24 December 2007

The Rhythm Of Worship.

Michael Knox Beran on Benedict XVI and the aesthetics of the Mass:
The pope’s pronouncements were received with skepticism by those who regard his views on sacred music, like his sympathy for the Latin Mass, as so much reactionary old-fogeyism. But neither the pope’s critics nor even many of his supporters appear to have grasped what His Holiness is up to.

The pope adheres to old Greek belief that words and sounds — and the rhythmic patterns in which they are bound together in music and poetry — have a unique power to awaken the mind. He has spoken frequently of the power of rhythm to prepare the soul to receive truths that would otherwise remain unintelligible. In 2002 he described the experience of listening to music as an “encounter with the beautiful,” one that becomes “the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes.” He went on to say,

For me, an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death [in 1981] of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas faded away, we looked at each spontaneously and right then we said, ‘Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.’ The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.

For Benedict, the music and poetry of the liturgy are not merely ornamental; they are essential to the education to the soul. “How often,” the pope exclaimed, in October, to members of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, “does the rich biblical and patristic tradition stress the effectiveness of song and sacred music in moving and uplifting hearts to penetrate, so to speak, the intimate depths of God’s life itself!”

It is this conception of the educational power of rhythm that underlies the pope’s defense of the Latin Mass and of the baroque and Gregorian traditions. It is a fair assumption that, in liberating these forms from liturgical purgatory, His Holiness hopes that their rhythmic virtues will serve as a bulwark against the bad rhythm (kakometros) that today permeates the West.

Here's the whole worthwhile thing.

23 December 2007

Anglican Abstinence.

Alan Jacobs reflects on Anglicanism's long Lent:

For some time now, people have been asking me why I haven't written anything on the current—or, depending on your point of view, everlasting—crisis in the Anglican world. After all, I have been an Anglican for nearly twenty-five years, virtually all of my adult life; indeed, my experiences in other denominations, before I discovered Anglicanism, were so brief and tentative that I don't even know how to be a Christian except as an Anglican. Nor do I wish to be a Christian in any other way. Surely I have some opinions on the mess the Anglican Communion is now in, on how it got this way, and how it might get out again?

Well, yes, I do have such opinions. But they are worthless. All such opinions amount to little more than the assignation of blame for past events and predictions of the future—the latter usually involving punishments to come for those blamed for the past—and neither of those activities interests me. There was a time when they did, but I have long since learned how futile such pursuits are, and (more important) how powerfully they distract from the core practices of the Christian life. This is the primary reason why, after too long a season scanning the Anglican blogs daily, I now check just one of them, and once a week, at most. This abstinence has calmed my spirit and removed, I think permanently, my taste for such things.

An odd essay.
Here's the whole thing.

14 December 2007

++Rowan Speaks.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter:

So a full relationship of communion will mean:

  1. The common acknowledgment that we stand under the authority of Scripture as 'the rule and ultimate standard of faith', in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; as the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers and the community of believers to itself and opens our hearts to the living and eternal Word that is Christ. Our obedience to the call of Christ the Word Incarnate is drawn out first and foremost by our listening to the Bible and conforming our lives to what God both offers and requires of us through the words and narratives of the Bible. We recognise each other in one fellowship when we see one another 'standing under' the word of Scripture. Because of this recognition, we are able to consult and reflect together on the interpretation of Scripture and to learn in that process. Understanding the Bible is not a private process or something to be undertaken in isolation by one part of the family. Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone.
  2. The common acknowledgement of an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament. We remain in communion because we trust that the Lord who has called us by his Word also calls men and women in other contexts and raises up for them as for us a ministry which can be recognised as performing the same tasks – of teaching and pastoral care and admonition, of assembling God's people for worship, above all at the Holy Communion. The principle that one local church should not intervene in the life of another is simply a way of expressing this trust that the form of ministry is something we share and that God provides what is needed for each local community.
  3. The common acknowledgement that the first and great priority of each local Christian community is to communicate the Good News. When we are able to recognise biblical faithfulness and authentic ministry in one another, the relation of communion pledges us to support each other's efforts to win people for Christ and to serve the world in his Name. Communion thus means the sharing of resources and skills in order to enable one another to proclaim and serve in this way.

