30 December 2013

Hellish Thoughts for the Christmas Season

I would like to briefly discuss a common attitude about Hell. It is a sort of compromise between the “love wins” idea that no one will be damned, and the “God hates you” idea that everyone except the purely pure members of the purely pure church will be damned. This idea is more along the lines of “Well, yes, Hell exists, but it's not really for you and me. It's for particularly nasty people. You know, like Hitler.”

Ah, but why do people think Hitler belongs in Hell? Usually, it is because he did many very bad things. These things were so bad, and of such a significant quantity, that eternal punishment is a just and right consequence. Very well, one might respond. However, those actions, however horrible, were finite in nature, and the punishment is infinite. So, you acknowledge that, at some point, a finite amount of sins merit an infinite amount of punishment.

Let us consider mathematics. If sin is represented by x, and Hitler committed 20,000,000x, to pick a number, and 20,000,000x equals ∞, then what does 100x equal? How about 10x? I am no mathematician, but is there not something about x, or sin, that leads to ∞? Therefore, it is the x that merits damnation, regardless of the number in front of it. After all, when compared with infinity, what is the difference between 20,000,000 and 10? When compared with infinity, all the crimes of Hitler are no different than a single sinful thought.

Therefore, would it not be best to say, “All of us, myself included, are in the same boat. If one of us merits Hell, we all do. Therefore, let us all work out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting in God's mercy and not in our own righteousness. Many thought to be quite wicked will likely be in Heaven, and many thought to be quite righteous will likely be in Hell. Let us pray for the salvation of all, but assume it for none, especially not ourselves.”

Some of you do not believe in Hell, finding it to be an unjust and monstrous idea. I can respect that. It's certainly an idea I have had from time to time. However, for those of you who hold to Christian doctrine, remember that when it comes to sin, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. All of us are the same.

11 November 2013

A Veterans Day Tale

The flag rippled and fluttered in the wind, catching the eye of Command Sergeant Major Hill. Another Veterans Day, he thought, and I'm still here. The number of stars on the flag had changed since the first days at Benning, when CSM Hill was PVT Hill. He had been just too young for Iraq and Afghanistan, but he had caught the next one. It had been a short but brutal affair, in a country no one would have predicted in the days of the War on Terror.

He wore the combat patch on his right shoulder. It was from an old division, one that had cased its colors nearly two decades ago. In fact, CSM Hill had the distinction of being the last remaining soldier in the Army to have a combat patch at all. The world had changed after the bombs fell, and concerns had turned homeward.

There were other veterans, to be sure, those who, like CSM Hill, had seen cities disappear and borders change. They, however, had all moved on to civilian life, to retirement, to regular careers. CSM Hill stayed on, though his mandatory retirement age was drawing near.

Decades of peace could be hard on a soldier, though his wife, kids, and grand-kids were glad to have him around. And there was always something to do. Soldiers these days were soft, not like in the old days. CSM Hill gave the flag a sharp salute, and continued on his way, rolling on as the Army ever had and ever would.

21 October 2013

Neil Gaiman on Libraries

Hat tip to John C. Wright for the link: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming. I posted the link on Facebook earlier, for those of you who know me in real life.

This is an excellent article, based on a lecture by Neil Gaiman. In our house, he is known primarily as the author of Crazy Hair,which may be my eldest daughter's favorite book. It brought to mind the books of my childhood and adolescence, some of which I have since revisited, and some which still wait on the shelf, always ready to rekindle our friendship.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are obvious. If you have only seen the films, you are cheating yourself. Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Black Arrow make a great set of adventure stories. Anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs must be added to the list, though I must confess I have only recently landed on the mysterious world of Barsoom. Watership Down prepared me for my later Redwall excursions.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are essentials, and made me want to sail the Mississippi myself. Jules Verne is from the same era, and cruising in the Nautilus beneath the sea, or circling the world in eighty days, is a delight.

I read a selection of Christian fiction, of course. Frank Peretti's stories are incredible, and he has written some entertaining selections for children, as well. The Thoene's interested me in the Middle East, an interest that is perhaps stronger now that I have been there. Gilbert Morris wrote the same story a hundred times, most stating that even Christian women craved men who were tall, dark, and handsome. I eventually became quite content with being short, pale, and interesting.

Stephen Lawhead has crossover appeal, I would say, and Christians and pagans alike should find joy in his work.

If you have not yet read Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker books, stop reading this post, and go read them immediately. Patrick McManus has written numerous short story collections, and he keeps writing them. I have laugh wrinkles already, and they are mostly his fault.

It turns out the library is not open at 11:30pm, so I suppose I shall sleep. Keep reading, and keep supporting your library.

12 July 2013

Becoming Catholic

This past Easter, my family and I officially entered the Catholic Church. It has been a long journey getting here. I would like to take a few moments now to look back at the process. Hopefully, what I share will be of some benefit to those of you who might be considering such a step yourself.

For the sake of simplicity, let us say there are three significant groups who really do not care for the Catholic Church. The first kind are the secularists and a fair number of mainline Protestants, who see the Catholic Church as an oppressive, patriarchal organization that is the primary obstacle in the way of the great society. The Church refuses to change its doctrines to match the mainstream's growing wisdom, and they keep trying to save all the babies.

The second kind are the serious Protestants, usually of an Evangelical, Charismatic, or Reformed persuasion. They see the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon, a false teacher leading people to Hell with its doctrines. Some of these Protestants are kind enough to think well of individual Catholics, so long as they don't take some of the weirder stuff seriously. They will also partner with Catholics in the pro-life movement, though they may think Catholics are strange and irresponsible for having so many babies.

