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July 31, 2006


On a recommendation from Pius (I think that's his blog identity on here), Isabel and I watched a DVD of Millions this weekend. It was a better film than we had expected (and certainly more aesthetically complex), but there were a few glaring problems. Foremost, the film lacked narrative consistency. Perhaps we were supposed to dismiss this need, since the whole story has a certain dreamlike quality to it. Nevertheless, fantasy is generally more satisfying when it abides by predictable rules.

Less problematic from an artistic point of view but more disturbing as a Catholic viewer was the need to have an apparition of St. Peter explain that the miracle of the loaves and fishes wasn't a supernatural phenomenon, but the result of Jesus playing emotional games with his listeners. That is, Jesus saw that the people needed food, so he passes around the few loaves and fishes on a plate. No one wants to be a jerk and take the food, leaving nothing for the next guy, so each listener finds some little bit of food they had stashed on their person and eats that instead. God helps those who help themselves. (It was particularly coincidental that this Sunday's readings dealt with an account of one of these mutliplication miracles just after we watched the movie.) It seems to me that of all the miracles, social justice idolators love to hijack this one.

For some reason these people think that the miracle story is more inspirational when its otherworldly aspects are removed. I suppose they are afraid that the faithful will become passive if they think they just rely on God for everything (goshforbid); that there is no need to worry about supplying the hungry with food if God can just make food appear (as if anyone would really think that). They think it is better for us to tell stories about God leading people to help themselves rather than God being moved to compassion for us. They think it is better to imagine the bounty of humans working together as a collective than to imagine God's grace being so super-abundant that it provides more than what we need or even ask for.

But if it wasn't a supernatural miracle, then why would people have asserted that it was? Luke has no trouble reporting how early Christian communities sacrificed their personal wealth to the apostles in Acts. The Gospel writers could have had Jesus say, "Okay, everybody. Empty your pockets."

It's not like the people asked Jesus for food (at least in John 6:1-15). Rather, Jesus takes the initiative to provide for those people. It doesn't say that those people didn't bring food for themselves, but it's pretty darned explicit about the fact that they took as much as they wanted (and we all know how people get around free food). It's also perfectly clear that the people recognized something truly profound had happened:

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

If the President of America (Bush or otherwise) convinced all the people at a rally to share granola bars and bottles of water, would they suddenly beg him to become dictator for life for his cleverness? Why would a mass of people suddenly want to make an itinerate preacher their king because he got them to expose the food they had packed? Jesus would look like a smart leader, but would that incident alone seem worth treason?

The point of the story is precisely that Jesus really did multiply loaves and fishes. You can't understand it's Eucharistic message otherwise. He is the one who feeds us with more than we need; and he feeds us through his sheer will to do so.

And to those who would make social justice the end of faith rather than a means to it, consider that believing in Christ's supernatural being is the most effective way of motivating his followers to action. It is when Christ shows his Divinity that his listeners are most moved to change their political reality; they will make him a king. If you want to get people to start changing the world, remind them that Jesus really did multiply loaves and fishes; don't try to convince them that he didn't.

On the other hand, Jesus intentionally avoids leading the people into political action.

Posted by Peter Terp on July 31, 2006 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2006

Mo' MoEs

Guess whom* I met today?  The Missionaries of Eucharist, at Mass, as their odyssey took them through my hometown on the way to DC from Maine.

You're not too late to pray for the success of their efforts; there're still four more days of their walk, and their work will continue after the walk as well.

You can see and hear them July 30th at Theology on Tap in Baltimore.

P.S. I meant to plug them more often, because I like them so much, but I have a streaky memory.

*Father, looks like the nihil obstat position is open...

Posted by Thomas A. on July 28, 2006 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Harry Potter

This post is, timewise, totally out of step with the popular buzz, but that thing I posted the other day reminded me.  Did I tell you that I read all of the Harry Potter books?  Six or seven months ago some friends invited me along to see The Goblet of Fire with them.  Over the course of about two days (not to brag, but they're quick reads) during winter break when I had not much to do I borrowed the books from my sister and read them.

