q. i. f.?


Say, let’s have another ramble drawn from recent Facebook conversation, shall we? — this occasion an exchange with my sister. My sister is a good deal younger than I; I’m the oldest of four, she the youngest, born the year before I graduated high school. The other day she re-posted the post below, from American Christian country star Steven Curtis Chapman, on her FB page and tagged me, expecting I would like it. She knows me, and of course she was right. In fact, I’ve been kind of stuck on it.

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An hour or so, naturally, after I posted here a few days ago, my comments on the Facebook post of the friend in Texas received their reply. Since I’m really keeping a record of my own FB-comment acts and proceedings, not rehashing a conversation, I won’t quote in full. For clarity, though, here’s part of what he wrote:

I feel that you believe there’s never been much Christianity in America because many Christians believed that slavery — that is, treating people as property — was permissible? If this is what you mean, I confess that I believe many Christians today live with similar self-serving and wrong views. . . . I have met people whom I consider authentic Christians who formerly held — but repented of — belief about abortion. I consider the Christians who formerly held these beliefs to be authentic Christians who have abandoned an erroneous way of thinking. I think there must be many Christians of earlier times who at one time held wrong beliefs about slavery and later repented. In my mind these were real Christians. Many of them sought freedom and justice for slaves.


Excessive admiration for heroes can be idolatry, and monuments can promote idolatry. However, I ask you: isn’t the seat of idolatry in the heart of the idolater? . . . Like you, I value the monuments to American heroes. Still, if they are causing serious heart issues in other people I am willing to see them put aside. However, we should recognize that putting aside monuments accomplishes nothing if we only replace them with other monuments that offend a different group of people. So, people of all opinions about the Civil War and race relations need to continually examine our hearts.
I pray that we Americans choose to value and respect each other. This will solve many problems. This is hard to bring about, but I have seen God accomplish it many times. Perhaps He will for people of today’s United States.

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A family friend of my parents’ generation, a lawyer and a solid Presbyterian churchman long in Maryland (where he worked, during the years I knew him best, on behalf of people requiring government income assistance because of disabilities), posted a link to this article published in Texas, where he now lives: ‘Dallas Can Learn from Others As It Considers How to Address Its Confederate Monuments.’ The Dallas article and my friend’s Facebook post came on Saturday, as marches and violent clashes between white nationalists and anti-fascist activists were happening in Charlottesville, Virginia — events whose original cause is supposed to be the city’s decision to remove a prominent equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate states’ commanding general in the American Civil War, 1860–64.

As I did a couple of weeks ago, I’m making this a little record of my own comments left on someone else’s Facebook post. In this case, my comments, written yesterday, were not a little florid and wordy — they were a rant, in short. So far they’ve had no response from my generally wise and dignified older friend.

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I’m going to give some attention to the public FB post of a long-time family friend, an African-American IT professional and pastor from the Baltimore suburbs between western city line and Patapsco river that have been my home territory (though not always where I’ve lived) for the better part of three decades. He posts publicly there, we can pretty safely say, not because he’s inattentive to information privacy matters, say, or is just an indiscreet person, but because he means to present an open testimony of fidelity — the fidelity he understands to be our due to God and wants to urge those under his pastoral care to follow his example in, as also conversely God’s primary fidelity toward the people of God, the ground of this man’s declared confidence in doing the thing he sees to be right even when it’s a very painful thing to do.

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I’m lounging alone on the screened-in back porch at S.’s dad’s place a few hours outside New York on a Sunday morning, browsing books, smoking an early pipe and on my third cup of coffee. (No one else is up yet.) The house — a 1950s ranch-style out-of-town place now long his and his wife’s home base, where S. spent a good deal of her teens and twenties — is packed with books. All the rooms — bathrooms, basement rooms, hallways included — have full bookshelves. It’s a writer’s haven. I have a bio of Hannah Arendt pulled from the guest room and a Penguin Graham Greene, from a stack of Penguin Graham Greenes in the basement, in front of me on the coffee table I’m propping my feet on.

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Noting here a two-week-old article in the NYRB about the Jew-caricature in medi­eval Europe and its connection to evolving Christian tradition.