It is in this context that we must think about the present crisis, which is in significant part a crisis about whether we can fully, honestly and gratefully recognise these gifts in each other.

Here's the whole thing.

12 December 2007

Spiraling Out Of Control.

Big City Of Dreams.

I love to visit New York. Visit. Arts critic Terry Teachout describes the city in which lives and which he loves - giving the reasons I'll stick with visiting:
I've lived in or near Manhattan for close to a quarter-century, yet there are still moments when I catch myself feeling that the life I lead on the Upper West Side can't possibly be real. I was walking back to my apartment one day last week when that sense of improbability swept over me without warning: how on earth did I end up living half a block from Central Park, reviewing Broadway plays for a living and popping into nightclubs and art galleries between deadlines? At various points along the way, I was sure I was going to be a lawyer, a high-school teacher, a jazz musician, and a psychotherapist, and I fully expected to pursue each of these professions within the borders of the Midwestern state where I was born. Instead I wake each morning, climb down from the cozy loft in which I sleep, turn on a small electronic device that in my youth was unimaginable save to science-fiction writers, and spend the day writing about the arts. I don't live in a house, don't own a car, don't have a lawn to mow, don't know any of my neighbors. I am, in short, a New Yorker, living an unreal life in an unreal city: I love it, but I don't quite believe it.

Here's the whole thing.

11 December 2007

Lots Of Lists.

From Time magazine, the top ten oddball stories of 2007:
#9. Buzz-Worthy Toads

In October, a Kansas City man was arrested for possession of a peculiar type of drug paraphernalia: a toad. It turns out smoking dried toad venom is an effective, albeit gnarly, way to get high. The venom, which is secreted by the Sonoran Desert toad when it gets angry or scared, contains a hallucinogen called bufotenine. And if "toad-smoking" sounds unbeatably outlandish, consider sniffing jenkem, i.e., the fumes from fermented human sewage. This recreational drug, which originated in Zambia, is also called butt hash.

And so a new term enters the American lexicon. Thanks, Julie, for your contribution to the coarsening of the culture! Here are 50 more 2007 top ten lists.

Ah, Art, Part XCLVII.

Transgressive, dumb, ugly, or, as usual, all of the above?
Stem cell experiments are no longer limited to researchers. A group of artists is making the evolutionary leap to the next medium: life. Bioartists create by engineering living tissue and even living beings, sometimes with controversial outcomes.

At the forefront of this movement is SymbioticA, a bioart laboratory funded by the University of Western Australia. Run by Ionat Zurr and her husband Oron Catts, the couple is continually pushing the boundaries of art; they've grown a replica of an ear with living human skin cells, miniature wings with the flesh of a pig and mouse cells in the shape of a tiny leather jacket.

Their innovative work has generated substantial interest and they're now also teaching others to do the same. During a recent workshop, hosted by the Machine Project in Los Angeles, Zurr guided a small group of aspiring bioartists through a "painting" exercise. First, Zurr sawed open the femur of a freshly-slaughtered cow. After choosing which cells she wanted, she "painted" them onto a three-dimensional scaffolding made of degradable polymer — a type of plastic. Over many weeks, the cells will grow over whatever shape the scaffolding takes, turning into a living sculpture of skin.

Here's the whole thing.


First Things now has a, uh, more traditional blog, in addition to its daily "On the Square" article - "On the Square" being, apparently not a blog truly. Anyhow, here's the mo' bloggier blog of First Things.

10 December 2007

Repentance & The Kingdom Of Heaven.