The primary effect of this was that I was quite entertained by thousands of pages of delightful storytelling.  A secondary effect is that I now have a very precise theory on who (i.e. persons of what type of religion) actually needs to worry that these stories may have a potential for harmful influence on their children and why.  Based on assumptions about who reads this site, I'll go ahead and say that it's probably not you.

However, you may find what I have surmised about who and why both interesting and maybe a bit surprising.  But I'm not going to write the post unless someone posts a comment and asks.

Posted by Thomas A. on July 28, 2006 at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Old-time religion (and I mean old time)

One idea that I never heard growing up (because I didn't read enough Catholic authors from before the 60s) is the idea of "primeval tradition."  It was a little startling to realize that some authors seemed even to take for granted the idea that there are some things that have been the common intellectual property of mankind since Adam and Eve; not instinct but knowledge - a tradition, if you will, passed down (albeit not by an appointed succession but in the things "everyone" knows) from the generation that actually remembered the Garden.

I don't really think about this enough to go around looking for examples of what this would be, but something occurred to me when I was reading some academic-type papers about ancient Greece and Rome.  No matter what culture people are talking about, no matter what time period, people who are in favor of certain moral standards such as, say, more modest dress, are *always* considered to be "old-fashioned moralists."  Maybe if this is just a projection backwards by modern people someone who really knows these things will correct me, but it seemed that even in these ancient pagan cultures, advocating more sexual license was new and modern, while advocating less was old-fashioned.

Think about it - even if the more strict people are actually reformers, they are always considered a conservative reaction.  You never hear about the progressive, forward-thinking people who breaking new ground in modesty or decency or whatever, do you?

Again, I'm not claiming that this is incontrovertible evidence of anything; just an anecdote.  I'd be interested to hear if you have an argument either corroborating this or explaining it away as an artifact of modern habits of thinking.

Posted by Thomas A. on July 28, 2006 at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

I Reject Lucas and All His Empty Promises

This kind of thing always makes me want to get rid of all the Star Wars junk in my apartment..


 For the 15th time since Federation the every man, woman and child will be counted in the 2006 Australian Census and this time you can do it on the internet. But how does this relate to Star Wars you might ask? Last time some 70,000 people put down "Jedi" as their religion in an effort to get it officially recognized. Let's see if we can do better this time round come 8th August 2006.

Plenty of people tried to put the scare into people saying "You'll be tracked down and fined for giving false information"...WRONG (Read more here). If you have no real religion yourself but you're a HUGE Star Wars fan, or if you are a follower of the Jedi Faith this is your chance to be heard. Wookiees may not exist, lightsabers may not be real (yet) but do you believe in a

 On the question of religion, VOTE JEDI. Put down "Jedi" on their census form. And remember, if you are a member of the Jedi religion then you are by default a 'Jedi Knight'. So If this has been your dream since you were 4 years old. Do it  cos you love Star Wars. Tell all your Star Wars friends to join the coolest religion this side of  the outer rim.

via http://www.mousedroid.com/

First of all, as any real Star Wars folklorist knows, being a "member of the Jedi religion" does not by default make you a Jedi Knight. That title has to be conferred upon you by the Jedi Council. Secondly, how sad is it 70,000 people, most of whom (as good British subjects) I'll assume were baptized into some form of Christianity, renounced God on a census?

I can see caving under fear if some Roman Emperor is threatening to disembowel you publicly, but to openly declare yourself the follower a fictional religion when all you have to do is fill out a form?  My hope is that anyone who would claim to be a jedi at the expense of Christ would be spared because of his or her obviously profound ignorance. It's like Esau giving away his inheritance for a bowl of food...only he got a meal out of it  at least.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers
and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.(2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Posted by Peter Terp on July 28, 2006 at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2006

You Are Rowlf the Dog
Mellow and serious, you enjoy time alone cultivating your talents. You're a cool dog, and you always present a relaxed vibe. A talented pianist, you can play almost anything - especially songs by Beethoven. "My bark is worse than my bite, and my piano playing beats 'em both."
The Muppet Personality Test

Posted by Thomas A. on July 27, 2006 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Something amusing (to me, at least)

My sister got the Harry Potter Quidditch computer game, and when she was playing it, I noticed that that the theme music wasn't music from the Harry Potter movies...