In accord with the new devotions, artworks had just begun to portray Christ as humbled and dying. Some Christians struggled with the new imagery, dis­comfited by the sight of divine suffering. Proponents of the new devotions criticized such resistance. Failure to be properly moved by portrayals of Christ’s affliction was identified with ‘Jewish’ hard-hearted ways of looking. In this and many other images, then, the Jew’s prominent nose serves pri­marily to draw attention to the angle of his head, turned ostentatiously away from the sight of Christ, and so links the Jew’s misbegotten flesh to his misdirected gaze.

The author, Sara Lipton, teaches history and Judaic studies; I gather she’s been working on the story of the development of anti-semitic imagery for a long time. The article seems intended to introduce her new book Dark Mirror.

This would be a fine occasion, obviously, to pick up again with what I started in May, but I don’t have time for it now. Hope to come back to it in the new year, perhaps.

Went to Mass today. It’s some years now since my Rome-ward shift, and though I can say that it’s proven a substantial thing, I’m still very much in process of finding my way. I don’t go to church every week. I would like to, but I don’t. Sometimes there are good excuses, sometimes not. I’m not especially ashamed of not making it to church regularly, in any event. The long period of my adult life in which regular church-going was a sort of primary virtue is past, possibly for good.

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As I understand Christianity, it conceives of the world as wholly oriented to the call of God via the resurrection of Jesus. Christians say that God not only creates and rules over, he also redeems and restores. That he redeems and restores the world assumes first, of course, the fallenness and (therefore) the freedom within it of human beings, who are the weirdest, least obviously integrated piece of an otherwise evidently comprehensive and systematic, generative and entropic material order of God’s making. Human beings don’t introduce corruption and fallenness on their own, but in their freedom they take part in introducing it, and they’re susceptible to it by nature: susceptible, subject to its structural effects and to dealing constantly with its meaning.

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In the last of an otherwise not especially satisfying short series of articles for National Catholic Reporter, covering his objections to Robert Sirico‘s Catholic-flavored economic libertarianism, Michael Sean Winters arrives at something I found pretty wonderful, an idea that elevates the whole series: ‘the model for Christian creativity is the receptive, dependent, suffering creativity of Jesus, the Son’ — which he attributes to David Schindler. I take with caution Winters’ elaboration, that ‘there is nothing protean, nothing self-made, nothing frugal or thrifty, nothing self-assertive, nothing competitive, nothing greedy or self-interested in the lives of Jesus and His Mother,’ since it is certainly possible in a qualified way to see the Jesus of the gospels as self-assertive and competitive (to the point of combativeness) in his social and political context. (The all-important qualification is that Jesus’ self-assertion comes with, and for a believing reading definitely out of, a messianic self-awareness oriented to revelation and relationship to transcendent authority. It may even be promethean (as I think Winters means), in a sense, but apart from a prejudicial reading, from sources external to the narratives themselves, it can never be taken for mere self-expression or self-satisfaction.)

From the beginning of my off-&-on writing here I’ve wanted to explore my sense — from experience, mainly — that creativity is basically receptive (not to say passive) rather than productive. I’ve never really done so explicitly, though. At best, I guess, I’ve been oblique, on rare occasion — hinting I’d like to re-frame my old interest in ‘design culture’ as belonging to ‘reading.’ For one thing, my theological background just isn’t up to the discussion, and I think getting anywhere with it demands a theology. Finding Winters’ reference here gives me some hope of coming to the theme anew.

The most fascinating form of the yearning for the Holy Spirit was formulated by a pious abbot in southern Italy in the twelfth century, Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1130–1202). Joachim was deeply conscious of the deficiencies of the Church in his time: the hatred that separated Jews and Christians, the old and the new people of God, from one another; the hostility between the Church of the East and the Church of the West; the jealousy between clergy and laity; the high-handedness and greed for power displayed by the Church’s men. This led him to the conviction that this could not yet be the definitive form of the Church of God on earth and that before the return of Christ at the end of the world, God must take a new step on  t h i s earth, in this history. He longed for a Church that would be truly in accordance with the New Testament and the promises of the prophets and, indeed, with the deepest yearnings of man’s heart, a Church in which Jews and Gentiles, East and West, clergy and laity would live in the spirit of truth and love, without precepts and laws, so that the will of God for his creature man would be genuinely fulfilled. Out of this grew his new vision, in which he attempted to interpret the rhythm of history on the basis of the trinitarian image of God. After the kingdom of the Father in the Old Testament and the kingdom of the Son in the hierarchical Church that had existed up to then, a third kingdom, a kingdom of the Holy Spirit, would come from around 1260 onward. This would be a kingdom of freedom and of universal peace.

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