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May 4, 2015

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Catching up to the fourteenth century

Only the most jaded cynics dismiss all religious experience as neurosis. Most view the history of the human race and get it: Sure, there are charlatans, but they’re piggy-backing on something valid and real.  They’re counterfeits of bona-fide seers, prophets, and miracle-workers.  The lame have walked; the deaf have heard; and the blind have seen.  And there’s the so-Catherine of Siena.jpgcalled “numinous experience” explored by Rudolph Otto in The Idea of the Holy: a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.”

I’ve had such experiences. They can be both wonderful and terrifying: We see our unworthiness and God’s grace wrapped in a single vision.  We’re convicted and comforted all at once — and we want more.  Much more — even after our thirst is quenched.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was one such bona fide seer and she wrote of her experience in the form of a prayer in Divine Providence.  Notice the key line: “what I receive will ever leave me desiring more.”

Read this “doctor of the church” and ponder what she says to us:

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!

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May 1, 2015

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Christ-like resistance

Christina Edmonson, dean for intercultural student development at Calvin College, grew up in Baltimore and attended the church hosting the funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died after an apparent spinal injury in a police van. Riots erupted. She writes eloquently in Christianity Today, describing how one police officer modeled civility and gave her a childhood ambition to join the force. Another fourth-grade encounter was more sobering:

Playing in front of our apartment complex, my friends and I were approached by a patrolling officer who told us we were too noisy. As fourth-graders, we all responded, “Yes, sir,” almost in unison. The officer then turned to the only boy among us, a black boy, and sternly told him that he deserved to be spanked. And that if his parents would not do it, he could and would.

Middle class Caucasians think of such encounters as exceptions. African Americans — of all walks — nod their heads. They’re routine.

Edmonson, a committed Christian, says neither complacency nor violence works;

As [Freddie] Gray was eulogized …,I thought of how desperate we are for a reemergence of a deeply gospel-centered philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Both passivity and misdirected rage are unproductive and delude us of real issues. Christ’s story, a divine lens, gives us an alternative in which to understand what we see around us, within us and how to justly respond.

An important caveat: So far, we do not know how Gray was injured. Nevertheless, she has profound thoughts.  Read them all here

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April 29, 2015

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Religious, political, and scientific leaders issue joint statement: human-induced climate change is a moral imperative

From Independent Catholic News: World leaders meeting at the Vatican for a conference on climate change have issued a final statement today, declaring that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality” and “its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.” The statement says that humans have the technological and financial means, and […]

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April 3, 2015

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When “Religion” doesn’t describe it

The term “religion” turns pallid on Good Friday. It’s an ashen and anemic word. It needs to gulp down aspirin and climb back into bed. The term conveys systems and structures and institutions, whether they’re of thinking or of administration. It isn’t a bad term (spirituality and theology mandate structures like everything else), but it doesn’t do this day justice.

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April 1, 2015

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Those Fun and Crazy Guys: Humpback Whales

Scientists ponder the motivation behind the songs of the male humpbacks – or, more technically, their hums. Many thought they were typical men, shamelessly wooing the ladies in the open sea with nary a glance at the neighborhood’s mortified barracudas. No doubt they were promising the moon: “We love you because of your minds.” But there’s no recorded instance of females casually swimming past and peaking back, which leaves us with one of two choices. Option One: the men are a bunch-a losers. Option Two: We don’t know why they sing.

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March 17, 2015

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Saint Patrick: A man for all nations

Today, March 17, 2015, is the day when many will lift glasses of green beer, eat corn beef cabbage, and sing songs of the Emerald Isle. And that’s fine. Saint Patrick is worthy of celebration. He’s a bona-fide good guy, with no 18-minute gaps on any of his tapes. Here is the story of the […]

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February 23, 2015

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The winter of my contentment

Perhaps I’m experiencing a forgotten brand of gratification drawn from the test, or the trial, or the challenge. Human history testifies to a spark that rattles us out of mere comfort and propels us into arctic adventures.

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February 20, 2015

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So New England really is different

Prepare for the bombshell. Gallup surveyors did their tallies and found that frozen New England, my home since I was 15, is fit for fire and brimstone.

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February 5, 2015

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“Sonny, I get paid to make snap judgments and throw fits”

It’s coming back to me. I remember my lament while walking a newspaper reporter’s daily beat: “God,” I wailed, “Why didn’t you make me a sports writer?” I was suffocating in objectivity’s claustrophobic cave, squeezed by concepts of “fairness” and “evenhandedness” – with no opinions allowed – while they were paid to yelp, bark, and […]

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January 30, 2015

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Seeing the world through different eyes

Three legged tables crash when we slice off the third leg. Knives, forks, spoons, coffee cups, and plates splatter all over the floor along with the vase with the flowers. It’s an embarrassing mess.

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