It was Verdi's Dies Irae!

How delightful!  I hadn't even tried the game and I already decided I liked it.

Posted by Thomas A. on July 27, 2006 at 05:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

Hey Rose, here's something to go with your "hip-hop-tionary" vocab

The Lord is all that, I need for nothing. / He allows me to chill. / He keeps me from being heated / and allows me to breath easy. / He guides my life so that I can / represent and give shout outs in His name. / An even though I walk through the hood of death, / I don't back down, for you have my back. / The fact that He has me / covered allows me to chill. / He provides me with back-up / In front of player-haters, / and I know that I am a baller and life will be phat. / I fall back in the Lord's crib for the rest of my life.

This from the Pastor of Crossover Community Church in Tampa, FL, with the help of actual rappers.  I had heard of this before, but I was reminded of by Newsweek.

You might expect me to get all on this about how silly I think it is, and indeed it would be silly for me to try it for anything other than ironic effect, because it is quite evident that I ain't no thug from the streets.  And indeed, I think in the context of a Mass or other official liturgy of the Church, it would be out of place.  But as a devotional thing, I don't really see a problem with it; for me it falls into the category of any other other song or poem that is based on or a paraphrase of a Psalm (maybe I should explain in another post how I think about different categories of religious music).  (n.b. Nor does it really offend me to know that somewhere Protestants are having rap church services, since I think of Protestant church services as being more in the category of popular devotion than the equivalent of a Mass, anyway [if that doesn't make sense, ask me to explain in another post].)

Speaking of religious rap, I think Bishop Roche deserves a shout-out.  This is a story I heard some months ago in a Catholic newspaper, but writing on this subject reminded me of it.  The Bishop, trying to come up with ways to preach more effectively to young people, decided to try out some rap stylings.  Before actually using it in his ministry, though, he asked his nephews (or grand-nephews, I don't remember) to listen and tell him if they thought he could impress young people with his rap.  They told him no and advised him not to.  So he decided against it. 

I'm not making fun, I really admire that.  A less humble man might have assumed that he knew better and either not asked in the first place or ignored their criticism.  And then afterwards he wasn't too embarrassed about being shut down to tell the story, either.  So props to him.

Posted by Thomas A. on July 26, 2006 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

Medieval Manuscript Predicts the Present

Isabel sent me a link to this CNN article about a newly discovered one-thousand-year-old manuscript of Psalms found in an Irish bog.

The book was found open to a page describing, in Latin script, Psalm 83, in which God hears complaints of other nations' attempts to wipe out the name of Israel.

They can't turn the page yet because researchers are trying to figure out how to do that without damaging the text.

No impossible, just highly improbable.

Pretty freaky, eh?

Posted by Peter Terp on July 25, 2006 at 11:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Occupational hazard

From Irish Elk, something that has some immediate relevance for me.

In the British Army, Soldiers learning to play the bagpipes have been told to limit their practice sessions to only 24 minutes a day, or 15 minutes when indoors.

Tests showed that outdoors the sound of bagpipes could reach 111 decibels, slightly louder than a pneumatic drill. Indoors, the instrument could reach 116 decibels, or as loud as a chainsaw.

Yeah, that's about the size of it, I can tell you.  Those things are deafening at close range.  And those drone pipes stick up right near your head when you play them, too.

Good thing I saw that article - I think I'm going to go put a pair of musician earplugs in my bagpipe case right now.

Posted by Thomas A. on July 25, 2006 at 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack