23 September 2012

In Which I Write About The Church

All roads lead to Rome, unless there is an ocean in the way or some such thing. However, as we pass through the waters of baptism, perhaps we can cross an ocean or two. With God all things are possible, eh?

You see, we are all in a mess. We have sinned, you see, every last one of us. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. We have rejected the good, embraced the evil, and wandered down the path of destruction. However, God, by His grace, sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf. He conquered death, obtained forgiveness for our sins, and opened the way to Heaven.

We are all free to reject this, however, and most of us do, at least at one time or another. Our way seems best, even it takes us through the brambles and stinging nettles, through ditches filled with festering decay and filth, and down through the darkest places below, where there is no light and no hope.

And yet, the path is there, narrow though it may be. Angels guard it, carrying out their unceasing watch in a war as old as time itself. All who seek after God will walk it, step after step, until they stand before the very gates of Heaven.

Those who stay upon the path are safe, whatever may befall their physical bodies in this shadow world we call our home. However, to step to the left or the right is so easy, and there are ever those who would lure us to our doom.

“Come, join us,” they say, grasping with skeletal hands. “The path is hard beneath your feet, and the road is long. Rest with us in the wood, where there is no striving or struggle. Give up the fight.”

For those who stagger off the road and wander into blackest night, some will never be seen again. Some, by God's grace, will make their way back to the path, though only after great pain.

Making it back to the path is not easy, particularly when there are so many guides who insist the straight, paved road is not the path at all. “No, no, good sir,” they say. “The true path is supposed to go through this swamp, you see. The scaly beasts who dragged off Simmons there were probably just inviting him to tea.”

And, of course, many of these guides are quite sincere. They have a guidebook, or part of it, anyway, and they think they have interpreted the way out of the dark forest. Unfortunately, the guidebook was never meant to stand on its own. There were additional instructions and warnings passed down from the master guides of the past, along with the proper interpretation of the more confusing portions of the guidebook. This knowledge is still held by those who patrol the narrow road. However, the independent and often self-appointed guides who wander the forest depths believe those on the road are lost, their authority illegitimate.

Sometimes, in the midst of wading through the muck, or hacking through walls of thorns, some will look in the distance and see the road, its straight and unbroken length lit by torches and candles. Often, the sound of singing can be heard, or perhaps a slight whiff of incense will drift over on the breeze. These travelers may pause and say, “Look, nothing against you lot. I mean, it's clear you're doing your best and you think you're going the right way, but it's pretty obvious that we're heading deeper into the blasted swamp.” Then, with fond farewells, these travelers head for the road, though many trials may still await them before they reach it.

To move away from the metaphor and say it clearly, my family is preparing to enter the Catholic Church. After visiting several Catholic churches this summer, we have started the RCIA program, or Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, with the goal of entering the Church this coming Easter. I actually used the path analogy in a recent class, saying that I believed I had been looking at the path for some time, and was now finally on it.

It's difficult not to shake people up a bit when proposing the idea of conversion. Even Allison was resistant at first. After all, no matter how polite one tries to be, one is, in a sense, saying, “There is something fundamentally flawed about the beliefs I used to hold, and which you still hold. In order to do the will of God, I must change and move.” So, I do understand why some people might not understand, or why they might even be upset.

What I found, in my own journey, is that I could not remain a Protestant. The longer I remained where I was, the more uncomfortable I became. I didn't agree with the distinctive Protestant beliefs. I didn't believe in salvation by faith alone, I didn't believe in sola scriptura, I didn't believe in a purely symbolic baptism, and I was not content with a symbolic Eucharist. I did agree with all that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches held in common, even if I was not always sure I knew where I stood in the areas where they disagreed.

I feared dying while still a Protestant, and then standing before God and saying, “Well, I couldn't decide, you see, so like the servant with the one talent, I did nothing at all.” It didn't end well for that guy, if you remember.

Even today, I'm still only about 80% sure I should be Catholic, but that will work for now. Part of the purpose of the RCIA program is to help people ensure they are making the correct decision. For the rest, I'd say I'm 15% sure I should be Orthodox, and 5% sure I should sleep in on Sunday morning and forget the whole theological mess. Still, even if I'm not yet at 100%, I would still rather die as a Catholic than as anything else. I'm not sure where the truth lies in all these debates between Christians, but Christ did say to Peter that on this rock He would build His Church and the gates of Hades would not overcome it.

The Catholic Church of reality does not always line up to the Catholic Church of the Protestant imagination. When I thought of the Catholic Church while growing up, I imagined stone cathedrals, Latin chant, incense, and nuns in habits. I have had to adjust the picture a bit, though those other aspects are still there, if one knows where to find them. A great deal has changed in the past forty years or so, and not all of it for the good.

The other day, we participated in a tour of St. Patrick's, in Tacoma. We were told how after Vatican II, the church was instructed to install a new simpler altar and abandon the use of the old. However, the old high altar was too large to move, and so it stands, a reminder of things past and perhaps a sign of things to come again.

All of this seems to move in cycles, anyway. One generation decides the church buildings are too ornate and an offense to the poor, so the decorations are stripped. Another finds that reverence is lacking and people have lost a sense of the majesty of God, so the decorations return.

Where do we want to raise our children, and where do we hope they will raise their children? The average Evangelical Protestant church is likely more full of sincere Christian believers than is the average Catholic church. However, the same could have been said of the Protestant mainline churches a few generations ago, and where are they now? I am far more confident that the Catholic Church will still be teaching the faith one hundred years from now, than I am about any Protestant denomination. Of course, as I said above, I don't agree with the distinctive Protestant beliefs. Therefore, I don't think Protestantism is really teaching the faith now.

So, on we go, following the liturgical year of the Church. The Advent season still awaits, followed by Christmas, another slice of ordinary time, Lent, and finally Holy Week. There is still a long journey just to enter the Church, and then the journey will continue, moving down the road of this life. May we stay true and stay on the path.

God bless you all.

16 June 2012

The Breastfeeding Controversy

So, this is probably an odd thing for me to write about, but why not, eh? In recent months, there has been a bit of controversy in the news about public breastfeeding. It seems there have been a few cases where breastfeeding women have been asked to cover up, cease and desist, or take their mewling spawn to the depths of the forest with the other beasts (I may have made up the last one). Outrage has often resulted, though articles and Facebook comments defending the original complaints have also been seen.

In all this, I often say to myself, “Just what sort of people are doing the complaining in these situations?” This gets the occasional odd look, but it's not like I'm the only one who talks out loud to himself on the bus.

For a woman, it seems there are a number of normal reactions to seeing another woman breastfeeding in public. One is to see the joyous bond between mother and child, rejoice that there is still love in the universe, and go home with renewed affection for her own children. Another is indifference, because, hey, it's not like there's a mystery about what's going on there.

For a man, one reasonable reaction is to politely avert the eyes, out of respect for the mother's modesty. Another understandable, though less laudable reaction, is to go to one's friends and say, “Dude, this chick totally whipped her boob out right in the middle of the mall! It was awesome!” These two hypothetical men had very different reactions, but neither one of them was offended.

So, who are these offended individuals, who find that the sight of a woman nursing her child in public, particularly uncovered, to be such a grave transgression? What follows is a partial list, unaffected by the biases that tend to accompany actual research.

The first is a young, sexually active woman who fears getting pregnant and becoming a mother. Seeing another women using her breasts for their primary biological purpose strikes to the very heart of her insecurities. Complaining furthers her goal of pushing pregnancy and its associated responsibilities out of her view.

The second is a young, sexually active man, who either is the partner of the woman in the previous example or wants to be. One reason for his complaint is a desire to show his partner that he is of one mind with her in her own complaint. Another reason is that he likes living in a fantasy land where sex is just for fun and never leads to pregnancy, where breasts are for his enjoyment and not for the nourishment of a crying little creature that poops everywhere.

