Let the Adventure Begin

As of this writing, I have been officially part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church for less than 12 hours. How does it feel? That question has been asked, and I anticipate it will be asked again in the coming hours and days. This is my attempt at a partial answer.

When I was much younger, my dad and I took a few trips to Rocky Mountain National Park to go backpacking. We lived in Indiana, so such an undertaking involved two full days worth of driving to get out to Estes Park. Those long drives across Kansas or Nebraska were certainly part of the trip, but they were not the object of it.

I feel like I am getting out of the car with the sun shining, the evergreens all around, and Long’s Peak clearly visible amongst the Rockies.

Driving to Colorado from Indiana, there is a lot of flat country, though you start to gain elevation slowly across the Great Plains and into eastern Colorado. Eventually mountains start to become visible on the horizon. Finally, you get past Loveland and follow the Big Thompson River through a long canyon. It is pretty,  but if you let yourself think about the floods that have scoured the canyon, it can be a bit unnerving. The mountains are there, but you cannot see them. Eventually you emerge and you drive into the park.

That is the closest parallel I can find for my feelings this morning. It has been a long trip, I am finally out of the car, the sun is shining, the wilderness awaits. Time to shoulder my pack and go forth on this adventure.

Keep It Straight

God did not become incarnate in Jesus in order to better understand us,
He came that we may better understand Him.

I read and hear too much that gets this backwards. God is all-knowing, he didn’t have to become man to understand hunger and the annoyance of bug bites. Jesus came that we might see God, have an example, receive his teaching, and that he might be a sacrifice for our sins.

Crossing the Tiber

It’s been a long road. It’s hard to say where it started. But I can see the sun glistening on the goal, and I will soon be there.

This has not been a physical pilgrimage, but a spiritual one. On the 20th of April, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Columbia, SC it will be complete. I shall be received and confirmed in the Catholic Church.

Another Kind of Monopoly

This is the second such story I have seen in recent months about someone not trying to go totally “off the grid,” but merely to unplug from the Amazon and/or so-call “big 5” or “GAFMA” matrix. (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple.) You can check it out here if you are interested.

While the economic and regulatory issues connected with monopolies or near-monopolies like the big 5 are important, another recent internet phenomena has cause me to think about it from a different angle.

I am referring to a recent kerfuffle over Patreon. For those of you unfamiliar, Patreon is a web service that allows people to set up crowdfunding accounts. So, for example, you follow someone on YouTube or a podcast and you want to support their work. So, you can go to their Patreon page and donate to them with a recurring donation. Many people have certain Patreon-only perks to help encourage this behavior, from access to message boards to free videos, books, or t-shirts.

The issue is, as I understand it, Patreon has started blocking some accounts because of what they deem “hate speech.” As most of us realize, some historically mainstream ideas are currently labeled in this way by certain more “progressive” groups. This has obviously affected the people they have blocked, and has cause a ripple effect with some other users of the service pulling out and seeking other ways to receive funding in protest.

So far, all of this just seems like the ups and downs of life in the internet age. To a point, you’re not wrong. But, consider this scenario. None of the big 5 are exactly stalwarts of conservative social teaching. It is not hard to imagine any, or all, of them enacting similar prohibitions of “content.”

This means YouTube, Apple podcasts, self-publishing (or even traditional publishing) on Amazon, Facebook accounts, Instagram accounts, etc. could, very rapidly, just go away as an option for chunks of society.

This is not just an issue for a 20-something creating YouTube videos in their spare time. How many ministries and other faith-based organizations do you know that use these tools as central avenues of engagement with people?

My goal here isn’t to be chicken little. I hope I’m wrong. I hope the traffic that Christians generate on sites like YouTube to watch faith-based content is just as valuable to Google as people watching videos of cats falling off of countertops.

But I also realize in the ideological battles raging in the world around us, sometimes corporations are willing to cave to certain interest groups out of fear or affinity. None of this is government censorship, which we may feel we have some recourse to counter through our democratic process. But we can’t vote out Jeff Bezos and the other heads of the big 5. They don’t work for us.

I do think it reasonable for individuals and groups that promote orthodox belief and practice to consider how they might operate in such an environment where the digital tools we depend on everyday (and mostly don’t even pay for!) could be turned off on us in a single click.

Big Brother isn’t the government (so much) as corporate America. The power they could wield to virtually stop communication by adherents to what they may deem “bad” beliefs is frightening to contemplate.