II Advent, Yr. A
9 December 2007

Mt 3.1-12; Rom 15.4-13; Is 11.1-10; Ps 72.1-8
Church of the Holy Communion
Fr. Patrick S. Allen

+ + +

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness."[i]

As the phrase is used nowadays, it refers to someone whose opinion, be it voiced “never so loudly,” is alone and ignored but in the end vindicated – but mainly alone and ignored. Of course, that is exactly the opposite of the cliché’s origin. St. Matthew describes John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, that a great prophet would appear as “a voice of one crying in the wilderness.” But while this wild man clothed in camel’s hair was indeed in the wilderness, he was anything but alone and ignored. Just the opposite. He was an Ancient Near Eastern rock star. We read that he was immensely popular, that there “went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region of the Jordan.” But here is the shocking thing, or at least the thing that shocks me: he was popular while – for – calling the people to repentance. He was telling them that they had been wrong and that they had to change, because the Kingdom of Heaven was coming, and indeed, was even then at hand – near them, close to them. And so they came to be baptized, confessing their sins. They came out to him in droves. They loved what John had to say about repentance - it was exactly what they needed to hear, and they knew it and accepted it.

Of those things reported in the Scriptures that strain credulity, from the perspective of 21st-century America, it is not so much the miracles that pose a problem, but, I would suggest, the popularity of John the Baptist and his message of repentance. Can you imagine such a thing? We have officially entered the silly season of American politics with 2008 presidential campaigns – we’re getting a good taste of it this weekend here in South Carolina – but can you imagine any of the candidates taking a John the Baptist approach to winning the electorate's affections, taking up John’s style of slash-and-burn oratory?

Not only is it difficult to imagine a politician taking such a tack, the call to a penitent life is rarely to be heard in the church these days. Indeed, America's most popular preacher, with perfect hair and a smile that brings well-deserved glory to the modern practice of cosmetic dentistry, channels not so much John the Baptist as Norman Vincent Peale and a "gospel" of self-affirmation and positive thinking – which is no gospel at all. And we eat it up. Flatter me, coddle me, affirm me - but don't tell me I am wrong down to my very roots, that to be fit for the Kingdom of Heaven my life will have to be completely re-thought from the inside all the way out.

But that is just what John came preaching. And of course, it’s a sermon not unique to that wild man John. If we were to read ahead to the next chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, we would see that "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" is exactly the message Jesus proclaimed in his own preaching ministry.[ii] And were we to read ahead to chapter 10, we would see Jesus send his disciples out on their first mission trip and actually provide their sermon text: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."[iii] And if we wanted to skip even further ahead, out of St. Matthew’s gospel altogether and into the Acts of the Apostles, to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, what is the climactic exhortation of St. Peter's sermon that day? "Repent and be baptized every one of you."[iv]

But that is a difficult message to preach and to hear in our own day. Why? Well, imagine if I were to tell you this morning that I had an invention that would result in millions of dollars of income which, being the swell guy that I am, I would generously share with the church. No, I know what some of you are thinking, not the dashboard-mounted deep fat fryer of Fr. Clarke's fevered imagination[v] – "a fond thing, vainly invented" – but a new kind of record needle that will never wear out, never cause your vinyl LP record albums to skip. Such an announcement, except perhaps from a few extreme audiophiles, would be greeted with blank stares (no problem, I’m used to that). No one would care about my invention, and no one would think that millions of dollars would flow into the church's coffers as a result of my invention. Because this is the age of mp3's and digital music downloads, even compact discs are on the way out, and an everlasting record needle is a solution to a problem that no longer exists.[vi]

In the church, when we talk about repentance and the forgiveness of sins, we are in much the same position – we have a solution to a problem no one believes he has. As many have commented, it is no accident that the chancel of the afore-mentioned most-popular-preacher-in-America's church is not adorned by a cross. Who could believe that such a thing – the cruel death of God's Son – could be necessary for our redemption. The cross as commentary on the human condition – on my condition – is an offense and insult.

Well, how can we hear again this message John, Jesus, the Apostles, and the Spirit-filled apostolic church bear? A message that has the power actually to change our lives rather than – you know – just teach us to declare victory and go home. It may be that what electrified the crowds in John's day and moved them to repentance, and what may yet shock our own age and our own cold hearts into life, is the second half of John's sermon: "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

After all, if this world of buying and selling is all there is, if ultimate reality, despite all our pretence, is "nature red in tooth and claw", then why would I repent? Why, especially, would I repent of my comforts? And why would I repent of my religion, if all my religion tells me is some paraphrase of Stewart Smalley’s "I'm good enough and smart enough and, gosh darn it, people like me?"[vii]

But - but what if there is another and greater reality. What if there is another Kingdom, a Kingdom where “the righteous flourish; yea, and abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth[viii], where, instead of nature red in tooth in claw,

the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together... [a Kingdom] where the suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.[ix]

A kingdom with a King who comes as a servant, born in a barn to reign from a cross.

That is the Kingdom and King that broke into this world through the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that is the King and Kingdom that will "come again to judge both the quick and the dead," the coming King and Kingdom to which our Advent hopes are directed.

If that is the reality already operative in this world, and if one day soon - nearer to us today than yesterday – “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,”[x] then we may begin to see repentance in a different light. Repentance, then, is not a call to self-loathing and groveling, but to an honest assessment of our lives so that we may then align them with the virtues and values of life in Christ's Kingdom. In a wonderful chapter on repentance in her book The Illumined Heart, our friend Frederica Mathewes-Green quotes the Russian priest and martyr Fr. Alexander Men, who put it this way: "Repentance is not a sterile grubbing around in one's soul, not some masochistic self-humiliation, but a re-evaluation leading to action."[xi]

"A re-evaluation leading to action." To what action? To be sure, greater works of charity, of generosity, of compassion - making our lives, making our life together, a visible sign of the Kingdom – and not just a sign, but actually more and more and one day finally and fully the Thing Itself. But the first action of repentance is and must ever be and must daily be a turning to the King, to Jesus. When we see it in light of his coming Kingdom, then the cross is not so much insult and offense as right diagnosis. And if his cross is a true and accurate measure of the depth of our sin, it also shows us the unsearchable depths of his love and mercy. Remember, John warned “the axe is laid to the root of the trees," but what John could never have imagined is the truth which should drive us to our knees in “wonder, love, and praise”, the truth which we plead and receive in this holy Sacrament – that the axe would fall on Jesus, the “root of Jesse”.[xii]

Is repentance and the forgiveness of sins a solution to a problem that no longer exists? Well, if all there is is what we can see – “nature red in tooth and claw” – then it may be that denial coupled with a relentless course of self-esteem boosters is our best strategy. But – but if the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, if "Love came down at Christmas," and if the love of God revealed on the cross is the ultimate word and judgment, then honesty and re-evaluation leading to action is possible – and not just possible, but desirable and joyful and, really, the only thing that makes sense.

"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

+ + +

[i] Mt 3.2
[ii] Mt 4.17
[iii] Mt 10.7
[iv] Acts 2.38
[v] See Fr. Clarke’s sermon of 23 August 2007 (Proper 20c).
[vi] This illustration from the Rev’d Dr. Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York.
[vii] Al Franken’s Saturday Night Live character.
[viii] Ps 72.7
[ix] Is 11.6-18
[x] Is 11.9
[xi] On Amazon; this chapter as an essay.
[xii] Rom 15.12


06 December 2007

Franz Jaegerstaetter, Martyr.

George Weigel on the newly beatified Franz Jaegerstaetter:

Franz Jaegerstaetter's own trial came soon enough. Called to military service in 1943, he refused induction, not on pacifist grounds (he wasn't a pacifist), but on the basis of what we would now call selective conscientious objection. Hitler's war was an unjust war being waged by a fatally wicked regime; therefore, conscience would not permit serving as a soldier in the Wehrmacht.

Jaegerstatter's pastor and bishop tried to talk him out of his objections; his responsibilities to his wife and family weighed heavily on him; his offer to serve as a military paramedic was refused by the Nazi regime.

In a prison cell in Berlin, Jaegerstaetter suffered intensely at the thought that he might be acting irresponsibly toward his family. But as he wrote his wife on the day of his execution:

"It was not possible for me to spare you the pain that you must now suffer on my account. How hard it must have been for our dear Savior when, through his sufferings and death, He had to prepare such a great sorrow for His Mother -- and they bore all this out of love for us sinners. I thank our dear Jesus, too, that I am privileged to suffer and even die for Him...May God accept my life in atonement not only for my sins but for the sins of others as well."

Franz Jaegerstaetter was executed by guillotine on August 9, 1943 -- one year to the day after Edith Stein, now St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz/Birkenau. The brilliant Carmelite philosopher and the simple Austrian peasant shared an unshakeable faith that, as Blessed Franz put it, "Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can separate [us] from the love of God...[for] the power of God cannot be overcome."

Given the life-and-death choice between what Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the Lutheran martyr executed by the Nazis in 1945) called "cheap grace" and "costly grace," Edith Stein and Franz Jaegerstaetter embraced the costly grace of the cross -- and now share the glory of the Resurrection.

What an insight from Blessed Franz into the suffering of our Lord - the knowledge that his own suffering brought about suffering for his Mother, making her Mater dolorossa.
Here's the whole thing.

05 December 2007

Hope & the Human Condition.

Back in October, Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens debated the question, "Is Christianity the Problem"? You can watch the video or just listen to the audio here. Michael Novak has some comments on the debate in light of Pope Benedict's new encyclical on the virtue of hope (see below):
Recently, I visited the website of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, to listen to a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza on atheism. This is the first debate that I have ever heard Christopher lose. In it, I heard Christopher describe his own view of the world, which may be abbreviated as follows: It was just 100,000 years ago that humans finally appeared on this planet. On average, these poor creatures died by age 25, and suffered (often horribly) from disease, earthquake, flood, famine, and cyclones — not to mention murder and warfare. Only after some 96,000 years does Jewish history begin, and only after some 98,000 years does Christian “salvation” come. For all those thousands of years the Creator/Designer left human beings to suffer. Then, even after Judaism and Christianity arrive, the suffering continues almost unabated. In addition, these poor human beings are badly designed. They have developed too much adrenaline, and the frontal lobes of their brains are too small. All these together leave humans in a bleak condition in a bleak world, and with very little hope. Who is responsible for this bad design? Hitchens blames the Creator.

Benedict addresses these two points and many others. Benedict agrees that the condition of humans before the Jewish and Christian news of God’s intentions was as bleak as Hitchens says. The idea of progress was not present in consciousness. The idea had not yet been born that the Creator is a Person of goodness, reason, and friendship, especially disposed to those creatures He created free (as Jefferson noted). And that God wanted to invite humans into His friendship. The idea that each human is free in his individual conscience — not the conscience solely of city, tribe, or even family — had not been introduced. The idea that the human mind is proportioned to the world as it is, and capable, in the image of the Creator, of creating new inventions, discoveries, and means of progress in history, had not yet been grasped by the mind of humans.

Yet, Benedict notes, there is still more than this. Even the human capacity for invention and technological progress, we find, is not a consistent bearer of hope. Humans remain both free and also drawn to self-love, arrogance of power, irrational ambitions, and moral decadence (see Federalist 6). Thus, at any time even instruments of great good can be turned into instruments of unparalleled evil. Of this we had much evidence during the 20th century.
Here's the whole thing (preceded by his comments on a maple tree, Notre Dame football, and a couple other issues of major importance).
D'Souza's day-after reflections are here, and more reflections on another debate the other night with Daniel Dennet are here.

03 December 2007

Shopping Cessation.

Here in Charleston, there is strung across Calhoun Street a large banner bearing the simple legend: Live, Love, Shop! In our Caristas Bible study last week, we came to the conclusion (in the course of considering the Beatitude, "Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness' sake") that hopping of the consumerist runaway train might be the contemporary cultural equivalent of refusing to burn a little incense to Caesar. We could do with a crusade by the Reverend Billy:

If the multitudes that arrived in midtown Manhattan last Friday - the post-Thanksgiving start to the US holiday shopping season - had resigned themselves to a Broadway darkened by striking stagehands, there was some amusement to discover that the stagehands weren't the only strikers in New York.

Outside the Disney Store on Fifth Avenue 35 bellicose elves were chanting, "Silent night, we're on strike: no outsourced toys for little tykes", while a red-robed choir sang, "Stop, stop shopping". In the midst of this chaos stood a white tuxedoed preacher bellowing into a bullhorn: a "shopocalypse" was coming, the Reverend Billy warned baffled shoppers - "the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!"

In recent years the Church of Stop Shopping - a secular street-theatre group led by Bill Talen, a 57-year-old playwright and actor - has mounted other similar performances, but this year, with the release of What Would Jesus Buy? , a documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock, director and star of Super Size Me , the protest is going nationwide. The film follows the Rev Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they tour the US exhorting Americans to think about the real meaning of Christmas. Chief among a number of confrontations-cum-provocations is the occasion when Rev Billy attempts to exorcise Wal-Mart's headquarters in Arkansas.

Talen is an endearing performer, and his Steve Martin affability could even push WWJB beyond cult status. But what could really make the movie into a "change-a-lujah" moment is that far from denouncing the movie for impiety, or dismissing Rev Billy for mocking the evangelical tradition, a number of influential Christian sources have signalled their approval.

The magazine Christianity Today says the passion of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir is "contagious and admirable", despite its secularism. Writing in Sojourners Magazine, the distinguished biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, went so far as to link the Rev Billy with the ancient prophets of the bible and "the great prophetic figures of US history who have incessantly called our society back to its core human passions of justice and compassion".

Here's the whole thing.
Missed this somehow, but here's Frederica Mathewes-Green on Rev. Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping.

Of Hope & Modernity.

From Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Spe Salvi:

26. It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has “redeemed” us. Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote “first cause” of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

27. In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30). Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life”—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what “life” means: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live”.

28. Yet now the question arises: are we not in this way falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others? Indeed we are not! Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole. In this regard I would like to quote the great Greek Doctor of the Church, Maximus the Confessor († 662), who begins by exhorting us to prefer nothing to the knowledge and love of God, but then quickly moves on to practicalities: “The one who loves God cannot hold on to money but rather gives it out in God's fashion ... in the same manner in accordance with the measure of justice.” 19 Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others.20 This same connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine. After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal. His intention was to practise a Christian version of the ideal of the contemplative life expressed in the great tradition of Greek philosophy, choosing in this way the “better part” (cf. Lk 10:42). Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city. Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died' (cf. 2 Cor 5:15)”.21 Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.

Here's the whole, bracing thing.

Shining A Light On "Dark Materials."

I have not read the His Dark Materials trilogy and had taken almost no notice of it, although I have seen a bit of the ferment regarding the release of the film version of the first installment, The Golden Compass. Today, First Things posts Alan Jacobs October 2000 consideration of the trilogy:

One of the most interesting things about this episode in Hell, which occupies several chapters of The Amber Spyglass, is its echoes of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce—interesting, because Pullman loathes Lewis. He has condemned “the sheer dishonesty of the narrative method” in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, calling the series “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read,” with “no shortage of . . . nauseating drivel.”

Pullman’s echoes of Lewis are thus revisionary gestures, revealing his hatred not only of Lewis but of the Christianity Lewis represents. And this hatred becomes central, all too central, to Pullman’s story.

In the early pages of The Amber Spyglass, a pair of angels explain to Will certain events from the origin of the cosmos. (The role of the “Dust” they refer to is complicated; suffice it to say that Dust is the embodiment of either Original Sin or the creative energy of humankind, which may be the same thing in Pullman’s world.)

The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty—those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself. . . . The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the Authority was the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie.

This is religious polemic disguised as explanation, but the polemic appears undisguised often enough. In The Subtle Knife we hear a witch—and Pullman’s witches are extravagantly virtuous—proclaim that “every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.” In The Amber Spyglass the angel Xaphania tells a woman named Mary that “she and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; and Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed.”

Here's the whole thing.
Amy Welborne has some interesting Dark Materials links & discussion.