The third is a slightly older woman who desperately wants to become pregnant, but has been without success. It is as if the nursing women are flaunting their own fertility and mocking her lack.

The fourth is a man who is worried that if his eyes inadvertently flit to the area of interest, he is not attractive enough to avoid a sexual harassment charge. To him, public breastfeeding is some kind of entrapment scheme. Complaining helps deflect any accusations toward him, while also preventing future events of the same kind.

The fifth is a prude of either sex. This is the sort of person who shuns art museums and refuses to read National Geographic. He or she is probably religious, but, even if married, is probably not having much sex.

Those are just theories, and if anyone has any other ideas, let me know. If anyone was not offended, let me know what offends you, and I'll try to get it into my next entry.

My own thought on the matter is that a mother should be free to nurse in public. If her beliefs or sense of modesty so dictate, she can cover up in the manner she deems best. It should not, however, be dictated by those around her, who, after all, can avert their eyes, if they find nursing so distasteful.

16 April 2012


Within the ghostly depths of the microwave

grew a tree,

its branches reaching farther and growing stronger

than an old battery in a coffee mug.

Indeed, the drawer had been flung wide open

and inside one could see

a petroleum factory.

Well, if the shoe fits, I thought,

but then this shoe contained

a full-length breathing apparatus,

two diamonds,

and a garden hose.

Putting my hand in my pocket

and removing my car,

I took off for Dixie,

leaving behind a trail of mixed memories.

The matchbox on the dashboard

held a regiment of the king’s infantry,

but no one thinks of such things on a Saturday.

My wallet was empty,

save for the spare gas tank,

and I hoped I would have enough to reach Cleveland.

“Give me a sign!”

I said to the man at the station,

but he just took off like a train down a rabbit hole.

The VCR slot was crammed full with U.S. treasury bills

and the garbage can was overflowing with twisted seaweed.

Sure the road is long,

but give me a sunset in Cleveland and we can touch the sky.

15 April 2012

Religious Conversation II – The Agnostic in the Coffee Shop

I was talking with my friend Frank at the coffee shop just off Exit 173 in Bellevue. A sea breeze was blowing in from the east, the sun had just risen over Mercer Island, and the members of a geography club at the next table were thoroughly horrified at my description of the location.

Frank generally calls himself an agnostic, though sometimes he will stretch to deist. He is not the type to protest Ten Commandments displays or end zone prayers, and he does not shriek and back away if he sees someone wearing a crucifix. He is quite the skeptic, however, when it comes to dogma or claims of supernatural revelation.

We had been talking about my mysterious journey to England the previous year, when I had found myself in a pub with three Christian men of different communions. Frank was, naturally, interested in the travel bit. He had once found himself in a dumpster in Calgary, after falling asleep during a particularly dull History lecture at Colorado State University. What he found of the greatest interest, however, was the theological element.

“Did you ever consider,” Frank asked, “that you could all have been starting from a faulty premise? You were all going on and on about who was the right kind of Christian, when you hadn't established if one should be a Christian at all.”

“True enough,” I said. “It didn't seem necessary to cover that ground, when we were all in agreement about the basic Christian framework.”

“Okay, I get that,” he said. “Still, in that conversation or at other points in your life, did you ever pause and ask yourself, 'Is this all a bunch of rubbish?'”

“Sure, doubts pop in now and then,” I said, “but never to the point of abandoning the faith.”

“Because the Christian faith is your default,” he said. “It would probably take something very serious to pull you away from that. For me, I was raised with no religion, so it would take something rather remarkable to pull me into it.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well, nothing likely comes to mind,” he said. “I mean, if God appeared to me said, 'I love you, and I want you to spend eternity in paradise, and this is how you get there,' you can bet I would do what he said. But, you can't hand me a collection of two-thousand-year-old documents, full of ambiguous and hotly disputed passages, and tell me that counts. It's not remotely the same thing.”

“But Christianity is not just what some people came up with because they found a Bible centuries after it was written,” I said. “People who knew Jesus, who had walked with him and seen him, passed this news to others. They established the Church, appointing bishops and teachers and the like. The teaching about Christ and the way to salvation was spread throughout the Roman Empire. These people knew their faith, they were absolutely committed to the preservation of orthodoxy, and many of them went to their deaths, rather than deny the faith.

“And,” I continued, “they wrote and they discussed and they held councils. The Christian religion was not developed in secret; it was proclaimed to the world. We still have the writings of the early Christians, not just what was written in the Bible. Christian tradition, teaching, and practice has continued, without interruption, to the present day. So, it's not as if someone handed you a Bible and said, 'God told me to write this; do what it says.'”

“The history stuff is all well and good,” Frank said, “but it doesn't really prove anything to me, personally. Those early Christians, even those who were martyred for the faith, could have been deceived. Religious people being led astray, deliberately or otherwise, by their leaders, is not exactly a rare occasion.”

“Okay, but we're talking about someone who died and then rose from the dead,” I said. “You can't make that stuff up and get away with it. Jesus didn't just claim to be God and then die like everyone else. As Paul said, Jesus appeared to move than five hundred people, after he rose from the dead. That's the kind of claim that would be seriously challenged, if it was false.”

“Maybe so,” Frank said. “Someday I'll finish the Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel books my aunt sent to me. She is quite convinced I'm on my way to Hell. Good of her to try to stop me, I suppose.”

“Indeed,” I said.

“Still,” Frank continued, “it's not like I wish Christianity was true, and I just can't overcome my skepticism. I strongly hope it is not true.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, think about it,” Frank said. “Christianity basically states that most people who have ever lived will spend eternity in indescribably torment. I mean, it would be bad enough if it was just the serial killers and people who create spam e-mails, as even their crimes are finite. But we're talking about the guy who practiced the wrong religion, or even belonged to the wrong version of the right one. We're talking about the teenager who was thinking exquisite, yet forbidden, thoughts about the girl in Algebra class, and then was hit by a bus, before he could repent or go to confession or whatever.

“The best theological system would be some kind of universalism, where everyone goes to Heaven, and maybe Hitler and Stalin and the spam e-mail guy get a stern talking to before they go in the door. I hope for that, to be honest. But, even a system with no afterlife at all is better than Christianity. Sure, the blessed few don't get their eternity on clouds with harps, but at least their fellows aren't getting eternally burned in the fires of God's wrath.”

“I've thought about this,” I said. “For the sake of the many damned, wouldn't it be better to scrap the whole thing and wipe us all out? But, we Christians believe in free will...”

“Aside from the Calvinists,” Frank interrupted.

“Yes, aside from the Calvinists,” I said, “and due to that belief in free will, we believe that everyone in Hell is there because, ultimately, that is where he decided he wanted to be. Should the happiness and joy of those who chose Heaven be taken away from them, just because the damned freely made the wrong choice?”

“There is something there,” Frank said, “but I think the argument is a grasping at straws for those who, rightly, find the idea of Hell horrifying, and need to find a way to justify it in their minds. If the people getting torched chose to be torched, and wouldn't stop being torched if they could, and this makes God sad, but he respects the choices of the damned, we can nod agreement that it is just and right for this state of affairs to exist.

“But, I don't think the idea of self-chosen damnation lines up with what Christian teaching says. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the goats are surprised that damnation awaits them. It wasn't something they sought out. The non-Christian or the wrong kind of Christian wasn't seeking damnation; He was trying to serve God the best way he knew how. The kid who was hit by the bus didn't want to go to Hell; he just wanted to think about a pretty girl.”

“Our salvation or our damnation isn't just about one choice,” I said. “We choose Heaven or Hell every day through our choices. The goats in the parable had been choosing Hell by the way they lived their lives, in the things they had done and the things they had failed to do. Their eternal state was the full realization of what they had decided to be. The sheep in the parable may not have known they were choosing Heaven, but that was how they had oriented their lives. Their love and service was giving them a foretaste of Heaven, even as the selfishness and sin of the goats was giving them a foretaste of Hell.

“For the non-Christian or the heretical Christian, or the one who stumbles into sin right before the moment of death, we must trust in God's mercy. The sheep were surprised to learn they had been serving Christ all along. That may be the case for these people in your example. And who knows what grace God grants to us at the moment of our death? Do his mercy and forgiveness have limits?”

“Are you saying even a non-Christian might go to Heaven?” Frank asked.

“All who go to Heaven go because of Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, his defeat of death, and his triumphant resurrection. Perhaps Christ, in his mercy, has a way to bring these souls to him, even if they did not fully know him in life. I say that Christ may save them, not that he will, just as I say that he may save me. I do not know the mind of God, nor do I know if even I will persevere to the end.”

“No 'once saved, always saved' for you, eh?” Frank asked.

“No,” I said. “As much as I would like to hold to that, I'll have to stick with the ancient Church on this one. If 'once saved, always saved' or 'eternal security' is true, it does no harm to persevere in righteousness, anyway. If it is false, one could find oneself walking down a very dangerous road. Presumption can be spiritually fatal.”

“Your hope for the non-Christian is admirable,” said Frank, “though I'm still not convinced it is considered orthodox. I once visited a friend's church when I was a kid. The Sunday School teacher told us that if we did not tell our non-Christian friends about Jesus, they would burn in Hell, and it would be all our fault. Many tears were shed that day, but I never went back to that church. At least my friend can tell God he tried.”

“We do have a command from Christ to preach the gospel,” I said. “And hope is not the same as certainty. Perhaps God has a way of saving the non-Christian, but we still need to spread the word.”

“Yeah,” said Frank, “but what a load to throw at those kids. My friend had nightmares for weeks, that he saw his non-Christian friends in Hell, and then God turned to him with sad eyes and said, 'This was your doing.'”

“It's harsh, I agree,” I said, “but if others are in peril, and we have the power to help them, shouldn't we know about it? Shouldn't we spur each other on?”

“Yes, but I'm not a Christian,” said Frank. “I'm not convinced we are in eternal peril. If it turns out Christianity was wrong about all that, all those kids suffered emotional trauma for no reason.”

“Yes,” I said, “but if Christianity is right about it, those kids could be partially responsible for the eternal salvation of many people. To guide another to salvation is the greatest thing we can accomplish in this life.”

At this point, we paused and sipped our coffee, as the geography club continued work on their State of Idaho puzzle. Mercer Island was now out the north window, and the sun had taken a quick spin to the south.

“So, this sacrifice of Christ bit,” Frank said. “God either caused or allowed us to come into the world as sinful, fallen beings. Then, because we acted like sinful, fallen beings, he became furious with us. Like, furious to the point of demanding our blood. Serious, 'blood for the blood god' kind of stuff, to borrow from Warhammer. And, even our blood wasn't enough, because we were too flawed to be a proper sacrifice. So, the Father sent the Son, as a man, to die in our place. Finally, God's offended honor was satisfied, and the way to Heaven was opened for us.”

“That's the satisfaction theory,” I said, “and I must admit it's pretty popular in Western Christianity. Eastern Christians, such as the Orthodox, have a different emphasis. God sent his Son to save us from sin and death, not to satisfy his easily wounded honor. Death was our enemy, not God. A debt was paid, but it would be accurate to say it was paid to the grave, not to God. I think C.S. Lewis explained it fairly well in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

That does sound a bit better,” said Frank.

And you will see elements of this in the West, as well, as Lewis's case illustrates,” I said. “Christ's sacrifice was a rescue mission, not a participation in an act of vengeance. God wanted to save us, and he still does. As John's gospel states, 'God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.'”

So, God wants us to go to Heaven?” Frank asked.

Most definitely,” I said.

“Okay, so let's talk about Heaven,” said Frank. “I mean, that's supposed to be Christianity's biggest selling point. But when someone comes up to me and says, 'Hey, accept Jesus and you can spend eternity bowing down worshiping God. It will be just like church! Also, you won't be having sex. That's just for marriage, which doesn't exist in Heaven.' At this point, I'm already wondering if the flames of Hell are really all that hot, and if it might be the better option, after all.”

“We don't have many details about Heaven,” I said. “And, for the eternal church people, I think it would be more accurate to say that our every act in Heaven will be an act of worship. We don't need to literally be on our faces before Almighty God for ever and ever, amen. We believe in the resurrection of the body, and presumably, we will be using our bodies for any number of things.

“To bring up C.S. Lewis again,” I continued, “he once said, 'If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.' Have you ever dreamed of something so beautiful, that your heart ached to see it, to know it, to experience it?”

Well, yes, I suppose I have,” Frank said.

“When I imagine Heaven,” I said, “I picture towering mountains, far higher than anything on Earth. I imagine dense forests, stretching on for untold miles. I see rolling hills of the greenest grass, as far as the eyes can see. I dream of a world unspoiled, pure and holy, full of possibility and wonder. And, somewhere in this world, the great city, its spires shining in Heaven's light, its streets filled with singing and laughter. I feel myself running and leaping, rejoicing in the glory of all that is around me. I see my family and friends, and the whole communion of the saints, those who have run the race of the past world and reached the kingdom of their God. My imagination falls far short, I know, but the eternal church crowd aren't even trying.”

“Your imagination is not really a convincing theological argument,” said Frank, “but I hope you're right.”

We both sat in silence for a moment. The geography club walked out the door and were shocked to find themselves across the street from the Seattle Aquarium. Mercer Island was currently in the basement of an art gallery on Capitol Hill, and the sun was taking a tour of Vancouver Island.

“So, do you want to come to church next week?” I asked.

28 March 2012

More Ramblings of a Religious Nature

Marley was dead: to begin with. I'm not entirely comfortable with the punctuation, or the preposition at the end, but who am I to criticize Dickens? He has certainly never criticized me. The point is, Marley had been dead, Scrooge had had his Christmas adventure, and we had all enjoyed a very good story. Even the Muppets made a movie.

That sets the scene, doesn't it? After all, here we are, not in the following century, but the one after that. The twenty-first century, by all the gods! Not that I believe in all the gods. Not that anyone does, really. Quite a few contradictions involved, if one tried to do that. One is generally enough, though for some, even that is too many. One could take atheism a step further and say there are a negative number of gods, but it is difficult to determine how that would look. I imagine a multitude of black holes, excessive division by zero, and a word processor with white text on a black background.

Notice how I used the word “black” twice in the same sentence? I thought about changing it, to avoid redundancy, but then I thought to myself, “Can't I just use that fact to start the next paragraph?” The answer is yes. Yes, I can.

Let us imagine, for the moment, that I have a friend named Struthiomimus Altus. Struthiomimus calls himself an atheist. He looks at the various holy books put forth by the multitudes and thinks it all a mass of rubbish. He trusts in reason and science, and he heaps scorn on all reports of the supernatural. He believes he can be moral without religion. He also thinks it is acceptable to kill babies in the womb and within the first year after their birth. He thinks the elderly and handicapped, and those otherwise unable to care for themselves, should submit to euthanasia, for the good of society. He laments the suffering of the poor in the third world, and believes the solution is reducing the number of the poor through abortion, contraception and the prohibition of fertilizer and insecticide. He is often heard quoting Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. His car has a Flying Spaghetti Monster, instead of a Jesus fish. Struthiomimus starts every day by looking at himself in the mirror and telling himself how clever he is.

