intriguing. And as solid a story as any other out there.

The theory holds that Theophilus was a member of Caesar's court in Rome, and that Luke was writing the documents as part of a legal brief to defend Paul when he was on trial in Rome.

Consider the following:
-Theophilus is given the prefix "most excellent", which could correspond with his position in the Roman court.
-The book of Acts deals generally with the early Church, but more specifically with the missionary endeavors of Paul.
-The book of Acts ends, rather abruptly, with Paul being in Rome for two years. There's no real "conclusion" to the book, to speak of.
-Imperial Rome didn't know what to make of Christianity. Was it a threat? It came out of Judaism, which had long had a tumultuous relationship with the Roman empire. In light of this, the Gospel of Luke in many ways reads like a defense of Christianity as coming from God, and Acts reads like a defense of Paul in his mission from God. It is crafted in such a way as to almost whisper "Let Paul go. He is no threat to the empire."

So, whether Theophilus was or was not a member of Caesar's court, we will likely never know (unless someday an inscription is found in Rome that would corroborate the scenario). If he was, though, one thing is certain: Luke's treatise did not accomplish its intended purpose. Paul was eventually martyred in Rome. But that's okay, because as John Paul II told us, the martyrs were the seed of the Church.


Habit: In the spiritual life, a habit is a disposition where, due to a history of repetition of an action, it comes easily and naturally to an individual, and is resistant to change. Habits augment one’s nature, for good or for ill, through the predisposition to act in a certain way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics is the science of identifying the proper interpretive methods for discerning Scripture’s intended meaning.

Crunchy Cons

Anyone who knows me knows how much I like to avoid labels like "liberal" and "conservative," simply because they have a limited value, and mean different things to different people. An example: My hero, Pope John Paul II, was pretty conservative in a lot of ways. Yet he sometimes staked out positions that put him in the same camp as flaming liberals. So what was he? Liberal or conservative? This is the perfect evidence for the weakness of the labels.

Well, I just discovered a label that I am (somewhat) more comfortable applying to myself: Crunchy Conservative. ("Crunchy", as in "granola"...) Of course, like all labels, it has its shortcomings, and is an umbrella term that may apply to various disparate individuals. But author Rod Dreher seems to have tapped into a segment of the "conservative" population that tends to, in a sense, vote Republican all the while holding their nose as they do, because they're "conservative", yet feel somewhat outside the mainstream of the conservative movement, which at times seems far too wedded to the interests of big business, among other things. It all started with an article he wrote in the National Review entitled, Birkenstocked Burkeans: Confessions of a Granola Conservative Here's a few snippets of the article:
Talking with a conservative friend the other day, I mentioned that my wife and I were having a friend over to dinner, and were going to serve him all kinds of delicious vegetables from the organic food co-op to which we belong.
"Ewgh, That sounds so lefty," she said. And she's right. We're probably the only Republicans who subscribe to this service, which delivers fresh vegetables once weekly to our neighborhood from farms out on Long Island, and at a good price. But so what? Are lefties the only ones allowed to consume quality produce? We made fun of our liberal friends who did this stuff last summer, until we actually tasted the vegetables they got from the farm. We're converts now, and since you asked, I don't remember being told when I signed up for the GOP that henceforth, I was required to refuse broccoli that tastes like broccoli because rustic socialist composters think eating it is a good idea.
All I can tell you is that the crunchy-granola lefties are often right about little things that make life richer. Take food, for example. After we married, Julie and I had to teach ourselves how to cook. We quickly discovered how much better food tastes if it hasn't been processed. We'd go to farmers' markets in the city to buy produce, and before we knew it, we were making and canning our own apple butter. Not only did the stuff taste dramatically better than what was on offer in the supermarket, but there was a real sense of pride in knowing how to do these things for ourselves, like our grandmothers did. We realized one day that pretty much the only young to middle-aged people we knew who cared about these things were ... lefties.
The article goes on to tease out, quite humorously, a few other ways that Rod and his wife are strange bedfellows with liberals. Things like homeschooling and a distaste for cookie-cutter box houses in pedestrian-unfriendly suburbs.

The article was such a hit that Rod expanded on it and went on to write a book:

Having just devoured the book myself, I was quite impressed. What first drew my attention was the statement on the dust jacket: "What do you call people who vote for Bush but shop at Whole Foods? Crunchy cons." I thought to myself, "Hey, we voted for Bush, and we sometimes shop at Whole Foods (an organic food store). I guess he's talking about us!" I won't defend every position Rod takes, but by and large he has the right idea. He is trying to point out that conservativism doesn't just mean lower taxes. There's a whole other tradition of conservativism that would look to thinkers such as Russel Kirk, G.K. Chesterton, and, yes, John Paul II for guidance. People who understand that a virtuous culture is the most important thing. And that it's okay to "conserve" things, like the environment. And that technology and the free market are good things, but are good only to the extent that they serve humanity, specifically the family. Any time they begin to infringe upon humanity, then they are not being used properly.

I'll let you read the book yourself. It's not without its imperfections, but let's just say it's made enough of an impression upon me that, for the first time ever, I'm willing to attach a label to myself. I'm a Crunchy Con!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Dig it

Ever wondered where you would end up if you started digging straight down, and didn't quit until you came out the other side of the world? Well wonder no more, now you can find out!!

Check out this fun site.

Something to add to the "things I learned today" file: The whole idea of "digging a hole to China"? Yeah, it only works if you start digging from.... Argentina!

Hypostatic Union

Hypostatic Union: The hypostatic union refers to the understanding of Jesus Christ being one divine person yet containing the fullness of both a divine nature and a human nature.


Incarnation: The incarnation refers to the truth about Jesus Christ that God assumed a human nature and became a man.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Inspiration: Inspiration refers to the guidance given by the Holy Spirit to the authors of Scripture, whereby its content remains true to the revelation intended by God, yet also bears the imprint of the human authors, who wrote without any impediment to their free will.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Justification: Justification is the process by which sinners are sanctified and restored to righteousness through the merciful grace of God.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Logos: The Logos is a Greek term literally meaning “the Word of God.” Specifically, it refers to the second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, who was God’s Word in the form of a man.


Magisterium: The magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church, manifested through the bishops in union with the pope.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Miracle: A miracle is a perceivable sign or event which cannot be attributed to natural causes, but only to the intervention of God.


Mystery: A mystery is a truth revealed by God that man would not be able to know without the benefit of the revelation and about which man can only comprehend partially.


Nature: A nature is the essential substance of a thing or person. It is to be distinguished from the characteristics of the thing or person.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Nominalism: Nominalism is a philosophical point of view which posits that universal concepts or categories are merely convenient labels which exist only in the subjective mind, rather than truly existing in objective reality.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A proud husband.

That'd be me. My beautiful wife, Joy, just had a short story published in the latest edition of Dappled Things. I may be biased, but I do think she has a talent for writing fiction.

Follow this link to get the entire story. Also, do check out some of the other articles and stories in the latest issue. There are some mighty good ones in there.

Here's a teaser from Joy's story:

We sat in the shade of the trench for a bit, smoking our Turkish cigarettes. The sky shone a deep blue against the red of the dirt towering over our heads. I looked at Tom as he pulled the cigarette out of his mouth between his thumb and index finger. That was the way my father used to smoke.

“It's strange, isn't it?” I asked.



Tom nodded, extending his long legs out as far as he could before the soles of his black boots hit the other wall.

When we met, I had asked Tom why he came to fight, and he had told me he didn't come to fight. He came because he heard how beautiful Turkey was from his uncle who had traveled around the world two times before he turned twenty-four. Tom had said that on this continent you could get on a train and in six hours be in a completely different culture. He figured he'd let the government pay for him to get here. “But as soon as this thing is over,” he had said, “I'm off.”

Though he never said it, I knew he missed his family. He kept a picture in his pocket all the time. It wasn't very old, but it was worn. It showed his five sisters, all blonde like him, his mother, who had a round face and dimples, and his father, who was tall like Tom. The two of them stood in back, both with long faces and big ears, while the women sat in a row in front. I thought of my dad and his hard, grim life. How he gave up and left us without hope.

I didn't have a picture to show Tom. He asked why. I lied and said I didn't know.


Ontology: Ontology is the division of philosophy devoted to understanding the nature of “being”.