The third kind are a fairly large subset of Catholics themselves. They like calling themselves Catholic, but they, like the secularists, wish the Church would get with the times. They disagree with a number of doctrines of the Church, but rather than leave for a Protestant denomination, they stay and try to turn the Catholic Church into one. They really wish the Church would stop caring so much about the babies.

I list those groups to make clear that deciding to join the Catholic Church is a decision that may be met with opposition. The secularists will think you are joining the enemy of progress, the serious Protestants will think you are risking your soul, and the dissenting Catholics will be concerned that you might actually take the whole Catholic thing seriously.

Now, many of these people will be acting in good faith, so it is best not to take their objections personally. Just understand that you might not have a large cheering squad lining your road to Rome. However, the Catholic teaching on the communion of the saints means you will have a large cheering squad interceding on your behalf in Heaven. As the writer of Hebrews said, Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I used the King James for the quote above, even though it's a Protestant version, because it's awesome. See, you can keep all the good Protestant stuff, even if you make the jump.

So, what about the Catholic Church is an area of difficulty for you? At the very beginning, long ago during the Bush Jr. presidency, I had some of the usual Protestant objections. I thought the devotion to Mary and the other saints was idolatry, I thought there was too much emphasis on works, I thought the Church had complicated the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ with the addition of numerous man-made rules and regulations.

However, all it really took was letting the Catholic Church explain itself. I am not going to rehash every argument here, but I encourage you to do some research. The book Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid, was one of the first things I read, and I highly recommend it. It is a collection of conversion stories, just a few pages each, all written by converts far more articulate and knowledgeable than myself. The Catholic Answers website, at www.catholic.com, also has a wealth of information.

Getting past those early difficulties proved fairly easy. I did encounter a second set of problems, however, that took a great deal more time and prayer to resolve. When I was growing up, I had this image of the Catholic Church as this glorious medieval institution, filled with ceremony, Latin, incense, stained glass, and towering churches of stone. Interestingly enough, if this image was still authentic, I would probably have entered the Church much earlier.

However, some changes had occurred in the Catholic Church that had rendered the image in my head obsolete. The Second Vatican Council had closed about fifteen years before I was born, but since the finer points of Catholic councils are not a widely discussed topic in the Free Methodist Church, I had never learned of the changes. The Council itself is still widely debated, with some saying it was a great step forward, others saying it was a catastrophe, and yet others saying it has simply been misunderstood.

I am not an expert theologian, but here is what I understand to have happened. In the aftermath of the Council, the Mass was changed, churches were remodeled (or “wreckovated,” some would call it) to have a more open modern look, and the Church began to have a more ecumenical attitude toward non-Catholics. Latin fell into disuse, the old high altars were torn down or ignored, sentimental modern hymns came into fashion, and priests stopped talking so much about Hell and damnation. Millions of Catholics managed to reach adulthood without knowing even the basics of the Catholic faith.

Now, it would be a mistake to say all was moonlight and roses before Vatican II, and it would be another mistake to say everything since has been a disaster. However, as a prospective convert, I looked at this chaos and I was deeply concerned. I began to consider Eastern Orthodoxy, another ancient Church, though one without a Vatican II. There is so much beauty there, and they profess so much of the same faith that the Catholic Church does.

And yet, I became Catholic rather than Orthodox in the end. I became convinced that the ministry of the pope, the successor of Peter, was vitally important, and the Catholic Church seemed to be doing a better job of holding the line on some key moral issues. The failure of so many in the Catholic Church to live up to its doctrines did not take away from the truth of the doctrines themselves.

It is important to consider the whole history of the Church. Progressives and traditionalists will both often point to Vatican II as a rupture with the past. The progressives may say the Church before was repressive and strict, but now a new day has dawned and soon we will be just like the Episcopalians. The traditionalists may say everything before was marvelous, but now the “conciliar Church” has lost its way, and true Catholics must set out on their own. However, I urge you to keep the big picture in mind. This is not the first crisis the Church has seen. The Church in AD 2013 is the same Church it was in AD 1962, AD 962, and AD 33.

Hope is considered one of the three theological virtues by the Catholic Church, the other two virtues being faith and charity. When I consider the state of the Catholic Church today, I hold onto hope. There is something wild and glorious about hope, even in the midst of trouble. Hope should be the natural state of the Christian, for Christ is the victor, and we are under His care.

So, do not rush off to join the sedevacantists. Instead, work to restore the Church. Be passionate about the faith, and share it with others. Read the writings of the saints. Learn about what was and what may be again.

You may find yourself in an RCIA program, if you actively pursue entrance into the Church. The quality of these will vary immensely, with some being completely orthodox and some not so much. If your instructors start telling you that grave moral evils are simply a matter of conscience, or that two thousand years of theology will be changed any day now, do not be led astray. Getting to the day of judgment and saying, “My RCIA instructor lied to me” is like a soldier saying, “My recruiter lied to me,” when it turns out Fire Support Specialist is not a fireman. Do the research.

Feel free to visit multiple parishes in your area. In a perfect world, every parish would be orthodox, and the same faith would be preached everywhere. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Even choosing based on aesthetics is not wrong, though beauty and truth tend to exist together.

Pray without ceasing. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Radiate the joy of Christ.

11 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI began his papacy in 2005, the same year I began studying the Catholic Church. With today's announcement, it looks as if I will be entering the Church during the reign of Benedict's successor. As Benedict was the pope during my time of study, so the next pope will sit upon Peter's chair as I begin the next phase of my journey. May God bless Benedict, his successor, and all who call upon the name of Christ our Lord.