Another friend, going by the name of Milton Freewater III, believes in God and would mark “Christian” on a religious survey. However, he has no use for creeds, and he believes, along with his church, that the Bible and Christian doctrine should keep up with the times. His church is losing members every year. The increasingly accurately named elders insist the young will stay, if only the church will stop clinging so desperately to orthodoxy. In reality, the young have decided that if a church doesn't require anything of them and makes no exclusive claim to truth, there is no point in attending. Those who desired orthodoxy sought it elsewhere. Milton is often heard stating “Christianity must change or die.” On Sunday, he sits alone in a pew, and his former coreligionists spend some extra time in bed. He is outraged by patriarchal elements in more conservative Christian bodies, and he is a great admirer of Islam.

Calvin Scofield attends a mega-church in the suburbs. Every Sunday, the rock band plays the latest hits from Christian radio, while a power point display plays on giant screens. The church operates approximately eighty-seven separate ministries, not including the hundreds of small groups that meet throughout the week. The pastor is young and hip, sipping the finest espresso during pauses in his sermons. Calvin has never recited any creeds, he receives a purely symbolic communion twice a year, and he has never been baptized. His knowledge of church history is almost exclusively confined to the past decade, with a vague awareness of a Reformation that occurred centuries ago. He has been taught that salvation is by faith alone, and that the elect are eternally secure. He is not aware that any other Christians have ever taught differently. He is often heard saying his faith is a “relationship, not a religion,” and he has watched the “I'm a Christ follower, not a Christian” videos on YouTube countless times. He does not own a suit.

Augustine Methodius is a recent convert to Catholicism. He had grown up imagining medieval cathedrals, Gregorian chant, and the Latin mass. However, he meets in a bare whitewashed chapel, with felt banners on the wall, and a few aging hippies playing vague, affirming hymns on guitar. Part of what drew Augustine to Catholicism was its steadfast moral teachings, which had stood unchanged for centuries. And yet, most everyone in his parish, including the priest and nuns, assure him it will all change in time, and the Catholic Church will be just like the gutted shell attended by Milton Freewater and company. Augustine wonders if he has made a mistake, and he often sneaks to the nearest Orthodox church right after mass, just for the beauty and reverence. He feels a bit guilty for this, but he does not know what else to do.

These are a few people who inhabit the spiritual landscape. That is, they would inhabit it, if I had not just made them up. Where do I fit in all of this? Where do you?

I cannot number myself among the brethren of Struthiomimus. Despite my doubts, and despite some sympathetic reading of Bertrand Russell and Mark Twain (not just the Mississippi River stuff) and the like, I need only associate with Struthiomimus for a brief time to smell the stench of blood. He can rail against violence in the Bible all day long, but at the end of the day, it is he and his ilk who are waving the dark banners of the culture of death.

Milton's church merits even less consideration. If Christianity is not true, or if it is one of many equally valid truths, what is the point? If our values are to be dictated by the secular world, why not just admit it and be secular? If Jesus is just a precursor to Marx, why not just read Marx and skip all the embarrassing supernatural tales?

I am far from comfortable in Calvin's church. It strikes me as entertainment, not worship. The service style seeks to win over the secular world with a Christ-influenced imitation of the secular world. Why should the devil have all the good music? Because his music is not trying to disguise itself as something else. In Calvin's church, there is no connection with our predecessors in the faith, no solid link binding us to those who learned from the apostles. The doctrine can change with a new pastor or with a congregational vote. In a matter of decades, Calvin's church will either be closed or it will cease to be recognizably orthodox.

I do fear becoming like Augustine, which is one of the main reasons I have not already become Catholic. However, with the increased availability of the Latin mass, the improved translation of the ordinary form, and a younger generation more orthodox than their elders, perhaps Augustine's fears are misplaced? Perhaps mine are, as well?