Prescient

Nearly 150 years ago, John Henry Newman felt the press of information that we bemoan today. His words, quoted below, could have come off any number of recent blogs. Instead, they were written by the light of a candle or oil lamp using a quill or dip-pen.

“In this day the subject-matter of thought and belief has so increased upon us, that a far higher mental formation is required than was necessary in times past, and higher than we have actually reached. The whole world is brought to our doors every morning, and our judgment is required upon social concerns, books, persons, parties, creeds, national acts, political principles and measures. We have to form our opinion, make our profession, take our side on a hundred matters on which we have but little right to speak at all.”

John Henry Newman, A Grammar in Aid of Divine Assent, 1870

Some Further Thoughts on Lions

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I wrote recently about Saint Antony’s teaching on the powerlessness of the devil.

I stand by that assessment, but perhaps a few more words are in order. Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. But he’s on a leash, as it were. He cannot act entirely freely because he is restrained by the power of God.

In my first post, I reflected on seeing lions at the zoo as a child. Since that post, I visited our local zoo with my daughter and granddaughter. There we saw lions, tigers, and a grizzly bear. At no time during our visit was I afraid of the animals in the zoo. The boundaries and barriers are well-established.

If I chose to enter the lion’s habitat, however, the equation would change, wouldn’t it? Suddenly I would be at risk. The situation is the same with the demonic. We are able to put ourselves in the position of being compromised.

The devil roars to try to scare us into negotiating. Or sometimes, he tries to lure us into his lair by looking cute and cuddly, or sexy, or powerful, or whatever it takes to get our attention.

Don’t be fooled.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

James 4:7-8 RSV

Just because he’s caged doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to devour you. Don’t put your hand in the cage. He’s waiting to rip your arm off. But if you stay out of his lair, you’re safe.

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

Bishop Robert Barron did a fine job of outlining the “problem of evil” in a recent podcast. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, it runs like this: God is good. God is all-powerful. Bad things happen. Therefore, either God is not good or God is not all-powerful.

I promised to discuss some of my thoughts on this in my last post. Understand, then, that this isn’t a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, but some of my reflections that Bishop Barron did not cover.

First, I find it interesting that few people ever discuss “the problem of good.” God is just. God is all-powerful. We are all guilty before God of breaking his commandments. Good things happen to us anyway. Why is this not a counter-example against his justice or omnipotence? To me, it is just as valid as the prior argument.

The answer, it seems, is that we don’t mind unmerited favor, but we get really touchy about any possible unmerited disfavor. We are all selfish. Sit two children next to each other and give one 3 cookies and the other 4 cookies and you’ll see the objections fly from the first, but not the second unless you have an exceptional child.

Another observation: we tend to find what we are looking for. If I go through a day looking for things to complain about, I can certainly find a long list. But, if I am looking for things to be thankful for, I can generate a long list there as well. It is hard to find contentment when you are focused on all your sources of discontent.

Yes, every life has its share of legitimate suffering, some more than others. Some of this suffering is truly outside our control, while a good deal is self-inflicted, or is at the least made worse by us. I am no Pollyanna. I am a combat veteran who has watched people die. I’ve knocked on too many doors to tell someone their son or husband isn’t coming home anymore.

But I also wake up every morning. I see the world God has created around me. I have my family and friends. I have a roof over my head and food in my pantry. Life is good because God is a merciful and generous God, even to sinners like me.

Mine is not a pain-free life. I’ve felt my appendix rupture. I can’t run anymore because of nerve issues in my hip. But I can still walk. And I received medical care in time to keep my appendicitis from being fatal, like it would have been had it happened a century earlier.

The problem of evil is mostly “solved” by the existence of freedom that God gave us so we could choose to love him. That freedom comes with a risk, a risk that we will choose to not love him, a risk that we will choose to do evil, and we all do, to differing degrees. Yet, the sun rises in the east every day, the rains come, the crops grow, and our life goes on. God is ridiculously good to us.

If you have trouble seeing that, I recommend the one thousand gifts challenge. Ann Voskamp wrote a book a few years ago detailing her challenge to herself to list three things per day that she is thankful for, with no repeats, for a year. The math comes out to slightly more than 1,000 things.

It is a good exercise, one that my wife and I practice. Three things you are thankful for each day. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. They are all blessings that ultimately have their source in God.

It may be that we can solve our problem of evil, at least to an extent, by being thankful for what we have.* There is one other thing we can do as well, but I’ll save that for next time.


* This is not to say that we shouldn’t work for justice in our world and seek to alleviate others’ suffering. Of course we should. We are commanded to do works of mercy.