Saturday, September 21, 2013

St. Clare of Assisi

Clare was born into a rich Italian family in 1194, but when she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach, she decided to live a life of poverty. She ran away from home on Palm Sunday 1212. Francis took her in, cut her hair, and gave her a rough, brown habit to wear. She was first placed with Benedictine nuns, but Francis moved her to another monastery so she could have more solitude and follow stricter rules. A number of women joined her, determined to be humble, poor brides of Christ. 

From this group, she founded the Order of Saint Clare, called the Poor Clares. They owned nothing, even communally, and had to rely on friars for what they needed. They kept silent and didn’t eat meat. Their days consisted of isolation, prayer, and manual labor. The Pope tried to get the Poor Clares to have a set of rules similar to the Benedictines and own communal property, but the women insisted on their stricter lifestyle.

Legend says that one day she was too ill to go to Mass, but she was miraculously able to see and hear it on the wall of her room. Thus, in 1958, she became the patron of television. She died in 1253. Her feast day is August 11.

Friday, September 20, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 75)

It's been a very busy week, but I'm really enjoying school. I've been deep in reading and writing mode, so instead of any original thoughts, I'll just share others' thoughts that I've encountered this week.

1. Ben Franklin on the Constitution: “I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an Assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.”

2. Edgar Rice Burroughs, from Tarzan of the Apes: “‘There could be but one suitable reply to your assertion, Mr. Clayton,’ she said icily. ‘and I regret that I am not a man, that I might make it.’ She turned quickly and entered the cabin. Clayton was an Englishman, so the girl had passed quite out of sight before he deduced what reply a man would have made.”

3. H.G. Wells, from The Time Machine: “Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough—as most wrong theories are.”

4. G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy: “The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.”

5. G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to them being disqualified by the accident of death.” 

6. Fredrick Jackson Turner, from “The West and American Ideals:  “The appeal of the undiscovered is strong in America. For three centuries the fundamental process in its history was the westward movement, the discovery and occupation of the vast free spaces of the continent. We are the first generation of Americans who can look back upon that era as a historic movement now coming to its end. Other generations have been so much a part of it that they could hardly comprehend its significance. To them it seemed inevitable. The free land and the natural resources seemed practically inexhaustible. Nor were they aware of the fact that their most fundamental traits, their institutions, even their ideals were shaped by this interaction between the wilderness and themselves.”


Thursday, September 19, 2013


In my post yesterday about the parable of the prodigal son, I mentioned the annoyance of a toddler requesting “The Three Little Pigs” over and over. Truth is, I was that kid. If I found a book or a movie I loved, I wanted to consume it over and over again (as my parents so lovingly remind me when they can still quote There are Five People in My Family from well over 20 years ago). When you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t fade with familiarity; it’s wonderful and exciting each time. 

I’ve known John 1:1 since I was little. Besides John 3:16, it might be the only verse I can identify and quote offhand. But years of familiarity doesn’t cheapen the words to me. I find the beginning of John beautiful every time:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; that light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).”

Repetition doesn’t have to be bland or monotonous. Rather, it can be an expression of joy in the subject and in the familiarity. Chesterton says, “[Children] always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”  

There is a phrase I’ve heard from black congregations when they pray. A prayer almost always starts out with, “Thank you for waking us up today.” I’ve always thought that it’s a good way to start a prayer, being thankful for mere existence and life before any other particulars. But what if God doesn’t just wake us up each morning but wakes the entire universe? What if the continuance of creation is merely God being delighted in us, calling for encore after encore for eon after eon? What passion it must take to infinity say, “Let there be light.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wasted Inheritance

The Gospel reading this past Sunday included the parable of the prodigal son. I initially had two problems with this. First, it’s a long reading for a story we’ve all heard before. I kind of hate the season of the year where we’re deep in parables, because those are the stories told to children and repeated often in discussion and worship. I know the point of repeating parable is to distill new meaning each time, but I still always go into the prodigal son story with the “this again?” mindset, as if a toddler has asked me to tell “The Three Little Pigs” for the umpteenth time.

The second problem is how the prodigal son parable is interpreted. I mean, it’s referred to as the prodigal son parable, so obviously the son that left and returned is the main character. But as someone who identifies more with the older son who was loyal and then jealous, any homily or sermon focusing on the prodigal son probably isn’t going to speak to me. Yeah, yeah, you can always go back to God and he’ll welcome you with open arms; got it. But a little acknowledgment of the faithfulness of the other brother would be nice. Fortunately, I think a lot of pastors and priests I’ve been around identify as older sons in the story, so it’s a good 50/50 shot on which brother gets prominence.

This past week’s homily was on the older son, so I really shouldn’t have had that much to complain about. And yet, for the first time, I wondered if I really did identify as the older son. Maybe I’m more prodigal than I think. Maybe I’m lost without realizing it, like a sheep that keeps its head down eating until it’s in a far off pasture. (Sorry to be mixing parables. Hazard of the liturgical season.)

What got me thinking that I just might be a younger son is the phrase “wasted inheritance.” Luke 15:13 says, “After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he wasted his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” I have a very privileged life, one that I have inherited by a supportive family and sheer luck. I haven’t earned the status and opportunities I have, so I feel a particular burden to do something worthwhile with them. I want to prove myself worthy of what I have. I don’t want to misuse my inheritance. There is the fear that not doing enough, not being successful enough, or not making the right decision is a sign that I’m lazily wasting what I have, that my attention has been pulled to trivial distractions.

With God, there is no proving myself worthy, because I’ll fall way short. I can only try to prove myself grateful and not misuse the blessings I’m given. But there is still the fear of not doing enough. At what point am I humble enough, grateful enough, submissive enough to get the fatted calf? I guess the fact that I’m even asking, “Where’s my calf?” is enough to show that I really am an older son. And that’s where I find my answers and my solace: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours (Luke 15:31).” But it’s a good reminder that I’m not as faithful as I think. I can be reckless and wasteful in my own way. I have my prodigal moments.

Friday, September 6, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 74)

1. I read The Time Machine last week and really enjoyed it. The Morlocks were just as scary as I remember them from the Wishbone episode (where I get most of my literature).

2. I don’t know how many other books I’ll get read this semester (or blog posts written). I already have a ton of articles to read and papers to write. Here’s my stack of textbooks for the semester.

3. I really like the discussion and topics in my classes. I’m still trying to find my place, but I think I’m on the right path. And I already worked both Chesterton and string theory into discussions, so there’s that.

4. I don’t listen to the radio, so I’m never up on the new songs. But I did catch the VMA performance everyone can’t stop talking about. This version of Miley’s summer hit makes it sound almost classy. If new music on the radio sounded like this, I might listen to it more often.

5. Then again, I am pretty darn attached to my smartphone. Perfect playlists, podcasts, and no commercials. My only problem is that I’m starting to hit space restrictions. I’ve only had this phone for about 18 months, and I already can’t remember how I got stuff done without it. Speed of technology is amazing(ly scary).

6. So what have I been listening to? Well, this week included a podcast on the TOS episode “City on the Edge of Forever” and then Pulp’s “Common People” on repeat. I didn’t see any connection, even though both the episode and song are proletariat. So imagine my delight in finding this gem. 

7. And finally, in breaking news, pope still Catholic:

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Stan follows his karate teacher's instruction.
The word discipline has been on my mind a lot this week. I have a class on interdisciplinary studies, and I’m reading a book on transdisciplinarity. It’s been one of those weeks where the words pops up a hundred times in a dozen different ways. Of course, normally when I hear the word discipline, it’s in a church setting: self-discipline, disciple. So I’ve been thinking about the connection between the academic disciplines and spiritual disciplines.

The word comes for the Latin disciplina, meaning instruction and training. Both in the academic and spiritual meaning, disciplines maintain order. In education, disciplines divide knowledge into subjects. In religion, discipline trains people in the right ways to act. It can be imposed by others (rules, punishment) or it can be imposed by self. Self-discipline means taking up the responsibility of training. You work at establishing productive practices and resisting temptations. You actively work on your relationship with Christ.

Being a disciple means being a follower and a student. You submit to a leader or school of thought. You receive instruction, and you train to become stronger in the subject and a better representation of that instruction. Being a disciple is a very active position. You’re constantly trying to better yourself, please your leader, and be the best representation of the group that you can be. There is no epiphany this week about reconciling academic disciplines and being a disciple of Christ, only the recognition that I always could (and should!) work on my self-discipline. It's nice being reminded of that from multiple directions.